Pub Battles by Text (PBbT)

Marshall and I played Germantown by text the other day. He was the nominal ref, and we played a gentleman’s game. It was double blind, we only knew what we could see. We would text each other a pic of our moves when we attacked somewhere. If we discovered our troops would have run into other troops elsewhere, we backed up. It can work playing this way, if you want it to.

I didn’t know it, but he had decided to bring on a smaller force, allowing him to threaten colonial positions elsewhere in the theater. Rather than defeat me, all he had to do was hold the road while his other forces wreaked havoc elsewhere. He just wanted to try an “Austerlitz” kind of victory condition.

I ended up playing overly cautious because I couldn’t figure out where the rest of his army was, I could have mopped up the floor with his troops and dined in Philadelphia that night had I known the size of actual force!

Playing by text can work. I find it slow and exhausting, but fun. My suggestion is to try a small battle. I do not enjoy virtual meetings and thankfully am rarely required to participate. If you have no problems with virtual meetings, then PBT will probably be a satisfactory option.

Pub Battles as the “Wargamer’s Wargame”

I think that Pub Battles is the “Wargamer’s wargame.” I say that because every wargamer wants to create an intuitive link to the history that you just can’t get from merely reading about it, and the deeper your familiarity with the subject, the more authentic Pub Battles becomes.

I like that each battle has a unique “signature.” It always amazes me how powerful the system is. Its intrinsic elegance means that the feel of the battle comes through, and the feel of playing a game recedes. You’re not taken out of the narrative to do game maintenance. This allows a very seamless re-creation that starts with the historic maps you play on. Pub Battles plays on maps, not boardgame boards. It feels like you’re in your command tent with a map in front of you.

Players demand a lot of historical authenticity? The system is a perfect sandbox to re-create history as you imagine it.

At the same time, it also runs itself. Army commanders do Army commander things, not battalion commander things. You give your orders to your subordinates, and trust (or wring your hands!) that they will get the job done (that you get the turn order you need). Sometimes, this means you have to leave the command tent, mount your horse, and direct things personally (Alter Turn Order).

I find myself thinking like a commander, and not as a player. Is that Corps too extended to manage? How long can they continue to be effective? Where should I send the caissons?

I also feel as removed as a commander should. Where is the enemy? How strong is he on that flank? What troops are those? I think that’s Jackson’s stonewall brigade! No, wait. Dang, that’s A.P. Hill! Where is Jackson?

History comes alive.

Austerlitz9 series replay

This time, by watching the casualties placed in the upper right map corner, you can watch the losses mount as the battle progresses. Both armies break if they lose seven infantry blocks. I keep the infantry losses on the map, and the cavalry and artillery losses off the map. They grow out from that line. The tension mounts because you want to unpack bags and begin recovering spent units, but unpacked bags become victory objectives, but spent units can be more easily eliminated, contributing to your army’s breaking point.

Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy…  

Austerlitz in a Mirror

Or playing apples to apples Austerlitz

One can clearly see how the French won so dramatically after a few games of Pub Battles Austerlitz. The Allied army was completely disorganized and barely functioning as a whole when compared to the French army. This wasn’t the sort of superiority that is necessarily evident when comparing numbers, weapons, or even morale, all things that are easily translated to combat stats in wargames. The difference was primarily in organization and doctrine. That, and the fact that Napoleon had completely psyched out his adversaries in the campaign leading up to the battle!

Considering all that, how can it be any fun at all to play the Allies? Command Post games has gone farther than many other systems in the way it treats the opening battle. Kudos to them! If you’re going to publish a game on the Battle of Austerlitz, that’s pretty much what you have to do.

However, as simply a player of the Pub Battles system, I have a few more options. One of the most powerful design facets of Pub Battles is its “Free Game” architecture. Since Pub Battles, with its Kriegspiel inspired system, focuses on Command and Control, not combat, it lends itself to a very powerful variant.

