More combat rules?

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.

How can a unit just sit there?

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.

My Waterloo

Setup for my homebrew Waterloo: Note that the British blocks have been turned to face me during solitaire play.

This is my Waterloo. No, not my great undoing, just the way that I play Pub Battles Waterloo. I have played it several dozen times, as well as having done an in depth study of this most famous battle.

I believe Pub Battles’ out of the box tube is a great game, and I heartily encourage anyone who plays, to play it that way a few times. However, some students of history may find my embellishments give it a slightly more authentic feel. My homebrew tends to focus on command, not combat.

The French

I have made two additions to the French command structure. I have added a “Ney” HQ, as well as a “Druout” HQ. Neither have a corresponding chit, and they are handled a little differently from a regular HQ block.

Druout can act as combat command for any Guard unit. He moves whenever Napoleon has been activated.

Units of the Guard were active all over the battlefield wherever a little more oomph was needed.

The Ney HQ can be flipped and attached to any French unit that is in contact with an enemy unit and allow it to immediately resolve its combat (similar to the “Charge” ability).

Although Ney had no official command during the battle, as Napoleon’s “bravest of the brave,” he was wherever the fighting was heaviest, providing elan and initiative.

The Old Guard

The French Old Guard ignores the first hit in every round of combat.

If the Old Guard ever suffers a retreat result, the French lose immediately.

The French win if the Old Guard occupies Waterloo at the end of turn eight.

The Old Guard had almost legendary status and could accomplish miracles if required. They were the Grande Armee and Napoleon all in one. Such a reputation does come at a cost. When the Old Guard broke before the British volleys at Waterloo, the battle was lost. As such, these special rules account for that. Although Waterloo had no specific significance at the time, Making the occupation of Waterloo by the Old Guard the focal point of victory gives a flavorful feel to the game. Like Napoleon, one must save the Old Guard for the critical moment, and if it fails…So does France.

The British

I have made a profound change to the British army in that I have removed all the HQs except Wellington, but I kept all of the command chits.

Once per game turn, Wellington can activate when any British chit is drawn.

When a British chit is drawn, the British player can decide whether or not to activate. When Wellington is activated, the whole British army (all of the red blocks) can move and bombard. If the British player elects to not activate, play proceeds to the next draw.

Wellington can be used to Alter Turn Order as normal. Additionally, if fresh, the HQ may be flipped and placed adjacent to any British unit and that unit may immediately rally. This can be done at any time (even during the combat phase when a unit has just suffered a hit!).

Wellington had the capability to always seem to be where he was most needed, stabilizing the line. His famous quote was “It would not have done, had I not been there.”

So give this version a shot and let me know how it works for you!

Solitaire Pub Battles

This is my unofficial Home Brew version of Pub Battles. This is the way I play when it is just me. Not a true solitaire game, there is no AI, but just a way of playing when no opponent is present. Pub Battles is well suited to solitaire play as it is simple and the chit draw serves as a convenient ‘save point’ if you get called away.

One of the ways I frequently play Pub Battles solitaire is as a simulation engine. I have an idea for a different strategy or I want to try out a new rule with a familiar strategy and this let’s me “run it through” a few times. Pub Battles plays so quick and easy that this is a viable option.

Pub Battles is an amazingly robust system. I have seen many different rules tried (and mostly discarded) and the system works with them or without them.

Of course you can always add rules that factor in this or that. You can always add different combat modifiers and effects that give the game a slightly different feel. Maybe there is one thing that blocks your enjoyment of the game. Fine, add it in and have a blast.

I generally go the other direction. I try to eliminate every rule that isn’t absolutely necessary. I find this speeds up the game. The whole point of the rules is to focus on command interaction, and simplify and gloss over combat detail. This is the main reason I developed a single die per side combat system. It’s quicker and easier. Not a huge difference, I am happy to play “the right way” when playing in public or introducing new players to the game.

The really cool thing I find about this is that by not specifically trying to model one thing, the system models everything in general. So let’s dig into my version. I’ll add my designer’s notes in italics.

All official Pub Battles rules are in play, except as modified below:

Field of Engagement rules are not used. There is no ranged combat resolution besides artillery bombardment. If any block ends its movement within one base thickness (3/8″) of an enemy block it is simply moved into contact. If you wish to move out of contact you must move at least 3/8″ away.

