Using Period Maps in Wargames

I am designing the Pub Battles Borodino game.  Having researched and prepared the preliminary order of battle, and then prepared all of the blocks I needed to begin working on the deployment of the Russian army, I made an interesting discovery. 

As you may be aware, Pub Battles uses actual period maps of the battlefieldsas the game map.  In the case of Borodino, we are using a French map which,I believe,is from the Atlas prepared to accompany  the History du Consulat et de L’Empirepar,Volume 14 of which covers the battle of Borodino (published in Paris in 1856) by M. Adolphe Thiers.

As I was examiningthe source material and deploying the units on the period map, I was somewhat amazed (though in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been) by what the “game” was telling me.  The period map shows that the area is fairly heavily wooded and is quite hilly and covered with dry streambeds (and consequently, stream banks).  In some of the  ‘hex and counter’ wargames covering the Battle of Borodino, the maps are fairly devoid of terrain, with many clear terrain hexes, and much of the wooded areas depicted on Adolphe Thiers’ period map missing.

While I was placing units on the map, it became apparent that in 1812, Kutuzov was using the terrain to his best advantage.  Of course, his main line of defense is behind the Kalocza (also referred to as the Kalochka and other variants of the Russian spelling), which is a tributary of the Moskva River.  However, there is an area in the center of the Russian line, where Kutuzov deployed a couple of Army Corps in a line perpendicular to the main line.  Why there?  Well, the period map answers the question; behind the small stream running south is an embankment, and the troops placed there are on the high ground just behind and overlooking the stream.  When you look at the blank period map, you can’t help but notice the plateau (the village of Semenoffskoie is in the center of that “line” running north/south).  So, Kutuzov deployed Russian units there in a sort of natural reverse “fishhook” for those familiar with the battle of Gettysburg.  This position would allow the Russian troops deployed there to fire on the approaching French while they crossed the stream and climbed the embankments.  Later, when Kutuzov realized that Napoleon was approaching his left flank and was not planning on an assault over the Kalocza, Kutuzov then extended his line to the left and had the Shevardino redoubt built and added to the Russian position on the extreme left;  however, he left the two corps guarding the stream on the high ground in place

Then, as I was working out the deployment of the Guard corps, I saw “The Old Fox” Kutuzov, using his cunning to deploy the guard in a wooded ravine, where they would be virtually undetectable by the French until they were moved out of reserve.

Kutuzov also deployed Karpov’s Cossacks where they would be hidden in the wooded terrain near Outitsa (also known as Utitsa).  From what I have been able to learn, Tuchkov’s III corps was also deployed hidden ina wooded area not too far from Utitsa and the ‘Old Moscow Road.’(Determining the deployment of the III Corps on September 5th is a tricky undertaking).  Kutuzov wrote to the Tsar about the trap he had laid with III Corps, which was hidden on the left flank, and which was to be sprung when and if Napoleon tried to outflank him on the left.  Unfortunately for Kutuzov, another Russian commander, unaware of the ruse, repositioned III Corps closer to Outitsa and on open ground, without Kutuzov’s knowledge.

All of these things become readily apparent if you take the time to study the period map and look at how the Russian Army deployed for battle.  Having been a wargamer for over 50 years now, I can tell you that often such things are not so apparent when looking at many other wargames.   It seems that often, when maps are abstracted and “translated” onto a hex grid, much is lost in the translation from the source map to the game map.  Because Pub Battles gives you the period map as the game map, no such abstraction takes place; you have the original source right there in front of you.

By: Charles F. Bryant, II

A New History of Waterloo

I’m about half way through Alessandro Barbero’s book “The Battle: A New History of Waterloo.” It is a very readable book that is hard to put down. I can’t wait to play Waterloo again, the Pub Battles coverage is very accurate, and it will be fun playing it again with Napoleon’s plan. His plan was, as always, let’s attack and be prepared to strike wherever opportunity presents itself. He had no idea of Wellington’s defenses because they were all on reverse slopes. He did have the Grand Battery deploy in the center and shelled there, expecting a breakthrough, which d’Erlon’s Corps could exploit. Although Reille had the bigger Corps at the start of the campaign, after Ligny it was smaller than d’Erlon’s fresh I corps. If one was going to be a purist, a block would be switched from II Corps to I Corps, but that’s a small matter.

