A playtester’s guide to enjoying the Pub Battles System. I have my favorite version of this robust system, but I am here to answer any questions about the official rules as well. To order the games go to the Command Post Games website: https://www.commandpostgames.com/pub-battles/
The baggage train rules are being discussed at Command Post Games.These are my proposed rules for Baggage Trains (BT). Note that these are not officially sanctioned rules! These are simply the rules that I am playtesting at the moment.
I was initially resistant to any baggage train rules because baggage trains were not used on the battlefield, but behind it. They were more appropriate for a strategic campaign game. Nevertheless, while baggage trains were not used on the battlefield, the areas right behind the mainlines did tend to be a congested network of men and supplies, and THAT was what baggage trains can be thought of as representing.
A Baggage Train is not so much a specific thing, but a general area, or critical node, for the LOC.
Each turn a BT (Baggage Train) may move (only on roads) providing it is flipped up with its symbol on top, flip/unflip, or rally one unit within 1 foot move if it is positioned (unflipped) .
If an enemy unit ever moves into contact with a BT it is eliminated. When its HQ next activates an eliminated BT may re-enter the map along a road edge.
Rallying – Each turn, one spent unit within 1 foot move of a BT may flip from spent to fresh, or one previously eliminated unit may be placed back on the map adjacent to the BT, in a spent condition. You may not then use another BT to rally that same unit this turn.
There are no extra recovery rules for a night turn.
I have just played a game of Gettysburg solitaire using written orders. What an experience! One of the best things about Pub Battles; one of the things that separates it from so many other titles, is the way it distances the players from the God-like ability to see all and do all with absolute precision and perfect knowledge.
Playing solitaire with written orders takes this one step further.
It accomplishes this with a simple elegant system that gives an authentic feel without burying you in rules. It removes you from too close control, while inserting you right into the chaos of battle.
How It’s done…
The orders you can give your units fall into two categories. Attack objective or Hold objective. The example in the picture is for the order “Hold Round Top.”
When an objective is given, a foot movement marker is centered on that point, and the objective in question encompasses anywhere within that diameter.
The “Attack” order will have the Corps HQ attempt to occupy that objective and drive all enemy units from its perimeter. How exactly this is accomplished is left to the player to decide.
The Hold order will have the Corps HQ to attempt to occupy the objective, but it will not move to contact (attack) an enemy.
How it works…
At the beginning of the game, any HQs on the board must be given orders. IF an HQ is without orders, its units will just sit in place and its artillery will not fire.
When a chit is drawn and activated, the first thing the player does is check the orders. If the last order given is not underlined, he underlines it and then carries out that order.
If it is underlined and he wishes to change the order, he writes the new order underneath the previous order. He then carries out the previous order. Next turn he will continue as above with the chit draw and activation.
The first time a Corps is activated (either on turn one, or when it enters play as a reinforcement) it is given its first set of orders underlined, so it’s not sitting without orders for a turn.
Night turns: During night turns the corps may ignore their current orders. Additionally, they may be given new orders and those orders are underlined immediately, so they always begin the day with orders!
And that’s it!
Well, almost. Just like real commanders, you will find that your orders leave a lot of freedom of interpretation. Maybe there is a unit just out of direct line between a unit and its objective, should it attack that unit first? You decide.
This is one of the best features of this solitaire system. You control the narrative. You decide whether or not the commander on the ground decides to widely or narrowly interpret the orders.
Maybe the dice have been a little too hard on the Confederates side. Let’s show them a little love and interpret the orders most beneficially. On the other hand, maybe the dice have been giving Lee a free pass, it might be time to attack the objective with A.P. Hill’s lone spent element of Heth’s division, even though it’s got Howard’s whole fresh Corps behind abattis in the woods. Oh Harry, you’ll be bringing tears to many mothers tonight.
The first day of Gettysburg won’t make you feel that frantic, but guaranteed, as day two wears on you will find the battle going in directions you have probably not anticipated.
In my last game, the second day opened with the Union in a strong position along historical lines, by the end of turn 3 the only comforting position that greeted Meade was V Corps taking Wolf’s Hill from Ewell’s Corps. Longstreet had captured Cemetery Hill and A.P. Hill was investing the Peach Orchard.
