Little Bighorn Review

This Custer game, in particular, is one of the best Little Bighorn board games that I have played, and I have played most of them.

I wrote a review of the game and posted it on Boardgame Geeks, hopefully it will encourage other gamers to try the game.

The game design was excellent, simple but capturing faithfully the nature of combat between the cavalry units and their Sioux opponents. Very well done.


Tom D


Little Bighorn is a fast-paced and interesting game of Custer’s famous fight on the Little Bighorn. It is one of the most interesting Little Bighorn games that I have played, and I have played most of them.  A deceptively simple game system recreates the difficult tactical choices confronting Custer and his command, and allows players to explore the consequences of different decisions. 

A note of caution here – while this game is marketed as a “Pub Battles” game, it actually has a completely different and unique game system, designed specifically for the Custer fight. It makes for a gaming experience that is distinct from other Pub Battles games, and is fascinating in its recreation of the swirling, unpredictable fights along the Little Bighorn.

The game has one of the best maps I have seen of the Custer battlefield, accurately capturing the military significant terrain and identifying key landmarks. This is not a small thing – maps of the battlefield as it existed at the time of the fight are notoriously problematic, and this one is outstanding, as well as being a real work of cartographic art. Battle enthusiasts will enjoy acquiring the game for the map alone.

The game avoids traditional hex-based systems altogether. Movement is regulated by a simple combination of distance, facing, and terrain, using measuring sticks (take note – the measuring sticks must be ordered separately, although it is fairly easy to make your own using the movement gauges printed in the game rules). Units are small blocks of wood, representing companies (and battalion headquarters) for the cavalry and small groups of warriors for the Sioux. The Sioux are grouped into seven identical “tribes.”  Each tribe also includes a critical “Noncombatants” unit, capture of any one of which will end the game (and usually result in a victory for the cavalry).

Some historical purists will object to the absence of tribal designations, and the identical nature of each tribe. Some other games have very specific Sioux orders of battle, with differing strengths, combat capabilities, and including key leaders and arcane leadership rules. In this case, I think the simpler approach is better. The truth is we have no idea who was really at the battle on the Sioux side, or what their strength, equipment, or specific capabilities were, other than in the most general terms.

The key component of the Little Bighorn system is its variation in how many tribal encampments are actually present, from a minimum of one to a maximum of seven. This critical feature accurately reflects what Custer expected to find in the valley – a series of villages, of varying size, strung out up and down the valley. The Sioux had never in living memory or oral tradition – ever – summered in a single large camp, for several very good reasons, sanitation and grazing for the huge pony herds among them. Custer expected to encounter several villages, and was probably hoping to round up two or three of them at most, declaring victory and escorting the captured tribes to the nearest reservation.

The Indian player determines prior to the game how many tribes will be present, and where. He places a single tribal marker on each of seven camps; the cavalry player will not know which markers are real until he has a unit within “spotting” distance of the camp. For their part, the Sioux cannot move until turn 4, and must exit their noncombatants off the board through two exit points on the northern (downstream) map edge. Since the cavalry enter from the south (upstream) edge of the map, the cavalry player must be able to get a force north of the village before the Sioux can get rolling after turn 4 to have any chance of victory.



Rules are simple and easy to apply, making for fast moving games that are easily completed in the advertised 1 to 1.5 hours. As with other Pub Battles games, the game is divided into a movement phase, during which each of the Army battalions and each Sioux (and Cheyenne, to be accurate) Tribe moves according to a random “chit” draw, followed by a combat phase.  The Army (only) can attempt to pre-empt the Indians in the movement phase, either by forcing Indian units to move first, or by moving first with one of the cavalry battalions.

 Combat results are generated by simple (and simultaneous) die rolls, using two dice per unit, with “hits” scored on a four, five or six. Complicating this process for the Indians is their treatment as “Militia,” giving the Army a significant combat advantage. The significant numerical superiority enjoyed by the Indians (even if only two or three tribes are present) can counterbalance the cavalry’s advantage in combat, but only if the Indians can engage single cavalry units with two, three or even four warriors at a time. This last point makes positioning cavalry units in mutually supporting positions – too close for Indians to engage with more than one warrior unit – a key Army tactic. It also makes open flanks potentially fatal for the Army.

