Chain of Command’s pre-game patrol phase is one of it’s more novel and interesting features, and can have a large effect on how and where your force deploys during the game. I thought I’d run over some of the basic ideas and a couple of the subtleties involved.
Richard Clarke (Chain of Command’s author) recently wrote an excellent series on tactics for the game including the patrol phase. He focused mostly on how it affects deployment, which is the most important message to get across. I’m nowhere near as experienced as the man himself, but having consulted the hivemind at the game’s forum I thought I’d expand on what Rich wrote with some tactics for manoeuvring of patrol markers. By all means add your voice in the comments below!
What is this Patrol Phase?
Chain of Command doesn’t use fixed deployment zones. Instead there is a mini-game after placing terrain but before the miniatures hit the table. Players try to grab areas of the board using patrol markers. The markers must stay within 12″ of each other, forming a continuous chain. When two opposing markers come within 12″ of each other they get locked down and can no longer move. Once one side is completely locked down the phase has ended, and the position of the markers determines where you can place your Jump Off Points. Your troops deploy from these in the actual game.
Patrol Marker Basics
Markers move to the centre easier than towards the flanks
Sorry folks, but it’s time for some basic trigonometry! If two markers are 12″ apart, you can’t move either of them 12″ forward and still be 12″ away from the adjacent one. The only way you can do so is by moving forwards on an angle.
The upshot of this is that markers can quickly towards the centre of your chain of markers and only slowly towards the flanks. Trying to move a line of markers forwards means at least one on the flank will have to move towards the centre.
Effect of the enemy flanking you
Flanking changes the area that you can deploy your JoPs into. Essentially what it does is skew them sideways, denying the ability to deploy deep. An enemy marker getting around your flank can skew and narrow the triangular zone for your JoP.
It’s worth mentioning that you can sometimes achieve this effect on markers in the centre of the enemy line, just by carefully positioning the markers you lock them with. Used well this could deprive a piece of cover that could be used for a JoP.
Using three or four markers?
The default is to use four markers, and this is perfectly fine in most cases. Using four markers has one big advantage: you can ignore one marker that’s in a bad position when it comes to placing JoPs. With three markers you’re stuck with what you’ve got; each JoP has to deploy behind a separate marker.
Some scenarios do allow you to use three markers instead of the usual four. These are:
- Probe (attacker only)
- Delaying action (defender only)
- Flank attack (defender only, although the attacker sort of does by placing two groups of three)
- Attack on an objective (attacker only)
The advantage of doing so is that you get to move each marker more often. If you have a specific piece of ground that you need to grab and push the enemy back from this is a valid tactic. The downside is that you have to use all your markers to position JoPs, so be careful where they end up.
This is less of a problem for a defender planning on using a one-up deployment, with one JoP forward supported by two in depth. The forward JoP can use the best-sited marker, while the two JoPs going in deep will be a long way behind their markers, so the triangular deployment zones will be fairly wide and give you a lot of options.
If you’re aggressive with three markers you can grab your key feature early and then throw the other two markers at the enemy to deliberately get locked down before the enemy has a got his markers where he wants them.
The extra width that you can deploy into with four markers obviously makes it far more likely to flank the enemy than three markers will, and vice versa you need to use care when using three that you lock down before your opponent can make spoiling moves onto your flank.
Patrol Phase Objectives
You should identify where you’d like to put your JoPs before the patrol phase begins. You should also identify where you think your opponent probably want s to put his. Your goal in the patrol phase is to get your markers where you want them, while denying as much as possible to the enemy. Look for potential JoP sites, killing grounds, avenues of concealed movement, preferred axis for an attack, etc.
Generally speaking, there is no disadvantage to advancing as rapidly as possible. Even if you are on the defence and plan to deploy your JoPs very deep you should be aggressive and push the enemy’s JoPs as far back as possible. The further back an attacker’s JoPs are the more fire he’ll be exposed to during the advance. Alternatively he’ll have to use CoC dice to move JoPs, while you can potentially use yours to launch ambushes on his scout teams.