The cool thing about Pub Battles is that you can read the history of a battle and try out the General’s plans and such. With most detailed combat focused games you get too buried in the minutia to really try out the big picture plans. Plus, with most games it takes many hours of play to get through a battle. Typically, a quicker playing game sacrifices authenticity; Pub Battles focuses on real command concerns, and delivers the goods.

-Mike Strand

Pub Battles Orders Beta

We’ve been getting very good results with these rules!

We plan on including them in the new 4.0 Pub Battle rules we are working on. Here is a copy of them for you to download and test out; along with correctly scaled Order Sheets!

2mm Miniature Gettysburg

This is my first miniature army! I know!! Time for show and tell. I’m using these directly on the map, in place of the standard Pub Battles blocks.

Buford’s Cavalry screens along McPherson’s Ridge. Heth’s Division comes down the pike and deploys along Herr’s Ridge. That is Hill’s HQ and the baggage train behind them.
Here comes Reynolds marching up the Emmitsburg Road. That’s Wadsworth in front, followed by Robinson and the baggage train.
This is how they compare to the regular Pub Battles blocks. Each unit is made up of 4 little, metal stands.
These are the next reinforcements coming in.
Titus ponders the implications of Rowley’s division entering on Heth’s right… Nah, he’s probably thinking about swiping them off the table.
This is Reynold’s Corps in blocks.
Buford in block equivalent. I’m surprised that Titus hasn’t taken out Rowley yet.
How do you know who is who? Each unit is made up of 4 stands. I use the Right most stand for ID. I painted the bottoms of the stands in white. Then I wrote the ID with a fine tipped Sharpie. So the left unit here would be the 3rd Division from III Corps. (In this case, it’s Heth’s left because the Reb Divs. are so big.) Hill is marked there with a III.
So they all look the same when they are standing up. This is good for FoW but is a bit more fussy. How do you track Spent status? I suppose you could flip them over but that doesn’t look good. Mark them with some kind of token / chit? If you track them on a separate OB sheet, you could also count additional step losses. -Kind of like in Kriegsspiel. I’m not sure if all that is worth the trouble.
Heth attacks and drives back Buford. Reynolds marches up to the Seminary.
Wadsworth, supported by Robinson attacks Heth on McPherson’s Ridge. Rowley marches in on his left. That’s Pender and the artillery coming around behind Heth.
Here comes Howard up the Emmitsburg Road. The baggage train moves off the road onto Cemetery Hill for now.
This is a view of the same situation from Titus’ angle.
What’s cool about these minis, is that they are scaled to Kriegsspiel! Each of those little stands equates to a standard KS block.
This is what the Cav and baggage train would look like in KS blocks.
This came out a little blurry but you can see how they all compare: minis, Kriegsspiel blocks, Pub Battles blocks.

You can get these minis at Irregular Miniatures. They are a great company. They have lots of great minis. They also make standard KS blocks in metal! Check them out.

Best Ukraine War Board Game?

“This is by far the most relevant and realistic board game in existence in my humble opinion.” -Spencer A.

Serious wargamers often overlook Supremacy. It’s just a beer & pretzels game, right? RISK with Nukes.

It works well at that but under the hood is a very sophisticated political, economic and military model of simulation! There is a lot more going on in this game than meets the eye.

What causes conflict and tension on the international stage? How do nations manage or mismanage it? How to wars start? How do you contain them and resolve them? These are some of the key questions that Supremacy raises.

