Wednesday 25 July 2018

Getting Started with Chain of Command

Lately I've seen a lot of posts in forums and social media from new players asking questions about how people base their figures, or looking for suggestions on pulling together what they need to play Chain of Command. So I thought I would tie together in one post an overview of the key elements I've pulled together or created for playing, as well as some useful links to other places where you can find out more.

This is just my personal preference, not much of it is original thinking, a lot of ideas came from the immense source of information that is out there in blogs, forums and social media. I play in 20mm, but there is very little here that is scale specific other than the size of my bases, so hopefully there is inspiration here for you regardless of your chosen scale.

Talking of scale, there is no specific scale for Chain of Command. The rules writer, Richard Clarke has said that 15mm most accurately reflects the ground scale around which the rules were written, although Rich himself plays the game in 28mm. As mentioned I play in 20mm. Much depends on what you have in your collection and what those who you are likely to play against have in theirs. Alternatively you can take my approach which has been to create forces for both sides in 20mm with terrain to match, that way I'm ready for a game regardless of what scale my opponent may collect.

Most seem to play with figures based individually but if you have a collection built for a rule set like Flames of War with multiple figures to a base, Chain of Command will work just as well. All you need to do is devise a suitable method to record casualties. I began playing with 20mm figures with three to a base and had no problem.

Chain of Command is at heart a platoon level skirmish game so at the very basic level you will need an infantry platoon for each side. The composition of many of these platoons are outlined in the main rule book. They reflect the structure of actual historical platoons and are not specific or exclusive to Chain of Command. That means you don't need to build this platoon using points as in some other WWII rules. Most platoons comprise approximately 30-40 figures and will include riflemen, light machine gun teams, squad/section leaders and the platoon leaders. Exactly what figures you will need will depend on the force you want to create. There is much more detail on how this works in this article about building force lists and supports.

I have created the boards you see below to help me organise figures for a game (a bit more about them later). Here you can see how the British Airborne Platoon is composed for a Chain of Command campaign set on D-Day.

This platoon is the one used for the Kampfgruppe Von Luck campaign available from Too Fat Lardies. The exact composition of the platoon is outlined like any other platoon for use in Chain of Command and this particular one can be found in the campaign notes:

This tells you the platoon is made up of a headquarters with two senior leaders and three teams - a PIAT team; the 2" mortar team, and a sniper team. It also tells you there are three sections ('section' being the British term for a squad) and how many men and what weapons are in each.

As you can see for this platoon you would require 37 figures in total. For the headquarters you would need:
  • Two figures with Sten guns for the Lieutenant and the Platoon Sergeant, the platoon's senior leaders.
  • Two figures for the PIAT team - one with a PIAT and another as the loader/assistant.
  • Two figures for the 2" mortar team - one with a 2" mortar and another as the loader
  • One sniper figure
The three sections are each made up of teams. Sections One and Two are made up of an LMG team and a Rifle team, all under the command of a Sergeant, the section's junior leader. Section Three differs in that it is made up of two LMG teams and a sniper team also under the command of a Sergeant (also a junior leader).

The LMG teams each contain a Bren gun crew. This is described as 'Bren gun and Three crew' which means one figure with a Bren gun and two figures to represent the men who act as loaders and ammunition carriers. In Chain of Command a man designated as 'crew' does not fire his personal weapon, his job is to service the main weapon and, if need be, to step up and fire that weapon if the other members of the crew are killed.

You will note that in Section Three each LMG team also includes 'One Sten' - this means one extra figure armed with a Sten gun submachine gun, making that LMG team a four man team composed of the Bren crew and the soldier with the Sten gun. He is part of the LMG team but as he is not designated as part of the Bren gun 'crew' he is free to fire his personal weapon when the team is activated to fire. Similarly the Rifle teams in Sections One and Two include 'One Sten' and again this is represented by a figure armed with a Sten gun who can contribute his fire to that of the rest of the team.

