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: If your curious about the system here’s an overview.
This optional rule is intended to be used with Written Orders. Each corps has a command rating; Great (1-4), Average (1-3), or Poor (1-2). Each time a corps is activated make a roll: Great – Success means it may change its own orders immediately, failure means it may consider itself Without Orders (write new orders to follow next turn). Average – Success means it may consider itself Without Orders (write new orders to follow next turn). Failure means it must follow its current orders. Poor – Success means it must follow its current orders. Failure means it does nothing and its activation is over.
Note: For any HQ besides Poor, if you simply intend to follow the orders as given, no roll is necessary.
Leaders in Combat
After a Corps has finished moving, its HQ (unless Poor) may be placed adjacent to one of its units. If it is in combat, that unit is now considered elite (ignores the first hit). If the unit is eliminated in combat that turn, the Leader is considered a casualty. Re-roll 3d6 to determine the new commander’s rating: 0-2 hits = Poor, 3 hits = Average, 3 sixes = Elite.
Great leaders tended to have an almost preternatural ability to sense what needed to be done. Average leaders could at least be counted on to carry out their orders, and usually would try to confirm orders that didn’t make sense. Poor leaders could rarely be counted on to carry out their orders in a timely fashion and could often be found dithering in uncertainty, giving excuses for their inaction.
In combat, many Corps leaders would take personal control of important fights, often that participation was crucial to the unit’s success. Such activity was risky and might result in the leader falling as a casualty. In standard military fashion, a subordinate would take up command of the corps, but the new commander was likely to be less effective for a time.
Victory Conditions are difficult to come up with. What was the goal of the commanders going into the battle? Did this change during the battle? Defeating the opponents army is always a good idea, but if that’s the only condition, why would you attack? Just grab some good terrain and hold it. To this day, many heated discussions can be had over who won a certain battle!
Gettysburg can be particularly tough since neither commander planned on fighting there; Both were dragged in somewhat reluctantly. So what constitutes Victory?
The current Victory Conditions are simply to be the first to destroy 50% of the enemy’s army for a major victory and to simply total and compare losses for a minor victory. While technically accurate, this simply rewards cautious defensive play. Yawn.
I keep the Sudden death Victory conditions of being the first to destroy 50% of the opponents army for Victory.
Failing that, the winner is the army that is the only army within 1/3 infantry move of Cemetery Hill at the end of Day 3.
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 is 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 Line of Communications .
All baggage train rules presented in Pub Battles rules 2.92 are in effect. The major difference between these rules and the earlier versions was that the earlier versions allowed any units within 1/3 Mounted Move of a BT to Rally. Now that is capped at one unit per turn. When a spent unit’s HQ is activated, a spent unit within range of a BT may rally. Flip the BT to show that it is used this turn. Also flip the BT if you move it, showing that is can not rally a unit this turn.
Night Turn Recovery.
During the Night Turn, each BT rally, move, or recover an eliminated unit.
Recover Eliminated Unit – A previously eliminated unit may be returned to the map spent by placing it adjacent to its HQ. The HQ must be within 1/3 of a mounted move of the BT.
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 an 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…
You can give your units two types of orders. “Attack Location” or “Defend Location.” The example in the picture is for the order “Defend Round Top.”
When a Location is given, a foot movement marker is centered on that point, and the Location in question encompasses anywhere within that perimeter.
Perimeter – The Location is the point from which the perimeter is defined. Place the center of the foot move marker on the center of the objective, the ends of the marker show the perimeter. If you name a geographic feature that is quite large, the actual Location is the center. If the geographic feature is larger than the foot move marker, you may want to specify a more exact spot, or else the extreme ends of the feature will not be covered. You may also describe a line from point to point, and the HQ will attempt to occupy the line.
The “Attack” order will have the Corps HQ attempt to occupy that Location 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 Location and its perimeter, but it will not move to contact (attack) an enemy.
Artillery always has the option to bombard, no matter what its HQ’s orders may be.
Way Points – If you want your HQ to follow a certain path you may select way points which the units will move towards. Once one way point is reached the units proceed towards the next way point on the list.
Ex. Attack Willoughby Run | Attack Peach Orchard
Or Attack Cemetery Hill Defend Cemetery Hill
This will order the unit to attack Cemetery Hill, and once that is accomplished, it will then defend it, rather than pursue the enemy and possibly leave an advantageous defensive position.
Helpful Hint: If you don’t want to center on the objective, you can add a finer point on that objective. McPherson Ridge – Lutheran Seminary,
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. If an HQ with the defend order is forced off the Location, or is unable to occupy it because the enemy is currently occupying it, the unit is without orders!
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 he wishes to change the order, he writes the new order underneath the previous order. He then carries out the previous (underlined) order. Next turn he will continue as above with the chit draw and activation. (See optional hands on opportunity below)
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.
Army HQs – If the Army HQ is adjacent to a Corps HQ, that HQ’s orders take effect immediately. Since the two commanders are together, there is no delay in sending orders.
In effect, this allows you to insert yourself right into the game!
Baggage Trains: Baggage Trains move when their parent Corps moves, but they do not have to follow its orders. They may move and Position themselves any way they want.
Night turns: During night turns the corps 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 one 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!
One of the biggest differences you notice is the lack of a fireworks display of unit moves, as each division angles for the best attack. Now they have to act in much more historical coordination with their parent HQ. That parent HQ is going to be operating with a one turn delay in changing orders, so gamey moves that take advantage of the players god-like knowledge of the battlefield and unit strengths and positions will no longer be possible.
Optional hands on opportunity
I like having a lot out of my direct control, but if you want to interject some control, try this: When you elect to change an order, if you flip your HQ and make your command roll, you can ignore your current orders and the HQ is treated as being without orders for the current turn.
The HQ is communicating the need for new orders and is not following current orders.
Two Player with Written Orders
Two players may play with written orders, but it is probably too open ended for truly competitive play.
Whenever you give an HQ new orders, you show your previous orders to your opponent, so he can immediately verify you followed them.
Of course, if you have a referee overseeing the game, hidden orders can be fun.
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.