There's no question that I'm a fan of Chad Jensen's Combat Commander series, and no question that I think that while the Europe/Med games are excellent, the Pacific game refines the system to a point where it's hard to find fault. That's not to say that many don't like the "randomness" of having to draw certain types of cards to produce certain types of actions, and for those who want every possible weapon system available during the period there will always be some issues, but for the rest of us it's a hoot *and* a holler.
Matt R and I just finished up our two part game, the scenario Blind Man's Bluff (M5, I believe) from the recently released New Guinea battlepack. I had looked for a scenario with a little meat to it, meaning a decent number of units, something that wouldn't necessarily just entail an attacker and defender, and this one seemed to fit the bill nicely. It also featured CW forces, a side I hadn't seen a lot of in the games I've played. The game took two of our Fourth Monday sessions, with the first session actually taking place on a Third Monday because of vacations.
Here's the lowdown: My Indian units were pinned down on the Japanese side of the board at the base of a ridge, with a large and dangerous Japanese force shooting at them from the top of the ridge. Meanwhile, a relief force made up of ANZAC troops was massing on my side of the board, while a fairly large Japanese screening force was between me and relieving the Indians. In some ways, it's like two scenarios in one. I was in an Attack posture with four Orders per turn at Line quality, while Matt's Japanese were in Recon posture (so more cards but no ability to play Defensive cards and no bonus VP per time trigger) posture with three Orders per turn at Line quality. The Japanese had plenty of mortars of the Light and Medium kind, as well as a few LMGs, while my force had mostly LMGs and a single HMG (which is perhaps the least effective HMG in the game, at least in the Pacific). In general, the Japanese are better troops, being mostly Div A and all with boxed FP.
It's hard to root the Japanese out of a fixed position because they tend to be pretty good at Melee, and they have the advantage of being able to react to any Advances their opponents make into their hexes. They had a lot of good leaders, while mine were all pretty average. Making things more interesting was the ridge running the length of the map (longways, from my end to the Japanese end), with the main Japanese forces all positioned along the top. Fortunately, however, no caves. Those things suck if you aren't Japanese.
My plan was to flank the screening force on both sides to force Matt to have to divide up his force to both sides of the ridge, then come at him from three sides. My pinned force was going to just need to survive. I'll note that there are no points for exiting the map, and that there are no specific VP for saving the pinned force, you are just trying to kill the other side and take whatever VP you get for the secret objectives you each pull at game start. These ended up being fairly small (1VP for Obj5 and Obj2, which offset) and were made public through events fairly early in the game. I did get one last objective later in the game, but since it was secret right up to the end I'll do the same for you, dear reader.
Things started off slowly for the CW, and Matt put my forces under some withering firepower on the first evenings session. The result was that I lost my best leader almost immediately, then lost the one on my left flank shortly thereafter, due to melee (I think). With this many units, it is very hard to do anything without having leadership to make them efficient (imagine a six unit force that you want to move - it takes six Move cards to do without a leader!) I also began to see a lot of attrition with the pinned Indians, and they eventually lost half of their number by the end of that first session. Oh, and my HMG broke early. However, I was having some success on the right flank, and managed to get a leader, team with an LMG, and an ANZAC squad up onto the ridge into a foxhole. I also had a radio that could call in some arty, although it was not as high a caliber as I'd have liked.
Meanwhile, Matt had pulled a weaker leader back to Obj5 just to keep me honest, but he had a very strong leader in a forward position on the ridge. However, both of us were pretty banged up, especially the Japanese, with more than half of his units broken and/or suppressed. When we took the break, I was sitting on three Revive cards that would "fix" almost all of my units, but Matt had a 13 VP lead on me and with only two leaders (only one of which was useful) I was in some trouble.
We met again last night to finish the game, and in three hours we did so. That's right, this game took over six hours to play to completion, and I'll just mention that about 60% of our Time Triggers were caused by the decks running out. That tends to make for a long game, but we tend to play at a fairly casual pace so I'd expect this scenario to still take a good four hours with very brisk play assuming this sort of time trigger tempo.
