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.

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).

2nd Second Bull Run: “I’ll expect you to beat them.” Playtest Demo

Longstreet’s entrance on Day 1.

I chose this quote from Jackson to A.P. Hill, because it defines the Second Bull Run at all levels. Lee was expecting Jackson to beat them as well, and only reluctantly sent Longstreet back through the Manassas Gap at midday on the second day. This resulted in the Union rout and defeat only because Pope refused to believe that Longstreet was a threat until too late.

This is Day 1. Longstreet is pulled back behind Manassas Gap in the evening. On day 2 he can enjoy an easy victory if Jackson can hold out. If he chooses to rejoin the battle, then regular victory conditions apply.

The Second Day gets sorted.

And Now I have completed the Second Day. Spoiler Alert! Don’t read any further unless you want to see who wins before you see the video. I have amped up my editing game, and have managed to put together a quicker and clearer video! Only about 4 minutes of your life you’ll never get back!

This game features the first time I’ve video’d the second Day of the battle. This is where it gets really interesting and gives a unique feel because Lee must decide whether or not to bring Longstreet back through the Manassas Gap. He certainly doesn’t want to if he doesn’t have to, but if Jackson can’t hold out another day without Longstreet’s Corps…

If you want to recapture the Confederate success, just act like Pope, as though Longstreet skedaddled and ain’t ever coming back. Send everyone against Jackson, and totally ignore Longstreet. This is especially effective if the Union is already weakened from the first day’s fighting, and NEEDS to believe that Longstreet ain’t coming back.

Let’s Talk Value $$$

Pub Battles games are expensive. Just like cars, the high end versions cost more. Pub Battles does offer less expensive options. That being said, what are you paying for, and what are you getting when you plunk your good money down?

I also know, quite well, that for all of us, the gaming budget is tight, “like butter scraped over too much bread,” and there are a lot of titles competing for limited resources.

The Map

The biggest physical expense in producing a Pub Battles title is the map. Just the canvas alone is expensive. Add to that the price of the artwork, the hours spent going over different graphics, and you can appreciate the cost. A Pub Battles map is a beautifully printed piece of artwork, on archival quality canvas, suitable for framing, that can withstand years of abuse.

As a print alone, forget about the rest of the game, it is fairly priced. As a print alone, I can appreciate the cost. I wouldn’t buy it, but I could see the value. As a playable game…Take my money!

That being said, the most sensible option for many is the paper map alternative. And seriously, unless you’re looking very closely, you can’t really tell the difference. The actual biggest difference is the durability of the canvas. You can spill on it, crease it, and use it a lot; it is just plain durable.

The Wooden Blocks

Okay, I’ll admit it. The wooden blocks are what initially sold me on the system. They look so cool! They make me feel like I’m in the command tent looking over the situation map. They are neither cardboard pieces, nor toy soldiers. I mean, I get the miniatures thing, with all the care and pride put into the painting and what not (I’ve spent the time and money on my own collection), but it still feels like I’m playing with toys soldiers.

The wooden blocks feel like I’m in the command tent. For me, that’s a huge thing.

The Rules

You know what’s fun and easy? Dreaming up rules. Nothing is more satisfying than coming up with a cool rule, maybe even adding a thoroughly researched chart or table. You know what isn’t fun? Trying to enjoy a game loaded down with all that chrome!

It is harder to draft a short set of rules that creates an authentic, realistic experience. That is what Command Post Games has managed to do with Pub Battles. Read my discussion of the rules.

It All Adds Up To This:

We all have monster games that cost a lot of money, and never get played, they’re just so cool! It’s fun to set up a huge map, and gaze at the hundreds of counters. Really, I get it.

We all have that dream of getting some friends together and actually playing it…Some day.

A Pub Battles map looks beautiful, and looks super cool when set up, too. But you know what else? It’s quick playing fun. Most Pub Battles can be played in a little over an hour. You can even play best of three, in an evening! They are immensely replayable. They are also ideal for solo play, meaning they get played a lot. The “dollars spent per hour played” can easily make them one of the best value games in your collection.

The Power of the Chit Draw

One of the deepest, most immersive, parts of the Pub Battles system is the chit draw. It is so much more than just a way to manage simultaneous movement. First, you have to establish that nothing is truly simultaneous. Next, you have to allow that even though we do movement first, then combat, it does not imply that everyone moves, then a bell rings, and everyone fights. In and among all the action of a passing 90 minutes (one Pub Battles turn), a swimming multitude of events occur.

How to resolve this? You could go super detailed, and make it 10 minute turns, fighting or moving, but there is no guarantee that would be any more realistic. In fact, many of us are under the opinion that the more exact you try to be, the farther away you get from simulating anything approaching reality! There are too many variables to consider.

Enter the “design for effect” philosophy. Essentially, what yields the most historically possible outcomes, AND what feels the most authentic? Authenticity is a tricky concept. In Pub Battles, where each player is in command of multiple Corps, you ideally want a system that feels like you’re making that level of command decisions.

The chit draw creates that feeling. Frank Chadwick famously said that the problem with most wargame rules is that they allow the players more control than their historical counterparts could ever dream of having.

Part of this is Fog of War, Generals were frequently at a loss as to where and what the enemy was fielding. Heck, they were often as mystified about their own army! They sent out orders, and got reports. They studied their maps in the command tent and tried to formulate a plan based on their knowledge of the enemy, and their own commanders.

The Pub Battles chit draw system mirrors this quite closely. When you move your units, it is like you are sending out orders. The combat results show the information that’s coming in from the battle. You don’t know until all chits are drawn, whether any of your attackers are still in contact, or if any of your non-attacking units have been attacked. Furthermore, until after the combat phase, you won’t know many of your block’s final positions. Combat results simulate when the historical commanders got back reports from the field.

