Monday 16 October 2023

Underused tactics in Chain of Command

One of the things I like about Chain of Command is the way it allows you to combine a range of historical tactics to try and achieve your objective. Not all of these are apparent to new players and I've often watched games where they rely too heavily on one tactic alone - firepower, and they don't exploit the full range of options. With that in mind I thought I'd list a few of those rules mechanics that I think are under utilised. Hopefully some players will find this useful. 

1. Covering Fire

Covering fire is a very good way to suppress enemy fire and reduce its effectiveness. The relevant rule section says:

Pg 20 Covering Fire: Only Leaders may instruct a Team or Section to put down Covering Fire. A Team giving Covering Fire will target a piece of terrain with 4” frontage or 9” frontage if the whole Section or Squad is firing. Any enemy forces moving, deploying or already in that area will fire with a ‐1 on dice rolled to hit due to the suppressing effect of this fire.

Covering Fire lasts until the end of the next Phase, whether that Phase is friendly or enemy. While giving Covering Fire, a Unit may do nothing else.

The wording of the rule can confuse some people - what it means is that the to hit number needed on each dice rolled suffers a -1 modifier if the firer has been targeted by covering fire. In other words, units suppressed with covering fire will now hit a target on only a 5 or 6 at close range (instead of a 4,5 or 6) and a 6 at effective range (instead of a 5 or 6).

Reducing the chance of a hit at close range from 50% to 33% is a notable difference. It can make approaching an enemy across open ground or through light cover a little less hazardous. Sometimes it's more effective to suppress enemy fire than it is to try to inflict casualties and shock, especially when the chances of doing so are greatly reduced by hard cover.

The added bonus is that covering fire remains in effect for two consecutive phases. So, for example, if in your phase you are facing an enemy unit on overwatch you could lay down covering fire with one unit before moving with another. If the unit on overwatch chooses to fire they will suffer the -1 to hit penalty for each dice rolled when they do. The same will apply if they try and fire in the following phase.

Laying down covering fire is a useful tactic that reduces the effects of machine guns or well armed units like panzer grenadiers. At the same time it allows you to manoeuvre other friendly units forward and threaten the enemy with close combat or a move around their flank.

As covering fire remains in effect for the current and following phase I found it useful to make up a few simple markers like the one above to help record that on the table, you can see more about them here.

2. Assigning men between teams

This is a simple rule that can easily be forgotten in the heat of a game, but it can play a very important role in maintaining the effectiveness of your platoon. The rule states:

(Pg19) 4.5.3 Commands Which are not Activations - Some commands given by Leaders are not considered activations and do not prevent a Unit being activated at another point in the same Phase.

Junior Leaders may ... use one Command Initiative to transfer one man from one Team to another if both Teams are within 4” of him and under his command.

When would this be considered something worth doing? The most obvious example is when a squad's LMG team is reduced to a single crew member. This creates two problems: First, it reduces their firepower (as per the relevant notes for each type of machine gun in the Master Arsenal Table on pg37). Second, a single man team is very vulnerable to being wiped out. The loss of that LMG team will reduce the firepower available to the platoon for the rest of the game and that is only compounded by the potential negative impact on force morale. Both of those can be avoided by taking advantage of this rule (note that it only applies to a junior leader doing this for his own command ie his squad or section).

While it does require the junior leader to expend one command initiative it's not considered an activation for either of the two teams and does 'not prevent a Unit being activated at another point in the same Phase'. In other words, other than the cost of one of the junior leader's command initiatives it's a free move.

So for example a German squad with a junior leader, a five man rifle team and an LMG team reduced to one man would generate ten fire dice (five for the rifle team and five for the belt fed LMG with the crew reduced to one man - for the purposes of this example let's assume the junior leader's SMG is out of range). If the junior leader uses one Command Initiative to assign one man from the rifle team to the LMG team he brings the LMG team back to full strength. He then uses his second Command Initiative to activate the whole squad to fire, now generating twelve fire dice instead of ten (four for the rifle team now less one member but eight for the LMG team now that the crew is greater than one). Not only has the leader increased the squad's firepower by 20%, he's also doubled the size of the LMG team thereby reducing the chance of losing the team altogether.

