Friday, March 13, 2009

Getting A Brazilian In Italy, c. 1944

Jesse and I continued our trek through the Combat Commander scenarios, finishing up the last of the original 12 from the Europe box. Despite having drawn sides randomly, this was my third time in a row playing the Americans (technically, as you'll see), and Jesse playing the Germans. The scenario was a mountain pass in Italy in late 1944, with a Brazilian company trying to take the mountains on either side. There are a lot of LOS things to remember with this map, there being four levels of elevation, lots of buildings and woods, and a special rule that limited the amount of visibility early in the game to simulate morning fog burning off. 

We ended up playing twice when I was able to take one of the two "big" objectives early, had run around the flank to take an undefended minor objective, and had taken the monastery and the building complex in the SW corner fairly quickly with few if any losses and had mounted a fairly big VP lead. We decided to reset and let Jesse set things up slightly differently, which he did (and felt better about). 

There are a few issues to consider when you set up a defense in this game, all of which have some tradeoffs. If exit points are involved, you almost always have to provide at least a token defense across the width of the battlefield, although in this particular scenario there weren't any "extra" points if you got someone off. You need to defend the important objectives, obviously. Fire lanes, as in any tactical game, are critical, and in this scenario the slightly more important of the two major objectives (5, the one on the clear topped hill) can see almost the entire board other than the backside of the other level 3 hill, at least the parts that don't have blind hexes. 

Perhaps the most obvious tradeoff is deciding whether to put your strong forces in the hexes your opponent needs to take, or to place them further forward to force him to burn daylight. After all, the defensive role is simple - force your opponent to burn time or manpower. In our first game, I had tons of time, and we'd only moved the Time marker up three spaces before I was in a commanding position. By placing the speedbumps further forward, you force your opponent to spend time taking them out in order to get the defensive terrain necessary to take the next spot. If they fall back, you can force even more time, especially if they've saved up Advance and Ambush cards that are no longer quite as appealing once there's no one to assault. The risk, of course, is that your less-capable forces get steam-rolled, and they lose little time and you lose manpower. 

Jesse had a more forward-oriented offense this time, and we both placed units to avoid the airburst problems of units in woods being fired on by mortars - you might as well stand out in the open, other than the morale effects of the woods when you're rallying. He also took a stand behind objective 4 rather than in it, partly for the same reason, and placed trenches in the woods to offset the airburst effect of the trees, giving him equivalent cover of a building. 

In this sort of fight with lots of cover, the only way to take the objectives is through an assault. You aren't going to knock someone out of a building with fire unless you have an incredible fire line assembled, and the adjacent terrain wasn't going to cooperate in that regard. When I started drawing Ambush cards in the second game, I knew that was a trigger for me to start looking for the relatively rare Advance cards that would let me use them. With a lot of units on the board (as in this scenario), you can almost always do something else somewhere while you wait for those cards. In the end, I got perhaps the most perfect storm of cards I'd ever seen in this game.

I had two forces moving up either side of the ridge that objective 4 was on, using smoke (the Americans/Brazilians have a lot of smoke to work with, both from their mortars, OBA, and Action cards). I had one seven-point stack adjacent to a lone German squad in a foxhole, and another two hexes away from the entrenched German stack, with the objective in between. I had the two Ambush cards, then drew a Move, a Smoke Action card, a Recovery card, and an Advance. The move would allow me to move one stack into the objective under cover of smoke, recover if necessary from Op Fire, then advance into both spaces on the next turn and use Ambush cards as necessary. Sure enough, Jesse shot up the stack that was to move, and I used the Recovery card to get them back into good order, then moved into a heavy smokescreen to take the objective and get adjacent to the main defensive group. 

That's when I drew two more Advance cards and a third Ambush card. 

Considering that there are only a handful of Advance cards in a 72 card deck, making the odds of drawing one with a full deck slightly better than one in eighteen, I'd gotten almost all of them. I cleared out three different defensive positions in one turn, got the initiative, and took something like 20 points in two turns. 

We played a while longer, although it wasn't until I was able to take the monastery and go up by close to ten points that Jesse felt he couldn't win, and I think he was correct - If I don't have to move, all he can do is hope that he can shoot up enough areas to take back a few points, and all I have to do is not allow him to do that. Since I'd pulled one of the 12 point OBA radios a few turns back, I could pound him on the hill and not put my men at risk. 

So is this an unwinnable scenario for the Germans? It's certainly problematic. You are facing a very strong force that doubles it's manpower about halfway in, which means that the Brazilians can set up multiple axes of advance and then build up either a lot of move cards to draw Op Fire or wait for the Advance/Ambush cards to start showing up, all the while trying to cause problems for the Germans. Placing an advance unit in the woods south of Objective 4 to deny the wooded approach is asking for trouble from the Brazilian medium mortars, certainly, although I roll for targeting ordnance like I roll for Austro-Hungarian flank attacks in Paths of Glory (poorly). I think that there is something to be said for denying the set of buildings in the middle of the board near the Brazilian entry point - in our second game, those units were part of the big assault on objective 4. It would certainly require quite a bit of my time and effort to have to manage those units early, although they'd almost certainly eventually be wiped out. 

Yes, this one is quite a puzzle for the Germans. I know this was a frustrating afternoon for Jesse, as it always is when your opponent's luck overwhelms the system. I have to say that there is a very special feeling one gets when you look at six cards and know that, barring a major SNAFU, you are going to move from a position where you are losing to a position where the outcome is in some doubt for both sides, and that it will take similar luck on the side of your opponent to avoid it. It's certainly a better feeling than when you discard five cards, desperately hoping for a Recovery to save the broken and exposed units about to be fired on, and draw five Rout cards (that happened in the first game to me). 

That's the thing about Combat Commander. Many of these games are going to be decided, assuming similar levels of competence and a balanced situation, on the right thing happening at the right time. Despite a huge number of my units spread around the board and snipers firing from caves (the Germans got a two-hex range for their sniper draws in this scenario), I think Jesse got to break two, maybe three units in this manner in both games combined. A well placed sniper next to that stack with the broken squad about to rally and move under the cover of smoke into objective 4 would have put a serious chill on my efforts, but there was no sniper to be found in the area. 

I had a similar experience in our game two weeks earlier, where I was advancing but couldn't draw Move cards to save my life for most of the game. It's not as much fun, to be sure, but the great thing about CC is that with so many scenarios out now (over 50 from GMT Games, and that's not counting the Pacific box) that you are almost certain to find scenarios that you'll be happy about. 

I think that the next time we play we'll play the Finns ambushing the Russians from the Med box, which despite the poor Axis Minor discard rate (2), sure felt like a Finnish snipe hunt, at least from the part of the poor Russians who never recovered from the initial ambush when Chuck and I played it. I'll let Jesse be the Finns this time to get his morale back up. ;-)

I'm very fortunate to have such a gracious and tolerant opponent (he can't enjoy me saying "Help, help, I'm being suppressed!" as an almost Pavlovian response every time that happens to a unit) so close, and one that can play wargames during the day. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lol, that was a tough one.

I always enjoy playing though win or lose. It does seem like a tough situation for the germans however.

Also, the fact that you pretty much always seem to draw 7 or higher smoke markers is offset by your hilarious targeting rolls.

'Ok need a 3 or higher...:('