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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

CoC Tactics (Patrol Phase and Militia tactics)

Fritz and I played a great game of Chain of Command this week, not only a lot of fun but a battle that really made me think during the game and afterwards.  I'm still relatively new to CoC, but I learned a lot this game, and wanted to share. Let me know what you think folks.

 Several people have commented about how difficult it can be to win with the Spanish Civil War People's Militia, and while there are definitely plenty of weaknesses, it also turns out that there are a few significant strengths as well.  Frankly, I was surprised to win, even against green Peninsular Army troops, and I've been giving a lot of thought to exactly what happened to make it possible. There are two main areas I want to talk about: Patrol Phase, and Militia Tactics.

Patrol Phase:

The more I think about it, the more I play Chain of Command in general, the more I realize that the game really can be won or lost on the patrol phase. This week's game is a perfect illustration of that principle in action.  It's not everything, but "winning" the patrol phase puts you in a position to take advantage of whatever strengths your platoon has. Others have written far more extensively about this extremely important part of the game, but I'll add a few points. If you play CoC I also recommend checking out the game creator's series on CoC Tactics  (start here, go right to the Patrol Phase tutorial, or download the whole thing as a pdf).

Ignore the patrol markers below for now and just look at the terrain. The photo was taken from the Militia's table edge (Attack/Defend scenario), facing the Army's side.

The center of the board is dominated by a hill planted with vines. At the top of the hill is an old wooden fence, at the bottom a short stone wall. Beyond the fence is pretty much nothing at all, with the right upper corner (from the milita's vantage) being more or less dead open ground with only a few bushes for cover.  By contrast, the militia's left upper corner (army's right) is rich with obstacles and cover. Hedges, fields, and a stone wall on the far side.  This is also the only corner that the army may deploy vehicles from (via the road).

The hill itself isn't too high, but it is high enough to effectively divide the board in half in regards to line of sight. Anyone on the right can't shoot over the hill to someone on the left, and vice versa. The only place on the board that can shoot everywhere is on the hill itself. However, once again, the opposite is true here... everyone on the board can shoot at anyone on the hill.

There is a sort of conventional wisdom among wargamers that it is always good to control the center of the board. Now, while this is true much of the time, the means of control really depends on the game you're playing. In some games, this means planting some bad-ass unit right in the middle of the board and hoping your armor saves justify the gain in tactical options that being at the center gives you.  In a game of fire and maneuver (like CoC), playing like that can be deadly.  Especially when the center of the board doesn't feature the best cover.

Ok, lets look at how the patrol phase actually played out.

For "Attack/Defend" the defender may place his markers up to 18" forward of his table edge (and all markers must form a chain no more than 12" from another marker), while the attacker starts on the edge, but gets 1d6 free moves once all markers are placed. While significant, 1d6 isn't a lot, even at best, given that the defender is already nearly up to the half way mark on the board. Clearly, the attacker has to know exactly where he wants to launch his attack and use those free moves aggressively.

Fritz kept his markers pretty close together (about 8") which allowed him to move up very quickly (as closer markers move faster), but forced him to concentrate in one relatively small area. He chose to concentrate on the center. As I set up a broad front at the beginning (markers at the max 18" from the edge, and 12" apart), so we locked down very quickly. In fact, with his markers being so close together, they were easier to lock down. Even though keeping them that far apart reduced my ability to move forward quickly, it was Fritz's choice to come at the center in a close, tight formation that allowed me to envelop his markers and trap him there. I must admit, this was partly luck on my part. I didn't fully realize how good a position I'd landed in until the game had fully developed.

See the picture of the final position below. The red lines show which markers have locked down (come within 12" of an enemy marker). As the patrol phase ends when one side is locked down, it is a very wise strategy sometimes to lock down your own markers quickly, to prevent the enemy from continuing to maneuver.  As you see below, Fritz's most forward marker (on the hilltop) locked down three of mine. This was entirely intentional on my part.  My last marker locked down two of Fritz's.  What this left is Fritz's markers locked down very close together, with one marker left in the rear with little to do. It also locked him down in an unenviable position to place his Jump-Off Points.

