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Pub Battles: Homebrew

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:

Now that Pub Battles 3.0 rules are out I am going to be revising many of my earlier posts. Anything I post going forward, including earlier posts that I’ve updated for 3.0, will have 3.0 in the title.

If your curious about the system here’s an overview.

If you are new, here’s my quick start rules

My current homebrew rules are here.

My rules discussions are here: Movement rates  How can a unit just sit there?   When to Alter Turn Order   More combat rules?    Chit Draw

My Variants are here: Night Rally   Optional Leadership  Baggage Trains  Solitaire with Written Orders    

Gettysburg posts: Stonewall at Gettysburg   

Waterloo posts: 3.0 has rendered my Waterloo post unnecessary and it has been removed.

Play the Map!

Fog of War as chit draw: Solitaire Pub Battles

Between two human opponents, Fog-of-War (FoW) is handled by not knowing the identity of Fresh units or HQs. Your opponent doesn’t actually know where key units are located. In solitaire play, even if you have a brain injury like I do, there is no way to truly keep your opponents positions hidden. Additionally, you generally have your hands full keeping track of all the game’s functions when playing solo.

Pub Battles is an ideal system for for playing two handed (both sides, solo). When playing solo, the idea of outsmarting your opponent in competitive play makes no sense. Most truly solitaire wargames do not impress me. The difficulty is usually reflected in tougher die rolls, which just comes down to luck. However, most people that play wargames also do it because it is a chance to recreate a battle and understand the conflict more deeply. In that regard, Pub Battles accommodates the requirements of the solo gamer handsomely. It is details light, simulation heavy. You create your own narrative of how and why the events that are happening in the battle are occurring.

One aspect that is totally different when playing solitaire is the way Fog of War (FoW) is handled. In two player games, FoW is handled by limiting reliable information to players, just like their historical counterparts. In solitaire play, just keeping track of all the basic info you need is quite a challenge, much less obscuring anything.

Enter the chit draw mechanic.

In a two player game, a critical part of the game is the Alter Turn Order ability which allows players to try to control when different commands are activated, allowing you to outmaneuver and outplay your opponent. This is a null concept in solo play.

In solo play, Fog of War is simulated by the chit draw mechanic limiting each side’s ability to capitalize on a position just because they know where everything is. Yes, you know that enemy Baggage is exposed and it is but a simple matter to march a unit up and attack it. However, you need to be able to move before the other side can either move the baggage, or garrison it. This is an example of a very dramatic and critical win/lose chit draw.

Every chit draw makes the game play a little different, just like every battle would have been fought a little different if any of an incalculable number of variables had played out differently. Rather than try to simulate exactly what happens (a truly impossible task!), the chit draw merely shows the result of all those probabilities.

This means that you can play the same battle with the same forces, using the same strategy, and get a different game every time. Mathematically, this becomes quite staggering. Brandywine has 5 chits to draw each turn for a total of 25 different openings on turn one, by the end of the second turn that increases to 625, with 15,625 variations on turn 3, 390,625 on turn 4 , and 9,765,625 different games by the end of the fifth and last turn. Nearly ten million different games, not including the numbers of different combat results, means that’s a lot of variation for even as small a battle as Brandywine. That’s almost 407 days straight play time. If you only played one game a night, with exactly the same strategy, that would be over a thousand years.

All of which is to say, no game of Pub Battles ever plays out the same way. Waterloo is a huge battle that probably has the least variability in basic strategy. Wellington lines up, Napoleon lines up, Napoleon charges the British line hoping to break it before the late arriving Prussians overwhelm him.

But even with that basic an analysis, it is still a fun game. I have played it over a hundred times, probably more than any other Pub Battles title, and every game is still an edge of your seat nail biter. The chit draw and combat results are always different. You have tough and interesting decisions every turn. At what point, and where, do the British want to deploy baggage and solidify their line? Do that wrong and you hand Napoleon the easy victory he is counting on. Too late, and there is no army left for Blucher to rescue. The French must balance keeping the pressure on, in spite of losses, or pause to recover and face the possibility of encountering a fresher, more numerous, opponent.

I have never played a solo wargame that has kept the tension ratcheted up to such a high level. There are no mathematical certainties, you have to rely on your gut feelings and instincts. Experience is your friend. You need to have an appreciation of the probabilities, but all together, it is that undefinable “something” that makes for consistent success.

Brandywine Day 2

French aristocrat and soldier for the American rebels the Marquis de Lafayette lies on the ground with a bullet wound in his leg as an aide helps him to his feet at the Battle of Brandywine, Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1777. Lafayette, in his first military engagement, stayed with the troops during their retreat to Chester before getting medical attention for his leg. (Image by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

For the first time ever, I am playing a second day at Brandywine. The British were trying to avoid heavy casualties and underestimated the colonial’s tenacity. Knyphausen’s smaller wing, instead of demonstrating across the Brandywine, drew the short straw and had to march the nearly twenty miles around to come in and outflank Washington. This left Cornwallis watching and waiting with the Sledgehammer of the British expeditionary force.

Predictably, this got hung up, helped by the Colonist’s stalwart defense. Toward the end of the day, Cornwallis launched his assault and suffered heavy casualties. His right wing collapsed and the intrepid Greene crossed Chadd’s and Pyle’s ford in a brilliant envelopment that left the Grenadiers falling back in disorder as night came.