Once my units were feeling a lot better, I started focusing on trying to eliminate as many of his broken units as I could, while he focused on trying to wipe out my lone remaining assault leader. In fact, he was able to do so when a light mortar (that's right, a light mortar, the most useless weapon in the game for everything but laying smoke) managed to break said leader right before a high value direct fire attack eliminated him. I was fairly sure this was game over for the CW forces, but in CC you never know who will win until the game is over so I soldiered on. I'll also note that while I'd just fixed my HMG, Matt broke it again almost immediately.
Meanwhile, the Emperor's Hero, Mifune, was having a fine old time popping out of spider holes. He'd already pulled this trick during the first session, although IIRC he was not particularly effective in doing any damage to the pinned force he showed up next to. The second time, he popped up on what was my left flank, taking out an ANZAC squad in the process in Melee (he has no range). The third time, he popped up again near the Indians, and this time he, with the help of a Div B unit, managed to eliminate my third Indian unit, a lone squad.
Heroes come in all colors and creeds, however, and in our game that was proven true when Winslow made an appearance with my forward units on the right flank, just in time to make that an effective fighting force again. I'd been able to do a little fighting with my recently re-fixed HMG, but 7 FP just wasn't enough to make hay with.
Meanwhile, the time triggers were coming fast, and we approached our first sudden death roll. I'd finally started to do some damage (although my air support ended up not being effective - always exciting to get one of those aircraft on the board) to his broken units before Matt finally started getting Revive cards, and the VP total was slowly but surely working it's way over to my side of the board. It was on one of his attacks on my forward right flank stack that I got a battlefield promotion event that gave me Pvt White (or whatever his name is) who is a pretty decent leader, if a little fragile. I got Winslow out of the hex shortly thereafter to allow me to get the full benefit of the foxhole, so now I had two stacks in play on that flank. When I got reinforcements on an event shortly thereafter, things were looking very good and I just needed to get that last seven points, excepting whatever the secret objective I had was.
Meanwhile, the time triggers kept coming, and suddenly we were making Sudden Death rolls. The first one went high (needed to be less than 8), and I was sure the second was going to bite me as well even though I had the Initiative on both rolls. It too went high, but with the SD marker on 10 my luck was coming close to running out.
As it turned out, that secret objective was going to get Matt two more points (Obj 4, right in the midst of his pinning force) and I wasn't going to get that far. So it was that I managed to advance into a hex with a broken Div A unit that I killed even with Matt's three (!) Bayonet cards. Now it was down to five points, and Matt sent in his last big forward stack, the one with the 2 leader, to take on my forces with their 2 leader in melee. He had a four point advantage after we both played Ambush cards, but I had saved my own Bayonets as well, albeit just one card. I had the Initiative, but two points is a big gap to leap in this game. Matt drew a 6, and so it was that I needed an 8 or higher just to kill his guys (although an 8 would have given us a wash in terms of points). I drew a 10, as it was, and suddenly I was up three points, leaving me one VP slop in case he took out a team before the game ended.
As it was, the game ended almost immediately with a card-based time trigger that, sure enough, came in below 10, and the blokes had pulled it off. Interestingly, had Matt chosen *not* to come after me, he probably would have won the game, assuming the time trigger fired off at the same time. I would have needed another Advance card to press the issue, and to be fair I would have been digging for Bayonets and Ambushes every turn, all the time worrying if those Indians would hold out a little longer. However, I could see him making the attack given that he had what was a four point advantage going in and an Ambush card. Had I not had the Bayonets, he would almost certainly have won, so no bust on him for the choice.
Did I mention that the scenario is rarely over until it's over? This one literally came down to the last couple of turns and in dramatic fashion. No question I got very lucky with my last two Melee attempts, not to mention those two SD rolls that gave me just enough time to pull the game out.
Oh, did I mention the jungle caught on fire too? And that Matt got an SNLF unit to infiltrate to my backfield? And the divebomber that didn't? This game is like a movie, nearly every time.
It was an epic game, the sort that makes me want to pull it out again and play *today*. Having this on an iPad or other tablet device would be *awesome*, and it's exactly the right size map so that it would work. I know GMT is looking seriously at porting some of it's games to tablet devices, and this would be a no brainer for both e-play and pass-n-play modes. And with an effective AI... Hoo mama.
Thanks Matt for the excellent company and for being an excellent opponent both during the game and in defeat. Sometimes I feel like I've earned a win, and this time, despite some luck at the end, this was one of those times.