In total for the three sections you would need:
  • Three figures with Sten guns to represent the Sergeants, the junior leaders that lead each section.
  • Four figures with Bren guns, one for each of the LMG teams
  • Eight figures for the remaining men that make up each of the four Bren gun crews
  • Ten figures with rifles for the rifle teams in Sections One and Two
  • Four figures with Sten guns (one for each LMG team in Section Three and one each for the Rifle teams in Sections One and Two)
  • One sniper figure for Section Three
Different scenarios then allow for each platoon to call on a handful of support units or assets. This can vary from medical orderlies through to a heavy tank. The choice can be long and varied depending on the time of the war and the force involved and it is really up to you to decide how big you make your collection. Generally I would suggest that the sorts of supports you are likely to find most useful would be such things as:
  • An additional rifle squad or section (10 or so figures, depending on the nationality and type of unit)
  • A sniper (1 figure)
  • A forward observation team for a mortar battery (1 or 2 figures)
  • A medium machine gun team (5 figures)
  • An engineer team (3 figures)
  • An infantry anti-tank team (2 figures for a bazooka, PIAT or panzerschreck)
  • An anti-tank gun (gun and five figures plus commander)
  • An armoured car or similar
  • One or two of the most common types of tanks for the force and period of the war you are collecting (for example if you are collecting the British for 1944 in Europe then a Sherman and a Churchill might be useful choices to get you started).
I find having the bulk of the figures individually based works best and gives the most flexibility, so the core riflemen of a platoon are mounted on round 20mm MDF bases (2mm thick).

It's not always practical to place a figure on a 20mm round base and with prone figures I simply make up a base to match the size of the figure.

You will want to be able to identify leaders and key support weapons quickly and people use a variety of different methods for doing this. Much depends on the scale at which you game - a 28mm miniature is much easier to identify from a distance than a 15mm figure. Most methods seem to revolve around basing - larger bases, coloured rings around the bottom of the base or different shapes. Originally I used different sized bases to do this, but I began to find that the bigger footprint created crowding problems when playing games.

Now my Junior Leaders are based on 20mm round bases like my other individual figures. To distinguish them I like to use a figure with a suitable leader's pose and I've added a few rocks to the base to help them stand out.

For Senior Leaders I have chosen a different shape and these figures are on rectangular bases approximately 20mmx25mm.

This makes them easy to distinguish from junior leaders.

To help crewed weapons like a light machine gun stand out I like to have two figures on a base. Originally I kept the basing consistent at 40 x 40mm squares but like my leader figures I found that this large base size wasn't always practical, particularly if you are playing in dense terrain or in buildings. So I decided to maintain the idea of two figures on a base but to vary the base size according to the figures, with the aim to keep the footprint as small as possible.

You may ask, why not put all three members of the LMG team on the same base? Aside from creating a less flexible way of arranging figures on the table I want the option to remove figures as they become casualties. So this is a compromise that allows me to identify quickly where weapons teams are on the table, but allows for casualties to be removed. The third member of the team is made up simply by using an individual figure.

This then gives us the core basing for a platoon. Here is a German rifle squad made up of a rifle team, MG42 team and their junior leader.

A British section is made up of a very similar grouping of men.

The British platoon headquarters is made up of two senior leaders and two weapons teams - a PIAT team and a 2" mortar team.

The important thing is to be able to glance at the table and know what is what.

Weapons that have a crew larger than three men have the additional crew figures mounted on single bases, the same as the riflemen. That allows the individual figures to be the first to be removed as casualties. I will cover how I deal with casualties when they occur to the multi-figure bases later in this post.

Teams for the PIAT, Panzerschreck and other similar weapons, like the British 2" mortar, are normally based with two figures like the LMG teams. However rules are made to be broken. Practical experience has shown that some weapons teams, like a panzerschreck team that very often will be firing from cover, benefit from having figures individually mounted. I like to keep my options open.

These figures below give me a number of options for panzerschreck teams depending on the terrain into which they deploy or move.

Of course there are times you just want to break the rules for aesthetic reasons, like this gun with its large crew. It seems a shame to break them up onto individual bases when they make such a nice mini-diorama like this.

Talking of guns, there is no fixed basing convention for these in Chain of Command and you will see a variety of styles. Some prefer to base all the crew individually and then stand them around the gun on the table. This certainly makes it easier to deal with casualties, but essentially it is down to whatever you prefer. I tend to base to suit the size of the gun and crew and I like to have a mix of some crew with the gun and some based individually to remove as casualties. 