Some games claim to model the war in Ukraine but they are missing one key element: No Nukes. If a nuclear exchange is not possible in the game, then it’s not a good model. That would be like playing Poker with no money. It misses the point.

Here is some other recent feedback we’ve gotten:

Minors and Fortuna are a lot of fun. We just played for the first time yesterday. The minors have a mind of their own. A bit like having a NPC/CPU conducting independent actions. As Russia, I’ve had to work with my adversaries (US) in order to eradicate a pandemic in Angola with an ‘expeditionary force’ and take turns across the globe!

-Spencer A.

Pub Battles -Not So Simple

When I first tried Pub Battles, I played it like any other wargame with ZoC’s and units frozen in place once contacted by the enemy.

Using Alter Rolls to move first became the order of the day. (Successful Alter Rolls allow a player to jump ahead or delay when they move.) When Andrew and I were playing Brandywine, we would frequently roll for every command. We thought moving first was so critical. 

It became a dice-off every turn. We both kind of concluded the system didn’t really work. I went back and reread the rules several times trying to make them fit with my preconceived notions. We were playing it all wrong. After exchanging a few e-mails with the company, I finally “got it.”

That was when I became obsessed with this system. The subtlety of choosing whether to move first or last; and understanding the ramifications is incredibly complex. Which is better? It depends on the situation and what you are trying to do. I was hooked.

I didn’t get the point of adding Baggage Trains at first. Now I love them. It pulls together strategic concerns, C&C, logistics and victory, all in one simple little rule. It’s brilliant.

As simple as the rule seems, it is bewildering to new players. This feels in line with the Pub Battles system. Simple rules, very complex decisions.

It has become my favorite game.

-by Mike Strand

The Importance of  Weather Gage:  Pirate Scenario

This is a fun little exercise to teach and learn the importance of weather gage.  You are windward if you are closer to the wind than your opponent.  In square rigged ships, this gives a tactical advantage called:  Weather Gage. 

If you have weather gage, you can decide IF there will be an engagement at all.  If you don’t want a fight, you can turn about and reach up into the wind.  A leeward ship, (downwind from you) will never be able to catch you.  Assuming they go the same speed:  you are both square rigged ships with no damage.

Both players start with Sloops.  The Merchant has 1 crew and 5 cargo.  The Pirate has 3 crew and 3 guns.  Arrange the ships thus, with the wind to the Merchant’s back:

Merchant in Red

Pirate in Black

As the Pirate, see if you can force a fight and capture / sink the Merchant. 

As the Merchant, see if you can escape and slip past the Pirate.  If you can’t, call off the engagement and just escape safely off your own map edge. 

With practice, a skilled Merchant will ALWAYS win.  The Pirate should never be able to catch them. 

Play this several times on each side.  Got it down?  Good.  Now give the Pirates a Brig.  Can the Merchant still win?  The Brig is faster but the Merchant still has Weather Gage. 

Alright, now give the Pirates a Schooner.  Schooners are actually faster beating up into the wind, while you are slower!!  Who wins most of the time now? 

The Baltimore Privateers (schooner)  were smaller but they were a favorite of Pirates.  Do you see why?

What do we learn from all this?  Here are some general guidelines to follow:

With Weather Gage, against other square rigged ships:

-Use it!  Fight on YOUR terms. 

-If things go wrong, you can break off the fight and escape by beating into the wind.

 With Weather Gage, against Schooners:

-You are in a very dangerous situation.  You can’t escape by beating into the wind!  They’ll catch you. 

-IF you can’t fight them, your only chance is to juke past them with a brilliant move and then make a run for it!  Remember, Schooners go slower while running.  You go faster.  With a little luck and a very tricky maneuver, you might be able to escape downwind.  It won’t be easy.

What if you’re both sailing Schooners?  Well, then you’re on equal terms, right?  Since you’re both going the same speed, standard Weather Gage advantage applies.  You can escape windward.  You can fight when and where you want. 

