1 Hit Wonders: Experimental Pub Battles

Marshall Barrington, the Pub Battle system’s designer, was studying the Kriegspiel rules, and came up with a variation for resolving Pub Battles Combat. Rather than becoming spent on the first hit, a block retreats. With a second hit it is reduced to spent. All this means is that the hit process is reversed; Retreat then spent, instead of spent then retreat. If a fresh unit retreats, it maintains its facing.

This is a relatively subtle change, and yet it can have profound effects. The Baggage Train rules make becoming spent more of an issue, because the unit doesn’t automatically rally, it now needs an unpacked Baggage Train.

After giving it some thought, I decided it would be more interesting to let players decide whether or not the unit would hold or retreat. So, when you receive a hit you decide whether to hold your ground and become spent, or to voluntarily retreat in good order.

A key concept at this point is the voluntary retreat, which I will call “Fall Back.” The difference is that if you retreat, you turn 180 degrees and face the other way. If you Fall Back, you retreat, but maintain your same facing.

One additional rule I want to add, is that if you have been contacted by the enemy prior to your chit being drawn, you must either remain in combat (you can turn to face), or Fall Back. You can no longer move any way you want. The reason being, if you are there to block the enemy’s movement, then you are affecting them, which means you must have been there when they moved. You are still preventing them from moving, and you are successfully Falling Back (fighting retreat) without them forcing a decisive combat.

In this case, moving after your opponent can be thought of as having the command initiative. You have anticipated your opponent’s intentions. The combat is occurring on your terms.

Experimental Rule: First Hit

Definitions:
Retreat: Involuntary movement from combat, if fresh, become spent, and turn around moving 1/3 away from enemy.
Fall Back: Voluntary movement from combat, maintain facing and move 1/3 from enemy.

If you are in contact with an enemy block when your chit is drawn, you must either remain in contact, or Fall Back.

A fresh block that receives only one hit in combat must flip to spent and remain in place, or Fall Back. If fresh, don’t become spent. If spent, You must Fall Back, but maintain facing.

A fresh block that receives receive two hits must Retreat and becomes spent. A spent block that receives two hits is eliminated.

Movement before combat:
Any fresh unit may Retreat before combat, except fresh Dragoons in contact with infantry, may Fall Back.

I am going to try these rules in my next game. One of my purposes in writing this blog is to put all my thoughts in writing. I intend to find out if it is too fiddley to be worth the effort, or if it makes for a better experience.

What do you think of this new rule?

2 thoughts on “1 Hit Wonders: Experimental Pub Battles

  1. Not a little change for Pub Battle.

    If you read the french military author -Ardant Du Picq-, (which as been mortally wounded near Metz in 1870) on this book “Study on the combat”, you notice that the author state that there is extremely scarcely close combat between 2 units. The one with the less moral level, begins the retreat because of the natural fear.
    Fear is shared by both sides.
    One fear to push the troops in offensive / one fear to makes the troops retreat.

    According to the author, the actual Pub Battles rules work well. I will explain my mind.

    When one unit retreat during a combat, it isn’t in good order (wounded, low ammunition, stragglers, green troops, orders, panic, rumor, need of protection and support…..).
    That means that this unit is ALREADY in disorder – or spent – in Pub Battles vocabulary.
    Then, as a resulting combat resolution, a unit is at first SPENT, then low moral, then this unit RETREATS, his back offered to the enemy (the moment in combat where there are a lot of losses in all battles from antiquity for today).

    The choice of fighting or not -if you can choose what is not always the case- is done during the movement phase. Not at the beginning of the combat phase. The second unit – with the higher command level – got avantage to this.

    About the fighting retreat.
    During the movement phase, units already test their fighting spirit. In fact, when a unit first move to contact an enemy piece, this attacked unit, playing in second, seeing the enemy maneuver, have the choice between : stay and fight OR fall back in order to do something else. But you notice that the enemy piece had stopped. In fact, the fighting retreat has been made, stopping enemy and make the second unit disengage in order.
    You’re right, it would be right not to attack another unit.

    I speak here about realism and rules, not playability. May be those new rules make the game different…

    My mind is rather focused on pack train.
    Now it is very difficult for a unit to rally. One artillery piece spent could not even bombard if spent… sometimes for the all game.
    Look at Marengo : Austrians should not unpack because there are on the run. So every spent unit (infantry or artillery) could not rally, making them vulnerable.
    Sometimes – as i write it above – a unit become spent just by the fear (no support, no self confidence), not by the ammunition.
    So, here a general could rally, without unpacking all the bagages train.
    One can imagine a rule where a HQ piece in contact with a unit can rally it, without unpacking what is strategically delicate.

    (Sorry for my english which could be difficult to understand)

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  2. Mat, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. You have presented your case in coherent fashion. Your effective communication skills as a non-native speaker are remarkable.

    I agree with your basic point. I think a case could be made either way. I certainly don’t disagree with Mssr. Ardant Du Picq’s argument. The only caution I would include, is that one can’t take what is happening specifically on the Pub Battles too exactly or literally.

    What Pub Battles suggests when a unit is spent, is only that it is one step closer to being rendered ineffective, or hors du combat. It may be physical, logistical, or psychological, but is probably a combination of several factors. A “fighting withdrawal may be represented in several ways: Falling back before, or after, combat, retreating after combat, even being eliminated! (In my next Gettysburg video, there is an excellent example of this on day one when a detachment prevents an enemy block from relieving a beleaguered foe, even though the detachment is easily eliminated)

    Baggage Trains must also not be thought of too literally. They are an excellent game mechanic for symbolizing that ineffable “will” that holds an army together, whether or not it is actually a supply depot. It can represent a central point of organization that allows units to recover from spent, the loss of which can also represent that point when an army breaks.

    The term “Rally” is an unfortunate artifact left over from a previous edition, before Baggage Trains. A spent unit was able to “Rally” if it did not move and was not contacted by an enemy. Once the Baggage Train rule was created, it may have been more accurate to say it “recovered from spent,” but the original language was kept.

    Back to the original discussion of retreat/spent order, it makes a difference when it is difficult to rally a spent unit (requires an unpacked Baggage Train), compared to the original rule when it was automatic. However, one of the issues with the earlier version of Pub Battles was that it was very difficult to generate enough casualties to win by eliminating 50% of the enemy’s infantry blocks. It also meant that it was almost impossible for an attacker to win, as it required the defender to suffer more casualties.

    Although Command Post Games still uses the points based victory conditions, I do not. it is all based on breaking the other army, either physically (by causing 50% casualties), or psychologically (by capturing, or threatening, their Baggage Trains).

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