As your platoon starts the game off the table it helps to have the figures arranged into their teams and squads until they are ready to deploy. Even as an experienced player I like to have my platoon organised in this way, so I created platoon boards. These make it very easy to display the figures in their respective units while they are off the table awaiting deployment. You can see how I made the Platoon Boards here.

On the subject of platoon structures you will find that the Chain of Command rule book contains a set of army lists for platoons for various nationalities, but these generally cover the more common types of platoons seen in the European theatre and on the Eastern front. If you are looking to play the Pacific, or say Poland in 1939, you will be able to find army lists in a number of places, many of them available free of charge.

In 2018 Too Fat Lardies published Blitzkrieg 1940 a specific Chain of Command handbook for playing France and the Low Countries in 1940 and this is the first of a series of handbooks that will eventually cover the entire war. Each handbook will contain lists for nationalities and the various platoon structures for infantry units from paratroopers to armoured infantry depending on the period of the war and the nation. They also include background history, scenarios and theatre specific rules.

In 2024 the Far East Handbook was published with very detailed lists to cover the British Empire, Japan and the Dutch East Indies. It also includes a raft of additional rules to cover jungle terrain, Japanese national characteristics as well as new scenarios. This will allow games to be played in place like Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong and Java. It is intended that this will be followed by a further handbook to cover the Pacific and include the Americans as well as Australian and Japanese units that were specific to this theatre.

Lists also exists in a number of forums and are available at no charge as downloadable pdf's. You can find complete lists for The Spanish Civil War or for a range of various WWII armies. Additional lists can be found in some of the Lardie Specials (downloadable pdf magazines sold from the TFL website), for example the Christmas Special 2016 contains a range of mid-war lists for the Eastern Front. I think it is hoped the various handbooks will help to consolidate many of these lists into easily accessible books.

Similarly there is a Consolidated Arsenal where all vehicles and guns are listed. This is a list kept by the gaming community and constantly added to and updated. While it is not 'official' it does include all the listings in the rule book and in other official publications and it's useful to have these all listed in one place. So if you find your favourite tank or AT gun is not listed in the rule book, chances are you will find it in the Consolidated Arsenal. This is a very useful document and it's handy to have all these listed in a single place. Over time there have been minor changes to one or two of the vehicles listed in the main rule book. None of these are major changes and it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with using those values as they are listed, but they are just adjustments that have been made over time based on discussion in the forums.

In my opinion there is one feature of this system that really enhances game play and that is the Pint Sized Campaigns (so called because the pdf versions sell for about the same price as a pint of beer). There are a number of these covering actions from Normandy to Kursk to Malaya and they are available to purchase and download as a pdf from the Too Fat Lardies website. They all offer a linked series of games that follow a particular action. This adds a whole new dimension, where players need to take into consideration the longer term implications of each game - how many casualties can your core platoons handle? When should you concede ground?  They are often fought over five or six tables involving anywhere from six to ten games. The Campaign AAR page on this blog has over eighty game reports on a dozen campaigns that hopefully give you a good idea of how these can add to the overall gaming experience.

Once you have gathered your forces you will want to start playing a Chain of Command scenario, so here are some items that you might find useful for keeping track of what is happening on the table.

For general game play there are a few essentials. Starting with the patrol phase you will need a set of patrol markers. You can use any marker you think appropriate to represent these. I downloaded these great patrol markers from John Bond's Wargaming Stuff, if you are not familiar with John's work he makes some of the most inspiring terrain and scenery (and his miniature painting rises to the same level). You can find a file for his Patrol Markers here.

After printing them out I then paste them onto 40mm diameter round MDF bases. These have a print for the reverse to indicate when a marker has been locked down in the patrol phase.

I then use the same size base to make Jump Off Points. I've raided the spare parts box for material here, mainly stowage items from AFVs, Oil drums and other similar accessories. For most scenarios you will need three jump off points for each side, however some scenarios require a fourth jump off point to mark specific objectives, so I'd suggest having enough for four for each side.