3. Deploying tactical

This is a simple 'free' action that is always worth doing. This was clarified in the FAQ and Errata published in 2017 and it is clear that a unit may deploy in a tactical stance (but cannot move). You have nothing to lose and if for some reason your enemy has a sequence of phases or surprises you with a deployment your unit is in the best cover. 

4. Smoke grenades

The British player is normally quick to exploit the benefits of smoke from the platoon's 2" mortar, it's a very useful weapon that's not present in other platoons. However smoke grenades are available to most squads of nearly all nationalities and while not as plentiful or with the same range as the 2" mortar they can play a very useful role.  

I should point out that since the rulebook was published in 2013 there have been a few rule changes and clarifications with regard to smoke grenades. In the original rules the number of grenades available to a squad were unlimited as long as you didn't throw them in consecutive phases (9.2.3 pg 41). This was amended in the Errata and FAQ and the total number of grenades that could be thrown was equal to the leader's command initiative level. This has since been further refined with the publication of the 1940 Handbook where the number of grenades is limited by squad and the quantities available are defined in the army lists. In the vast majority of cases this amounts to three explosive grenades and one smoke grenade per squad or section. 

The actual mechanic for throwing grenades remains unchanged (as per 9.2 on pg40) - each grenade thrown requires a command initiative from a leader. Throwing a grenade does not constitute an activation.

9.2.2 Smoke Grenades

A smoke grenade is thrown exactly like a normal grenade. Players identify the target location and roll 1D6 or 2D6 to determine where it lands. The area covered by the smoke is 3" in diameter but it does not completely block line of sight. Any Team which has men firing through smoke will apply a -1 to any roll to hit their target for the whole Team.

The effect on firing is much the same as with covering fire. The rules then clarify further:

Troops may not fire covering fire through smoke. However, they may fire covering fire and then deploy smoke in the same Phase, with the covering fire being effective for the next Phase. The effect of covering fire and smoke in that situation is cumulative, with a -2 being applied to any to hit roll for any unit affected by both.

Smoke lasts until the end of the turn, so that while a squad may have only a single smoke grenade it could quite possibly provide cover for multiple units over several phases depending on conditions. It would make crossing an exposed stretch of road or other open ground a much less risky proposition.

5. Moving a jump-off-point 

This is a tactic that allows you to move units very rapidly to the forefront of the action. It's particularly useful for an attacker, but it does require two things - a CoC die and units held off the table in reserve. It's one reason why you might want to delay some of your deployment. 

CoC allows for a great deal of fog of war and the system of jump-off-points is a key mechanic for doing this. Keeping your opponent guessing where the main focus of your attack is going to be makes good tactical sense. Being able to take an opponent completely by surprise by moving a jump-off-point forward up to 18" and then deploying one or more units can prove decisive. As always, timing is everything, but if timed right the result can be devastating, as your opponent may not be able to react quickly enough.

Pg 23 Move a Jump‐Off Point

A player may only move a Jump‐Off Point during his own Phase. One friendly Jump‐Off Point may be moved a maximum of 18” in any direction to a position at least 6” to the rear of friendly troops which is either in or behind cover from any deployed enemy Unit.

Once the Jump‐Off Point has been moved, it can be used immediately in the current Phase in order to deploy troops onto the table, assuming the relevant Command Dice are available.

You can see how it can be used in this game.

6. Moving

While it seems I may be stating the obvious I have watched many a game bog down into a protracted fire fight. One that invariably ends in stalemate as casualties and shock build up to the point movement is almost impossible.

While your units are often well armed this is not a game that is always determined by firepower alone. A combination of fire and movement will often be the key to success. While the battlefield is a dangerous place, moving in combination with the suppressive effects of covering fire; the extra cover provided by a smoke grenade; the support of units on overwatch, and, using the benefits of tactical movement means that quite often an enemy can be forced to vacate a strong position due to the threat of encirclement rather than from the effects of gunfire.

While moving at double time comes at a cost in shock, it might be a small price to pay to cover dangerous ground or close down an enemy jump-off-point. You shouldn't let yourself live in fear of a poor movement roll, players are quick to bemoan their bad fortune but rarely remember when the dice were kind. Sometimes it's down to managing the risk - have you sent the unit out without putting down covering fire first? or throwing a smoke grenade? More often than not we make our own bad luck by not exploiting all the game mechanics and historical tactics have to offer.