That night Greene recovered his command’s losses and was able to refresh one division. Cornwallis was able to reorganize his best troops, under Mathew, and was ready to put an end to this congressional nonsense.

Greene scrambles to locate the British Baggage before the British can find him and chase off his exhausted troops.

The bandaged hearts show the recovered units. If Greene gets activated before Cornwallis all he needs to do is send General “Mad” Anthony Wayne forward to make contact with the bags (arrow) and the Rebels will win. If Cornwallis is drawn first, then Mathews (the recovered British unit) will be able to block Greene’s exhausted troops, giving the Knyphausen time to break the American lines.

Nothing is a sure thing, but whoever is activated first will probably win. In a solitaire game, I may not even bother fighting this out (Ha! Yes I will!), but imagine how exciting this would be with an opponent. You’ve fought all of day 1 and the British were almost winning (but getting frustratingly denied) until the last couple turns. Suddenly, with Green across the Brandywine, everything has changed.

Now the chit draw becomes very intense. If Greene’s chit is drawn first, Cornwallis will need to roll 1-4 to jump ahead. If he fails, Howe is near by and can try to roll himself. If either of those rolls is successful, then Greene can roll to jump ahead of whomever got the jump. Greene’s only disadvantage is that Washington is out of command range, and so can’t support the way that Howe can. If Washington were to be drawn ahead of Cornwallis, then he could move within command range of Greene and support him (Actually, I just measured and he comes up about an inch short, so he can’t). The Rebel player would have needed to anticipate the possibility of needing to support Greene, and moved Washington during the night turn.

This is why I am so enthusiastic about the chit draw mechanic. It is so simple, yet the opportunity to Alter Turn Order can have deep strategy that takes time to master (read about it here). In this case the players wanted to go first, but even more frequently the attacking command will want to go after the defending command.

As a player, you can see right where the British Baggage Train is unpacked. Greene would not necessarily know where it was, or whether or not is was vulnerable to a sudden attack. Cornwallis might not be able to organize Mathew’s troops, or recover the Grenadiers in time to counter a rebel effort. Rather than endless charts, rules, and tables, that try to limit the player’s god-like knowledge of the battle; Pub Battles simply uses the chit draw.

Knyphausen opens with an angry assault on the British left. An assault that gets bloodily rebuffed, but the colonists regroup in front of their baggage whilst the British have paid a price too dear to recover from. Meanwhile, Greene bugs out.

Instead of the instant Victory Washington could have got, we instead envision Cornwallis getting the jump and activating first. Knyphausen and Cornwallis get their way…And pay dearly for it!

Knyphausen’s attack is bloodily repulsed, but Ferguson and the Hessians fall back to their own supply caissons and are able to recover, unfortunately his line troops are too decimated and join the ranks of the Glorious dead.

Meanwhile, Mathew and the Grenadiers reform and dare Greene to come att’em. Greene declines the invitation and bugs out, hoping to make it back to their own lines to recover and join the main defense.

After the horrible initial fighting, both sides lick their wounds, recover their spent forces, and Greene’s men continue their long march, in column.
Washington gets the jump and Pulaski’s cavalry break the British line by outmaneuvering their British counterparts!

Turn 4 of Day 2 sees the American cavalry outmaneuver their British counterparts when Washington’s chit goes first. Even if they had not captured the British Baggage, Washington’s dice had been too hot for Howe. British casualties were far too heavy for what should have been a British cakewalk.

Replay 5.1 Brandywine Redux

What if, on the fingertip ledge of determination, Washington holds on?

After I cam back to pick up the game, I thought I might go ahead and see what might have happened if the colonials hung on and didn’t abandon the field before dark. What if they tried to hold on instead on turn 6. Turns 6, 7, and 8 are a long time to hang on when there is almost no room left to retreat. The edge they have, and the only edge that could make this workable, is they can unpack their baggage train right behind the line, whereas the English have their baggage unpacked a couple miles away across the Brandywine.

Greene fights a brilliant delaying action and Maxwell’s troops stand toe to toe with the best troops in the world!

With the new 3.0 scenario, Washington is given Maxwell’s brigade as elite troops. One must note that light troops were the elite troops of the Napoleonic era. They were trained in marksmanship, whereas the rank and file were just drilled on reloading. Actually having troops practice with live fire was very expensive. Maxwell’s light troops were self-trained marksmen of the frontier.

After turn 6 casualties were heavy and about equal. This is not what the British were expecting to have happen.

Here among the glorious dead you can see the Hobbits of the Shire under Bilbo Baggins (actually commanded by a Took) fell in a distant land.

Cornwallis’ troops reorganize for a final assault before night fall as Knyphausen’s troops keep the pressure on Greene’s tired men.

This is a good example of chit draw affecting the battle. Abercromby’s troops were not able to attack before Maxwell and Strand could draw fresh men and equipment from their Baggage Train and recover. With only one turn left, there is no way Howe can reach the American bags. He needs to inflict 50% losses or he fails.

Turn 8, the final drive!
A major British Victory! The Rebels lost two more units and the British win!

This was really close and not decided until the last combat of the last turn.