I also like the idea of adding figures to jump-off-points to make them more atmospheric. Below is one I've made for my Japanese platoon:

I made thes two below for my American platoon using spare figures carrying jerry cans and distributing ammunition:

A spare radio operator and ammunition carrier worked well for my British:

If you don't want to make your own jump of points or patrol markers Too Fat Lardies produce a set of resin Jump off Points that will do the trick and you can see these below and order them from TFL here.  If, like me, you play in 20mm or a smaller scale you should just note that the jump off points have been scaled for 28mm.

The patrol phase is one of the very innovative mechanics in Chain of Command and so I've written a post about Playing the Patrol Phase aimed at helping those getting started with the rules to understand how to approach playing this important phase of the game. You may also find this post on Deploying in Chain of Command useful in helping to understand how to use this mechanic in a game.

The other essential is a device for tracking the all important Force Morale for each side. The rule book includes one you can copy and laminate or mount on a piece of card. Pictured is one I use, they come in two colours grey and khaki and I bought mine at a local wargame convention in Sydney, they are made by Olympian Games. A quick Google search will throw up something similar, see this option from Warbases.

I use large coloured dice to track points on the Chain of Command dice and I used an old counter from the Axis and Allies board game to make up markers to track Force Morale for each nationality.

Combat will result in your units taking shock, losing men as casualties and suffering wounded leaders. I've tried to come up with simple ways to show this on the table.

Shock levels will rise and fall during play and so you need a simple and flexible way to record this. I'm not a fan of too many markers on the table and levels of shock on units can sometimes be as high as 10 or more. For this I use micro dice with matching dice frames in MDF which I sourced from Minibits. I have these mounted on small, scenic bases into which a dice showing the relevant level of shock can be inserted. My personal preference is to use a black dice to record shock.

You may ask, why go to the bother of making a base just for the dice, why not just place the dice on the table? It's a good point, but I've found small dice are easy to leave behind when a unit moves and more importantly, too easy to knock over to a different number if not held in place in some way. I think if you don't want to use a dice frame then you need to use larger dice and I feel you can start to clutter the table with unsightly dice if you're not careful. If nothing else the dice frames just look better on the table and my feeling is, if it looks good, then it's worth doing.

Most casualties are simply removed from play, however wounded leaders are an exception. I've tried to find a way to identify these, particularly those who will have their command initiative reduced for the remainder of the scenario. With that in mind I created these Wounded Leaders part 1 and Wounded Leaders part 2 to use as substitute figures when a leader is wounded.

This is obviously time consuming and it's not always possible to find the right figures for your nationality or units. Over time I've tried a few different methods. One option was to use single figure sabot bases that have room for a label. They allow me to create a base for those with a temporary wound that will last them the turn (which I refer to as being 'stunned') and a base for those whose wound will remain with them for the rest of the game. You can see how I made these in the post about Markers for Wounded Leaders.

More recently I've tried to reduce this footprint even further by using a smaller sabot base with a medic's satchel attached. I've found this serves the purpose well while taking up less space on the table and I think I've finally made up my mind this is the way to go (it's taken a while!). You can read more about how I made these in this post about Wounded Leader Markers.

For senior leaders with the more irregular rectangular bases I have a generic 'casualty' base that I can use.

While it's an advantage to have support weapons based differently there is then a need to find a way to identify how many crew survive once they start taking casualties. This is one reason I have no more than three figures attached to a single base, so that I can at least remove individually mounted figures first.

In the majority of cases I have two figures to a base for the most common weapons like light machine guns, infantry anti-tank weapons like a PIAT, or, light mortars. For these I use a variation of the markers I use for wounded leaders with a small base showing a medical kit and bandages. For a team with casualties and shock I have a similar base with a dice frame to hold a shock dice.

For a base holding a larger gun where there will be more than one casualty that needs to be recorded on the base then I have created a variation of my shock markers, this time with two dice frames and a casualty figure mounted on the base. This way I use a red dice in one frame to show the number of casualties and a black dice in the other to mark shock. 

