Games for Commanders

Bunker Hill

Over Christmas break, we setup a little battle for Kriegsspiel. Something small and quick.  How about Bunker Hill?

We did a little research, found some maps and set it up:







The wooden blocks are ships at sea bombarding the peninsula.

In Kriegsspiel, we use real maps. This got me thinking about Pub Battles.  Could we make a Pub Battles:  Bunker Hill?  I think so.  We’d need to adjust the scale a bit.  Some were worried that is would be boring after the first play or so.  There isn’t much to do but attack the redoubt. 

True, unless the British can land anywhere and start attacking….   They took terrible losses at the battle.  Could that have been avoided?  Could they have defeated the rebels with light losses?  A big, British victory here might have prevented the entire war.

I think it could be a good game. What about you?

Kreigsspiel Time Scale

Each turn in Kriegsspiel represents 2 min. Often times, Kriegsspiel is run in real time.  You play a full days battle in 1 full day.  You just got a report in from the Umpire.  You need to write new orders to respond.  How long does that take you?  Well, the clock is ticking.  How fast can you write?  This creates a sense of urgency and timing. 

In a big battle, you might need a team of Umpires to crank out the combat results and issue reports. One option an Umpire has, is to group turns together to speed things up.  This is particularly helpful for operational movement.  So let’s say the forces aren’t even in contact yet.  You start playing by 1 hour turns or even 1 day turns.  Once there is contact, then you slow it down to 2 min turns. 

Keep in mind, the turns are for the Umpire. The players don’t usually know about or track turns.  They just know what time it is. 

So how does the time / movement scale compare to Pub Battles?


This is a 2 min step out march rate compared to the Pub Battles Movement Stick. Keep in mind that the map scales are off by 2:1.  So really, that is how far infantry would move in 4 min of time in Kriegsspiel. 

How long are Pub Battles turns? 1.5 hours.  Wow!!  This is way off.  By direct comparison it is.  Keep in mind how Kriegsspiel is played.  That is technically how fast your infantry CAN move in 4 min.  That doesn’t mean every piece you have moves that far every 4 min.  They don’t move at all if they don’t have orders! 

So first, you have to write an order. How long does that take you?  15 min?  Remember, the clock is ticking.  Now you have to get this order to the Umpire.  He has to assign it to a messenger and track the messengers move down the chain of command down to the actual unit.  How long does that take?  How many people are in the chain of command?  Each link adds time.  It could easily take 20-30 min for a messenger to ride that far.  Let’s say there are 3 key command links that needs to give the orders a once over.  Figure a 10 min delay for each of them while they make plans and the troops are ready to actually start moving. 

That all adds up to about an hour, give or take. It depends on the exact situation.  That leaves about 20-30 min left for the troops to actually march.  That works out to be just about right:  1.5 hours.  An Umpire would track all of these details in Kriegsspiel.  Pub Battles streamlines this for speed.  It is a close approximation.  You do lose some of this detail and texture in command systems.  Pub Battles makes up for some of this with the Turn Alter rolls HQs can do.  Some HQs are rated higher to simulate a more efficient and sleeker command system. 

The Mounted speed is comparable.


Note that this shows the ‘gallop’ speed of cavalry. You can do this but only for short bursts.  Infantry has a variable march speed as well. 


What about artillery ranges?


Very comparable. Again, remember the 2:1 map ratio.  Kriegsspiel breaks ranges down into more detail with the various gun weights.  Pub Battles again simplifies and groups these all together.  A close approximation as a trade off for speed. 

Is that a good trade? How much accuracy and detail are we losing here?  Judging from this, it looks to be about a 5% loss in accuracy.  How much speed do we gain?  Well, if you are playing in real time, a full day battle should take about a full day in the real world.  Let’s call it 8 hours.  How long does it take to play a full battle in Pub Battles?  1 hour.  Would that be an 800% improvement? 

I’d call that a bargain.             

Kriegsspiel Battle Scale

I just got my new Kriegsspiel pieces in the mail. My own Christmas present to myself!  Is that what most wargamers do? 