Nevertheless, the victory was far too Pyrrhic for the British. One more victory like that and Congress will win the war!

Replay 5 Brandywine

Tension mounts along the Brandywine.

Too keep it random, I setup and then rolled a die (1 or 2 and the British come in from the left, 3 or 4 in the center, and 5 or 6 on the right). I rolled a three so that means two things: 1) they come in right behind Knyphausen 2) The game start on turn 1, which means it’s going to be a long day for the Colonial forces.

General Knox’s artillery drives the Hessians from Jones’ Ford as Howe hits all the crossings in an attempt to knock the rebels right off their high horses.
Knyphausen is shocked by the plucky colonist’s defense as the British are thrown back from all their crossing attempts, but next up his Cornwallis’ wing. They are the cream of his majesty’s service and the Continentals are not what they were before the first assault.

The question isn’t whether Howe can beat General Washington’s ragged army, but how easily he can do it. The British want to brush aside the rebel army like it was nothing. Too many casualties and Washington will declare a Colonial Victory. The catch is that the British can Unpack Baggage Trains and recover from spent without fear of colonial depredations. The colonists risk their baggage being overrun if they Unpack their bags, but how long can they last as more of the army becomes spent?

After desultory and ineffective artillery fire on both sides, Cornwallis attempts two crossings. Somehow, Washington has found men to defend the river.

The casualties from turn one are seen in the lower right hand corner. I am using my homebrew rule that allows casualties to be absorbed by either unit if one is supporting. Since Mathews and the Grenadiers are both elite, they absorb two hits before one (Mathews has to flip to spent, when the Virginians roll 3 hits. Nevertheless, the Virginians did manage to stop two of his Majesty’s finest units, and live to tell about it.

Mathews drives the Virginians from Brinton’s ford in the center, and Agnew takes Jones’ Ford. The heroic militia cross Pyle’s Ford and threaten the British right.
Seeing the militia across, Green sends a detachment of handpicked volunteers for a forlorn hope mission to see what mayhem they can cause behind British lines.
As the sun reaches its midday point, Cornwallis turns up the pressure and the redcoats hit Strand’s Minnesotans…Wait, What? One of the perks I got for working on this system was I got a unit named after me, which I replaced one of Sullivan’s historical units with.

On the right you can see a detachment across the Brandywine in the woods. This is Greene’s Forlorn Hope mission sent across to cause problems. In a regular game, the British wouldn’t know it was just a detachment. In any event, if they just ignore it, Greene’s men could capture a Baggage Train and give the Americans a decisive victory. Given this risk, Knyphausen takes no chances and sends Ferguson’s elite Scotsmen with their broadswords to do a little bushwhacking.

Strands Minnesotans are dislodged, but they live. This is far better than their famous followers did almost a hundred years later at Gettysburg!
Howe, feeling one more push should do it, commits the whole line! Ferguson finds just a handful of men, this delay has effectively removed him from the main battle.
Rebuffed! The British are pushed back with terrible losses. Maxwell’s men pick off The Hobbits of the shire (more bonus troops replacing a British regular unit!) and break Agnew’s men, before falling back themselves.
The rebels fall back as the Grenadiers hit Knox’s artillery and Nash’s North Carolinians.
They bloody their foes noses, but they must fall back.

At this point I could have unpacked some colonial baggage and might have held off the beleaguered Brits, now well away from their own Baggage Trains, but with rioting beginning in nearby Minneapolis and heading my way, I decided to play it safe and wrap it up, so I could attend to my own affairs.

Howe paid a little more dearly than he would have liked, and the Americans fought more orderly than they did historically, so I’m calling it a draw.

Replay 4 Marengo

Marengo has an awesome map, very authentic. I used a blue colored pencil to highlight the rivers and aid gameplay.

I like the way the easy to see rivers look and play, but I totally understand if you treat your expensive maps with more care.

Here is the map in its full splendor, forty inches wide!

If you’re not real close to the map you can’t really even notice the colored rivers. If you decide to do this, you have to take time to make sure it is a river and not a road. It is not always obvious. On maps with more hills I will frequently draw a contour line along the top side of the slope lines with a regular pencil. This helps when the map is covered with blocks and it becomes hard to determine where the upslope is. On the Marengo map the slopes are few and so is the piece count, so I don’t touch the map.

Initial setup. The French forward elements have a very specific area to begin the game, with Napoleon and Marat in their predesignated spots. The Austrians must start bottled up across the river.

The Austrians must breakout to the North or East and It will take them almost the full game to get there, even without the French in their way. If they get too held up (likely) they will have to use column to gain some distance, but that means the French can really put them in the hurt locker. The game can last into a second day, so the French must ultimately stop them. Instead of waiting for Godot, they are waiting for Desaix (who shows up turn 5)! Desaix’s arrival can be decisive IF the Austrians are too exhausted.

This battle is a pressure cooker every time!

I have gotten notice that my 3.0 kits (Available here) have shipped, No doubt to arrive tomorrow! You can imagine what 3 extra blocks could do for French Fog of War. As well, the Austrian detachments could look like Ott’s light troops had taken the Northern road. When playing solitaire, they make effective speed bumps, forcing the Austrians out of column as they race to reach their LoCs.

