I am really focusing on “putting on my command beret” when narrating my videos. I’m trying to avoid game terms, except when necessary for clarity. My intent is to create the feel of the battle. What I have realized is just how good a job the game does in simulating command concerns. This is really apparent in my last Antietam video.
In the middle of the game, the Federal drive stalls for lack of supplies. This is a common enough issue for real commanders, but is usually only a concern in games with super detailed logistics rules, or overly burdensome unit health tracking.
In Pub Battles, if you have a bunch of spent units you need to unpack a Baggage Train or they won’t be able to sustain an attack without becoming combat ineffective (eliminated). The game mechanic is very simple, logical, and intuitive. If you hadn’t played the game before, you would assume they are too simple to work, but alas, they work splendidly.
They are more realistic at the command level, too. A general will not have access to an exact listing of a unit’s casualties and supplies in the heat of battle. The best intel will only inform him of the general battle readiness of his various units. It helps to think of Pub Battles as a very detailed Corps level simulation. The unit blocks are given names for color, but they are not intended to simulate their historical counterparts in any way.
At the corps level, Hooker’s I corps at Antietam has 3 blocks. Each block requires 3 hits to be eliminated. I Corps can be thought of as having nine “hits” of strength. It would seem a simple task to assign it nine hit points on a card, done. Except, in Pub Battles those nine hits travel in 3 discrete groups of three. Furthermore, if in range of an unpacked Baggage Train they can recover a hit. One of the hits is actually used to retreat, so it is “recovered” as soon as taken. At any point prior to elimination, if the discrete group attacks, it attacks at full strength. Some Corps can have Elite or Militia troops, further complicating and reflecting differences at the Corps level.
Let’s talk about Corps leadership. The obvious quality rating is the Leadership number that is used to alter turn order, but that is just one aspect of leadership quality. The best officers are paired with the best troops, and vice versa. In Pub Battles, Corps with better leaders tend to have better quality troops, allowing them to accomplish more on the battlefield. Better units translate into a commander who’s will is more keenly felt during the battle. At Antietam, Jackson’s Corps has two elite units! His corps is very powerful, and he is regarded as one of Lee’s best Generals. Napoleon always has the guard Corps with him, and they are all elite.
These differences are not as explicit as giving certain leaders higher ratings, but once you are familiar with the Pub Battles system, you will learn to appreciate them.
It seems with each game that I play, I appreciate the simulation power of this system.
I was surprised to discover just how easy it can be for Lee to win at Gettysburg on day 1, if the Union player isn’t careful. I always figured that since the battle was so fluid that first day that nobody would be deploying Baggage Trains, and capturing the enemy’s Baggage Trains is usually the quickest way to win.
Except Gettysburg is a meeting engagement. That means that on the earliest turns the number of infantry blocks on the board is small, so that inflicting 50% casualties is easy. Let us look at the number of casualties necessary to defeat the opponent.
It can be seen that the Union actually outnumbers the Confederates on turn 3, and then the following turn this reverses. The bare numbers don’t tell the whole story. On the first two turns it is nearly impossible for the opposing infantry to meet. On turn 3 the Confederate forces will have local superiority as the Union troops lose a turn getting to the fighting. Turns four, five, and six will have the greatest chance for a Confederate victory as this situation lasts. The overwhelming Confederate forces arriving on the final two turns will be in column and not likely to participate in combat. By turn 1 of Day 2 the infantry forces will be equal, with the union having more artillery, and three fresh divisions will arrive by turn 6.
It may seem like a relatively easy scenario for Lee to win, but he has some difficulties. First off, it is very hard to actually eliminate units if your opponent is intent on conserving their strength. This is best done by avoiding even odds combats, keeping to cover, and retreating after the first round of combat, rather than fighting to the bitter end.
This also keeps the game very dynamic, as early losses by the South can see the Union player striving for an early win of their own!
Neither commander was expecting, or wanting, a battle at Gettysburg. Unacceptable early losses by either side could have led the commanders to halt the engagement, or failing that, alter the conditions enough so that the battle of Gettysburg would have been entirely different. These issues are too complex and speculative to be decided in-game. The results are best discussed over a pint at the pub.
This early victory topic comes up as my last video is an excellent demonstration of an early win. But who gets the early win?
You may have wondered about how Pub Battles could simulate leader quality. The short answer could be that they already do this with leadership ratings, but that isn’t really satisfying since all Corps leaders of an army use the same rating. Why are demonstrated leaders like Hancock rated the same as less historically successful leaders Like Lew Wallace?
