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Sunday, September 6, 2015

So You're a Platoon Commander! Comparing Chain of Command and Bolt Action


Hi Guys

I've been meaning to do a comparison of these two rule systems for a considerable time but other things just simply get in the way, like other projects (Commissions, my ongoing La Haye Sainte project, painting 100s of Perry Miniatures, and building lots and lots of terrain,..).
Well finally here it is.
Now before I start I just want to say that I'm looking at the two systems through the eyes of a soldier (Artilleryman) of 33 years service (both in a pure training environment and operationally).
Yes, I know they are both 'Games' and playability and pure enjoyment must sit at the top of the list, but some level of realism must in my opinion be evident, otherwise why not simply play Warhammer Fantasy?
I've played about 5 games now of both systems and found both to be enjoyable and challenging.
One system was however MORE challenging, realistic and for me personally, enjoyable.
So let's look at each systems.
BELOW: A Brit Airborne 6 Pdr covering down a road somewhere in Holland.


Bolt Action (BA) is produced by Warlord Games and works on a system where for each Squad (or Section), AFV, Artillery Piece, vehicle or small team (Artillery Observer for example) you and your opponent get one 'Command Die'. All the dice go into a single opaque container and are drawn randomly. As a die comes out the owner of that die can issue 1 of 6 different commands (RUN, ADVANCE, FIRE, AMBUSH, RALLY, DOWN) to his troops as he sees fit. Very suspenseful stuff!

Produced by Too Fat Lardies, Chain Of Command (CoC) works much differently.
Depending on the Quality of your force you get to roll 4 (poor quality) 5 (Regular or standard quality) or 6 (Elite or hardened well trained Veterans).
At the start of your turn you roll your allocated dice.
For each 1 you roll you can activate a small team
For a 2 a Section together with its leader
For a 3 a Section Commander (Leader) with his Section
For a 4 a senior leader such as the Platoon Sergeant, (if you have one) or the Platoon Commander)
A roll of a 5 goes towards building up CoC die, and once you have one of these then there are all sorts of options open to you, like declaring an ambush, interrupting an opponents move, relocating a sniper team, to mention just some.
A 6 is a 'Phasing' Die and let's just say multiple 6s are a good thing.

Pre Game Preparation
In Bolt Action (BA) you select or dice for a scenario, set up and play
In Chain of Command (CoC) you select or dice for a scenario and then enter what is called the 'Patrol Phase'. This is like a mini game within the larger game.
It represents scouts or recon patrols probing ahead of your main force and establishing what is referred to as Jump Off Points (JOP).
It is from these JOPs your troops enter the table, and the loss of which can have catastrophic consequences.
BELOW: CoC at CANCON 2014

Movement
It's a fixed distance in BA.
For example Infantry run 12 inches without firing or 6 inches if the wish to move AND then fire. Terrain will obviously have effects on movement but you KNOW how far your boys will move FOR CERTAIN.
In CoC it's variable, based on moving one D6 if moving tactically, maintaining a low profile for example, (maybe they are leopard crawling or monkey running).
Normal movement is 2D6 or 1 D6 to move AND fire, (or fire and then move)
"At The Double," 3D6 is a pell-mell 'Rush' and pick up some disorder for your trouble!
So in other words each individual Section / Squad will move as they see as appropriate depending on whether or not the Section Commander or Squad Leader has told them to "keep low lads"! or "Move it boys"!
This seems more realistic to me.

Coordinated movement.
In BA you can't really coordinate arms with any real certainty.
Here's an Example:
Let's say one of my dice is drawn. I decide to move my Stug III
Then one of my dice is drawn again so I move my Squad behind the Stug III. Excellent!
But I can only move my Stug III and my squad in the same phase IF I get two Die drawn in succession. If this doesn't happen the insane situation can arise where the Stug roles on down the road, leaving the dim witted infantrymen standing in the middle of a perfect firing lane just begging to be blown away.
Now obviously you can increase your chances to coordinate movement by 'counting the dice' as they come out of the bag, and waiting until you know that you have more dice in the bag than the other guy, but this might never happen (particularly if the bad guys have more dice than you due to being of cheaper 'stock')
BELOW: A PzIII in North Africa

