Chain of Command: Rules Review

I play a ton of World War Two wargames, in both 15mm as well as 28mm. In this article I’ll take you through my Chain of Command rules review. It is of the popular “platoon plus some company support” format and it was created by Too Fat Lardies.

This game is available from the Too Fat Lardies website (amongst other places) in hardcopy, PDF and tablet format or bundles thereof. I own the tablet version which comes with links within the text for quicker navigation. Rather smart. On top of that I also  got a printed copy from the tablet version. With the links still in the text, but to be honest the printed copy is my go-to thing if I need to look something up.

Chain of Command Skirmish WW2
This is the version I had bound myself, the official bound version looks different

At 104 pages this is a rather slim rulebook. It is full colour, comes with some pictures of 28mm models and diagrams illustrating rules.

Scale and Essentials

In terms of scales the same as with every single other set of rules goes: You can play with miniatures of any scale you like. The ground scale is such that 12″ equals 40 yards, so 15mm models give you the closest resemblance of proper scale proportions.

That being said, the game is very often played with the ever-popular 28mm scale models of course. And there is no reason not to. Sooner or later everybody will have some 28mm WW2 models lying around. A ‘standard’ table to play Chain of Command on, if you play in inches, would be 6′ by 4′ or something along those lines.

Chain of Command table with 15mm figures on virago’s kitchen table

In terms of miniatures you will need a platoon of infantry a side, so depending on the formation you play you will need between 30 and 40 models and some support in the shape of tanks, anti-tank guns, mortars, engineers and so on. The core of your force will always be your platoon though. The dice used are D6, and quite a few thereof. Be prepared to roll something like 13 d6 at once.

The Patrol Phase

In most other games you get a deployment zone or some sort of deployment rules according to which you set up all your models (maybe keeping reserves off table for a turn or so) and then have at it.

Chain of Command breaks this mold by introducing the Patrol Phase. This simulates small reconnaissance teams scouting the terrain and enemy positions. This is played out by each side receiving a set number of patrol markers and taking turns placing them on the table. Each consecutive patrol marker has to be placed no further than12″ away from the prior patrol marker placed by the player. This is the recce teams sneaking the area, looking for holes in the enemy lines, scouting positions and keeping enemy scouts from doing just that. Instead of placing patrol markers they also may be moved up to 12 inches, as long as they still are within 12″ of another friendly patrol marker.

As soon as opposing patrol markers are placed within 12″ of each other they both get locked down in place and may not move any further. As soon as one side’s patrol markers are all locked in place. The two patrols met in no-man’s land and decide not to proceed any further. Once all the patrol markers on either side are locked the patrol phase ends and Jump-Off Points are placed.

Jump-Off Points replace deployment zones and represent the farthest points to which troops can be deployed without harassment by enemy actions. They are secure paths the patrols reported to their superiors after their return. Players take turns placing Jump-Off Points  in areas behind the locked down patrol markers, at least 6″ behind and they have to be placed in cover. The number of Jump-Off Points is set by the scenario played, be it one from the book, from one of the campaign supplements or as dictated by the umpire or the scenario the players made up. Usually you get three Jump-Off Points to place.

Examples for Jump-Off Points

Unit Activation

With the lines drawn and Jump-Off Points in place the actual game can start with the first player rolling his activation dice. These simulate the big factor of Friction, a concept the rules writers emphasize in all of their rules sets they publish. Friction of course is the concept introduced by Clausewitz which (crudely boiled down) means that in war the simplest things usually get very complicated and ‘stuff happens’.  “You lot – go over there to the farmyard!” is a pretty simple order but in a combat situation there is a number of factors which may lead to  the lot not going over there when the officer wants them to.

