Review: Chain of Command: At The Sharp End Campaign Handbook
At The Sharp End (ATSE) follows the release of the Chain of Command platoon-level skirmish wargame rules from Too Fat Lardies last year.
Chain of Command is designed around using text-book, full strength units with a few additional extras. However, in the heat of battle, this set-up would rarely last past the first engagement, as units took casualties and Platoon Commanders would be forced to juggle their troops to keep the most effective fighting force. At The Sharp End is designed to reflect this by placing battles within a campaign structure which would model not only the effect of casualties on a unit, but how the performance of a unit is reflected in the morale of the troops, the opinion of its Commanding Officer and the outlook of the Platoon Leader.
The supplement is split into four parts.
Part one introduces the concept of the ladder campaign to Chain of Command. This concept will be familiar to many, but is outlined within the context of the rules system, especially as the ladder takes its scenarios directly from the six different ones outlined on pages 75 – 80 of the original Chain of Command rulebook (anyone would think that this was planned!)
ATSE then sets out three different ways of playing this ladder campaign. The first is the quickest: The no-map method. This simply allows players to play scenarios on the ladder, and the outcome moves the victor up, or down, the ladder accordingly, with the objective to reach the top (or bottom) rung.
The second method is to use the same ladder campaign, but draw out a simple map, which highlights each step on the rung, perhaps using a dominant terrain feature, and starts to weave a narrative about the campaign.
The third method is to take a map, and to plan out the ladder campaign actually based on an historical area, or historical accounts of battle. The book goes into some detail of how this can be achieved for relatively little effort and cost.
The second part of the book, entitled ‘In The Field’, covers the rules for conducting the campaign itself. It discusses campaign turns, and through a worked example explains how a ladder campaign would actually run. It then goes on to give rules for casualties and replacements, reinforcements, how the terrain should be set-up for each scenario, and some specific rules for in-game and post-game events including withdrawals and routs, replacing leaders, prisoners of war and awards for bravery.
Part three of the supplement is all about tracking the characters of your force in the campaign: The Platoon Commander and the NCOs. It initially gives a background for all your officers, and then track key indicators (KPIs) to see how well the officers fare throughout the campaign. As I mentioned earlier, the opinion of the Battalion Commander and the morale of the troops under a Platoon Leader’s command are tracked. Also, a close eye is kept on the Platoon Leader’s outlook via a matrix. This is a bit more involved, but ultimately will have an effect on the Force Morale of your troops during a game.
The fourth and final part of the book gives two more worked examples of how to construct an historical campaign, using the simple map and full map methods, including examples of source material that can be used, pointers on how a campaign can be designed and even how you might want to plan the terrain of the playing area for scenarios, based on a 1:25,000 map. Further information is also given on how you may want to construct campaign specific support lists, rather than using the generic options from the main rulebook.
At The Sharp End is, in many ways, a descendant of the campaign game on which it’s Too Fat Lardies stable mate, Dux Britanniarum, is based. It takes many of the ideas presented in these earlier rules and adapts them to the environment of World War II. These ideas seem to work as well in this new era as they did in the Dark Ages – the technology may have changed, but war was still fought by men. Add to this the extra twists open to the game of decent historical material, and you are presented with a handbook which contains all you will ever need to run a huge number of games following a particular historical campaign, with as little, or as much, complexity as you require. Whilst the material is aimed at running game of Chain of Command, all the advice on creating and running ladder campaigns is pretty much rules independent, and would be worth any gamer, World War II or otherwise, picking up- especially since it is very reasonably priced at £6.
It is worth noting that ATSE is not a scenario generator, but rather a way of creating campaigns. If you wanted to run a fictitious World War II campaign, you could easily use this book in conjunction with another TFL publication: Platoon Forward, to give you an integrated campaign with generated scenarios – giving a full campaign with detailed scenarios at a minimum of time and effort.
If you play any games of World War II, this supplement is very well worth a look. If you play Chain of Command, it’s simply a ‘must have’.
At the Sharp End is available from Too Fat Lardies in PDF format for £6
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