In CoC I can quite easily move my AFV down the road with my supporting infantry section right behind it (for cover) or either side of it (protecting it from enemy with Anti-tank weapons)
And to do this SHOULD be easy.
Example:
It's my phase of turn 2.
I have regular US Armoured Infantry (5 Command Dice)
I roll and get 3, 2, 3, 5, 6
The 6 means next 'Phase' is the Italians (my opponents)
The 5 means I've scored one CoC Die! (Only 5 to go).
I use the one of the 3s to get my SGT to put my MMG 'Team' on Overwatch.
I use the other 3 to order my M4 Sherman tank down the road (the MMG is coving its movement in case any Italian Paratroopers with a Panzerfaust pop up) and I use the 2 to have a Squad of infantry move normally behind the tank.
The infantry might not be right up behind the tank,.. But they won't be simply left 12 inches behind.

Let's look at Ambushing
Ambushes in BA aren't true ambushes.
There's no,..
"Holy cow! Where did they come from"?
In other words they are really just in Overwatch.
The Ambush order in BA still leaves the ambushers in plain sight on the table.
I can see you, and if I can see you I can engage you, therefore you're not 'in ambush'.
There are rules in BA covering 'Hidden Troops', but for reasons I can't quite understand they are still deployed on the table in plain sight.
The bonus for them is it's  virtually impossible to actually hit them if shot at!
They lose that bonus if infantry or Recce vehicles approach within 12 inches or other things happen,....

In CoC a Anti Tank team can suddenly appear literally 'out of nowhere' and attempt to put a shaped charge into the side of your tank!
This is done by utilising a CoC dice (remember,.. Rolling '5's accumulates these and once I have scored six '5's I gain one CoC Die) and deploying a small team anywhere within 12inches of a 'Jump off' point but NOT within 6 inces of enemy infantry (they would have acquired the ambushers within that range).

Consequently I see a Sherman moving across a field within 18 inches of one of my JOP    so I declare I'll stage an ambush! I discard my CoC die and place a Panzerfaust team I've held off table for just such an opportunity. Fritz is placed behind a hedge 3 inches from the Sherman and fires!
In CoC it's not wise to have AFVs moving around unsupported by the foxhounds!
Oh, and you better have some troops in 'Overwatch' covering your armour

Close Air Support
Air support in CoC is something totally random and I'm fine with that.
The forces in play in these Skirmish level games really shouldn't simply call up a P47 Thunderbolt. Sorry,... Those assets are held at Battalion or higher level. Probably DIVISIONAL!
Admittedly your force really could be the tip of the spear and yes, at battalion level the FAC needs to be placed somewhere, but that somewhere is usually Battalion Tac Hq or with a Company Commander and maybe he's been sent off with a platoon,..
In BA you can obtain a FAC. Fair enough

Close combat!
When you go into close combat in BA any 'pin' markers (which simulate the 'Shock' or 'Suppression' troops are enduring) are removed!
ALL of them!
Like a wise section commander you've been working like a demon to win the firefight before committing to the hand to hand stuff but now as the entrenching tools and bayonet work is about to start the enemy suddenly finds his guts and fights!
Everyone is now a hero,...
All the shock you've applied is now for naught,...
Now obviously there is an element of what I've just mentioned (guys throwing up their hands or simply refusing to fight) taking place and the 'results' will be seen in the final outcome of the hand to hand combat.
It's simply abstracted into the results.
Hand to Hand is usually not simultaneous in BA,...
If your unit has been activated and you're in the 'open' then there is little chance you'll be able to fight back as the attacker will mete out his hits before you do. Only if you have some guys still standing can you reply.
I just don't like the fact that unless your defenders are behind an obstacle they don't fight simultaneously with their attackers.
There appears to be more abstraction taking place in BA to simplify the game and that's ok by me. Game design is always a compromise between realism and playability.