The 3.0 rules clarify that the Northern road crosses the river at Monte-Castello, and that optional Northern route is pretty good for one of Melas’ other commands, as it draws off units the French can ill afford to spare. It is not a sure-win strategy, or the game would be broken, but it is an option. I chose to go with a more historical start, “Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle!” After all, the Austrians have the strength of numbers, why not concentrate?

The Austrian Artillery starts wearing down the French Army

The Austrians start on turn 0 with a free, unopposed move. I used this to get my artillery within range of the French lines so I can start reducing units to spent on turn one. If I can wear the French down, he will have to deploy his baggage trains early and that would be great for the Austrians.

The French fall back rather than take the full Austrian onslaught right away. The Austrians then must move up their artillery instead of firing it. This buys the French Army time.

The French try to buy time because on turn 3 Murat gets another cavalry division and Turn 5 Desaix appears. I do not have the 3.0 upgrade kit yet, so I have made some temporary Baggage Trains with my column markers. On one side they say “Mobile” and on the other “Set” to show them unpacked.

Murat’s cavalry start a flanking move to try and force the Austrians to defend their Baggage Trains extra well. The Austrian artillery is playing Havoc on the French left.

The Austrian dragoons are moving up with the Grenadiers to create some combined arms breakthroughs in the French line. If the French cavalry can force the Austrian cavalry to protect the Baggage Trains, they might ruin the Austrian plans.

The Austrians try to turn the French flanks, while Murat hits the Austrian right.
Murat has managed to create a crisis in the Austrian rear while Lannes keeps the pressure on Ott, who can’t go chasing after Murat. Desaix is seen marching North, racing to secure the Northern LoC before the Austrian left can capture it.
Murat’s cavalry division, cut off from the rest of the corps, is reduced to a purely defensive role, but they do allow Desaix to win the race to the North LoC. Meanwhile, Murat is harassed by artillery and unable to capture the Austrian baggage. The Austrians do manage to destroy half of Gardane’s division with a combined arms assault, leaving a dangerous hole in the French center!
Murat chases the Austrian Baggage till the coming night forces him to call off the pursuit.
Night moves

In the night, both sides unpack one Baggage Train and try to recover some spent units. The Austrian Baggage is safe, but only because the Austrians are protecting it well. Protecting it with troops that are desperately needed elsewhere!

Turn 2 Charge of the Consular Guard by The Morzin Grenadiers and the Kaiser Dragoons!

Turn 1 sees more rallying and repositioning of exhausted troops, but turn 2 finds Desaix doing Desaix things and driving back the Austrian flying wing under O’Reille that was Pushing for the Northern LoC. In an attempt to force a decisive issue, Melas commits his Grenadiers and the Kaiser’s Dragoons against the French Guard and the Corsican usurper of all that’s good in Austria.

Combined arms attack as the Grenadiers force the Guard into line and the Dragoons charge in.
The Guard tries to fall back in order to protect l’Emperuer, but the Dragoons are just too much and history is rewritten!

Note that here I elected to use my cavalry breakthrough rule to create a quick end to the game. Ordinarily, the retreat of the Guard would have ended the combat and given the Guard a chance to survive, pending chit draws and Alter Turn Order rolls. If I were playing against somebody, that’s the way I would have went. But it was just me, and I like the dramatic ending. When I’m playing solo, I rarely care to fight it out to the bitter end, versus a human opponent, it’s “Never Surrender!”

What do you think, do like the breakthrough rule, or do you prefer the official rules that leave the outcome to the following chit draw? I can’t really decide, I like both for different reasons.

Waterloo Replay 3

Grouchy! This time I’m trying out the Grouchy variant. Grouchy got the message and is racing to join the Grande Armee.

After my quick two turn game last replay, I thought I’d try again. I figured when the situation for a possible cavalry breakthrough move occurred, I’d decide then if I want to change the rule or not.

In the mean time, I thought I’d try the Grouchy variant that allows Grouchy’s Corps to start arriving as if the original message had called him hence. This is turn one after movement, but before combat. Bulow’s IV Prussian Corps HQ can be seen on the extreme right. If this were any other army and a major road, the whole corps would arrive in almost one turn. Instead, it is a minor road and the Prussians must have two blocks trailing each unit to show their huge baggage trains. It will take most of the game to get them on the battlefield!

Turn 1 looks very similar to last game, but note, the artillery has been completely ineffective, just like historically. Historically, there was some damage, but nothing that would affect the readiness of an entire division!

Here we see a more typical French first turn. Spent French divisions everywhere, whilst the British line remains largely intact. When the French infantry failed to reduce any opposing divisions to spent status, the cavalry road off rather than face an enemy in squares. The French lost two infantry divisions and the British had two Corps level artillery put out of action for a bit.

Renewed French attacks on turn 2 again end up ineffective and somewhat costly.
Around 3:00pm Kellerman launches what he hopes is the decisive attack. Picton and his artillery have been driven back in disarray.

This illustrates the Charge! rule that allows certain units (listed by scenario, but frequently Elites and Heavy Cavalry) to move and attack immediately! This is that moment when time seems to stop (as when the Guard is committed). In this case, everything is being thrown in, trying to create a decisive moment.

Success! Well, sort of. Picton’s troops are driven back again, but they are not out. IIIc cavalry is now blown, but another effort will be required.

