Review: Chain of Command

Rating: 5 stars

Chain of Command (CoC) is a platoon-level skirmish wargame from Too Fat Lardies.

There are many platoon-level WWII rulesets on the market, each with its own particular take on how combat at this level should be represented. Some concentrate on the weapons being used, others on the men who are wielding them. Many let the player have total control of his forces, whilst a few try to limit or even dictate what actions can be performed during each player’s turn. It’s a balancing act of mechanics and tactics which many rulesets perform adequately but, in my opinion, few perform well.

The Too Fat Lardies mantra has always been ‘Play the period, not the rules’, which essentially means that if the ruleset is written properly, it should naturally direct the player towards using the proper tactics of the period, whilst at the same time ensuring that the players are faced with the same challenges that their counterpart would face. It’s a high aspiration to try to achieve.

germanIn Chain of Command, players take on the role of Platoon commanders. Whilst the rules can be used for straight historical refights, it is also designed for stand-alone games which can be played on a typical club night in 2-3 hours. Typically, each player will have control of a platoon, plus some support options of his choosing. This can vary from a minefield or barbed wire, perhaps a crewed support weapon such as a mortar, HMG or Anti-Tank Gun, through to Armoured Cars, Half-Tracks and Tanks. It is usual for a force only to have one or two vehicles, although it is possible to play a game with a full tank troop, for example.

The rules include six generic scenarios; from meeting engagements through several different attack/defend options. These scenarios may have some influence on what forces can be chosen by the attacker and defender.

There are a total of eleven force lists in Chain of Command, which cover the primary forces of Germany, Great Britain and the Commonwealth, the United States and the Soviet Union. Germany, GB and the US have 3 force lists each, covering a standard rifle platoon, armoured infantry platoon and paratroops, whilst the Soviets have a choice of a rifle platoon or a tank rider platoon. More force lists will be made available for the game in future via free PDF downloads.

Battles usually takes place on a 6’ x 4’ table for 15mm, 20mm or 28mm miniatures. If using 6mm or 10mm miniatures, you can play on a smaller table and use centimetres for ground scale rather than inches. Ground scale is defined as 12” = 40 yards, which means that the average board covers an area of 240 yards by 160 yards.

Once the scenario has been chosen and the forces taking part decided, the game can begin.

patrol phaseA game of CoC is split into two phases. There is a pre-game or Patrol Phase, and then the game ‘proper’ can start. However, the Patrol Phase is a min-game all of its own.

Each player has either three or four patrol markers (depending upon the scenario) and these may start from a point on their side of the table. Players take it in turns moving their markers, one marker at a time. Markers can move 12” ignoring any terrain, but must always remain with 12” of at least one other friendly marker. Again, depending upon the scenario, one player may get a number of bonus moves before the other player can start moving his markers. If a patrol marker should move within 12” of an enemy patrol marker, both markers are ‘locked’ at the point where they are 12” away from each other, and may not move any further. Once one player has all his patrol markers locked, the patrol phase is over. From the locked Patrol markers, players now deploy their Jump-Off points. These have to be at least 6” further back from the two closest enemy patrol markers, and in cover. If these criteria are not met, the Jump-Off marker is moved to the edge of the table.

Jump-Off points are used to deploy your troops onto the table. Troops can be deployed anywhere within a certain distance of any friendly jump-off point, depending upon their troop quality.

Troops are deployed and subsequently issued orders using command dice. Each force is allocated a number of them at the start of the game (usually 5).

A turn is divided into a number of phases. In a phase, a player will roll his command dice, and depending upon the roll, activate a number of his units (should he wish to do so). A dice roll of 1-4 will allow a player to activate a team, squad or leader, dependent upon the roll. 5 gives you a Chain of Command point (which can be accumulated, then used to give the player a special action) and 6s can alter the phase. A single 6 means that the passes to the opponent, a double 6 means that the player retains the phase and may roll his command dice again, whilst treble 6 ends the turn.

When activated, squads can be ordered to shoot, move, move and shoot (with reduced effectiveness), go into overwatch, give covering fire or they can be rallied. The order in which these activations are made is completely up to the player, as long as in each phase, any unit or leader is only activated once.

movementMovement is random, and is 1D6, 2D6 or 3D6, depending upon how you want move.

As you can appreciate, given the ground scale discussed earlier, most weapons with the exception of sub-machine guns, pistols, grenades and flame throwers can fire right across the board, so the basic rule of thumb is that if you can see it, you can usually fire at it.

You roll a number of D6 dependent upon the firepower of the weapon (1 for a rifle, 4 for an SMG and up to 8 for an LMG), and compare that to a to-hit table, dependent upon the troop quality of the target. You then roll for effect, which is dependent upon the type of cover the target is in.

Weapons can cause wounds or shock or miss completely. Shock is used to govern the morale of a unit. The shock mechanic will be familiar to anyone who has played a Too Fat Lardy game before.

The rules also cover the use of crewed weapons, vehicles and close combat, as well as the use of specialist troops (such as engineers)

To win the game, you usually have to reduce your opponents Force Morale to zero. This value is determined at the start of the game and is affected by the loss of units and leaders.

Hopefully that gives a very brief summary of how the game is played. In essence, the game has a fluid turn mechanic, and you use dice activation to order your troops. However, since it is usual to deploy your troops from jump-off markers already on the board, this caters for some hidden movement, and can even be used to spring ambushes (such as a Panzerschreck team being deployed onto the board and immediately firing on an enemy tank) without the need for any further complicated mechanics.

In many ways, the game is about forcing your opponent to deploy his forces whilst keeping yours hidden (and thus keeping their deployment flexible) for as long as possible. Using scouts is important, but even more importantly, real world tactics used by the various nations are designed to work in the game – each force has a national characteristic, which rewards the player with a bonus if used in the correct way.

fmIt is difficult to fully describe and appreciate how well Chain of Command plays. Some may argue that if weapons can shoot right across the table, it leads to a very static game. CoC argues that you are forced to use the correct tactics of suppressing the enemy and manoeuvring using terrain as cover, as you are facing the exact same issues as the platoon commander was on the ground at the time. It is fair to say that any Allied commander who lets his German opponent set up a base of fire with multiple MG42’s is going to have a bad day…

In essence, Chain of Command is a simple game. Its core mechanics are easily remembered and pretty intuitive, so you can be playing with only the odd referral to the rules within a couple of hours – certainly by your third or fourth game. However, it is also beautiful in its simplicity as it is far from simplistic. Each phase presents the player with a host of options to consider. The command and control system is elegant, giving the player a degree of flexibility without complete free reign, and the pre-game patrol phase means that no two scenarios will ever be the same.

As the game is platoon level, it also means that you only need 30 or so figures a side (plus some support) to put a game on, and it works just as well in a number of scales. Given a little thought, these rules would also be easy to convert for modern conflicts, as well as hard sci-fi.

The rules are produced as a Softback hardcopy (£25), as a PDF (£14) or as a Tablet edition (£14) (which give navigable links inside a PDF document). Counter sets, Chain of Command Dice (Large Custom D6) and special 28mm scale resin jump off points are also available to buy, although patrol markers and jump off point markers can be downloaded for free from the Too Fat Lardies Yahoo Group, and any standard D6 dice can be used for the game.

In short, these are probably the best World War II skirmish rules I have ever played, and one of the best sets of wargames rules out there, period.

You can purchase Chain of Command from the Too Fat Lardies website.

1 Comment on Review: Chain of Command

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