Tactically, the overwhelming numerical superiority usually enjoyed by the Sioux can be deceptive. A careless Indian player who cedes the initiative to the Army can find himself severely punished over the course of two or three turns, reducing his ability to successfully screen the withdrawal of his non-combatants. The Army’s tactical advantage combines with two other factors to enable the occasional Army victory: the Army’s ability to engineer two consecutive moves, and the unique capacity of the Custer unit to attack during the Army movement phase. This gives the Army the ability to open a “hole” in the Indian line with Custer, then move through and attack with other units. This requires the Indian player to maintain a layered defense at all times, as the Army can and will punch through outer layers in the combat phase, then seize the initiative to move immediately in the following turn, again led by the Custer unit. Once a single Army unit contacts (by being fully adjacent to) any noncombatant unit, the game ends immediately (before the ensuing combat phase).

Victory conditions for the game are variable, depending on how many cavalry battalions and tribes are present. Generally, more tribes or fewer battalions makes it easier for the cavalry to win, while fewer tribes or more battalions make Sioux victory conditions easier to achieve.

The key to winning for the cavalry is early reconnaissance to determine how many tribes are present, combined with a flexible strategy to accommodate the level of Indian superiority in numbers, once it becomes apparent. Small numbers of tribes require highly aggressive Army play, while large villages will force a much more cautious approach. Even with most tribes present, the Army has a chance for victory. More tribes means more noncombatants, with will be more difficult to screen effectively against the Army’s ability to combine consecutive moves with Custer’s unique attack capabilities.

An additional – and significant – advantage for the Army is in mobility. All of the Army units except for the pack train and the “Gatling Guns” (ahistorical – Custer left the guns behind, as they limited his mobility) are mounted, while most Indian units are on foot. This advantage is fleeting, however. Once a cavalry company has engaged in combat, it moves dismounted for the remainder of the fight (the Indians have run off its horses). This feature, besides simplifying play, makes it wise for the Sioux player to engage cavalry units early, even with single warrior attacks. The cavalry will almost always win these initial engagements, but will be deprived of their mobility advantage for the remainder of the game.

The mix of Tribes and the varying configuration of the villages makes each game different. The action can shift rapidly from daring cavalry attacks to seize noncombatants and end the game, to desperate fights for survival by encircled Army battalions on isolated hill tops. It is a fun game to play, easy to learn but difficult to master.



Designer’s Notes Antietam

Designer’s Notes

Taking on Antietam was a daunting task. Many people say this battle can’t be gamed. This battle breaks games. The only way to make it work is to tack on McClellan Idiot rules. I hate rules like this. I call them Band-Aid rules: rules that are artificially added to a game to compensate for a fundamentally flawed model. Ideally, we prefer to allow players free reign. Both sides should be able to do whatever they want and operate under the same rules. How can you make Antietam work without Band-Aid rules? What player in their right mind would do what McClellan did?

We started play testing with 2 Band-Aids: The Federals had HQ ratings of 2, while the Confederates had 4. Jackson even had a 5. Even worse, only 1 Federal Corps began the game active: with a chit in the cup. The other Corps would be added to the cup 1 turn at a time. This got us close to a historical result but why handcuff the players like this?

We tightened up the HQ ratings, Federals: 3, Confederates: 4. That is reasonable and justifiable. The ANV had a sleeker and faster org chart. Much quicker to get orders down the line but the advantage is pretty minimal.

Modern historians have been adjusting the previously accepted numbers. The legend was always that the South overcame the odds with brilliant leadership. There is some truth to this but Federal army strengths were often exaggerated. Early reports concluded that McClellan had 100-120k men. Much of this comes from counting ALL men in the Army of the Potomac. Comparing apples to apples, by counting only Combat Effectives, like the Army of Northern V did, this number falls to 90k, 80k, even possibly 75k. This gets us closer to a solution but we are still looking at Lee being outnumbered 2:1.

Another interesting fact we found while researching the OBs, was that much of the AoP was made up of brand new volunteers: 20-25%. These were raw recruits just thrown into the field. Just days before the battle, there were reports of Federal troops having never fired their rifle, not knowing how to load and fire a rifle, not knowing how to change from road column to battle line formation.

