Saturday, September 7, 2013

Initial Impressions of 'Chain of Command: Rules for WWII Combat at Platoon Level' (used for Spanish Civil War)



Last night I hosted an introductory game of 'Chain of Command', the new, toast-of-the-town, WWII skirmish rules from Too Fat Lardies. As I hadn't had the SCW collection out for awhile I thought I'd let them stretch their legs and take in the Segovian air. This won't be a detailed review of the rules, as there are many fine examples already available, but more outlining our initial impressions of the system and an invitation to others to comment with their experiences.


Sylvain's Carlist Requetes in their distinctive red tams, giving fire from behind a stone wall.
The scenario I cooked up was a meeting engagement on the outskirts of Madrid during the early autumn of 1936. Artillery spotters, both Republican and Nationalist, want control of a ruined stone farmhouse situated on a small hill being that it provides a good vantage point of the surrounding area, and so two opposing platoons have been tasked to secure this valuable piece of real estate.


Members of the International Brigade moving through a field under covering fire of their LMG team.
I kept things relatively simple by limiting the scenario to a pure infantry engagement. Both sides had three sections, including a couple LMG support teams and two teams of light mortars (so around 30-odd figures for each side). Peter and Sylvain commanded the Nationalists while Stacy and myself raised our fists, pledging 'No Pasaran!' for the Republican cause.


Guardia Civil with a light mortar and Moroccan LMG in the background. The disc faced with the Spanish Nationalist colours is a 'jump-off' marker where their forces can be introduced into the game.
(Note: Throughout this post you will see a dog's breakfast of photos of the game. These shots are from the morning after as I usually hate breaking up play with paparazzi nonsense and frankly I'm complete crap with night photography). 


Some Anarchists moving through a small crop of corn. A Republican 'jump-off' marker in the background.

It took a short bit of time to bring the guys up to speed with the basic rules concepts. As they had all played 'Through the Mud and The Blood', which has many similar mechanics to 'Chain of Command', we were pretty confident we'd have no problem bodging our way through the evening.



We quite enjoyed the Patrol Phase, which is virtually a game within a game itself. In this very clever pre-game segment both sides maneuver patrol markers (usually four to a side) to establish the rough battlelines for the engagement. Once one of your patrol markers comes within 12" of an opposing patrol marker they are both 'locked down' and can no longer move. It can be quite cagey as both sides try to edge up to advantageous terrain, all the while desperately avoiding getting 'locked down' in a poor position. We were quite amused at our final result which basically pivoted our positions 90 degrees and had us fighting down the length of the board instead of the width where we had initially started.


Republicans in a tight spot, under fire from rifles, mortars and a LMG. 
Once the Patrol Phase was completed the 'main event' rattled along at a fairly rapid pace. I think all of us liked the command dice mechanic for activations/rewards/special events. It's somewhat similar to 'Bolt Action' but I find it has much more depth and tension. We were also struck by the variable length of the turns. The first couple of turns wound down quite quickly, but the rest of the game was consumed in the final two turns which probably lasted for 12 or so phases in of themselves. This can provide a bit of nail-biting fun as the longer a turn lasts there is more chance of things happening, both good and bad. Sometimes you want the turn to linger so you can patch-up a flank or press an advantage, while other times you wish for it to end so it seals the fate of a breaking enemy unit, lifts an artillery barrage, allows a wounded leader to regain consciousness, etc. 


The bloodied Moroccans take the objective and hang on.
While the beginning of the game saw some good fortune for the Republicans, in the end Sylvain and Peter took possession of the hilltop ruin with their Moroccan Regulares who used it as a base of fire to dominate, and ultimately pick apart, the Republican line. In the end they managed reinforce their position with a flanking section of Guardia Civi and so Stacy and I conceded, the Republicans melted back into the countryside and we all shook hands over a good evening's entrainment.


Guardia Civil advancing cautiously on the Republican right flank.
A poor Republican LMG team suffering under withering Carlists rifle fire.