In CoC in almost all circumstances both sides fight EXCEPT in the situation where one side has an advantage in combat dice of 4 to 1 or greater.
In that case the weaker side routs immediately in a terrible state of shock!
Otherwise it's brutal and it's possible both participants can be wiped out,.. As it should be.
Close Combat in CoC, (like most things) is slightly more complex than in BA.

Small Arms Firepower:
In CoC a German MG 42 generates 8 dice which is over half the sections Firepower
In BA it generates 4 dice less then half!
That speaks volumes (pardon the pun) about both sets of rules!
In CoC the Machine Gun is king!
Well at least as far as the Germans are concerned. Looking at a German infantry section you soon see that the section is built around the MG34/42.
But looking at a Brit section you see manoeuvre is the name of the game, with the Bren not providing as much punch.
Consequently the Platoon Commander in CoC is better off playing his sections historically.
The German trying to dominate with his excellent LMGs (often by 'Attaching' the Section Commander to the LMG team to add extra dice) and the Brit relying on manoeuvre and the excellent accuracy of the Bren to target specific teams within the enemies forces.
BELOW: German Infantry with PINS or SHOCK

Suppression.
In BA when you score a hit on the enemy, whether it be one hit or several you only inflict 1 pin marker.
To be fair, if you inflict 50% or more casualties you do trigger a 'Do or Die' moral test.
By contrast in CoC you might not cause any actual casualties when you engage an enemy section squad or team but you may inflict so much 'shock' on them they become paralysed or even break in flight!


Tactical Flexibility
In BA you start with Teams or Sections / Squads, (which can be as big or as small as you wish  within certain parameters). During game play you can't form a 'Team' from a 'Section'. For example, a section commander can't order his scouts to move to the intersection and check out that area, or send his Bren team off to a far flank.
Now you could I guess work around this by creating your sections / squads using two dice per squad. That us to say one die for 1 NCO with a SMG and 4 riflemen and another for a LMG team of 1 NCO and 4 men (2 manning a LMG) thus creating your German Squad. In effect 2 dice per section / squad, but that creates other issues and still leaves you with two independent 'teams' that might not be able to coordinate their movement and can't merge and split as the Squad leader desires.
In CoC this is possible. The Section command can splinter of small teams to perform tasks and then reconstitute his section, just as in reality.
As a platoon commander you and your sections have that tactical flexibility in CoC. You don't in BA.

Orbats or 'Lists':
Bolt Action lists look to me like something out of Warhammer 40k.
Seriously, you can 'pick n mix' pretty much to your hearts content.
You don't select historically accurate sections or squads in BA. Rather you 'Purchase' teams of about 5 men (on average I'd say) or teams that you can increase to proper squad strengths. As noted this can create a situation where you could conceivably create a squad or section consisting of 10 men with TWO Command Dice.
Games could well be decided by who can throw together the 'gamyest' order of battle rather than who possessed the best tactical grasp of what's going on.

CoC lists detail the specifics of each platoon type and then give that platoon a force 'Rating' which goes toward indicating what 'Support' options you can choose.
Anything from (for the British Motor Platoon in 1944) a single 'Sticky Bomb' or some barbed wire to a Churchill Crocodile Tank with a Junior Leader!
CoC lists drive you toward historically accurate orders of battle (Orbats) and support options.
Both rules sets allow for some limited 'National Characteristics'.
BELOW:
As viewed through a Periscope, (handy for 'TRUE Line Of Sight' games like CoC and BA)
A Brit Cromwell tank comes undone AND "Don't bunch up boys"!

In summary
Both systems will provide you with an enjoyable challenging game.
Both systems are well supported.
But here's one of my bigger gripes with BA,...
The poorer (points wise cheaper) quality your troops are the more troops (and as a consequence) 'Command dice' you'll get!
This is crazy as it supposes the worse your troops are the more likely you are to gain the initiative.
In CoC the better your troops the more dice you get and the more likely you are to gain the initiative and the better your Command and Control is.
For game balance in CoC the Green Troops will either gain more support options or lessen their opponents support options.

