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.
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?
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