Skirmish Review: Chain of Command vs. Battleground WWII

US Paratroopers set off from their Jump Off points in the woods.
After my exposure to Chain of Command at Jon's back in December, I resolved to play it some more to get a better familiarity with the rules, and see if it was the right skirmish game for me.   I find the rules quite enjoyable, resulting in all the 28mm WWII figures you have seen of late, as I opted to contribute to Jon's project with the US Airborne and some Waffen-SS Panzer grenadiers.  (Jon seems to already have the Brits and Wehrmacht locked in.)

My favorite skirmish rules to date, however, are still Easy Eight's original Battleground WWII rules from the late 90s.  I really enjoyed the tactical elements of the games, the light role play, and especially the emphasis on Fire and Movement rather than inflicting casualties.  The effects charts tended to favor suppression over injury, which resulting in games turning into positional competitions.  One side would inevitably pull back as they were outmaneuvered and found their position untenable.  It was a surprisingly realistic outcome, and thus I was hooked.

The flip side of the game, however, is that is was chart and token intensive.  The activation system was random.  (Each unit was assigned to act on the draw of a random card)  and each unit was allowed 2 'actions' per turn.  Thus they could break up their actions to reflect real tactical movement:

some activation examples
Move 4" (1 action)
Crawl 2" (1 action)
Fire a weapon. (1 action)
Fire an aimed shot (2 action)
Clear suppression (1 action)
Stand Up (1 action)
Fall Prone (Free)
Clear Jam (1 action/ per)
There were also multiple special fire modes that a unit could do rather than activating like:

Plunging Fire (indirect MG fire)
Raking/Pinning firing
Opportunity fire

Thus in one activation an infantryman could stand-up, move forward a few inches and fall prone.  While another member of his section could provided covering fire, and the Squad LMG could be raking the tree line in front of him to suppress another MG position.

There was also the ability to decide on complex actions, like moving through windows, climbing along ledges, setting up support weapons, that required both actions and a skill check to complete.  There was also a complex morale system of 'Gut Checks' required to do some more risky things as well as responding to enemy fire.  Finally, the rule came with a spotting chart to determine who could see what based on distance, activity and target types.  

This is all great stuff, but the problem is that it only really worked well for relatively small games.  The rules would have multi-platoon affairs with mixed armored vehicles, but I found those to be far too labor intensive and absolutely requiring GM moderation.  I felt it worked best for small (1-3 squad) special scenarios where you wanted to build a narrative.  I was so taken with the system back in the 90s that I actually adapted it for use in games ranging from the Spanish American War, to the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the former Yugoslavia and even some Sci-Fi.  I ran some WWII Urban Scenarios a few times at Enfilade! and continued to run various games at Spokane's Game Faire until it finally ended around 2000.

So why was all that about?  Well, I felt like comparing my favorite old system to Chain of Command to see how they both worked out.  I set up the board for a simple solo play scenario (US Airborne attack on a German platoon in the defense), selected forces and had at it using each rule system in turn.  (Because I am Nerd)

So the forces:


  • Airborne Platoon with 3 squads (JL, LMG Team, 9 riflemen)
  • PL and PSG
  • Bazooka Team
  • 2x 60mm Mortar Teams
  • Artillery FO w/81mm Mortars on Call.


  • German Infantry Platoon with 3 squads (JL, LMG team, 7 riflemen)
  • PL
  • MMG Team
  • 50mm Mortar Team
  • Artillery FO w/80mm Mortars on Call 
  • Defensive positions for two squads.
  • Pre Game bombarment

I added one variable to the games, in adding a random element for squad strength.  Each squad would be under-strength by d4-1 (US) and d3-1 riflemen (German).  I like little 'reality' additions like this, as I can't remember seeing anything close to an actually full load out in reality.  (Sick call, transfers, attrition, etc.  You can be at 120% on the roster as still only field 90% strength)

Chain of Command.

The patrol faze was fairly straightforward.  The US locked down the German patrols near the central hills, but still ended up shifting the Jump Off points back into the cover of the woods.    

The Germans used their bombardment to offset the US dice advantage. resulting in a little more time required to get everyone to their jump off points. 

The Germans would set up along the fence line by a small village with their mortar tucked in behind the building, and the FO perched on a second floor window in a bombed out house.  One squad was sent to the hill outside the orchard south of town to cover the approach south of the road.
German Infantry Establish a defensive line, it includes a listening post set on the reverse slope of the hill
The Airborne platoon leader opted to send most of his force south of the road to take advantage of the superior cover.  One squad would be sent north to establish a support by fire position to allow the other two to assault the town.
1st and 2nd Squad move up on the right with support from mortars and their LMGs.  The German FO sets for a barrage of 80mm mortars. (White die)  This could get ugly. 
The game devolved into a gunfight South of the road as Mortar fire locked down the main German force.  The German fire suppressed the Assault team for several phases, before the Airborne manage 3 6's on their six dice.  (The command dice advantage of 6 vs 5 dice was very noticeable)
US Mortar barrage lands near the middle of the German Position.  Much shock soon follows

The German left suffers from their lack of prepared positions.
The most significant discovery for me, was the lethality of close combat.   I ran eight screaming troopers at six demoralized German soldiers, resulting in a pile of dice on both sides.  Only three paratroopers made it.  Not the outcome I was expecting.
US Paratroopers move in for a close assault.