This is a method that would work if you have your miniatures based for another rules set like Flames of War or Crossfire. I started playing Chain of Command with my infantrymen based with three to a stand and other then needing to record casualties it works just fine.

The other option to keep it simpler is to have two dice frames as I've done in the picture below. Here a Japanese grenade discharger squad has taken casualties from each of the grenade discharger teams and one has suffered a point of shock. Of course basing figures individually is one way of avoiding this altogether!

Units that are taking Tactical positions or placed on Overwatch need to be marked, as do those that have become Pinned or Broken. The sets sold by Too Fat Lardies, mentioned earlier, include markers that you can use. My regular opponent bought an alternative set from Olympian Games and they inspired me to take them one step further.

Having these is my one real concession to having markers on the table where function is more important than form. Nonetheless I've been trying to make them blend in more with the table and acquired a set of the markers from Olympian Games that come in plain MDF.

I added texture using sand and PVA and then painted and flocked them as I would my figure bases.

I think these blend in well with the table and you can read more about them here.

Now I know this might sound obvious to any wargamer, but you will also need some dice - D6 to be exact. One thing I would suggest is that you find a way to differentiate your command dice from the dice you will use for things like firing and moving. The reason is that it is incredibly easy in the heat of the moment to pick up the nearest dice and roll them to resolve an action, but you don't want to find you just did this with your remaining command dice (believe me, I've done it more than once). So I have a set of different coloured dice and then set these aside once rolled while I work through my activations. As you don't have to declare all your activations at the start of the phase I will keep my command dice to one side and use them as I see fit and subject to what unfolds in the phase.

Blue dice for command and the white dice for other rolls

Alternatively you can pick up one of the many sets of nationality dice from other rule sets (I found sets of six dice for the Tanks game gave me exactly what I need) and these add flavour to the command rolls. The nationality symbols represent 6, so work well for things like determining who has next phase and turn end.

There are those that view the command phase dice rolls as something of a lottery and see Chain of Command as a game driven solely by luck. Naturally I beg to differ and for those of you new to the game you might find this post useful in helping to understand the role of the command dice in the game Luck or Skill? The command dice in Chain of Command.

One of the great things about Chain of Command is that you don't need to refer to numerous charts during play, it's amazing how quickly you pick up the core mechanics. However you will find a Quick Reference Chart useful for things like Force Morale rolls and other events. Mike Whitaker who runs the Trouble At T'Mill blog has produced some great charts that you can download. Very useful when you are just learning the game (and I still find them useful now), you can download them from here.

As time has progressed I have found I need these charts less and less, nonetheless there are a couple of rules mechanics that come up regularly that I simply cannot memorise. These are the force morale table and the close combat table. My solution has been to make a couple of small, playing card size reference cards that I can keep handy during a game. I simply cropped them from the pdf of the sheets above and laminated them. I've found them well worth the (short) time it took to make them.

As with all rules there are questions and clarifications and Too Fat Lardies have made available a downloadable CoC FAQ which may help answer any questions you have. They have also produced a free downloadable Tactical Primer that helps beginners get a grasp of some of the concepts and tactics. I have also created a post which list six rules mechanics which I think new players often under utilise which you can find in this post.

There are a few other items you might want to consider. Smoke is something you will use often, particularly if you are playing the British with their 2" Mortar. I found ready made blank MDF coasters at a local craft store that were very conveniently 3" in diameter, the perfect size for smoke.  All these needed were some texture and flock and the addition of synthetic cushion stuffing (from the same craft store). I don't use cotton wool, mainly because, well it tends to look like cotton wool. The synthetic stuff holds its shape well and looks better in my opinion.

For some reason I can never remember the direction for drift when a smoke round fails to land on target, so as a memory aid I've printed a label and marked the underside of the base. So 1 is 6" right, 2 is 6" left, 3 is 6" over the target, 4 is 6" short.

Certain weapons, like the British 2" mortar can generate unlimited smoke in the short period represented by a Chain of Command scenario, however they only have three rounds of HE. Similarly there is a limit to the number of grenades a leader may order thrown, or the amount of fuel carried in a man pack flamethrower. To help keep track of that sort of specialist ammunition I have made up some simple markers that blend in with the table. You can read more about how I made this and use then in the post on Making Ammunition Markers.