I will answer that Pub Battles does address leadership quality in the same way their historical counterparts did; with superior commands. Military practice is to pair the best with the best. You don’t want to saddle your best commanders with substandard, ill trained and equipped troops. You give your best commanders the best troops to take advantage of their abilities. Likewise, you don’t want your best trained and equipped troops assigned to some ham-fisted bumble who can’t be counted on to even be ready to strike when the iron is hot!
Looking at the side by side picture of each army’s top two formations at Antietam, one can readily make two observations: 1) At this point in the war, Lee had the superior army, and 2) McClellan’s most highly regarded Corps commander (Hooker) was not saddled with any green troops. This was the best he could do.
At first glance, Pub Battles with only 3 grades of unit differentiation (Elite, Regular, Green) is sometimes thought of as too simple. However, it must be remembered that Pub Battles is a Corps level command simulation, not a divisional, or lower, combat simulation. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that Pub Battles actually provides a very thorough differentiation between corps, and army’s, effectiveness.
First off, when one sees the unit names on the blocks, it is to be understood that the only purpose of the names is too add color. What the simulation really cares about is how many men and of what quality. Jackson’s Corps was experienced and very well led; 50% of his force is rated elite. Jackson’s II Corps was one tough band of brothers!
On the Union side, McClellan had much less to work with. Many of his troops had never even fired their weapons. His choice of General Officers, many political appointees, wasn’t much better. Thus, the Union army has no elite troops and the best he can do is to spread his rawest troops out among the other units. As such, almost all Corps contain a green block of troops. Hooker has the largest Corps with no Green troops, and Burnside was only able to bluster his way to a larger command with the addition of green troops.
A Word About Unit Tactics
In Pub Battles, historical tactics work best. You don’t want to face off elites vs. elites, ideally you want to send your elites against green troops. Get your opponent off balance and force his elite units into a rear guard defense.
The French Old Guard were like the terminators of the 19th century. They just kept coming. As a regular trooper they were unnerving, versus conscripts they were absolutely terrifying! The Grognards rarely got an opportunity to close because of the shock factor. Shock troops were “shock” troops because of their ability to terrify. A soon as they closed, the enemy new their time was up, so they gave in sooner. This was why Black powder era troops didn’t wear camouflage and hide, they boldly strode up. Against relatively ineffective black powder weapons, this actually saved lives. As we enter the era of modern warfare, this becomes criminally stupid.
In Pub Battles you want your elites to easily overcome the militia troops and create holes in the enemy line. If you’re attacking, you want your militia in front. They will probably not last past the first round, but they might do some damage to the enemy so that your regular troops following up can now fight at an advantage. Artillery fires first. If it gets 3 hits, it will destroy a militia or a regular unit, better its the militia. A regular combat, unit on unit with no cover or quality mods, is a 50/50 affair. To be successful in Pub Battles, just like historically, you want to primarily fight battles where the odds are on your side. Elites on elites, no. Elites on regulars, good. Elites on Militia, best!
This is my experience with Pub Battles and leadership/unit qualities. Do you agree, or have you found the proof in your pudding different?
Between two human opponents, Fog-of-War (FoW) is handled by not knowing the identity of Fresh units or HQs. Your opponent doesn’t actually know where key units are located. In solitaire play, even if you have a brain injury like I do, there is no way to truly keep your opponents positions hidden. Additionally, you generally have your hands full keeping track of all the game’s functions when playing solo.
Pub Battles is an ideal system for for playing two handed (both sides, solo). When playing solo, the idea of outsmarting your opponent in competitive play makes no sense. Most truly solitaire wargames do not impress me. The difficulty is usually reflected in tougher die rolls, which just comes down to luck. However, most people that play wargames also do it because it is a chance to recreate a battle and understand the conflict more deeply. In that regard, Pub Battles accommodates the requirements of the solo gamer handsomely. It is details light, simulation heavy. You create your own narrative of how and why the events that are happening in the battle are occurring.
One aspect that is totally different when playing solitaire is the way Fog of War (FoW) is handled. In two player games, FoW is handled by limiting reliable information to players, just like their historical counterparts. In solitaire play, just keeping track of all the basic info you need is quite a challenge, much less obscuring anything.
Enter the chit draw mechanic.
In a two player game, a critical part of the game is the Alter Turn Order ability which allows players to try to control when different commands are activated, allowing you to outmaneuver and outplay your opponent. This is a null concept in solo play.
In solo play, Fog of War is simulated by the chit draw mechanic limiting each side’s ability to capitalize on a position just because they know where everything is. Yes, you know that enemy Baggage is exposed and it is but a simple matter to march a unit up and attack it. However, you need to be able to move before the other side can either move the baggage, or garrison it. This is an example of a very dramatic and critical win/lose chit draw.
