May 21, 2017

First impressions of “Chain of Command”

Upplagd av Minondas

For the wargamers who just arrived from outer space, let’s start with a short introduction to “Chain of Command”. It’s one of the “newest” rulesets from Too Fat Lardies and it’s a WWII skirmish ruleset. One miniature represents one man and one vehicle or artillery piece model represents a corresponding single real world piece of equipment. The ruleset focuses on combat between forces of platoon size with some reinforcements. While it allows the player to directly control every individual figure, the basic manouver and fire units are squads of 8-12 men. Those can be further split into (usually) two teams, which is how most units of that size operated in real life. Specialized weapon teams, such as bazooka or medium machine gun teams provide additional firepower. Command and control is performed by ‘leaders’ of two types; junior leaders usually lead individual squads and weapon teams, while senior leaders provide control at platoon comman level, allowing coordination between individual sub-units of the platoon. Ruleset caters for support units in all forms and shapes – tanks, mortars, artillery (both on the table as well as off-board), engineers, etc are all handled. D6 dice is used throughout the ruleset.

“Chain of Command” has been around for a while now (about three or four years, I believe) and many reviews have allready been written about it, both in printed publications and online. So I will not try to reinvent the wheel by writing yet another lengthy review that will hardly add anything new to what’s already been said and written. If you’re interested in a detailed analysis, I recommend for you to listen to episode 106 of Meeples&Miniatures podcast or read an excellent review posted on Anatoli’s Game Room blog. Both of them provide a very good overview of this ruleset.

So what’s the point of this post of mine then? Well, I hope to provide a ‘rookie’ gamer’s initial impression based on two games I’ve run yesterday. In the first one I acted as Game Master, in the other one (enriched by my impressions of the first game) I took over one of the gaming seats.

The setup

Since it would be a first experience of the ruleset for all involved sides, I’ve picked up the most basic generic scenario that is included in the ruleset – an encounter between two patrols in no-man’s land. In this setup, the players start by establishing their initial zones of control with help of simple meta-game. Basically a bunch of markers are moved over the board until they come into 12’’ of one of enemy marker. Once this is done, players select their jump-off points in territory they control – computer game players can think of those as spawning points. These define where individual squads, teams and leaders can be deployed on the table.

To further simplify the task of ‘first game’, I decided to play on smaller area than recommended 6x4’ table. The game would be played on my kitchen table, which is only 5x3’. The terrain setup was my own creation – i basically threw whatever terrain I had available on the table with hope that this random arrangement would provide for a good game.

Finally, I decided to limit order of battle to a single basic platoon and no support units. So both sides (German and American) had their three squads consisting of an LMG team and rifle team to play with. Each of the squads was led by a junior leader. Furthermore, Americans had at their disposal two platoon leaders and a bazooka team, while Germans had a single platoon leader and a panzerschreck team.


Game one

In our first game the Americans, played by T., managed to gain control both of the hill and the house in the initial phase. This gave him a huge advantage from the start and set the tone for the game. He deployed one squad in the house and the other two along the ridge of the hill. L. responded by deploying one of his squads in the hedges by the crossroad and the other one in the woods by the ‘northern’ foot of the hill (by the chairs in the picture above Smile). The MG team of that squad gained a foothold on the hill, deploying in the rock outcrops in its northern end. And that was it… both sides started to hammer each other, with Germans clearly getting the worst of it. After a fire-fight lasting over several phases, L. suffered eight casualties to two of T, the  machine gun teams of both of his deployed teams were wiped out and the remainder of the squad in the hedges by the road was pinned by T.s fire from the house. To put it plainly, he was screwed and he knew it. Thus, we ended that game.


Game two

T. left our company by that time and L. and I gave it another go. Wiser by the experience, L. managed to claim the posession of the house in the initial phase of the game, while I grabbed the hill and the high ground to the south of it.

L. then proceeded by deploying a squad on second floor of the house and another by the wall outside the walled house court. I responded by establishing the line of fire along the ridge with one squad, deploying the second in the rough ground at the southern foot of the hill. I deployed my third squad behind the hill, out of sight. My plan was to move it around the hill and hit the house from the north. Once again, L. never bothered to deploy his third squad, probably waiting with it until he found out my intentions for the squad behind the hill.