The AoP was not the well oiled, veteran machine that the ANV was. It was just recently cobbled together from mixed Corps and many brand new regiments. Many of the officers had recently changed. Days before the battle, Wilcox sent a message up requesting to know who the other Division commanders were in his Corps. Considering this, it is a small miracle that McClellan was able to get the AoP to Antietam so quickly. That’s right. I just used ‘McClellan’ and ‘quick’ in the same sentence.

Surprisingly, this was the only change we needed to make to get Pub Battles to turn out a historical result. We dropped 25% of the Federal infantry to Green status. Not only does it make the game play like the historical battle, it also makes it more realistic and historically accurate. No McClellan Idiot rules. No handcuffs. No Band-Aids.

The only question left was the speed of development. Should the Federals be allowed to start the game with all Corps active and able to attack? Won’t they overwhelm the Confederates if they can?

The answer to this occurred to me from playing Marengo. The French player can often be lured to his own doom IF the Austrian player develops and moves slowly. Why? Because he is persuaded to think that he might be able to defend and hold the line rather than just fall back like they should. This allows the Austrians to bring their artillery advantage to bear.

This is very similar to what the Federals can do with their artillery advantage at Antietam. Sure, you can plow ahead with all guns blazing on all fronts at once with the AoP if you want. You will likely find your fragile, 25% green army quickly shattered.

Surprisingly, to do well with the Federals, you will find yourself advancing cautiously and methodically at a slow pace, much like McClellan! Falling back if things don’t immediately go your way in an assault to rally and make another attempt in a few hours. This approach allows your artillery to pound the Confederates and keeps you from taking catastrophic losses while assaulting over bridges, through the woods and up hills.

This game and Marengo are not Race-the-Clock games. We removed the active Corps restriction. They are more about finesse, maneuver and timing. Don’t worry, there is plenty of time to destroy your army when you are ready.

McClellan actually had a good battle plan. His intent was to advance on Lee’s left with I & XII Corps. Let the rest of the Army sit in reserve, hoping that Lee would commit his reserves to the left. -Which is exactly what Lee did!

With the right timing, Burnside would then launch his attack to bust across the Antietam and cut off Lee’s only route of retreat. Considering the army that McClellan had to work with, it was a good plan. This is exactly the type of plan that is more likely to succeed in Pub Battles.

Now that I’m here on the other side, looking back at what Pub Battles Antietam has become, I am greatly relieved. Antietam did not break Pub Battles. Pub Battles makes Antietam actually work as a wargame. As a designer, this confirms our model and gives us much more confidence going forward to other battles.

If Pub Battles can model Brandywine, Little Bighorn and Antietam without Band-Aids, can it explain battles like Austerlitz? Chancellorsville?

Marshall Barrington

Learn More about Antietam

Order Antietam

Like Old Friends

Ewell, McClaws, Anderson, Hood, AP Hill.  Doubleday, Mead, Hooker, Sedgwick, Slocum.  They almost feel like a bunch of old friends now.  I got this email recently:

“I haven’t played an ACW tabletop game for a few years now. As I was putting stickers on the Sharpsburg blocks, seeing those familiar old names and that amazing map, I really, really got the urge!”

I feel exactly the same way.  Over the years I’ve grown away from my Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Bulge, Waterloo and Russian Campaign roots to other more subtle and exotic pallets.  I haven’t played these campaigns and battles for years.

It is exciting to see these old favorites come back with an all new approach and perspective.  It’s kind of like seeing the all new Muscle Cars come back:  Camaro, Mustang, Challenger.

After seeing the new Antietam, I am really looking forward to the new Gettysburg as well.  The uncertain move sequence alone bring a mountain of tension to the 1st Day.  I have a feeling, it may just be the solution needed to liven up the 2nd & 3rd Day action as well.     

Supremacy Turn Variant

Games where you do everything at once (trade, move, attack, build) and then the next player goes are considered old school.  The downside here is that you have to wait a long time before you get to do anything.  Especially if you are playing a game like Supremacy with lots of players. 

The new way is to break this up into smaller phases where everybody plays together.  So, each player trades.  Then each player moves.  Then attack, etc.  This helps keep players involved and participating in the game more frequently.  The new Supremacy 2020 follows this format but this method isn’t always good.  There are down sides to it. 

In many ways, Supremacy works better with the old school method.  This is how you can easily Retro Fit your Supremacy game with old game tech:

Combined Turn Sequence


All players simultaneously pay salaries and collect new resources, etc. as usual. 

