Sunday, February 2, 2014

CoC - At The Sharp End Review

A bit of exciting news came through yesterday, with Rich et al at Toofatlardies releasing their Second World War campaign supplement, Chain of Command: At The Sharp End. I've had a read through and have to say it is superb. The supplement is available in pdf format for the princley sum of £6.00. The 48 page pdf is full colour, clearly laid out and has loads of helpful images and diagrams.

In a nutshell, the supplement enables you to create a platoon level campaign during the second world war, though it would be easily translatable to other conflicts like the Spanish Civil War or Korean War with little effort. As with the excellent campaign system in Dux Britanniarum, the focus is on playability and minimising paperwork and planning. Three 'levels' of campaign are included, the No Map Campaign is the least fuss, taking literally minutes to set up and play. The Simple Map Campaign involves a little more planning, but includes a background narrative which, if you're anything like myself, is really the reason why we play campaigns. The Full Map Campaign requires the most effort to set up, but is also the most rewarding in terms of narrative and historical engagement. To be honest, the level of preperation required even for the Full Map Campaign is pretty negligable, and if you're like me and enjoy digging out a GSGS map and a couple of Battlezone or Battleground books, then it can hardly be called strenuous.
I managed to get a Full Map Campaign based around the 21st Panzer Division's counterattack against the 12 Parachute Battalion in Ranville on D-Day. It took me just an hour or two yesterday afternoon to sort out, and I had figures on the table playing the first battle last night.
The book contains some example Full Map Campaigns based around the Canadians on Juno Beach and the 5th Wiltshire's attack on Hill 112.

The campaign system itself is elegant, immersive, and plays quickly with minimal book-keeping. Besides the ebb and flow of the campaign, the casualties, reinforcements and replacements, even bravery citations and awards are all simulated effectively, making for a very immersive experience. Playing the first game of my Ranville campaign, I was struck by how much more conservative I was with the forces, particularly the understrength paras. In the campaign system, the player must balance the benefits of victory in one battle with the impact of casualties on the overall campaign. Which adds another layer to the Chain of Command rules, and is fantastic and engaging stuff.

Also included in the supplement is a section where you can create your platoons key characters. This part will be familiar to those who've played Sharp Practice, Platoon Forward or Squadron Forward. I really love this kind of stuff, and it really helps the engagement level when your No.2 Section commander is no longer 'Para running, with Sten' from figure pack PAR12,  but 25 year old barrel-chested Sergeant Ernie Brown,  a former door to door salesman who sold brushes, mops and feather dusters to the housewives of Colchester before joining up. Detailed backgrounds, selected randomly using 2D6, are included for the British, USA, Germany and USSR. Sidney of the superb  Roundwood's World  blog has posted an excellent character generation sheet for French Big Men in WWI, which i'll be modifying for use with my 1940 French.

Throughout the campaign, your platoon leader will be affected by three opinions. Victories and defeats will impact on your standing with the CO, and so the likelihood of getting the pick of the support options. Too many setbacks will see you called into an uncomfortable interview with the CO. Besides the CO, being too reckless with your men's lives will earn you their enmity and you could face a mutiny or even become the victim of a mysterious accident.
Finally, the effects of battle can weigh on your platoon leaders own outlook. A raft of successes can lead him to heady optimism and exhilaration, while defeat can leave him insecure and uncertain. Battle fatigue may lead to mental exhaustion or a breakdown. It's all very engaging stuff, and again is easily tracked with minimal paperwork and adds another layer of narrative to the campaign.

So that's my take on At The Sharp End. I'd also add that while it's got Chain of Command on the title page and is obviously aimed at this ruleset, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from using it with Battlegroup Overlord, Bolt Action or any number of WWII rulesets. It's a fantastic resource, and gets a very big two thumbs up from me!

I'll be posting more about the campaign i've set up, including AARs and the maps i've generated. For my next update, I'll introduce the British Airborne platoon which I painted up late last year, including the personalities i've generated for the command characters using At The Sharp End.

Stay tuned!