Lt.Sherzov doesn’t kid around

Thus far, the authors went for card activation systems. This was shaken up in Chain of Command by replacing the cards with dice. At the beginning of their phase the player rolls five dice (six when playing an elite formation). Each result of 1 lets you activate a team of your choice, each 2 lets you activate a squad or section, each 3 lets you activate a Junior Leader (NCOs, squad/section commanders), each 4 can be used to activate a Senior Leader (officers, platoon commanders) and each 5 will add one Chain of Command point to your pool.  Once all these activations are used up the player’s phase is over and the other player will roll his activation dice.  However, if a player rolls two 6s the next phase will be theirs as well, so they may roll their activation dice again and activate units for a second time. If three 6s are rolled the game turn ends after this active phase and they get the first active phase of the next turn as well. If someone happens to roll four or more 6s on their 5 (or six) activation dice all kinds of crazy stuff happens (two activations for the player, random event, free chain of command points for the player).

US Rifle Squad organization, 1943

As you can guess games of Chain of Command don’t last for  a set number of turns and the games I played thus far rarely lasted for more than one turn at all. The end of a turn in Chain of Command has several possible effects, like broken units routing, off-table mortar barrages ending, smoke grenades stopping emitting smoke and so on.

Activation dice may be combined, so instead of spending a 1 and a 2 to activate a team and a full section/squad you can use these to activate a Junior Leader.

If a leader is activated they may spend Command Initiative points based on their rank (2 for Junior Leaders, 3 for Senior Leaders). Junior Leaders may only activate their own squad or a team within the squad. A Senior Leader, usually the platoon commander, may activate any team or section of the force, at the expense of 1 Command Initiative point each.

Each unit can only be activated once per phase. Command Initiative can also be spent on issuing special orders like throwing hand grenades, covering fire or overwatch.

Command Initiative may also be spent on using national characteristics special rules based on the specific drill emphasized in this nation’s infantry training (such as German emphasis on the squad LMGor marching fire employed by US troops).

The Chain of Command points you accumulate by rolling 5s turn into a Chain of Command die once you get six of them. These dice (not sure why they are called that. They essentially are just markers) can be spent to do very useful things like interrupting your opponent’s phase, strike Ambushes, move a Jump-Off points and many more things.

Chain of Command dice

So you see you get this system of randomized activations, yet due to leaders mainly, you gain a certain amount of control over what happens when. And this pretty much is the job of leaders – to provide some control over situations and pull off tactical maneuvering despite the impact of all these chaotic factors of battle.

This might sound a tad complicated but trust me – it isn’t. The rules are designed so  they don’t get in the way of you commanding your troops in the field so after the first game or so you rarely will have to resort to looking at the rulebook much any more. It’s all very intuitive and elegantly done.

…And the Rest of the Rules

An activation usually constitutes a unit firing, moving or a mix of both. Movement distances are rolled for, shooting is very straightforward. A bolt-action rifle rolls one die per man firing, LMGs with a magazine such as a Bren Gun roll six dice, belt-fed LMGs roll 8 dice. There are no maximum effective ranges as such (because at the scale of the tables played on this would be ridiculous), but the game differentiates between “close” and “effective” ranges in that it is easier to hit things at close range.

When a squad fires you roll all the dice generated by their weaponry. For each hit (depending on the range of the shot, close or effective, and the battlefield skill of the target unit, green, regular or elite) you roll for effect (depending on the level of cover: open, light, hard). Depending on the roll for effect the hit either does nothing, causes Shock to the unit or causes kills.

Shock of course is the Too Fat Lardies very own morale system. Each point of shock accumulated reduces firepower and movement of the unit. As soon as the number of shock markers equals or exceeds the number of models in the unit the unit starts getting pinned, may retreat, break and ultimately rout.

Games usually are won or lost either by achieving your side’s scenario objectives (or keeping the enemy from achieving theirs) or by hampering the enemy’s ability to continue the battle by lowering their force morale. At the beginning of each game force morale is rolled for. The loss or jump-off points, units or leaders can lead to force morale dropping. Low(ered) force morale leads to fewer activation dice to roll.

So much for the core rules. On top of that the book features rules for close combat, vehicles (letting you activate the different crewmen of each tank, which is a very good thing in my book),  mortar barrages, specialists and so on.

