The Chit Draw

If you view the chit draw mechanic as simply a way to simulate simultaneous movement, then you are selling it short. It is a powerful mechanic that simulates the full range of events that can occur on the battlefield.

For instance, say you are playing Gettysburg and you have unguarded artillery on Cemetery Hill. Furthermore, A.P.Hill’s Chit has just been drawn and he is poised to attack with two divisions, these will sweep the hill and leave the Union line compromised! Hancock is nearby and you roll to Alter Turn Order: Success! You move first and reinforce the hill with the nearest division, the line is saved.

“Okay,” you say, “but what really happened?” What has Pub Battles just simulated? Historically, that exact situation was occurring and Hancock was looking around desperately for a way to delay the rebel tide, so that one of his divisions would have time to move into place. He spotted a company of soldiers and he rode up and asked them who they were. “We’re the First Minnesota.”
“Well do you see those colors over there” he asked, pointing to an entire Secesh division. “I want you to capture those colors.”
So off marched the First Minnesota, capturing the colors and their place in history as the unit that suffered the greatest casualty rate in U.S. history. They confederate assault was held up just long enough for the reinforcements to steady the line.

That is what is possible to duplicate with the chit draw mechanic.

If you’ve read much American War of Independence history, you have probably read on more than one occasion that Washington’s army was saved by a skillful delaying action led by Nathaniel Greene. With Pub Battles this is quite possible. If your opponent moves adjacent to you to attack, and your chit is drawn after that, then you can back away just enough and foil the attack, without giving up too much space.

This certainly doesn’t mean shots were not exchanged! Quite to the contrary, there was most likely a very hot issue being decided, but the skillful defenders were able to prevent the significant result desired by the attackers. If moving away from contact still feels wrong, consider this.

Even more likely, in other situations, it may have something to do with the attackers not launching the attack successfully. Maybe a regiment got lost, or got the orders wrong. Setting up an attack amidst noise and smoke is not an easy undertaking. Pub Battles doesn’t try to tell you exactly what happened, it only tells you that something happened. You can imagine and add whatever narrative you feel adds the most color and depth.

Alter Turn Order

There are a lot of factors to consider when you are trying to decide whether or not to roll to attempt to Alter Turn Order.

If you are attacking, do you want to give the defender a chance to run away, so you can take the position without a fight? Move before. Do you want to decide when and where combat will take place? Move after. Are you trying to coordinate an attack with another command, how can you best ensure that?

If you are the defender, do you want to delay the enemy? Move after. Do you want to rally from spent before he attacks? Move before. Are you trying to coordinate actions between commands? It depends on coordination.

There is no blanket “Always move first/last” rule. It depends on the situation. It depends on experience, not only in managing your Alter Turn Order options, but also in adapting to the turn order as is, and not being wholly dependent on the order of the draw.

Additionally, Pub Battles includes a semblance of fog-of-war in the way that the identities of fresh units and HQs are hidden from the opponent. You rarely know exactly which enemy pieces belong to which command. How can you be sure if the unit in question belongs to an HQ that has been drawn yet?

Like in so many instances, there is no substitute for experience. That nuanced appreciation for what might be, or what probably is.

The final thing I’m going to say about the chit draw is how re-playable it makes the game. No matter how many times you’ve fought and refought Gettysburg, or Waterloo, or any of the other Pub Battles scenarios, you are always surprised by the chit draw. The chit draw prevents the “best move” syndrome that limits most historical simulations. Depending on who goes first, next, and last, can change the battle entirely.

Pub Battles: System overview

So you’ve heard about Pub Battles by Command Post Games, and you’re almost ready to take the plunge, but you still have no idea how the game works, what are the rules? In general terms, this is how the game works (some exceptions and details are ignored in this overview):

Army

An Army has a General HQ, and several Corps HQ’s, and their unit blocks. The unit blocks generally represent divisions (infantry, cav, artillery) these can be militia, line, or elite.

Movement

Mounted and foot each have a movement stick divided into thirds. Units may move straight ahead or in enfilade up to a 45 degree angle. First facing change is free, the second costs a third. Moving into any terrain costs a third no matter how many terrain features you occupy, in other words, if you don’t move completely in clear terrain, you move 2/3. If you are required to retreat, you retreat a third, ignoring terrain.

Combat

If it does not move, artillery may bombard in the movement phase. All other units must move to contact with an enemy and resolve it in the combat phase. Combat is fought in rounds until the units are no longer in contact. Each round of combat is simultaneous, with three 6 sided dice, scoring hits on 4+. One hit flips a unit to spent, two makes it retreat, and three eliminates it.

Modifications to the die rolls are simple and intuitive, if you have the advantage you add 1, if you are at a disadvantage you subtract 1. If you are elite you ignore the first hit, militia count the first hit as two.

