Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Review and Summary of Chain of Command

Chain of Command is a skirmish-level rules set for World War Two actions that is both exciting and simply "fun as hell."  Published by Too Fat Lardies, this rules set continues their fine tradition of producing outstanding rules that are groundbreaking as well as historically accurate.




Being relatively new to the period, I've been an avid "horse and musket" gamer for years, and only flirted from time to time with World War Two gaming. I approached Chain of Command with a bit of skepticism, although I have always been interested in the period. After reading through the rules several times, I realized that this was very different from the UGO-IGO systems that I was used to. Having played and enjoyed I Ain't Been Shot Mum by Too Fat Lardies in the past, I knew that the turn sequence would be unconventional. Although I admired  IABSM, I was never an avid fan. Chain of Command has changed my perception of World War Two gaming; I absolutely love this system.

Scale

Each figure represents 1 individual soldier / leader or vehicle.  Soldiers are organized into teams, whether making up full squads or specialist units. With regards to ground scale, 12" on the tabletop represents 40 yards. Turns are made up of an unspecified number of phases, with each phase  representing only a few seconds.

The Rulebook

The rules are well organized, covering the basics in a logical order. Subjects include a full description of squads and teams, as well as junior and senior leaders, a pre-game patrol phase, command and control, phase sequence, infantry actions, vehicles, firing, and close combat. Other, more detailed, subjects include specialty teams, anti-tank combat, mortars, snipers, and many other specific subjects. In my opinion, the authors have thought of almost everything when it comes to ground combat. The rules have some complexity to them, but the rules are so well laid out, that all of the concepts are reasonably digested.

The Patrol Phase

After the units and support on both sides are selected and the Force Morale (similar to army "break point" in other games) is determined, the pre-game patrol phase is conducted.

Unlike many games, units are not deployed on the table at the outset. Instead, there is a pre-game maneuver that is akin to a chess match that determines "safe" deployment areas within light or heavy cover. These are called "jump off" points. After this patrol phase, the game begins and activated units are placed within a certain distance (depending on experience status) of the "jump off" point.


After the patrol phase, jump off points are designated with the black and red markers

The Phase Sequence

The scenario usually determines the side that moves first.  A certain number of command dice for each phase are rolled (typically about 5 dice). The results determine what the gamer can do in each phase.  Here's how it works:

- A "1" that is rolled allows the player to deploy or activate an individual team (ie either an onboard regular team or a specialist team like a light mortar unit or a sniper team).

- A "2" that is rolled allows the player to deploy or activate a full squad (which can be made up of 2 teams) as long as the entire squad conducts the same action.

- Rolling a "3" allows a player to activate a junior leader. A junior leader can use 2 command actions to either activate a team or the full squad under his command or to use actions such as rallying shock (negative morale points), throwing grenades, dictating overwatch, and other actions.

- Rolling a "4" allows a player to activate a senior leader, who has 3 command actions that he can use for any unit under his command. Typically, senior leaders are kept off-table to send in units throughout the game. A leader deployed on-table might have some trouble bringing units on throughout the game, but is a powerful presence due to his 3 possible command actions.

- A "5" adds a point towards a Chain of Command die. Once 6 points are accumulated, the player may stockpile this Chain of Command die (this will be discussed in the next section).

- Finally, one "6" that is rolled has no effect. Two "6's" allow the player to move again in the following phase. Three "6's" ends the turn (which has several effects) and allows the player to move again in the first phase of the next turn. Four "6's" ends the turn and dictates a roll on the Random Event table which could mean anything from a random mortar barrage to strafing aircraft to weather events.

Confused?  Once you play Chain of Command the first time, it will not only make total sense, but it flows incredibly well while adding excitement and a sense of controlled chaos.

....and one thing that I have realized.......you never seem to have enough command dice results to do everything that you want in a phase, so you must choose what you want to do wisely.

Chain of Command Dice

As "5's" are rolled in each phase, the points accumulate to enable each player to control one or more Chain of Command dice. The use of these dice can be game-changers. The player can use them to end the turn, which has several effects (routing units are removed, wounded leaders come back or are replaced, overwatch and tactical move markers are removed, smoke is removed, etc). Other actions that a player can use a Chain of Command die for include an ambush with a specific team, interrupting an opponent's move, and even relocation of a sniper.

Using a Chain of Command die is a powerful tactic and can snatch a game out of the jaws of defeat if played properly.

Movement

A unit's stance determines the number of six-sided dice  thrown for movement (the results are in inches). An infantry unit that wishes to carefully move and adopt a covered position moves with 1d6. A unit that wishes to move and fire with half effect may move 1d6. Normal movement without fire is 2d6 movement. An all-out sprint allows 3d6 movement with no fire and a point of "shock." Vehicles move in a similar way. Terrain is accounted for and the system is simple and logical.


A Soviet T-34 tank issues fire onto the enemy in support of an infantry squad



Fire

Fire is weapon specific and based on a number of six-sided dice. For example, a bolt action rifle fires with 1d6. A light machine gun that uses a magazine fires with 6d6, while a belt-fed light machine gun fires with 8d6. The dice are thrown and hits are calculated versus targets. Than hits are thrown again and converted to either misses, shock, or kills. If a unit absorbs kills, attached leaders need to be rolled for. Vehicle fire is similar with armor rating saves included. Grenades, anti-tank weapons, and mortar fire are all described in detail. Again, the system is simple, yet very detailed with regards to historic weapon types. Types of cover, experience level of a target, and range are all taken into account.

Shock

When a unit is hit, one of the possible effects that can be accumulated is shock. Think of "shock" as a morale point. As shock points accumulate, a unit may become pinned or even break and run away. Junior and senior leaders may rally away shock points with their available command activations.

Close Combat

When a unit moves to within 4" of an enemy unit, the moving unit has initiated close combat. Close combat can be risky for the charging unit and is almost always decisive and very destructive. A player must choose their targets wisely. A number of six-sided dice based on the tactical situation is rolled and kills are determined. The losing side that suffers more kills has to retreat or break depending on the number of kills more than the winning side. Many tactical factors are taken into account, such as number of combatants, leadership, distance that the charger travelled, defending cover, number of sub-machine guns or light machine guns on defense. It is all very comprehensive, yet again very simple to conduct.


A German panzergrenadier squad moves into close combat with a Soviet squad defending woods


Force Morale

At the beginning of the game, a side's morale break-point is determined. As negative situations occur, such as a leader being killed, a team breaking or being wiped out, a roll of the dice determines how the Force Morale rating is affected. As each side's Force Morale drops, the number of command dice decreases (simulating a breakdown in command and control) and eventually can force a side to break or surrender.

Summary

Admittedly, there are a lot of moving parts in Chain of Command. The system is so well thought-out and logical that it is easily understood after a couple of test games. The game itself provides a comprehensive gaming experience for grognards and newbies alike. The system is very detailed yet is easily played....I think the overused word is "elegant." The only minor gripe that I have is that there is no Quick Reference Sheet (QRS). I plan on making my own so that I won't be thumbing through all of the pages of the rulebook.

I am very pleased that I found Chain of Command and am looking forward to building my World
War 2 forces over the next few months. I highly recommend this rules system . Too Fat Lardies rock !