Ch..ch..chain

In my unending (and potentially ill-advised) quest to interest some of my non-wargaming friends in miniatures wargaming, I set up a game of Chain of Command, which I refereed, while two of said friends played.

The scenario was a simple patrol, centered around a crossroads (as usual). The western side of the board was dominated by a stone bridge over a decent sized creek (represented by some stones and clump foilage lined banks) and a small orchard, while the eastern side was chock full of bocage, and other hedges. Both ends of the battlefield featured commanding heights, which were, for one reason or the other, ignored by the players.

We only made it through about three phases of the game before having to call it a night. I played the game out to what felt like a conclusion this morning and afternoon. The game was a close-run thing, with both sides force morales dwindling considerably.

In the end the Germans won, despite a couple of blunders on my part. The weight of all those MG-42s was too much for the Americans to overcome. Of course, the best part about playing solitaire is you always win!

On a somber note, I still need to build more bocage.

Patrol Phase

Patrol Phase

Panzergrenadiers deploy

Panzergrenadiers deploy

Sniper in a commanding position (but unable to hit anything the entire game)

Sniper in a commanding position (but unable to hit anything the entire game)

PzGrs defend a low stone wall.

PzGrs defend a low stone wall.

A US fire team moves out.

A US fire team moves out.

Overview

Overview of the 4’x4′ battlefield

The Luchs prowls the table.

The Luchs prowls the table. Interestingly, the presence of armor (at least armor this light) didn’t have an immediately decisive effect on the game. By the time the Lynx appeared on the table, the Germans had some command and control problems due to low force morale, which limited the number of opportunities to get the tank into action.

fierce fight at the crossroads.

fierce fight at the crossroads.

An ill-advised assault...

Dear readers: Don’t assault a full strength American squad in cover behind bocage with a half-dozen Panzergrenadiers. Not that you were stupid enough to try such a thing in the first place…

Lieutenant and Panzerschrek team try to slow down the US advance

Lieutenant and Panzerschrek team try to slow down the US advance

German Jump-off Point

German Jump-off Point

Lieutenant rallies the Panzerschrek team, after they were driven off by heavy US fire.

Lieutenant (red band around his base) rallies the Panzerschrek team, after they were driven off by heavy US fire.

Overview of table at game end.

Overview of table at game end. Note the bazooka team just down from the Luchs. It might have had something to do with the lack of impact by the armor.

I don’t think my friends hated Chain of Command, but they certainly didn’t love the game, either. Chain of Command is just too complicated to use as a vehicle for introducing new players to miniatures wargaming. Or at least it is with my nascent command of the rules. Maybe it would be different with new players who are highly motivated about the period and the idea of playing miniatures games. Obviously, it’s entirely my fault for trying to use them as an introduction to the hobby. Especially since I’ve now made the same mistake twice!

————

I’m still trying to formulate my opinion on Chain of Command as a potential regular part of my gaming diet. Bear with me while I throw out some random thoughts from my experiences.

There are a lot of fiddly parts to the rules-the mechanics are modular, meaning the armor mechanics aren’t the same as the infantry mechanics, aren’t the same as the sniper mechanics, aren’t the same as the artillery mechanics, aren’t the same as the morale mechanics, etcetera. There are numerous exceptions and clarifications, which make it difficult to play from the cheat sheets available online. Finally, in certain circumstances, you have to roll a TON of dice. Mega-dice rolling is fun occasionally, but over the long term I’m finding the large dice pools to be a pain in the butt. On the other hand, I loathe single-die-hit-a-target-number systems, because, to my mind, they’re far too unpredictable. You just can’t please some people, can you?!

I really admire the stated goals of these rules-emphasis on command and (lack of) control, period flavor, and mechanics that reward historical tactics, but the rules overhead required to get to those goals is significant. I’ve played three times now, which equals 9-10 hours of play, and while I have a decent grasp of the general flow of the rules, I’m still constantly referring to the book, or one or more of the dozens of tables, to figure out particulars. Even with a complex game, I would expect to have gained significant facility with a set of rules in that amount of time. I wonder if I’ll ever memorize the rules well enough to support the once every month or two months that I’ll get to play the game. That’s a shame, because I can imagine how great the game could be with sufficient rules mastery. The myriad of design-for-effect subsystems all work really well as individual systems, AND the effect of the aggregate feels quite good. If only stitching it all together weren’t such work!

