All the buzz about the new WWII skirmish rules, Chain of Command, convinced me to give them a test drive. I actually pre-ordered the rules last summer, but hadn't got around to digging into them until lately.
My WWII miniatures preference is for 15mm since I like the scale on the table, and my favourite rule sets are those where each side runs about a reinforced company with a squad or team as the smallest stand. Interestingly, the base units for Chain of Command are still squads and teams, and while each man is accounted for, the accent is on command control and unit condition. Therefore CoC seems to sit part way between skirmish and company level which, for me, makes it worth investigating. And I'm always on the lookout for WWII miniatures rules that allow a game to be completed in under three hours. Could skirmish CoC fit the bill? In any event, our gaming group are veterans of many board and minis wargame rule sets and are always on the lookout for new ones we might like. Only one way to find out!
So I puzzled out a few solo games with my nose in the rulebook and got most of my initial questions cleared up with help from the Too Fat Lardies Forum. Then I introduced our gaming group to a “learning” game of CoC. We took it slow and after going through an overview of the rules we only managed to complete the pre-game Patrol phase and seven phases of Turn 1 before calling it a night. Lots of questions like “How do snipers work?” and “What do I hit if I shoot in this window?” However, we saved all the forces in position on the table and will be picking it up again next week where we left off. Therefore, this posting is called Part 1 with the rest to follow later.
I picked the first generic scenario in the book called “Patrol” as our learning game. It is a meeting engagement where Russian and German platoons meet in No-Man's Land. As the rule book says, “...your mission is to deny your opponent this critical ground between the main lines of defense.” But I had to overlay some historical setting, so this scenario takes place in 1944 in Romania with both sides ordered to secure a small village which has already suffered artillery damage. The book calls for a 6x4 table, but I chopped it down to a 4x4 foot section on my table for this first game.
The Russian starts on the east side (top) and the German on the west side (bottom). A church and a burned-out monastery are the main buildings along with a couple of smaller ones. All the buildings and the three stone walls are Hard Cover (no penetration by small arms). The church bell tower is at the three story level while the walls and ground floor are all that remain of the monastery. Woods, hedges, crops, and garden are all Light Cover. The ploughed field and woods are Broken Ground, with the rest being Open Ground, including the gentle hill. Stone walls and hedges are Low so they, by themselves, do not block LOS and are Minor Obstacles.
Prior to the game I assembled the forces for each side. I wanted to do this ahead of time for two reasons, to save time, but also to follow the KISS principle. For this first game I wanted no artillery, or vehicles, just a pure infantry battle. For me the acid test of a rules system is how well infantry combat works.
The Patrol scenario calls for a die roll to determine the support options for each side's basic platoon. I rolled a 4 which allowed both sides to choose an option from Support List 2 (or 2 options from List 1). In addition, extra support for one side may be given if they have a poorer National Force Rating than their opponent. This is meant to try and balance the forces somewhat. The Force Rating for the German is 0 and the Russian is -3 so the Russian gets to choose additional support from Support List 3 as well (or from lower numbered Lists totaling up to 3). The Russian could add the List numbers together and pick one option from List 5, or one from List 4 and one from List 1, etc. but I wanted KISS. No anti-tank or artillery (including Light Mortar) so with 5 support “points” to spend I chose a Maxim MMG from List 3 and a Sniper from List 2.
Russian Force: Force Rating -3 Command Dice: 5
HQ: Leytenant, Senior Leader – pistol
Squads 1, 2, and 3, each with: Serzhant Junior Leader – SMG, 1x LMG (2x crew), 7x riflemen.
Platoon Support: 5 support “points” (options from List #s totaling List 5)
List 2: Sniper Team
List 3: Maxim MMG Team, 5x crew
For the Germans, the only suitable possibilities in List 2 that were not vehicle or anti-vehicle related were a Senior Leader or again a Light Mortar (which I didn't want for this game). I did play with the German Light Mortar in my solo games and I thought they pretty much sucked (production was terminated in 1941, gradually withdrawn from front line service by 1942, and mainly used by 2nd line troops later). I also passed on the Senior Leader since I wanted to see what just one Senior Leader could do first. Senior Leaders are very powerful for unit activation, special orders, and shock reduction. The relative power of the units in each List is quite variable. So I cheated and jumped to List 3 and chose a Pioneer Flamethrower Team as a counter to the Russian Maxim MMG and also 'cause I wanted to see how well they worked <grin>.
German Force: Force Rating 0 Command Dice: 5
HQ: Unterfeldwebel, Senior Leader – machine pistol + panzerfaust, Panzershreck Team (2x crew)
Squads 1, 2, and 3, each with: Obergefreiter Junior Leader – machine pistol, LMG Team (MG42 + 2x crew + 1 rifleman), Rifle Team (6x riflemen).