 As jump off points must be placed behind cover, they are always further back than the patrol markers. Below, see the JoP placements, blue being the militia, red the army. Fritz succeeded in getting two JoPs placed at the center of the table. One allows him to dominate the hilltop, with a full field of fire across the board, although with only an old fence and some grape vines to hide behind. The second JoP behind the hedge offers better protection, and can support the hilltop to some degree (indeed, by the end of the game Fritz had a senior officer there, with the hilltop well within his command range), but can only fire on the (army's) right side of the board, the hill blocking the view to most of the left.  The third JoP was almost at the table edge, too far back to be particularly useful (except to the field gun which deployed there, but which also had no vantage to shoot over the hill).

What was the outcome of this? See the image below.  Fritz had one section on the hill, another behind the hedge supporting them. I had an armored car with MG on the left, a section with LMG at center, and a MMG supported section in the barn on the right, all able to fire at the section on top of the hill.  His single section could indeed shoot anywhere on the board, but you can only shoot at one target at a time an hope to be effective. However my militia was able to concentrate all of its fire on that exposed point.  Far from the strong-point Fritz hoped for, it became his achilles heel.

So yes, the center of the board and hilltop line of sight can be useful to hold, but based on the image below, which side could be said to "control" the center of the board?

Shock accumulated fast, the junior leader went down (morale loss), and a senior leader was placed there to deal with the shock. The officer took a hit before the two of the team's three sections finally broke.  Fritz finally withdrew the last team from the hill, but by that time, he'd already lost several command dice (two broken teams and two injured officers in that section alone), and the game was more or less over.

Most of this, I believe, is due to a successful patrol phase.  I think that if Fritz had attempted to flank me with his patrol markers, particularly on the left, it would have been a far harder fight for the milita.  Before we'd begun the main game, Fritz's force was confined to difficult area to advance from. Pushing his attack at the center of a broad front across minimal cover was bound to be a problem.

Militia Tactics:

Yes, they have the odds stacked against them. Taking "Highly Motivated Militia" from the support list removed the two most unforgiving rules, but there were plenty of hobbles remaining: Only 4 command dice to the army's 5, if hit in the open they take more shock, and most importantly, the sections don't have junior leaders nor do they have sub-teams unless a senior leader makes them (and you only get one senior leader, who isn't quite as good as the enemy's). Basically a militia section is 10 men (or women in this case) with no officer and little training.

But believe it or not, within these weaknesses we find a great advantage. I'm not really sure it was intentional in the rules, but lets look at it.

It's all about the way force morale works. As Fritz pointed out to me, this is a game about driving off the enemy more than killing him. And that's a psychological game, where morale is the deciding factor.  A typical army section (for the Spanish Civil War) has 3 teams and a junior leader, and you roll for morale whenever a team breaks and again if wiped out, and again if the whole section breaks or is wiped out. You also roll if your junior leader is wounded, killed (and both can happen in one game), or routs from the table as part of a broken team. The worst case scenario if the enemy breaks and then wipes out the section would be as many as ten rolls on the morale chart.

In the example above, where the hilltop section broke, Fritz had to make a roll for each team that broke (2), for a junior leader being wounded, a senior leader wounded, and the wounded junior leader routing from the table. As many of these rolls can produce a result of -1 to -3 force morale, we can see how Fritz's 5 rolls on the force morale chart doomed him, as he only started with 8 morale (bad luck on that roll!)

The militia, by contrast, doesn't work like that at all. A section is just ten guys without a real effective leader. They make one roll if they break, and another if they are wiped out (but no roll for routing from the table). That's 2 morale rolls max for each militia section (and max -2 morale at worst roll), compared to 8 rolls max for the regular army.  The biggest threat is the loss of the senior leader.