This would not have happened if I had been free to move my troops wherever they obviously needed to be. The scenario went from a replay of History to a very edge of the seat, bare knuckles contest!
There are tricks you can learn over time. For instance, if you don’t want a unit with an attacker order to attack this turn, move the HQ out of command range and the unit will not be allowed to move to contact…Well, at least if it doesn’t mess anything else up!
Optional hands on opportunity
I like having a lot out of my direct control, but if you want to interject some control, you could allow an HQ, that flips and makes a command roll, to ignore its current order for this turn. So you could write a new order, and while you wait for it to be underlined and take effect next turn, if you make the command roll, ignore the current command until the new command takes effect.
With this scenario (all the components are provided with the Gettysburg game), the players get to try their hand at a great what if. What if Stonewall Jackson hadn’t been killed at Chancellorsville, instead he survives his wounds. He is unable to affect Lee’s strategy, but he does rejoin the army soon enough to be present at the battle. In fact, displaying his decisive elan, he gets his Corps there sooner. The leaner original two Corps Army of Northern Virginia fights a different Battle of Gettysburg.
In this foto above, of the end of Day 1, you can judge for yourself what the outcome was. The lost divisions were all Union, including Buford who made a heroic, though foolish, attempt to stem the rebel tide.
Other than Trimble skirmishing with Reynold’s troops, Longstreet’s Corp has just arrived. The Union’s glorious dead are being watched by Lee on McPherson Ridge. On to Pipe’s Creek!
Compared to the Historical Scenario:
Here is the end of the day of the Historical scenario. Ewell’s corps arrives a turn later than Jackson’s does in the scenario above, and what a huge difference that makes! Suddenly the Union troops don’t seem quite so overwhelmed.
However, I for one, shall be very interested to see how this plays out. The Union has already had to fall back beyond the North edge of Cemetery Hill. During the night turn the massive Union artillery arrives, but where will it go? Would Meade have ordered a withdrawal to Pipe’s Creek, where he wanted to make a stand? Interesting questions, indeed!
In spite of the fact that Pub Battles focuses on command, many people want the combat rules more detailed and fleshed out.
I have no question that it would work. The system is robust. My concern is that the system will lose its authentic feel. Combat decisions should be quick and direct. They should not founder on specific weapons and tactics that are the domain of lower level commands.
Pub Battles has a very simple combat results process. Any “improvement” is going to add to the complexity and force players into micromanaging their forces.
This level of detail isn’t appropriate for an army commander, that’s why he has lieutenants, and that’s where command headaches start, because unlike a player, he can’t be everywhere on the battlefield.
Command Post Games has the right name. Pub Battles simulates the army commander back at the command post.
He writes his orders and an aide dashes them off to the field. He hopes that they get carried out. He hopes the info he has in front of him on his map is accurate! Will this be another case of the orders making no sense? Will the Corps commander have to confirm them, given his present situation? The clock is ticking.
All the commander has is the best estimates of enemy (and friendly, for that matter!) strengths, conditions, and positions.
When I played Brandywine double blind with Marshall (PBs lead designer) reffing, I got a genuine feeling of the kind of command fog that he was striving for with Pub Battles. I was on pins and needles! I’d send my orders off and desperately wait to hear back. At no time was I plotting exactly how far a block could move, or exactly what angle it was facing. I just wanted to know if they ran into resistance and whether or not they overcame it, or were running away in terror.
It was after that experience that I got a real feel for what Pub Battles was capable of, and how close it came to authenticity.
I agree with Frank Chadwick when it comes to modeling command in wargames. The trick with strategic command isn’t how to bring the player closer to the action, but how to remove him from it.
To that end, I see any rules changes which focus on combat, or on giving players more control over their units, as being counter to the best and most unique feature of the system.
Many players are frustrated when they see one of their units easily within weapon range of an enemy unit and yet the game does not let them attack. Perhaps the unit in question was only a third away, moved to contact, and then the enemy went second and backed off just out of contact.
My view of what the PBs system is actually showing you is just what is shown in your command post. It is not what is actually happening on the battlefield and this is often why units that “should be engaging” are not. If they are close, they may very well be engaging, but not effectively enough to show effects at the divisional level.
