How “Real” is Pub Battles?

I often heard it said that, while Pub Battles is good for what it is, it isn’t very real.

This comes from people who equate real with detailed combat, and endless tracking of logistics, and “down to the man” unit strengths. They can’t be faulted, because when one reads the histories, especially “I was there” accounts, those details are thrilling. The army commander’s eye view of the events are certainly interesting, but not as viscerally engaging as descriptions of battlefield actions.

Yet, when gaming these actions, almost the opposite is true. Keeping track of all those minute combat details, consulting endless charts, and the endless hours it takes to simulate minutes of time, is a challenge to enjoy. We all want to be Napoleons, Wellingtons, and Lees. It is far more exciting to be making the big decisions, when to send in the guard, when to bluff and feint, trying to judge how much more the enemy’s army (or yours!) can take.

The exciting narrative is still there in Pub Battles, you get to make it up yourself! Why were the Elite Guard Cuirassiers pushed back by the inexperienced Dutch dragoons? It shouldn’t ever happen, yet in my last Waterloo, it did (Cuirassiers rolled really bad, and the Dutch rolled really well). Is this because the system is broke? Hardly, but it probably means there was something going on that dissembled the French. Maybe there was a morass of mud in a low area, maybe there was a SNAFU that resulted in the charge being completely disorganized and ultimately called off, or maybe an unsung Dutch cavalry officer organized a surprise flank charge that succeeded because it was so unexpected. Rather than try to simulate each of these unlikely events, Pub Battles merely allows that something happened that resulted in the outcome shown on the map. Finally, there is the very real possibility that the information on the map is not correct. As wargamers, we want everything to be exact. just like our historical counterparts wanted all their intel to be accurate. That was rarely the case. Who knows what those Cuirassiers ran into, it probably wasn’t Dutch dragoons, maybe the Prince of Orange was there, gathering the Household Guard for a planned surprise counter-attack!

What Pub Battles does do very accurately, is simulate being an army commander. You’re in your command tent, looking at the latest picture your staff has assembled of the battlefield. You can wonder “Does Jackson have the left secured, what strength does he have after driving off the last Federal assault?” Before he leaves, Jackson assures you that A. P. Hill has reinforced his left, and that he has already pulled Pender’s men off the line to rest and recover. Thirty minutes later an excited Lieutenant arrives exclaiming A.P. Hill will join the battle “before nightfall!” Jackson had already departed, and you’re left wondering…

Maybe Pub Battles is too real!

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