They look great. I’m very excited.  I got the measuring ‘apparatus’ too.  I immediately set them up on the maps.  Next, I had to put them on the Pub Battles maps.  They looked great there too.  I couldn’t help but wonder how they compared to Pub Battles. 



This is two Kriegsspiel Battalions in line formation, all spread out, end to end. Each small Kriegsspiel block is a ‘Half Battalion’ that represents 450 men.  They almost equal the length of a Pub Battles Brigade at Brandywine.

Amazing how close these line up together but the scale is completely off. Two Battalions is what?  One small Regiment?  Nowhere near a Brigade.  True but lets compare the actual numbers.

If each Kriegsspiel piece is 450 men, then these four blocks represent 1,800.  How many men are in a Brigade at Brandywine?  About 2,000.  So actually, they match almost perfectly. 



Here is a Union Cavalry Brigade at Sharpsburg with it’s Kriegsspiel equivalent. 



The map scale is the same at Sharpsburg and Brandywine. The pieces are exactly the same size but they represent bigger formations.  At Brandywine, a piece represents a 2,000 man Brigade.  At Sharpsburg, each piece is a Division.  Divisions are typically made up of 2-3 Brigades.  These Brigades are about the same size:  1,500-2,000 men. 

Here Sykes’ Division prepares to attack DH Hill in the Sunken Road in Pub Battles:






Ok, now how would this look if we set it up in Kriegsspiel blocks?  Like this:



What?!  How can that be the same?  If the map scales are the same, how could a whole Division fit in the same space as a Brigade?  Because in Kriegsspiel, the blocks stack.  Here are the same pieces shown at an angle:




This was a different war.  Greater numbers were involved.  The concentration of troops was higher.  There you go.  The Kriegsspiel pieces can stack up to 4 high.  They are extremely versatile.


I think terminology here is causing the confusion.  Basically, what Kriegsspiel calls a Battalion is really a Regiment in the Civil War of 1,000 men.  Two Regiments lined up end to end is a Brigade.  Stack another 1-2 Regiments on top and you have a Division. 

Another fascinating thing about the Kriegsspiel blocks is how they accommodate road column marches. 


This is Sykes’ Division all strung out along the road.  I have a couple of artillery batteries tagging along also.  These cover about the same ground as a HQ and a few support pieces.  As you can see, it is very close to the Pub Battles block with a trailing road column piece. 

Another interesting thing you can do with the Kriegsspiel blocks is:  Line Extension.  In a pinch, you could spread out to cover more ground.  It is going to be a fragile line though.   



So far, everything appears to be sync-ing up.  You could easily use Kriegsspiel blocks to play a Pub Battles game.  This could give you more detail and precision.  There is one key difference:  map scale. 

The map scale is off by about 2:1.  So the official Kriegsspiel map is ‘zoomed in’ nearly twice as much compared to a Pub Battles map. 


Strange. How could that be?  Everything was matching up perfectly.  I’ve been checking historical maps.  The Pub Battles scale does match actual troop deployments for the real battles.  Does that mean Kriegsspiel is wrong?

No.  I think Kriegsspiel has it right.  They are just looking at a smaller scale.  So our Division at Sharpsburg does fit in this space.  Note how it is all stacked up in a concentrated line.  In Kriegsspiel, it would actually be spread out more with space between the blocks.  This is a ‘Division’ setup in Kriegsspiel scale:


First you would have your skirmish line out front.  The ‘Regiments’ are in attack column 300 paces behind.  They are not all stacked up together.  They are spread out with about 200 paces space between them.  Three other Regiments follow on behind but staggered.

Remember, we are ‘zoomed in’ now about 2:1.  So I’ve put 2 Pub Battles blocks to compare.  Sure enough, this formation is about the width of 2 Pub Battles blocks.

So basically, at Pub Battles scale, we have zoomed out so we can fit the entire battle on a reasonably sized map.  We fit the same troops in half the space by getting rid of all this extra space in formations.  The down side is that you lose the detail of skirmishers and various formation options.

