Almost Written Orders

First draft of Command card

This is my work in progress of using a simple card to track orders. Orders are noted by using symbols, just add a symbol to the box and your orders are written. Boom! Simple.

At the beginning of a game, the orders for that turn are written first, then Chits are drawn. After that, the orders are written at the end of the turn, prior to the next. There are six orders with their accompanying symbols Bold:

Attack ! The command will move in one direction as far as possible.

Move > The command will move in one direction as far as possible, but will not end with an enemy in its FoF.

Occupy Terrain X The command will occupy the next terrain feature.

Advance to Terrain ] The command will advance to the next terrain feature, but will not end with an enemy in its FoF.

March Column – The command will move to a road, enter March Column, and move along that road. If already on a road, it will remain in March Column the entire turn. If a command is already in March Column and is given a different order, it may move any distance along the road, but must end its turn out of March Column and in compliance with the order. Commands in March Column will follow the lead unit.

Hold 0 The command will hold its position. This may involve attacking. It may retreat from combat.

As can be seen, the orders are of the most general type. If a command moves, it must move in one direction, blocks may make one free facing change, if desired. This is intentionally unwieldly, thus making the ballet-like moves, so often seen in many games, impossible.

A command role may be used to Alter Turn Order, as per normal.

A successful command roll may be used to ignore an order and move however the player wishes (Personal Initiative), but if this is done, then the next orders must be written in the box two turns out, so the command spends one turn without orders. A command without orders may move none of its blocks, but they may rotate.

A charge may be executed regardless of orders.

These rules do not simulate written orders, but they do simulate the awkwardness of trying to command an army from a distance, as opposed to reaching down out of the sky and moving with perfect control and knowledge of the enemy’s positions. It does not simulate written orders, but it does simulate the feeling of written orders. For an even more authentic feeling, begin with two turns of orders written, and at the end of the turn write orders for the turn after next, so at the end of turn one, you write orders for turn three. This simulates the delay of receiving reports from commanders, writing new orders, and then sending those out to them.

My Perfect Wargame

I was originally going to call this Post, “What Makes a Perfect Wargame.” It quickly became obvious that is silly. It is different for everyone. So instead, I look for what makes a perfect wargame for me, and if you apply the same metrics, I am curious what would a perfect wargame look like to you? Please let me know in the comments below.

My perfect wargame would start with a military atlas map. You know the kind, simple terrain features with all kinds of rectangles denoting the military units in their positions. For the game, the map would lay out on the table, the pieces would be wooden blocks, and the rules would be pretty straight forward.

I imagine sitting with a friend around a heavy wooden table, talking about the battle and moving our troops, trying out strategies that we think our historical counterparts would have tried. Combat would be resolved with a simple dice roll. The rules would fade almost imperceptibly into the background, as the narrative wills out. There would be no charts, tables, and endless hours spent perusing rulebooks. Just one person shelling the opponent’s line all morning, then unleashing his assault.

My perfect wargame would cover the romantic old world black powder battles. The glorious cavalry charges, the thunderous cannonades, and the thick smoke obscuring everything. Real war is none of those things, but I can imagine it thus, this is my fantasy, after all.

A note on complex rules and realistic simulations. I have played super complex games with layer upon layer of detail. The problem I have with those kinds of games is they leave me feeling removed from the battle, not immersed in it. Every time I have to stop and consult a table, or check a rule, it takes me out of the simulation. It becomes less enjoyable. The trick–the art, of wargame design, is to make it feel as authentic as possible, it is not as simple as making it super detailed.

The closest I have ever found to this is Pub Battles.

Leader Casualties


It has been an oft requested feature to simulate leader casualties. Ultimately, in the big picture of things, leader casualties rarely had an effect on the immediate battle. Sometimes a high level leader could effect the army, such as the loss of Stonewall Jackson, but that was the exception, not the rule.

In Pub Battles we have come up with an optional way to simulate this, that I think is pretty fun. I don’t know if I’d call it “realistic,” but if the point is to have fun, no harm is done.

To involve a leader(HQ) directly in combat, simply place it on top of a block that is adjacent to the enemy. That block now adds one to its combat rolls, but if the enemy rolls a six in combat, then there is a chance the HQ gets eliminated. For each hit suffered in a round, roll a die, if a 1 is rolled, the HQ is removed.

Note that removing the HQ still allows the chit to be drawn, and the Corps to move, but they now can only attack if the Army commander is within command range. Obviously, they cannot roll to alter turn order either.

This usually has a subtle effect on the army, just like a leader loss should. One Corps leader lost can be reasonably accommodated for, but if you lose two or more, it can be a problem. It also gives the occasional extra leader (like Blucher at Waterloo) a purpose beyond providing additional combat command. It makes me want to add a Ney block at Waterloo!

