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.

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:

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

  • 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.

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 3.0

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

I am happy to play with the tried and true “official” rules. Pub Battles is quite a robust system and you can add all kinds of rules. These can be fun or satisfying, but most are unnecessary. I am very leery of adding any rules, other than those that smooth or speed play, as the system can quickly bog down. Remember, Pub Battles is first and foremost a command simulation, not a combat simulation.

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. I frequently forget where I am in a line of waiting units!

Flanking

A unit in contact with more than one opponent is flanked for the round. Continue repeating rounds until contact is broken, then continue to the next combat in reverse chit draw order. If the same command has multiple blocks in combat, the owner decides the order.
This means that a single defender would fight two attackers one at a time, and is considered flanked through the first combat which, if it managed to win, would allow it to fight the next opponent without being flanked.

A unit attacked from the rear is considered flanked.

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.” If being simultaneously attacked from different directions, one is still at a grave disadvantage. A unit being flanked by a single unit is a very real possibility at the regimental level, but Pub Battles is a divisional simulation.

Multiple Defender Battles

All rounds are resolved between two blocks, an attacker and defender. A critical assumption that I make when resolving combat is that the unit that moved last has the edge! Therefore, I resolve combat in reverse chit draw order, from the outside in. The first attacker resolves his attack completely (until no longer in contact) before continuing to the next combat. If the defender is contacted by more than one enemy, the flanking modifiers apply.

Flanking is quite a bonus, should be difficult, and this makes it so by giving the opponent a chance to counter the attempt.

3/8″ base depth (replaces FoF rule)

If a unit ends its move within one base depth of an enemy 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.

This may find units moving just out of contact (3/8″) and might seem too close to be “out of combat.” Let me explain: There is a lot of combat going on all the time and that the combat in the combat phase is that dramatic combat which will end decisively at the divisional level, but there is also implied combat that is shown in the outcomes of the chit draw that represents the tactical edge of chit draw order. Often, this known as a successful fighting withdrawal.

Also, one must always remember that the mapboard represents the best estimates of unit positions. If decisive combat (units in contact) is not being fought, there are any number of reasons why. Please see my post here for a fuller explanation.

Applying hits to units with Support

Hits versus a unit with a supporting unit can be applied in any manner between the two units.

Now when you bombard and roll 3 hits they may end up all being applied if vs. a supported unit. You can also use a supporting elite unit to ignore the first hit. This simulates less steady troops being bolstered by more steady troops.


The official rule is that the unit in front absorbs all casualties and no extra damage is placed on a supporting unit. This works fine and can even be welcome when a Bombardment does 3 hits on a unit. It retreats with the second hit and the third is ineffective, thus allowing the supporting unit to move up fresh (Whew).

Cavalry vs. Defending Infantry
Cavalry attacking spent infantry gains the flanking bonus.
Fresh infantry attacked by cavalry gains the flanking bonus.
Cavalry attacked by infantry gains the flanking bonus.

This rule reflects the likelihood of infantry being able to successfully form square just like the official rules, but it intensifies the result.

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 and the increased feel of maneuvering as a corps. This is in contradistinction to the “carefully choreographed bar fight” that sometimes occurs occurs.

Playing Solitaire

I find Pub Battles uniquely suited for playing alone. Note, it is not a “Solitaire game” per se. It does lend itself quite readily to playing sans opponent, however.

The rules are fairly simple and intuitive, so you’re not trying to keep all kinds of details in your head, nor referring to endless charts.

The chit draw mechanic lends itself to a “quick save” option if you have to leave quickly to handle some Real Life event.

The game plays so smoothly that it is possible to play out many what if scenarios. Command Post games even gives you all the participants in the Waterloo campaign so you can try out different possibilities for who might have made it when to Waterloo. They provide you with an alternative “What if Jackson had survived” scenario that lets you fight Gettysburg as if Lee had his “Stonewall” beside him! Of course, you can always start with Stuart appearing right away.

Finally, whenever I play alone, I orient the map so one side is facing me, and then I turn the other side’s pieces around so that I can easily see who they are even while fresh.

The Chit Draw

If you view the chit draw mechanic as simply a way to simulate simultaneous movement, then you are selling it short. It is a powerful mechanic that simulates the full range of events that can occur on the battlefield.

For instance, say you are playing Gettysburg and you have unguarded artillery on Cemetery Hill. Furthermore, A.P.Hill’s Chit has just been drawn and he is poised to attack with two divisions, these will sweep the hill and leave the Union line compromised! Hancock is nearby and you roll to Alter Turn Order: Success! You move first and reinforce the hill with the nearest division, the line is saved.

“Okay,” you say, “but what really happened?” What has Pub Battles just simulated? Historically, that exact situation was occurring and Hancock was looking around desperately for a way to delay the rebel tide, so that one of his divisions would have time to move into place. He spotted a company of soldiers and he rode up and asked them who they were. “We’re the First Minnesota.”
“Well do you see those colors over there” he asked, pointing to an entire Secesh division. “I want you to capture those colors.”
So off marched the First Minnesota, capturing the colors and their place in history as the unit that suffered the greatest casualty rate in U.S. history. They confederate assault was held up just long enough for the reinforcements to steady the line.

That is what is possible to duplicate with the chit draw mechanic.

If you’ve read much American War of Independence history, you have probably read on more than one occasion that Washington’s army was saved by a skillful delaying action led by Nathaniel Greene. With Pub Battles this is quite possible. If your opponent moves adjacent to you to attack, and your chit is drawn after that, then you can back away just enough and foil the attack, without giving up too much space.

