Play the Map!

Actual historical map of Manassas Junction.
Pub Battles “game board,” the actual Manassas scenario map!

Ever since I had first started playing wargames (starting with Tactics II in the early seventies) I had this dream of sitting around an oaken table, in a high back leathern chair, situated in a grand library, with a crackling fireplace. Before me would be a map, with blocks for the army units.

This is Pub Battles. In my imagination; I’m in the command tent sending out orders (moving my units) and receiving reports (resolving combat). The chit draw simulates the success, or failure, of my officers to carry out my desires, along with any number of an incalculable happenstances that may thwart or augment my plans. All this from a system that is Boom Simple!

I would look at military atlases that had maps like the one above, and despair that I couldn’t play a game that looked like that. When I looked through the available games, the gameboard was always covered with all sorts of “game” information. I am an avid wargamer, and I have always enjoyed hex and counter wargames, and took it as granted that a game would need all sorts of game information on the mapboard. I had shelved my fantasy of simply playing on a map.

I have also enjoyed miniatures, they’re great, both the rules and the aesthetic of 3D troops and terrain. I did tire of spending much more time painting figures, than I ever did playing the game. The hours painting/playing ratio finally drove me to distraction. And it took up so much space, both storing and playing. All the while, there was still that nagging desire to just “Play the Map.”

Then one day I saw a game simulating the battle of Brandywine. This game was played on a canvas map with wooden blocks. I was so excited, I had to have it. I didn’t even care about the rules. I would make it work. It looked exactly like what I had been dreaming about all these years.

When I got the game, I was amazed at how beautiful it was. This is a little surprising, since my expectations were so high. Then I read the rules, and they were boom simple. Like many simple games, if they are done right, the challenge is in the strategy. It did take me awhile to wrap my head around the Pub Battles system, I had a lot of baggage from other systems that I had to unlearn before I could truly see and appreciate the rules. Here is my post for veteran gamers who may be having the same experience.

Once I figured out how boom simple it was, I have had a game of it setup and playing almost constantly (over seven years)! Yeah, I’m that guy.

My current Homebrew Rules

Pub Battles let’s you make all the fun
and interesting decisions,
while the system manages the endless minutia.

Pub Battles is so simple on the surface, that it seems to scream for more detailed rules. What I invariably found when I tried many of them out, was that rather than improving the game, they usually just slowed it down and didn’t improve it much.

What I include here is those few that add to the flavor of command, yet don’t load it down with endless details:

Blocks do not automatically become spent when entering Buildings terrain, but the may not rally while occupying it.

Blocks may not rally in Woods terrain.

Blocks in European (Napoleonic) Buildings are never considered flanked.

Command is determined before any blocks, including the HQ, are moved.

Unsupported foot being attacked by mounted is eliminated if it must retreat.

Reserve Rule
A block that is adjacent to a HQ block that is itself within command range of a block in combat (In Reserve) may be placed in support of that block (committed) at the beginning of any combat round.

A block that is in support of a block in reserve may move adjacent to the HQ when that Reserve is committed.

Troops of the period liked being in cover, but it was hard to exercise command and control over troops that weren’t out in the open where their officers could see them!

Most Buildings in the European theaters were stone, and towns usually had significant stone walls.

The command and Reserve rule are simple and straight forward, but require foresight to implement your strategy. As such, it may be too much all at once for new players. Not because the mechanic is complex, but because it requires anticipating what you want to do in the following turns. You not only need to have the blocks you intend to attack with be in command, but then you must move your HQ forward to keep them in command next turn, and form your reserves. Frequently, reserves will be from a different Corps.

Fortifications and other improved positions in Pub Battles

True to its central goal of being command focused, Pub Battles handles forts with great simplicity, they count as cover and can’t be flanked. Boom simple.

What if we took this a little further though, and added just a tweak?

First, a slight differentiation. Forts and Improved Positions. Improved Positions are linear, like ACW hasty works. Great versus direct assaults, but vulnerable to flanking efforts.

In true Pub Battles fashion, I wanted this to be more nuanced than a simple die modifier. I also want it to be easy to grasp. So here goes:

Forts: cover, no flanking, ignore retreat, ignore first hit.

Improved Positions: ignore retreat, ignore first hit.

Together, they are referred to as Fortifications.

Forts count as cover and can’t be flanked, same as before. Additionally, blocks in forts ignore retreat results, and ignore the first hit.

Improved Positions don’t count as cover unless they are in cover already, and they can be flanked.

Ignoring retreat results means that the hit counts as a step towards elimination, but the block doesn’t actually have to retreat.

Ignoring the first hit stacks with Elite and Militia, which means elite ignore the first two hits, and when fresh Militia suffer a hit, they ignore the retreat result.

