Tuesday, August 18, 2009

CC: Stalingrad Campaign - Battle #4

Matt came over for our recently revived Third Monday session, and we got in the fourth battle of our Combat Commander: Stalingrad game. Matt said he had been reading up on strategy articles for playing the Germans in CC, and it showed as he played quite well.

The battle situation was set in CP G1, or the big open map that is placed just before the hill summit. By now, however, we had 16 rubble counters to place, and let me tell you it plays all sorts of hell with figuring out LOS. Most of the rubble seemed to be in a bit of a "strip" through the middle of the board. When we both chose a single platoon to add to our command platoon and reinforcements, we found we were at exactly 0 VP and so no support rolls at all and straight to Recon posture for both of us. I found my Campaign Game cheat sheet (available on the 'Geek in the Stalingrad module's file section) to be very useful in this process, and I only found one or two things I'll need to add to make things clearer.

The initial open Objective was 1 VP per objective space, plus my secret objective was three VP for Obj3, unfortunately on Matt's board edge. He was able to reveal it via an event early in the game, so the question was how things would turn out with his secret objective!

Matt placed both of his platoons as far forward as he could, choosing trenches for these troops. As it was, the extra benefit from trenches didn't end up playing much of a role, and I felt I got more value from my six foxholes that cost the same amount of Fort points. He was able to get his troops up and into Obj 5 quickly, though, and that was very important later on.

I try to use my platoons as separate platoons, each with it's own mission - this isn't a game requirement, but it makes the game feel a little more like a story when I do it. The Guards Rifle platoon was set along the line marked by the (unused due to the Stalingrad rules) road, which also defined where the Obj spaces were, figuring that with their greater range they'd be better in a defensive role. The "regular" Rifle platoon was set up on the other flank, with the idea that they'd advance, use their Molotov Cocktails at close range, and get stuck in.

Silly me, I hadn't taken the rubble distribution into account at all, nor the fact that I couldn't lay smoke. As things went, I would have been better switching the two platoons, and using the Guards better range to lay down fire. As it was, the regulars hardly moved at all, and the Guards did most of the advancing. The reason was that there was a single line of open hexes near the Guards, and a well-timed Advance in conjunction with a Dig In action at a Time trigger created a solid line of cover that allowed me to steadily Advance on the German positions.

And advance I did, and regularly. I can't complain about my drawing of Advance cards, and I even had Ambushes much of the time when I needed them. Unfortunately, we ended up getting a Blaze marker placed in Obj 5 before I was able to take it, and my reading of the rules says that it stays in possession of the side that last held it. If I have a serious problem with the game, it's with statistical outliers such as this, but really, what were the chances of this being the random hex? First, you had to have the event drawn by the right side, and then there's a 1-36 chance of it hitting that hex. Oh well.

My advances continued apace, killing three German units to the one routed Russian (foolishly placed back near the home line and broken by a sniper - lots more hits with snipers in this game than in previous sessions). I finally died when I'd forgotten that Matt held the +2 Urban Sniper counter, even though I had a three point advantage going in. I'd gone in with a squad and a Hero, and Matt had ended up with nothing left but a broken unit! BTW, Matt had the initiative at the beginning of the game, and held it throughout, mostly because I'd gotten the Sudden Death rules for the *campaign* wrong - I thought you advanced the Battle marker before checking, but Victory is the one thing you check before moving it.

After a few more turns, I was again in position to advance into the Obj2 space, and I was up 2VP when we hit the first Sudden Death check for the game, which Matt missed, so on we went. I was trying to dig up an Ambush card or two when we drew yet another Time event, and this time it went down. My two point advantage was negated by Matt's 2VP per Obj objective, which gave him the two points he needed to tie the score, and thus win the game as he'd held the Initiative card. In other words, by suggesting that the Initiative card would be very useful to have when deciding Sudden Death for the campaign, I'd set Matt up to win the scenario on a tie.

At scenario's end, Matt had seven units on the board, including his two Veteran units (one of which had *just* started making a run on my backfield, which was a bit uncovered), while I had 15. Because the next battle is the fifth one, that meant that while I had more than twice as many units as Matt did, I only got three reinforcements for the next round while Matt got two (taking his two Vet units, wisely). Interestingly, for the Division replacement roll, I had to decide whether to bring back Bulganin as a reinforcement, or Gordov (who had reinforced the previous turn). I chose Bulganin as a superior unit, even though an 8 would negate that gain, while a 5 would negate choosing Gordov. Hilariously, I rolled a 5 and got Gordov back in the pool and so apparently made *one* good choice in my game.

The two things that I screwed up were a) leaving a weak unit near the backfield early to gain that Obj when I should have done as Matt did and just brought in a reinforcement there, and b) tried to get clever and burn some cards to give myself the chance to draw another Ambush card, but ended up with Matt getting an event to discard one of my hand cards. He chose the Ambush card, which may not have been the best choice, but hard to say in hindsight. I would have chosen the Advance, as you can always hope that your opponent will feel obligated to use the Ambush (usually a Fire order/action as well) for Op fire at some point. I ended up drawing another Ambush card as it happened, but that experience taught me to try to use my cards a little more carefully when I had something set up. It may have been the difference, but in a game that close there are usually several things that may have been the difference.

As it is, it's back to the Gully for us, this time with 20 (!) Rubble markers. It will certainly be an interesting situation if we get up to 32 or so markers as they'll really start to pile up.

One thing we did screw up rules-wise, and something I've been screwing up with rubble counters all along, is that you add to their cover for *adjacent* rubble markers. For some reason, I'd thought it had to do with *additional* rubble landing as the result of destroyed buildings, which we haven't had to deal with yet as all of the games have been fought on neutral or German territory so far. In fact, you *can't* have multiple rubble markers in a space. When we figured this out, it was halfway into the game and we chose to continue with the "wrong" rules. With more and more rubble showing up, though this will become more and more of an issue. To be fair, most of our combat was against "lone" rubble units or melee, in other words situations where this rule wasn't really an issue, but it will be going forward.

We actually finished the game well within three hours, so we cleared enough to try out Hive, which I've been wanting to try for a while. Matt won with a very clever use of his beetle piece, while I immediately started out misunderstanding the victory conditions (I thought you needed to completely surround your opponent's Bee Queen with *your* pieces, not with *any* pieces) and spent a little time just trying to get myself out of the jam I put myself in early. I also missed the beetle slide move Matt did right at the end, which was brilliant and unstoppable, while I was one move further away from surrounding his Queen. I find abstracts to be pretty difficult to grok most of the time, but this one is a real winner for me, especially with the edition with the nice bakelite pieces and abstracted bugs (the original had photo-realistic bugs, which put me off to be honest). A 2-player game that I'll pull out more often as a filler, no question.

Thanks to Matt for coming over and continuing our campaign that has run pretty much since the start of the year (Feb, IIRC). With some luck we'll finish before the end of 2009, but frankly that's a very nice way to play out the campaign game as there is a certain degree of "sameness" to it after a while.

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