Monday, 23 September 2013

Chain of Command Campaign: Game 2 – “Probe”


Morning. Early. Normandy. Late June or even July 1944.

He really had no idea of the date. He’d stopped trying to remember. The grey numbness at the back of his head halted the effort as soon as he started to think. He knew it was early, though. Definitely early, even without looking at his watch. He checked it, reassuringly, all the same.

Second Lieutenant Sandy St Clair stared at his watch longer than most men would. While his bloodshot eyes registered the seconds ticking past, he realized this was one of the few moments when his hands had stopped shaking in the past month. Maybe that was why he looked so often. Maybe there was another reason.


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2nd Platoon under Second Lieutenant St Clair will advance up the road to Aurade, moving at all times to outflank enemy forces and infiltrate through the light woods north west of Aurade (Map Reference: N427604). Enemy forces in this area are currently reported to be determined but potentially short of ammunition and falling back to the Aurade/ Aubigny defence-line. 2nd Platoon will be reinforced by a company bren carrier commanded by Sergeant Hodge. 

 
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As ever, he could smell the battlefield before he was there. The days old scent of dead cattle and horses, still heaving with flies. He didn’t look in the ditches any more. He knew what he’d find there. His hands shock as he took the field glasses out to scan the rising downland before him. He knew his men were watching. He moved his arms, circling widely to advance. Maybe they would not notice his hands, white knuckles gripping just that shade too hard.

5.17am . But his knew his watch was a liar. It really couldn’t be that time. It was wrong. Look again.

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2nd Platoon is to press aggressively through Enemy resistance and infiltrate Enemy defences around Aurade. This task is critical to the success of the Company’s mission this morning.

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Somewhere someone whispered to him. “They’re off Sir”. He looked, hands less shaky now, watching the first section running across the open field, the chemical smoke dropping neatly as planned. It was like an exercise on Nomansland Common the previous year, without the crowds watching and the horses stacked in the paddock by the side, smiling faces admiring the discipline and precision. Another lifetime ago, when it all seemed so far removed from the real fight.



They’d seen the first section. Of course. They always did. He almost smiled. How familiar. Almost predictable. The rasp of the MG42 ripped the air and he saw his men fall. He screamed. He wanted to shout “Smoke””, but it was a howl, half ruptured by his bone dry throat.


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Our forces are expected to press hard this morning, as it is reported by Brigade that Enemy morale is fragile and may be close to collapse.


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The field was carved by ploughs and old shrapnel. The gullies and troughs made good cover. He crawled, slithered and crouched to the opening in the stone wall, jabbing constantly for his men to follow him. His head was flooded with a white noise and he could hardly see as he made it to the far wall. He stared at his watch, spattered with blood flung randomly through the damp air, spattering his skin. His section’s bren gunner, McKie, was dead. McKie’s death-pale white face slumped down beside him, eyes wide open. McKie stared back at him, and it was all that Second Lieutenant St Clair could do to focus on his watch and scrape the blood flecks away.  The blood left a smear on the face of the watch.



As the MG42’s bullets wheezed and threshed into the stone wall, splinters whickering into the still-damp morning air, Hodge’s bren carrier moved haltingly down the road, accompanied by the crump and thud of the mortar shelling the Enemy’s position in the orchard. He waved them up as best he could, limbs numb and hands shaking. He even managed a grim smile to Hodges as he clattered past. See...SEE….he was still fit for duty.  He could still face his friends in the battalion.  His "moral fibre" was intact.



The Enemy had ghosted away, leaving a litter of ammunition, explosives and 12 crumpled dead bodies. Two of them looked almost like children, sleeping, face down in their camouflage smocks, helmets tilted at an angle, necks cricked awkwardly.

He didn’t want to turn over their dead bodies. He looked at his watch, wiping the remnants of McKie’s blood smear from the dial.  Still fit for duty.

5.32am. Still early. The day had just started.