When spent units receive a single hit, they ignore the retreat. Two hits will eliminate a spent Militia, the first hit is absorbed by the Fortifications, the second hit is the first hit the unit suffers so counts as two hits, thus eliminating it.

Due to the temporary nature of Improved Positions, I use the wooden Pub Battles bases available from TREGames. You may also have seen these used for denoting march column status in my videos. Currently, due to the experimental nature of these rules, they aren’t used in any Pub Battles scenarios, but if you DIY any late ACW battles, they would be highly appropriate.

Actual Forts could be used in any current scenarios that use Forts, Like Hougomont in the Waterloo scenario, or any European walled town.

A Written orders system for 1 or 2 Players of Pub Battles

One of the generally accepted issues with any wargame is that players have far more control over their troops than their historical counterparts could ever have dreamt of having. It is also a corollary that the best part of playing a wargame is having that control, as opposed to being a mere kibitzer.

Having said that, wouldn’t it be fun if you had a game that let you write your orders and then sit back and watch while the battle was fought, just to see how it all fell out. One can easily imagine a computer game doing this. Back in the seventies, when I was in High School, there was a text based ACW program where you were given money to buy ammo, food, and supplies for your army for a particular battle, and then, based on how you allocated that, the computer printed out the results of the battle.

That would hardly pass as a fun simulation today, but what if you had an animated battle game, where the units followed your orders and you sat back and watched how it all fell out. You could try to issue new orders during the battle, but as history has shown, that is a fraught endeavor, indeed!

I believe this can be done with Pub Battles. In place of orders written, sent, and received, the provence of true Kriegspiel, I offer a simple limited order system that removes one from the too immediate control of individual units and blocks. It requires one to have a plan and stick to it for the best chance of success, and it properly distances one from too much micromanagement. In keeping with the Pub Battles philosophy, I started with a system full of all the details I wanted to incorporate, and then I pared back to everything but the most essential. Rather than trying to see how much detail I could cram into the system, I wanted to see how few could actually accomplish the task.

It Works Like This…

Issue orders – When the Army Commander is activated, they may issue as many orders as their command rating. Write a number next to the HQ on the orders sheet. Place a die with that number on the map, this becomes the Objective.

Receive Orders – When drawn, the HQ then makes a command roll, if the die is less than or equal to the command rating, the issued orders are circled and considered received, and must now be executed. If the die roll is over the command rating the order is not received and the die roll must be attempted the following turn, until received or countermanded. The unit continues to execute the last received orders.

At the beginning of the scenario, or when entering as reinforcements on later turns, all HQs automatically receive orders.

Execute Orders – If a block moves, it must end its move closer to the Objective, unless it ends its move within command range of the objective.
As per the rules (page 3), to be within command range, a unit need only be touching the edge of the range.

No Orders – A block with no orders to execute cannot move, except to retreat from combat (even voluntarily). Blocks may always rotate.

Spent Blocks – A spent block may always treat the nearest unpacked bags as its objective.
Note that if it has no other objective, it will be without orders once it rallies.

Range effects on orders – HQs adjacent to the Army Commander automatically receive their orders without need for a die roll. HQs over one mounted move from the Army Commander must add 1 to their die roll.

Countermanded Orders – Once orders are sent, they remain on the order sheet until received. If a new order is sent, it will remain in queue. There is no upper limit to the number of orders in queue.
Each turn the HQ must make command rolls for all orders in queue, in the order sent. The last received order in the Queue is Executed.
Once received, all earlier orders are ignored (no need to roll to receive).

HQ Support – An HQ may be ordered to support another HQ. Simply write S(HQ) indicating which HQ to support. An HQ that is given a support order follows the same process as an HQ given new orders. Once the order is received, that HQ’s orders become whatever the orders are for the HQ it is supporting. Remove its chit from the cup, it now activates when the other HQ is drawn. The only functional distinction it retains in game terms is that it is still required for command control for its blocks.
New orders may be sent to it, and rolled to receive when it is activated. If it receives new orders it immediately reverts to its own command, and its chit is placed back in the cup at the end of the turn, it does not move with the other command, and is treated as having no orders until drawn next turn!

Blocks from different commands may not attack the same defender, without a support order.

Defending blocks do not require an HQ support order to support one another. Note that HQ Support is different from the support rules on page 4 of the 3.2 rules. Essentially, HQ Support is a concern primarily for attacking units, although being able to activate the same time as other defenders with the same order can be very useful.

Bombardment, since it requires no movement, does not require orders!


The intent of these rules is not to exactly duplicate written orders. The intent is to provide a simple system to simulate the feeling of only possessing indirect control. Of seeing events happening on the battlefield that are beyond your immediate control. You cannot simply reach down like a Greek God to control the actions of the mere mortals, you can only hope and plan.

