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.

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

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.

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.

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!