Our impressions? A very good and innovative set of rules. The very nature of a 'first play' means that you end up blundering through some mechanics not knowing the full implications until later. We found this particularly the case with the Patrol Phase as it has a significant effect on how the game plays out (as Stacy and I discovered). The rules, while simple, are quite nuanced and reward good tactical thinking, but introduce a healthy dose of 'friction' through the command dice mechanic. If you already play a platoon-level set of rules like 'Bolt Action' I strongly suggest you try 'Chain of Command' as an alternate change-of-pace. 

'Chain of Command' worked very well in our Spanish Civil War setting. Frankly, this should come as no real surprise as the war in Spain concluded only months before Germany entered Poland, so the weapons, vehicles and tactical organizations are very similar. I think CoC could easily be modified to reflect the wide variety of troop qualities, vehicles and weapon types that operated in the Spanish Civil War. For example, I'm thinking of grafting in the rules for ammunition 'stoppages' from 'Through the Mud and the Blood' to reflect the execrable ammunition quality suffered by the Republicans during the conflict.

Perhaps my only concern with the rules is that they give the impression that both sides need to be similar is size (i.e. platoon vs platoon) in order for the system to work to its strengths. I'm curious to how well the rules will adapt to asymmetrical scenarios such as a small elite unit contending with a much larger force. I'm sure they've been tested in this manner but I'm keen to see how they fair. In light of this I have another CoC scenario in mind which I will post on soon.

Again, highly recommended. 

47 comments:

  1. They do sound a good set of rules! Some great pics too, love the cornfield.

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    1. Yes, the cornfield is a perennial favourite (even though corn is not a perennial...).

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  2. Nice pics, rules sound interesting.

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    1. Thanks Simon, yes they're very good and worth their dosh.

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  3. Those rules sound dangerously interesting to me. Might end up with a set after all! Good report too and useful.

    Thanks.

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    1. Thanks Gary. Yes, give them a go. The PDF version is very reasonably priced in my opinion.

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  4. Great looking game and table Curt! I of course like your period choice.

    I'll give the rules a look for sure as your and Sidney's report sounds very positive, but I must admit I'm not in a hurry as I'm very satisfied with Operation Squad at the moment.

    Christopher

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    1. You're right, 'Operation Squad' is great but I think of it as a great squad-level set of rules whereas CoC positions itself one level higher at the platoon so I think there is room for both sets in the 'golf bag' of rules.

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    2. Oh yes I think their is room for a platoon level game, but with that comes higher figure count requirements. That's not too much of a problem when painting none camouflaged units, but when painting splinter camo and such it's a lot of work to step up.;-)

      Christopher

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  5. Very nice table and great miniatures as well.

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    1. Cheers Andrew but I still feel that my terrain is a bit lacking. We'll be chatting soon to see if you can help me rectify this!

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  7. I really must resist, now I have seen your table.
    Cheers
    seb

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    1. Thank you Seb. It's a very colourful period of history and very interesting to collect.

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  8. You have an excellent collection!
    I have been playtesting the rules and worked well in a couple of scenarios with "unbalanced" scenarios (but have you ever seen a balanced battle in the real world?)
    Note aside: the flag used for your Nationalist forces is the current constitutional Spanish flag; Franco's flag had an emblem with an eagle.

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    1. Thank you Benito! I'm happy someone is trying the system with asymmetrical forces - as you infer, life is so very rarely equal.

      Thanks for the tip on the flag. I got it from a website purporting it as Franco's wartime flag. This is what you get when you don't check your sources! Oh well, another slip on the long SCW learning curve...

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    2. My pleasure
      See in this a flag of the First Navarre Division
      http://www.requetes.com/rafael.html

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    3. Ahh, I see. I wish I would have found that earlier. It's the trouble of Google searching only english-speaking sites based on your origin. Do you know if someone makes a digital version of the flag that I can poach for markers? No big deal, I'm sure I can scare something up now I know what I'm looking for.

      Thanks again!

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    4. Probably any noltasgic Francoist site (there are still afew!) will have the flag. Let me try finding for you

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    5. That would be brilliant, thank you! (Nostalgia can be a very sad thing at times...)

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    6. Will this one help?
      http://hipogeo.blogspot.com.es/2011_08_01_archive.html

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    7. Excellent! That should work very nicely. Thanks for helping me out!