In some respects our game developed in similar manner to the previous. L. blasted at my guys in the rough ground, while I tried to hit him hard with fire from the hill. The pressure mounted on units on both sides, but yet again an impass seemed to occur almost instantly. After a couple of phases I grew tired of this static character of the game and decided to take a risk. I ordered the squad on the hill to fire suppressive fire at the Germans in the house – this is a temporary state where the incoming fire won’t cause any damage, but automatically reduces fire effectivness of any enemy units that are in the sector where suppressive fire is ‘applied’. This was a preparation step for my next action, which was a mad dash across open field toward the house by the rifle team of the squad in the rough ground.


As Germans hunkered down under suppressive fire, the advancement was completed without any casualties. L. reacted by dropping a couple of grenades on my guys who were now huddling directly below, hiding behind the arcade walls of the house. My luck held and noone was hurt by the explosions. Naturally, as soon as I had the opportunity, I pushed on into the house. A vicious close combat for control of the house now took place… with disastrous consequences for the my side. Once the dust settled, six out of my soldiers were dead, with the sole unhurt man trying to patch up his wounded leader. Normally, such outcome would rout the survivors, but considering the enclosed surroundings we agreed that my survivors were now POW;s.

L.s triumph came however at a cost of three casualties and a wounded squad leader. Another round of whittling fire from the hill completed the grim job, breaking the German squad and forcing them to flee the house.

At this time we were at it for five hours and were more than satisified with the entertainment of the day. Thus, the second game also ended inconclusively.

Musings after the battle

After a single evening, it is far too early to say anything definite about this ruleset. But there is a couple of things I can say with conviction even after this brief exposure.

  • First and foremost, I am not at all surprised that so many people have been raving about ‘Chain of Command’ over last couple of years. It is a cracking ruleset and I will definitely invest much more time and effort into it.
  • In one rather important respect, ‘Chain of Command’ seems to be a very different beast when compared with other similar rulesets (‘Arc of Fire’ and ‘Bolt Action’ comes to mind). Let me explain.

    Over the years, I have learned to identify (and also exhibited myself) in gamers a phenomenon that I believe can be called ‘a stress cone’ – once a player sets his mind on a ‘target’, be it an enemy unit or a specific location, its destruction must be accomplished. And as the game progresses, this target increasingly becomes the sole focus of gamer’s attention. When this happens, a certain blindness to alternative solutions seems to occur. Flanking manouvers, an often valid option of breaking of contact and re-deployment or employment of less obvious assets is no longer considered – the initial goal must be accomplished. What’s even more important, it must be accomplished by direct assault and destruction by fire or close combat. To an unengaged observer, such behavior may seem odd, sometimes even bisarre. But if you think about it, we all occasionally exhibit it and many of us much more often than not!

    So what does this have to do with ‘Chain of Command’? Well, in most wargame ruleset, the initial phase of the game consists of manouvering the units into contact with the enemy. As this takes time, it also allows players to logially consider their options. Once the units come into contact and ‘combat’ starts to happen, player’s attention shifts to the actual action. He may then enter further and further into this ‘stress cone’ I’ve mentioned above. What seems to be special about ‘Chain of command’ is the fact that with this ruleset, the opposing units can be deployed pretty much on top of each other directly at the start of the game. And indeed, this is exactly what the designer of the ruleset states – a game of ‘Chain of command’ starts with opponents already in contact with each other! In other words, players are placed immediately at the small end of the ‘stress cone’ with consequence of ‘shootout’ games being a very tangible possibility if one is not careful and remains cool-headed. But if a player manages to keep his cool and remembers the simple fact that you don’t have to shoot at an enemy as soon as he’s visible, this ruleset has a possibility to provide a damn realistic experience of low level combat in WWII setting.

Allright, enough of ‘deep thoughts’ for this time around. Let me round this post up with repeating the sentiment that ‘Chain of Command’ seems to be an excellent ruleset. If you haven’t yet, you should definitely give it a shot (pun intended). Smile

5 kommentarer:

Andy Duffell said...

Good comments.

I'd suggest playing one of the scenarios where you've got an attacker and defender.

You'll see that as a defender not only are you not obliged to blaze away as soon as possible, but it's actually to your advantage to not even deploy any troops until the attacker forces you to!

Pat G said...

Good AAR. I second what Andy said. There is a lot of subtlety in these rules.

Scott Clinton said...

Thanks for the post! A couple of us really, REALLY love this game and are trying to get the local "Bolt Action"/"Flamers of War" crowd to give it a go....we can use all the help we can get!

Trailape said...

Thomas Nissvik said...

Excellent report. Start preparing for GothCon 2019 where we will be running Market-Garden games using CoC.

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