Could you use Pub Battles maps to play Kriegsspiel on?  Absolutely.  They are ideal if you want to fight out an entire battle at once.  You would just need to remember that your distances are 2:1.

Here is another question:  Could you use Kriegsspiel blocks to play Pub Battles with?  Yes!  This can easily add a lot more detail and precision to the game.  Just keep in mind that this will also add time to the game as well.   


Hitler’s War



I’m not sure why I like this game so much. It has major accuracy and realism issues.  Still, Hitler’s War gets many things right.  I could make many good arguments that Hitler’s War is no worse in this area than Avalon Hill’s 3rd Reich or even ADG’s World in Flames (WiF).

I guess the best thing I like about it is how fast it plays. You can pretty much play through the entire war in a good day.  Try that with WiF or A3R! 

Yes, much of the detail is gone but in many ways I like this better. This allows you to focus on the truly strategic issues.  What is your production compared to the enemy?  What should you produce?  What countries do you attack?  When and why?  These big level issues are what really determine the war’s outcome anyways.  All the rest is just matter of grinding out the results isn’t it?

There is some detail. You can produce infantry, armor, air, bombers, navies, subs and ASW.  You can even invest in technology.  There are partisans and great leaders like Patton and Rommel.  You can direct the flow of the war by controlling how much you spend on these weapon systems.  Hitler’s War gives you the feel of WWII without bogging you down in tons of rules. 

Hitler’s War is a great example of how less it more. Removing all the minutiae allows players to focus on the big trends. Who should we invade first?  Poland, France then Russia?  Or Poland, Russia then France?  How about France, Poland, then Russia?  Guess what?  In Hitler’s War, you could test out all 3 of these plans on a Saturday!

In many ways this reminds me of Pub Battles. One of our play testers commented that Pub Battles is the game he has played the most this year.  Why?  It is exciting and has great re-playability but one of the biggest things going for it is speed.  It plays fast.  He just doesn’t have the time it takes to play a regular wargame these days.  He can always fly through a battle of Brandywine in a spare hour.  How many other games can you do that with?  Time and again, he finds himself pulling out Brandywine because it is fun and convenient.

Maybe Hitler’s War was onto something. Should we do a WWII Pub Battles?  Do you still like and play Hitler’s War?  What do you like about?  Hate about it? 

Tradable Bond Market?

The economy in Supremacy is remarkably realistic. Especially when compared to most other grand strategy games like Risk or Axis & Allies.  I got a very interesting email the other day about a (real life) banker’s reaction to Supremacy.  He was very excited about most of the things he saw.  He did express some concerns about how the Bonds and Loans work. 

This got me thinking….   Is there a way to make the Bonds and Loans tradable on the Market?  Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to take out loans, unless you can first find somebody willing to buy the bonds to back them.  Your payments should go directly to the Bond holding players. 

Another consideration is the rate of interest. With the Loan track, the interest starts out very low.  The deeper in debt you go, the more the interest rises. 

You have to be careful adding rules. Adding tons of complex rules to a game is easy.  How could we incorporate some of these forces into the game in a simple and sleek way that is consistent with the rest of the game design?  Any ideas out there?  Comment below or send me an email. 

Ever wonder what Kriegsspiel Dice looked like?


Most wargamers today know that the ‘first’ wargame was Kriegsspiel. It was created by Von Reisswitz as a training tool for the Prussian Army in 1812-ish.  Kriegsspiel is mostly known for its double blind, team play via Umpires.  True but have you ever wondered how they resolved combat?  Did they use CRTs?  No.  They used Kriegsspiel Dice!


What?! How did that work?  What did they look like?  This is a fascinating piece of wargame history.  They looked like this:



Fascinating  but how do you use them?  Essentially, the CRT is on the dice.  Here is a brief run down on the basics:

Each die represents a different combat Odds Ratio, ie. Die I is 1:1, Die II is 3:2, Die III is 2:1 etc. 