Every chit draw makes the game play a little different, just like every battle would have been fought a little different if any of an incalculable number of variables had played out differently. Rather than try to simulate exactly what happens (a truly impossible task!), the chit draw merely shows the result of all those probabilities.
This means that you can play the same battle with the same forces, using the same strategy, and get a different game every time. Mathematically, this becomes quite staggering. Brandywine has 5 chits to draw each turn for a total of 25 different openings on turn one, by the end of the second turn that increases to 625, with 15,625 variations on turn 3, 390,625 on turn 4 , and 9,765,625 different games by the end of the fifth and last turn. Nearly ten million different games, not including the numbers of different combat results, means that’s a lot of variation for even as small a battle as Brandywine. That’s almost 407 days straight play time. If you only played one game a night, with exactly the same strategy, that would be over a thousand years.
All of which is to say, no game of Pub Battles ever plays out the same way. Waterloo is a huge battle that probably has the least variability in basic strategy. Wellington lines up, Napoleon lines up, Napoleon charges the British line hoping to break it before the late arriving Prussians overwhelm him.
But even with that basic an analysis, it is still a fun game. I have played it over a hundred times, probably more than any other Pub Battles title, and every game is still an edge of your seat nail biter. The chit draw and combat results are always different. You have tough and interesting decisions every turn. At what point, and where, do the British want to deploy baggage and solidify their line? Do that wrong and you hand Napoleon the easy victory he is counting on. Too late, and there is no army left for Blucher to rescue. The French must balance keeping the pressure on, in spite of losses, or pause to recover and face the possibility of encountering a fresher, more numerous, opponent.
I have never played a solo wargame that has kept the tension ratcheted up to such a high level. There are no mathematical certainties, you have to rely on your gut feelings and instincts. Experience is your friend. You need to have an appreciation of the probabilities, but all together, it is that undefinable “something” that makes for consistent success.
The chit draw activation is the most powerful mechanic in the Pub Battles arsenal. The Pub Battles system is as subtle as it is basic. Unlike almost every YouMove/IMove game out there, if you are contacted by the enemy before you move, you can simply move away.
When I first played a game of Pub Battles (Brandywine), I assumed the rules were incomplete because they didn’t say you couldn’t move away if contacted. The result of playing that way was that both commanders tried to move before the enemy every turn. This resulted in no strategy, just simple luck of the die.
When I found out that a unit could move when activated regardless of whether or not it had been previously contacted a light went off in my head. “Wow. Wait…That means…” This was quite literally a game changer for me.
One of the decisions that was made when the rules were written, was they weren’t going to include a lot of “unlearning” guidelines. This has the interesting affect of making the system harder to learn for grognards than newbies to the wargaming world. Since there is no way to guess what “chatter” might be brought forward from previous rules experience, it was decided to not worry about it. There is just no way to estimate all the ways a simple rule might be misunderstood.
Over time and with a little experience, I’ve learned a few things about how to command an Army in the Pub Battles system. Key to understanding the chit draw mechanic is that the order of the chit draw in the game is not necessarily the order of events being simulated. Everything is more or less simultaneous, and often the later drawn command can be thought of as having the initiative, because they see (or accurately anticipate) what the enemy is going to do, and can react to it.
You will note that I almost never use absolutes when referring to the chit draw. The chit draw allows for almost any potentiality. It does not imply anything, but you can infer a wide variety of events based on how the draw ended up.
All you really know for sure is which units were actually decisively in combat over the length of the turn. The only combat that has to be resolved in the combat phase is that combat that results in enough damage to be shown by the effects of one or more hits on a divisional level.
Say a unit moves a short distance before coming into contact with an enemy unit, then the enemy unit gingerly activates and slides a ways back, thus no combat to resolve in the combat phase. It might look like the unit moved to attack and then sat there while the defender moved back a bit and like MC Hammer cried “Can’t touch this!”
If that were the case, then the Pub Battles system would be deeply flawed. Fortunately, although that is what is explicitly shown, this is a situation where there may be a whole lot of implicit combat occurring. Something caused that unit to only move a short distance.
There is a lot involved in getting several thousand men on a battlefield to launch an attack; orders have to be received and understood; logistical concerns have to have been considered; a myriad of things have to go right. Assuming all that goes off in a timely way (often, it may be that some delay kept the unit from moving sooner), you have the enemy himself.
The enemy may not intend to hold the ground, but aren’t going to let you just waltz up and have it for free. Think of Nathaniel Greene and his famous delaying actions which saved Washington’s army any number of times. “Sir, we just can’t get at ’em!” There may be all sorts of hot engagements, just nothing that results in the step loss of a division.
There is also no end to the subterfuge that a clever commander can use to confound his opponent (although, incompetence is probably more common then brilliance).