This is why the chit draw may leave you feeling frustrated and stymied, when the real solution seems obvious. Yes, that’s exactly what they would do…If they understood their orders, and If they felt they were secure from other attacks, and If they are certain of the other unit’s identity, and If they are actually where you think they are, and If the enemy unit actually is there as well.
That’s a lot of ifs!
These are all frustrations that a referee will ladle out generously in a kriegspiel game, and these are the frustrations that the Pub Battles system ingeniously, and without remorse, muzzles the player’s intentions with.
What this means is that you should feel removed from the battlefield. The game wants you to face what real commanders of the time faced. They couldn’t be everywhere, so the commands were delegated to lower echelons and the commander sat in the command tent, getting reports and sending orders.
But couldn’t a real commander leave his tent and see for himself?
Yes they could, and they did. This is exactly what is happening when you flip your HQ cube and roll to Alter Turn Order! This is that seminal moment when the General steps out of the tent, climbs on his horse, and takes personal command.
This is my Waterloo. No, not my great undoing, just the way that I play Pub Battles Waterloo. I have played it several dozen times, as well as having done an in depth study of this most famous battle.
I believe Pub Battles’ out of the box tube is a great game, and I heartily encourage anyone who plays, to play it that way a few times. However, some students of history may find my embellishments give it a slightly more authentic feel. My homebrew tends to focus on command, not combat.
I have made two additions to the French command structure. I have added a “Ney” HQ, as well as a “Druout” HQ. Neither have a corresponding chit, and they are handled a little differently from a regular HQ block.
Druout can act as combat command for any Guard unit. He moves whenever Napoleon has been activated.
Units of the Guard were active all over the battlefield wherever a little more oomph was needed.
The Ney HQ can be flipped and attached to any French unit that is in contact with an enemy unit and allow it to immediately resolve its combat (similar to the “Charge” ability).
Although Ney had no official command during the battle, as Napoleon’s “bravest of the brave,” he was wherever the fighting was heaviest, providing elan and initiative.
The Old Guard
The French Old Guard ignores the first hit in every round of combat.
If the Old Guard ever suffers a retreat result, the French lose immediately.
The French win if the Old Guard occupies Waterloo at the end of turn eight.
The Old Guard had almost legendary status and could accomplish miracles if required. They were the Grande Armee and Napoleon all in one. Such a reputation does come at a cost. When the Old Guard broke before the British volleys at Waterloo, the battle was lost. As such, these special rules account for that. Although Waterloo had no specific significance at the time, Making the occupation of Waterloo by the Old Guard the focal point of victory gives a flavorful feel to the game. Like Napoleon, one must save the Old Guard for the critical moment, and if it fails…So does France.
I have made a profound change to the British army in that I have removed all the HQs except Wellington, but I kept all of the command chits.
Once per game turn, Wellington can activate when any British chit is drawn.
When a British chit is drawn, the British player can decide whether or not to activate. When Wellington is activated, the whole British army (all of the red blocks) can move and bombard. If the British player elects to not activate, play proceeds to the next draw.
Wellington can be used to Alter Turn Order as normal. Additionally, if fresh, the HQ may be flipped and placed adjacent to any British unit and that unit may immediately rally. This can be done at any time (even during the combat phase when a unit has just suffered a hit!).
Wellington had the capability to always seem to be where he was most needed, stabilizing the line. His famous quote was “It would not have done, had I not been there.”
So give this version a shot and let me know how it works for you!
This is my unofficial Home Brew version of Pub Battles. This is the way I play when it is just me. Not a true solitaire game, there is no AI, but just a way of playing when no opponent is present. Pub Battles is well suited to solitaire play as it is simple and the chit draw serves as a convenient ‘save point’ if you get called away.
One of the ways I frequently play Pub Battles solitaire is as a simulation engine. I have an idea for a different strategy or I want to try out a new rule with a familiar strategy and this let’s me “run it through” a few times. Pub Battles plays so quick and easy that this is a viable option.
Pub Battles is an amazingly robust system. I have seen many different rules tried (and mostly discarded) and the system works with them or without them.