This certainly doesn’t mean shots were not exchanged! Quite to the contrary, there was most likely a very hot issue being decided, but the skillful defenders were able to prevent the significant result desired by the attackers. If moving away from contact still feels wrong, consider this.

Even more likely, in other situations, it may have something to do with the attackers not launching the attack successfully. Maybe a regiment got lost, or got the orders wrong. Setting up an attack amidst noise and smoke is not an easy undertaking. Pub Battles doesn’t try to tell you exactly what happened, it only tells you that something happened. You can imagine and add whatever narrative you feel adds the most color and depth.

Alter Turn Order

There are a lot of factors to consider when you are trying to decide whether or not to roll to attempt to Alter Turn Order.

If you are attacking, do you want to give the defender a chance to run away, so you can take the position without a fight? Move before. Do you want to decide when and where combat will take place? Move after. Are you trying to coordinate an attack with another command, how can you best ensure that?

If you are the defender, do you want to delay the enemy? Move after. Do you want to rally from spent before he attacks? Move before. Are you trying to coordinate actions between commands? It depends on coordination.

There is no blanket “Always move first/last” rule. It depends on the situation. It depends on experience, not only in managing your Alter Turn Order options, but also in adapting to the turn order as is, and not being wholly dependent on the order of the draw.

Additionally, Pub Battles includes a semblance of fog-of-war in the way that the identities of fresh units and HQs are hidden from the opponent. You rarely know exactly which enemy pieces belong to which command. How can you be sure if the unit in question belongs to an HQ that has been drawn yet?

Like in so many instances, there is no substitute for experience. That nuanced appreciation for what might be, or what probably is.

The final thing I’m going to say about the chit draw is how re-playable it makes the game. No matter how many times you’ve fought and refought Gettysburg, or Waterloo, or any of the other Pub Battles scenarios, you are always surprised by the chit draw. The chit draw prevents the “best move” syndrome that limits most historical simulations. Depending on who goes first, next, and last, can change the battle entirely.

Pub Battles: System overview 3.0

So you’ve heard about Pub Battles by Command Post Games, and you’re almost ready to take the plunge, but you still have no idea how the game works, what are the rules? In general terms, this is how the game works (some exceptions and details are ignored in this overview):

Army

An Army has a General HQ, and several Corps HQ’s, and their unit blocks. The unit blocks generally represent divisions (infantry, cav, artillery) these can be militia, line, or elite.

Movement

Mounted and foot each have a movement stick divided into thirds. Units may move straight ahead or in enfilade up to a 45 degree angle. First facing change is free, the second costs a third. Moving into any terrain costs a third no matter how many terrain features you occupy, in other words, if you don’t move completely in clear terrain, you move 2/3. If you are required to retreat, you retreat a third, ignoring terrain.

Combat

If it does not move, artillery may bombard in the movement phase. All other units must move to contact with an enemy and resolve it in the combat phase. Combat is fought in rounds until the units are no longer in contact. Each round of combat is simultaneous, with three 6 sided dice, scoring hits on 4+. One hit flips a unit to spent, two makes it retreat, and three eliminates it.

Modifications to the die rolls are simple and intuitive, if you have the advantage you add 1, if you are at a disadvantage you subtract 1. If you are elite you ignore the first hit, militia count the first hit as two.

Chit Draw

This is where it all happens. Each corps commander has a chit which is placed in a cup at the beginning of the turn. A chit is drawn and that commander moves, this is repeated until the cup is empty. Moving sooner or later in the turn isn’t always good or bad, it depends. I discuss this here. You aren’t necessarily stuck with the chit draw. Every HQ gets one chance per turn to alter the turn order, going earlier or later, and once per turn the army HQ can roll for a failed Corps HQ. After all chits have been drawn and all desired units moved (including those previously contacted), proceed to the combat phase

That’s It!

Most battles are one day affairs that last about eight 90 minute turns. A game, coincidentally, should last about 90 minutes, per day. Capturing a Baggage Train is an automatic win, as is eliminating 50% an enemy’s army.

Play the Map! What makes Pub Battles The Best Game System?

I have been wargaming for over 40 years. Many times I would look at a military atlas with its maps showing bars for units and wondered, “Why doesn’t anyone make a game that looks like this? I want to play the map!”


Many games came close, but then they buried you in rules. I was never afraid of rules; heck, I played Advanced Squad Leader for years! The problem was, I had this very definite picture of what playing the ideal wargame would be like. I pictured two players at a wooden table with high back leathern chairs, sipping wine from glasses and peering over a canvas map with wooden blocks. And that was it. No charts and tables scattered about. Just the map and the troops. It may have been a dream, and not a very realistic one, but it was my dream.

As I have played wargames over the years, I have always hungered for that authentic experience. So many games that want to be more realistic try to accomplish this by being more complicated. The rules become a barrier between you the player, and you the General. I had assumed this was how it had to be.

Then came the day I saw Command Post Games’ “Brandywine” on Kickstarter and my heart almost stopped. Here it was! Canvas map and Wooden blocks combined with a simple fast playing system. It wasn’t until I received my copy and read the rules that I saw the potential for a really authentic system.

You see, I had been studying assymetrical post-modernism in literature. It was at the right time for me to appreciate the genius of the chit draw mechanic and the simultaneous movement that it captured. I had just written a paper on the ordering of near simultaneous events in a linear story. This is exactly what the chit draw mechanic accomplished. It wasn’t just a way to move, but a way to sort out a million delays and coincidences, small skirmishes and lost orders, any of the myriad of happenstances that can occur in any given 90 minute turn.

I had found my game.

Play the Map!