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Cold War Commander Review

BattleGames Magazine, February 2007 by Bob Barnetson

Following on the heels of the successful Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC) rule set (now in its third printing), Pete Jones has released Cold War Commander (CWC). These fast-play rules address historical and what-if battles from 1946 to present day. The rules come as a 140-page A4-sized perfect-bound book with over 60 colour pictures illustrating game-play. Games wrap up in 2-3 hours and no rebasing is required.

Like its predecessor, CWC borrows Games Workshop┬╣s Warmaster command and control mechanics. Formations (groups of units) are activated by a leader rolling less than its command rating on 2d6. Command ratings can be modified by various situational factors and a leader can issue multiple orders to a unit.

The potential for issuing multiple orders (and the risk of failing a command roll) simulates the fog of war and command and control limitations. This mechanic takes a bit of getting used to and results in fairly fluid games where momentum shifts. It also rewards good tactics a position where everything hinges on a single die roll.

Turns are ugo-igo. Once ordered, units can then perform actions (e.g., deploy, move, shoot). Prior to this command phase, there is an initiative phase where units can react to local conditions without an order (but creating a subsequent command penalty).

Shooting combat equates firepower with dice and the few modifiers are handled by adding or dropping dice. A single roll determined how many hits are scored. The other player picks up the hits and rolls for saves on armoured units and the attacking player then picks up any unsuccessful saves and dices for suppression. This sounds complex but is easily learned: within 15 minutes new players run combat on their own. Close assaults are handled in a similar manner.

For those familiar with BKC, there are some changes. Units with stabilization can now move and shoot to some degree. The opportunity fire mechanic has been improved (opportunity fire acting like initiative fire out of phase). Close assaults occur as part of the turn (rather than at the end). These latter two mechanics can be backwards fitted to BKC.

Additionally, each army has a military doctrine which affects its initiative distance and the flexibility of its leaders. The rules also address air-superiority, helos, snipers, night fighting, ambushes, stabilization and thermal imaging, special munitions, infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs).

I'm a big fan of BKC and I played CWC a bit as a playtester. What strikes me most about playing the finished version of CWC is how it takes a complex subject and makes it manageable. The myriad weapon systems of modern conflicts are abstracted enough that new players can understand them (at least in game terms). This makes modern conflicts much more attractive to me (as someone with a passing interest) than other rules do. I also find this level of abstraction tends to turn off the technophiles (often ex-service personnel consumed by weapon-system minutiae) who are attracted to modern games and thus fewer utterances of "in reality".

The rules contain army lists for the Cold War (1946-90), the First Indochina War, the Korean War, the various Arab-Israeli Wars, Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistan Wars, Angola, the Ogaden War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, the Falklands, both Gulf Wars and various modern conflicts post-1991. The book also contains 16 generic scenarios that let you choose an era, point up an army and play.

Both BKC and CWC are served by a website and forum. Between the photo-illustrated game mechanics and Jones┬╣ willingness to answer all game questions personally, the game is very well supported. The forum is also very convivial and contains developmental work on both a sci-fi and WW1 adaptation of the rules.

 
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