The left column of numbers are the casualties an infantry piece inflicts when firing.  They go from close range at the top to long range at the bottom.

The right column of numbers is the same except for skirmishers.

The center column is used for close combat / assaults.  The top number is losses for the attacker, the bottom for the defender.  The letter in the center of the circle denotes result to the unit for assaults:  R-repulsed, D-Defeated, T-Totally Defeated.  Black is a result on the defender.  White on the attacker. 

The big dots in the center are also used for artillery bombardments.  A red circle around the dot means the bombardment starts a fire if hitting buildings.  

Those are the basics.  It is a really detailed and technical combat system and it is based on the REAL combat experience of officers that served on the field in 1812.  You can debate theory, rates of fire and ranges all day long but this is what actually happened in the field with real men in battle.



So how do they play? We did an experiment to find out.  I was very apprehensive.  First I was concerned about all the little numbers.  How are you going to fit all of those on 1 die?  Is the die going to have to be super huge?  Even if you can, will it be too confusing?  How are you even going to be able to read all those tiny numbers and find the one you need?  Sounds like too much trouble.  I’ll just stick with the tables.  I’ve used those all my life.  What’s the big deal?  You just roll and look it up.  I expected that this would be a failed experiment.

Wow, was I wrong. We were completely surprised.  The numbers all easily fit on a standard size die.  With proper formatting and colors, they were easy to see and read.  The exact number you are looking for is easy to spot.  Once you know what the columns are for, it is easy to pick out the exact number for your range.  Your eye just snaps right to it automatically.  Far easier than I would have ever expected. 

The next thing we noticed was how much easier it made playing the game. This is hard to describe.  Here is an analogy:   Have you ever driven a stick shift in heavy, stop-n-go, rush hour traffic?  It wears on you.  Sure shifting is easy.  You can do it but when you keep having to shift up and down constantly for an hour straight, it wears you down.  Especially compared to driving an automatic. 

The Kriegsspiel Dice speed things up.  They free up my aging and feeble brain to focus on other things. It is pretty incredible when you think about it.  There is about 20 tables worth of data all packed onto those tiny, little dice.  No fuss, no muss.  It felt very liberating.


Looking back, I wonder why this old piece of technology was dropped. It is an amazingly powerful and efficient tool.  I wish all my modern games used dice like this. 

Own a Piece of History

From the Game That Started it All

You can get your own set of real Prussian Kriegsspiel Dice here.

You can still get the original Kriegsspiel game, along with a ton of amazingly detailed maps from:

Too Fat Lardies.

You can get scaled metal Kriegsspiel blocks here.


Wooden pieces with measuring apparatus here.

Historical Brandywine

One of the things so fun about Brandywine is all the different ways it can be played.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2 battles alike yet.  I also haven’t exhausted all the possible strategies yet either! 


Players are free to setup anyway / anywhere they want to.  The game doesn’t even provide for a historical setup.  Still it is kind of nice to know.  How exactly did the battle go down? 


So here you are.  Just for curiosities sake, this is how it opened up historically.  It is a nice reference for players wanting to study the actually historical fight.  













Written Orders

img_7221I love using written orders in games. It adds so much depth and fun.  Some players however, hate the idea of using them.  It just ‘seems’ like too much fuss. 

This got us thinking… Is there a simple way to simulate the delays and effects of real Kriegspiel written orders?  Instead of written orders, how about some kind of simple order chit system?


We experimented with this extensively. We had hidden and rotating Order cubes along with Directional cubes.  We plotted the movement of messengers and implementation times.  It was a very accurate model of what goes on.  It worked very well. 


After all that hard work, we dropped it. What?!  Why?  Because it was unnecessary.  In the end, it added almost nothing to the game.  It added complexity and rules.  It added work for the players to do.  What impact did it have on the outcome and flow of the battle?  Almost nothing. 

Was I disappointed? Absolutely not. I was very excited by this outcome.  Pub Battles is even stronger than I realized.  It already incorporates most of effects of written orders in the basic design.  The way the turns work.  The way the commands move.  The way you can attempt to alter the turn sequence.  This IS Kriegspiel.  These rules are simulating the effects of written orders.  