Obviously when attacking you’ll probably want your JoPs as far up table as you can get ’em. So both attack and defence do need the same approach to the patrol phase: get up the table and do your land grab as fast as possible.
How to move Patrol Markers
The way patrol markers move is governed by two things:
- The need to stay within 12″ of friendly markers
- Proximity to enemy markers
There are two basic formations for markers; in line or grouped. We’ll then go on to look at some options for advanced formations.
Markers in line
Starting with your markers deployed in a string along your baseline is a simple option and is good for grabbing a wide frontage and preventing them enemy slipping around your flank.
A couple of points bear mentioning though:
Maximum lateral spacing is about 8″
If a marker starts 12″ from an adjacent marker it can’t move 12″ directly forward, as it’ll end up too far from the adjacent marker. If you want to advance a full 12″ (and you should) then the markers must start 8″ away laterally (it’s actually about 8.5″ if you want to get picky).
If you really wanted to maximise your width at the expense of depth you could of course go for 12″ apart and only advance in 8″ jumps.
Lateral movement is severely restricted.
If you deploy markers in line abreast you have very little ability to shift laterally. To shift the marker on the left end of the line laterally you’ll have to shift all the others to the left first. Watch out for an enemy using grouped markers that can quickly dodge sideways!
There’s usually nothing to stop you keeping your markers in a pile. Doing so allows you to move left or right with freedom, but does have drawbacks.
Expanding takes several moves
If you need to avoid a flanking move (eg: probe scenario, or where terrain dictates) then you risk an enemy in line abreast closing and turning your flank before you can expand enough to meet the threat.
You risk multiple markers being locked at once
An enemy marker approaching to 12″ of two stacked markers will lock both of them, which could result in the patrol phase ending before you’ve got where you want.
There’s of course nothing to stop you using a mashup of both approaches, and grouping some markers while others are in line. This tends to show some of the good features of both line and grouped formations with few of the drawbacks.
Using two pairs of markers separated by 12″ laterally gives a formation that can expand to full width in only two moves, but still advances at 12″ per move.
Three up/One back
This variation uses one marker held back with three in line. The marker kept back allows a 12″ move forward, and it can move quickly to either flank to either threaten or respond to the enemy.
One up/Three back
A variation of the above, the main feature of this formation is that it can use its forward marker to lock down an enemy formation and partly immobilise them, while leaving the rear three able to move.
So, which is best?
Most of the time I use two pairs, as I think it gives a good balance between mobility, speed and coverage. Generally there’s at least one critical position on the table that you’re keen to grab as fast as possible, and I like the way this formation can get quickly up the table, then throw a single marker forward to grab that piece of terrain
The all-important first lock down
After the first few moves, the two sets of patrol markers will be approaching each other, and soon enough you’ll get a lock down. From that point, both sets of markers become restricted about what they can do, as they’re tied to that fixed point. As mentioned above, you’ll often identify a piece of key terrain that you want to grab early, and that’s where the first lock down will probably occur. If you’re attacking it might be an area of cover close to you objective that you want to launch your assault from, if you’re defending it might be some high ground with good arcs of fire.
To grab that terrain feature you’ll probably want to thrust a marker forward as quickly as possible. If you’re deployed in a line this is difficult, so if you’re looking to grab a particular terrain feature I’d advise strongly against deploying markers in line, and instead group at least two or three of them. Those two can then punch forward 24″ in only three moves.
When you’re approaching enemy markers and preparing to lock each other, always consider what the zone behind each marker would be. What would happen if they locked your markers now?
Small adjustments to your own positions can change the shape of the zones behind enemy markers, especially once you’re both down to one or two unlocked markers and the zones are mostly fixed.
If you’re happy with your markers and the enemy has some free to move it’s worth jumping in and voluntarily locking yourself down to prevent these kind of spoiling tactics.
But wait, there’s more!
I hope these thoughts have been of some use to you. I’m still learning myself, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this thread on the game’s forums. Alternatively leave a comment here. Sneaky tricks are especially welcome!