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This was the second of our campaign games of Chain of Command set in Normandy 1944. It turned out to be a tough affair, in which the losses of the previous, first, game were sorely felt by the Germans. The British were tasked with probing up the road to Aurade, having a full platoon and a bren carrier (chosen from their force support list). The Germans, with fewer men after their previous defeat, only had two sections, although they commanded the high ground and a strong position.

An early British assault over open ground (resulting from a Chain of Command roll offering a second phase on two “6s”) led to disaster with the section being slaughtered without being able to reach the protection of the stone wall at the top of the hill. Following the setback, British forces were more cautious, pinning the remaining German forces and outflanking them in a cautious manner. The Germans’ lack of troops made the position untenable, their forces stealing home and leaving the table to the British.



That leaves the British having infiltrated the German outpost line and ready to concentrate their attack against more formidable German defences in this week’s game.


We also tried out a new possible feature for the Chain of Command campaign supplement. The 5-second elevator pitch is “a system for Leader Morale which complements the Force Morale system in the rules”. It’s early days yet, but I’ve been working with Rich on a set of very simple amendments to try and replicate the effect of building combat stress, “shell-shock” and disorientation on one leader on each side in a game. While this very much fits the context of the First World War, I think that it’s application can extend to the Second World War as well. The Chain of Command level of games is perfect for this type of (completely optional) detail. The mechanisms need some tweaking, but I think we’ll persevere with this in later campaign games.

53 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Barks. Glad you enjoyed it. More to come sortly from last night's game....

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  2. Most excellent narrative my friend.

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  3. Excellent story line and well presented. Tally ho!

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    1. Thanks! "Tally ho" may be a bit optimistic, as you'll see in the next game report!

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  4. Reading you reports is like having Eric Clapton come to my house, play on my guitar and leave:it makes everything I do seem feeble.

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    1. I love this comment! Great Thomas

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    2. Unlike Eric Clapton, I'd always stay for a cup of tea afterwards, Thomas! As for "feeble"........utter nonsense, dear friend!

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  5. Bravo! You have a gift sir.

    This work on a campaign supplement for Chain of Command is good news. We were looking at Platoon Forward, but wouldn't mind more options.

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    1. Thanks Peabody. We're working hard on a campaign supplement for Chain of Command. It takes a fair amount of its inspiration from Platoon Forward, but will be purpose-made for Chain of Command.

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  6. Very interesting, looking forward to the morale system. The report is eloquent as usual.

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    1. Thank you! The morale system is being tweaked in all sorts of ways. So what we've used here will evolve quite a bit as the campaign unfurls.

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  7. Υou should be a writer! Excellent! :)

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    1. Ha!! A writer....just not a successful one!! ;) Thanks anyway, Thanos!

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  8. Superb write up and lovely looking game.

    Oooh!? "Bolt Action" or "Chain of Command" ... "Bolt Action" or "Chain of Command" ... Gah!?

    Look forward to reading some more.

    Thanks

    Matt

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    1. I thought I had room for both, but to be honest my interest in BA has died a rather quick death since getting my hands on Chain of Command.

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    2. Decisions, decisions, Gentlemen. Why not play both !!!

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  9. As always a fantastic AAR Sidney! Great looking table and I like the use of blankets which I myself use as it gives a seamless look without breaks and a more natural roll to the terrain.

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks Christopher. The carpet hills covered by blankets is so very easy. Depressingly so for those of us who long ago embraced modular terrain boards!!!

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  10. Another wonderfully written and very absorbing report, and a beautiful looking game as well.

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  11. A delight to read. Great post Sidney!!

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  12. Fantastic report. I am looking forward to the next installment and your campaign rules.

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  13. Very descriptive and a real pleasure to read. Love this game as well, it looks very fast-paced and action-packed.

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  14. Excellent looking game and write up... looking forwards to the campaign supplement now too!

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    1. Jim, thanks so much. If you like Chain of Command and the material in the Summer/ Christmas Specials, you'll love the campaign supplement.

