Thursday, January 04, 2007

Combat Commander Squared - Pt 2

In my last entry, I recounted my bout with Connor playing Scenario 1 of Combat Commander: Europe as a learning game. The game had great story, and interesting things happening throughout the game. Today, Jesse and I played Scenario 3, an assault through a semi-forested area to take a primary objective at one end of a long board during the initial German invasion of Russia. A green Soviet force, aided by relatively light MG and leader support and a whole lot of barbed wire, has to hold off a German rifle force with excellent MG and leader support, but relatively few troops. There are only open objectives, set such that while it is possible for the Germans to win without taking objective 5, it would require the Russians surrendering or the Germans taking every other objective and perhaps getting units off the Russian end of the board. In fact, that's exactly what the game came down to.

I set up my forces with the intent of slowing down the German onslaught. Like most "cross the board" scenarios, time is on the defender's side. As such, I set up one unit on the edge of the clearing in the forest on the right side of the board, one in the building/objective near the German entry point on the left side, three units near the road leading out of the forest halfway down the right edge (which corresponds with two more objectives), On the opposite side of the board, I put the light machine gun, two more squads, and the weaker leader. At objective 5, I put the medium machine gun, the weapons team, another militia squad, and the stronger leader, with one more backup squad in the adjacent forest. The last squad was placed between the two machine gun-equipped groups with the idea that it could reinforce either group.

Jesse decided to consolidate his force on the right side of the board, with a plan on moving through the forest. At this point I placed the wire in an arc from the lone forest hex in the center of the board, then to the larger forest on the right and along the edge of the forest. The idea was to make it difficult for the Germans to take advantage of the forest edge's cover.

The game began with the Germans moving in and around the large clearing in the NE corner of the board (from the Russian perspective). The lone militia in the immediate area spent time (and this scenario is all about spending time) trying to slow the Germans down). After what seemed like an awful lot of events, snipers, etc, including a spurious Russian unit appearing in the same hex as a German (and getting it's butt kicked - melee in CC:E is analagous to trying to flank attack with AH units in Paths of Glory, at least for me). I did manage to rout one German unit off of the board, certainly a moral victory at the least, although getting enough Germans killed in an Eastern Front scenario is what project managers call an "outlying event".

After the Germans killed my lone unit and got past the clearing, it was time for the next wave to cause problems for them. At the same time, the one militia over in the building in the NW corner decided that his best contribution would be to try to raid the German supply lines rather than die in combat. 2 points for me! By now we *still* hadn't gotten through either deck yet, and no Time! triggers, which was starting to worry me. However, I did manage to get a hero, which ran around causing problems for a while, although nothing really useful. Heros in this game are great fun, as they don't cost you points if you lose them so you can pretty much do anything you want, even if there's almost no chance of success.

By now, Jesse was converging on the two objective points where the road passes through the forest, but I was also helping him to discover new wire placements in that area. While it's not so much fun to not have artillery and keep drawing arty cards, at least they tend to have interesting defender actions, most of which I got to try out over the course of the game. After a brief fight in this area, the Russians were down to one unit in the SE forest behind the wire line. This unit ended up fighting a German counterpart for most of the rest of the game, which only worked because the German was tied down in more Surprise Barbed Wire. Gotta love that stuff. In the end, the militia closed for melee, only to run into an ambush and then become the victim of a sniper on the die roll. I don't know why I try.

Meanwhile, the big force of Germans (which now included a hero, mine was dead by now), were working their way down the road and line of brush toward the main Russian objective. Again, they found more wire than they were expecting, but a rather unfortuitous eliminated Russian MG (they both were eliminated about 2/3rds of the way into the game, mostly thanks to events) and the best German leader prevented me from doing more than tying them down three hexes from the objective. They never made it any further, although a squad with a light MG did get one hex closer. It was nearly impossible for the units to get closer, as the Russians in the objective hex had a building for cover and brush for hindrance, effectively reducing the German firepower by six every time they shot. The Germans did scare off the weapons team, which sadly no longer had a weapon to fire.

On the west side of the board, the big heavy MG had moved out to a position where they could take on the handful of units in the building guarding the western approaches to the main command post (objective 5). As they moved into the lone forest hex in the area, they were surprised not only to find wire, but also a minefield. Boom! Sadly, while I was able to cause these units much pain, any broken morale was quickly regained, although the main hex they were trying to get to turned into a pillbox, forcing the units into an assault.

Right about this time, the time marker *finally* hit the Sudden Death space, and while there was a brief flurry of initiative card exchanges, in the end the game continued on. While it was becoming clear that I was likely to hang onto the critical objective, it was also clear that I was only two Russian units away from surrendering. Unfortunately, Jesse and I figured this out at about the same time. He managed to bring a unit into my pillbox, now only held by a single leader (a supporting squad was poised, *poised* I say, to advance into the hex and make it a much tougher nut to crack). Unfortunately, the leader was better as stabbing the wall than any German soldiers, and as I'd already lost a unit earlier to fire in the turn, Jesse won on surrender. My VP total at this point was about 7 points, so had we managed to end the game on Sudden Death, it would have been mine. All mine! Sigh.

Total game time took about 3.5 hours, as Jesse had not punched his game yet and we spent a good hour trimming counters and putting cards in sleeves. Every time we needed a new counter, I'd punch it out of the frame, clip it, and put it into play. You'd be amazed how many counters kept showing up - pillboxes, minefields, wire, heroes, extra units, teams, objectives, smoke, blazes (one threatened the objective building in the NW corner of the board, but the unit was long gone).

As in the previous day's game, this one had it all - wacky events changing the general situation; Russian units with really crappy range, movement, and morale; even Germans go BOOM. Again, the game had fantastic story, and the game came down to the wire - literally.

Here, I'll groan for you... GROAAAAAAAN!!!!!

Jesse and I are pretty close to deciding that this game is a 10. There is no other game quite like it, and the development has been so good that we have trouble finding any situations that the rules don't cover. Admittedly, if you want complete control over your game situation other than the occasional dice roll, this is not your game. If you always want to be able to employ opportunity fire without having to hope you have a card, again not your game. Me, I'm all about fun, I'm all about experience, I'm all about clear rules, I'm all about elegant design, I'm all about expandability, story, being surprised, and finishing the game in an evening. After five games in less than two weeks, I can pretty much guarantee this one a 9.5 at the least, but only because I'd like to give it another five plays before I dub it perfect for me.

Thanks, Jesse - what a shame that we'll never play anything else again...

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