26 August 2013

Chain of Command first impression

So I got to play Chain of Command with Magnus down at the club yesterday, we ran two Early War platoons - I ran Poles which are WIP as I've been emailing with Richard over at TFL about them for the past two weeks but they are shaping up nicely. The EW/1939 Germans were a bit Ad Hoc in their composition and support weapon but we managed, and our primary focus was not on the accuracy of the troops but rather to get a feeling for the game itself.

Hopefully we will have proper forces next time. Anyway. The game is great,  even though this was the first game for me and Magnus, and we were initially struggling a bit to find everything in the rules when needed we got into the flow quite easy and picked up fast on the core rules.

Starting with the patrol phase, which is something I have not really encountered in any other game, this is really interesting as it establishes a deployment zone on the table which is a lot more organic and less artificial since you don't get this straight line running across the entire table edge. The subsequent placement of "jump-off" points, which are used for deploying units is also a very clever idea and lets you push troops into battle very close to the action - instead of walking with reinforcements from the far end of the table.

The activation of units is one of the more clever designs that I have come across, and beats both classic IGOUGO, alternate activation of single units, Bolt Action activation dice and the card mechanic in games like Muskets & Tomahawks. It really puts an emphasis on the leaders, junior and senior commanders. These characters are essential in managing your units, and I think Magnus and I uncovered their true potential towards the later part of our game when we began picking away "shock" (pinned down) points from our units and manage the actions of vehicles.

How it works is basically that each force has a command rating, which was 5 for the Poles. This means that I roll 5D6 and each D6 results means something different. 1's can activate a team, such as a light mortar or AT-rifle team. 2's can activate a section, such as one of the 3 rifle sections in my platoon. 3's can activate Junior commanders, these are commanding sections and vehicles - with their help you can do a lot more with your units and also use the commander to reduce the shock value that your unit has suffered. 4's activate your senior commanders, who can activate anyone else - and also rally broken troops.

The 5's and 6's are other special results that does not immediately affect your unit activation. I'll get into that in my full review later this week. The turn sequence is also divided into an unknown number of "phases", which actually work a lot like turns. The difference however between Chain of Command and other games is that you don't know how many phases each turn will have. Players take turn activating as much as they can in each phase before passing the initiative over to the opponent who activates his stuff in his phase. So there can be a lot of action in each turn, as the number of phases is determined by the players themselves and sometimes the command dice. Players can call an end to a turn by spending so called command dice, this is quite powerful as it eliminates all ongoing effects such as overwatch, smoke counters and such on the table - and automatically removes any unit which is broken and who has not been rallied in time.

Many of the rules are very intuitive, shooting is based upon whether you are at close or effective range from the enemy as well as taking into account the training of the enemy. You kill someone by rolling a die and taking into account the level of cover. This is quite interesting, the cover comes into play first after you have hit someone, and does not really affect your chance to hit - but it does severely reduce the lethality of incoming fire. When you hit someone you can either cause a kill, cause shock or just inflict a flesh wound with no effect. What we found out during our game was that taking fire is always bad, and it was actually more frustrating to suffer shock than casualties, since your unit became more and more sluggish and in the end broke when taking too much shock.

Removing shock was also a slow process, and a unit with crazy amounts of shock, such as infantry in the open caught by MG fire are really in a bad position and will be extremely hard to control or bring up to functioning levels again. Both your fire output and movement rate is directly affected by the level of shock you have suffered. I loved it, as the pinning/suppressing fire was a lot more severe and long lasting in its effect than in any other game I have played. It really is the first game I have played where you just can't shrug it off with a single command roll.

Other things that I loved was the use of light mortars to provide smoke screens, each activation can produce a 3" screen, over a single turn the output from a single mortar can be quite impressive. The smoke screen can save your bacon as troops can't fire through it. I used it to block the fire and line of sight from the German 8-rad in our game. I think that light mortars will be a popular support option, and they will be absolutely vital to games played with more open areas as you need to cover the movement of your troops with the smoke screen.

