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.

Grasping Pub Battles Combat

Pub Battles combat is quite simple. At its most basic, if two units are in contact, they both roll 3 dice hitting on fours or better.

One hit flips a unit to spent, two hits force it to retreat, and three hits eliminate it. If it is already spent, one hit forces it to retreat, and two hits eliminate it.

That’s it. If the units remain in contact, another round of combat is fought.

Let us understand the odds behind 3 dice hitting on fours. Each die has a 50% chance of hitting, that creates 8 combinations of outcomes:

There is a one in eight chance of no hits.

There is a two in eight (25%) chance of one hit.

There is a four in eight (50%) chance of two hits.

And there is a one in eight chance of three hits.

This means that the odds are against a block still holding the ground after the first round of combat and speaks to the value of having a second unit backing it up, ready to fill in the void.

Look at how powerful this makes an elite unite. An elite unit ignores the first hit in any combat. That means it can’t be eliminated in one round, and there is only a one in eight chance of it being forced back. It is almost as good as having a second unit backing a regular unit up.

Even if it is spent, there is only a one in eight chance of eliminating it in a subsequent Combat. Elite units are tough!

Likewise, militia units are very fragile and likely to be eliminated in the first round of combat. However, whether fresh or spent, elite, or just militia, the attack dice remain the same. This makes militia best used in front during an attack, backed up by higher quality units that will usually be left facing a spent unit, if any.

This mirrors historical practice.

One fourth of the time, two regular units will both be spent and retreat.

Does this mean they both ran away from each other?

Not likely. What can usually be imagined happening is that both units fought to exhaustion and neither controls the contested area. It will go to the first side able to rally or reinforce the position, whoever wins the chit draw next turn. In other words, it comes down to command initiative.

The most common die roll modifier is the minus one for a defender being in cover, each die goes from hitting half the time, to hitting one third of the time.

That means the attacker can inflict three hits just once in twenty-seven times!

You can expect three misses nearly half of the time.

The minus one really stacks up the more dice you roll!

If artillery is attacked in melee, it fires before the attacker. This means over half the time the attacker won’t get a chance to fire at artillery.

Artillery bombardment cannot eliminate a unit, but melee is not bombardment. Artillery can and frequently does, win the first round of combat. Grape shot is devastating!

If cavalry is charging fresh infantry, most of the infantry regiments are assumed to have formed into squares and the cavalry suffers a minus one on its dice.

Conversely, if the infantry are spent, fewer of the regiments are assumed to have managed to form square, and the cavalry adds one to its dice.

If two cavalry units are fighting, the heavier unit gets plus one. Check the scenario rules for cavalry weight.

Finally, there is the charge rule. By scenario definition, certain units (like Guards and some heavy cavalry) are eligible for the charge rule.

Rather than having to wait until the combat phase, these units can resolve combat the moment they move to contact during their movement.

This is very powerful and reflects that epic moment when the guard charges and the whole battle seemingly freezes; waiting for the issue to be decided.

Although not technically combat, I will discuss Supply Trains, as they are most important. On page four of the rules, it says “Bags in contact with the enemy at the beginning of combat are destroyed.” HQs and artillery (as well as Baggage trains) cannot move into contact with the enemy, so they cannot destroy bags. Detachments can, however.

This means that the enemy can move into contact with a baggage train and if the Baggage is unpacked, or has already moved, the only way to rescue it is if it is charged by an enemy unit with the charge capability.

Simply moving into contact with the unit, even if able to destroy it easily, doesn’t matter. If the enemy in contact with the Baggage Train “at the beginning of combat” the bags are lost.

Appreciating what Pub Battles is doing

I often hear Pub Battles criticized as too simple by folks who are used to battalion and regimental combat simulations. Pub Battles is an excellent Army and Corps level command simulation.

Some will look at a single block, with it’s fresh and spent sides, and imagine there is a whole lot more to a division in combat than just those two levels (three, if you count eliminated). I will argue that is a case of looking to closely at the trees to see the forest.

Let us look at how detailed Pub Battles treats a Corps in combat. Rather than simply a single Corps chit with twelve hit points, it has four blocks with three hit points each. Three of those hit points might be mounted dragoons, and three of those hit points might be elite grenadiers.

Additionally, each of those “packets” of three hit points have the possibility of recovering a hit point by rallying.

Further, rather than being constrained to a single square counter with a zone of control, these Corps can expand and contract as the situation demands (or combat requires).

Success in Pub Battles requires the player to think in terms of the Army and its component Corps. If you focus on the individual divisions, you’ll be like the army commander who micromanages too much.

A decision was made early on in the development of Pub Battles to use unit (divisional) level names. It adds to the experience and the immersion into the scenario, but it can be mistaken as exactly correlating with the unit’s so named. For instance, at Waterloo some of the Prussian Corps were as much as 50% landwehr. No entire division was, but many were composed of regiments and battalions of these lower grade troops. In Pub Battles this means that in some Corps, half the blocks are militia, which makes the Corps feel and act appropriately, even if the named divisions weren’t strictly landwehr.

Also, Leadership quality in Pub Battles is reflected in troop quality as well as the leadership rating. Troop quality can reflect how much confidence the troops had in their leaders. Elite units in Pub Battles can be counted on to get the job done, they hit harder and last longer. Conversely, militia tend to fall apart faster, you find yourself hoping they can hold. At least some of this rests squarely on the quality of leadership. This is why the best leaders were rewarded with the best troops. No one wasted their best troops on mediocre, leaders!

Pub Battles deserves to be regarded as the Corps level command simulation it is. Seeing it this way will improve your play.

Intro Video: Instant Pub Battles

I have just added this video. It would be good to watch before you read the rules, if you just purchased your first Pub Battles scenario.

It would also be great to have a friend watch before coming over to play Pub Battles for the first time.

I intentionally left a lot out, so as not to overwhelm. Just a quick, under 5 minute, intro to the system.