So What Happened in Mega Supremacy?

I meant to write up a full report in our Blog for what happened in our Mega Supremacy game.  It was an incredible success.  Jim Owczarski over at Grogheads did a great interview with us a few weeks ago on it.  It was such a great interview and discussion that  I  forgot all about reporting on the game myself!

So if you haven’t seen it yet, check it out!  You can find it here.

Excellent questions about Mega-Supremacy and Pub Battles.  It is a very interesting discussion about big multiplayer games and the future of our hobby/industry. 

They run a very good site on gaming also.  Lots of good info here on Kriegsspiel.  You will find lots of other cool things here. 

Umpireless Kriegsspiel

Designer’s Notes -Pub Battles

One of our main design goals, that we haven’t talked about much yet is the Kriegsspiel intent. Yes, the maps and pieces look ‘kriegsspiel’ style but what does this game really have to do with Kriegsspiel?  It is just a quick, easy 2 player game. 

Actually, it has everything to do with Kriegsspiel. Much of this design is aimed at solving key problems in Kriegsspiel.

Kriegsspiel Problems

  1. Slow Game speed and player interaction. 10 players and 1 Umpire, means there can be a lot of time sitting around waiting to hear something new as a player.
  2. Lack of Players. In our hobby, it is often hard just finding 1 player. Now you have to find 4-10. On top of that you need at least 1 Umpire. Preferably more! A friend of mine who runs Kriegsspiel games regularly, likes to see a 1:1 ratio in Umpires to players. Ideal I agree but good luck.
  3. Player detachment. I see this effect a lot in computer games too. It is almost like the computer gets to play the game and I just sit and watch. What is going on? How does the combat work? How could I have lost that engagement? I should have won. Did the Umpire roll a 1 for me? Can I roll my own dice? I think players like to know what is going on. They like to see it. At least if I roll a 1 and I watch my opponent roll a 6, I know why I lost. It happens. A brief whining phase then we move on.
  4. Overly technical rules. The original Kriegsspiel rules for combat are a great piece of history that document real world experience of combat in 1824. For actual game rules they are slow and tedious to execute. This extra drag time on the Umpire makes the game even slower for player interaction. If you are a junior officer ordered to participate in a training Kriegsspiel that is ok. If you are trying to convince friends why they should play this game with you for the afternoon, it is a big problem.

Umpireless Games

So what is an umpireless game? How does it work?  In a big battle, you would have 3-6 player teams running each Command (usually a Corps).  They all sit at the same table with 1 map.  They can all see everything.

Yes, we lose a little of the hidden intell effect but consider this: The players can’t talk to each other.  Also that the Army Commander does not sit at this table.  He cannot see any of this.  The guy in charge sits at a separate table with separate map.  All he knows is what his Corps commanders tell him in written reports that are delayed.  There is your hidden intell with no Umpire. 

Besides from my experience in command, the hidden intell is the least of your trouble. Even if you had perfect intell, the much bigger problem is getting your people to do what you want and getting them to report back and tell you what is going on.

As a Corps commander, if I am ordered to attack Little Round Top, what difference does it make to me what is happening at Culp’s Hill? That doesn’t concern me much.  I’m busy watching and fighting with the enemy in my sector of the line.  I might be aware that there is a lot of fighting going on near Culp’s Hill.  In a real battle I could hear that too.  So what?


Pub Battle Solutions

So how does this format in Pub Battles address the Kriegsspiel problems?

  1. Slow Game speed and player interaction. Pub Battles plays in 1-2 hours. If you add more players in teams it will slow down more but still you can complete an entire big battle in 2-4 hours. Try that with traditional Kriegsspiel.
  2. Player interaction is much better. Note that if my Corps is not currently engaged, this gives me something to do as a player. I can watch what is happening. I can write to other commands and to my commander, to report and urge them to action. The game is still fun and I still have a level of participation and engagement.
  3. Lack of Players. No Umpires needed at all. We’ve also cut the rules down to size. The Quick Start rules fit on 1 page! You are also playing in teams. This makes it very easy for new people to play. They can just jump in and learn by playing. It is much easier to get non-wargamers and even non-board gamers to give it a try. This greatly expands the potential player pool.
  4. Player detachment. The players can actually see and move their own pieces. They can resolve the combat. This increases player engagement but still preserves Fog of War and Hidden Intell, because Army Commander doesn’t know any of this. It has to get reported back and that’s where all the trouble (and fun) starts.
  5. Overly technical rules. When you gather 10 non-wargamers together to play an Umpireless Kriegsspiel with you, SPEED is critical. The game has to be fun and fast moving. We based the Pub Battles rules off the core Kriegsspiel data. The goal was to boil all this down into a quick, simple system that returns the same essential results for movement and combat. Yes, we lose some of the detail and options but the speed gained is worth it!


Small Army vs Large Army

How does a large army with many small Corps differ from a small army with a few large Corps? Antietam is a great example of this. The Federal Army of the Potomac had 6-7 small Corps. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had only 2 Corps but they were large. What impact do these different command structures have?