Chit Draw

This is where it all happens. Each corps commander has a chit which is placed in a cup at the beginning of the turn. A chit is drawn and that commander moves, this is repeated until the cup is empty. Moving sooner or later in the turn isn’t always good or bad, it depends. I discuss this here. You aren’t necessarily stuck with the chit draw. Every HQ gets one chance per turn to alter the turn order, going earlier or later, and once per turn the army HQ can roll for a failed Corps HQ.

That’s It!

Most battles are one day affairs that last about eight 90 minute turns. A game, coincidentally, should last about 90 minutes, per day.

Play the Map! What makes Pub Battles The Best Game System?

I have been wargaming for over 40 years. Many times I would look at a military atlas with its maps showing bars for units and wondered, “Why doesn’t anyone make a game that looks like this? I want to play the map!”


Many games came close, but then they buried you in rules. I was never afraid of rules; heck, I played Advanced Squad Leader for years! The problem was, I had this very definite picture of what playing the ideal wargame would be like. I pictured two players at a wooden table with high back leathern chairs, sipping wine from glasses and peering over a canvas map with wooden blocks. And that was it. No charts and tables scattered about. Just the map and the troops. It may have been a dream, and not a very realistic one, but it was my dream.

As I have played wargames over the years, I have always hungered for that authentic experience. So many games that want to be more realistic try to accomplish this by being more complicated. The rules become a barrier between you the player, and you the General. I had assumed this was how it had to be.

Then came the day I saw Command Post Games’ “Brandywine” on Kickstarter and my heart almost stopped. Here it was! Canvas map and Wooden blocks combined with a simple fast playing system. It wasn’t until I received my copy and read the rules that I saw the potential for a really authentic system.

You see, I had been studying assymetrical post-modernism in literature. It was at the right time for me to appreciate the genius of the chit draw mechanic and the simultaneous movement that it captured. I had just written a paper on the ordering of near simultaneous events in a linear story. This is exactly what the chit draw mechanic accomplished. It wasn’t just a way to move, but a way to sort out a million delays and coincidences, small skirmishes and lost orders, any of the myriad of happenstances that can occur in any given 90 minute turn.

I had found my game.

Play the Map!

Rules Questions

Here is where you can ask me any rules questions regarding any Pub Battles games. If I don’t know the answer, I will communicate with the design team and get back to you. I have been around since the first title “Brandywine” was made available to the public.

My Context on what Pub Battles is

When you play a wargame and are expecting an authentic experience, you must know the intent of the designer. Pub Battles was designed with the intent of creating a two player Kriegspiel experience. In a refereed Kriegspiel game, the many players write orders which the referees then interpret on the battle field. They then report to the players some version of what happened. Kriegspiel is very fun, but takes a long time to organize.

Pub Battles was created with the intent that two players could sit down and play a quick and fun game. The focus would be on command, and combat would be a simplified extension of that. Of course, no one can leave a simple system alone and there have come many suggested additions to the rules to make them more realistic.

While many of these rules have been fine, I’ve yet to feel that they improved the game, they just made it different. In response to the increase in rules volume, I have created my own homebrew version. Unlike many home brew version of games, my “brew” focuses on how few rules are really necessary.

My view of what the game is simulating is this:

When you move a piece on the map this does not mean that the unit is literally moving exactly like that, this is equivalent to writing orders to that effect and sending them off via an aide de camp. After the combat phase is complete you see the map after other aides have received reports from the field and scrambled to translate these into a coherent diagram of the battle.

This should leave you feeling a little removed from the action! Gone is the godlike feeling of moving armies around like marionettes, with perfect knowledge of yours and the enemy’s positions and strengths. In this way, Pub Battles comes much closer to feeling authentic than any other game system, no matter how many pages of rules they use.

In fact, I see rules as coming between you and the authentic experience you desire. After a few games of Pub Battles you probably won’t even notice the rules. There are no combat charts, movement is simple. Once battle is joined you may find yourself rarely even using the movement measuring sticks. It’s that good.

And yet, what rules there are have a profound effect. Militia is almost useless, you hate to have to rely on them. The all too rare elite units can seem very intimidating. Many of the scenarios have special rules for just those battles or periods that provide a very unique feel.

When you feel that you have a good idea for a rule (sometimes I have so many I can hardly play a game without stopping everything to try one out) it is a good idea to ask yourself if the game works fine without it. Using this culling technique I have never added a rule, unless it was to make something even simpler.

There are many times when what you see on the map does not make sense, or look quite right. Usually, this is because two opposing units seem close but are completely ignoring each other. Remember, the unit’s actual positions may be different than the approximations that you have before you on the map in the command post. There are limitless reasons why they may not be in combat, one of which may be that they aren’t really there! Remember, the black powder era was a long way from our current GPS calibrated maps. I bet modern commanders still feel out of touch with what is really going on with a modern battlefield. Not to mention counter-intelligence efforts.