Of course you can always add rules that factor in this or that. You can always add different combat modifiers and effects that give the game a slightly different feel. Maybe there is one thing that blocks your enjoyment of the game. Fine, add it in and have a blast.
I generally go the other direction. I try to eliminate every rule that isn’t absolutely necessary. I find this speeds up the game. The whole point of the rules is to focus on command interaction, and simplify and gloss over combat detail. This is the main reason I developed a single die per side combat system. It’s quicker and easier. Not a huge difference, I am happy to play “the right way” when playing in public or introducing new players to the game.
The really cool thing I find about this is that by not specifically trying to model one thing, the system models everything in general. So let’s dig into my version. I’ll add my designer’s notes in italics.
All official Pub Battles rules are in play, except as modified below:
Field of Engagement rules are not used. There is no ranged combat resolution besides artillery bombardment. If any block ends its movement within one base thickness (3/8″) of an enemy block it is simply moved into contact. If you wish to move out of contact you must move at least 3/8″ away.
Alter Turn Order – For the most part, when I play solitaire, I just deal with the chits as they are drawn. This forces me to learn to roll with fate. As a consequence, I rarely try to Alter Turn Order when playing versus a live opponent!
Each side rolls one die for combat adding any appropriate modifiers. If one side’s final score is greater they score one hit, unless their score is more than double, in which case they score two hits. If the results are equal, both sides suffer a hit. If the units are still in contact after combat results are applied you must fight another round.
Dragoons, if still in contact with infantry at the end of a combat round must retreat.
If infantry or artillery suffer a retreat result from cavalry, they are eliminated instead.
Bombardment – As above except artillery bombarding another unit does not suffer any adverse effects unless firing at another artillery unit. Artillery always rolls when bombarded, even if it has previously bombarded or been bombarded. As no units are in contact, bombardment only lasts one round. Artillery (unless spent) treats the first round of combat as bombardment, i.e. it suffers no adverse effects.
Flanking – If a defender is in contact with more than one enemy, it deducts one from each die it rolls for the round. If an attacker is in contact with the rear of a block, then the normal flanking modifiers apply (+1/-1).
I don’t care for Field of Engagement. I find it time consuming and inelegant. No unit is ever necessarily just sitting, they are always in motion. Their fluid movement is chopped up by the arbitrary turns that are superimposed over the battle simulation. In addition, there are plenty of incidents where a unit did not do what it should have done, maybe they didn’t recognize the identity of the unit, maybe they were confused about there orders, maybe a regiment got lost, or the commander just had cold feet. All the game shows are those combats that actually were executed to the extent that resulted in an entire division suffering some sort of dramatic effect. Also, all you are really seeing is your best intelligence as regards the unit’s position. Maybe it’s not attacking because its not precisely there! Hopefully, your next orders will make sense for them to follow (or will they have to write for clarification?). The system doesn’t attempt to tell you precisely why a unit did or didn’t follow your orders, it merely shows what happened.
Field of Engagement doesn’t allow for implied combat. Nearby units may be exchanging shots and the pickets or skirmish troops may even be engaging in some very hot exchanges, but nothing that results in the parent divisions being adversely affected to the extent modeled in Pub Battles.
The ‘one die per side’ combat is just a simpler way to resolve combat, but it also yields some powerful simulation effects. Fresh or spent infantry may be able to form squares, and whether or not they are swept away in the first round answers that question, although spent are less likely to survive a cavalry charge.
If using one die per side combat,artillery can eliminate some units. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re eliminated to the man, just that they are too discomfited by the barrage to be able to operate effectively that day. Any elite, or any fresh line units, are still immune to elimination by artillery since even two hits does not eliminate them.
Counter-battery fire now has a downside as you could suffer hits yourself. Unlike modern artillery warfare, pre-twentieth century, counter-battery fire was generally discouraged by army commanders. This system models this.You can still do it, but why take the risk? Still, it could be worth it in some situations. You make the call, not the rules.
Flanking by merely having a single unit attack along the side of a block is gamey in the sense that it takes advantage of the wooden block’s inability to curve and deny a flank the way actual formations did.