Since Chain of Command was published last Summer, we have seen a constant stream of newcomers to the rules who have been enjoying the World War II tactical flavour that the rules produce. When creating Chain of Command we knew that we wanted to end up with a game which didn’t just allow us to play a game with WWII figures and models, but also gave us the opportunity to use real tactics and fight battles in the way that the actual protagonists did. The difference is that we are doing it in the comfort of our homes, local clubs or gaming conventions!
Of course the men who fought in the Second World War were well trained, not just in how to use their weapons, but also in tactics. When under pressure they could fall back on the “skills and drills” they had been taught. Their officers and NCOs had been prepared for most tactical situations and, when faced with the enemy in battle, they could draw on that training to out-fight their opponent. We, as wargamers, do not have that benefit. So, we thought that providing a tactical primer for Chain of Command, showing how real life tactical solutions can be applied to our tabletop games, would be a great idea.
Of course WWII infantry tactics is a big subject, consequently we will be producing this as a series of short pieces on Lard Island News which, together, will combine to provide you with your very own tactical manual, rather like this ones above. One of these, a British Army Infantry training manual covering battle drill, section and platoon tactics, tells us:
“it is easy to teach the tactics of cricket, football and boxing, because the men’s interest in these sports has been stimulated; if training is made interesting the teaching of war tactics can be equally successful.”
With that in mind, I shall try to avoid dry theory but instead concentrate on illustrated examples which will be easily recognised by any wargamer.
Before we start looking at specific tactics on the tabletop, let us consider what is needed to achieve victory in a game of Chain of Command. Like real warfare, defeating your enemy is not about killing every last man opposing you, but rather about reducing your opponents resolve to resist to the point where he retires, surrendering the battlefield. How do we achieve this?
In Chain of Command both forces will to fight is represented by their Force Morale. This has a numerical value, between 8 and 11, which is reduced by what we describe as “bad things happening”. In truth this is rather more polite than what we call it in private, but the system is there to recognise that troops will tend to put up with minor set-backs, but will be affected by major negative events, in other words, when “S**t happens”!
The way the rules reflect that is not through testing the morale of individual units whenever they take a casualty or lose a melee, but by testing the morale of the whole force when a major event occurs. These do, obviously, include events brought about by exchanging fire with the enemy. The loss of leaders has a major effect on the player’s ability to control his force and keep it motivated. However, what is often a more effective way of hitting your opponent’s morale hard is by taking ground from him. Nothing tells a soldier that his opponents have the upper hand then them seizing key points within his position and, consequently, the loss of ground, as represented by the capturing of your opponent’s jump-off points, is a sure way to lower his morale significantly. As such, Chain of command is not just a game about firepower, it puts much emphasis on the combination of fire and manoeuvre which has been a key component to warfare since the introduction of the magazine rifle. The player who best embraces the tactics of fire and movement will be in a stronger position that the player who relies on a static deployment and firepower alone.
At the end of each piece we will attempt to distill the core lessons down into one pithy paragraph, or maybe two. In this introductory piece there is not much to say other than, when devising your plan of action, do consider how you can best unsettle your opponent by damaging his morale. Seek out “low hanging fruit” where you can win easy victories and establish an early psychological and moral advantage. More often than not this will be by seizing ground where he has over-extended himself or where he has positions which, due to the terrain, cannot be supported from elsewhere. As the manual says:
“It is not necessary to kill or wound a man to defeat him. You can beat him equally well by destroying his morale, be removing his desire to go on fighting, by making him think he has been beaten.”
In the next piece we will look at the pre-battle reconnaissance, the Patrol Phase in Chain of Command, and how to manage that phase of the game.
One of the most interesting parts of designing a scenario or, by extension, a campaign, is the attempt to create balance which can allow both sides a (roughly) equal chance of victory. Often a simple way to do that is to “go vanilla” and keep everything quite bland. With Kampfgruppe von Luck we were faced