Of course, militia break really easy. They take more shock than the army, and have only one leader for the whole platoon that can reduce it. When a section accumulates enough shock to prevent it moving or firing effectively, it's essentially doomed. But if you have enough morale (and I was lucky enough to start with 11), it doesn't really hurt too bad to lose a section of militia.

This means playing militia calls for very different tactics than playing a professional army unit. It's that whole "quantity is its own quality" thing. Playing professionals, if a section is getting chewed up, it makes sense to use the officers to try to save the unit and reduce shock, and retiring it out of the firing line when it gets too chewed up. Better to pull back for a couple of phases, get rid of that shock, and find a better position on the enemy. This makes sense, given the amount of time and effort that went into training those men. Playing militia, it seems better to say screw it and leave them there to break and die. You probably have more militia to replace them with anyway.

As it turned out in this particular game, with 11 force morale, these militia would be a real pain to chase off the field. The platoon has 4 sections, and if the army wiped out all 4 of them, it would still only be 8 rolls on the morale chart. If I only lost 1 morale for each roll (unlikely), I still would have been at force morale 3.  Sure, I'd only have had a (very frightened) senior leader and and an armored car left, but No Pasaran!

So, thinking about how to best use militia tactically, it seems to me that buying extra sections, and either adding the men to the existing sections (to make them last longer) or having back up sections makes sense. Others have cautioned against buying lots of extra sections or units from the support list because of the limited command resources of 4 dice. I disagree. It could make a lot of sense to have 6 10-man sections and hold 2-3 off the board entirely. Wait for the sections in combat to break (and they will), then pour in the replacements. A section breaking and running is only likely to cost you 1 point of force morale. The off-board units can't be shot at and don't use command dice until they replace broken units on the firing line.

You still have to play smart with deployment, obviously, and win the firefight, because if the enemy gets close, you're probably going to lose in close combat, and this strategy hinges on not losing those jump off points to the enemy. In other words, keep your distance. This is not a force to be charging with.

It also makes sense to keep the Senior Leader back away from the action until the most crucial moment of decision. It's so tempting to want to put your senior leader up front with a section that's getting chewed up. But the risk of losing the section (-1 to -2 if the section breaks) is just not as great as losing the leader (-1 to -3 for wounds, kills, or routs, and you might have to make 2 of those rolls), and just won't often be worth it.

On an role-play level this represents the willingness to throw untrained men into the fight knowing that most of them are going to die for the cause. Seems pretty in character with the conflict actually.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it overall though. While the individual sections are fragile, the lack of rolls on the morale chart mean that militia can be quite stubborn despite casualties. I haven't played the Russians which seem to have similar organization, but I wonder if similar tactics are in order there.  Does this reflect the willingness to allow masses of untrained men and women to go to their deaths for the cause? Or is there an imbalance in game design? Is this a "cheap" tactic, exploiting the rules? I don't know. Of course, this is an unofficial SCW supplement, and still a work in progress [Edit: I was completely wrong about the supplement being unofficial - it's the real Lard!  Further, after some wonderful comments by the two creators, it's very clear that these rules are working as intended. Good to know!]

There is also an optional rule set for "Irregulars"  in the supplement that may provide more realism within the existing rules, but I haven't yet tried them and have no idea if they change the feel of the action.

Any CoC players have any thoughts on the above?
 EDIT: Fritz has his own analysis up on his site as well.


  1. Nice analysis. I'm one half of the 'writing team' behind CoC: España... so I can give some insight into the thoughts behind it.

    In CoC the militia do exactly what they did, which I admit was more 'happy accident' than intuitive design on our part; CoC allowed us to do this, as well as other things, which is why we use them for everything we do.

    Initially the militia received no more training than how to load their rifle and how to aim and shoot. Few had any military training whatsoever and the military advisers were not trusted. Their own leaders were usually their political representatives, who also had no concept of warfare... hence the lack of leaders in comparison to more 'military' lists.

    Give them somewhere to stand and shoot and they were usually fine, although quite naive about tactics; they expected the enemy to come straight at them 'mano a mano'. When it became clear that they were outflanked, panic would set in.