I did not try to blur out Kellerman’s division, but what a cool effect my poor photography has accomplished this time! There is a Baggage Train a few hundred yards off. Even if I had decided to use my cavalry breakthrough rules, it wouldn’t have mattered, II Corps’ chit has not been drawn yet (remember, this is a Charge!, so there’s still lots chits to draw) and they will move to safety when they get a chance.

Next the Middle Guard and Guard Lancers attack, intending to sweep all before them.
The attack by the Guards was blunted and the Guards were driven back. The Dutch infantry under Chasse, the only unit available, attempts to crash into the sides of the mass of retreating French, which could have been devastating except d’Elon sends over Marcognet’s infantry and the Dutch dissolve.

The combat phase (above) shows the true chaos of war. Charge and counter-charge, desperate men putting in their last ounce of strength. Bulow’s column is cut up by Grouchy’s incoming Corps.

The French attacks have once again been halted, but the Prussians are in disarray. At this point, it would seem Napoleon should admit that his hoped for easy victory has eluded him and he should back off to fight another day. But he is Napoleon, this is Waterloo, if not today, there will not be another day.

On turn 3 Wellington unpacked a Baggage Train and that has allowed him to form a coherent line on turn 4. He had to wait until the French had a chance to either stall or break through. They stalled, and his gamble paid off. During the turn, before regular combat, the answer wasn’t so obvious. Now it can clearly be seen that it was the right thing to do.

The late afternoon looks to be a lull before one final storm towards dusk. The French troops are spent and Grouchy has not made it onto the battlefield, yet.

I have my own way of resolving multiple unit combat. The official rules do it from the inside out, first contacted to last. That works, it is the official rule, and I will support and answer any questions as to how that rule works. I happen to do it the opposite way, outside in. I do this because it keeps the suspense up. Resolving from the inside out tends to make counter-charging flankers pointless since it won’t have any affect on the main battle.

I want to take a moment to look at this combat from turn 3. A classic flank attack being itself flanked. Remember, the actual turn order does not necessarily describe the way events turn out. It is not as if Brunswick flank attacked CIV Watier as he attacked Halkett’s spent Rehnish troops, and then Quiot got the idea to flank Brunswick. That might have happened that way, but I think it is more likely that Watier had requested support and D’Erlon sent Quiot’s division who went wide and found the Brunswickers coming to the aid of the hapless Halkett. Photo effects courtesy picmonkey.

Action, reaction, and couterreaction!
Quiot and the Brunswickers get tied up in intense fighting that neither of them expected.
Watier’s Curassiers mince Halkett’s division, but the chaos to their left forces them to withdraw and reevaluate the situation.
Turn 4 ends with some scuffling on the French right by the oncoming Prussians.
Turn 5 begins with a charge by the Old Guard and the Curassiers.

The Old Guard just can’t catch a break and the Brunswickers throw them back, then to top it off, they throw back the Curassiers as well. After that effort, still fresh, they do retire across the swamp to prevent any more cavalry attacks. They leave a lone lorn attachment to warn of any more French perfidy.

Turn 5 and all 17 Corps are on the field!

At this point with all 17 Corps present on the battlefield it becomes surprising with each chit draw to see who still hasn’t moved. One more grand French effort. If they don’t break the British line this time they will be hard pressed to accomplish anything other than “desperate” measures.

Turn 5 combat complete. French reverses everywhere.

From what I can gather, the appearance of Grouchy only serves to counter-balance the Prussians, not save the day. I am beginning to come of the opinion that If the French don’t win early, they probably aren’t going to win, much like Confederates at Gettysburg.

Napoleon’s Waterloo turn 6

The Curassiers charge and the detachment scrambles across the swamp to warn the rest of the Brunswick division that the French are coming.

It is turn six and the Guard’s chit is drawn early and the blown Curassiers and spent Old Guard attempt the impossible one more time. The French use the Charge! rule again.

The Old Guard seizes destiny and crosses the swamp and scales the escarpment to decide the day.
The Old Guard is stunned by the resolute Brunswickers who say, “You shall not pass!” They fall back and Napoleon is forced to concede as his army, by the repulse of the Guard, turns and flees.

I show a stunned Guard having retreated, but in reality, they rolled three misses and the Brunswickers rolled three hits. A 1 chance out of 64 occurrence. It was not meant to be. Napoleon surrenders.

In reality, the French have nothing left to mount another attack. The oncoming Prussians don’t allow Napoleon to draw troops from anywhere else to mount another attack, and Grouchy won’t make it by night fall.

Plus, I always feel if the Old Guard is eliminated the French are done.

Waterloo Replay 2

Morning at Waterloo, waiting for the ground to dry out.

This game I decided to test a few homebrew rules. The problem with testing more than one rule at once is the likelihood I’ll forget one of them. This time I forgot to use the rule that hits can be applied to either the lead unit, or the supporting unit. The one I did remember was one where attacking cavalry (including cavalry supporting an attack) can follow up and keep attacking after combat. One final rule I was playing with also was one that required eliminated units to retreat before their elimination. These rules can be seen here in my homebew post. What transpired is an interesting study in play testing.

Again, this is a solo game, so I have the British facing reversed so I can see their labels without having to spin the map around. My goal is to recreate, not to “win.”

