For an Even more Intense Ending

Victory conditions are always one of the toughest aspects of game design. How you define victory changes how the battle was fought. Historically, the things that were important at the beginning of the battle might not matter at the end. The reverse is also true. Many Waterloo games have Hougomont, that fought over chateaux, as a victory objective. Yet Napoleon was never interested in it, nor was Wellington. Other than it was a great defensive point if the French wanted to waste effort on it. Which they did, and it cost them the battle.

One of the first things you learn, as the French player, is ignore Hougomont. If Wellington wants to pack it with his best troops, then let him have another British island. Soon they will not be in combat command and they’ll be trapped.

Official Pub Battles rules have standard points for eliminated enemy blocks, with multiples possible depending on the condition of the enemy bags. This is necessary for tournaments and such, where a winner must be declared.

I only use points if no enemy bags have been destroyed. Twice in a row playing Marengo I have broke both armies (50% losses) in the same combat phase! So how do you resolve that?

Well, I like the idea of an army breaking at some unpredictable point. That moment when a group’s collective will is broken. Something that you know is close, but you can’t predict. That’s why I am going to say that the moment, the moment the die is rolled, is the moment the army breaks. Not at the end of the combat phase, but the moment that 50% point is reached. If that happens to be the same combat, well then it is a tie, both players lose.

A Prepared Defense

A “Prepared Defense” showing the increased range coverage.

On a very rare occasion, a rule makes it past my “Does the game work with out it?” litmus test question. One way it can slip past this net is if it is simple, fun, and leads to a better “feel.” The Baggage Train rules did that in a big way.

Now I’m thinking of including the Prepared Defense rule, wherein a player, by scenario definition, may begin with bags unpacked. The advantage is that the rally range is doubled to 2/3 of a mounted move. The disadvantage is, you pretty much are drawing a line in the sand and saying “We will hold here!” No chance to give ground if the chit draw does not favor it.

The rationale behind the doubling of the rally range is that it implies a more planned and laid out defense, where supply routes and staging areas have had time to be developed more properly.

I like this rule for two reasons. The first is that it is almost effortless to include. One need only remember to double the range to rally. The second is it adds a nuanced level of strategy. The kind of thing a new player may have difficulties with, compared to a more experienced player. Not because it’s complex, but because trying to judge where to place the Unpacked Baggage Train is an important decision that relies on a deft touch and feeling for the game. A rule that rewards experience, not rules lawyering.

In my first game testing it, which you can see here, Washington began with a fortified Brandywine line. It worked this time, meaning it helped. I wouldn’t say it was why the British were held at bay, but it didn’t hurt. I can’t wait to try this out at Waterloo!

I’m going to continue to play test this in appropriate scenarios.

The Corps, in Pub Battles

Pub Battles is a command focused system, as opposed to a combat focused system. This doesn’t mean combat isn’t important. It means that a lot of the details of combat are left out. When the composition of a Corps is being constructed, effectiveness as a unit is prioritized over the details of specific unit composition.

When designing a Pub Battles scenario, one can first divide the individual Army’s total manpower by 4,000 to get a rough idea of how many blocks to include. This is just the starting point. Then one must consider cavalry and artillery, and how it acted in the battle. How many blocks, if any, give the right feel? Then there is efficiency. If the units had exceptional leadership and troops, it might be appropriate to include an elite block. If there were a significant portion of green or hastily raised troops, then some militia might be in order.

When all that is done, the OBs are then extensively play-tested. How do they feel? Can they duplicate historical behavior. Maybe a block is added here, or taken away there. Maybe an elite is added/subtracted, ditto with militia.

The very last thing that is done is the naming of the blocks. The unit ID is purely added for color. Without them, the game feels lifeless and generic. With them, the game feels more real, more fun.

When a corps is in combat and one of the blocks is eliminated, say Hood’s Texans at Antietam, it does not mean that the Texan division has been lost (though it might), What it really shows is that the effectiveness of the Corps has been reduced to the point that it is no longer accurately modeled with an elite block.

Of course, it is much more fun to simply think that the last of Jackson’s stalwarts has fallen! No harm, no foul.

Baggage Trains

This is very true with Baggage Trains. What does a Baggage Train represent? It may represent actual bags, hospitals, reserves, etc. All that is known is that if the enemy reaches that point, it’s game over. In actual terms it’s that point where a force is broken, either the troop’s, or the commander’s, will to fight is gone. Every decisive combat has had that point. The trouble in game design is that it must be quantified.

The Baggage Train rule is that mechanic. It takes a hazy uncertain point, a point that only those in the moment can sense, and models it in the game. It is literally vague, so that it can be figuratively exact. That is elegant design.