Scenarios, Army Lists

In the Chain of Command rule book you will find six scenarios and 1944/1945 ‘army lists’ for German (Heer, Panzergrenadiere, Fallschirmjäger), British (rifle platoon, Motor Rifles, Paras), Soviet (rifle platoon, tank riders) and US (rifle platoon, motor platoon, Airborne) platoons, along with national special rules and support lists.

Since the release of the rules in July 2013 a number of additional army lists has been published by Too Fat Lardies and are available as free downloads from their website.

This is a sample Chain of Command army list:

Chain of Command Skirmish WW2

As you can see the platoon consists of a Lieutenant, a Platoon Sergeant (both senior leaders), the invaluable 2″ mortar team,  an anti-tank rifle team and three sections, each consisting of an NCO and nine men, split into a rifle team and a gun team. Most nations’ infantry sections are split up into two teams, allowing for more flexible fire and maneuver tactics. You can see the platoon rating as well as the support list.

Chain of Command does not use points values. Well, not quite. Well, it does actually, but don’t tell it to the author’s face. The platoon you field is always the same, based on historical tables of organization and equipment. Great thing I think.  For people who think that ‘balanced’ games are the most important thing in the world each platoon has a platoon rating based on their relative ‘power’.

In each scenario both sides receive a number of support levels to invest in support units. The difference in platoon rating is added to this. Let’s say we play a very standard scenario in which two patrolling platoons meet in no-man’s land and each side gets two levels of support. I play a platoon whose rating is two points below the rating of my opponent’s, so he gets two levels of support and I get four levels in total (two from the scenario, two more from the difference in platoon rating).

This means that I can choose either one support choice from list 4 or four from list one, or one from list 3 and one from list 1 and so on.

Chain of Command Skirmish WW2
On the support lists you will find all these toys, ranging from cars and single satchel charges to …. well, the usual suspects.

Chain of Command Rules Review: The Verdict

So much for what you will find in the rulebook. Over the past 20 months I played quite a bit of Chain of Command. This is my WW2 platoon-level game of choice. It is elegant, it represents infantry combat really well, it makes you think in terms of real world tactics and it’s just great fun to play.

Other than certain other ww2 platoon level games there are no artificially short gun ranges and the use of as many tanks as possible is certainly not propagated.  In fact the game encourages you to use the little stuff. MG carriers are incredibly useful whereas a single tank (rarely you will see more than that on a table) might be targeted by all kinds of anti-tank weapons and be driven off and destroyed early on.

The Patrol phase is a really great innovation and between this, the various support choices and the tactical possibilities the game still feels fresh, even after multiple games of the same scenario. Another thing which I just realized a few days ago was when after a Chain of Command hiatus which lasted for several months (not voluntarily so, believe me) my regular gaming nemesis and I got right back into the rules.

They are just that intuitive and above all: They make sense. If you’re not quite sure how to handle a situation and can not find the appropriate rule at the moment do what seems right in the given situation and it is more than likely that this is what is in the rules too. This may sound like a regular thing, but believe me – for a set of wargames rules this  is an achievement in itself.

Chain of Command Skirmish WW2

Too Fat Lardies, of whose work, mind set and style I am rather fond of (their tag line ‘Play the Period, not the Rules’ pretty much sums it up), really got  a winner with this set of rules. Several supplements have been released to date, including a very popular one set in the Spanish Civil War and Post-1945, sci-fi and ultra modern versions of the game are on the way.

In the following weeks I will publish some battle reports, miniatures and a look at one or two supplements of Chain of Command which I hope will peak your interest in this excellent game. I whole-heartedly suggest playing this game. It’s better than sausages (as the audio ad goes).

Thanks for reading this review of Chain of Command. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting. If you have any questions, comments or painting commission inquiries, feel free to get in contact with me via the Battle Brush Studios facebook page, the Battle Brush Studios website, the Tabletop Stories facebook page or e-mail.

Useful Links:

Too Fat Lardies

Lard Island News

Chain of Command on Youtube (a series of videos on how to play Chain of Command)

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