The chit draw activation is the most powerful mechanic in the Pub Battles arsenal. The Pub Battles system is as subtle as it is basic. Unlike almost every YouMove/IMove game out there, if you are contacted by the enemy before you move, you can simply move away.
When I first played a game of Pub Battles (Brandywine), I assumed the rules were incomplete because they didn’t say you couldn’t move away if contacted. The result of playing that way was that both commanders tried to move before the enemy every turn. This resulted in no strategy, just simple luck of the die.
When I found out that a unit could move when activated regardless of whether or not it had been previously contacted a light went off in my head. “Wow. Wait…That means…” This was quite literally a game changer for me.
One of the decisions that was made when the rules were written, was they weren’t going to include a lot of “unlearning” guidelines. This has the interesting affect of making the system harder to learn for grognards than newbies to the wargaming world. Since there is no way to guess what “chatter” might be brought forward from previous rules experience, it was decided to not worry about it. There is just no way to estimate all the ways a simple rule might be misunderstood.
Over time and with a little experience, I’ve learned a few things about how to command an Army in the Pub Battles system. Key to understanding the chit draw mechanic is that the order of the chit draw in the game is not necessarily the order of events being simulated. Everything is more or less simultaneous, and often the later drawn command can be thought of as having the initiative, because they see (or accurately anticipate) what the enemy is going to do, and can react to it.
You will note that I almost never use absolutes when referring to the chit draw. The chit draw allows for almost any potentiality. It does not imply anything, but you can infer a wide variety of events based on how the draw ended up.
All you really know for sure is which units were actually decisively in combat over the length of the turn. The only combat that has to be resolved in the combat phase is that combat that results in enough damage to be shown by the effects of one or more hits on a divisional level.
Say a unit moves a short distance before coming into contact with an enemy unit, then the enemy unit gingerly activates and slides a ways back, thus no combat to resolve in the combat phase. It might look like the unit moved to attack and then sat there while the defender moved back a bit and like MC Hammer cried “Can’t touch this!”
If that were the case, then the Pub Battles system would be deeply flawed. Fortunately, although that is what is explicitly shown, this is a situation where there may be a whole lot of implicit combat occurring. Something caused that unit to only move a short distance.
There is a lot involved in getting several thousand men on a battlefield to launch an attack; orders have to be received and understood; logistical concerns have to have been considered; a myriad of things have to go right. Assuming all that goes off in a timely way (often, it may be that some delay kept the unit from moving sooner), you have the enemy himself.
The enemy may not intend to hold the ground, but aren’t going to let you just waltz up and have it for free. Think of Nathaniel Greene and his famous delaying actions which saved Washington’s army any number of times. “Sir, we just can’t get at ’em!” There may be all sorts of hot engagements, just nothing that results in the step loss of a division.
There is also no end to the subterfuge that a clever commander can use to confound his opponent (although, incompetence is probably more common then brilliance).
All this is leading up to some of the why’s and wherefores of the chit draw. Generally, you want to go later, but not always.
If you’re defending, you may want to go later because then you can decide which units that have been contacted want to stay and fight it out, and which ones want to back off and not fight the battle the enemy has chosen for them. You may simply want to see what the enemy is going to do so you can react and prepare a proper reception.
Going first might seem the better option if your defender wants to rally, or set up a defensive position, select the best terrain, before the enemy arrives.
If you’re attacking, you want to go later so you can decide exactly which combats you’re going to fight AND where exactly you’re going to fight them. As always, it’s good to see what the defender is doing and where he is doing it before you decide to attack and prevent him from responding to it.
One critical benefit to moving first is that it allows the defender to yield exactly the terrain you desire without a fight. Besides allowing you to gain ground without sacrifice, it allows you to see what areas he is willing to fight for, and which areas he is willing to let go of. Knowing these priorities gives you a hint as to his strategy and concerns.
Understanding the chit draw and its implications allows you to make better choices as to when to roll to Alter Turn Order. I hope this helps you to imagine the battlefield in a Pub Battles game, and to build a vibrant and exciting narrative around the chit draw.