Platoon Support: 2 support points - Options from List #s totaling List 2 (mea culpa – I used 3)
List 3: Pioneer Flamethrower team (3 crew)
I needed to sort out how to track the number of men in each squad and team. My 15mm figures are mainly based on stands in a group, except for just a few specialty figures and teams which I've put on individual bases. Each German squad has one panzerfaust assigned to it, so when picking figs for the German Junior Leaders I used an individually based rifleman carrying a panzerfaust as a reminder of its availability during game play. Since I am a long way from having individual basing for all troops, I decided to use a marker dice beside each stand to show how many men are in that squad or team. That way the number of figs on a stand doesn't matter. Leaders, LMGs, and hand-held weapon teams are on small bases, rifle teams and heavier weapons on medium bases or larger. The marker dice mess up the table a bit, and it is not as “pretty” of a show as with individually based figs, but they actually seemed to work pretty good in the game with less moving needs than for individual figures.
German squads have two separate teams, a 3-man LMG Team [error in photo below - should show 3] and a 6-man Rifle Team. Russian squads are all one big 9 man “team” with 7 riflemen and 2 LMG crew, that behaves like a squad.
When I bought the CoC rules I also got the bundled Game Token Set as well which has very useful oversize Chain of Command Dice and some neat Tactical and Overwatch markers. The Overwatch markers show the 90 degrees of coverage very well. The red Shock markers are pretty, but you will need a lot more for a game than the dozen included. I ran back to my game closet and pulled out my old Wound and Pin markers from I Ain't Been Shot Mom and used those for marking shock in our game. They worked great.
Pre-Game – Patrol Phase
Rick and Tim take the German side deciding to gang up on Brent who takes the Russians. My role will be to explain and moderate the game. Both sides roll for Force Morale and the Germans roll a big 6 for a Morale of 11, while the Russians roll a healthy 5 for a Morale of 10. Victory will go to the side that forces their opponent's Force Morale to go to zero while maintaining Force Morale level of at least 3. Since the German side rolled highest, they will place the first Patrol Marker in the pre-game Patrol Phase. I divided each opponent's table edge into three sections of 18 inches. On die rolls of 1-2 their Patrol Markers will enter in the south section, 3-4 the middle section, and 5-6 the north section. The Germans roll a 2 so start in the south sector. The Russians roll a 5 so start in the north sector (stars on map).
Then all the Patrol Markers (octagons on map) are moved, one by one alternating sides and jockeying for position, with both sides advancing hard on their individual right flanks until all the markers have moved to 12 inches of an enemy marker and become locked in position [See comment at end about 3 markers locking on 1]. Then the Jump-off Points (Xs on map) were chosen and coloured beads placed on the table to mark their positions, blue for German, red for Russian.
Game Start – Turn 1
With higher Force Morale, the German goes first. Both sides will always roll 5 Command Dice in this game.
Phase 1 – German Roll 5,4,3,3,2 CoC Dice = 1
With no 6s, the next phase will be Russian. The 5 advances the Chain of Command Dice to 1 pip, always a plus. Not being shy, Rick and Tim use both 3s to deploy two squads. The first squad deploys to the edge of the south woods and the Junior Leader (JL) spends his 2 Command Initiative (CI) points to put both the LMG and Rifle Teams on Overwatch looking north. The second squad deploys into the burned-out monastery with the 2-man LMG Team to the north end and the 6-man Rifle Team to the east side. The JL puts both teams on Overwatch out the north and east windows and doors.
Rick and Tim pass on using the 2 or the 4, holding the last squad and Senior Leader (SL) in reserve.
Phase 2 – Russian roll: 5,5,5,5,4 CoC Dice = 4
What a way to start! Already 4 pips on the CoC dice. Brent is thinking, “Do you spell Ambush with a capital A?” The 4 is ignored since the Senior Leader stays in reserve. No double 6s so next phase is German.
Phase 3 – German Roll 5,4,2,1,1 CoC Dice = 2
Next phase will be Russian. One more pip for the CoC dice. With no opposition showing up anywhere on the table, Tim and Rick decide to commit more strength to the south woods. Both 1s are used to deploy the 2-man Panzersheck Team and the 3-man Flamethrower Team. The 2 is used to activate the nearby squad and using a Tactical Move for improved cover, the squad advances further south in the woods at the tree line, ending up facing north. The 4 is used to deploy the SL to the south woods as well.