All this is leading up to some of the why’s and wherefores of the chit draw. Generally, you want to go later, but not always.
If you’re defending, you may want to go later because then you can decide which units that have been contacted want to stay and fight it out, and which ones want to back off and not fight the battle the enemy has chosen for them. You may simply want to see what the enemy is going to do so you can react and prepare a proper reception.
Going first might seem the better option if your defender wants to rally, or set up a defensive position, select the best terrain, before the enemy arrives.
If you’re attacking, you want to go later so you can decide exactly which combats you’re going to fight AND where exactly you’re going to fight them. As always, it’s good to see what the defender is doing and where he is doing it before you decide to attack and prevent him from responding to it.
One critical benefit to moving first is that it allows the defender to yield exactly the terrain you desire without a fight. Besides allowing you to gain ground without sacrifice, it allows you to see what areas he is willing to fight for, and which areas he is willing to let go of. Knowing these priorities gives you a hint as to his strategy and concerns.
Understanding the chit draw and its implications allows you to make better choices as to when to roll to Alter Turn Order. I hope this helps you to imagine the battlefield in a Pub Battles game, and to build a vibrant and exciting narrative around the chit draw.
I want to showcase what I think is the most powerful aspect of the Pub Battles system: The chit draw mechanic.
In the opening situation here, we have the disposition of forces after the previous turn’s actions. Reynold’s I Corps made a spirited charge from the Peach Orchard to the woods North of the Spangler farm. This charge ended in disaster and the Corps (now reduced to a single spent division) tumbled back to the Peach orchard.
The next turn the first chit drawn was Longstreet’s Corps and they charged obliquely to take advantage of the weak spot in the Union line. The next chit drawn was Hancock’s II Corps and they sent Hay’s division forward to bolster Reynold’s shattered I Corps. Finally, Reynold’s chit was drawn and they retreated away. As there were no units in contact, there was no combat to resolve.
This is a good example of implicit and explicit combat. Explicit combat is when two units are left in contact and combat is resolved that results in the destruction or retreat of an entire division. Implicit combat is when the final positioning of the units is determined by chit draw. This is shown in the picture above by the smoke between the two units that are only a couple hundred yards apart, obviously in range to exchange fire, but with neither time nor resources to engage decisively this turn.
So what happened here? The system doesn’t tell you specifically. That would take many pages of rules and would never come close to capturing the drama and action of Day two at Gettysburg. When one describes the action shown, the narrative only illustrates a possible interpretation.
The first thing to understand is that chit draw order is not always linear in time, frequently it shows the anticipated actions of the enemy, or simulates the tactical edge (or even dumb luck) of an opponent.
In a standard You Move/I Move game, Hood’s division would have been able to attack I Corps’ remnants before they got away and the deal would be done, or if the Union moved first, I Corps would have easily slipped away and Hancock would have plugged the hole. All this would have been known before the turn began.
Instead, with the chit draw mechanic, Who moves before and who moves after can mean everything, and isn’t determined until the chits are drawn.
In the example above, because Reynolds’ chit was drawn after Hood’s, he was able to ensure that the remnants of his exhausted Corps were able to delay Hood’s division long enough for Hancock to get Hay’s division into place and they were able to frustrate Hood from getting the decisive battle he was looking for.
Had Hood moved last, Reynolds’ would have had the opportunity to rally Rowley’s division to turn and face Hood in their spent condition, but with good terrain, or retreat out of the Peach Orchard and let Hancock order Hay’s division into the breach. In that case, Hood would have gotten the decisive battle he was looking for (remember, the South is in a race for time), but against a fresh opponent.
There’s still another possibility. If Reynold’s had been drawn first and then retreated, and then Longstreet had been drawn, he could have sent Hood in to secure the Peach Orchard forcing Hancock to attack Hood’s elite Texans in good terrain… This is why no two games of Gettysburg are ever going to be completely the same, you just can’t be sure how the battle’s going to fall out.
Lest you think your totally at the whim of the chit draw, the Alter Turn Order rule really makes for another level of strategy! If you are familiar enough with the system you can anticipate when to try to advance or delay the draw. This isn’t a case of “knowing the rules better.” The rules are really simple, but it is a matter of having a feel for the possible. Bismarck may have said “Politics is the art of the Possible,” but I will go a little further and say that Pub Battles is the art of the possible.
Imagine that you are the Army General in your command tent. Before you on a table is the map of the battlefield with the latest best estimates of yours and your opponents positions. You discuss possible options with your Corps commanders and move your units where you want them to move, as well as attack. Aides write down the orders and race on horseback to the field commanders. While this is going on, other aides are rushing back with the latest reports and updating your map. Sometimes everything goes according to plan. Usually, you have some surprises, as well as those moments where you are absolutely astonished by the events you see transpiring right before your eyes. If only you could be right there, but you also need to be right there, and there, and over there. This is real Fog of War at the highest level. This is Pub Battles!