Player Turns

Randomly determine the next player to go by pulling chits as usual.  During your turn, you Trade, Combat, Redeploy and Build all in sequence.  Once you have finished all Steps, draw a new chit to determine the next player to go. 

Note that launching Counterattacks, can still draw you in and give you something to do during another player’s turn.


Advantages to Using this Variant

Better Strategic Planning

A downside to playing together in broken down, incremental Steps is that it is hard to create and implement a coherent strategic plan.  Everything is always changing.  Often times your plan is ruined by time you get to move.  It is almost better not to make any plans until it is time for you to do something.  This variant allows players the time they need to think and operate more strategically.  This is a much better fit for Supremacy. 

Social / Diplomacy

In many ways the best part of Supremacy is the diplomacy:  alliances and negotiation.  With the new rapid fire format, there is almost no time to conduct this effectively.   Instead of sitting around bored, waiting for your turn, this time gives players the perfect time needed to conduct diplomacy.  This also gives you more time to socialize.  Bringing people closer together to bond and connect is what games are about.  Go with it and enjoy!   

Teaching / Policing

Are people cheating?  It is harder to track this and enforce the rules if everybody is moving at once or in rapid sequence.  If you are the only person moving and everybody else is watching, you have to be on your best behavior.  If you are a new player, this is a great time to learn and get coaching advice from other players.  Players are usually too distracted to help in the current system. 


This may be counter intuitive but I suspect that the game will actually play faster this way.  At the very least you are saving time by only pulling chits once per Turn, not every Step.  I think players will also spend less time ‘thinking’ during their turn time.  They have plenty of time to think while other people are moving.  When they get pulled, they know exactly what they are going to do.  They just jump right in and crank out their whole turn at once. 

Try this out and let us know what you think.  Do you like it better?


Sailor Trick

I love the cloth storage bags.  I did have a draw string pull too far and ended up inside.  -and yes, they are very difficult to get out. 

I tried tying a knot in the end but that isn’t full proof either. 

Here is a great tip from Yvonne -aka ‘god’:

Instead of tying a knot in the end of the draw strings, tie them both together:

Now they can never slip past the opening. 

This must be one of those Sailor Tricks she learned in the Navy!



Review -Supply Lines of the American Revolution

Product Description

This is a 2 player, strategic level game of the American Revolution. The Complexity is moderate / low.  Point to point movement with counters. 

In a way, the name is misleading. You aren’t just in charge of logistics.  You are in charge of the entire war.  There IS a strong military component to the game.  You have leaders and Army SPs that you get to build and move around the board.  And yes, you DO get to fight battles.  So relax.  It IS a wargame.  🙂

A better description of the game would be that it is a simple strategic wargame but it also includes logistical considerations. I very much applaud this effort in design.  Logistics in real wars are huge.  In many ways the logistics are the most important thing .  It does no good to raise a bunch of troops and deploy them into the field.  Those troops need to eat.  In order to fight they need powder and shot.  They need all this stuff at the right time and place.

When I look at buying a wargame, I want to look at the rules first. Why?  Because I want to see how the supplies work.  That is the first thing I check.  If I don’t like how the game models supplies, I don’t buy it.  To me, this is key to a game at this level.  This is what induced me to try this game out.

Here is some feedback for the publisher:  I showed this game to a friend.  He immediately assumed the name of the game was “Join or Die” by the box cover.  I think this would make a better name.  More simple and catchy, if it’s not already in use. 

SLOTARTNT: 1775-1777 is a bit long and misleading in a way. On the other hand, this might be part of what makes it stand out and look different.  That might actually be good in a crazy, backwards way. 


Ok, to be fair, I am extremely picky when it comes to graphics. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate this game as a 6.  By that I mean it is slightly above average for the industry.  It is ok.  There is an attempt to make the map look somewhat period.  It works.  I have seen much worse from the wargame industry. 

The pieces look like they are upgraded, cut hardboard. Nice.  The graphics are average.  I bought the Print N Play.  It downloaded and printed easily.  I made my own custom pieces, so my pix are very different from what you will get with the regular game. 


