The Patrol Phase in Chain of Command is just one of the unique aspects of the game which, we think, makes play more fun as well as accelerating the game through the early phases, so that play tends to begin at first point of contact, or thereabout. On a club evening that in itself is a great reason to use the Patrol Phase but, equally importantly, this phase of the game provides the player with a thorough introduction to the ground they are about to fight over, and gives them the same decisions to make which a platoon leader would be making during the reconnaissance of his objective or when constructing his defence of a position.
What is particularly challenging and dynamic about the Patrol Phase is that both players need to balance the desire to gain the best possible position for their force with the imperative of denying the enemy the ground favourable to them. In many cases this will present a conflict where the player needs to decide which is his higher priority. Moving a few tokens around the table is simple enough, what is important is for the player to focus on what he wants to have achieved by the end of this short but vital phase of the game.
The Role of Reconnaissance
We must assume that each game will feature at least one, if not both players looking to advance. For the attacker, with a fixed objective his patrols are looking to secure what the 1944 tactical manual refers to as “The ideal line of advance”. This will provide him with “concealment and cover throughout its length and offers good cover from fire”. Above that, he is also seeking to misdirect his enemy, creating a false picture about what he intends to do. It is absolutely key to remember that all of your Patrol Markers will not generate jump off points and that even then you do not need to use all of your jump-off points in the course of a game. To imply a threat to one flank may allow you to draw troops into that area, thereby removing them from the key zone where the decsive action will occur.
The defender will be seeking to secure positions which allow him to form a defensive line with as few chinks in its armour as possible. Ideally these positions will be able to mutually support each other with direct line of sight and good fields of fire. Beyond that, the defender needs to send out his patrols in order to keep the enemy at arm’s length and make any approach they have as long and problematic as possible. Again, not all Patrol Markers will generate a jump-off point, so using at least one as a “spoiler”, to hold back the enemy advance is a wise tactic.
Let us look at an example. The following table is set up with the Germans defending to the left, the Allies attacking from the right as we look at the map. The table is shown with a 24” grid to give an idea of scale.
Let us now consider the table from the opposing perspectives; firstly, the Allies. On the map below are marked three potentially very good jump-off points, marked in white, which the player should be looking to achieve. 1 is key as it allows the player to deploy troops into three key sections of the battlefield, as can be seen by the arrows. The orchard will allow a covered advance, while the upper arrow will allow fast and easy access to the house. It is worth rushing Patrol Markes forward to seize this first.
Number 2 is the simplest to achieve, but it is also the least likely to be interfered with by the enemy Patrol Markers. It allows deployment into two sections of the table. Number 3 is a better version of 2, with a covered approach to the central house, a good position near 2 from which to support and advance and a clear route up the hedgerow towards the German positions. What is noteworthy is that all three Positions can see, and therefore, support, each other to some degree.
Also shown, in red, are three potentially poor jump-off points. Position 4, in the small outhouse, is close to the house, but it is an isolated position which offers no cover for troops deploying from it. Number 5 is the worst option as it cannot do anything which Number 1 can’t do, and it isolates troops on an extreme table edge, especially if, as seems highly likely, the Germans will have troops in the orchard facing it. Number 6 is more contentious as seizing a building does give you hard cover. However, leaving this untouched will encourage the German player to advance into it – wargamers love to put men in buildings – at which point they are easy prey for any troops you have deploying from points 1 and 3. We will look more at troops in buildings later in this series, suffice to say here that they have limited fields of fire, and if the enemy can deploy anywhere close by they are very susceptible to attack by men armed with grenades.
From German perspective, there are three key positions, all of which can be reached with ease. Position 1 should be seized first as it dominates an entire avenue of approach. If it has any failings it is that it cannot be supported by fire from Position 2 or 3, but it is such a key position it is important to at least have the option of deploying there. Position 2 is an excellent central position which also has a covered and protected route to the small hedgerow covering the upper flank if the enemy come that way. Position 3 is an excellent central reserve from which troops can deploy to support Positions 1 and 2. As stated, all of these can be reached very rapidly, allowing the player to begin his patrol phase by advancing one Patrol Marker directly forward and holding the enemy at arm’s length at whatever point he chooses.
As with the Allies, we have three red positions which are less favourable. Position 4 is much too far advanced. It will always prove easy pickings for the Allies, especially as it cannot be effectively supported from Positions 1 to 3. Position 5 is equally to far forward and a great risk. It is tempting to advance rapidly in order to hold back the enemy across a broad front, but in doing so you must still consider which positions are at the heart of the defence. If the defender did wish to push forward more aggressively, then he needs to decide which of his ideal defensive positions he will risk not holding, or at least be conscious of how his forward Patrol Markers are placed when it comes to placing jump-off points. Position 6 is poor for the reasons already stated, it is too far forward and there are very limited fields of fire from buildings.
Having said all of the above, and here’s the conundrum at the heart of this, were the German player to get jump-off points at all of points 4, 5 and 6 it would constitute and excellent position. This is where making a decision about what is desirable as compared to what is achievable comes in. The fact is that the Germans could possibly achieve two of the three jump-off points, but the absence of any one would make the other two untenable and at risk at best. It is important at the outset of any game to practically consider what your enemy is going to want to achieve as well as what you can reasonably expect to do.
In the next piece we will look at deployment onto the table and commanding your platoon in action.
Here on Lard Island we have just about recovered from our fantastic weekend of gaming in Antwerp with the Tin Soldiers at what really is the premier wargaming event on our calendar. To top off a great day on Saturday Dux Britanniarum won the award for the best participation game of the show, a great