Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Combat Commander: Stalingrad Campaign Pt 1

Matt R came over on Monday night for our regular 3rd Monday light wargaming. I'd had to push our regular session out a week, but we had fun just the same. At least, I did. 

We'd both been wanting to try out the campaign game rules for the new Stalingrad Battle Pack, which allows players to generate new scenarios based on past performance. This is a great idea, and something that people were asking for almost immediately after Combat Commander was first published in late 2006. While it's over two years later and there's only one campaign published, at least there's something. And frankly, this is an excellent first attempt. 

First off, the Stalingrad BP comes with a bunch of new rules, some of which can be retrofitted to any CC scenario, specifically the new stacking, melee, and rubble rules. Pacific uses all three, as do the variant rules in the latest C3i magazine (#21), and I think they improve the game considerably. I also really like the new Urban Sniper rule that gives you something when your sniper rolls don't give you anything. In a nutshell, I now have a prayer at winning melee, as you can stack over 7 points in a hex without being forced to lose steps (there's a penalty to cover), and you can pile up the units in Melee, and even bring more units into the fight as it doesn't actually start until the beginning of the Axis player turn (in CC:E/M/Stal, in CC:P it's the start of the Allied turn - this reflects the willingness of the Japanese and the Russians to engage in close combat more often). 

The campaign game works a bit like a set of semi-randomly generated scenarios, and in fact use the rules as listed in the CC:Med box, as well as maps from that set. Rather than just roll up units, however, you have a pool of "platoons," one of which is always available and the others can be used up as you wish. There's also a chance that you'll add another platoon to your pool after each scenario, as well as having the units that survived the previous encounter coming back as reinforcements over time to the next battle. Each platoon affects your initiative level, the number of orders each side will get, starting VP, and who will be the attacker/defender in each scenario. It's a very clever system, and one that should make for some fun gaming over the coming months. 

You win in one of two ways: First, if you win a battle as the attacker at your opponents "backfield" (the game uses the term Campaign Position, but there are also Campaign Platoons and Command Platoons, so it's a terrible choice as they use the acronym CP throughout the rules for Campaign Position). The other way to win is if, once you've played five or more scenarios, if a Sudden Death Roll ends the campaign in much the same way as it ends a scenario. In that case, whoever won the most recent game wins. Take that as you will.

The benefits of winning a scenario are threefold: First, you may advance one or more Campaign Positions, of which there are five, depending upon the posture (attacker/defender/recon) of the winning player. Second, you can either bump up the quality of your Command Platoon one level, or drop the quality of your opponents. Not a huge deal as it only really affects what teams you get for disintegrating squads as well as between three and five units in one platoon, but there's a difference. Finally, you get to roll twice on the reinforcement table and get to pick which one you want. That *is* a big deal, as there are 13 out of 36 possible rolls that will automatically get you no reinforcements at all, and any existing Campaign Platoons don't count either, so getting anything at this step is a plus. 

Matt and I each chose the same campaign platoon to add to our forces, the one with the better infantry. I picked mine (I was the Soviets) because of the Molotov Cocktail launcher, which saw one use and then never got fired again (it has the potential to go BOOM in a big way, either in the target space or in the launch space). Neither of us ended up rolling on the Support table as we were even on VP at that point. I got the initiative, we each got three orders, and the Sudden Death was set at 6. All of this is determined by your choices of platoons at the start, incidentally.

I set up my elite rifle platoon in the center of the board, with one team and a medium MG set up to my left to prevent any funny business on that side of the board on Objective 2. As it turned out, there was no funny business to be had over there anyway. Objective 5 was in that area, and I knew from my secret objective that it was going to be worth at least 5 points (1 was public, 4 was secret). The other platoon, the command platoon of Rifle squads, went near the objective on the right side of the board to protect that flank.

The board has a lot of gullies, which we forgot to notice Matt had set a main unit in which meant he couldn't use it for fire (you can only fire at adjacent hexes from a gully, and vice versa), although he did get a bunch of shots off early. For most of the game he advanced on my position on that side of the board, but to little effect.

The meat of the game occurred in the center, however, where I got lucky early and killed off Matt's leader. Because of the new stacking rules (you can have as many men in a hex as you want, but there's a cover penalty), I was able to Advance two squads in repeatedly into the hexes in the forest around Objective 5, and near the end of the game (Time 5, one away from SD), I was on the verge of taking this important hex. As we were still at 0VP after some back and forth, this was a very important space for me. Matt managed to drive off adjacent units a couple of times, and break them, and at one point I drew a Time! trigger that I decided to force a reroll of with the Initiative as I was fairly certain that I'd lose the game - those extra five points would put Matt into the win if he controlled 5, not knowing what else he had for his secret objective. 

Now Matt had the Initiative, but I was finally ready for my final push, and was pretty sure I'd win the Melee combat were I just able to get it going. Sure enough, I finally had the units in place (I already had the Advance card), plus an Ambush card. However, I foolishly decided to use a Fire action during the same turn to try to use up two more cards, as the Melee wasn't going to happen until I'd refreshed my hand, and I was hoping for another Ambush. Sure enough, Matt drew a Time! trigger, and he had the Initiative. He failed the roll, however, and used the Initiative to reroll, and failed again. I won the Melee, cleared out the center of the board, and could now exit units more or less at will and the game was over.

It turned out that Matt would have indeed won had he been able to succeed at the SD roll. His secret objective was 3VP for every objective. We were at 0VP, and he would have gotten 6VP for his two objectives, plus another five for Obj 5, for a total of 11, while I would have had 9. In the end, I won by more than 20vp, but only because I was able to bring so many units off of the board, and I was able to take the last objective as well on my way off of the board (Matt was down to just two or three units on the board. 

As such, I was able to turn a defeat into a victory despite being stupid enough to force a firefight that would potentially trigger Time! What wasn't so great for Matt was that I had ten units still on the board, and half of those are coming back next scenario as reinforcements, although they trickle into the game up to seven stacking points per Time advancement. I also improved my quality to Elite, and picked up another campaign platoon (the weakest, but I'll take it). We move to GE1 for the campaign position, which is the flat part of the mountain below the peak but above the ravines that we'd just played on. Since we were both Recon, I could only advance one position. 

I was very pleased with the Urban Sniper rule, as well as the new stacking and melee rules, and I'll press to use these in future scenarios as variants even if they aren't part of the core rules.

We finished up with me teaching Matt to play Hill 218, a very cute, fast, and interesting card game with a war theme. As usually happens with this game, the experienced player won, although Matt was pressing me pretty closely at times. Note to newbs - save an Air Strike and a Special Forces unit to make that diagonal dash into the enemy base. I won twice with that combo, and the SF unit was at the bottom of my deck the first game (where I'd put it for the discard). Highly recommended, and the only luck in the game is how you draw the cards.

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