Simply allow Allied players to organize their army into as many, or as few, Corps as they like, and raise the leadership ratings from 2 to 3. , and you now have two very similar armies. Of course, two identical armies facing each other can be kind of stale in and of itself, but there are still some key differences inherent in the battle which can be carried over seamlessly to this variant. Allow the Allies to use all the HQ blocks which creates Fog of War, and use the historical French entry, which requires two turns for their full army to arrive.

This means that the Allied player has a brief advantage that they need to use as soon as the sun rises. The French must scramble to meet an uncertain threat. Because this is Pub Battles, there will never be a perfect strategy. The chit draw and combat guarantee that. You can try your best to outmaneuver your opponent, but the chit draw and Alter Turn Order rolls can simulate the same unpredictable outcomes that bedevil real commanders. In addition, combat is never a sure thing. The best you can hope for is likely outcomes, at worst, it’s unlikely outcomes. It’s as if a kriegspiel referee, a really good kriegspiel referee, is taking your combat and saying. “Well, what if this happens?” Pub Battles rewards flexibility, and not letting circumstances get into your head, and focusing on possibilities.

Back to our scenario, with its Allied army that matches the French. How can this be? Obviously, not very likely, since it didn’t even come close to happening, but what if it did? A disaffected French Superior officer, say another Napoleon, (because no army is big enough for two Napoleons), approaches the Tsar and says that he can give him an army as great as the French! The Tsar eagerly accepts the offer. Then the army also eagerly accepts this new and very different doctrine. Go ahead and imagine how this might be possible. I submit it is certainly more believable than wondering what if the Russians had AK-47s and T-34s at Austerlitz!

I’m about to try my first game played this way. Now I play double blind solo, so I won’t be using all the Fog of War that would be present in a two player game, but I can certainly play as though it was there.

Double Blind Solo

Double Blind Solo is my description of how I play Pub Battles solo. At first glance this seems impossible, how can you keep a secret from yourself? Easy, just split yourself in two! No, this does not involve a saw and a magician, but magic is a part of it, in a sense. You see, in addition to wargaming, I spent many years playing D&D, and other roleplaying games. As such, it comes quite naturally to play the characters involved in a Pub Battles game. The Generals and Corps commanders each become distinct personalities.

I don’t get into costume and switch them with each chit draw, but I do consider what each commander at each HQ on the map would know, and how he would act considering his orders. This works exceptionally smoothly with Pub Battles, as it is a command focused, as opposed to a combat focused wargame. This comes from its primary source, Kriegspiel. In Kriegspiel, you order your troops about and the Referee worries about all the minutia of combat. Truth be told, the referee isn’t that concerned with combat details either, other than managing expectations. His true job is to provide the players with an authentic experience.

Pub Battles is essentially an AI bot, that simulates the way a ref feeds you limited amounts of information. Often the chit draw will confound your best plans, ask anyone who has played Kriegspiel, that’s exactly what the referee does (at least, it certainly seems that way)!

When I play Pub Battles solo, I begin with the intention of playing a what-if scenario. What if the French do this? What if Lee sent Longstreet North of Gettysburg? Then I play it out. The beauty of Pub Battles is its simplicity. More complex games are so involved in minor details and asides (rules, charts, and tables) that it is nearly impossible to play alone, too much to keep track of, and it moves soooooo slow. Pub Battles gives you a lot of freedom. I think you would need a ref in a tournament situation, because there are a lot of silly things you could do, because there are not a lot of rules taking you by the hand. I occasionally see things that are possible within the rules, but that would never have happened in real life. When you’re looking at the map with a God’s eye view, maybe you can see a narrow path between a few units that you could move through and get a flank attack. Your historical counterpart would only know that there is enemy all over in that general direction. I would probably pass on that opportunity. Whatever you are comfortable with. When I am playing with an opponent, I generally find that I am harder on myself, and they are more forgiving of my intentions. Of course, I’m not playing for money or prestige, so that helps!