Warlord Games have been churning out plenty of Army Lists and for about $40 a book you can buy them, and they are very nice books indeed with lots of great Osprey Publishing illustrations.
There are lots of podcasts supporting BA also.
Too Fat Lardies also gave done a good job in supporting Chain of Command with two RULES Supplement!
Big CoC focuses on having a Tank or Assault Gun force as the basis of your command and At The Sharp End provides rules for playing a campaign!
There is also three (at this time) mini campaign books:
29 Go,
Kampfgruppe Luck,
And;
Old Hickory.
All army lists are FREE for download from the TFL forum and they have lists covering not just WW2 but also the Spanish Civil War!
There are moves afoot to produce a modern version of CoC called 'Fighting Season' and a WW1 variant is also available.
Both systems provide online video tutorials via YouTube
I HIGHLY recommend you watch both for an excellent introduction to both systems.
Hell. I could simply post both YouTube links and save myself all this writing,...
Here they are (grab a hot chocolate and a Tim Tam or two and enjoy):
Chain Of Command 
and
BOLT ACTION

Bolt Action has a huge following and finding someone to play against in most clubs certainly shouldn't be a challenge.
It's simplicity makes it ideal for introducing people to the period and I myself use BA to introduce youngsters to Wargaming.
If you want to have some fun, push some WW2 soldiers around a table and can live with some oddities then Bolt Action is great!
For me however Chain Of Command is much more challenging and realistic and it truly feels like I'm commanding a WW2 Platoon for only a very slight increase in complexity.
I really appreciate the effort the guys at TFL have gone to produce such a realistic yet elegantly simply system.
From experience I can tell you Chain Of Command is as close as you'll get to the real thing.
Here are some relevant LINKS:
The CoC Forum
Too Fat Lardies
The BA Forum
BOLT ACTION

UPDATE: CoC is on SALE! 20% OFF for Sept 2015
Link here: http://toofatlardies.co.uk/blog/?p=5132

30 comments:

Rodger said...

Brilliant! I have played a few game of BA but felt there was something lacking about the rules. I had thought of having a look at CoC but as yet am still getting round to purchasing a copy. Sounds like I should get on with it!

A.W. KITCHEN said...

It may be just me but I have a problem following TFL rules , still try to work out Dux Brit , as I play mostly solo I like BA because the system is simple and I can remember what both sides are doing , Tony

Trailape said...

Hi A.W. Kitchen
I'd highly recommend you check out the VIDEO TUTORIAL.
The link is in the review

m4jumbo said...

Thanks for taking the time to write that up. A very well done and useful comparison of the two systems.

Bart Beswick said...

Great review,fair to both systems, and outlines their strengths and weaknesses.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff here, thanks. One question, I've played BA but not CoC & I'm not sure what you mean by "The crappier your troops are the more 'Command dice' you get!
This is crazy as it supposes the worse your troops are the more likely you are to gain the initiative." I don't remember this at all in the games I've played. Can you please explain?
Thanks, Peter

trailape said...

Sure
If you're troops are of poor quality then they cost less points wise than say Elite troops.
Therefore you'll have a larger force and thus MORE Command Dice.
Given the command dice effectively simulates your command ability the cheaper (therefore larger) your force the more Command Initiative you'll invariably will have.

El Grego said...

Thank you very much for that detailed side-by-side comparison. I am not much for WW2 gaming any more, but as any gamer knows that can change at the roll of the dice!

DeanM said...

Thanks for the great comparison. It's what I had generally assumed from seeing other blog posts and games. I know a lot of folks who've "graduated" to CoC from BA, for the reasons you've stated. Me...I'm too much of a simpleton, so will have to stay with BA for now :)

Pendragon 9279 said...

Great review and you have just outlined why I switched from BA to COC

alastair said...

Good reviews...I've played both and definitely prefer CoC. I'd say it's the best Platoon level game I've played. I've played WW2 and SCW games and need to dig out my Russian Civil War figures to try it for that era.

BA is by no means a bad game though and has the advantage that it's popular so easy for groups to pick up.