Many of these differences become clear in the Pub Battles system. Each Corps has a chit. The Corps move in random order as you pull these chits from a cup. HQs can attempt to alter this random sequence by rolling a die. You can attempt to move first by jumping ahead of the current pull, OR delay your move by returning your chit to the cup.

The Federals must roll 1-3 to be successful. The Confederates are more likely to pull off the timing they want as they only need 1-4. This isn’t to say that all the Confederate officers were better. It is more a reflection of the command structure. The Potomac had more Corps and more command layers. It stands to reason that it would take a little longer for their orders to actually get people moving.

Ok, so how does all this actually impact game play? Who has the advantage? The big army with lots of Corps or the small army with few, large Corps? Here is a quick analysis:

Case 1

Big army wants to attack little army all up and down the line.  They can’t just advance everybody at once to engage.  They can only advance 1 small Corps at a time.  This will leave openings and gaps in the line.  The little army should be able to move in between these moves and cause all kinds of chaos and awkwardness. It is easy to catch them with 1 foot over the barrel.

Advantage:  Small Army

Case 2

Little army wants to attack big army all up and down the line.  With a little luck and timing, they most likely can pull off a coordinated attack all up and down the line at once. 

Advantage:  Small Army

Case 3

Traffic jams!  You are trying to relocate a big portion of your army.  This can easily result in traffic jams for the Big Army.  If you can’t pull in the right sequence, several Corps will be held up waiting for the ones in front of them to move.  This tends to make Big Armies slow and lethargic.  Sounds a lot like McClellan doesn’t it?

Advantage:  Small Army

Case 4

Let’s say it’s time to bug out.  All hell is breaking loose and you just want to flee.  This is like the big coordinated attack all at once, only in reverse.  If you can’t move in the right sequence, some Corps will get stuck.  Others will be in the way.  Which ones are fighting a rear guard action?  This can become a huge nightmare.  Especially if the Small Army can very likely jump in and strike at the worst possible moment.

Advantage:  Small Army

Case 5

The Big Army does have more flexibility and a slight advantage in numbers.  Antietam is a good example.  Let’s say the Federal artillery bombards a Confederate Division in the Sunken Road.  The Confederates flip and run.  Now who moves next?  This is critical.  The Federals have more chits in the cup.  So they have better chances of getting pulled first to occupy the Sunken Road before the Confederates can. 

There is also a good chance that the Confederates already moved for the turn.  Their whole army is concentrated in 2 Corps.  What if they got picked early in the turn?  They delayed but then got picked again?  That is half their army that has to move early.  Good chance they won’t be able to scramble back into the Sunken Road now. 

The Federals have 6-7 Corps.  Much better chances at getting one of them picked to move first.  This seems like a huge advantage but not so fast. First, consider that most of those Corps can’t actually get to the Sunken Road.  They are scattered around the field.  Maybe only 2 or 3 of them can actually get there.  Also, remember that some of those 2-3 Corps may have already moved.  

Advantage:  Slight advantage to Big Army.  Not as big as you might think.

So at Antietam, these 2 armies are going feel very different. They will require a completely different approach and strategy. There are going to be many other things to consider in your moves. I like how none of this requires any new rules. It is already built into the system.

It is going to require a little more thought, a little more time. It is more complex but the complexity is in strategy, planning and decisions, NOT in learning and remembering more rules. I like complexity in command decisions. This is complexity well spent on a game design. Not complexity in how units technically move and fight. Not in looking up results on tables of data.

This complexity is spent pondering timing effects related to command and how that can impact battle results.  These are decisions related to command.

This is what we are all about.

How Important is Victory?

I’ve notice many times that players never even look at the Victory Conditions for a game.  Do Victory Conditions in the rules even matter?  What would you think of a game with No victory conditions?  Is that completely crazy?  Is it even possible?  Here is my case:


Often times, players don’t even bother to lookup the rules for Victory.  I’ve seen this in many games.  They just setup and start playing.  Most games never even go to the end.  About half way through, one player usually gives up and concedes.  Game over.  They lost.

Players seem to have an intuitive sense for Victory.  They can tell.  They know when the lose.  They know when they win.  Both players usually see this at the same time and they are usually in agreement.  I don’t remember ever seeing players argue over this, where both players believe they have won at the same time.  I do see them argue over the meaning of rules. 

We usually love to discuss the outcome of the game afterwards.  This is often our favorite part.  It usually goes something like this:  “Well, looks like you won.  You really surprised me with this move.  I didn’t see that coming and then I got bad luck over here.  I did pretty well containing you here under the circumstances but in the end it wasn’t enough.  Good game!”


We like to talk about our brilliant moves and colossal failures.  Where did the game change?  What was the most important event or decision?  What were you thinking when you did this?

I don’t see players argue with each other but I do see them argue with the Victory Conditions in the game.  Often times they are at odds with the game rules.  How many times have you heard:  “Well, technically you won according to the rules but in the real war, I would have won!”  OR “You are winning now but IF we play 1 more turn, you are going to get stomped!”

This kicks off a very interesting debate on what happened in the real campaign / war and how the game events differed.  How would these differences would have altered historical events afterwards?