All in a simple, elegant 1 page of rules format. There is a lot more going on with this deceptively simple system than you realize.  I think we’ve stumbled upon a gem.  

In the end, the only thing we’ve decided to add for the Sharpsburg battle is a simple rule for adding Chits to the cup. That’s all we need.  I love it when the best thing turns out to be the most simple thing. 

Bounding Overwatch


A common tactic for Cavalry at the time of Custer, was deploying 1 Battalion to lay down fire while a reserve Battalion formed up and got ready behind. When things started getting hairy, the 1st Battallion would bug out by leap frogging behind the reserve. This would give them time to reform and take over next. In this way, a very small Cavalry force could fight in a sustained conflict with a much larger force.  (assuming they don’t run out of ammo)

Most games don’t simulate this dynamic very well. How does the Pub Battles system model this?


The Cav are small in numbers but they can be very subborn. The Sioux are treated as militia. The Cav are regulars. The result of this in the battle is that the Cav stands and holds relatively easy. The most common result is the Cav stands and the Sioux flips and retreats or is killed. About every 3rd shot flips a Cav.

So, after a couple waves of assaults, most of the Cav battallion ends up flipped. Now they ARE at risk. About every 3rd attack will destroy a Cav Company!

Now, if you had a reserve Bn to the rear, no problem. You hold until the front line becomes mostly spent. Then retreat back behind the reserve Bn. They can rally while the reserve holds the line for a few turns. Then they can switch. This models the common ‘leap frogging’ tactics for Cavalry at the time very well.

The problem at Little Bighorn is: There usually aren’t any reserves. Or the reserves are getting pummeled from another direction. This situation is made even worse by your line getting overwhelmed and flanked on each side. This allows for multiple shots on the Cav which is very likely to flip them in the first wave attack.

Then you end up with an agonizing decision to make. Your line is flipped. What do you do next turn? You can retreat OR rally. You can’t do both. Do you stand and rally so you can fight another turn or two? If you do, you will most likely get enveloped. With some luck, you may be able to fight your way out and fall back. The other option is to retreat but then you stay flipped. Your units remain vulnerable to getting killed in the next combat.  

Custer’s Gatling Guns


Custer left the Gatling guns behind and for good reason. Bringing them would have greatly slowed the march. In all likelyhood, there wouldn’t have been a battle at Little Bighorn. The Sioux would have escaped.

True but wargaming isn’t just about modeling and duplicating history. One of the most intriguing aspects of our hobby is exploring ‘What ifs?’ It may have not been very feasible but how would Gatling guns have changed the battle? Would it have been enough to save Custer? How and where would they have been best deployed? What impact would they have had? How would the 7th manuvered differently? How would they have changed the their tactics?

Here is a brief report on a recent play test we did with the Gatling guns. It gives you a good idea about how the game works:


I took Custer and Mathey. Mathey set up the G-guns overlooking medicine tail coulee crossing. Custer drove north towards the crossing by Squaw creek.

The Sioux started crossing the Little Bighorn. The G-guns opened up. The first one jammed immediately with no hits. The second one hit 1 Sioux block, sending it retreating and then jammed. :/

The guns would have been immediately overrun and destroyed after that! The only thing that saved them was that Custer rolled to alter the turn. He moved next and turn right around and rode back to cover the guns.

The Sioux attacked. The next turn was a thing of beauty!! The G-guns opened up. They killed about 10 Sioux blocks and sent another 15 running. Custer went back to plan A:   strike across the N. crossing to threaten the NCs.

The next turn, the G-guns popped of a few Sioux then jammed again! Custer tried to come running back to save them but missed the roll this time. The Sioux overran and destroyed them. It was fun while it lasted.

After that, things got rather…… messy.   Custer’s Bn ended up in very awkward positions trying to cover and protect the guns. The whole commanded ended up scattered and isolated somehow.