The Grand Battery pummels the center line and the I and II Corps pry open the gap.

The game opened fairly well for the French as the Grand Battery was able to severely damage the center of the British line. Although they weren’t able to follow up that success, the two flanking attacks that did occur did well enough in their own right.

II Corps plus d’Hurbal’s Curassiers slam into Picton’s Division.

The initial French combined arms assault did manage to destroy the British Artillery, but d’Aubeme’s supporting division drove them off and the British unpacked a Baggage Train which allowed it to recover. Picton’s Elite Highlanders filled the forward position. The center seemed secure. Until the Chit draw helped the French get a flanking and combined arms attack on those troops, as well as inserting a flank guard on the flanking unit and preventing a British cavalry from foiling the flanking maneuver.

Wellington’s Disaster! Foy’s division routs Picton’s men and then destroy’s d’Aubreme as well. The center folds and French Curassiers break the British line! What are the odds?

However, the following combat phase the French then rolled three hits, forcing the Highlanders to retreat, only inflicting one hit themselves, but pushing back I corps’ artillery and pushing back and disordering the HHC! That was followed up by the French rolling another three hits! This caused d’Aubreme’s division to retreat, pushing the previously retreated units past the Unpacked baggage before being eliminated. Now the supporting French Curassiers had their chance and they pursued, ending up adjacent to the unpacked bags and winning the battle on turn 2!

This could lead one to conclude that the pursuit rule is too strong and breaks the game. Perhaps it is, but I am still not convinced. For this amazingly decisive win to occur a few perfect storm events had to happen. The first was unpacking the bags in direct line of the breakthrough. This was actually not a bad move, it allowed the British to quickly and efficiently rebuild their line after the first turn. They were not expecting a French breakthrough. This was sensible. The real key element of the perfect storm was the French rolling 3 hits while the British rolled only one, followed by the French rolling 3 hits again. The chances of rolling 3 hits are only 1:8, the chances of Rolling three hits twice in a row is 1:64! So you could expect these results only once every 64 games, AND that would only be so devastating if the Baggage were unpacked where they were.

Of course, pursuing cavalry may still be too deadly, even if they are historical!

Antietam Replay 1

Welcome to my first replay post. Let me know how you like this and if you’d like me to do more. This is using the 3.0 rules with Baggage Trains, but not detachments (I forgot to add them). When playing an opponent, unpacked Baggage Trains are inverted with the bags down so as to retain an element of Fog of War. When I play solo I turn them up so I can see them. Also, when playing solo, I have turned the Confederate pieces around so I can see them without having to turn the whole board around each chit draw.

Written Orders – I am playing with written orders. The written orders rules I’m playing with are very basic. When I draw a chit I look to see what its orders are, If they are not underlined, I underline them. I must carry those out. If I want different orders I write them down, but I don’t carry them out until the following turn when they get underlined. The underlining just makes sure I remember which orders I should be following.

Written orders make the game play faster because one is not trying to figure out what to do, what gains the best advantage, each turn. The Corps will just follow its orders, with a turn delay getting new orders. Because I am playing solo, there are no miscommunication issues. The main issue is the delay in transmission of new orders. Often, opportunities can not be taken advantage of (like attacking an exposed unit, aiding a near by Corps, or sacking an exposed Baggage Train) because those aren’t the orders.

Initial setup with reinforcements (Franklin’s VI Corps on turn 3 and A.P. Hill on turn 5) at their entry points.

After a dawn conference the Union command is in the field. McClellan has decided on a demonstration North of Sharpsburg to tie that portion of the rebels down while the main drive to the South of Sharpsburg is led by Hooker’s I Corps. Burnside will cross the Antietam at the lower (Rohrbach’s) bridge and clear the heights on the Union’s left flank. Porter’s V Corp will guard the Union’s Artillery sent that way to support Burnside.

Burnside attacks McLaws across the southern bridge!

The initial artillery duel at left has seen the Union artillery south of the Middle Bridge in disarray, as is Jackson’s artillery is also disorganized. On the extreme right II Corps is seen occupying the East woods while below XII Corps is moving to the sunken road. The Middle Bridge has funneled the initial advance of I and XII Corps, neither of which has accomplished much beyond managing a simple crossing.

Longstreet receives the full measure of the Union’s best troops!

Lee confers in downtown Sharpsburg with Jackson and Stuart. There is minor skirmishing North of town with sporadic artillery and musketry, but the assault is obviously heavy south of town and Longstreet sends his regrets that he is unable to join them for coffee.

McClellan instructs Mansfield (XII) to block any Confederate troops observed moving south to reinforce.

Burnside pushes for the Harper’s Ferry Road in an attempt to cut one southern retreat route.

Whilst Burnside’s Large Corps is able to keep the pressure on west of the Lower Bridge, The divisions of both Hooker and Longstreet that fought so heavily south of Sharpsburg must pull back, reorganize and recover, before continuing the fight.

Meta-game notes: The Union and the Confederacy have both elected to unpack one Baggage Train each. This allows both Hood’s Texans and Hooker’s men to refit and recover.

Burnside’s juggernaut is finally halted by Walker’s division as two Union divisions are destroyed!

