Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Combat Commander: Pacific

Matt R came over last night and we got to give the latest volume in the Combat Commander series a spin. There are now well over sixty different scenarios in this series, rivaled only by ASL and Panzer Grenadier in quantity. Pacific evolves the series in many ways, some of which can be seen in the Stalingrad battle pack that came out at the same time, and it's easy to see which of the changes are considered to be improvements to the base game and which are specific to the theater. 

There are a lot of changes to the Orders that you can give in this game. Rally and Rout are big changes, now replaced by Revive orders that force you to triage your forces rather than hope you get the right rolls for them. Asset Request/Denial replace the more random granting of artillery elements (or airstrikes), as well as weapon jamming. For both of these systems, the new cards give more choice and less luck elements, and the result is a plus for the system as a whole. While there are also major changes to the Actions and Events, these seem to be more fine-tunings than evolutionary rethinkings of the subsystems. 

Stacking changes slightly - no longer do you lose men because too many are in a hex (which was more of a design for effect feature than simulation), now you simply increase the chance that these soldiers will be tagged if fired upon, a much more natural encouragement than a hard rule. Melee, as a corollary, demonstrates the Japanese advantage in hand-to-hand combat through several factors, the most important of which is that you don't actually *perform* the combat until the beginning of the next Allied turn. This gives the Japanese the chance to dig for Ambush or Bayonet cards, or even bring in more units (seeing as if they survive they won't be immediately eliminated for overstacking, although they'll be a tasty target). 

Other elemental changes include banzai charges, an incredibly effective but focused Japanese sniper, mortar spotting by forward observers (called "scouts"), changes to VP for exiting the map (it's now limited to specific hexes on a map and not related to the size of unit that exits), infiltration tactics by the Japanese that can really screw with the Allies minds, and lots of new terrain (including caves that act like trenches except they can be separated in space - go in one, pop up in another). 

All in all, I think that pretty much all of the changes go a long way to addressing some of the earlier elements that bothered people, especially getting lucky with drawing arty (now it costs you VP and isn't quite as random) or those Rally rolls. It's a tribute to the system that it adapts so well to a different theater and a different opponent as well as it does. 

We played Scenario A, as I like to do these things in order for the most part. Also, it's in the Philippines (where my wife was born) and features a hemp field. What's not to like? I took the Japanese because of the Sighting marker and the need to understand the infiltration rules a little bit better, but poor Matt got stuck with the Americans and struggled to get his units forward to take the all important Objective 5 (worth 14 points after my secret objective increased it by 4). In the end, I got lucky with the sudden death roll right off the bat, and won the scenario. It took us quite a while, but there was considerable looking up of specifics in the rules, and considering what was a good use of a card. 

Some of the more entertaining moments:
  • Matt managed to get an air unit on the board about a third of the way into the game, and he was all lined up to make a dive bombing run, but it took a while for him to get the Asset Request that would allow him to do it. When he finally made the run, looking like he would totally kick my ass, he also had to draw an event, and it was Air Support. By the rules, if that happens the pilot gets anxious and "pulls up" and the attack is not only cancelled, but you lose the aircraft as well. 
  • One of the new rules is that you can break the other side's weapon if you have an Asset Denied card, and if you play it on a broken weapon it is eliminated. Matt managed to draw two of these almost immediately and took out my big gun within two or three turns. He also managed to kill the only leader I had on the board a turn or two later, so I was thinking that the game was over pretty early, but I managed to persevere, and even managed to bring in another leader later on through an event. 
  • The Filipino guerrillas spent a lot of time trying to knock out the foxhole containing the one decent weapon I had left, and when they did, while they caused some chaos, the follow-on melee didn't help them at all and the guerrilla squad fell to a reduced team and reduced leader. The survivors retreated into the woods, for only one point of cover lost. As a side note, I managed to win a whopping two of the three melees of the game, which stands as a statistical anomaly as usually my melee attempts are as successful as an Austro-Hungarian flank attempt in Paths of Glory. 
  • The terrain kind of threw us a bit. The bush terrain is actually better than the jungle - it gives equally good cover, isn't as susceptible to arty and mortar fire, and you can move faster (a bit). About all it doesn't do is block LOS. I think this threw Matt, as he parked a big gun on the verge of the bush and sat there right up until the end of the game when he probably should have been advancing. 
  • Matt got a *very* big arty gun fairly early, but despite repeated attempts managed mostly to break his own unit. He did get a very nice shot at my bunker on one try, but despite a 21 point FP total, the 7 cover of the bunker against air managed to prevent any damage to my units. Had he rolled a 7 instead of an 11, it would have made for a considerably better result for him, and in Pacific arty can destroy fortifications with specific rolls (bigger has more chances, but oddly that means lower rolls). 
All in all, I was impressed with the game, although I agree that this is a toughie for the US. What it requires is a rather aggressive move up through the left side of the map (US orientation), bringing on the Filipino guerrillas to try to distract the Japanese units spread out around the map (with so few leaders, much better to put them all in different places), and then use the last Filipino to try to use their special rule improvised explosives to take out the Bunker, assuming the Japanese player is smart and puts it in the money space. 

I can definitely see how this game will get my attention for a little while, although the campaign game in Stalingrad (which now shares some of the same rules, such as for melee) is calling my name too. A good game made better, with the same excellent and transparent rules, and translated to a very interesting theater. I wonder how this would do in different eras, such as Korea (admittedly very close to WW2 in terms of tech), Vietnam, or even WW1. I'm sure Chad is at least thinking about it, at least once he's recovered from this most recent bout of production mania. 


Andrew Swan said...

I have this game too! What city of Oz are you in, Dug?

Dug said...

If by "Oz" you mean "Oregon" as in the US, I'm in Wilsonville, just south of Portland (NW corner of the state).

If you meant "Oz" in the traditional sense to be Australia, not sure how you got that. It's been nearly two years since I posted this, so it's possible there was something in it that suggested I'm from Down Under. I have *been* there (twice!) but never lived there.