A blog of essays on a variety of topics, primarily about boardgaming.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Combat Commander: Resistance - Futile? I Think Not
Cross posted from BGG, where I am stupid enough to set myself up for the crazy. That said, I like to think I do this sort of thing pretty well, and so I do it. What can I say, I loves me an audience.
Just got the newest "chapter" in the Combat Commander series today, Resistance. The game, which requires both the Europe and Med boxes (and neither is optional, you'll need both to play every scenario unless you're prepared to roll your own Molotovs), covers resistance efforts across Europe during WW2. CC has covered this ground before, but using the units and decks of national armies and relying on scenario special rules. Interestingly, both of these scenarios (one in Eur, one in Med) are reprised in this set.
I'll cover the nuances in four sections: Units, Cards, Weapons, and Mechanisms. I will not make comparisons with the Pacific game, and really won't make a lot with the Eur/Med games either - this is mostly about what is new about the partisans and how it will affect play.
As you might imagine, partisans aren't nearly as tightly organized as military units are. As such, a squad of four men (in game terms) or a team of two men are the only multi-men counters there are. As such, there are counters that represent a number of men (and I use that term here to be consistent with the earlier games, even though there were clearly female partisans and they are represented on the counters) from leaders all the way up to six men "gangs". There is no differentiation in terms of quality or purpose, as with military nationalities.
As you move from the two man Crew up to the six man Gang, interesting things happen. With a Crew, firepower is fairly weak (although boxed - all unbroken partisans have boxed firepower), it's range is decent at 4, and it's movement better than most military units at 5. With all units except some leaders, unbroken partisans have a circled movement factor that allows them to move to any legal hex for one MP and ignore hexside terrain during movement as long as they don't possess a weapon that lowers their MP. This reflects familiarity with the local terrain.
As we move to Gangs, an interesting thing happens. Firepower, as you would expect, gets better, a boxed 6 (nearly the best in the game for a single unit). Range and movement, however, drop. For the six man gang, that means a range of 2 and movement of circled 1. Yeah, 1. I guess they argue a lot about where exactly they are going and how they are going to get there!
Morale, at least on the unbroken side, is a constant seven for all non-leader units. Apparently there is safety in numbers, as Crews are a 5 on their unbroken side and Gangs are a 7. I should also note that morale on these units is circled, meaning that you have to go through a process that I'll detail later that can result in elimination of the unit or perhaps instead a drop down to a smaller unit. In other words, a "kill" may actually end up resulting in losing just one man!
Leaders are, as usual, a mixed bag. Some start with really great morale, only to have it drop by 3 or more when the leader breaks, some work the opposite way. Leaders have fairly consistent firepower of boxed 1, range in the 2-4 area, and movement of circled 5 or boxed 6. That's right, some will operate quite a bit like military leaders, some will act like other partisans. Which ones you have will make a difference in how you use them.
Instead of a Command value on the unbroken side, leaders have a new value called Leadership. It works just like Command for most purposes, but instead of also defining a range of hexes in which the leader can activate units, instead there is an "eye" symbol that indicates that units within LOS can be activated. If that sounds awesome, remember that partisans typically operated in terrain such as woods, marsh or urban areas where LOS tends to be on the short side, and the circle movement factors lose their benefit compared with their enemy when in the open. Most Leadership values are 1 or 0, so not a lot of improvement to unit values stacked with the leader. The broken side is a regular Command value in a hex graphic.
So what does all of this mean? First of all, the movement benny means that difficult terrain is where the partisans want to be. At the same time, the Leadership LOS activation range means they also want to have some open space in which to communicate more efficiently. As you'll see, that will be important as partisans get smaller hands than the military groups. Difficult terrain also helps the mediocre morale factors on most units, so even more than usual, exploiting your terrain is critical.
The size of the units is also a big factor. Larger groups are going to be more likely to survive fire when broken and can lay down the smacky-smacky, but they can't move to save their lives, although a good leader will help a *lot*. Also, stacking suddenly becomes very interesting. Where military units will tend to organize into kill groups with a team, a squad, and a leader, partisans are much more amorphous. Gangs will be unable to stack with anyone else other than a leader, but when with a leader they are very powerful. There are also interesting ways to bump up the size of a unit, more on that later.
Given all of this, the types of missions you'll give to various units will depend as much on their size as anything else. Crews and Sections (three men) are very effective at moving, while Bands (five men) and Gangs are very effective at firing. Leaders are less valuable for improving kill stacks, but they do make larger groups better at moving. Because you can affect the size of a unit under certain circumstances, I could see one strategy being to use the smaller units to assault, then when in firing position getting Mustered (and no, not the type you put on your hot dog) into larger and more effective (if slower) groups.
If CC is too chaotic for you, Mr. I Am Destroyer Of Worlds, you will hate the partisans. Why? Because when you get a weapon, it's whatever weapon happens to be at hand. They are all in a pool, and when you get a weapon, even at the start of a scenario, you never know what it will be. Might be a Molotov Cocktail, might be a French '75' gun. At least at scenario start you typically know what they'll be before they are placed on the map. And don't forget that the circled MPs aren't circled if you have a weapon that slows you down, so placement is critical.
