Opening Turns at Gettysburg

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.

Turn Union/Confederate
1 1/ 1
2 1/1
3 3/2
4 3/3
5 3/4
6 3/4
7 5/6
8 5/8

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 on 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?

Leader Quality in Pub Battles

A close up view of the beautiful canvass map!

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?

Using a Single Die in Pub Battles

My hefty metal six siders and the damage they wrought.

I am always open to trying out elegant ways to play Pub Battles. By elegant, I mean simpler AND better. Pub Battles is a robust system, meaning you can change bits here and there without ruining the balance of the game. In other words, you can “season to taste.”

One example of this is the Field of Fire rule, I don’t like it, and I don’t use it. For others, the game is unenjoyable without it. To each, their own.

Dice are a little dicier (pun intended). One has to be very careful about exactly how one dishes out damage in combat. My initial motivation stemmed from the Pub Battles dice offered by Command Post Games. These dice use different symbols that allow all possible results from a single die. No more adding modifiers and applying them over several dice. One die gives you all the info you need. This works great, IF you have great eyesight. Alas, I’m old, Gandalf. I find myself straining to glean the info I need from the symbols on the die.

My initial thought was to use a single six sided die and read the result as D6/2 round down. So you roll the die and divide the result by 2 and round down. A 6 gives you three hits and a 1 gives you zero hits. This actually works out a little deadlier, as it is easier to get three hits on a single six sider than on three six siders. {MATH WARNING} 3 six siders give you odds on a scale of 8 (2 to the third power).
1/8 chance of zero hits
3/8 chance of one hit
3/8 chance of two hits
1/8 chance of three hits
A D6/2 rounding down gives this:
1/6 chance of zero hits
2/6 chance of one hit
2/6 chance of two hits
1/6 chance of three hits
So a single six sider is a little deadlier in dealing 3 hits, balanced by being a little less deadly on the other end.

That would be fine, but the modifiers throw a bit of gum into the works. Subtracting 1 from three dice still gives you a 1/9 chance of getting three hits. Whereas subtracting 1 from one die (dividing by two and rounding down) makes getting three hits impossible (a 6 becomes a 5, which rounds down to 2 hits).

On the plus side, their are those who are opposed to the three hit/one round kill result, feeling that you should always be given a chance able to bow out, rather than hold at all costs. I get this, but I like a deadlier game. This is probably a reaction to the pre 3.0 version of Pub Battles with Baggage Trains, where it often felt like you were trying to gum your opponent to death. Now with 3.0, I could tolerate this much better, especially since it only happens when the attacker is at a disadvantage. Maybe you should be given a chance to withdraw rather than fight to the death. Getting troops to hold that tenaciously doesn’t happen without some direction from above!

It is actually on the other end that the bigger difference is found. If you are flanking a defender, or defending a ford, a plus one modifier on three dice gives you an almost 2/3 chance of getting three hits, whereas it only grants you a 1/3 chance on a single die. That’s a pretty major nerf, and can seriously mess up a battle like Brandywine, Knyphausen might not even need Howe and Cornwallis!

What if instead of modifying the die roll, you modified the total hits? Now, a flanking bonus gives you a 50/50 chance of getting 3 hits (ruling that 3 hits is the most you can get) and you will always get at least one hit. I like this because it removes the possibility of an outflanked defender (or an exposed attacker) emerging unscathed 1/9 of the time with three six siders. While it is cool to be on the receiving end of this, it is more frustrating to have a carefully orchestrated attack become completely ineffective. The final result is it does not really effect the game except in some corner cases.

One of the added bonuses for defending from cover is that the -1 hit means that if you are defending in cover, you can’t suffer three hits in one round of combat, meaning that if you are fighting at an advantage you can’t be eliminated without first having the option of running away instead. I really like this, now that we have the 3.0 Baggage Train rules.

So, I’ll use the D6/2 rounding down, with the modifiers affecting the hits, not the dice

I am going to play this way for awhile before I call it my official way to play and add it to my Homebrew rules. If you try it out, let me know what you think.

Follow up note. I really like this method and plan to stay with it!