Cold War Commander -First Thoughts

Yeah, it's a game review.  Most of you have probably already tried it, but I am nothing if not behind the power curve.  (The post has been in draft form for 6 months....)

Soviet forces advance across the North German plain.
The biggest issue I have always had with Modern Microarmor games is managing the technology.  My first expereience with historical wargaming was playing a modern microarmor game called "Engage and Destroy" back in the early 80's.  It was a 1:1 scale game that used armor penetration charts and exhaustive data tables.  We had cool little periscopes to check line of site, and 75% of our forces were small pieces of paper with the names of tanks written on them.  (My first miniatures were a pack of GHQ BRDM-1s and Chieftain Mk 5s, painted with my Testor Enamels.).  We played over a moss covered ping-pong table, and it was the single greatest gaming experience of my life, at least in my memory. (As with all things from my childhood I recognize that in actuality it was probably fairly dull.  Think about it, how awesome was Battlestar Gallactica when you were a kid?  Now how groan inducing-ly bad did it seem in reruns 20 years later?  Remember the Vaudeville androids?  REMEMBER?!?)

Sorry, went to a weird place there for a moment...  The problem with Engage & Destroy was the ranges.  We had to treat our 6mm tank models as actually being even smaller to fit it on a 5'x9' table.  Otherwise we would have needed a basketball court to play.  Even still, modern MBTs like the 'XM1' would just dominate the game.

For WWII, I continued to play Tank Charts and even tried using ASL.  The problem of range and penetration always acted to diminish my joy.  As the years progressed, I migrated away from Microarmor and into the dark hold of Scifi and Fantasy.  It would be years until the sweet Siren call of  Johnny Reb III would finally lure me back.

West Germans try to hold the line. 
It was in the dark gaming attic of the once proud "Wally's World of Hobbies" in Pullman, WA that I was introduced to Arty Conliffe's SPEARHEAD rules.  I watched in amazement as scores of Russian tanks clashed with the Germans across a simple 4'x6'gameboard.  Tigers and 88's managed to dominate their local terrain, but not terrorize the board.  Orders were written and units actually maneuvered.  I was hooked.  Shermans, T-34s and Panzer IIIJ's were dusted off.  Italian Tanks, yes ITALIAN, were purchased and painted.  Microarmor received a renaissance with me, and my decent into 6mm began.

What does this have to do with Cold War Commander?  Well, I purchased Modern Spearhead years ago, but found that most the players I knew didn't like it as much as I did.  It seems that, while some of us are stuck in the world of written orders and command arrows, the world has moved on.  The Warmaster system of command rolls has taken over, and people want to actually play games in a few hours instead of the days and even weeks god intended...  Thus, the advanced beer and pretzels rules reign supreme disguised behind descriptors like "elegant" or "streamlined" or "fun."

CWC plays a lot like Warmaster.  Choose a unit and test against the commanders rating to take an action.  The unit can keep taking actions until the commander fails a command roll, or you change units.  Combat uses the buckets o' dice approach with each unit throwing a number of D6's with modifiers subtracting or adding dice.  There are saving throws, and the only book keeping is using dice to record hits on specific units.

I am new to the whole game review thing, so I will go to my likes and dislikes

Fast, simple game mechanics.  The game plays quickly without the need for a lot of paperwork or record keeping.  I was able to assemble the force lists for my game using the Battle Groups Online tool at the publishers website.  I used it and the QRS to play the entire game.  While the games are certainly not simulation level affairs, they do capture the flavor of the period, and move importantly give a fast, fun game.

Platoon Stands - Like MSH each model represents a platoon, allowing for larger scale games and the ability to 'abstract' capabilities to reflect more than just the affect of technology on the battlefield.

IFVs and their Dismounts can be treated separately.  I like this, as the MSH system of treating IFVs and APCs as combined  arms stands can be overly limiting.  I have conducted real world operations where the dismounts operated geographically separated from the IFVs, and this allows me to do it on the game board.

The integration of MANPADS/SHORAD into the command stands.  I found this a simple and effective way to deal with a complex system.  Well done.

Not thrilled about:
Battle Groups On-line.  The limited points for basic access and the fixed ratios for some units prevent me from building proper MTOE games.  I prefer to base the limits on certain unit/weapon types on the doctrine and configuration of the real world units.

The command roll system.  I just don't like this system for reflecting the fog of war.  What I love about MSH is the need to actually document your plan before the game and then roll in order to change that plan as the situation develops.  Please don't feed me the line on "plans not surviving first contact."  Planning is still key in the real world, and I like to reflect that on my pretend battlefields.  That said, many systems grapple with how to deal with the player's battlefield wide view of the situation and still model friction on the battlefield.  This system does it in a simple way that works for many.


  1. Nice little review. I like CWC and accept the few shortcomings of the 'warmaster' approach when looking for 'simulation'. I'm happy to think up a reason for units not doing things and weaving that into a game narrative. Same for the odd weird thing that the dice throw up! Although I've played points games I think some parts of the points system are out of skew with reality for certain 'periods' of the Cold War and prevent getting a 'real' force. Sticking with actual TOEs gives a better game but is harder to balance. But then I'm not too bothered about balance as that isn't 'real' wither!
    Agree with your comments re dismounts as well.
    I did have thoughts about changing the command rolls to be alternate? So as long as you are successful you keep going. When you fail the initiative moves to your opponents. Haven't had chance to try it out though.

    Enjoying following your blog as well.


  2. I like the idea of switching as command rolls fail. It would make for a more dynamic game with less down time for players. Just need a suitable marker system for 'expended' leaders. I've also considered using a variation of the Battletech initiative system where the alternating turns include accommodating uneven numbers: i.e. Me, You, Me, You, You, Me, You, You for a 3:5 split instead of Me, you, me, you , me, you, you, you.


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