Rules, rules, rules. Does anybody like rules?  Have you ever seen a rule book that you liked?  I’m not sure I ever have.  They never seem to be easy.  I have very high expectations for rules.  I don’t think any rule book lives up to what I want it to be, even my own.  With this in mind, I would rate the rulebook a 4 out of 10.  Slightly below average for the industry.  –Which in my view has a lot of room for improvement.

The rules are simple and short. Only 11 pages.  I found them difficult to remember and difficult to scan for answers.  I kept having to look things up.  That may be my age and failing memory though.  🙂

Even so, I was able to learn and play the game fairly easily. These rules are no worse than most wargames out there. 

Mechanics   –Under the Hood

To move, you must spend a green food cube. The cube has to be in the area with the troops.  No food?  No movement. 

The fighting was a bit different than what we normally expect. Each side gets dice to roll for hits.  The difference is: the number of dice you roll is based on the number of war supplies you spend, NOT on the number of troops you have.  The war supplies you spend, need to be what you have with you at that moment.  So, no war supplies?  No dice. 

Each city produces 2 food and 1 war cube at the beginning of each turn but only if you have an army there. That is fine if you plan on fighting there.  If not, you’re going to have to get these supplies moved up to the front. 

So as you would expect, you are going to be spending much of your time planning how you are going to get these supplies and troops where you need them. You need to build supply lines by spreading your troops out in a line.  At the end of the line, you need to assemble a concentration of troops to fight with.  They will need a leader and a steady flow of supplies to move and attack with. 

There isn’t any Fog of War in this game. Both players can see and know what each side has.  This works well for this design.  You usually have 10 things that need to be done in your turn but you can only do 1 right now.  This creates enough unknowns and Fog of War by itself. 


If dealing with all of these issues sounds complex, don’t worry. This game is very easy, fun and playable.  It all plays out in a quick and streamlined fashion.  It will take a few turns to get a feeling for what is going on and how to plan.  Experience seems to be the best teacher: 

You will move quick and shatter the enemy’s army. All of these undefended Victory Cities will be sitting right there in front of you but you won’t be able to do a darned thing about it.  Why?  Because you just ran out of food.  You can’t march anymore. 

Do that once or twice and then you will start to get your act together.  


A nice melding of Logistics with movement and combat.




Short rules.

I really like how this system models the timing of war. In most games, every turn, every piece you have flys around on the map and fights.  If you read about real wars, you will see that there are long periods in between the battles.  For months, everybody just sits there.  Nothing is happening.  Why?  In this game, you can see why.  There actually are a lot of things happening during those periods of ‘nothing’.  These periods of ‘nothing’ can be very interesting and fun. 


Only the “Northern Theater”? I really wanted to see the entire war played out. 

Summary / Conclusion

In spite of its short comings,  I definitely recommend this as a buy. Overall, I’d rate this game an 8 out of 10. 

Great little game. The rules are a little rough around the edges.  It is refreshing to see wargames incorporating logistics in more detail.  This game proves that it can be done in a simple way, with short rules and that it greatly adds to the strategy and enjoyment of the game.  I hope we see many more designs in this direction!

Supply Lines of the American Civil War? Supply Lines of Napoleon?  Supply Lines of Caesar?  Tom Russell, you better get to work!  

You can find Supply Lines of the American Revolution at Hollandspiele Games

Marengo Victory?

Ok, we had a strange Victory result.  The Austrians only lost 1 piece but the French lost 6.  This is a Draw?

Yes, this may seem a little strange but the French had additional forces in the area.  These would have been brought in.  –probably already on the way once they heard the battle.  So the French would have been battered but not broken. 

The Austrians would be forced to retire back to Alexandrie.  They are still bottled up, isolated and out of supply.  They would be soon forced to surrender.

The Austrians must be very aggressive in this game.  There is no Minor Victory option for the Austrians.  You either breakout and win, or essentially you lose.  We haven’t defined a ‘draw’ specifically.  A better description of this would be:  both players lose. 

This isn’t the kind of battle where you can tangle a bit, and then declare a technical victory by scoring a few more hits than the enemy did.  You must crush the enemy and break them.  If you can’t do that, you’ve lost. 

Pub Battles Contest

Command Post Games is giving away 1 FREE Pub Battle game (your choice either Brandywine, Little Bighorn or Marengo) to 3 wise and lucky contestants.  You can find a copy of the Quickstart Rules and Tutorials on how to play on the Brandywine pages but you do NOT need to know the game to participate or answer the question.

