We played a 200 point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday, with Spencer and Matt pitting their Early Imperial Romans against my Ptolemaic army. Both of them are building their own Roman armies, Spencer’s set a little earlier than Matt’s so with oval shields. Together, they fielded ten bases of legionaries, one of equites and two light infantry bases, supplemented by some Hellenistic horse and medium infantry. My Ptolemaics had six bases of pikes, four of thureophoroi, five of xystophoroi, two Nubians and a bunch of light infantry.
The Romans fielded two commands entirely of infantry and put all their cavalry in their right hand command. The Ptolemaics had the pikes in the centre with cavalry and light infantry divided more or less evenly between the two wings. The Roman plan was to avoid the front of the pikes by drawing their centre back and to the left like a matador’s cloak. Meanwhile their horse would crush my left wing horse and fall upon the rear of my pikes, while their left would fend off my right wing.
To begin with, the Roman plan went well. Their right wing drove my Nubian horse right off the table. But as they turned to engage my centre, their commander threw himself into a melee with some thureophoroi in which he was killed. From then on, the Roman right had to operate with no command roll modifiers and a 2CP cost for each order. Meanwhile, my pikes were able to close with the Roman centre before it could get out of the way. On the Roman left/Ptolemaic right, the Greek/Macedonian horse faced off against Matt’s legionaries with neither side closing.
The combat in the centre went well for the pikes, as their Roman opponents were out of position. Even so, the Romans were a tough nut to crack and took time to wear down. On the unengaged flank, the Ptolemaic horse finally charged the Roman left but there followed several rounds of inconclusive combat. Eventually, the uneven struggle in the centre tipped too far in Ptolemy’s favour and the Roman army broke.
The game ran at a fair pace. We are all now more familiar with the rules although still needed to do some checking here and there. There were various points to note for future games. One is the powerful combination of an elite unit with armour. The armour rule really reduces the chances of an emphatic or rapid result. Another is the crippling effect of losing a commander. Before you get stuck in with a general, make sure it’s worth the risk of losing him.
Another thought is that the threat of combat can be more effective than charging in. For most of the game my right wing was facing off against the Roman left, stopping it from turning to attack my centre from behind but without actually charging it. With hindsight, I needn’t have charged at all since my victory points were coming from elsewhere. Once we did start fighting on this wing, all I really did was increase the risk that poor dice rolling might give the Romans victory points unnecessarily. It is always tempting to get stuck in with everybody but in some situations, I don’t think this is a smart option.
As usual with these opponents, the game was played in a generous and cheerful spirit. Special mention must go to Spencer’s handiwork on his legionaries. Exquisitely painted and posed, each base is a vivid little diorama. He isn’t exactly a fast worker but the results are splendid.
The figures on the table were a mixture of Heroics and Ros plastics, Minifigs, First Corps, Victrix, Warlord and Black Tree Design. Oldest painted in 1981 and newest finished last Tuesday.
On Wednesday evening I played my second game of Chain of Command, arranged by Spencer. I took a German platoon with an extra section and HMG, plus a STUG to introduce the vehicle rules. Spencer took a platoon of British airborne, together with a Sherman and a flamethrower.
Let’s get it out of the way quickly: I was pulverised. We played a patrol scenario and both came on in the same table third (my left, Spencer’s right), which had a big house around the half way line. We ended up with jump off points quite close to and either side of this house and it was the scene of an interesting sequence of events. Spencer deployed first and placed one section behind the house, one in a hard cover ruin in the centre of the table and one behind the ruin, ready to swing round to his left. I deployed a section behind hedgerow on my left, a second further along the same hedge nearer the centre, a third in woods close to Spencer’s section in hard cover (what was I thinking?) and the fourth behind a Hill on my right.
On his right, Spencer advanced his right hand section along with a senior leader, aiming to knock out my left jump point. I met him with fire from behind the hedgerow and from a fence behind his left flank.This took out several Paras and he decided to withdraw behind the house. Thinking I would go for a wipeout, I sent a full strength section into close combat with his five (count them) surviving men. Well! That was quite a way to find out how tough elite infantry with stens and a senior leader can be. Spencer had many more dice to roll than I. My section lost six men and routed back to their starting hedge line, while Spencer lost only two. His depleted section took no further part in the game but they didn’t need to as they had done their work.
In the centre my third section in the woods fought an unequal duel with Spencer’s middle section in hard cover. I had thought my MG42 with its extra dice would partly counter their cover advantage but when that combined with elites being harder to hit, I was heading for a sticky end.
On Spencer’s left I think we both took some odd decisions. His left hand section legged it towards my right flank, then ran back almost the way it had come, intending to assault my section in the woods. They stopped short in the open and got shot up good. My right hand section, meanwhile, deployed behind a hill that lacked any cover and started out to meet Spencer’s flanking section, but when Spencer turned this unit around, mine jumped up on the hill and helped to shoot it up.