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  9. Cool game. Did you come up with any national charactaristics for the Requets or republicans?

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    1. For this game I kept it simple as we were still getting our heads around the core rules. Nonetheless, I will be sharpening up my pencil to come up with some troop-type equivalents for the SCW. I also think it may be fun to make up some stats for the various vehicles used in that war. Shouldn't be too hard as they were typically pretty light vehicles.

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    2. And most of them were Russian or German machines. Interesting project this one. I will be watching your progres...

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    3. Yes, I love all the crazy cottage-created armoured cars that were used. Lots of interesting vehicles to colour the table.

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    4. We are working on a project at the TFL Forum to create a database for CoC with all the tank data; I'll be assissting on the SCW vehicles, but all help more tham welcome

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    5. Thanks very much for thinking of me Benito. I don't think of myself as any kind of expert on the period but I will follow the discussion and will contribute if I think I have something worthwhile to offer.

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  10. Great report
    I'm very interested in the Chain of Command rules as a potential replacement for "Bolt Action", which gives a good game but still feels like 40k with a different turn sequence. I'm also not a big fan of the "codex" aspect of how the BA rules are published.

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    1. Thanks Miles! Yes, I quite like BA as its very approachable and easy to set up but I find the activation mechanism along with the command and control quite weak. CoC seems to fill in this gap, though it does require a bit more thought and effort in the overall scenario setup. It seems pretty 'tweakable' - in fact I'm going to use it for a post-apoc game next weekend, but more on that later.

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  11. Nice report and may be the tipping point for me getting these rules. The main thing holding me back is all the rules I have that I haven't played yet.

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    1. Thanks Sean. I know of what you speak, my friend. I'm a complete rules/scenario junkie. I feel like I want to try out EVERYTHING. Its fun but makes it hard to get to know a ruleset inside-out as I'm always flitting about. Oh well, it is a hobby!

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  12. Very nice AAR, Curt. I am reading the ruleset and preparing my Japanese and US Marines collection (and waiting for more of them, in this game you need a lot of figures!).
    I am also thinking about to adapt this ruleset to another conflict, in 1919...

    I like a lot "Chain of Command"; the rules are not complex, but they have a lot more detail than those from "Bolt Action", my other favourite, and they are really strong in the Command and Control field.
    Looking for more AAR´s!!!

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    1. I think these rules will be very interesting for Pacific War actions - I look forward to reading your AARs on that (and I always enjoy seeing your wonderful figures as well).

      I should have another CoC AAR in a couple weeks.

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  13. Good to read and there's no way I'm getting back into WW2.........for the 3rd....wait......4th time.....even though those plastic Japanese look good from Warlord Games!

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    1. Thanks Francis. Yes, those Warlord Japanese look very nice. I've always had a hankering to do Pacific War British... Yeegads, stop!

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  14. Curt

    Great game - next time I want to play the side of right and reason (ok the commies and anarchists)...

    Cheers and ole
    PD

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    1. Thanks Peter, it was fun and I thank you for being a guinea pig for the initial outing.

      That's right, you've rolled for the Nationalists every time we've played! For sure, you will be on the side of the doomed romantics next time out.

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    2. It's all about the cause Amigo!

      To quote my long time gaming buddy (and noted fielder of Scots armies) "winning is overrated"

      Ole
      Pedro

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    3. Bravo! Indeed, indeed! We'll give you the Dinamiteros next time and then you'll be on the fast track to revolutionary glory!

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  15. Nice report Curt, just makes me quite impatient to get in a game.

    John

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    1. Thanks John. I think you'll be impressed with the rules - I'll keep an eye out for your AAR.

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  16. Well done guys! I'm looking forward to trying these rules.
    And as always dude, your stuff looks bloody marvelous.

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    1. Well you'll get your chance, mon ami, as we'll be teeing up CoC for Saturday at your place!

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  17. very interesting game and passion for the hobby!

    and here are the new figures miniatures nopasaran. thanks

    http://nopasaranminiatures.blogspot.com.es/

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    1. Thanks very much NoPasaran! Great looking miniatures! It's great to have multiple scales on offer for the period.

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