While there are plenty of good reasons to add this rule to the game, I’m not sure it is something I will use much. My guiding principle is “Does the game work without it?” If the answer is yes, then it is followed up with “Is it significantly improved by this addition? Baggage Trains passed both the hurdles with flying colors. I’m not yet convinced that this, or any, Leader Casualty rule, does.

In my last game of Waterloo, it did play a significant role. The British Bags were exposed and the Guard was fixed to assault. Picton drove off the first attempt, and fell in the effort, and Uxbridge with the Household Cavalry held off versus two blocks of Guards Cavalry charging, and two blocks of II Corps infantry in the combat phase. Very exciting, very dramatic final turn.

Here is the video:

Pub Battles Victory Conditions

Victory Conditions are one of the toughest things to develop in wargaming. Do you base it on what historical commanders’ objectives? Should players be tied to what their historical counterparts objectives, which may have changed during the battle? Gettysburg was fought because that’s where Gettysburg was, but after day 1, it was nothing more than geographical point of reference. It certainly didn’t figure into the combatant’s strategy.

I like Pub Battles use of Baggage Trains. It lets the players themselves decide where the key victory locations are going to be. What about losing valuable units? We on the design team have been asked to consider how this might be addressed. At its simplest, we all agree that it should be something that players can discuss over a few pints after the game. History is still trying to decide, and redefine, who won any given battle. It is a lot more complicated a thing than is first apparent.

My personal opinion is that it should be somewhat blended between points and conditions. It should be obvious so folks know what they’re fighting for, yet allow for shades of differences. When does a victory become too pyrrhic?

I have proposed this:

Decisive. 50% Infantry losses or, contacting an enemy Baggage Train at the beginning of a combat phase. Rout.

Moderate. If the enemy packs up an unpacked Baggage Train. Forced Back.

Most Victory Points. If none of the above conditions are met by the end of the game, then add up points for enemy units destroyed.

Without the victory point option, there is no reason not to sacrifice cavalry and artillery units to save infantry units. With the victory point option, sacrificing those valuable units only becomes worth it if the win is secured by forcing the enemy to forfeit the field of battle. If it were only points, then defense becomes supreme. It takes experience to gain a feel for what is worth it.

The other great reason for this solution is it allows a metric for determining a victor in tournaments, where a definite winner is necessary. In “friendly” games, if no clear winner is decided by the first two means, then the points remain for bragging rights, but like many of history’s battles, the winner may be forever a matter of opinion.

What do you think?

From the British Command Post at Brandywine19

With this video I finally figured out how to do some editing techniques that I really needed for my vids. Let me know what you think! I know I’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but it’s a start.

Brandywine is a race for the British. As the British player, you only have five turns to get the job done. As the Colonial player, you can only back up so far before you expose the major roads, and the British only need capture one.

Combat in Pub Battles

I’m sure you’ve heard, and probably thought, that combat in Pub Battles is really simplified. I have been guilty of that, too. However, under analysis, it doesn’t hold up.

I think part of the problem, a big part of the problem, is that Pub Battles blocks look like they should be regiments, or the unit names on them make you think that the specific divisional unit named is the actual unit represented. Both are false. Divisions did tend to cover an area with the same general geometric outline as a regiment. The names on the labels are purely for color.

First off, what does a Pub Battles block actually represent? It actually represents from 4,000-6,000 men, more or less. A Corps that numbers ~20,000 men will have around 5 blocks, maybe more for nimble, well organized units, less for awkward, poorly organized units. Numbers are half that for cavalry. It will also possess artillery, including battalion guns (equivalent to modern day heavy weapons battalions). Many formations within the block will be light troops, and maybe even grenadiers to stiffen the line.

Typically, when two regiments closed, fighting began with a ranged duel between the light troops at a few hundred yards, one side drove back the light troops of the other, and then began picking off the main line troops. At this point, those troops not liking getting picked off, charged, or retreated.

That detail is not simulated by Pub Battles. In Pub Battles, when two blocks close, it begins at an area around a half mile square, within that half mile, Brigades and Regiments are maneuvering and jockeying for local advantage. Artillery is being brought up, harassing their opponents. All of this is resolved with a dice roll and a couple of modifiers. When playing, you can happily dream up what may have happened.

If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of small formation combat, there are numerous excellent titles. I myself, have enjoyed them, but to play an actual large battle at that level is exhaustive, and really not accurate to the feel of the whole battle. No one experienced every small combat, and every grand tactical decision, in any battle of size. So, we must choose.

I happen to enjoy Pub Battles, and feeling like I’m commanding a whole army, and enjoying the full sweep of a battle, in a pleasant couple of hours.

How do you feel about Pub Battles level of simulation?