A little editorializing, if you will permit me the luxury - There is plenty of space for eight Molotovs on the countersheet. Heck, there are seven unused counters and about sixty "extra" counters (vet/supped, wire, trenches, foxholes, etc). Four scenarios require maps from Med, two different scenarios require units from Med. That means six scenarios that require nothing from Med other than the damned Molotovs. Really?
Of course, savvy gamers will consider simply making their own Molotovs, but since you are drawing weapons blind it's what I would term a "suboptimal solution". I suspect that GMT will try to make good by adding these into a future C3i, although then you're requiring people to buy that C3i. I found this to be a surprising stumble in development, at least without having an explanation. Given that Europe is in it's third or fourth printing and Med just had the one, this strikes me as a shortsighted choice as you could have sold the game like Avalanche Press does with Panzer Grenadier - "Six of the scenarios require units or maps from CC:Med".
Otherwise, weapons aren't really any different other than their values, which may change from (say) LMG to LMG, and that includes repair/elim values. Hey, when you aren't picky about where your weapons come from, you can't complain when the quality control isn't there.
The cards are probably the area that most people won't think so much about, but I think they are by far the biggest change to the game for a variety of reasons. There are new Orders, new Actions, and new Events, but the biggest change is two-fold - smaller hands, and a smaller deck.
First off, Partisans get one less card based on posture than the military units. As a defender, that means three whopping cards. You will need that Leadership value in order to activate significant numbers of units in a Defensive posture! I've always thought of terrain in CC as being the most important piece of information driving your choices, certainly at setup and when you are planning your strategy, but now it's even more critical.
Now, Command Confusion cards are that much more problematic. But there's good news! If you want to discard, you can discard your entire hand no matter what your posture is!
Whoops, meant to say "you *must* discard your entire hand." Yep, the whole thing. Those of you who like holding on to those Ambush cards? That's gonna be a whole lot tougher. In a defensive posture, perhaps not quite as big of a deal, but when attacking? You simply can't tailor your hand over time as the military forces can do. This makes perfect sense, but it's a major game changer, and you'll be forced to be even more tactical than before.
It kind of sounds like generating those end-of-deck time triggers will be about the same, seeing as while you have one less card, you'll be discarding everything more often. Except for one little detail - the deck is half the size. And boy, does that throw a spanner into the works. For one thing, every possible die roll outcome is now represented *once*. That means it's a lot easier to track things like Time Triggers, which of the really useful actions are around, and a bunch of other things. Plus those end of deck time triggers are going to be coming out a lot faster, although this deck does *not* contain a "result" Time Trigger card! Smart Partisan players will want to learn to count certain cards in the deck now, even more so than military group players, although you could still do that with the 72 card deck (although I can't, and I grew up playing the granddaddy of all card counting games, Bridge).
The other big effect is that the Partisan player has a more consistent sense of clock management than other players. You get to a Time Trigger faster by discarding or playing lots of cards. Just shooting and hoping a Time Trigger comes up isn't gonna happen.
There are also a couple of new Order cards, Infiltration and Muster. Infiltrate is a lot like in the Pacific rules, but with some changes that I'll discuss later. The biggie is Muster, which allows you to bump the size of one unit (of the size dictated by the Order card) up by one. Having the right Muster card in hand, especially when you get a Troop or Band up to a firing position, can make a lot of difference. This may be the most important Order in the Partisan deck for that reason. There are four Muster cards and four Infiltrates, so these new cards make up nearly a quarter of the deck.
Otherwise, Orders stay pretty much the same except of course there are no Artillery Requests. There's only one Command Confusion Order, which is good (if you're the Partisans!)
New actions include Knife, which acts a lot like Bayonets in Pacific (improves firepower in Melee), and Trap lets you place Wire or Mines even if you aren't in a Defensive posture. Hee hee! I love doing that. New events let you shift units or Sighting markers (more on these later) one hex, which can act as virtual Advance, even if you have no control over when it shows up. There are four of these in the deck too. The truly wacky card, the one that the Partisan will curse or bless alternately, is the Inexperience Event, of which there are seven, basically giving you a 1-in-5 chance of drawing as an event, which forces the Partisan player to discard his entire hand. Yeah. Crazy talk. Control freaks should just walk on by and take the Germans now.
Aside from what I've listed before, there is really only one thing that experienced CC players won't have seen before, and it's kind of a modification of an existing mechanism, but I'll let you hang a bit before talking about it. There are a few things that have been used in Stalingrad or in Pacific, though.
Partisans have no surrender level, just like the Japanese.
All partisans are worth 1VP when eliminated (even the hero!) OK, this is technically new.
Melee now works like it does in Stalingrad and Pacific, with the hex being activated at the start of the Axis turn (giving the advantage to the Partisans, as you would expect).
There is sewer movement, just like in Stalingrad.
There are Sighting markers, just like in Pacific, although these work differently, and are the biggest change in this section.
