Kriegspiel has two views of a battle, the player’s and the ref’s. Pub Battles blends these two.
In Kriegspiel, the ref does all the heavy lifting, while the players…Play. Ultimately, it is the ref’s job to make sure the experience is as authentic as possible. What could this unit really do? Where could it get to, and how fast? What happens when it has combat?
In the player’s view, this is a very dull and technical job. That is the illusion the ref creates! The ref uses the technical data to weave together a plausible scenario, but he also has to create amazing and memorable stories, laced with unbelievable good luck along with the bad (in war, one side’s good luck is the other’s bad!).
In Pub Battles, the job of creating illusion is quite different. Both players know exactly what is what. They know the strength of the enemy, and where he is, and when his reinforcements are arriving. They know the condition of his units. They also know the same about their own armies, to a degree that historical commanders could only dream of.
Does this make Pub Battles a poor sister to the real show? Hardly. The source of the uncertainty is different, but the uncertainty is still very much there.
First there is the chit draw. Do you want to go first? If you are interested in taking a position, more than destroying the units there, you might, because then the defender might simply retreat to avoid combat, saving you a possible expensive and time consuming battle. On the other hand, if you’re trying to destroy the enemy forces, then you probably want to go last, so you can force your foe into at least one round of combat. As the defender, you have the same concerns, but from the other perspective.
Second is combat. On the surface, Pub Battles combat seems almost Yahtzee simple, but therein lies its real strength. Because it doesn’t try to simulate certain particular details, it encompasses many more. No matter what the result of any combat, there is a plausible explanation. It could be logistical, tactical, environmental, or just plain luck. There are enough factors, like cover, flanking, and troop quality, to give players a concrete basis in their strategy.
The takeaway point is that Pub Battles does a very good job of simulating the fog and chaos of battle, whether it’s teams of players, two players, or solo. Rather than a referee imagining all the details and spoon feeding them to you, you are free to imagine whatever seems right to you.
Some players like to look at the map and know that’s where the units are, exactly. More power to them, if that’s what they desire.
I prefer a more “Kriegspiel” frame of mind. In Kriegspiel, referees delight in misdirecting players, feeding them just enough bogus information to keep them guessing and on edge, this makes the game both fun and real. When I move my blocks across the Pub Battles map, I imagine that those are the orders I’m handing to my staff officers, who then race to get them to the Corps commanders. The chit draw reflects how successfully my intentions were able to be carried out. It’s all up in the air, I’m shooting arrows at noises in the dark, until I get reports coming back. That’s what the combat results are, the reports I hear from the front lines.
In the absence of precise information, the mind creates a plausible scenario. To some, all this fog is unsatisfying. They want to know exactly where everyone is, and what condition they are in, they want to know exactly what happened. I get that. The very real need to make sense out of things is exactly the itch that we all desire to scratch, and the teasing uncertainty is what makes things so interesting.
This makes Pub Battles my favorite game, whether I’m taking it to my FLGS to throw down with friends (a nice diversion), or I’m playing solo in my study (my preferred option).