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HQ – Small cube that represents a commander’s locale, from which command range is measured. Use mounted move rates.
Baggage Train – These represent supply and signals elements, as well as field hospitals. Can’t enter swamps. Use foot movement rates.
Terms – Appear in italics when found in rules.
Activation – When a command chit is drawn, that command, and all its units, are activated. They may move, attack, bombard, or recover.
Attack – To move into contact with an enemy unit.
Bombardment – Ranged artillery fire…
Column – A long narrow formation used to facilitate quick road movement (X2). To move in column a unit is positioned so its length is stretched out along a road. Vulnerable if attacked. It cost 1/3 move to switch into, or out of, column.
Command – A Corps HQ may only command units in its Corps. An Army HQ may command any units in its army, also it may have units attached directly to it alone. Only units in command before they move may move into contact with an enemy. Only active units may move, and only active units in command may move into contact, Thus, an army HQ may command any units, but only activated units may move!
Command Range – 1/3 mounted move as measured from closest edges.
Cover –Units in terrain that conveys a combat advantage are considered “in cover.”
Defender – The unit that was contacted.
Detachment – Smaller units whose primary function is to add to Fog of War. ! hit destroys them and they only roll one die in combat.
Entering/Crossing – A unit is considered entering/crossing a terrain feature if the majority of the piece is in the feature.
Face – A unit’s front facing is the side opposite its label if fresh, or adjacent to the top of its label if spent.
Field of Fire – (FoF) I measure 1/3 infantry move from the front center of the unit.
Line of Sight – If the front center of the unit can see a majority of the unit in question, it is considered in its Line of Sight. Line of Sight has a range of one infantry move.
Flip – To flip a unit to signify a changed status.
Fresh – An unspent unit. The label is facing you and the top is blank, hiding the unit’s identity from the opposing player.
Hits – A fresh unit can sustain three hits in one round of combat. The first hit will flip it to spent. A second hit will cause it to retreat. A third hit will eliminate it. A spent unit will retreat with one hit, and be eliminated by two hits.
Occupying Terrain – If a unit has at least half its block in a terrain feature.
Recover – A spent unit that is not within 1/3 foot move of an enemy unit and does not move, may flip back to its fresh side if within command range of an unpacked Baggage train. It may also pivot.
Resolves completely – Two units in contact continue rounds of combat until no longer in contact.
Retreat – If you must retreat, you rotate 180 degrees and move 1/3 away from the attacker. If you would pass over half of any friendly unit, you will cause them to become spent (and rotate) and push them ahead of you.
Round – Each time a pair of units roll dice in combat. Units in contact may fight several rounds.
Spent – A unit that has suffered one damage. Spent Artillery may not bombard.
Supporting – Infantry and cavalry may be moved adjacent to, and directly behind, a friendly unit to support it. If the supported unit retreats or is eliminated, the supporting unit may retreat, or advance to contact and continue combat.
Excess hits do not carry over to supporting units.
Unsupported – Artillery that is unsupported is eliminated if forced to retreat.
Activation phase – This is when you draw chits randomly from a cup to activate a command.
Combat phase – Units in contact with enemy units now resolve combat.
Reset phase – HQs that were flipped to Alter Turn Order are now flipped back.
Activation: Movement, Bombardment, Recovery
When activated, move the HQ first to bring key units into command range. All of a corps’ units may move, but only those in command range may attack enemy units. This is also when Artillery may bombard (not in the combat phase!). Spent units that don’t move may recover if in command range of an unpacked baggage unit.
How to move – A unit moves in the direction it is facing as far as 1 movement chain (or stick) of its type; foot or mounted. It may move in echelon (diagonally) up to 45 degrees maintaining its same facing. It may change its facing once for free, or a second time by subtracting 1/3 of its total movement allowance. If it moves entirely without entering any terrain features it may move one full move, if it enters any terrain features it may only move 2/3.
You may move even if you have been previously contacted that turn since movement is simultaneous. This is a key concept in Pub Battles!
Cavalry, artillery, and Baggage Trains may not enter swamp terrain.
You cannot end your move in an enemy’s FoF without moving into contact unless in cover.
It does not matter if the unit moves through a single patch of woods, or through woods, hills, and streams, it moves 2/3 instead of a full move.It is sometimes easier to imagine that units always move 2/3 unless they remain entirely in clear terrain when they can move 3/3. Of course, you still pay another third for other non-terrain reasons (consult the chart on the back of the rule book).