Increasing the Fog of War

Pub Battles does a great job at Fog of War.  Here are a few variant or house rules we’ve been experimenting with to make this even thicker!

Hidden Status

Why rotate the block face up when spent?  It shows the enemy what you have and their status!  Shouldn’t this be kept secret? 

Instead of rotating Spent blocks up, we flip them upside down.  We also keep them facing their player when they retreat.  This keeps them hidden, as they should be. 

-Instead of centering the stickers, I put these on lined up with the bottom edge.  Just for kicks.  ??  I kind of like it better.  They look more like the Kriegsspiel blocks this way.  It also gives you a better visual cue for which way the block is facing.  They are also easier to put on the block without getting crooked.  You can just line them up flush with the bottom.  I think I’m going to keep stickering my new games this way!

Hidden Blocks

While we’re on the subject, why not keep the whole block secret too?  Why tell the enemy which unit it is?  What its quality is?  Is it just a Detachment or an Elite? 

Let them keep guessing as you fight round to round.   They should at least know the type:  infantry, artillery or cavalry. 

Hidden Dice

Why should the enemy know how many hits you just took in that last shot?  This should be unknown really, right?  We’ve been experimenting with pulling chits from a bag or pool rather than rolling dice.  The player taking the hits should pull and then implement the results in secret.  You can easily make your own chits or maybe even a small deck of cards.

Hidden HQ

The board looks cool with the flags all showing face up. 

The problem with this, is that when you flip your HQ when it Alters, it reveals who that general is! 

Why should the enemy know that?  Better to keep this secret, right?  Instead, place your Fresh HQs with the gold, leader’s name side down, the flag facing towards you. 

Rotate it Flag up when you Alter.  There.  Now you can still keep track of who has already Altered, but the enemy is still left in the dark.  As it should be. 

Yes, some of this will help with Solitaire play too. If none of the blocks are face up, when you spin the board around, all you see is a field of hidden blocks. That makes it easier to forget exactly what they had where and their status.

How to Ask Questions Like Captain Kirk

I’ve always been a big fan of Captain Kirk.  One of the things that amazes me most is his brilliant questions.  He always seems to ask just the right thing at just the right time.

Why does God need a starship?

The right question at the right time is incredibly powerful.  It is like a superpower!  Imagine what it could do for you in sales with your customer, in management with your employees, in parenting with your kids, or in a relationship with your spouse. 

Long ago, I set out to learn to ask questions like Kirk.  I read books.  I watched him in Star Trek.  I studied Socrates.  I tried to focus.  Think, think.  What would Kirk ask?!  What do I say?  A critical moment would come up and I would just freeze like a deer in headlights.  Nothing. 

After years of trying?  Nothing at all.  No change in my behavior or skill level.  I finally just gave up.  I guess I’m just not brilliant like Captain Kirk.  Ha, if I only had a team of great Hollywood script writers working for me!  Maybe this isn’t something you can do in real life.

Last year we made and released a Pirate board game.  Fun!  After playing it for several months I started noticing some changes in my behavior.  Subtle at first, but then a massive shift.  Kirk like questions were effortlessly flowing out of me in rapid succession.  In just about all areas of my life: 

Our tire is looking a little low on the car.  Why?  Is it really low?  What is the pressure?  Is it safe to drive on?  How far to the nearest tire shop?  Can we make it?  How old is this tire?  How much tread is left?  How worn are the other tires?  Should we replace them all or just 2?  Can the others wait until fall? 

Wow.  I was finally doing it!  Asking questions like Kirk, but how?  Why?  I wasn’t even trying to.  I gave up years ago.  I had mostly forgotten about it.

Then it occurred to me.  It was the Pirate game.  What?  Really?  Yes!  The Pirate game turned me into Captain Kirk.  This is a profound lesson on learning and training.  I now realize that I had it all wrong.  I was doing it backwards.  This was my thinking:

Here I was at the bottom.  My goal?  To be like Kirk.  At least be more like him when it comes to asking questions.  Ok so how do I get there?  Well, I have to focus on and figure out how to ask questions better right?  Makes sense. 

