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.