Paul Scrivens-Smith said...

A great analysis and I agree with your points.

Chain of Command makes me feel that I have to make the decisions that a platoon commander would have to make with the troops that I would have had at my disposal, whereas Bolt Action lets me do pretty much what I want with whatever collection of figures I decide to throw at a game.

I tried some Tim Tams while in NZ last year, very nice and reminiscent of Penguin bars in the UK. I did get rather a liking for Whittakers bars though :)

Paul

Anibal Invictus said...

Excellent review. I'm a fan of Chain of Command and over the last two years I have been playing almost every Sunday with my gaming mates without showing any sign of exhaustation. If you like simulating historical and tactics, you can't go wrong CoC

NigelH said...

Top review of both systems, I primarily play Spanish Civil War, and have tried both systems, you are right, Bolt Action with cheap troops, you can fill the dice bag with lots of options, and have units/squads/etc running about the table. In CofC, you lose that control ability, and the weaker troops are penalised by giving them less command dice, and limiting their leaders, thus making them unwieldy and much more difficult to control. If you want to play SCW, then CofC has a fantastic, free supplement that you can download from their site..

Frazer MacConnachie said...

Nicely written. Played both a lot, one is warGAME the other is WARgame

Sir Intentionally Leftblank said...

Excellent review. I posted a teaser and a link on our website www.amsterdam6shooters.nl, and honoured you as our 'Blogger of the Month' (sorry, no lottery prize, just the honour).

Delta Coy said...

Good overview of both set. I agree that with BA you can't fight a section as a section. The rules force everyone in the section to take the same action - like 40K. You need to be able to use the gun group (LMG) to put down supressing fire whilst the rifle group manoeuvres / assaults.

David Toone said...

That was a really well written and well rounded review of both systems. I've played Bolt Action and think the rulebook is laid out very well and is an easy read, making it a good 'pick up' game, but it does lack the depth that you get from CoC.

The only issue I have with CoC is not with the game, but rather that the rulebook is terrible. The Index and Contents are virtually useless and the schoolboy errors in the book make it look like nobody ever bothered to proof read or spell check the thing.

Although it has to be one of the worst rulebooks that I've ever read (I think I'd accept the multitude of errors and poor editing if it was a free download!)I would still have to say that the game you get once you've managed to work through all of this is far superior to BA.

If you have a look at the YouTube videos be prepared to lose the will to live! I think the best way to learn the game is to get a friend who knows how they work to run you through a game if at all possible.

Chain of Command - Great game, rubbish rulebook! :-)

Pat G said...

Great review. I have seen FoW played and didn't take to it, but I haven't seen a good review of BA.

john de terre neuve said...

Great review, I have played many games now it it is my favourite ruleset.

A little error above though in respect to "crappy" troops. Green troops get LESS command dice then regular or elite troops but get MORE support options.

John

Retro said...

Would you consider adding Battlegroup the comparison? I'd be curious of your thoughts.

Peter said...