Bombardment – Fresh Artillery that does not move may bombard. The artillery must have a Line of Sight. Roll 3 dice and apply hits. Bombardment cannot eliminate a unit. Excess hits are ignored.
Recovery – A spent unit that is not contacting or in the Field of Fire of an enemy unit, and does not move, may flip back to its fresh side if it is within command range of a Baggage Train. It may also pivot.
How to have Combat
Combat is fought in rounds until the units are no longer in contact. Each player in a combat rolls 3 dice and scores a hit on 4 or more each round. These numbers can be modified.
A defending unit gains a terrain modifier for occupying terrain.
Flanking – If you contact the side or rear of an enemy unit it is considered flanked. This adds 1 to the attacker’s roll and subtracts 1 from the defender’s roll.
Special Combat cases
Cavalry may not attack units in woods.
Artillery – Bombarding artillery can never eliminate a unit. Any hits that would ordinarily eliminate a unit are ignored. Artillery in the first round of combat always resolves its dice first, and then any remaining defender’s may roll dice and apply effects. Unsupported artillery is eliminated if forced to retreat.
Elites ignore the first hit, in each bombardment, and in each entire combat.
Militias count the first hit as two hits, in each bombardment, and in each entire combat entire combat.
Multiple unit combats are handled by resolving one attacking unit at a time. The side that gets to choose the order selects which attacking unit resolves its combat. This continues until there are no enemy units in contact. If a defending unit is flanked, all combats with that defender use the flanking bonus until the defender is no longer flanked.
HQs are abstract representation of command and are never affected by combat. Simply move them out of the way. Their location is only critical during the activation phase when determining command. Each activation, command is determined from one point, you cannot move and command from different places during the same activation. When moving you can move them anywhere within 1 mounted move, they ignore facing and terrain (they cannot ignore impassable terrain features).
Baggage Trains – use the foot movement rate. They must unpack (flip them over) to allow units to Recover. Once unpacked they may not move.
See page 10 of the rulebook, and refer to the individual scenario as well.
Other rules for unit types may apply, be sure and check the scenario guidelines.
The Pub Battles system simulates fighting a battle from the command post. This is a command simulation, not a combat simulation. This means a lot of detail is hidden from the players. Just like real commanders, you can’t be everywhere at once. Were you to leave your command post for any length of time, you would become completely blind to the battle as a whole.
The map in front of you, unlike most wargames, isn’t an exact representation of the actual positions of every unit on the battlefield. It is the best estimates your aides have of the ever changing “current” situation.
When you move a unit on the map, this simulates the orders you have given to your subordinates, not necessarily where they have moved. Only time will tell how your finely planned orders have been executed.
An exception to this is the “Alter Turn Order” rule where a commander attempts to directly affect the turn order. This can be thought of as those times when the commander leaves the HQ tent and takes direct control of his command. The rest of the time, it is assumed that the commander must rely on subordinates to communicate battlefield reports.
This means that often the disposition of the units on the map won’t make complete sense. “Why aren’t they Attacking!” is a common frustration when viewing opposing units in close proximity to each other. Maybe they may not be exactly there; maybe they can’t see because of smoke or fog; Maybe they are uncertain where other threats might be. There are many possibilities. Too many to have a separate rule for each.
The chit draw mechanic covers all those eventualities elegantly. Sometimes you want to go first; you want to rally before the next attack, or you want to get there before the defender can rally. Other times, you want to go last so you can pick exactly where and when you fight, or you just want your opponent to reveal his intentions first.
Another reason combat is depicted simply is because of scale. When you see the blocks on the map it is easy to imagine miniatures games where those blocks represent regiments or battalions. Pub Battles is representing divisions, so it’s more like the old hex based divisions…Except this looks so much cooler!
Once you have played the game enough to get the feel of the benefits of moving either earlier or later, you will appreciate the Alter Turn Order rules.
With the Baggage Train rules of 3.0 baggage trains have finally found their place in the Pub Battles system. Pub Battles originated as a way to play a referee-less Kriegspiel. Baggage Trains are represented in Kriegspiel, so they were included in Pub Battles, but without a referee, their inclusion wasn’t quite right. Now they have a central purpose, without a lot of baggage (pun intended).
Victory conditions are always a sticking point in wargames. You want to reflect the intentions of the commanders going into the battle, the realities that changed those intentions during the battle, and the reflections on what the battle was really about in hindsight. The only constant was that if you destroyed the enemy’s army, you won. Not every battle was fought until one of the armies was destroyed, more often the opposing commander chose to retreat, or worse, the troops broke and the army’s coherence dissolved. trying to decide on Victory Conditions raised a lot of questions.