Sighting markers work like in Pacific, having to be moved when a random hex is determined. Stealth events allow you to move them as well. When Partisans are place, they are removed, just like in Pacific. You can also place them via Infiltrate orders, although there is no A/B/C box system as in Pacific.
The differences will make Sighting markers much more interesting to play. First of all, all Partisan reinforcements come in via sighting markers. That means having a unit show up on a Sighting marker just got a lot more likely, at least assuming there are reinforcement units. You can even spread out a group of reinforcements amongst the Sighting markers. But you better have the markers out, because if you don't have them you lose the reinforcements. Remember that stacking is enforced, so no overstacking. Also, you remove the Sighting marker once you place units on it, so it will go away. Managing this mechanism is going to be an important part of the Partisan playbook.
And, fortunately, manage it you can - at a cost. Those Infiltrate cards I mentioned before? That's how you do it. However, you will probably have to pay a VP price (between 0 and 3, one value per Infiltrate card), but you'll get your choice of two different actions. You can, if you wish, place a new Sighting marker on the board, which the rules strongly suggest is dependent on the counter mix rather than how many sighting markers you get at the start of the scenario. Really good choice if you have a lot of reinforcements coming in and few Sighting markers in play.
Let's say you have a ton of sighting markers already. In this case, you can get more units by playing an Infiltrate card. Yeah, now you can generate your own extra reinforcements without having to hope for an event. It will just cost you some VP (maybe). So if you have sighting markers and no reinforcements, this is an obvious play. If you can afford the VP!
Finally, there is one more wrinkle to this last mechanism of getting extra reinforcements, and it uses a mechanism that I mentioned a long time ago when we were discussing circled Morale values. And it involves an extra deck the Partisan player has, the Force deck.
Cards in the Force deck have two sections. The top section is used to tell you what reinforcements you get when using an Infiltration card for that purpose. If there's a weapon involved, you draw it randomly, then place the unit (and weapon, if one is called for) on a Sighting marker. Kind of like the Support Table but less flexible.
The bottom section is used when a unit with circled Morale (which means it's broken) is killed in combat. Instead of just removing the unit, you draw the top Force card and look at the bottom section. If the unit pictured is smaller than the unit that just got killed, you replace the killed unit in the counter mix and replace it with the unit pictured. If the pictured unit is the same size or larger, the killed unit stays killed and goes on the casualty track. Not that there's a Surrender level, but I'm sure there are events that will bring them back on occasion.
The implications are interesting indeed. This means that now you can burn VP to bring in more units, although you have no say on who happens to be coming back from the latrine area and with what reading material. They might show up anywhere on the map. Units that die may, you know, get better. Right away. In fact, it's very possible that you will gain leaders, much like having Private Ryan or whoever get a battlefield promotion, just in a very random way. There are more ways to move those Sighting markers around now, not just random hex generation.
Consider this. There are exactly five pages of new rules in this expansion. Five. In those five pages, containing fonts of a generous size and white space in such abundance that you normally only see it's like in middle school term papers, is laid out the basis for a "nationality" that plays like no other. And, to be honest, at least one of those pages repeats rules that a lot of you are probably already playing with (melee and sewers)!
Partisans have some interesting challenges. You have a smaller hand and the very real chance that at any time you will lose the whole thing (although there is only a 1-in-12 chance you'll get an event trigger), and certainly you aren't going to ditch that Command Confusion card quite so easily. There is no way to fiddle with your deck to get the right cards to do what you want to do, you're going to have to make due. On the bright side, if you ever wanted to learn to count cards this might be the time to take it up.
And speaking of working with what you have, that will apply to your weapons as well. This makes every scenario more replayable, incidentally, as getting that French '75' will make that major fire lane a whole lot more interesting.
Your leadership is also a very mixed bag, and while you start with one set, opportunity is knocking every time you stand to see a unit eliminated. Suddenly, those lines of sight that aren't pointing at enemies can be critical, and in open maps you can activate a whole lot of units if you've placed them correctly.
However, getting them placed correctly, especially the big boys, is going to be a challenge. Fortunately, the little groups can move *fast* and you have some chance of upgrading them once they get into position. And even then, you may be able to get them into position without your opponent knowing it. Not to mention having Gregor come back from town with a medium machine gun and a pirated copy of the latest Cagney flick on, uhm, Betamax? Not sure that was around then...
In a nutshell, you have some limitations, and you have some freedoms. And you can wear your own clothes and wear your hair any damned way you want. And you can be a woman and *fire automatic weapons*. There's an entire *genre* of movies dedicated to that very idea, although usually the clothes those women "choose" to wear are bikinis. And I don't think breast implants were all that common in the '40s.
I have yet to try this game out, it having come to my door this very day. Actually, on Saturday but I didn't check the mail (won't make that mistake again). Chad just keeps putting these things out and I keep buying them, and I think that's a good thing, but Resistance definitely mixes things up. Not as much as Pacific did, but a goodly amount and a lot of what gets mixed up is under the hood. The point of this essay was to give you some sense of what those things are, and I hope it helps you crush your Facist opponent right out of the box.
Just don't smoke too many of those occupied French cigarettes. Those things'll kill ya.