I’ve noticed that players consider many subtle factors and variations in these discussions.  They take into account far more information than any game rules on Victory Conditions could.  Could you imagine a separate 100 page, fine print rule book on how to determine Victory after the game?  How would the game results have impacted army morale later?  Public opinion on both sides?  The political impact on parties, elections and legislation?  Economic performance and production?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, or you could just look at the board and say:  “I think you won.”  For me, this is often the best part of the game:    Discussing and debating the outcome of the game.  Who won?  Imagine how history would have been different with this result.  Preferably over some cold beers.

Could you have a game like this?  Are there other views?  How important are Victory Conditions to you and your friends?  Would you play a game that had No victory conditions?

W1815 vs Pub Battles

W1815 is a zip lock game on the battle of Waterloo by U&P Games.  It is fast, small, simple and has a period looking map with wooden blocks.  Is this the same thing as Pub Battles?  How do they compare?

This is a great little review by

Chris Rakowski

Q:  What is the difference between W1815 and Pub Battles?  How do they compare / contrast?

Pub Battles is a very traditional miniatures-ish wargame. You choose where to set up. There’s terrain with modifiers. You measure distances and maneuver. You get close to and attack the other pieces and if you roll high they get hit and lose strength or fall back.

There is some hidden info about which units exactly you’re attacking until you start fighting. Cavalry is fast but weak, artillery has range and defensive first fire, and elites ignore a hit. There are no formations other than the occasional road column. It’s a full fledged black powder battle with no bull.

W1815 has none of this. The pieces go in their places and don’t move. Either they’re there or they’re not. The game board is more like a very pretty chart showing you how strong each corps is. The “game” is in the notecard for each corps showing whom it attacks and what can happen when it does with modifiers for the state of the game.

There’s a back and forth as one attack opens up the opportunity for a counterattack and you follow that branch until one side can’t stand it anymore and focuses somewhere else.

Your attack can hurt you more than it hurts the enemy, sometimes even as the best possible outcome. Instead of fighting, the Allies can shore up the line with reinforcements or roll for more Prussians.

As things get worse, each side has to roll rout tests on an asymmetrical table to see who quits the field first. It’s elegant, has strong narrative, is very easy to teach and really can be played in 15 minutes leaving you wanting to have another go with a different strategy. It’s a wargame bonsai.

I love this block aesthetic. It’s like l’m looking at a page in a military atlas. The actual games are very different, though, both accompishing what they’re going for, which is a game you can pull out and just play, without needing to make it a big event, and without your head in the rules. I happily have both and would get more in both series as they come out.

Marshall has several more in the pipeline. If UP isn’t interested in making more I’ll probably try to do more of those on my own.

Where to get them:


Pub Battles

Capture Those Colors

Pub Battles works great for scrappy little battles like Brandywine and Little Bighorn.  Is that what this system was built for?  Is it capable of modeling bigger engagements like Gettysburg or Austerlitz? 

This is a great analyses by Mike Strand.    -And by the way, we have pieces for Gettysburg and started on the graphics for the map this week!  I would expect to see this out sometime next year. 

The way many folks talk about Gettysburg, you’d think it was a fait acompli that the union would win, yet there are those who also maintain the 1st Minnesota “saved the union.” This dichotomy creates a real problem for game designers. How do you make the game realistic in the sense of what could the participants have realistically expected from various actions, and then factor in such unpredictable variables as the case of 264 man battalion charging a fresh 1400+man brigade and stopping them cold. 


One way is by just ignoring such anomalies and saying “well this game doesn’t count actions by smaller units.” Another design technique would be to include a deck of cards, one card would be the 1st Minnesota card that allowed a combat re-roll. Unfortunately, having the card be a known quantity that a player can lay down at any time is too powerful.


Now look how this plays out in a Pub Battles game. The Union has a bunch of spent units that have just retreated off Seminary Ridge and some fresh units behind those. The confederates facing them are all in good order. Whoever moves first will decide whether or not the Confederate player rolls up the Union line or not. The confederate command chit is drawn first, the union player rolls for his divisional commander to alter turn order…Fail! Next he rolls for his corps commander, success! The union spent units rally to fresh and the confederate attack is repulsed when Picket’s division is chewed up by a couple of the union units rolling 3 hits.


What happened historically? The corps commander, General Hancock, was trying to move up his fresh brigades to fill the hole in the union line, but Wilcox’s Virginians were already closing in, a 1400 strong fresh brigade. He had to delay them just a few minutes. Looking around, he spotted the only unit available, a Battalion of a couple hundred Minnesotans. He rode up to their Lieutenant and pointed to the Virginian’s colors. He said simply, “I want you to capture those colors.” The lieutenant said, “Yessir!”  The little Battalion surged forward and captured the colors before being repulsed with 83% casualties. The delay was time enough for Hancock to move his troops into position. The line and the Union was saved.


Pub Battles does not try to recreate the heroics of the 1st Minnesota directly, instead it creates the same results with a player’s decision to involve the corps commander directly, and with a die roll showing how successful he is.


Simple. Elegant. Brilliant. 


-Mike Strand