Graphical Order Writing –Pub Battles Variant

We’ve experimented with several different order writing systems for Pub Battles over the years.  We love the idea of orders creating C&C limitations / time lag delaying your moves but all our attempts failed when they hit the table. They never seem to create any problems. You can still do all the things you could normally.

Last weekend, we decided to try a new experiment:  Graphical Orders.  Yeah I know.  They didn’t do orders like that back then.  True but we figured it was worth a quick test. Maybe we’ll learn something we can use in a modern era game.

Wow, were we surprised!  Graphical Orders in Pub Battles are fantastic.  Looking back now, it makes more sense. Formal written orders were the norm back then but those were typically issued from the Army to the Corps each night, while maneuvering on campaign. Once the battle was on, there wasn’t much need for that. Everybody is already there! Besides, during a battle, there usually isn’t time for all that. Things are happening too quick.

If you were a Corps Commander in a battle, you wouldn’t write orders to your Divisions. You’d probably just ride up to them in the field and give them quick, verbal orders: “We are going to move forward and form a line facing west along that ridge. See that clump of trees there? Anchor your right on that. Second Division will be on your left. Got it? Good. Go!”

Well guess what? Modern graphical orders turn out to be a great model of exactly that! Think of them as the Corps Commanders showing / telling their Divisions where to deploy in the field.

Now it’s going to take time for them to execute that right? Well, that’s the time from the beginning of the turn to when they actually move. In Pub Battles, a lot can happen during that time! There’s your delay. You have to plan ahead.

How to Use Graphical Orders

We printed a simple conference map on a letter sized page.  You can down load a copy for free here.  You have our permission to print off extra copies for your own personal use in playing the game.

The Conference Map is exactly 1/3 the scale of the regular map.  So you can use the same Pub Battles sticks & Chains on it.  A full move on the Orders Sheet is 1/3 of a move on the sticks. 

You’re also going to need some clear transparencies from your local office supply store.  While you’re there, pick up some fine point dry erase pens. 

Example 1

This is turn 2 at Gettysburg, Day 1.  Reynolds wants to march up to the Seminary.  You draw the ‘order’ like this:

Because he is marching on the road, he can move twice as far.  So that is 2 sections on the chains. 

The Difference

Ok so the problem is, Hill moves first.  Instead of driving on Gettysburg, he makes an unexpected shift to the right and marches south.

 In a regular game, Reynolds could just scrap the plan to march north and instead move west to block Hill. Now he can’t!  His column has to march as ordered:  up to the Seminary:

Now what?!

Example 2

Ok, now let’s back this situation up. Let’s assume for some reason that Reynolds just stopped for Turn 2 and didn’t march.

What happens now for Turn 3? Reynolds wants to get off the road and form a line on Seminary Ridge, directly to the west. You would draw that order like this:

Notice that you are just ordering the Corps as a whole. You don’t go into detail for each block, their exact move, rotation, etc.

Ok now if Reynolds moves first, that is fine. He’ll get up there along that ridge (mostly) before Hill does. If Hill orders to occupy the same position, then Hill will automatically launch an attack to take Seminary Ridge. You have to throw the enemy out, before you can occupy and defend it right?

Same goes for Reynolds. If Hill gets there first, Reynolds must attack uphill to take it!

What can you do as a Corps commander? 

You do have discretion over which divisions to put where and when to rally them.  It is also up to you to decide how hard to fight during combat.  Maybe you were ordered to attack but how hard to you push?  Do you attack with only Fresh units? Do you add support?  Do you fall back after 1 round of fighting to minimize casualties? Or do you keep pushing with Spent units in additional rounds, with an all-out effort to take the ground no matter what? This is left up to the Corps commanders to decide as it unfolds;  NOT put in the orders. 

If you don’t hold the ground, you are expected to advance and attack to take it. If you do hold the ground, you must defend it. If you are repulsed back, you must counterattack to get it back.

You are not allowed to move to another location without orders.

Note that the orders define a line that you are to hold and also the direction that your Corps faces.

Example 3

Alright now instead, let’s say Reynolds decides to just play it safe. He doesn’t want to risk losing troops in an uphill assault against the enemy. Instead, he decides to form his defense along the ridge in the Peach Orchard. He draws his orders thus:

Nice, except that these are Hill’s orders:

So the turn ends up like this:

Hill’s Objective is Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. -but Reynolds doesn’t know that yet.

Let’s say Hill moved first here. In a regular game, Reynolds could just move south to cover Devil’s Den and the Tops. Now he can’t. Those aren’t his orders! He MUST move into Peach Orchard, facing west as shown.

Next turn he can issue new orders to shift his Corps south to cover that ground. Fine, but who will move first? If Hill moves first, Reynolds will be having a very bad day.

Example 4

Ewell just attacked on turn 7.  There is 1 more turn left of daylight.  

On the left, Rodes was flipped and repulsed.  There is 1 Federal defender left on Culp’s Hill but they are spent also.  One more push might blow them out.

On the right, Early attacked Wadsworth on Cemetery Hill.  Half of Early’s men ran.  The other half are hanging on to Cemetery Hill but just barely.  They are spent, so it won’t take much to throw them back.  Wadsworth was repulsed too.  Lots of hard fightin!  So who won?  It depends on what happens next turn.  Right now, Cemetery Hill is up for grabs!