Pub Battles is a fast, simple, musket era game that emphasizes command decisions. It can be played in teams with only delayed, written communication during the game between players.  This question is based on a real situation that came up in one of our games!


The beginning of the battle of Antietam, Sept 17, 1862, 5:30am. Assume historical starting positions. 

You are in command of Hooker’s I Corps with 1 battery of artillery:  The Blue Union Army, the 4 right most blocks.  No one else has moved yet.  Your Corps is first up to move. 

You are playing in a team game. The only communication allowed with other players is through written messages that suffer a 1 turn time delay before you can read them. 

Your starting orders read:

“March SE down the road to attack the enemy at Mercerville.”

The Question

Mercerville is to your right and directly West. Marching SE is in the opposite direction.  What is your best course of action?


  1. March SW and attack the 2 Confederates to the West near the river. (far left)
  2. Write a letter to President Lincoln, asking him to remove McClellan from command for incompetence and give the Army of the Potomac to you.
  3. March West into Mercerville and then await further orders.
  4. Release the Hounds.
  5. March SE and attack the Confederate position just south of the East Woods. (far right)
  6. Invite your staff to join you in a relaxing game of croquet.
  7. Make no moves. Send a written request for clarification of your orders & hold your position until you hear back.
  8. Give the messenger your personal compass and tell him to take it to McClellan.
  9. March SE and attack the Confederate position in the West Woods. (center)
  10. Advance and attack all enemy positions at once.
  11. Sigh and open a new bottle of whiskey.
  12. Other?  -describe

How to Enter

Simply email your answer to:   god[AT]


You may only answer once.

Employees and relatives of employees may not participate. 

Answers will be reviewed by an independent panel.  All best / correct answers will be put in a pool and randomly pulled to determine winners. 

International contestants are welcome.

We will send the winners a FREE Pub Battles game.  The games do not include measuring sticks.  We do ask you to pay shipping.  We will send you a PayPal invoice for this. 

Entries must be received August 11th through 31st, 2017. 



Top 3 Amazing things about Iron Bottom Sound III

Short Rules

I’ve spent years playing monsters like ASL and World in Flames. I’m not afraid of a long rule book and complex rules.  That said, I have been trending more towards shorter, simpler rules these days.  I must admit, I was a little reluctant to take on a game as detailed as Iron Bottom Sound.  I was expecting 60-100 pages of triple column, fine print. 

Amazingly no!  The rule book is only around 30 pages and half of those are scenarios.  Double column.  Big font size.  Easy to read with lots of space.  The actual rules only come in around 15 pages.  The rules make sense so they are easy to remember.  Very clean. 

Written Orders

What?!! How could that be?  Sounds like a mess.  It’s not.  It is amazing.  I love Columbia Games and Kriegsspiel because they bring in hidden and unknown features of war.  This game does the same thing only without umpires and blocks. 

Now at first I thought this sounds like a big hassle. You have to write out where each ship goes?  Who wants to sit around, hand writing orders.  Their system makes it painless, quick and fun.  How does it work?  You ships face hexsides.  Want to just steam dead ahead?  Fine.  How many Movement Factors does you ship have?  Five.  Ok, just write down “5” on your log.  That simple. 

Ok, then how do you turn? Easy.  Let’s say I want to move ahead for 2 hexes, then turn 60 degrees (that is the next hexside) to port and continue.  That would be:  2P3. 

Making a hard 120 deg turn costs an extra MF. So in that case you would write 2PP2.  All stop?  Just write: 0.  How hard it that?

These little order notes are easy to track on each ships log.


That’s pretty sleek and painless but still, why bother with all this writing? Because it is incredibly fun and realistic!!  All the ships move simultaneously.  So you have to try to guess what the enemy is going to do.  Where is he going to be?  Where do you want to end up?  Both players try to anticipate this and plan accordingly while writing down there moves. 

What happens when the enemy doesn’t move like you expect? I can easily imagine all sorts of tricks, maneuvers and mishaps.  Be careful because if your ship ends up in a hex with another ship, they can collide!  All the fun of Kriegsspiel without an umpire or teams in a straightforward 2 player game. 


This game is a gem!