    At first few would dig trenches, as it was not manly. When they were persuaded that it was a good idea, it was difficult to get them out of them. As most units were drawn from the same pueblo, district or factory, losses were people they knew well, or were even family members. This tended to make them very susceptible to losses and shock, hence why they are so brittle. In the attack they tended to go head on and the lack of leaders in CoC does indeed only allow simple tactics with them.

    I'm in the quantity versus quality camp with them. Their strength is that they can out-gun their opponents by sheer numbers. Put them in good positions with secure flanks, don't expose them to combined enemy fire and all should be well... which is what you did. The centre was dominated by their fire-power, not by their bodies.

    ¡No pasarán! was their battle cry and not ¡Venceremos! which I'm inclined to think was sound tactical advice.

    Glad you like the supplement and hope you have many more games with them!

    1. Thanks for the reply Jim, and great work on the supplement. I'm glad the militia seem to be working as designed. It was just so different playing them. And yes, I expect to get many more games out of the rules for sure.

      Looks like next up we're going to see how the militia handles some Moroccan Regulares rather than green garrison troops!

    2. That's one of the things I really like about CoC Espana, all the different forces handle quite differently. All can win if you manage to play to their strengths and all will lose if you don't.

  2. Two of those army jump off points don't appear to be in the right place. They're right up close to a patrol marker when they should be at leasr 6"away from it

    "To place a Jump‐Off Point the player must select a position in or immediately behind cover which is at  least  6”  further  from  the  closest  two  enemy Patrol  Markers  than  the  selected  Patrol  Marker  and in the zone directly opposite them.." p.13

    1. Good catch! We've been playing that incorrectly.

    2. I certainly don't get everything right first time.

  3. I think you over estimate the advantage that the absence of JLs and sections without teams give the militia. As long as a Nationalist section is operating together rather than having any of its squads operating out side 4" range of the rest of the section, hits should be distributed amount all the squads in the section so it's not too likely that any individual squads will beak long before the section as a whole is close to breaking. I think the reason you saw the degradation in the morale of the Nationalists in your game was far more due to Fritz letting you concentrate the fire of nearly all your force onto one third of his. While he did lose more morals this way than you would have for losing two sections, I really don't think that the additional flexibility he has with the presence of a JL who can remove shock and a section that is likely to take more shock overall before any of its squads start breaking really leaves the militia with an advantage due to their organization. (For a section with squads of 5 + 6 + 6, I'd certainly expect that the section on average would need to take something close to 30 kills/shock before any team is likely to be in danger of breaking. Given a JtL who can remove shock, this may even be low. Compare that with two militia squads where with a total of 30 hits/kills, most likely at least one squad will have broken and the other be pinned and in danger of break before too long.

    I do think that your overall assessment of milita capabilities an dhow to use them sounds right but I don't think you need to be concerned that they have an unfair advantage due to their lack of JLs and their larger squads.


    1. Hey Chris, thanks for the feedback.
      I'm definitely not saying that lacking a Junior leader is better, but that it can be a hidden strength to be exploited. It's more about taking advantage of every little peculiarity to find a victory. I think you're right that most of it was due to to the position I ended up in (and where Fritz ended up), but that combined with the fact that it was very hard for Fritz to get me to lose morale together made it a win. Militia are definitely worse troops, no question, but I'm really concerned with how to take that weakness and turn it into something I can work with.

  4. Interesting analysis.

    I think playing with an eye to minimising FM rolls is legit. You're still going to have to win the firefight on the table.

    I think some of this translates to Russians, the main difference being they do get JLs. Although whether they get hit it not is basically just raw luck. They can be amazingly bulletproof sometimes.

    1. Indeed!

      I think that looking at FM as the reason for the firefight is probably a good philosophy.

  5. Very interesting article and analysis. I certainly think you have picked up on how to use militia well which as others have said matches the historical circumstances. This in my experience is deliberate and not a design flaw you are exploiting. Every platoon needs to play to its strengths.