WRONG!!!!   That doesn’t work.  I tried in vain for years with zero results.  That’s backwards.  To achieve this breakthrough, you have to do the opposite.  Here’s what the process actually looks like:

The goal isn’t to be like Kirk.  Asking great questions is the goal.  Actually it’s more like the natural result:  where you end up.  Ok, so how do you get there?  You BE Kirk.  Captain a ship for about 10 years. 

Kirk doesn’t ask great and timely questions because he is naturally brilliant at asking questions.  He didn’t learn it by going to school, reading books or practicing questions.  His questioning skills are what resulted from his career.  Serving as a Captain makes you that way.  It rewires your brain to think like that.  Captain a ship for 10 years.  Lead it through 10 battles at sea and you’ll start to think and behave like a Captain too.  Just like Kirk. 

Gee, that’s great but I don’t have 10 years to spend captaining ships in battles at sea.  How could anybody ever do that?  By playing Pirates! 

Yep, as silly as that sounds, it’s true.  That is one of the amazing powers of playing games.  They can give you real life experience;  but not just any game.  It has to be a good game that is designed and set up to teach you the right lessons. 

Most games are really just puzzles.  What exactly are they teaching you?  How to get through the next level faster? Most of them teach you how to be a good little worker bee.  Pirates! the Devil & the Deep, teaches you to be a leader.  It puts you in the role of captaining a ship.  You are responsible for that ship and all aboard.  You have to assess damage and assign your crew accordingly.  You have to get inside the head of the enemy.  Where will they go next?  How can you out maneuver them?  Learning to play this game, teaches you to analyze and think in terms of questions.  It teaches you to anticipate and plan for the future. It rewires your brain to think like a captain.

A good game can teach us in the natural way. The way our brains are designed to learn best:  through experience.  They can do it much quicker too!  It won’t take 10 years.  You can fight 10 Pirate battles in about 5-8 hours, if you wanted. 

I wouldn’t recommend doing it all at once like that.  I fought 1 battle per week.  Each game took 30-60 minutes.  In between battles, I spent lots of time in self reflection.  Why did the game end up like that?  Where did I go wrong?  What did I do right?  What should I try in the next game to be better?

After about 10 games, you’ll start to change too.  You’ll start to think like a real Captain.  Why?  Because you’ll have experience as a captain. 

Just like Kirk. 

Waiting to Move

What to Do in a Board Game with Lots of Players

Some people don’t like big multiplayer board games.  There’s too much down time.  What do you do while all the other players are doing their turns?  You sit around being bored.

This is a HUGE mistake!  The trouble isn’t that the game is boring.  You just don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing.  They don’t tell you this in the rule book.  You’re just supposed to know. 

Here are 5 Tips: While you’re waiting to move.


We’re using Supremacy here as an example but these same principles apply to most big multiplayer board games. 

What to Do While You’re Waiting to Move?

No Phones

First of all, silence or turn off your cell phone.  Our standing House Rule for board game night is:  No Cell Phones!  This is a great rule to adopt.  If you just want to sit by yourself and check your posts, messages, etc. then go do that.  You’re here to play a game right?  Then play! 

We think we ‘multi-task’ but we really don’t.  Scientific studies show that we can really only focus on 1 thing at a time. 

Besides being rude, it also hurts your play!  There are a ton of things you’re supposed to be doing.  In a FPS video game, this is obvious.  How well would you do in Call of Duty if you spent 30% of the time on your cell phone?  Just because it’s not your turn, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do.  The game is afoot!

If you don’t have a House Rule for no cell phones, watch for players on their phone.  Target them.  They will be easy prey.  They will always be surprised and unprepared. 