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  15. Great AAR Sidney! I've put on two CoC games, using it for a post-apoc setting I created and they worked great. Next is to try them for what they were intended, WWII (go figure!). Nonetheless, I can't help but think that they might be great for WWI as well, with a few appropriate modifications for colour.

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    1. Thanks Curt! The core command mechanism in Chain of Command is very portable for small scale actions. I can see it being used in a lot of different 20th Century games. Richard's suggested I run a Great War "Chain of Command" game with the French, so maybe we can do that before Christmas. We did one Great War CoC game (set in 1918) and it worked very well.

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  16. Great narrative and a stunning table...cracking stuff!

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  17. Now that is a cracking write up...
    Cheers
    Stu

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  18. Sidney, Never played COC but this looks great. The terrain is simple, modular, but also really pleasing to the eye. I'm particularly taken with the trampled field of wheat. Thanks for the inspiration.

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    1. It's fun, Digger - you'd like it. It's different in feel to "Through the Mud and the Blood", but the friction is still there. It works especially well with smaller scaled skirmishes, particularly focused around reconnaissance engagements. Hope you can catch a game of it sometime.

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  19. Very fine post, Sidney. Haunting, really. I am really hoping that St. Clair makes it through, or at least cops a blighty one and gets a decent rest. I've just finished reading Maj. J How's book on Hill 112 and the Odon campaign, and as they say colloquially, you nailed it. Thanks for this gift.

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    1. Thanks Mike. Second Lieutenant St Clair just about made it through last night's game...but only just. I shall check out Major How's book. I'm currently hunting for any contemporaries' accounts of battlefield stress in action itself (as opposed to PTSD, "shell-shock" after the end of the action - although that's also of interest). Trying to build something sensible into a game mechanic which is respectful and reasonably realistic is the objective. So, finger's crossed!

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  20. An excellent report and a very nice table. For leader morale, you might want to look for "The Sharp End" by Ellis. Good info on how battle wears away at morale. You may wish to consider different national characteristics. As I recall, the US put troops in the line until they wore out then replaced them en masse. The Brits and Commmonwealth tried to rotate smaller units through more quickly and the Germans - well at the end of the war they didn't have much choice.

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    1. Pat, that's very helpful indeed, thank you. As I mentioned to Mike in the comment above, I'm very interested in accounts which document combat stress on the battlefield in World War 2 (and 1), and how that was managed (or not) as part of a battlefield-command process. I realise its likely to be a vast literature, but we probably need a little more depth and information on frequency, effect and duration to turn that into a sensible and respectful game mechanic. Wherever we get to, I'll post the results here! Thanks again for the great comment.

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    2. Pat, just to follow up on your comment. I've purchased a copy of "The Sharp End" by John Ellis, which I found on Amazon for the princely sum of £0.01! Thanks again for the recommendation - it looks ideal.

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  21. Excuse me for commenting again, but, I was wondering whether you could tell me the way to make the stone walls you have on your table..they look fantastic. I tried once to make something similar, but it ended up in the bin! Ta in advance Sidney. :)

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    1. Thanos, thanks for the question. Sadly, I don't know the exact answer! The stone walls are made by a chap called Andy Worsley who trades at UK Wargames Shows as "The Last Valley". He's at almost all the big wargames shows, and he's easy to find as he usually has a fairly large stall. Andy sells the walls, fields, trees and marshes you see in our games, and all at very reasonable prices. I think he probably made a resin mould of the walls and then knocked out a couple of hundred walls at a time. He used to have a fairly large workshop in Hull (I visited a long time back), and I think he still does some custom work. Hope that helps.

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    2. Thank you Sidney! I'll try to track him down. :)

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  22. A great report Sidney and fantastic news to hear that there is a campaign supplement in the pipeline for these rules. Also looking forward to the WW1 report with CoC.
    Cheers,
    Pat.

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    1. Thanks Pat. It's "in the works" as they say!

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  23. Great stuff. Very imaginative reporting. Look forward to the next episode. Tim

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    1. Thank you Tim, Much appreciated. Hope you enjoy it.

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  24. Nice work on the overall layout and in particular the stone walls

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