I’m going to continue on with the rules set for at least a couple more tries, hoping everything will start to gel in my brain. For the next game, I may tone it down on the bocage a bit, and see if a simplified terrain situation might help things go a little more smoothly. In fact, I have another game tomorrow with The Scarlet J. Hopefully he has actually gotten around to reading the rules, and will be some help in that department. I give it a 5% chance :/

 

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Comments

  • Thomas Nielsen  On 07/19/2014 at 3:39 pm

    I have not tried the rules, but have watched their tutorial videos and do own the IABSM rules – and my impression is that it is all about the rules not the game. The rules does nothing to support the feeling of being in battle or triggering the gamers to start an inner movie to be played out. People like me that is very visual orientated, like want’s the camo on the figures to be correct and hate dices and note sheets on the table, have a hard time to find a ruleset like this very fun. In contrary I am pretty sure lots of people sees something completly else in the rules and loves them.
    I find the Battlegroup rules then times more appeling, the rules are simple but still covers most of the situations that could happen in smaller engagements. The rulebook is an orgie full of super nice pictures of game tables and assets which is really makes you start gaming at once. I can warmly recommend you try them out if you haven’t already.

    By the way, your game table is so lovely – super inspiring :-)

    • arkiegamer  On 07/19/2014 at 4:40 pm

      Well, I think that inner movie is in there, I’m just having trouble coming to grips with the rules enough that it flows easily, instead of at 2 frames per second. :) I love listening to Richard Clarke talk about his rules sets on podcasts-he obviously cares deeply about getting the history right, and I think that’s what keeps me motivated to try and master the rules.

      I really need to pick up a copy of Battlegroup, and check it out. I can only imagine how good the book, itself, looks-the photography, figures, and terrain are mostly Piers’s work, right? I guess the only thing that’s held me back, other than the cost, which is pretty steep in the states, is that a lot of the Battlegroup games over on The Guild have soooo many tanks on the board that the games start to look really crowded. I suppose that has more to do with the particular players and scenarios than the rules, though. I do know the Battlegroup rules encourage historical orders of battle, and that’s a big point in their favor. Plus, they come with the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect.

      Thanks for the table complement. I need to start building some Nielsen quality buildings to put on it!

  • Ken  On 07/19/2014 at 9:19 pm

    Good to see Thomas Nielsen having such strong views about the rules when he freely states he doesn’t own them!

    I am not seeing the differences you mention. The sniper mechanics are the same as the infantry fire but they just get pluses. The tank firing mechanism is the same infantry fire, but they reduce cover when firing HE. Firing at tanks is slightly different as tanks get a saving roll as they are armoured, but that’s the same with any rule set.

    Good luck with the rules. They lots of people are really enjoying them.

    • arkiegamer  On 07/19/2014 at 9:45 pm

      It’s the aggregate of those sorts of ‘oh that’s nothing’ differences that add up and make for a slow game. Plus, as I’m sure you know, there are tons of other little subsystems (spotting snipers, for instance) that must be taken into account.

      It may be there’s no way to have your comprehensive cake and eat it quickly, too, but for this baker, Chain of Command’s particular ingredients list is proving tough to juggle.

      Thanks for commenting, Ken. All substantive conversation is welcome, but I must say, vaguely snide and passive-aggressive quips at other commentators is not.

    • Thomas Nielsen  On 07/20/2014 at 6:23 pm

      @Ken, I own their previous games and have seen Chain of Command been played on their Youtube videos and in my opinium ther is a clearly clear resemblance – can’t see why it isn’t okay to speak my mind on the matter when I am careful to tell how my relationship to the game is – it is not as I am trying to fool anyone not play the game. I would think it was much more cool if you join the conversation and tell me how I am wrong :-)

  • 40kterminatus  On 07/20/2014 at 12:35 am

    It’s hard getting anybody to play any type of wargame for the first time as all they want to do is play and not read rules. Perhaps a laminated quick guide to the rules ? I would also greatly recommend Battlegroup rules :)

    • arkiegamer  On 07/20/2014 at 5:53 am

      Oh, I have quick guides printed out, though they’re not laminated, and they do help quite a bit. I dare not show any new players the charts printout, as it’s 8 pages long and will only scare them away forever!