Great review! I happily admit to being a CoC fan for all the reasons above and so have not been tempted by BA. However, I can see from the review what the attraction would be, and if people are getting in games they enjoy, great.
My preference is for the emphasis on C&C, friction and historical tactics that CoC features, and I would recommend them to anyway interested in WW2 gaming at the platoon level. My experience has been that you quickly pick up the core mechanics and are soon immersed in the game.
There is a free supplement which can be downloaded from the TFL website - Big Chain of Command - which allows you to increase the size of the game (perfect for multi-player games). A campaign supplement - At The Sharp End - adds extra depth, and is an excellent 'toolkit' on how to set up and run different kinds of campaigns with relatively little effort.
I would say that I disagree with David T's verdict on the rulebook - I can well imagine that Bolt Action products are a visual joy (based on other Warlord Games books that I own), but I really don't think that Chain of Command is a rubbish rulebook. Still, each to their own.
Finally, in response to Retro's comment about Battlegroup, I think it is more suited to Company level actions. The author says that they can be used from squad to Battalion level games, but at the lower level of platoon/squad skirmishes I don't find the Battlegroup rules to be as engaging as CoC. But that is just my preference. Battlegroup is a more traditional IGO-UGO system, in that one side moves and fires before the other. However, you can place some of your units on Reserve orders, which allows you to react to your opponent's moves with movement/fire of your own during his turn. As the number of orders you have each turn has a random element (number of officers + an XD6 role depending on the scale of the game), you have to balance executing your plan and keeping something in reserve to react, which is a good feature.
Unlike in CoC, movement distances are fixed eg 5" for infantry, with different vehicles having different movement rates eg a Stuart moves faster than a Tiger!
Fire can be aimed or area which is good - it encourages you to suppress targets, which obviously reduces their effectiveness and increase their vulnerability, so combined arms tactics are advised to take advantage of this. Also, for tanks, you record shots fired, as they have limited ammo and when they have exhausted their reserves, cannot fire until re-supplied. Some people don't like this and the book-keeping it involves (I do however)and of course you can just ignore this aspect of the rules, but it does add an interesting dynamic and an extra layer of decision-making.
The rules also cover things like artillery support, engineers, morale etc. The aim of the game is not necessarily to kill everything in sight, but force the enemy to exceed his Battle Rating. This is a measure of the Battlegroup's coherence - each unit in the army has a Battle Rating - add these up and you have the figure which if exceeded, forces the Battlegroup to withdraw. Various things eg units being destroyed force you to take a Battle Counter at random - these have various values from 1-5 and you keep a secret tally of them as you go along. I really like this mechanic, and it makes for some pretty tense finishes!
It is worth mentioning that while the core Battlegroup rules cover the whole war, each supplement adds a few special rules to capture the flavour of the particular campaign they aim to re-create eg rules to reflect the desparate 'last stand' of the German armies in the final year of the war, or the special nature of D-Day beach assaults.
I like the Battlegroup rules (and they are gorgeous to flick through)and they do encourage historical forces rather than uber-armies, but for me at least they are better suited to larger actions. In terms of design philosophy I think they might fall somewhere inbetween BA and TFL - not as 'gamey' perhaps as BA and with less friction than TFL.

Mervyn Douglas said...

For those tempted by Chain of Command but who dont have the rules yet - there is a 20% discount for the month of September. Makes it even better value for money for a great set of rules!
Link here: http://toofatlardies.co.uk/blog/?p=5132

Doug Medesha said...

Very good review. "Beer and pretzels" vs "Meat and potatoes." There's a place for both at my table, depending on my appetite at the moment. What is really appealing to me is that I only have to paint up one set of figures and models to enjoy both. I even have a mess of Jr. General paper figs for the SCW.

Carlo said...

Excellent review Scotty and the interset it has generated is a direct reflection on the balance and thought you put into a wonderful blog entry. I too have played both and agree that there is certainly a place for both, particularly BA if you are only up for a quick game on a club night after work - not too taxing and great fun. However the intricaies of the CoC games I have played are what I very much enjoy in wargaming. Looking forward to theor modern supplement.

Dennis Cunningham said...

I've probably played about seven or eight Chain of Command games. Although the rules take a bit of getting used to, they certainly force the players to use "realistic" tactics

Carl said...

Great review, I have tended to ply company level rules so far. May have to pick up a copy and give them a go.

Al said...

cool post

Captain Darling said...

Thanks for the review, I have friend who has played CoC and our group will try it eventually. Sounds like it's the better of the two systems to try out first from your thoughts.
I am just about to embark on testing the TFL's Troops, Weapons & Tactics for small WW II skirmish games to see they'll be okay to fit into our fortnightly Monday night gaming schedule...

Frostydog said...

Taken a while to read this. Great review it will be interesting to see how Disposable Heroes II stacks up against them. TFL also have lists and campaign guide for pre SWW Abyssinia as well that look tempting.
The thing I disliked about BA was the army list books $40 when you may only want 1 or 2 lists. The TFL downloads much more gamer friendly especially if you prefer to buy figures rather than army list books.