    In WW2 games you will find that the large Soviet sections can be very hard to pin or break but lack the tactical flexibility shown by the Germans when the latter are used correctly. The Germans also benefit from having only 2 teams per JL which makes them easier to control than the 3 team Spanish regular army.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I'm looking forward to doing some WWII soon, starting with a British platoon I'm working up.

      I think the move from 3 teams per section to 2 is going to really change the feel of things. I find myself more reluctant to separate the teams in SCW, and I think I'm going to enjoy letting them move around more (with smoke to screen them) as the British.

  6. Hi Prima,

    What a fine post. Excellent discussion and wonderful looking terrain and analysis.

    As the 'other half' of the CoC -Espana team (along with Jim) I can assure you that CoC- Espana is indeed 'official' and Lard have the real deal in your hands as we and Rich intend!! Jim and I as authors pretty much get Rich to review what we do and thus you can take it as 'gospel'.

    Having said that with such a dynamic period some tweaking has occurred with the large numbers of games played and your excellent analysis shows that Militia handled properly can deliver...they are not regular troops and expecting them to function that way is usually their downfall. Personally I find the militia list one of the most interesting and quintessential SCW!!!

    I very much hope we see more from your table and analysis as this is the kind of stuff that really makes it worthwhile putting the work in to produce the SCW supplement that went into the research. Those Regulares are tough so defend hard against them...I don't recall any instance of Militia taking them on in reality and beating them...but with you in charge playing to their strengths then who knows...a Durrutti in our midst 😉😉

    Great work, looking forward to your next AAR.


    Happy W (Rolf)

    1. Thanks Rolf!

      Sorry, I didn't realize that the SCW thing was "official official" vs. "unofficial official". Sometimes its hard to tell them apart in the wargaming world. I'll edit my post to make that clear. I highly value your work, so it's the least I can do.

      Don't worry, you'll see plenty more from me. I'm a bit obsessed with the Spanish Civil War at present, so I expect many more games. I'm very encouraged by the reception of this post, so more tactics stuff seems likely.

      As for the regulares... I can't help but feel like every time my brush touches them, somewhere out there a miliciano dies. Thankfully, the minairons figures are so beautiful that my conscience is soothed slightly. I certainly hope to give them a sound thrashing with the militia, but of course I expect that Fritz will also read this post, so who knows what will happen.

      Thanks again for the kind words!

  7. "Sorry, I didn't realize that the SCW thing was "official official" vs. "unofficial official". Sometimes its hard to tell them apart in the wargaming world. I'll edit my post to make that clear. I highly value your work, so it's the least I can do."

    No problem at all..just wanted you to be sure you're using the ‘good stuff' ;-)

    "Don't worry, you'll see plenty more from me. I'm a bit obsessed with the Spanish Civil War at present, so I expect many more games. I'm very encouraged by the reception of this post, so more tactics stuff seems likely. "

    Great news. I’m really taken with that terrain layout. That is very Spanish and screams SCW! I particularly like the tactical discussion because so many AARs just focused on what happened and not why…that’s sort of of what CoC gives you a look at the ‘why’ and the gaming/simulation experience is the better for it when it's looked at this way IMHO.

    The SCW is so diverse that the troop combinations, ideologies and motivations really come through in the game in a ‘real' sense, rather than (to me any way) a more contrived ‘special rule’ mechanic…if you follow. These lists developed for CoC collectively give us a sneak at how things might have worked...and a great game to go with it…at least that’s my view. In list construction we were trying very much trying to capture what these motivations were all about...

    "As for the regulares... I can't help but feel like every time my brush touches them, somewhere out there a miliciano dies. "


    "Thankfully, the minairons figures are so beautiful that my conscience is soothed slightly. I certainly hope to give them a sound thrashing with the militia, but of course I expect that Fritz will also read this post, so who knows what will happen. "

    Sounds like you have a good thing going and we shall all enjoy the benefits of it…good work!

    "Thanks again for the kind words!"

    ..not at all, thanks for the great analysis of CoC in the SCW setting…thumbs up!