Monday, January 29, 2007

CC:E Scenario 4 - For Want of a Few Minutes More

Eric and I played Scenario 4 of Combat Commander: Europe Thursday evening – the set up for the scenario is that the German’s hold a chateau/mansion in Belgium, and the Americans need to drive them out of the strong defensive position they are in.

Eric (the German defenders) set up his forces first, putting a lone squad with a machine gun in one of the outbuildings near the side the Americans would enter on, and the majority of his forces in the manor house, with one outlying MG squad as well hiding in the woods. He also had an infantry gun and weapons crew in reserve – the scenario set up provided that he could place the gun and crew after the Americans (me, attacking) set up.

I split my forces into two main groups – the elite squads, with a light MG and a .50 cal MG lead by Lt. Wray, and the line troops, also with a light MG and a .50 cal MG lead by Sgt. Buehler. I put Lt. Wray and the elites up against the wall to the right, and Sgt. Buehler and the line troops on the right (along the road, and very near the outbuilding where Eric had set up one of his MG squads – I was hoping I would be able to take thembefore they had the opportunity to do too much damage).

The Germans then set up their heavy gun – Eric was a bit conservative, and set the gun crew up near the rear, behind the manor. One thing we didn’t really notice at the time, but I did eventually (and I’m sure Eric did too) is that this set up left the road on the left side pretty much un-covered – there was a wall and woods between the manor house and the road, and the forward observation post was all that was protecting that side (and this was soon to be eliminated).

Initially, I focused on using my artillery to drop smoke all around the manor – this provided me the cover I needed to advance my units closer. I also, on the very first turn, used the line troops to overwhelm the observation post in the outbuilding before it had a chance to respond. This left the left flank of the map open, and I was able to move my units quickly up the road to begin the assault on the building.

At this point, I think I made my major mistake of the game – I took a lot of low-quality pot-shots at the German forces. This had some positive effects – many events occurred, and in this game most of them seemed to go my way (a sniper eliminated the infantry gun after only one or two shots from it, for instance) – but also had the long term effect of driving the time marker forward. This ended up being my undoing, as I ran out of time despite what felt like good momentum in the final assault.

The frontal approach was, for the most part unsuccessful – although it did keep the heavy weapons focused on the front, allowing my line troops access to the building from the side. More effective was moving my line troops up the road, climbing the wall all at once, and advancing on the building that way. Once the engineers and their flamethrowers arrived, they also came up the road, and were very effective once they were able to get near the building. The flamethrowers ignoring cover makes them very strong in clearing buildings and fortifications (which, I guess, makes sense).

One the whole, I think I had the Germans (Eric) off balance most of the game, but time ran out just after I was able to gain access to the building. It should be interesting to hear what his perception of the flow of the game was!

Memorable “stories” from the game:

  • One of the line squads advanced into a space containing a leader, squad and MG, and after both Eric and I used our lone Ambush cards, rolled a tie on the melee rolls – resulting in elimination for both my lone squad, and Eric’s group of units (including a leader). This would be one of those “heroic charges of a machine gun nest” you see in movies / read about in books.
  • American snipers were very active throughout the game – eliminating the infantry gun very quickly, and keeping pressure on the German defenders
  • Both the Germans and the Americans came across discarded weapons (i.e. scrounge events), leading to joking cry’s of “look what I found, Sarge”.

Lessons learned:

  • As attacker, take fewer high-quality shots, rather than a lot of low-quality shots (time is not your friend). This *is* mentioned in the play advice section of the playbook, but I didn’t read that until after this game (and learning something directly may be more effective than having someone tell it to you).
  • Flamethrowers are harsh and effective for rooting out enemies with strong cover, but also not easy to use as they need to be adjacent
  • Units in strong cover (buildings or pillboxes) are difficult to eliminate
  • Artillery is not terribly effective for attack – but smoke can be very useful!
  • Advance into melee can be your friend – especially against hard points

This was my second game of CC:E, and I still enjoy it immensely – one of the reasons, I think, is because it moves quickly (we did the entire scenario in about 2.5 hours, or so), and also because the rules are very well laid out. We did have a few questions in the course of play, but it was both easy to figure out where to look, and once found, the rules laid out in a good level of detail what needed to be done.

I’m leaning towards using “my” picks for what game we’re going to play to focus on CC:E for awhile, in order to get the rules well imprinted on the old gray matter (which needs more help these days ;).

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Combat Commander: Europe - Eric's View

Our first Thursday night game was Combat Commander: Europe – a new release from GMT Games.

CC:E is a WWII tactical wargame. Counters represent 5-man weapon teams, 10-man squads, and single leaders and weapons. Visually, it looks similar to a slightly enlarged Squad Leader. As an example, here's a shot of the map of the scenario we played right after the bulk of deployment.

The big difference in CC:E vs. other tactical games is that this one is card driven. You cannot do anything without playing a card from your hand. Time is somewhat nebulous as well. This makes the flow of each scenario much different every time you play as the cards dictate what can happen.

