GGS with Marshall Barrington from Command Post Games
That is an unusual name. What is Pub Battles?
(Chuckle) Yes, that is the name that stuck. The main idea is that we wanted a wargame that could be played out. I remember playing backgammon at the beach, restaurants, bars etc. in the 80s. I just thought, “What a great pr tool!” Wargaming needs to grow. Most people don’t even know what a wargame is. Our industry is in the closet! How wonderful would it be if wargamers started playing out? At the park. At the beach. At restaurants, cafes and even pubs. What would a ‘backgammon’ style wargame look like?
It has to be something cool looking. It can’t look like a little kids toy. It has to be quick. Few pieces. Quick play time. It has to be simple. –“Wow, that looks cool. What is it? How does it work? Can I play?”
That is the vision. There are many other games we would like to design for ourselves as gamers. We thought this was more important. We need to design games that increase exposure and grow the hobby. Easy ‘gateway’ games.
It reminds me of the Simmons Games.
Yes, this was part of our inspiration as well. Simmons and Kriegspiel: the original wargame. We ran further with the idea of making it look real. Something authentic from the period. That’s part of why we play games: to relive history, to imagine what it would have been like. What better look than to immerse the player into the look and feel of the times.
The map is amazing. It looks so real. There are no hexes. Not even areas. How do pieces move?
Kriegspiel style, or mini style. Most of this decision came from the design parameters: 1 page rules. How do we fit all this on 1 page? Cut out all non essentials. We started analyzing game rule books. It is incredible how many words and pages are dedicated to hexes, or areas.
It is kind of ironic really. I imagine the original intent of using areas and hexes was to make things easier. The result seems to be the opposite. If you define a hex, then you have to describe how to move through them. ZoCs or not? How and when? Facing? Spine or side? What about multiple terrain types in the hex? Is the river on the hex side or in the hex. And on and on and on. Is that more simple? Here is an idea! How about we just move the piece? How far? This far. Done.
We had a lot of resistance to this at first. We gave it a try. The more we used it, the more we liked it. It feels much more like what real commanders (or staff) did.
That’s interesting. I also notice no CRT. So it’s bucket-o-dice?
Essentially yes. We did a lot of testing with kids and noted what they perceived as complex or simple. Numbers = Complex. Charts tables and odds calculations = Complex. As wargamers we don’t think much about that. It is simple to us. We are used to it. What does that look like to the average person? -Highly Complex.
Again, this goes back to our design parameters: Simple game that even more importantly, APPEARS simple. If it doesn’t look simple, people won’t give it a try. We wanted this to look like checkers or backgammon. –well at least somewhat.
Is this going to be too simple? Are regular wargamers even going to play it?
Great question. This was very important to us during the design. Some games are so absurd, I find it hard to play them as an advanced gamer. Risk comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great game in many ways. You can’t argue with numbers. It brings tons of new players into the hobby. That is all good. It just has so many ‘silly’ mechanics that it is hard for me to enjoy.
We didn’t want this Risk effect in Pub Battles. Yes, the rules and mechanics are very simple. It isn’t a monster game with hundreds and hundreds of pieces. We also took care to make sure it plays right. Plays like it should. Some game results are so random you might as well be playing tic-tac-toe. Our results are tied pretty close to real historical engagements at this time. We based our movement and combat off of the original Prussian kriegspiel.
More importantly, we worked in subtle things like combined arms effects, initiative, timing, chaotic battlefield friction and of course terrain effects for movement and combat. All the critical things that advanced wargamers will appreciate. These are all worked into the system but without lots of rules. We were shooting for a game that was very simple in rules but much more complex and deep in strategy and play.
Is it I-GO-YOU-GO?
No. Random chit pull. This is done by formation. In this battle there are only 2 wings. For Civil War or Napoleonics it would be by Corps. During development, we also play tested this system on Antietam, Little Bighorn, Marengo and Gettysburg. We wanted a universal system that could be easily applied to engagements of the period.
So it’s very exciting. You never know exactly who is going to move next. Sometimes you want to go first. Sometimes last. Sometimes it doesn’t matter too much. Sometimes it is absolutely critical! This is where the leaders come into play. The HQs can attempt to move first or delay their move. This gets even more tense!
Also, which formations are actually eligible to move? With this we can simulate some of the kriegspiel effects of orders. For example, at Antietam, only 1 Federal Corps starts active: in the cup. The Army HQ can add them as the turns progress. –slowly, like McClellan. So in the bigger battles later on, you won’t be sure if they can move, when they can move, or why they aren’t moving.
Does it really play in an hour? I never seem to be able to play a game in the stated time.
Well, (chuckle) I guess it depends on how much you talk. Or maybe how much beer or coffee you drink! We kept close watch on this in testing. We averaged 45-60min. That includes setup time. Barring the first learning game, you should hit that time pretty consistently.
Sometimes players will capitulate early if the game opens terribly.
What was the biggest challenge in designing this game? Or games in general?
I’m pretty strict about keeping the design within the predetermined parameters. I think this is really important. You have to set goals and know exactly what kind of game you are making and why. If you have done that, then the design is actually pretty easy. You just follow it. Or at least I do.
I think the problem comes when you start designing but haven’t quite nailed that down yet. Everybody has lots of neat ideas but which ones do you use? Which fit the game? What is this game exactly? Throwing a bunch of fun ideas and rules together is not a game. Often times what you don’t put in the game is more important than what you do.
After we finish one game, I often feel we have enough material to make about 10 games! I think sorting through all that and keeping it together and focused on the goal is the hardest part.