How do you defeat your enemies?  You attack their weakness.  Avoid their strength.  Great but how do you know what that is?  You watch!  This is your Intell operation.  While they are moving, you should be watching them like a hawk.  Every move.  What does that mean?  How can you best exploit that?  In most games, there are pros and cons to every action.  This is especially true in Supremacy.  Here are a few specific examples:

1 Let’s say Japan moves first.  The Market prices are high.  They sell off all their resources.  Ok, what does that mean?  It means they just made a TON of cash.  You’re not going to be bankrupting them anytime soon. (their strength)  Economic pressure won’t have any immediate effect, but without resources, they won’t be able to build! THAT’S their weakness.  They won’t be able to move and fire in a conventional fight.  Now is your time to strike!!  Invade.  Seize their key factories.  It will be several turns before they can respond.  By then, it may be too late.  Start planning your attacks now, while waiting to make your trades.  How many resources will you need to launch these attacks?  Will your production be short?  How many extra will you need to buy?  NOW is your time to think and plan all of this!

2 China builds.  Fine but what do they build?  A bunch of Navies!  That is unusual for a land power.  What does that mean?  It means that they must have worked out some sort of diplomatic agreement with Russia and the Commonwealth.  China trusts them.  It means that they are about to project their power out across the sea, but to where?  Watch their eyes.  When they look at the map, what part of the map do that look at the most?  All these clues telegraph their next intentions. Prepare now. Note also that if they built lots of Navies, that means they will be weaker as a ground force on land. That is a vulnerability. How can you take advantage of that?


If you get a chance, try to spend some time thinking about and planning your next move.  This will speed up the game.  It also minimizes the intell other players can pick up on YOU!  While you’re moving, you won’t need to be looking at the area of the map you are going to be invading next.  You already did that while they were distracted making their move.  You won’t have to think. 

What resources are you going to buy?  Which ones to sell?  How many?  If you work out what you will do ahead of time, you will execute it quick.  In a flash your turn will be over.  Out of sight, out of mind.  The less time they will all have to carefully watch you during YOUR turn. 

Strategy management planning process flow chart showing key business terms analyze, develop, plan, execute and monitor


As with planning, you can also conduct diplomatic efforts while other players are moving.  This can help to speed up the game.  It gives you something to do while you ‘wait’ for your turn.  It can also be a huge advantage. 

Coalition and Alliance building is key in Supremacy.  This is also true with most multiplayer games.  While certain players are distracted moving, now is a great time to launch sneaky diplomatic efforts.  Build new allies!  Point out to neutral players the ‘aggressive’ actions of the player that is moving.  While distracted, they likely won’t hear or be able to defend themselves.   

This is also a good time to chip away at their alliances.  Sew doubt in the minds of their partners.  “Are you sure you can trust them?  Do you see what they just did?  I hope they don’t double cross you!  That looks exactly like something a player would do before they attack you!”, etc.


Can you influence and alter a player’s move?  You bet!  What are they doing?  Is that what YOU want them to do?  What exactly do you want them to do?  You know what your plan is now right?  Ok, so what would be the best thing for them to do for YOUR plan? What would make your job easier?  Yep, add this to your planning mission.  After you have your own plan, you need to have a good plan for all the other players too!  Friends and foes. 

You’re getting ready to launch an attack on the EU this turn, right?  Well that attack would go a lot easier for you if they were short on minerals and couldn’t supply a committed defense right?  Can you encourage them to sell more when they trade? 

“Oh no.  They are very stubborn.  They would never do anything I suggest.”  Good, then push them to do the opposite.  Suggest that they buy lots of extra resources!  “You never know when you might need them for a rainy day!  You better not sell so much.”

“Oh yeah?  What are you trying to do?  Make sure I miss out on lots of great windfall profits like everybody else?  I’ll show you!”

Yep, they sure did, didn’t they? 

See?  Now you have so much to do during other player’s turns, that you’ll be hoping they take even longer!  Soon you’ll wonder how you were ever bored while everybody else was moving.