The 3.0 Baggage Train rules have answered all those questions neatly and simply. You still win by destroying 50% of the enemy army, but on your way to doing that you can also break the army sooner by destroying their Baggage, or force them to exercise discretion and bail out in some order, to fight again another day.
First off, let us understand what is meant by a baggage train. The baggage train is pretty much what its name implies while packed up, but when it is unpacked it represents something more. An unpacked baggage train is a logistical Wal-Mart, plus a field hospital, plus a signal corps, plus all the other myriad functions to address that arise when an army makes camp to support operations. It is not something you can pick up and move on a whim, or in the breach. When your enemy moves adjacent to your baggage train and breaks your army, it isn’t like in ancient warfare where your bags are literally getting sacked. Instead, it captures that figurative moment when the line has been broke through and the troop’s morale fails. No one can ever predict when that moment will happen, but everyone knows there comes a time. Without a referee to tell you this, Pub Battles uses this mechanic. This gives the right feel to the battle.
When you decide to unpack your bags as the defender you have to weigh being close enough to easily and quickly recover spent divisions, while far enough back to not be too vulnerable. That is the easy part, but the devilishly tricky part is deciding when is a good time to unpack, as well as exactly what determines too close and too far at that time. This is an art that requires an accurate instinct more than in-depth analysis.
For the attacker, the issues are similar, but the ramifications are different. You need your bags unpacked to keep your attacking units in fighting shape, but if you setup before the enemy, they are likely to fall back before they unpack, leaving you wasting valuable time traveling back and forth. With only eight turns in a day, a turn falling back, another recovering, and another moving back to the line, means you’ll be lucky to see two fights in a day!
Finally, a strong point to the baggage train rules is they simulate logistics without the tedium that is so often anticipated when encountering logistics in a wargame.
After using these baggage rules in a few dozen games, I can definitely say they “make the game.” Originally, I thought of them as sudden death because it didn’t require that you eliminate 50% of your opponent’s army. Now I find that many of my games do end up with one side losing 50% because of the fights over the Baggage Trains! This has really upped the tension level of the game.
I can even quantify why the level of tension has increased so much. First off, the game starts out more tense because you aren’t whittling away hit points on units, a process that can take the whole game. With Pub Battles, entire divisions can be lost in one turn, though rarely without a player’s chance to withdraw. Making it entirely possible to reduce an army to the breaking point in less than an hour of game time.
Then you ratchet that up a notch by adding baggage trains that must be kept reasonably close to the front lines to be effective, but end the game if captured.
The effect of THAT is to see desperate battles over the Baggage Trains that can easily push one of the armies to the breaking point. The possibility of a dramatic end is rarely more than the next combat result.
One of the best things about Pub Battles; one of the things that separates it from so many other titles, is the way it distances the players from the God-like ability to see all and do all with absolute precision and perfect knowledge.
Playing solitaire with written orders takes this one step further.
It accomplishes this with a simple an elegant system that gives an authentic feel without burying you in rules. It removes you from too close control, while inserting you right into the chaos of battle.
How It’s done…
I have tried various combos of specific and conditional orders, all of which proved unnecessary! Simple is best. Just write down a location or range (from here to here) and the HQ will attempt to go there and control the area. If they are in that location, they will defend it. How wide a latitude you want to use to interpret those orders is up to you.
I have also used the orders to attach a unit to a different Corps.
If an HQ has units on its reserve card, I just write the unit’s name and enclose it in brackets.
How it Works
At the beginning of the game, any HQs on the board must be given orders. IF an HQ is without orders, its units will just sit in place.
When a chit is drawn and activated, the first thing the player does is check the orders. If the last order given is not underlined, he underlines it and then carries out that order.
If he wishes to change the orders, he writes the new order underneath the previous order. He then carries out the previous (underlined) order. Next turn he will continue as above with the chit draw and activation. (See optional hands on opportunity below)
The first time a Corps is activated (either on turn one, or when it enters play as a reinforcement) it is given its first set of orders underlined, so it’s not sitting without orders for a turn.
Army HQs – If the Army HQ is adjacent to a Corps HQ, that HQ’s orders take effect immediately. Write and underline new orders.Since the two commanders are together, there is no delay in sending orders.
In effect, this allows you to insert yourself right into the game!
Baggage Trains: Baggage Trains move when their parent Corps moves, but they do not have to follow its orders. They may move and Position themselves any way they want.
Night turns: During night turns the corps ignore their current orders. Additionally, they may be given new orders and those orders are underlined immediately, so they always begin the day with orders!
Well, almost. Just like real commanders, you will find that your orders leave a lot of freedom of interpretation. Maybe there is a unit just out of direct line between a unit and its objective, should it attack that unit first? You decide.