The vehicle rules were also really good, they are both fun and detailed. We had a great slug fest between the 8-rad and the Polish FT-17 tank for a couple of phases before the Polish AT-rifle joined in. The way hits, armor penetration and armor saves work and relate to the damage chart may appear overwhelming at first glance but is in fact very simple and flows well, and is easy to apply. There are many variable that affect your to hit roll, while the effect of a hit yields an armor penetration and an armor save roll. Depending on the result the attacker may end up inflicting no damage at all, or hit the vehicle with various effects divided among 4 small D6 charts. Chart 0 is basically your typical glancing hit which shakes the crew or makes them panic, Chart 1 and 2 have damage effects on the vehicle and wounds on the crew, while Chart 3 is the destruction of the vehicle which may end up exploding.

In our game the FT-17 tank took a real beating from the 8-rad, the optics were damaged so I suffered a -1 to hit penalty from the damage. Then the commanding officer was wounded so I suffered -1 initiative which meant that  I could now only either move or fire, not do both, and not help the gunner to aim properly. The 8-rad took a few hits as well, from the FT-17 and the AT-rifle, and the penetrating results saw the 8-rad driver being killed, and the crew take a large number of shock which severely limited the use of the 8-rad.

I don't think we covered every single aspect of the rules, and we certainly need to learn to better use our commanders, but overall both Magnus and me liked the rules a lot. The one thing which I had been worried about was the random movement, but even that turned out working really well. I seriously have no complaints about this set of rules, and I'm usually very picky.

I honestly think that this is a superb alternative for anyone who wants to play a WW2 skirmish game but who found the popular Bolt Action rules to be far too casual oriented.  Chain of Command adds a lot more detail without adding that much more complexity to the rules. What Chain of Command does really good however is to focus on leadership and morale, and the various game mechanics actually feels historical and proper. Can't wait to play this again.

Btw, we played with multi based (FoW) infantry, it worked out quite OK. Of course instant casualty removal would be preferable, but it was possible to use small dice to track casualty numbers and shock. So in the end, you could well play this with your FoW minis or any other multi based infantry from another game.

12 comments:

  1. Greate review !

    Best regards Michael

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  2. Thank you for that very clear report. It was played at my club yesterday and the guys said they enjoyed it so I think I shall give it a go.

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  3. Very interesting report and a good honest review.

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  4. Great game table. I am very interested in this ruleset; it can be a revolution!

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  5. Thank you for including the vehicle combat info in your review. That's not been covered much elsewhere.

    I notice a number of your buildings look like paper glued to thin board. Where did you get, or how did you make them?

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    1. They are home made by a friend of a friend and donated to the club. Can't tell much more about tham other than that they are made out of both thick cardboard and some wood with the paper "building" texture glued onto the walls and roof parts.

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  6. Interesting review... but I wonder, where what you can achieve in any turn is given by such a spread of 'activaiton' dice rolls - does it not become difficult to plan ahead, and adopt a sensible tactical approach, when you cannot be sure what you will be able to achieve, the same going for the other player... does the game not become too random in consequence?

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    1. The "Chain of Command" dice which can end a turn are visible to both players at all time. So you know when the turn is nearing its end, or when the opponent now has the ability to end the turn at his whim. So it's not that sudden.

      Activating units with the command dice is also semi-flexible, as you can add two dice together, for instance a "1" and a "2" to create a "3" so that you can activate a Junior commander instead of just a team and a section. But of course, that will make your actions during that phase a bit more limited as you have fewer command dice to spend on individual activations.

      I hope my full review later this week will bring a bit more clarity to many of the features - but thanks for asking because that just makes it easier to track those rules that people are mostly interested in :-)

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  7. Good question Scott.

    You and others that have reviewed are starting to move me in the buy direction. But I must finish painting my 15s first. I'm basing them two to a base for Command Decision - so I should e able to use them in this game.

    And Ty for the tanks discussion.

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  8. @Scott- the randomness element in activation does not preclude tactics at all. I played in a game umpired by Rich Clarke where a section was able to advance rapidly on a British held building, throw in their grenades and led by the platoon leader assault the shocked troops inside driving the survivors out. It would have been a different result if Lady Luck was not on my side, but combat out comes more often than not also depend on being in the right place at the right time.

    Great write up Anatolli, looking forward to more.

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  9. So, Bolt Action or Chain of Command?

    I must admit, I have never seen so many positive reviews for a game as Chain of Command.

    Dave

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  10. Very interesting review and great table! Must admit though, I am a stick in the mud and it would take a lot to drag me away from Nuts! for my WW2 gaming needs... ;)

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