Alter Turn Order – For the most part, when I play solitaire, I just deal with the chits as they are drawn. This forces me to learn to roll with fate. As a consequence, I rarely try to Alter Turn Order when playing versus a live opponent!

Combat

  • Each side rolls one die for combat adding any appropriate modifiers. If one side’s final score is greater they score one hit, unless their score is more than double, in which case they score two hits. If the results are equal, both sides suffer a hit. If the units are still in contact after combat results are applied you must fight another round.
  • Dragoons, if still in contact with infantry at the end of a combat round must retreat.
  • If infantry or artillery suffer a retreat result from cavalry, they are eliminated instead.
  • Bombardment – As above except artillery bombarding another unit does not suffer any adverse effects unless firing at another artillery unit. Artillery always rolls when bombarded, even if it has previously bombarded or been bombarded. As no units are in contact, bombardment only lasts one round. Artillery (unless spent) treats the first round of combat as bombardment, i.e. it suffers no adverse effects.
  • Flanking – If a defender is in contact with more than one enemy, it deducts one from each die it rolls for the round. If an attacker is in contact with the rear of a block, then the normal flanking modifiers apply (+1/-1).

Developer’s Notes

I don’t care for Field of Engagement. I find it time consuming and inelegant. No unit is ever necessarily just sitting, they are always in motion. Their fluid movement is chopped up by the arbitrary turns that are superimposed over the battle simulation. In addition, there are plenty of incidents where a unit did not do what it should have done, maybe they didn’t recognize the identity of the unit, maybe they were confused about there orders, maybe a regiment got lost, or the commander just had cold feet. All the game shows are those combats that actually were executed to the extent that resulted in an entire division suffering some sort of dramatic effect. Also, all you are really seeing is your best intelligence as regards the unit’s position. Maybe it’s not attacking because its not precisely there! Hopefully, your next orders will make sense for them to follow (or will they have to write for clarification?). The system doesn’t attempt to tell you precisely why a unit did or didn’t follow your orders, it merely shows what happened.

Field of Engagement doesn’t allow for implied combat. Nearby units may be exchanging shots and the pickets or skirmish troops may even be engaging in some very hot exchanges, but nothing that results in the parent divisions being adversely affected to the extent modeled in Pub Battles.

The ‘one die per side’ combat is just a simpler way to resolve combat, but it also yields some powerful simulation effects. Fresh or spent infantry may be able to form squares, and whether or not they are swept away in the first round answers that question, although spent are less likely to survive a cavalry charge.

If using one die per side combat, artillery can eliminate some units. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re eliminated to the man, just that they are too discomfited by the barrage to be able to operate effectively that day. Any elite, or any fresh line units, are still immune to elimination by artillery since even two hits does not eliminate them.

Counter-battery fire now has a downside as you could suffer hits yourself. Unlike modern artillery warfare, pre-twentieth century, counter-battery fire was generally discouraged by army commanders. This system models this. You can still do it, but why take the risk? Still, it could be worth it in some situations. You make the call, not the rules.

Flanking by merely having a single unit attack along the side of a block is gamey in the sense that it takes advantage of the wooden block’s inability to curve and deny a flank the way actual formations did.

Tools of the trade

Pub Battles can be played with only a few key elements. My philosophy is the same for rules and accessories, the fewer the better.

Listing from the top and going down are:

Divider – Similar to a compass for measuring angles, I set the divider for one third foot move and use it for nearly all game purposes.

“Mounted” measuring chain – These are included in the price of the game. they are also really handy when you are moving in column along a road. Racing units to the front is important, and you (and your opponent!) frequently will want to be accurate as to how far you can move.

“Foot” measuring chain – Ditto.

Eight sided die for keeping track of turns and six sided dice for combat – Most game days are eight turns (12 hours) long, so this is handy. The games come with a nice black six sider for keeping track of turns, which works perfectly well. Each game includes 6 six siders for combat.

Column movement marker – This is a handy little item that I buy from an independent producer https://tregames.com/ Command Post Games provides blank unit blocks that work fine, but I like to use these because I like the way they look. When I am on a major road in column, I just set them on top to show the unit is in column. Some day I may get around to painting them and mounting cotton “dust” columns, but don’t hold your breath. They are all blank, the “COLUMN” label is just a graphic I attached in the foto.

