I enjoy a variety of Wargames- as evident though my blog and podcasts here. I love building, painting, playing, collecting, tactics, narrative, and the community. Out of all the games I play I never really planned on starting historical WW 2 wargaming, besides jumping into a new vector of model collecting and terrain building historical wargaming, especially WW 2 has the potential for some SERIOUS baggage, so I knew the rules had to be beyond amazing to make it happen…
…yes Chain of Command is that good.
If you will indulge me, let me share my experience with this rule set being a few dozen games into it, especially if you are coming from a more beer and pretzels type of gaming experience like Warhammer 40,000 or X-Wing Miniatures- nothing wrong with beer and pretzels…
The first challenge with Chain of Command is that you are buying into a rule set and system vs. model line. There is not starter set or pre-defined models as in Warhammer 40K. One has to navigate what models they are going to use and what scale- generally from what I have seen and what we use to play is 1/72.
I want with Plastic Soldier Company for my Germans and Americans- infantry, support weapons, and tanks. Add to that two sets of American and German WW 2 paint bundles, a few generic brushes, and some terrain materials for the table- tress, flock, and craft paint = $200.
$200 bucks is a decent amount of money to plan for, but for wargaming? $200 bucks gets you a starter set and a book in Warhammer 40K. $200 in X-Wing gets you started half way in one of the factions. Jumping into historical from a wargaming cost perspective is SUPER cheap. Of course one could go a bit cheaper with some of the plastic miniatures, or more expensive for metal models- but the amount of options can be a bit overwhelming if you are new.
So now we move into the rules followed by the terrain…
The heart of the game is the command dice you roll at the start of each turn- usually 5 X D6 and based on the roll that is the number of units that you can activate. 1 = heavy support, 2 = section, 3= junior leader, 4= senior leader, etc. Roll a 5 and it generates a command point which you save up for later use to issue special orders. Roll 2 X 6 oe 3 X 6 and you go again or the game turn ends.
The dice determine what and when you active, and this is the engine of the system- as you take losses and units get wiped out or break, you start losing command dice- less orders you can issue. Get down to 0 dice and the game ends. The dice represent the chain of command, as you take losses morale and command becomes harder to lead and execute. A VERY interesting system, but one could say hardly unique- Warmaster used to use a similar system.
But the command dice build on this and take it on an unexpected direction…
With every “5” that you roll you get a command point- generate six of them and you can perform a special action during your opponent’s turn- ambush, redeploy, not take a morale/break test, etc. It breaks the game from I-go-you-go to something very reactive, forcing you to decide when and where to spend your command. Compounded with the chance to roll a double 6 and go again leads to some interesting shifts in initiative.
Combat is also VERY deadly, something that reflects the time period and that one is not playing a super-sci-fi soldier game. As your units get shot up you not only lose models, but also suffer shock markers- get enough of them and you can get pinned or break. Weapons kill and pin very quickly. Get caught out into open under machine gun fire and you are going to take a few losses and get your squad pinned. Each unit also has a number of activation they can do beyond just move and fire like many wargames- double move, lay down covering fire, take cover, go into over watch, etc.
Imagine a game where slow and tactical movement, covering fire, and combined arms is the order of the day.
Side note- when I first started playing, I was instinctively playing my Germans as Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines. I charged up a hill that was under British machine gun overwatch, and got shot up. Dudes starting going down, getting pinned and breaking. Why weren’t my men following my orders? Because, while they are dedicated and professional solders in the game, they are just MEN- and the rules capture this so well. They are not super-enhanced eight foot tall space marines wearing power armor, with full faith in the Immortal God Emperor of Mankind.
Now, the most intriguing part of the game- the patrol phase and jump off points.
At the start of each mission, you and your opponent deploy markers which represent an area on the table of where your forces are. They are there, hidden, dug in, or unknown exactly where from the opponent’s perspective. When you activate and deploy a unit it is from one of these markers and is brought into play.
What a fresh difference vs. I set up my toys in a line and you set up your toys in a line and we go at it…
You might be advancing your tank down the road and will pass one of my jump off points- do I have a unit there, can I deploy a unit there?
Is my PAK 40 waiting in ambush?
Send up some infantry to force it out?
Put another unit on over watch or covering fire?
Nuts and advance ahead?
LOTS of tactical options.
From here the next big step was getting used to playing from a real history vs. other war games. In Warhammer 40K I can play all heavy tanks or super assault units, same with X-Wing, whatever I have the models and points for.
Chain of Command is historically accurate.
Am I playing early war Germans? Only 1 machine gun in each unit and access to Panzer I/II only.
Want a King Tiger- that’s late war, and I’d be LUCKY to have one in my list due to historical availability- only 500 made. This historical lockdown sometimes leads to interesting matches where one side might have an advantage. Late war Germans that I enjoy playing have some VERY fun tanks, and being a tread-head that appeals to me, but at this point in the war I have less men and less senior officers to repel the invasion of fortress Europe against the allied aggressors.
For gamers used to playing super-over-the-top per lists, or take what you want and throw it down, Chain of Command could be a real shock.
On an end note, and something that I’m not sure if this is part of the bigger historical wargaming community- if Flames of War and Bolt Action dudes feel the same way, but when I play Chain of Command it has a very spiritual quality to it.
There is an extreme realism to it from what it represents and the time period.
More than half my family on both my mother’s and father’s side was KIA in World War 2. Family letters and pictures show a very real and grim history. I’m very lucky to be here, and now I’m playing a game simulating real and living history?
Is something wrong with that?
As I play and roll those dice I’m very aware of what I am playing and find myself immersing myself in the very decisions I’m making on the tabletop. It has a very surreal feeling to it- further built up with the excellent Chain of Command ruleset.
We need to still talk about terrain in historical wargaming, but I find my mind wandering a bit.
Part II terrain tomorrow.