This is one of the best features of this solitaire system. You control the narrative. You decide whether or not the commander on the ground decides to widely or narrowly interpret the orders.
Maybe the dice have been a little too hard on the Confederates side. Let’s show them a little love and interpret the orders most beneficially. On the other hand, maybe the dice have been giving Lee a free pass, it might be time to attack the objective with A.P. Hill’s lone spent element of Heth’s division, even though it’s got Howard’s whole fresh Corps behind abattis in the woods. Oh Harry, you’ll be bringing tears to many mothers tonight.
The first day of Gettysburg won’t make you feel that frantic, but guaranteed, as day two wears on you will find the battle going in directions you have probably not anticipated.
In one game, the second day opened with the Union in a strong position along historical lines, by the end of turn 3 the only comforting position that greeted Meade was V Corps taking Wolf’s Hill from Ewell’s Corps. Longstreet had captured Cemetery Hill and A.P. Hill was investing the Peach Orchard.
This would not have happened if I had been free to move my troops wherever they obviously needed to be. The scenario went from a replay of History to a very edge of the seat, bare knuckles contest!
One of the biggest differences you notice is the lack of a fireworks display of unit moves, as each division angles for the best attack. Now they have to act in much more historical coordination with their parent HQ. That parent HQ is going to be operating with a one turn delay in changing orders, so gamey moves that take advantage of the players god-like knowledge of the battlefield and unit strengths and positions will no longer be possible.
Optional hands on opportunity
I like having a lot out of my direct control, but if you want to interject some control, try this: When you elect to change an order, if you flip your HQ and make your command roll, you can ignore your current orders and the HQ is treated as being without orders for the current turn and new orders are written to be followed the following (no pun intended) turn.
The HQ is communicating the need for new orders and is not following current orders.
Two Player with Written Orders
Two players may play with written orders, but it is probably too open ended for truly competitive play.
Whenever you give an HQ new orders, you show your previous orders to your opponent, so he can immediately verify you followed them.
Of course, if you have a referee overseeing the game, hidden orders can be fun.
One of the most enjoyable ways to play Pub Battles is remotely. This requires two players and a referee. They can be sitting separately in the same Pub, or in completely different locations and time zones! This gives an authentic Kriegspiel experience because the players have very limited information of the positions of any combatants. They only have the locations of their HQs. They have no say over the divisions or other subordinate units of their Corps.
The player maps don’t need to be the game map. Its more fun, and authentic, to just print out historical maps and gives those to the players.
The referee sits with a copy of the game and an order sheet with all current Corps and orders written on it. He texts the players that he is ready for turn one orders.
The players each have their maps with the starting positions of their Corps HQs and any knowledge of the enemy positions the Referee cares to share with them. They submit their turn one orders, all of which are immediately carried out by the Referee.
The players patiently wait, enjoy their beverage of choice, chatting with nearby friends, while studying and overthinking their plans. 😉
The referee draws chits, carries out orders, and resolves combat. When the turn is complete he texts a dispatch to each player reporting combat results and any changed positions. He also let them know the deadline when their next orders are due.
Players are allowed to text one response to any text from the Referee. They can send additional texts, but additional texts have a strong likelihood of being misinterpreted. The referee’s general guidelines are that the first text is carried out automatically, any additional text requires a check for success (4+). If an order is unsuccessful, the ref has discretion what that may mean. The orders (any sent, including the first) can be misinterpreted, lost, or even captured. The players have no way of knowing.
Notes for Refereeing – Your roll as referee is a fun way to play Pub Battles, as you get to play a game solo with two opponents submitting orders. Here are some general guidelines to make sure the players have a fun experience:
Try to make the experience of them sitting in the command tent as authentic as possible. You can add personality to different commanders, as well as adding game info for color. Commanders can be begging for supplies to recover their depleted divisions. Try to give the players enough info to make deciding when and where to unpack their baggage Trains.
In general, try to provide them with all the info you can. Even if you tell them precisely all the information they need, they are still going to feel like they are boxing with blindfolds. You can tell your players are too confused to be having fun if they start disengaging or writing silly orders.
As you draw chits you can play with the order they are drawn, or you can adhere strictly to the draw. The goal is to make the game interesting for the players. Use chit draws and combat dice as guidelines.
While insuring the players have a good time, you want to avoid teaching players that whining works. Life isn’t fair, and war is worse. Make Corps commander’s personas and abilities come alive. A successful Referee will have players trusting some commanders and not trusting others with important tasks.
In my variable leaders variant I give suggestions on ways great leaders and poor leaders can differ, and this might give you some ideas.
Good luck and Good gaming–Please let me know how your games work out!