One of my new wargame “acquisitions” was a player’s copy of Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (Lock ‘n Load Publishing, 2010) that I acquired via a trade. I say ‘players copy’ because the box is very beat up but the contents are (super) fine. Most importantly, it was a good trade because it brought an older game to my table that I had overlooked before. Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light (hereafter CC:DEL) is a simple, quick-playing ‘Cold War Gone Hot” wargame that is easy to learn, easy to teach, and eminently playable. However, don’t expect a deep analysis of the battlefield – this is a coarse recreation of the situation in a game that focuses on playability over ‘realism.’
War Is Complex – But Your Wargame Doesn’t Have to Be
Four factors make CC:DEL stand out to me and really helps me enjoy the game. They are 1) Physical size, 2) Activation Numbers, 3) Combat, and 4) Asset Chits.
What immediately strikes me about CC:DEL is the small size of the game. The 22’x17″ mapsheet not only has the hexes of play, but also has needed tracks and other useful player information around the edge. There are ‘only’ 136 counters in the game that covers all the combat units, markers, and various Asset Chits used. The 16-page CC:DEL rule book is broken into 7.5 pages of rules, 5.5 pages of scenarios, and three other misc pages (covers & Notes). Taken together this makes CC:DEL a game that can easily fit on a small gaming table and get played even when time is short.
The Activation Number mechanic in CC:DEL ensures that each turn is a bit unpredictable and forces players to take advantage of fleeting opportunities, as well as plan a head a bit. Each turn consists of four couplets (pairs of impulses). The exception is Night turns where only a single couplet is played. At the start of each couplet, NATO and the Soviets each roll 1d6 to determine their Activation Number (AN). The AN not only determines who goes first, but also how many Movement Points the player will have as well as which units can activate. In order for a unit to activate, the AN must be equal to or GREATER than the unit’s Initiative Number. Immediately you can see the problem; a high AN results in some units not activating – but if they do they move further since AN+1=Movement Points. If a 6 is rolled players immediately consult the Botched Orders Table to see what few units will activate, or not. The AN mechanic ensures that players can never be sure about who is going first or even how far they might move.
I find the combat mechanics of CC:DEL incredibly simple yet able to produce ‘realistic’-feeling results. When attacking, the attacker rolls 2d6 and adds/subtracts a few mods (usually +/-1 for terrain or a special combat power) and then adds the Strength of the attacking units to get a hit number. The hit number is compared directly to the Protection Factor (PF) of the target; if the attack is greater than the PF then a Hit is scored. If the attack exceeds the PF by four or more points then TWO hits are scored. If, somehow, the attack exceeds the PF by eight points or more, then THREE hits are scored (this will outright destroy many units). Combat is so simple, and modifiers so few, that players should quickly be able to memorize the mods and accelerate play.
The final gameplay mechanic in CC:DEL that I really enjoy is the Asset Chits. Asset Chits control everything from combat support to reinforcements. This is how the designers show the effect of concentrated airpower (Airstrike) or artillery support (Artillery). It also controls the arrival of reinforcements. At set up and at various times during play (as called for in the scenario rules) Asset Chits are drawn and allocated. Again, the somewhat unpredictable nature of war comes to the forefront; the Soviet player KNOWS he will get the 2nd Guards Airborne at some time during the battle, but will it be Day One or Four? NATO knows some West German Territorials will arrive, but again, Day One or later? Asset Chits are an easy way to represent many combat support elements in a simple to use system that reflects embraces the friction and fog of war.
Edged Out by Production Quality
If CC:DEL suffers it is in the area of production quality. Overall the quality of the components is generally good, but it is not without issue. The rule book needed one more editing pass to catch several obvious errors. A second Player Aid card would have been welcomed. The color selection on the map is a bit too same-ish for this glasses-wearing Grognard.
The major issue I have with CC:DEL is the alignment of the counters. Simply put, the data is too close to the edge or, in the case of the Soviet counters, they are misaligned. I could probably live with these counters if they didn’t suffer from ‘tuft-edges’ – which makes me just want to counter clip them! I may try my 2mm-radius clipper but even then I worry about clipping some data off the NATO counters, and I am pretty sure I will only be able to clip three edges of the Soviet counters. is it worth it?
Much Less Than 60 Miles
The other wargame in my collection that is the closest comparison to CC:DEL is Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019). Both games cover roughly similar areas (although CC:DEL is placed near Eisenbach while LT60M covers the Fulda Gap) and at a similar level of unit breakdown (battalions for individual units). That is really where the comparisons end. CC:DEL is by far the simpler game in terms of mechanics, is far smaller on the table and will take far less time to play. That does not make it any worse or better than Less Than 60 Miles; they both cover conflict in the 1980s in Europe just at a different level of detail and with a different approach to playability. What CC:DEL ‘lacks’ in terms of details it makes up for in streamlined speed of play. If you want the in-depth look at how the Air-Land Battle Doctrine of the 1980s may have played out on the battlefields of Europe then you want to play Less Than 60 Miles. If you want a ‘taste’ of how the NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict could of seemed in a game that takes 2-hours or less than CC:DEL is much better suited.
A New Dawn
Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light came out 10 years ago. Apparently the game was republished in 2015 under the slightly different title Corps Command: Dawn’s Early Light – Red Hammer. A part of me is curious to see what that game changes or improves from the original CC:DEL. But I am not in a real rush to find out; my players copy of CC:DEL will land on the table a few more times as I explore this small, quick-playing (and very playable) implementation of the Cold War Gone Hot on the plains of Germany.