Porter has received orders to capture the ford that is reputed to exist at the tip[ of the finger of land south of the Southern Bridge, while Burnside tries to reform what is left of his IX Corps after the disastrous late morning assaults. Franklin’s VI Corps arrives and is sent to secure the Hagerstown Turnpike, cutting off another of Lee’s possible LoCs.

Meta game notes: VI Corps enters in column for which I use 1/8″ thick blocks special-ordered from a local supplier (www.tregames.com 1/8″ Birch plywood 3/8″x1 7/8″) @ 30 for $4. I have a divider that I set at 1/3 infantry moves and I use for almost all my measuring needs, and solid metal dice for authoritative dicing! You can see how few orders I have needed to change so far. V corps has been ordered to take the ford. This will change as we go forward.

Both sides have unpacked one Baggage Train. Baggage trains can supply any division within command range. They only use their Corp designation for movement. Since Unpacking is the player’s (General’s) decision, it doesn’t require orders.

Where to unpack is one of the toughest decisions to make, and takes experience to master. Lee has unpacked close enough to allow the troops South of Sharpsburg to gain some benefit. McClellan has unpacked on the East side of Antietam Creek and leaves enough room for a unit to have room to defend it from the creek, even though that limits its range Westward.

Hooker slams into Hood!

Reorganized and reinvigorated, the desperate fighting resumes south of Sharpsburg. Longstreet is steadying his troops on the hill as they prepare for a resumption of Hostilities to the south. There is a steady fusillade of fire from the opposing troops, but neither is committing to a serious effort, yet.

Longstreet delivers a stinging rebuke to Hooker!

Longstreet flanks Hooker’s men, while applying a warm reminder to Burnside’s Corps to stay back. Porter’s V corps has received orders to move south and secure the road to the Antietam Iron Works, leaving Botele’s Ford as the only remaining southern LoC. However, A.P. Hill’s “foot cav” have arrived just in the knick of time! They are met by a dispatch from Longstreet telling them, that they are now attached to him, and he would be most grateful if they were to proceed along the Potomac and turn the Union left.

Late afternoon and Sumner’s gets the orders they have been waiting for to “Hit’em hard!

McClellan decides the time is now and releases the Union right flank against Jackson’s troops North of Sharpsburg, but Mansfield’s XII doesn’t receive the order in time, and so they sit. Burnside is still under orders to secure the road and presses forth, but Hooker’s Corps has been utterly destroyed and with it, seemingly, all hopes for a Union victory. With both IX and I Corps effectively out of the fight, hope seems to have gone over to the Confederacy.

A.P. Hill begins sweeping up the Union left flank as it becomes unanchored from the Potomac.

As A.P. Hill’s division, combined with Stuart’s cavalry, completely overwhelms the green troops of Morell’s Division, Burnside makes one last attempt to break the Confederate line. Walker’s division had moved to protect Hill’s left and this was watched with alarm by Porter as he sat upon his horse upon the hill. He ordered the Artillery to open up and give them a greeting on the warmest terms. The artillery had a most telling affect, one ball careering down a lane taking out a caisson of powder which blew up, causing a most fearful confusion.

Metagame note: The glorious dead are arrayed at the lower left. All of I Corps and half of IX Corps!

Porter, the “Bull of Antietam” breaks the southern line!

Fitz John Porter had a tough decision to make. Come to the aid of his suffering division along the river, or follow his orders to “Break the southern line!” Believing it was safer, even if it appeared more daring, he ordered Sykes division to follow up the rebels retreating from the barrage.

Meanwhile, Lee waited pensively to hear the result of A.P. Hill’s arrival on the Union’s flank when in rode a messenger from Walker’s division. “We are lost, Sir! Them yankees are swarming everything before ’em!” Having listened to the barrage and feared the worst Lee knew he had to save his army and not let it be captured, all the bridges were blown and the only route left was at Botele’s Ford. He sounded the retreat, but it was too late. The Yankees were attacking on all fronts and with the retreat sounded, the retreat turned into a rout. All was lost.

Meta-game discussion: As the designers were struggling for a way to make Baggage Trains more significant (after all, they are critical in Kriegspiel), WITHOUT adding troublesome logistics rules, they finally developed the solution.

Victory conditions are often the hardest part of game design. Key terrain features that end up being fought over weren’t usually decided on until the battle was fought. The previous way Pub Battles handled it was just to say that you had to inflict 50% losses on your opponent. The trouble with this is that it made defense the way to go. At Gettysburg the two armies could just set up on opposing hills and wait for the attack. Forcing Lee to attack just handed the game to Meade. Now there is a sudden death way to break the opponent. and it’s in the player’s hands!

Fitz-John Porter “The Bull of Antietam”*

*Not really an historical nickname, just for this alternate history. Illustrating how fickle fate can be.

Rules Version 3.0!

Version 3.0 of the rules for Command Post Games’ Pub Battles have come out, and they are figuratively and literally a game changer.

One way that you can tell is that I now play with almost no “homebrew” rules. I play the official version. I may add rules for solitaire and so forth, but I play the game primarily by the rules as printed.

The biggest difference is the role of Baggage Trains. They have also added “Detachments” and cleaned up the rules for Hidden Reserves and moved them from merely optional, to regular. They have also added upgrade kits (at no cost!) that include any extra needed blocks, as well as updated scenario booklets.