One third foot move marker – This is handy for quickly checking retreat distances and range if you are using the Field of Engagement Rules.

Half unit width marker – Units require a half width worth of clear terrain to move past without paying the terrain cost, plus you must be able to see half a block to target it for artillery and reach half a block to contact it for combat.

Foot move measuring stick – These are the measuring sticks that come in the basic kit that you must by to get the basic rules. It might seem like they are just trying to nick you for a little extra money, but the actual intention is to keep the overall cost down so you aren’t forced to pay for the same basic equipment every time you buy a different scenario.

Mounted move measuring stick – Ibid.

There you have it. That’s the whole kit and caboodle that I use when playing. Actually, I pretty much get by on just the divider and dice. Additionally, there are no combat tables and the terrain chart is easily memorized after a game or two.

The Cost!!!

Many folks look at the cost of Pub Battles games and complain that they are just too expensive, especially for a game that is so easy to play! Maybe if it were buried under an impenetrable 100 page rule book and had lots of charts and tables and was completely unplayable…

I don’t mind paying a lot for a game that I play a lot. Especially, if it has truly beautiful components. FYI – I own every pub battles title and I paid full price for them. In case you’re thinking that I get them for free because I’m a play tester.

It is important to note that the price people are complaining about is the top end fully loaded Cadillac version of the game with all the bells and whistles, including the canvas map. It is possible to get a perfectly fine copy of the game with a paper map (nice Quality) and you will have to make your own measuring sticks (a template is included). You still get wooden pieces. You can get Brandywine for $62.66, and Antietam and Marengo for a little more. Even Gettysburg can be had for as little as $83.25.

If that’s not cheap enough, you have a chance to get the games for free if you send Command Post Games a picture showing you playing a game in public (you will have to buy the first game). Check their website for details.

The only drawback to buying a paper map is that it is not as durable as a canvas map. I play these games at bars pubs and they get spilled on, set on messy tables, you name it. The canvas wipes clean. I have several games that I have played over a hundred times and the maps still look brand new!

I realize that at over $50 these games are expensive. Too expensive to just throw your hard earned money at on a whim. I hope that after reading a few of my introductory posts you might be inclined to take the plunge and try one out!

My Smooth Brew

This blog will be updated from time to time as I find smoother and cleaner ways to play Pub Battles.

Title in bold. Rule is normal font. Discussion/clarification in italics.

Chit draw procedure.

1. When a chit is drawn, the owner may attempt to delay. If successful, another chit is drawn before the original chit is returned to the cup.

2. When a chit is played, the opposing player may flip an HQ to spent and attempt to go instead. 

3. If successful, the opposing chit is returned to the cup and the HQs chit is played. Return to step 2. (Else end*)
*for programmers who might get caught in a loop! 

This avoids the pileup of drawn chits awaiting movement.

Flanking

This rule replaces the regular flanking rule.

If a defender is in contact with more than one opponent subtract one from its attack dice for the round.


If a unit is attacked on the side opposite its front, it is considered outflanked as per the regular rules. (-1,+1)

This allows for simulating a more flexible front than the wood blocks permit and avoids all the fiddling around trying to orient a unit “just so.”

3/8″ base depth

If a unit ends its move within one base depth of another unit (3/8″) move it into contact.

This is to make it clear to everyone whether a unit is in contact or not, and recognizes the real limits to precision with a board that gets jostled, or fingers trying to push blocks into place.

Moving out of contact

A unit which begins its movement in contact with an enemy unit must end its movement remaining in place, or more than 3/8″ away from any enemy unit.

Written Orders

These written orders rules work well for solo games and two player games between non-contentious players. The fun of using these rules is the delay in transmission.

Baggage TrainsPost here. A couple things:

Night Turn Recovery.

During the Night Turn, each BT can rally, move, or recover an eliminated unit.

Recovering Eliminated Units – 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 Mounted Move.

Black Powder Urban Warfare

Units firing at a unit occupying a Town get +1 to their dice

Towns that are less than one half of a width of a block are ignored for rules purposes, being too small to be occupied.

Black Powder Era commanders avoided urban combat. This was before the days of small unit tactics, and units were trained to fight as regiments delivering volleys. When they were unable to do that they grew skittish and panicky. Command became chaotic at best. It just wasn’t done, if at all avoidable.