In the past, I had read a lot about Gettysburg, as well as having played numerous games by different publishers. I had fought the battle in very complex tactical simulations (hex and counter, as well as miniatures), and at all levels up to grand tactical. There are a lot of great games out there on Gettysburg. Each gave a unique feel to the game. It wasn’t until I played it as a Pub Battles scenario that I finally felt like this is what Lee or Meade must have felt. Pub Battles focused me on the big issues, like who is where, which troops and commanders can I trust, who is more shaky? WHERE is the enemy? Should I commit my logistical resources here/now? All these issues were covered to some extent with other games, but Pub Battles did it so intuitively and elegantly that it became all a part of the flow of the battle. I was not mulling over charts, tables, and rules, trying to figure each move to three places past the decimal. Instead, I was developing a gut instinct for all of these things, based on my past experience.

This is what I always dreamed of!

The Battle formerly known as Austerlitz!

Pub Battles Austerlitz: One Sharp Blow! This time Napoleon brought everything, determined the exact moment… and the Coalition delivered the one sharp blow! Tune in to my four minute video and find out who ended up winning what will be renamed The Battle of Solkonitz & Telnitz.

Post your thoughts on the battle, I’d love to hear it. I think this replay deserves some commentary, but I can’t do it without a big SPOILER ALERT! So we’ll discuss it in the comments.

One thing that is different is the way towns are handled in this scenario. Unlike ACW towns, many European towns are composed of stone buildings and are even walled. As such, units don’t become spent upon entering them, and may rally. Also, units in towns can’t be flanked. This change is significant, and gives Austerlitz a unique feel.

One Sharp Blow!

The full name of the Latest Pub Battles scenario is Austerlitz: One Sharp Blow. It refers to Napoleon’s assertion (and hope!) That one sharp blow at the critical moment is all it would take to cause the Coalition army to collapse. He was right. He was right in his assertion, and he was right in judging when that moment was at hand.

In contrast, General Lee was not so successful at Gettysburg. He was certain by the third day that the Union army was on the point of breaking, and that all it would take is one sharp blow at the critical moment. We will never know, because Longstreet’s reluctance to make that fatal attack caused the whole thing to be carried off much later in the day than Lee intended. Maybe Lee was right, and had the attack been launched in the morning, the Federal army would have cracked. Maybe Longstreet knew that such an assault would have always failed, it certainly seems so.

Key in any treatment of any battle is whether or not the system can recreate that feeling when refighting the battle. Even more important, is not handcuffing the players into recreating exactly that strategy, but instead, relying on that moment to occur naturally.

Anticipating this, I was very excited to try it out myself, and I eagerly awaited for the game to arrive in the mail. I was not disappointed!

Although I have only played it a handful of times, determining that moment, considering both, the turn and the chit draw, is often most critical. Now that I have played it a few times, and am well acquainted with what makes solo play exciting, I believe that I have come up with a solo scheme that simultaneously keeps the tension high for both sides.

What I do is make the appearance of the optional reinforcements unknown the French elect to deploy them, or the coalition spots them.

Just as always, the French begin with all three HQs showing up on turn 1. When Napoleon decides to place one of the Corps on the map, or when the coalition forces spot one of the HQs, a die is rolled.
1-3= No optional forces
4 = One Corps*
5 or 6 = All three Corps
*If spotted, the spotted Corps is placed, otherwise place one HQ’s forces.

While not historically accurate, since Napoleon knew what forces he actually had to work with, it makes for a far more interesting and varied solo experience. It starts with a 50/50 proposition, was he bluffing? If he wasn’t bluffing, he probably would have brought everything. I think this creates an interesting variation because it makes what is probably the most logical choice (one optional Corps, allowing maximum forces for easiest victory conditions), the least probable. It also rewards the Coalition for making an effort to reconnoiter the enemy, and try to take some control from the French. Actually, that might be an interesting two player variant…

I have just started playing the game and haven’t yet used this system. I will start using it with my Austerlitz5 replay. I will note any changes if experience warrants it. If you try it out, be sure and let me know how it works for you.


Pub Battles: Austerlitz. Napoleon sends Bernadotte and Marat on a mission of mayhem. Now he needs to hold of the combined armies of the coalition. Will superior French command and control be enough to hold off the superior enemy?