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.