I find Covering Fire very useful in suppressing an enemy in an uneven firefight, particularly when your target is in hard cover and your chance of inflicting casualties or shock is reduced. So I have made up some simple markers that I can leave in play to mark where I have laid down covering fire. I've gone for a slightly Hollywood effect with the simulated gun fire, but they work well enough. You can see how I made them in this post.

A mortar barrage can have a huge impact on the table and so you will want to have a way to mark out the area covered by it. This can make for quite a spectacular visual effect and so I thought it well worth going to the effort of making some really nice ones. There is more on how I made these here.

Using a similar technique I created blaze markers to show destroyed AFVs.

For fortifications from the support list I have created sections of wire, minefields and entrenchments. I made up generic entrenchment terrain pieces, one style to hold a support team and another to hold up to eight riflemen. You can see how these were made in this post.

I have also made up other foxholes using half figures converted from Plastic Soldier Company figures and with foxholes sculpted from Milliput. You can see more about how I made those in this post.

As you may have noticed, I'm a big fan of AB figures WWII range and they do some great half figures and entrenchments to match. A bit indulgent, but they do look great on the table. Again you can see more about how I made these in this post.

Minefields are another thing you will want to find a way to mark on the table. In Chain of Command they are an area 6"x6" and so I initially made these from a piece of MDF with a simple wire fence around them and warning signs made from images I sourced from the web.

However these are not always functional when you need to place them in terrain, like a wood for example and so I copied an idea from John Bond to make 'hollow' minefields that were simply wooden coffee stirrers glued together.

Using a similar technique I made up 6" sections of barbed wire, this wire was an eBay purchase and I can't recall the supplier.

Another thing you might find handy is a devise to show covered arcs, particularly useful when firing into or out of buildings. This inexpensive perspex marker came from Charlie Foxtrot Models.

While by no means essential, these two laser pointers are great for working out placement of Jump of Points. Unlike the normal laser pointer, each of these projects a laser line onto the table and so the two of them make it very easy to work out the relevant arcs behind the patrol markers. They are also very handy for determining line of sight. You don't need them, but you know you want them.

There are several great sources of additional information you can explore. Too Fat Lardies run an online Forum for all their games including a folder for Chain of Command this is in addition to their own Lard Island News blog which also has a section of useful (and free) downloads.

There is also a Facebook group specifically for CoC and a more general Groups io for Too Fat Lardies where a number of game support files are also available. There is an active X (Twitter) feed using #chainofcommand and #spreadthelard.

The player community also has several great blogs and YouTube channels. There are too many to list here, but a few I would point new players to are Tiny Hordes which features some easy to follow game reports that I found useful when I was learning the rules. There are a number of YouTube channels which feature the game in action and I would recommend Storm of Steel WargamingTabletop CP and Beasts of War.

The Lardies themselves have ventured into the video medium and produce a regular podcast - the Oddcast and videos on Lard TV. You can find links to all of these at News of the Lard.

I also have a number of AARs in this blog. Just one word of caution with all of these, we all make mistakes sometimes and miss the odd rule in the heat of the action. If while you are watching or reading these something strikes you as not quite correct, chances are you are right. These are the not the final word on the rules but a wonderful way to get a feel for how the game flows. Even Rich Clarke, the author of the rules who features in the Beasts of War videos, has been known to confuse a rule with another one of the rule sets he has written. If in doubt refer back to the rule book and the FAQ as the correct source.

I have a number of articles about tactics and other game aspects of Chain of Command and these can all be found on the CoC Tactics page.

I hope this is a useful guide for anyone just getting into Chain of Command. While I list a lot of home made extras here they are by no means essential for enjoying the game, I just can't help making and painting stuff. It's a sickness, I'm sure!

I wish I could take credit for much of this, but my thanks go out to the many fine folk out there producing great terrain and gaming tools and sharing them with us via their blogs, forums and social media.

If you've enjoyed following along and would like to Buy Me a Coffee to help cover some of the costs of running the blog you can click through at the link or on the tab in the right hand column of this page.