Baggage Trains – This is the single most noticeable change in 3.0. The rule consists of three components that are inherently simple, but have profound effect on the game play. The first component is that if you contact an enemy Baggage Train, you win a Major Victory. The second component is that if your enemy packs up a Baggage Train, to keep it from being captured, you win a Minor Victory. The third component is the only way a unit can rally is if it is within command range of an unpacked Baggage Train, which cannot move.

If you capture your opponent’s Baggage Train, it signifies you breaking through the defenses and causing the army to rout. If you pack up your Baggage Train first, it signifies you quitting the battlefield in some order and choosing to fight another day.

Baggage Trains signify more than just supplies, they also represent the signal corps, hospital units, fortification tools, etc. They represent everything that comes into play when the General decides on the decisive point of the battle. The loss of which is a good mechanic to determine that point where an army’s morale breaks.

You should devote some resources to protecting your Baggage!

Detachments – Detachments represent those smaller organizations that can have an effect on a battle, yet aren’t divisional in strength. They can only take one hit, and only roll one die in combat. Their primary use is in Fog of War. Until combat, the enemy doesn’t know it’s only a detachment. They can also act as speed bumps, delaying an enemy advance, or even as a last ditch defense when something has to be thrown in the way. They can support an artillery unit in combat, allowing it the retreat option, just like a regular unit.

Hidden Reserves – The rules for Hidden Reserves are cleaned up to avoid some gamey abuses, and they are re-classified from optional to regular rules. You don’t have to use Hidden Reserves, but you always can. In addition to their Fog of War purpose, they are certainly a convenient way to bring on lots of reinforcements, like the Prussians at Waterloo.

New retreat rules – The first is that a retreating unit pushes back and flips to spent any friendly blocks it can’t avoid. The second is that spent dragoons and mounted in column can’t retreat before combat.

Field of Fire – These rules have expanded slightly. One gamey tactic that was being used was to move a unit slightly behind, but not supporting, an attacking unit. If the attacking unit was eliminated, the other unit would remain. Now the unit must retreat if it is in a Field of Fire after combat, but did not participate in combat this turn.

Some folks may wonder why a FoF template wasn’t included, my answer is that it isn’t needed. I made a template and then rarely used it! Just back up till it looks right, and that’s close enough. If it is a big issue, then use the measuring stick. Rather than fiddle with the 45 degree angle, I just measure one third move from the frontcenter of the block. This is slightly less area, which makes sense, as the unit wouldn’t have all that firepower compressed into one corner. Its easy, and it works.

Ancient Pub Battles Review

Ancient Pub Battles: Cannae

Ancient Pub Battles is now available from Command Post Games. It is available for the very economical price of $44.76, Get it here. This is possible because it needs no map, Ancient battles having been generally fought on level fields. Disclaimer: The faux leather playing mat is my own pimpware, purchased from a local fabric store. It looks cool, but is absolutely unnecessary.

Ancient Pub Battles is markedly different from its black powder era predecessors. Rather than command being dependent on subordination (Army>Corps>Division), it is dependent on proximity. The leaders move first and then measure command from their final position. Additionally, it does not matter if the unit has already moved. If you have three leaders, they could move the same unit 3 times! As powerful as this sounds, it means that the rest of your army is just stationary. That is a rare luxury to have. Usually, you are strapped trying to keep your army in one piece.

Instead of depending on units in range, a leader may move adjacent to a block of adjacent units and that whole block may move as one, even if parts of it are out of the leaders command range. In the early turns it is quite easy to move your entire army around, after the lines clash and the large blocks get broken up, you are left trying to manage disparate forces, some ready to press a defeated foe, others spent and fleeing.

The basic game comes with 4 kinds of infantry, 2 kinds of Cav, and elephants! I’m sure future scenarios will include even more.

True to Pub Battles nature, the focus is on a quick play, command focused, gaming experience. This is ideal for those with less time, or for taking along while traveling. If you want a more detailed and specific simulation experience, this may not be for you.

I say may because one of the best features of this system is how adaptable it is to personal preferences. Do you think Roman Legions should get a special bonus? Knock yourself out! The system plays well and is balanced as is. Once you start changing things, all bets are off.

In that spirit, here are the mods I am currently using, developed after a few games.

Cavalry gets +1. This replaces the official rule that cav gets -1 v. fresh units and +1 v. spent units. I feel this is a remnant from the black powder rules where units formed squares. The effect of the official rule is to make cavalry skittish and useless except when facing spent troops and this doesn’t quite feel right, to me.

The Historical scenarios are balanced as is and shouldn’t be changed. For DYO point buy battles, I make leaders work a little differently. For each pip on their leadership rating they get a command action. Each block (of one or more units) requires one pip to move. It also costs one pip to rally one unit. All such units must be within command range with blocks of units only requiring a part of the block within range. Each side gets 9-12 pips (each side equal).
Ex. For 12 points you could get a 5, a 4, and a 3 pip leader, or four 3 pip leaders, or any other combination adding up to 12.

Interestingly, If you play the historical scenarios using this rule, you will see how Hannibal managed to win so many battles. This may even be more historically accurate, but it certainly isn’t fun to play Rome!