So what do you do next turn?  Ordinarily, that’s easy.  You just sit back and hope you get pulled to move first.  If you do, you rush forward, firmly occupy Cemetery Hill and sweep Culp’s Hill clean before nightfall.  If you don’t get the first move, roll to jump ahead.  If that fails, ok.  Just back off and setup camp for the night.  You can deal with it tomorrow. 

The Difference

Ok but with graphical orders, it’s not so easy.  You aren’t sure who will move first next turn but you have to write orders now.  If you order an attack but the Feds move first and solidify their line, you still have to attack!  The losses could be devastating.  Attacking prepared defenders in good terrain with spent divisions could very easily destroy 2/3 of your Corps!  Is this attack worth the risk?

This should give you a good feel for how to use these in your games.  Try it out and let us know how it goes.  Do you like it?  Did you see some issues with it?  Do you see some ways to make it better?

Fog of War in Games

This guy brings up several, fantastic points. It reminds me of Pub Battles. Some Grognards will complain about the lack of detail: “Where are the different combat factors and morale ratings, accounting for each individual unit? This game doesn’t look very ‘realistic’.”

Actually, it’s the opposite. As Dr. Pulsipher points out here, in real life, you don’t know all that information. You often don’t even know where your units are or what their current strength / status is!

Pub Battles pushes in this direction. Kriegsspiel goes even further! While gaming with the guys at the Command and General Staff College, I noticed a behavior I see often in Kriegsspeil: No Reports!

Each turn, the Commander sends out orders to his subordinate units. Fine, but they never report back. No SitReps. Where are they? What is their status? What is the enemy doing in their area? What do they expect to happen next? What do they need or want for support? Nothing. Silence. Turn after turn.

After 3-4 turns of silence, the Commander actually had to send out an Order to all his subordinates, instructing them to: REPORT! So simple. So crucial. So often overlooked.

Reading Contour Lines

There is some confusion out there on what the slope lines mean and how to read them.  Here are a few examples to clear things up. 

It may look a little messy at first but I actually like these old style slope lines much better than modern day contour lines.  It is easier for me to visualize up and down. 

In this example, Red is up on top the hill.  They can see down to Blue at the lowest elevation, sitting behind the stream.  Effect:  Red will have cover here if attacked by Blue.   

Red has dropped back here behind the ridge now.  They are on the Reverse Slope.  There is no line of sight between these units.  Effect:  Red will have cover if attacked by Blue.   

In this example, Blue is at the highest elevation.  They are up on top of the hill.  Red is still on the hill but further down the slope.  White is down at the base elevation at the lowest point.  Effect:  Blue will have cover here if attacked by Red.  Red will have cover if attacked by White.

Here, Red and Blue are both on the hill.  The issue is that they are both on the same slope.  There is no cover here for either side.  I would treat combat between these two units, the same as if they were on clear terrain. 

Kriegsspiel Puzzle

This is a fun little puzzle to sort out.  It reminds me of Kriegsspiel.

Both sides play Kriegsspiel blind via an umpire.  It is a lot like poker in some ways.  What does the enemy know?  What do they not know?  What do we know about the enemy?  What does their known action reveal about their motive and intent? 

These are all the types of questions you constantly puzzle over while playing Kriegsspiel.  It is exactly the type of thinking you need to solve this problem:

There is a secret prize hidden under one of these five objects.  The teacher privately tells the girl what the correct shape is.  The teacher privately tells the boy what the correct color is.

Next the teacher brings them both together.  The first one to pick the correct object gets the prize.    

Teacher:  Do either of you know where the prize is?


Teacher:  Do you know now?


Teacher:  Do you know now?

Boy and Girl:  Yes!

Where is the prize?

Fields of Fire

What makes up the Field of Fire range in musket warfare? The 1/3 foot move in Pub Battles is perfect and based on a ton of good data and research.  It is interesting to note where it comes from. Veteran officers of the era put together the data for Kriegsspiel which is as follows:  

Skirmish lines posted 100-300 paces out to the front.

Musket range:  100-400 paces.

So firing range measured from the front of a block, extends out 200-700 paces. 

You also need to take into account that the enemy block has a skirmish line out to their front, with a musket range projecting out from there.  So double those totals.  That gives us an engagement range of approximately 1,000 paces.  Yep, that’s about a half a mile.  That distance can be closed on foot in 10 minutes.    

This is also backed up by the battle maps of the era.  Where did they draw their battle lines and deploy?  Most are about 1,000 paces away.  It was standard practice of the day and no coincidence. 

There is another very good reason for this distance.  Canister range just so happens to be 800-1,000 paces.  All infantry units in Pub Battles at this scale are assumed to be carrying a complement of artillery with them.  So there ya go. 

The rules of Kriegsspiel state this but it is also common sense:  no unit is going to stand around under canister and skirmish fire for an hour and a half.  It just didn’t happen. 

This is also why the FoF doesn’t vary for the American Civil War.  It is mostly driven by canister and skirmishers, which was about the same.  At this scale any difference is negligible. 

I don’t have any good evidence for this but I also suspect that command reaction time played a role in this distance.  From 1,000 paces, the enemy can close with you in 10 minutes.  That’s just about enough time to shout out a couple of quick orders to rush up reserves or something.  Any closer and there would be no time for anything!  It would be like trying to box while standing 4 inches away from your opponent.   You need a little breathing room in a fight.