You will realize this, if you play Pub Battles solitaire, like I most often do. Even having perfect knowledge of the enemy’s units and positions isn’t a guarantee of carrying out your plans successfully. I might know exactly where the enemy’s Baggage Train is, and know that it is within reach of one of my units, but I don’t know if the chit draw will let me contact it, or if one of his units will move first.

For the same reason, I can never be sure if the plan that worked last time, will work this time. The chit draw changes everything! This is the reason that Pub Battles games are so replayable. For a game to play the same way, the chit draws would need to be the same. Waterloo has 12 chits to draw, over seven turns, that’s over 25 million different chit draw combinations! Even Brandywine, with only 5 chits and five turns has over 3,000 different chit draw combinations. Austerlitz with 14 chits drawn over 8 turns yields over a billion combinations! I have played most of the titles hundreds of times. I still find each game has a different feel.

Interpreting the Chit Draw

There is a lot more combat than what is resolved in the combat phase, explicitly. There is also the implied combat.

I use the term implied, because it may have happened, or maybe something else occurred. If you move to attack, and your opponent moves after you, and leaves your Field of Fire, what the game might be showing is that your opponent has fought a successful delaying action.

All the game is actually saying is that the attacker failed to close with the defender and achieve a decisive result.

There may have been no combat at all! There are an infinite number of occurrences that could have foiled the attacker’s plans. First, were the orders received, were they understood? Maybe the commander on the field was uncertain as to the position of the enemy, or was there a perceived threat from a different sector? If the orders were not a problem, maybe a key brigade was delayed and unready to move. Maybe a critical ammo wagon just arrived and caused a delay setting out while everybody got resupplied. Maybe, they aren’t even there! The commander may not have their correct position.

Rather than have an exhaustive rule for each possibility, and you are guaranteed, even that couldn’t cover all possibilities, the chit draw handles it all with one simple mechanic. One’s imagination, aided by one’s familiarity with the history, and human psychology, can imagine whatever event occurred. It is quick, simple, and ultimately more accurate.

Let’s look at combat resolution to discuss the consistency of the “design for effect” philosophy. What about when both units retreat, or one unit retreats even though the enemy is eliminated? What the game is telling you when both units retreat, is that neither was able to gain sole control over that piece of terrain within the space of the turn. The fate of that piece of terrain will have to wait until a later turn. In the case of a block retreating from an eliminated block, it simply means that one side was driven off, but the “victor” was so decimated by the effort as to be no longer combat effective.

The Intellectual and Unnecessary Thinky Bits

No one will ever know what exactly transpired at Waterloo.” Duke Wellington

As an English major, versed in Post-Modern literary theory, I really get into the non-linear narrative aspects of the chit draw. Most gamers fixate on what the board is showing them at every given moment. They imagine an exact depiction of events. Even though no one who was actually there ever had that comprehensive a view.

In a true non-linear depiction, like in those movies that show you a disjointed set of scenes in mixed order, not until after the whole story is told can you even hope to get the whole picture. Pub Battles with the chit draw is like that. All the map really shows you is the best estimate that you can get in the moment; units seem to be in their positions shown, the results after combat can seem to indicate the results, but until one army breaks and runs, or the sun sets, nothing is certain.

For some, this is frustrating and unsatisfying. Why bother at all? Just roll a die and declare a winner! I get that, but it is important to draw the line at how complicated a game should be, because greater complexity, beyond a point, never results in greater realism, it merely limits the narrative.

For many, like myself, the best game delivers the most authentic experience. The really great games immerse you in the narrative. Every time I have to look up a rule, or consult a chart, I’m drawn out of the narrative. I find with Pub Battles, I can play the map. there is no game information on the map. Like my historical counterparts, I am looking at a map, with estimated unit positions. Pub Battles began as an attempt to create a version of Kriegspiel, the Prussian training wargame, except updated, and that could be played without a referee. In classic Kriegspiel, the players are just told the results of their orders, the referee handles all the movement and combat results. To truly recreate commanding troops in the field, this is the way that the Prussian military did it. Today, Pub Battles is used by the military to train officers.

That’s close enough for me.

Solo Pub Battles

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

I like playing solo.

Like many wargamers, I play solo mostly. Not always, but mostly. I can certainly find opponents. My Favorite Local Game Store has a large dedicated area for playing games, and it is relatively easy to find a willing opponent. I also have many friends who enjoy Pub Battles.

I prefer playing solo. I don’t have to go anywhere, nor need I accommodate another player’s schedule, or entertain at my house. I can play for awhile, go do something else for a bit, deal with Real Life, whatever.

When my family gets together for a game night, they prefer other games, which I also enjoy.

Pub Battles has many qualities that make it not just suitable, but ideal, for solo. It is smooth playing, by which I mean that it isn’t covered in game chrome (charts, tables, nitpicky rules, etc.). You don’t have a lot of extraneous desiderata laying about the map.

There is a of Fog of War element to Pub Battles. Part of it is the chit draw, part of it is the hidden identities of the fresh units. When I play solo, I turn one set of blocks around so that they are all facing me, so I know what every block is. That’s okay. I don’t play competitively, which is a misnomer when playing two-fisted solo. I play to recreate the battle, and try different strategies. I play each side as if they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

When I play solo, I let the chit draw be the fog of war. I may know exactly where the enemies baggage Train is, and it might be wide open, ripe the picking. Unless the enemy gets the drop on me, and moves first. The chit draw decides. I can even roll to alter change order and jump ahead, it is out of my direct control.

I got a secret. When I play, especially if I’m making a video, I will go with the straight chit draw, even if it means that one side is going to lose. If it makes for a dramatic end, BOOM! I use it. No one enjoys playing, much less watching, a grindy game.