The results are violent, effective and really not something I want to try again.....
Another aspect of the game I am still working through is the effects of Mortar fire.  The 18" square of suppression seems rather overwhelming sometime.  In the game, the US side ended the turn on a roll and then spent the CD die to keep their bombardment in position,  As I understand pinning, that meant the German FO, pinned by the fire, could not try to call for fire again until the bombardment was lifted.  It seems a pretty easy way to control some significant territory during the game.
The battle ends with the US in firm control the of the German Left and a complete lack Command Dice remaining for the Germans.  

For the Battleground WWII trial, I began with everyone on the table.  The Germans received an initial barrage of 10.5 cm guns into the tree line, that went wide resulting in minimal suppression to the soldiers on the Northern flank.  The US mortars managed to drop one 81mm  round dead center on a LMG team with significant effect.  (BGWWII templates are concentric rings indicate the damage table to roll on for soldiers inside each band, the center is bad.)
German Initial Deployment

American platoon at their starting point. 
Both sides made extensive use of OP fire and Pinning fire.  The Pinning fire was especially useful in preventing anyone from doing anything but crawl across the fields to the south.  Later in the game, the US made a spot check against the FO and was able to suppress his position, causing a hit when he went for the radio.
The game opens with the initial US Barrage.
I had forgotten how fast the counters could add up as you are dealing with Prone, Suppressed, lightly wounded troopers with Jammed weapons mixed with the prone ones on overwatch.  I've thought of doing some condition dice because of this, just to make it easier.
A similar approach in this game to the first.  German MMG fire was much more telling this time.  

US indirect fires finally suppress the MMG and drive many of the defenders to ground. 
Another aspect I had forgotten about was BG WWII's morale rules.  The difference between a '1" Hero and '20' Craven Coward roll.  I had one paratrooper roll a 1 and go full Audie Murphy with an LMG, helping to roll up the German flank.  One of the German SL's went the opposite direction and made for the hills with him comeraden in tow.
This provides the opening to get the Paratroopers advancing again.  

Mortars work both ways, and the US Center stalls again.  

The US left finally crosses the hedge to tie up the Germans on the right.

German troops break on the left for a second game.  

The game draws to a close with a very similar outcome.  

Final turn positions.  

I really enjoyed both games, and both provide some solid outcomes depending on what you are looking for.  Chain of Command provided a an easy, fast play game, with a satisfying outcome.  It is definitely easier to throw down some terrain and play out a game over 1-2 hours.  It is the system I would use for a friendly game, especially against somebody new to skirmish gaming.  Also, I much prefer the vehicle rules over the convoluted targeting and hit resolution that Battleground Provides.  (Think Warhammer 40k 2nd edition, only more complicated)

Battleground WWII for me is still more fun for running a 'narrative' game.  You have the flexibility to come up with interesting actions and events, as well representing wide arrays of weapon types if you feel like being a tech-head.  I still prefer it for doing small urban warfare games.  The light role play aspect of the rules also makes it fun for campaign systems.  (For any Twilight 2000 fans out there, I found it provided a far better game than anything GDW did)

Anyway, here is a post of interest for the tens of people on the web who are still looking for Battleground WWII content and discussion.  (Or perhaps even a whole score.)


  1. Well, Jake, that is an excellent "compare and contrast" effort. Very good to see that both resulted in satisfactory results in your view. Now that you have a number of solo CoC games under your belt, it would help my learning of the game to face off against you.

    1. As always we just need to find a time. I am home this weekend, gone the next, and 50/50 the following....

    2. We should retire. That would solve it. This weekend is shot. Out of town all all next week.

    3. I spent so much time playing games with unpainted figures in my teens and twenties, only to spend so much time painting my unplayed armies in my 30's and 40's.....

  2. Great to see two rules being tested against each other. Like the sound of Battleground. Is it still available?



    1. You can probably find the pdfs some where. Easy Eight went under around 2000 prior to releasing their Viet Nam rules. I seem to remember some personal issues sinking the company. Pitty. Harold Coyle, author of Team Yankee, was a supporter and contributer

    2. Thanks I'll have a look about the net for them.



  3. Nice comparison. Having enough time to game would be a major advantage of retiring. Finances dictate otherwise, however! :-)

    1. Peter, that's why you lay in a lifetime supply of lead BEFORE retirement!

    2. Agreed. I have plenty of time to paint now, so I will build up my collection before my eyesight goes completely....

  4. If anyone is still looking for the Battleground rules, they are still available - I got mine here



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