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…
I have tried various combos of specific and conditional orders, all of which proved unnecessary! Simple is best. Just write down a location or range (from here to here) and the HQ will attempt to go there and control the area. If they are in that location, they will defend it. How wide a latitude you want to use to interpret those orders is up to you.
I have also used the orders to attach a unit to a different Corps.
If an HQ has units on its reserve card, I just write the unit’s name and enclose it in brackets.
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.
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 orders, 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. Write and underline new orders.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!
Here is a simple sheet to track orders: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vTITgxL-yIJnmwOkN67Mo4V5MEAogdaNFmMObjdr75EDDQijivriOF0smfW_HhZ3P2jKzcdj64O_ub0/pubhtml
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 and new orders are written to be followed the following (no pun intended) 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.
One of the most enjoyable ways to play Pub Battles is remotely. This requires two players and a referee. They can be sitting separately in the same Pub, or in completely different locations and time zones! This gives an authentic Kriegspiel experience because the players have very limited information of the positions of any combatants. They only have the locations of their HQs. They have no say over the divisions or other subordinate units of their Corps.
The player maps don’t need to be the game map. Its more fun, and authentic, to just print out historical maps and gives those to the players.
The referee sits with a copy of the game and an order sheet with all current Corps and orders written on it. He texts the players that he is ready for turn one orders.
The players each have their maps with the starting positions of their Corps HQs and any knowledge of the enemy positions the Referee cares to share with them. They submit their turn one orders, all of which are immediately carried out by the Referee.
The players patiently wait, enjoy their beverage of choice, chatting with nearby friends, while studying and overthinking their plans. 😉
The referee draws chits, carries out orders, and resolves combat. When the turn is complete he texts a dispatch to each player reporting combat results and any changed positions. He also let them know the deadline when their next orders are due.
Players are allowed to text one response to any text from the Referee. They can send additional texts, but additional texts have a strong likelihood of being misinterpreted. The referee’s general guidelines are that the first text is carried out automatically, any additional text requires a check for success (4+). If an order is unsuccessful, the ref has discretion what that may mean. The orders (any sent, including the first) can be misinterpreted, lost, or even captured. The players have no way of knowing.
Notes for Refereeing – Your roll as referee is a fun way to play Pub Battles, as you get to play a game solo with two opponents submitting orders. Here are some general guidelines to make sure the players have a fun experience:
Try to make the experience of them sitting in the command tent as authentic as possible. You can add personality to different commanders, as well as adding game info for color. Commanders can be begging for supplies to recover their depleted divisions. Try to give the players enough info to make deciding when and where to unpack their baggage Trains.
In general, try to provide them with all the info you can. Even if you tell them precisely all the information they need, they are still going to feel like they are boxing with blindfolds. You can tell your players are too confused to be having fun if they start disengaging or writing silly orders.
As you draw chits you can play with the order they are drawn, or you can adhere strictly to the draw. The goal is to make the game interesting for the players. Use chit draws and combat dice as guidelines.
While insuring the players have a good time, you want to avoid teaching players that whining works. Life isn’t fair, and war is worse. Make Corps commander’s personas and abilities come alive. A successful Referee will have players trusting some commanders and not trusting others with important tasks.
In my variable leaders variant I give suggestions on ways great leaders and poor leaders can differ, and this might give you some ideas.
Good luck and Good gaming–Please let me know how your games work out!