Playing Pub Battles as intended

My three ring binder with all my Pub Battles rules and scenario booklets.

One of the most common reactions for veteran wargamers upon reading the rules to Pub Battles is “These rules are incomplete!” This is because as veterans, they are accommodated to the wordsy rules of most wargames. They are used to rules that tell them exactly what they are, and are not, allowed to do. This is in contrast to novices, who find the rules easily understood, i.e. they don’t see what’s missing.

Pub Battles rules are written in a different style from most wargame rules. Wargame rules are written to encompass all possible interpretations, and misinterpretations. Very necessary when played uber competitively and in tournaments.

Pub Battles rules are “Gentlemen’s rules.” Not “Gentlemen’s” in the exclusionary, sexist meaning of the term, but in the polite society way of saying “Don’t be a dick!” Two players, with a fondness for history, should be able to recreate, not unlike reenactors, a historical battle. The rules provide a good general guide to enable two players to refight the battle. If a question arises that isn’t covered specifically in the rules, these same two players should be able to use history and common sense to come to an equitable solution.

Take the Line of Sight (LOS) rules. They basically say “Look at the two points on the map, are they within 1 infantry movement stick AND could they see each other? The only real question is how far into any terrain that counts as cover can you see? The thickness of one wood block. Boom simple.

What about occupying terrain? Whatever terrain the majority of the block is in, is the terrain it is occupying. State clearly what terrain you are in, if there is likely to be a question. Don’t be a dick!

If you are a veteran wargamer, used to hexes or area movement, You might be a little taken aback by a plain map. Think of it like this: Infantry in clear terrain can move one movement stick, if it moves into any terrain, it can only move 2/3; as if there were 1/3 size hexes, and instead of moving 3 hexes, it can only move 2. Boom simple. If occupying terrain requires at least half the block to be in it, then mapboard details smaller than half a block are ignored, other than for aesthetic purposes. Pub Battles maps are meant to be studied, and enjoyed. I like to think I traded studying rules for studying maps. What do you think actual military officers do?

Pub Battles is so authentic and realistic, it is used by the military to train officers. It is based on the Prussian kriegspiel model, but modified so that one, or two, players can enjoy it without a referee.

Pub Battles is so boom simple that any player worth his salt will have a million rules come to mind, I know I have! A rule for this and a rule for that, until I discovered I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I had made it too complicated. I had made it so “realistic” it was no longer any fun to play. Always remember, Pub Battles is a very detailed Corps level game, with the Corps broken down into component elements of 3,000-5,000 troops, it is not a regimental simulation! It can look like many regimental level military atlas maps, and most eye witness accounts are far more detailed than divisional level. When you’re playing a corps or divisional level hex and counter game, with each unit having 3-5 hit points, you aren’t going to worry about what kind of muskets the soldiers were carrying. You order this unit to attack that unit, and assume the local commanders are going to sort out all the details.

Do you have any questions about the system? As a lead playtester, I am happy to answer any and all questions. If I don’t know the answer, I have a priority line, I’ll find out for you. Command Post Games is a small company, and everyone is very busy wearing several hats. I will try to answer any questions posted within a day, usually much sooner.

Apples to Apples: How detailed is Pub Battles?

Gettysburg Day 3 setup guide from rulebook.

When folks first read and play Pub Battles, one of the most common complaints is that it is too simple. They see the wood blocks and start immediately imagining it’s a regimental level game. They want ranges, and hit points, and weapon types. As a regimental level game, its combat mechanic is very simplified, it is too simple to be truly satisfying, but that is not what the game system is trying to emulate.

The blocks in Pub Battles represent 3,000-6,000 men, and that’s roughly a division in the black powder era. Some really large divisions are represented by 2 blocks. Even that is somewhat misleading. The divisional names are just for color, they don’t actually correlate exactly with the divisions named on the label. It is a mistake to get locked into thinking that this is a divisional level simulation.

Pub Battles is, in the final analysis, a Corps level command focused simulation. At the Corps level, it is quite detailed. Rather than a single block representing the corps, each corps is represented by several independently moving and fighting blocks.

The blocks represent the Corps quite accurately. If a Prussian Corps contained 50% landwehr, then 50% of the blocks in that Corps will be rated militia (Pub Battles’ term for any low-quality brittle troops). Of course, the Landwehr was spread amongst all the Corps’ units, not all in the Divisions matching the labels, but at the Corps level, the model is accurate.

Similarly, a Corps like A.P. Hill’s, might be all reliable troops, and the Corps receives one elite block, to represent its overall efficiency.

Sometimes a Corps will receive an elite, or a militia block because the Corps commander was better, or worse, than other commanders, and the reliability of his Corps reflects that. Usually this isn’t necessary, because the best troops were paired with the best commanders, and vice versa.

To address the original analogy, one should compare Pub Battles with hex and counter systems where the counters represent divisions. There are very few complaints about those games lacking detail. You compare strengths, get an odds ratio, roll the dice, and consult the combat table.

Pub battles is easily as detailed at the divisional level as that, and when you add in the Corps and Army command rules, and the Baggage Trains, it is quite the simulation. It does this with a minimum of rules, and a simple terrain chart that is easily memorized after one game.

The design philosophy with Pub Battles is not how detailed can we make the game, but how few rules can we use to create an authentic command experience? This is much tougher than inventing endless rules for this and that. Creating rules for things is fun and easy, even as those rules degrade the fun and ease of play!

This is what Pub Battles is simulating 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!

What do you think? Is Pub Battles too simple, too complex, or just right?