Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Chain of Command – Use of terrain, a cautionary tale

Last night saw the last of our Chain of Command campaign games. We decided to call a halt because we had reached a position where it looked like the British counter attack was simply not going to push through the German defences. The problem wasn’t the rules (which are great) or the campaign, but the terrain we were fighting over – or rather how we had decided to interpret it. I thought I would put a bit of explanation out there as a possible warning to others.

The root of the problem  is – well, the Desert, or rather our representation of it. When we decided to start playing a simple ladder campaign we lifted the locations straight from the excellent “At the Sharp End” campaign system (available from TFL for only £6 and worth every penny at twice the price if you play any sort of 20th C game).

We were very wary of setting up open flat terrain that would favour anyone with a German accent and an MG34. Other players had warned us leaving the terrain too open would mean a walk over for the DAK. We decided to use the club wadi \ gully terrain, and litter the area with rocks etc to provide cover. It looks pretty nice even if I say so myself.

Here were our first mistakes. We failed to appreciate fully how much the wadis would effect play and tactics, blithely deciding you could be in hard cover in the wadi. As we were generous and even handed we ensured the wadis were fairly placed on each side of the table. Basically we had created two parallel trench lines (doh!).

Slightly out of focus British trenches err wadi
Our second problem was that in our enthusiasm to provide cover we were liberal with distribution of our “rocky outcrops” (as an aside these were part of Peter Pigs “Patrols inthe Sudan” terrain and they’re absolutely brilliant for just about any scale. Unfortunately we used too many of the tall ones which blocked line of sight (LOS), rather than just providing cover. 

too many blocked LOS

What we should have done
Lastly, because our wadis were actually raised we tended to think of them as being almost walled areas, where in fact they're in reality flat and at ground level – ie have restricted visibility. A simple low wall should have totally blocked LOS from someone using the wadi for cover – but we didn’t think it through. What we ended up with was a pretty table but one which didn’t really represent what we were wanting. That in turn made our games too static – it was a no brainer to simply set up in a wadi and blaze away, and the difference between trying in to manoeuvre, even with tactical movement and smoke, and sitting in our nice deep wadi was just too stark – a problem highlighted on the odd occasion a squad did try and got badly punished for it.

The last problem was the choke point. The Afrika Korps won their first couple of missions but decided to halt at the pursuit through the enemy position to rest and rearm – also so I could paint up new toys I expected to need for the final assault mission. The Brits counter attacked. Having played over the terrain earlier we felt obliged to us it again, however this mission is a length ways push down the table through some choke points. It didn’t seem fair to start changing things around at this point. Frankly the combination of our poor terrain choices and table layout were making it too easy to defend, so we decided to call the campaign there, an honourable draw.

We had plenty of fun and some really interesting games, but it could have been so much better if we had thought through the consequences of our terrain choice. We will be back of course, probably advancing the timeline to 1942, but next time we will think hard about the effect of wadis – probably just treating them as soft cover, and cutting back on the amount of big areas of LOS blocking terrain, so that there are fewer “safe” areas where we can hunker down.

Comments welcome - indeed sought


  1. In terms of desert terrain, I would suggest less use of wadis, and more use of rock outcrops, scrub patches, hillocks and deirs (very slight depressions) plus the odd sand dune. Hard cover is ok for a wadi I think but just be sparing with their use.

  2. Interesting, and I think you've hit on an important point. Yes, having some cover available is good, but you also need the longer vistas and areas of open ground. Particularly in the attack, you need somewhere to put your support weapons that has decent fields of fire.

  3. Thanks for the carefully worded warning and advice Renko
    Just as well you didn't need my DAK second platoon as it has not yet even been assembled from out of the box ;)