In what is quickly becoming clear as the last days of Rip City Gamers, Mike showed up at my place (complete with last minute change of venue) for our regular game night. Sadly, Mike and I have been the only people who have shown up for the last two sessions, and the week before that only added Alex to the mix. But more about that later.
Since it was just the two of us, and last week we played Battleline, which I won by a hair, and the old AH chestnut Football Strategy, which I clearly sucked at (Mike was winning by something like 24 points (to nothing) at halftime, and we decided that this was about as much Football Strategy as we needed), we chose this time to play Combat Commander.
No other game demonstrates my growing disillusionment with Euros compared to my growing interest in wargaming better than CC:E. While not every game is as tight as this particular outing was, every one seems to have a really interesting story, not to mention an interesting puzzle for at least one of the two sides. Better yet, since the rules keep changing on what the requirements for victory are, the puzzles tend to morph even as you play them. I really don't see how anyone could get bored with this game, provided they can handle a real-world dose of chaos.
We played Scenario 8, which features a small number of German units (two leaders, three squads) trying to break out of a Soviet encirclement at night. This is a hard scenario to play for both sides, as each is hamstrung in different ways. While the Soviets have a huge number of forces compared to the Germans, they only get a single Order per turn. Unlike the partisan scenario, however, the Soviets do have the advantage of setting up units as they'd like to leverage their leaders, although they only have two mediocre leaders and most of their machine guns are of the medium "boat anchor" calibre. The Germans, on the other hand, are limited to a single discard instead of their usual three, although they have enough orders to activate everyone if they need to in a turn.
Two other factors are also in play - because it's night time, long range fire is penalized based on range. Unless you can see the whites of their eyes, it's very unlikely you'll do much damage unless you have some serious Action cards modifying the result. This made the game very melee-intensive, which worked out more for Mike than for me. Finally, you only get points for killing other units and getting Germans off the board (at double the going rate), so the whole point is to get the Germans to exit the Soviet side, and the Soviets want to kill them first. One other thing - both sides have a Recon posture, so both sides get the same number of cards and the Defender Only actions suddenly become a bit useless for everyone (as are all arty cards). Given the strict discard rules for the Germans, this makes hand management a much different situation than they usually face, while the Soviets can afford to play a single card with a handful of crap.
Our game did not start well for me as the Germans. I began by focusing on the left side of the board, where I had some good cover in the form of a hedgerow and some small buildings to move through. Unfortunately, my initial hand had *three* useless cards, which I spent my first three turns discarding while hoping for a Move card to show up. One finally did, but not before Mike had started shifting his units from one side of the board to the other. Three turns later, I got a Move after my third discard and decided to assault the lone Russian in the first house on the left with two of my squads. Both got shot up pretty well, and while I was able to get one squad and my good leader Recovered, the other squad was wiped out by fire.
Mike is great at whining about getting bad rolls, but I seemed to get nothing higher than a 5 in my first several combat rolls. To his credit, he made the mistake of thinking that the Soviets had the same discard restriction as the Germans, but this was much later in the game that we figured this out and he was doing quite well by then, so I'll consider my bad luck early as a handicap!
After retreating back to their foxholes, my leader and squad made an assault to wipe out one Russian (giving 2VP for No Quarter), then did a Move/Assault Fire on another in the building but failed. Sadly, Mike then advanced into my hex and played...
Wait for it...
Three Ambush cards. Three. I had a Light Wounds card that allowed me to keep both units in play in a Broken state for the Melee, but no Ambush card to counter him. Then I rolled a three to match his number before he even drew a card. At this point, with one unit to give before I hit my surrender level, and with Mike adding insult to injury through his own No Quarter card to get back his 2VP for the earlier melee, he was sitting pretty at 7VP and with me facing a phalanx of units on that side of the board.
And here is where having only one order really hamstrung the Soviets. I managed to run my remaining squad/leader/LMG to the other end of the board. This board was particularly interesting because there are a lot of hills and blocking terrain that make LOS's a trifle difficult. Given the range penalty of one FP per hex fired through, ranged combat was a bit of a no-op anyway. By now we had hit the SD marker at Time 5, but it's hard to pull that particular sudden death trick with those odds, even if you have the initiative card (as Mike did when I gave it up the first time he shot at me and I rolled snake eyes. My next roll was a five which gave the same effect). However, Mike chose not to try to end the game while he could, as I was looking to exit in a short time.
Which I did, with the help of smoke and move cards. My whole strategy was to play as many orders and actions as I could that didn't match what I needed rather than discard, and I played a *lot* of Dig In actions just to get the cards out of my hand (although at one point I actually found foxholes as I was being shot at!) With my units exiting the board, I scored eight points, enough to give me the edge. My one secret objective, a single point for Objective 5 which was in my backfield but still within range of being taken by the Sovs, added a bit of a safety margin.
Mike was kicking himself for not getting more units into place before I made it around his flank, but I had an Advance card and two Ambushes, so even had he played two on me I was likely to kill any unit I went up against before he could do any permanent damage, so long as it wasn't a stack with a leader.
I find I really enjoy these scenarios that constrain units in some way - it forces you to play a slightly different game than usual, and in this I am pretty sure that CC:E will stand as one of the great wargames of all time, up there with ASL, Hannibal, The Russian Campaign, and Breakout: Normandy. (Note: I'm aware there are other great games. These seem to me to be examples of classics that have stood the test of time and are still popular ten years after they were introduced). I'd frankly have been almost as happy had we ended up tying, with Mike getting the edge with the Initiative card, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy winning too.
A great evening, with a great game and a great opponent. On the other hand I am terribly disappointed that RCG seems to have lost it's cohesion right around the time I announced that I wouldn't be hosting much anymore, at least not the usual Tuesday sessions, because of our move to the Deep South (of Portland, not the US). When seven people *total* show up for three sessions, and two of those people account for six of the seven, that's a bad sign. With no one to host in a central location (and I consider a decent game library a prerequisite for hosting), we've clearly hit a critical point that I suspect will mean the end of Rip City Gamers as we know it.
Note that I am *not* declaring the end of hostilities here, I am just noting that interest seems to have fallen off the edge of the world, whether it be from other commitments, loss of interest, or just bad timing, and saying that I am saddened by what appears to be the end of a community that I founded and nurtured for several years. I'm also hoping that I'm dead wrong, even though I'm less likely to make sessions in the Far West (Hillsboro) or even in the city core. I am looking forward to starting up a slightly different session schedule with those who live in my general area, which consititutes eight gamers who live within 15 minutes drive, one two blocks away, but it will be a different feel and Tuesdays would not be the same if it wasn't Game Night.
So prove me wrong, RCGers.
Thanks to Mike for a great game and great company. We are at his place (again) next Tuesday, then back at my place on the 9th for my last hosting at the house were RCG began.