Phase 4 – Russian roll: 6,6,5,4,1 CoC Dice = 5
With two 6s the Russian will go first next phase! And one more pip to the CoC dice too. Brent just uses the 1 to deploy a sniper to the east woods to keep the Germans in the south on their toes.
The sniper fires but misses (not sighted in yet).
Phase 5 – Russian roll: 6,3,2,2,1 CoC Dice = 5
Next phase is German. No luck in getting the 6th pip on the CoC dice. Using the 1, Brent deploys the Maxim MMG into the woods at the north end with a clear fire lane down the road to the monastery.
The Maxim fires at the German LMG Team in the monastery window. There was some discussion at this point if the hits should be divided with half going to the Rifle Team further back in the building, but we decide the Rifle Team men would not be manning the north window so they should be excluded. [Note: We got this right since a team cannot be targeted if it is not in LOS of the firing unit] The LMG crew is hit with 1 KIA and 2 shock. The attached JL is missed so the LMG Team is now down to 2 men. Since the LMG is on Overwatch it returns fire with 1 less die due to shock, getting 1 KIA on the Maxim crew.
Brent then uses both 2s to deploy two squads into the small woods north of the church. All of the first squad and 7 men of the second squad are in LOS of the LMG Team in the monastery. One squad fires and misses completely, not even administering any shock. The other squad fires getting 1 KIA and 2 shock, missing the JL. The German LMG Team is in trouble with 4 shock and down to 1 crew, both causing reduced firepower (see photo in Phase 6 below). [Note: If the LMG Team was alone it would break, but since the 6-man Rifle Team is within 4 inches it can share the 4 shock among the whole squad of 8 men (including the JL) and not even be pinned]
Phase 6 – German Roll 5,5,4,2,2 CoC Dice = 4
Next phase will be Russian. Two more pips for the German CoC dice! Rick and Tim use a 2 to activate the squad in the monastery and move the LMG Team away from the north window to hide in the corner out of LOS. The squad's JL and Rifle Team also reposition so the Overwatch is lost. The JL cannot reduce any of the 4 shock or transfer a man from the Rifle team to the LMG Team since he is not activated.
Tim and Rick then use the 4 to activate the SL in the south woods who spends 1 CI to activate and move the Panzersheck Team “At The Double” to the corner of the hedgeline, picking up 1 Shock. The SL uses his last two CIs to put the Rifle and LMG Teams in the nearby squad on Overwatch.
The last 2 is not used since the German side wants to hold the third and last squad in reserve.
Phase 7 – Russian roll: 6,4,2,2,2 CoC Dice = 5
Next phase will be German. Brent uses the 4 to deploy the SL to the north woods and activate the Maxim MMG to go on Overwatch since it has no current targets in LOS. Then he uses two of the 2s to activate both squads on the table. The first Russian squad moves out of the small woods up to the church wall toward the road. The second squad attempts to move At The Double across the road to the west and rolls three 1s, going only 3 inches and ending in the middle of the road with 1 shock! Then Brent uses the last 2 and deploys the third squad from reserve into the just vacated small woods, and with the LMG in LOS of the distant German squad in the south woods, opens fire with no effect. No return fire from the Overwatching German squad.
We had to halt the game at this point since it was getting late. We decided to put the game on “pause” and resume the game the next week, so the table was covered with my “cat protecting” sheet to patiently await our return. Therefore this recording of our game play up to the end of Phase 7 is called Part 1. The forces on the table are shown below (one German squad still off-table in reserve).
Part 2 will resume with German Phase 8.
1. A question came up in the pre-game Patrol marker phase when three German markers moved to be 12 inches from one Russian marker so all three were locked and “closest.” How do you determine the Jump-Off Point (JOP) in this case? The question is not covered in the rules. Later I found the same question posted to the TFL Yahoo site and interpreted an answer that makes sense. Draw a line from the centre German marker though the Russian marker and extend it until the line is at least 6 inches from the Russian marker and in cover. Somewhere on that line is only location that satisfies both conditions for finding a JOP when separately considering the “right hand” set of two German markers and the “left hand” set of two German markers. It turned out that we placed the Russian marker pretty much on that line by coincidence.
2. It's too early to give any opinions on the rules, but the group is interested to finish the game which is encouraging. The big question for each of us is, “Do I like playing with this rule set?” As we all know, there is no “perfect” rule set, so hopefully the CoC rules will just have a few minor pecadillos. The main questions being “Can you live with them?” or “Do the rules work well enough to invent house rules where needed?” We haven't played nearly enough to answer any of these questions.
Stay tuned for “On Patrol In Romania 1944 - Part 2”, hopefully in about a week, unless my daughter-in-law blesses me with another grandchild in which case I'll be BUSY! <big grin>