      I really do need to pick up Battlegroup. I had a look for retailers in the US carrying it, and found a couple, but neither had the small rules book that you can use with the supplements. I may have to bite the bullet and order direct from the UK. Or pick up a copy of Kursk, as well. That’s a dangerous route,though-it could lead to painting up units for the eastern front!

      • 40kterminatus  On 07/20/2014 at 11:58 am

        I know all about Kursk, I have a way too much Eastern front as it is lol

  • dave2718  On 07/20/2014 at 2:44 am

    That is a lovely looking table; good luck with learning a new rules set. I find there is a fair investment in learning any new set of rules that have a minimum of “crunch”

    • arkiegamer  On 07/20/2014 at 5:57 am

      Thanks, Dave. Nice blog, by the way!

      You are, of course, right about the necessary investment in time. After 9 hours of play, I would typically expect the rules to begin fading into the background (if that makes any sense) and getting out of the way-it may just take a bit longer with these.

      • dave2718  On 07/20/2014 at 6:39 am

        I agree on the time frame there. I hope you have some gaming buddies that are also willing to put in the hours

  • Frank Arey  On 07/21/2014 at 8:23 pm

    You deserve points for trying to interest others in gaming – hang in there.

    • arkiegamer  On 07/21/2014 at 8:29 pm

      Oh, I have the stubbornness of some animal with a really bony skull, so I’ll hang in there ok. :)

      Is the 16th still looking good for ACW gaming?

      • Frank Arey  On 07/21/2014 at 9:35 pm

        Yes, sir, it is, although no one expects my grandson to wait until Aug. 25 for his birthday! But yes, I’m still planning on coming up. Looking forward to it, actually!

        I hope you’re planning on participating in Grady, et al.’s Waterloo campaign lollapalooza. The practice game was great, and Lord willing, I’ll be back for more.

      • arkiegamer  On 07/23/2014 at 8:57 am

        Excellent. We will expect you the 16th, barring any unexpected reinforcements in the Arey family.

        I am planning on participating in the Waterloo campaign. Looking forward to the kickoff!

  • daggerandbrush  On 07/23/2014 at 7:50 pm

    I said it before, but I say it again: That is some stunning table setup and it only gets better. I really liek the orchard. Guess I have to make some more trees…

    • arkiegamer  On 07/23/2014 at 7:56 pm

      Thanks! I hope to keep improving it.

      We decided for the ground scale of the WWII rules we’re playing, my fields and such need to get much larger. I’m not really happy with my corduroy or coir mat fields. Primarily because I bought a type of coir matting that’s woven, which makes it too tall and bulky at the base.

  • Burkhard  On 07/25/2014 at 3:19 am

    The table looks great, so at least that should have been a joy for them to play!

    If it is any consolation … I have tried to introduce people without previous experience or much interest of their own to wargaming. Also with limited success. Strangley enough most commented that while they developed a basic interest, they would be more interested in a simpler set of rules, maybe based on a SciFi movie. Strange but true. So I guess it is not your fault… it is just very hard to pull off!

    • arkiegamer  On 07/25/2014 at 6:56 am

      Thanks for the table compliment. You’d _think_ it would be a joy, but one of my players said he found it intimidating. I assume he meant that in the context of pondering “what if I took up this hobby.” I suppose I should have broke out the felt and colored construction paper trees. :)

      I think a big hurdle is the fact that it’s “historical,” which, at least in the US, is a lot of people’s least favorite subject from school. As an aside, history is often taught by football coaches here, so you can see the sort of value placed on it.

      Regarding your sci-fi comment, these guys I’m trying to persuade absolutely LOVE the X-wing game. Which is, of course, sci-fi (well, kind of) miniatures.

      Maybe I need to finish up a 15mm sci-fi project I started a year or so ago, carefully pick a less detailed set of rules, and give that a try with them.

  • The Angry Piper  On 07/29/2014 at 10:27 am

    I’m not a WWII gamer, but I can certainly sympathize with a set of rules that make you (or your friends) less than enthusiastic to try them again. I add my voice to the chorus of table praise! That is one sweet-looking setup you have there!

    • arkiegamer  On 07/29/2014 at 10:40 am

      I think I’m going to stick with the rules, for myself. I _think_ it will be worth the effort. That doesn’t mean I won’t try other sets, of course, and I certainly need something more simple and immediately engaging for enticing new players.

      Thanks for the table compliment!

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