Next to appear were our respective AFVs. Neither made a huge impact on the game although each helped to whittle down enemy numbers.
In Force morale terms, Spencer made early gains through his brutally successful hand to hand defence, reducing my morale further as he broke my guys in the woods. I made some counter gains by beating up the section he had sent to his left then brought back again, but Spencer used a chain of Command die to end the turn and two of my routed sections left the table. In the final stage he deployed a flamethrower who fried my third section then engulfed my senior leader in flame, taking my force morale to zero. Game over.
Lessons for the next game? Regulars won’t win a firefight with elite troops in hard cover. Don’t even think of close assaulting elites as you’ll get stomped. Before you place a unit, think about the avenues open to it after deployment: beware dead ends. Also (and I did know this but it’s easy to forget) you don’t have to mirror your opponent’s deployment. My right hand section was wasted for most of the game and could have been more useful reinforcing the hedgerow line on my left. Finally, think more about the mechanics of the patrol phase and remember the jump off point will be some distance behind the patrol markers once these have been locked down.
The game was great fun and looked good. In particular, Spencer’s Paras were beautifully painted. I’m looking forward to the next one.
This week I finally played my first game of Chain of Command. I have had the rules for about four years but found them a daunting read and never got around to trying them. Somehow Bolt Action was that bit easier to grasp. Then along came Spencer, member of the Staines Wargamers and keen CoC player, who very kindly agreed to run a game in the shed for me and Matt, who has played it a little but is also pretty much a beginner.
What can I say? I am hooked. These rules are so much more intuitive in play than in print. We had a platoon of regulars each, with no supports. Matt took the Brits and I had the Germans. It was a patrol encounter with a twist: there was a crashed kubelwagen near the middle of the table that I needed to control and Matt needed to deny me.
Chain of Command has been around for a long time so I presume it’s main design elements are pretty well known. The salient features for me are the patrol phase, jump off markers and Command dice. Spencer offered some useful tips for using the patrol phase to win ground, which was actually an intriguing game within the game. When it ended, Matt had a row of jump off markers in the centre of the table while I had two markers facing his in the centre and a third a little behind his left. I hoped this would give me a flanking advantage but in the event my daft deployment nearly cost me the game.
Once we started placing figures, I quickly got into trouble. I deployed my first squad from the jump off point on my right flank in the open, placing the LMG team on overwatch and going tactical with the rifle team (increasing their cover save). Matt then deployed his first team in the building on his left, fired at my squad and began to dismantle it. Thanks to rolling several sixes, he played three phases on the trot, by the end of which I had lost my LMG team, junior leader and a couple of riflemen. My remaining troopers were pinned in the open. Bummer.
When my next turn came around I could do nothing to help the battered squad so deployed my remaining two squads and senior leader on my centre and left, close to the kubelwagen. Matt meanwhile deployed his second section beside his first on his left and his third section in the centre. I think his decision to reinforce his first section gave me a chance to recover from my stupid first move, as although he could now wipe out my first squad, I had more weapons firing at his troops in the centre than he had firing at mine.
To cut a long story short, my left hand squad and senior leader reached the kubelwagen and lined a hedgerow, from which they won a duel with Matt’s third section; Matt moved his second section forward but they were pinned by my central squad; and he took his first section out of their building to put an end to my first squad and neutralise its jump off point. By game end, I had lost one squad and a jump off point, but Matt had lost two sections, two jump off points and control of the kubelwagen. I used my first and only Chain of Command die to end the turn and Matt’s force morale fell to zero.
The game was exciting throughout and I only just managed to swing the win. The dice favoured Matt at the start with his series of rolled over phases but later on, I had some well above average shooting results, so (as always) the luck evened out. Spencer was an excellent tutor and umpire, advising us both on rules niceties and options. I found the rules far easier to absorb in play than they had been while reading the book. I think this is true of all rules to an extent but I do find Lardies rulebooks especially hard to navigate.
As for subtlety, I am sure it will be several games before I start to get the hang of how to play properly.
Having played a great deal of Bolt Action, I suppose I am bound to compare the two rules. BA is easy to learn and plays quickly. It has lots of tension and is always fun. It can however see some pretty unlikely tactics, the ranges are way too short and a lot of hardware appears on table that should be a long way away. I also hate the fact that some players create gamey army lists to get a killer - but unhistorical - army, but that isn’t the fault of the rules themselves.
By contrast I think Chain of Command will take longer to master, even with the help of Spencer. But it will be worth the effort. CoC is definitely exciting to play. I really like the friction and uncertainty from the Command dice; the combat mechanics are not that complicated once you learn them and the players are faced with a wider range of tactical choices than with BA, both in what their figures can do and how they can operate.
Of course, the most important factor to affect enjoyment in any game is the other player. Matt and Spencer were great company and the evening flew by. Spencer has recklessly agreed to come again. Before he does I’ve got some jump off points to build.