Since your opponent has no idea which of your commands is tied to which die, or how many may be tied to any particular die, there is some FoW inherent right away. Pub Battles primarily simulates FoW with the chit draw.

I intend to replace the dice with flat markers of some kind, as the dice get in the way.

The issues of lost or misunderstanding, or need for confirmation, are all simulated with the die roll to Receive.

It may seem ideal to use HQ Support to combine many commands whenever possible. This has its down sides though. The Objective is only Command range from its point on the map. Condensing your forces pretty much tips your hand and declares “I am going here!” This allows your opponent the option of allocating just enough strength to hold up your main effort long enough to strike somewhere else.

Combining against a defender is the surest way to succeed, if you can get away with it!

Playing Pub Battles Kriegspiel style.

The first time I played Double blind Pub Battles with a ref, I instantly felt how cool playing Kriegspiel can be. Just that uncertainty, moderated by an umpire, made me feel that THIIS was what no other wargame ever delivered. All the game’s mechanics are invisible to the players. There I was, sitting looking at the map with next to no knowledge as to what my troops were encountering, or where the enemy was.

Like Kriegspiel, the players should never come into contact with any game mechanic. Those are all the province of the ref. All the player does is get sit-reps from the judge (this is what you know, from your command tent), from which they issue orders. All the army commander sees on his map is his Corps HQs, and some limited intel on enemy positions and activities. He can send reinforcements to the Corps, either as a whole Corps, or a single bock (writes orders telling one HQ to send X blocks to another HQ). You would see the refs using Command ratings all the time, not for ATO attempts, but just to see if the orders are understood, or if the HQ does the right or wrong thing. Any time he is trying to decide whether an HQ could/would react to something, he could just roll a die and let fate decide. Maybe there is an exposed flank that requires a block to turn and maneuver a little to reach, do they do that? It isn’t strictly within their orders, would the commander see the opportunity? Roll a die. I think it would be great fun. The players just have paper maps to draw on. The actual map is in front of the ref, who is essentially playing the game solo with written orders. Not trying to “win” the game, just enjoying watching the battle unfold.

One caveat, at least initially, is to keep it simple. Two opposing players and a ref. Their actual locations could be in the same Pub, or the other side of the world. The ref could be playing it out, in a pub, or even better, at his FLGS with a dedicated cadre of interested kibitzers. I think this would be a fascinating game to watch. Being Pub Battles, it would move fast.

My personal opinion is that outside of a military training school where you have an almost unlimited number of participants, trying to incorporate individual Corps commanders is too ambitious. They do each need actual maps and units. You also want to have runners delivering orders. Plus, how do you keep players in a quiet sector engaged while other players in an active area of the battlefield are having a blast? The Jackson commander at Antietam is facing a full Union attack on the extreme Confederate left, while Longstreet guards the lower bridge, as per his orders. 

The ref would be rolling to ATO, trying to carry out the orders given. It would be a very interesting way to play “solo.” Essentially, three people playing solo, together!

Imagine Antietam, for starters. Lee would set up first on the main map, and mark his own map. Then McClellan would do the same. Neither would see the main map until after the battle. You could take pictures at the end of each turn, to show to them after the battle. That would be really fun for them to see. During the game you could have them sit at opposite sides of a table with a screen between them. That way you could walk over and hand them each the Sit rep for their commander, give them however long to write their orders, and then go back to play out the turn on the map and write new sit reps.

A Quality Leader Idea

I was thinking about an idea I had a while back for different quality leaders. A note re: my shorthand. ATO = Alter Turn Order. The roll you make to delay, or jump ahead in the chit draw.

Poor leaders must roll to activate when drawn. If they fail, they don’t move. They can’t roll to ATO.

Average leaders act just like the current rules.

Great Leaders can roll to ATO, even if they have already moved. After all chits are drawn, still fresh Great leaders can roll to move next, for a double move within the turn!

This could allow for finer gradations. A poor leader with a five rating couldn’t roll to ATO, but he could at least usually move (Longstreet?). A poor leader with a poor rating could be Porter, or Lew Wallace, who weren’t able to get their troops where they were needed. A Great leader with a low rating could represent a leader who wasn’t necessarily great strategically, but was charismatic enough to occasionally get extra effort from his men (McClellan?). Then you have those rare Great leaders with a 4 or 5 who were battle changing (Napoleon, Lee). Almost superhuman, but they can’t be everywhere! Suddenly, the French army, with Napoleon (and the Guard), becomes a force to fear. Feeling very different from a French force without Napoleon. Joe Johnston or Braxton Bragg could never quite get the results that R. E. Lee got. A Great army leader could move a Poor leader’s Corps twice in a turn, or once in a turn if the original poor leader’s roll had failed. Of course, since poor quality leaders generally commanded poor quality troops, it would usually require a crisis to want to use a Great leader in that capacity.

