Pub Battles “Colors”

Imagine if Pub Battles tracked losses more precisely, while allowing players to retreat or hold, at their own discretion. Here is a way to do that, with a smooth way of tracking losses that is Boom Simple!

This post is currently superseded by this post.

On the left is Simmer at full strength, all the way to poor Jerome who has only his colors left!

First some nomenclature: The Stack of blocks is called a UNIT, The flat pieces are called BLOCKS, and the top piece is called THE COLORS.

Combat works the same, except each hit now removes a block, retreats are not part of taking hits. After taking hits, each player has the opportunity to retreat. Retreating is always voluntary. Attacker goes first, then defender.

A unit functions normally as long as it has at least one block left. When only the Colors are left, they now act as a detachment, with one hit and one combat die.

When in range of an unpacked Baggage Train, a unit may only rally one block per turn. This means that if a lone Colors limps back into range of a baggage turn, it will take it three full turns to recover to full strength.

During a night turn, any unit that does not move may recover one block, and units within range of an unpacked Baggage Train may recover to full strength.


A normal full strength unit that takes 3 hits will still have the colors left. Units with less than three blocks could lose their colors! A full strength militia unit could lose its colors in one round of combat! Essentially, Colors are just like regular blocks, except when alone and functioning like detachments. Blocks are never present without colors.

Brandywine Austerlitz style

As I was setting up Brandywine this morning, I started thinking about how you could duplicate the colonial motivation for their historical, ultimately disastrous, defense. The proper way to think about it is, “Why wouldn’t the British do what they did historically.” In all my years of playing this Pub Battles scenario, I’ve never found any other entry point as successful, even if I “make” the Continentals react slowly. The British attacking across the Brandywine is the colonial hope, and attacking the other side from the historical, places you too far away for the short five turn game.

What would make Howe want to force a crossing of the Brandywine? Easier victory conditions. How might that work?


If the British commands enter from the center, then they only need to be “Across the Brandywine” by the end of turn 8. “Across the Brandywine” means that there are no colonial troops within 1/3 of an infantry move of at least one of the five bridges. Regular victory conditions are also in effect.

Setup: Washington’s forces setup first, not closer than 1/3 foot move from any map edge.

Turn 1. One British command enters from the “Center” entry point. Note: Units may not enter in road column if this places them within 1/3 foot move of enemy forces!

Turn 2, or later. The other British command may enter from the same side as the first command.

Turn 4. If not entering earlier, the remaining British Command must enter from the Center, Left, or Right, map edge.

The British player must note secretly on paper when, and from what edge, the second command enters, before the Colonials have setup. If playing solitaire, choose a flank, and then roll randomly on turn 2 to see if the rest of the British show up then, or flank on turn 4.


I’ll start trying to break this, to see if there is any “Sure” strategy. I’m wondering, if the British go all in on a certain crossing point, is it impossible to prevent their crossing? I am hoping that deception will play a key role in all games, are the British waiting until turn 4 to attack from the flank? Should we try to defend it? Given the possibilities, was Washington playing the only hand he had, historically? What if we used command cards? Howe and One other. Washington would need to dispatch troops to confirm the presence of the enemy on the flank! What would the British do if faced with a colonial setup of only 3 HQs?

An interesting experiment, if nothing else.

And here is my first playtest. I think this works pretty good!

Complexity does not equal Reality

I have come to believe that more complexity equals less realism. Whatever game I am playing, whomever I, as the player, am representing, has to feel authentic. Although I spent most of the late seventies and eighties looking over SL, and then ASL, boards I didn’t for a minute think that my grandfather would ever say, “Yeah, that’s what is was like!” Tactical games do require more complexity, but they don’t push my buttons anymore.

Strategic/operational games are what I like now, and I want a game that immerses me in the battle. Every time I have to stop to look up a rule, or consult charts, it lessens my enjoyment.

Ever since I was a young man, I imagined myself sitting around a large table with a glass of wine looking at a map with blocks, just the way the military atlases showed them. That’s all that there would be. No charts and tables, just the two of us looking at a map. Of course, in time I came to believe that was just a fantasy, and you needed hexes and game info on the map, charts and tables to regulate all the details. That was what wargaming was to me, and I enjoyed it immensely, but that dream was always there, in the back of my mind.

Then I found Pub Battles, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Boom Simple rules that capture the feel of command, all played out on a map with blocks. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine. Getting back to the rules question, I find most rules excessive and unnecessary. “Chrome” is the descriptor. The market demands that you have super detailed logistics and combat, weather and C3, all aimed at greater realism. I find such efforts to be mostly smoke and mirrors. I want a game that makes me feel like a commander issuing orders and awaiting reports, Actual commanders are very concerned about the minutia of leading an army, and that’s why they have staff officers. I just want to know that all those things are being handled, so I can focus on overall strategy, matching wits with my opponent.

Kriegspiel and Pub Battles

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).