Note you could also have leaders with a 6 rating, meaning they are automatically successful once a turn. So a Poor leader could always move when drawn, but never ATO. An Average leader could always ATO, once per turn. A Great leader could always ATO once per turn, even if he moved before.

I could really see this working in a campaign game, as well. Imagine McClellan as a Poor leader with a 2 rating, his Armies would rarely move! Or Corps leaders who didn’t have confidence in their Army Commander, like the Army of Potomac Corps leaders under Pope at Second Bull Run.

Imagine if you did the same for Victory points. After all regular Victory calculations are finished to determine Winners normally, repeat one more time with the base victory points, but Great Leader army commanders divide by 2, Average Leaders use the basic number, and Poor Leader army commanders multiply by 2. So the Union might lose Antietam, but the Union Player might have done well with what he had to fight with, considering.

Gettysburg Day 3 with Video (coming soon)

Gettysburg historical setup for the 3rd day.

The 3rd day at Gettysburg presents some interesting tactical, operational, and strategic questions for Lee. A simple battlefield analysis shows that he is outnumbered and facing an opponent in entrenched positions. On the face of it, he should revert to the defensive, or even just quit the battlefield, but things are never that simple.

Lee needs a victory. His army is fatigued with endless marches in the hot midsummer sun. Every day on campaign he struggles to keep his army fed and supplied. He has finally brought the Union to battle. The army he faces has a new commander, Meade, who will only grow more experienced with time. He also needs to maintain his reputation of invincibility, because there are two more armies the size of this one roaming in the same theater.

He must win this, and win big. To do this, he has asked General Longstreet to attack the Union line beyond the peach orchard with Pickett’s fresh division. Lee feels the Union line is about to break. One more drive and the entire army will be put to flight. Longstreet is doubtful, he can anticipate nothing but the slaughter of his own men.

We know 20/20 hindsight that Lee’s estimate was wrong, but he had to do something. The day 3 scenario asks “What would you have done?”

I am going to try a version of Longstreet’s plan. He felt that the Union Supplies were just beyond the round tops, and if he could go around that flank and get at them, Meade’s army would panic.

To recreate this in game terms, I have devised a plan for getting a flank attack on the southern flank of the Union line. For this to work, I need the right chit draw. I need to be able to make this attack without fear of an immediate Union response. My intent is to drive on the southernmost unpacked Baggage Train, located behind the round tops.

My intent is to post this blog now, fight the battle, and then add the link to the video with this post. I am posting this first, so that when I publish the video on YouTube, I can link the video to this Post.

Second Manassas1

A Real Rock and Rolla!

Watch this most decisive game and see if you can spot the tactical mistakes that hastened one side’ demise. Let me know what you think they might be.

Second Manassas is due out later this year. Owning Bull Run is a prerequisite, but this will be a relatively inexpensive upgrade, since you will already have the map.

First Bull Run 3

First Bull Run was called “The big skedaddle” by contemporaries. Every unit, except Jackson’s, is militia, they seem to dissolve in combat. Commanding either of these armies takes skill and nerve! Don’t forget, I have my Pub Battles Antietam giveaway running through the month of July, at the end of this video I have a link to my video that shows how to win.

Pub Battles “Colors” 2

The original “Colors” post can be found here.

I may have jumped the gun, assuming that an additional loss step would be needed since there was not a retreat option that absorbs a Hit, but then I thought, “Why not make a retreat a voluntary way of avoiding a hit? Boom Simple. It may seem minor, but stacking 4 blocks high was a bit unstable. Three blocks High for a full strength unit is much more stable.

These are certainly not official rules! I’m merely testing out an idea.

A fresh unit, a unit with two hits, and the lone Colors.

Nomenclature: A stack of blocks is called a unit. The block with the label is called the Colors. The blocks below the Colors are simply called blocks.

Combat works pretty much the same, except there is no SPENT condition, each hit suffered is tracked. Retreat is now voluntary, you may always retreat to avoid taking a hit, as long as you first suffer any hits in excess of one. Retreating units simply push back friendly units in their way. Pushed back units face the direction they were pushed.

1 Hit: You could retreat, or hold and suffer one hit.
2 hits: You must suffer the first hit and then you could retreat, or hold and suffer one hit.
3 Hits: You must suffer the first 2 hits and then retreat, or be eliminated. Sometimes, you would rather be eliminated, than push back friendly units!

Each hit removes one block, the colors are removed last. There should never be blocks without Colors on top of them.

No matter how many losses are suffered, as long as the colors remain, the unit attacks with three dice.

Bombardment: Hits from bombardment cannot eliminate Colors. Lone Colors may always retreat from bombardment.

To maintain FoW, detachments always have 3 blocks, just like a full strength unit, but they are eliminated with one hit, unless to retreat from bombardment.