As an example, here is an image of some sample fate cards. Each card has a number of sections to it. Cards can be used out of your hand two different ways, as an Order or as an Action. Actions can amend orders if the conditions for playing that action exist. As you can see in the image, the center card has an action where you can add 2 to the strength of an attack into an adjacent hex. You would play this after playing a Fire order similar to what's shown on the right and left cards. (Fire is a special case in that it's an order AND an action so the inactive player can use Fire to take opportunity fire at opposing units moving across the map.) The size of your hand is determined by your posture in the scenario. Attackers get 6, defenders 4, and if you're in recon mode, you get 5.

In the bottom right corner of each card is a die roll. The cards in your deck also act as your dice. Occasionally, you will get triggers that show up when “rolling the dice.” This is shown in the rightmost card. If the red box reads Event! Then you flip over the next card, and the event shown on it is performed. Occasionally things happen in random hexes – the bottom left corner of the card is used for that. Every map in the game is the same size (10x15) and the random hexes are within this boundary of columns A-O and rows 1-10.

On your turn, you are allowed to perform up to a certain number of Orders as defined by the scenario. Alternatively, you can discard up to a certain number of cards instead. Useful if you have a hand full of cards that don't help the current situation.

Each game allows for a certain number of Time Marker Advancements. The scenario we played starts on the time track at space 1, and the Sudden Death marker is placed in space 7. When you either use the last card in your deck, or produce a Time! Trigger, the time marker advances. Once you hit the Sudden Death space, you start rolling dice every time the time marker advances. Roll under the current space number and the game ends immediately. Even if you're in the middle of resolving a firefight that could be decisive. Games can also end if either side reaches their Surrender level in units or leaders lost.

VPs are gained through Objective chits and killing enemy units. These objective chits are either scenario dependent or random, and can be secret to one side. The scenario we played had two open objective chits making the big building worth 15VPs. When an objective (shown by five numbered red dots on the map) changes hands, the old owner loses VPs equal to the revealed objectives, and the new owner gains them. So, had Tim taken the big building, I would have lost 15VPs and he would have gained 15. A net swing of 30 – likely a decisive amount. (This scenario starts with the Germans being +20. It's zero sum, not a comparison. The building changing control immediately would put the Americans at +10.)

The game comes with 6 double-sided 17"x22" maps, a scenario for each map, 3 decks of 72 cards each, and 3 sheets of German, Russian, and American counters, markers and weapons. There's also a small handful of tracking sheets and reference cards. Rules are also included for DIY scenarios where you randomly generate a game on one of the enclosed maps.

CC:E Session Report

So, now that we've got a basic look at how the game works, let's talk about how it went for us.

Combat Commander: Europe, scenario #4, Closed for Renovations.

Tim: Americans
Eric: Germans

The setting is a German rear guard holed up in a Belgian chateau that the Americans are attempting to take in mid-1944. Very much an “attacker storming fortified defender” situation.

The map image shown above is from the German point of view. For reference, hex A1 is in the top left, O10 is the bottom right. The big building is the objective. The Americans can deploy only in the top row of the map, and they get reinforcements when the time marker hits 3. The Germans can deploy anywhere else on the map. They can also hold on to a weapon team and infantry gun until after the Americans deploy. I put squads with LMGs in the B7 building and M3 building. The rest of my force went into the chateau. After Tim deployed, I put the IG and weapon team behind the wall in the woods in hex D10. (This turned out to be a mistake, in retrospect.)

Tim started off by blanketing the chateau with smoke. He has off-board artillery in this scenario, and managed to successfully hit the entire chateau and one layer of hexes between it and his forces with only two artillery strikes. Smoke is what's called a hinderence in game terms – it reduces the attack strength of any shot going in, out, or through it. Tim's plan was apparently to give himself cover and run his troops up to the chateau in order to assault it. Here's the situation after the 2nd time trigger.

The other thing he did early on was take out my unit and weapon in the M3 building. Deploying there was definitely a mistake on my part – it was far too easy to be overwhelmed.

As time went on, Tim slowly moved his units up through the trees in front of the chateau and along the road on the other side of the tree line. THAT's where I should have parked the infantry gun. As all my units were now on one side of the trees, he had a free run to move up the road. Meanwhile, we were each taking pot shots at each other and generating what seemed to be a LOT of sniper events. In fact, the weapon team with the infantry gun was completely taken out by snipers. Eventually, he had tightened the noose to the point that he was about two hexes away from the front and right side of the chateau.

Right then, a breeze kicked up and removed all the smoke. Suddenly, I was in a target rich environment :)

I was trying to plan opportunity fire when he assaulted the chateau. Regrettably, I was out of Fire cards on the turn he moved in. Those flamethrowers are deadly inside buildings – no cover bonus against them. We did have a single assault in hex H6 – I played an ambush and then we went and tied on the combat result. This meant the units from both sides were eliminated. So much for THAT plan.

By this point, we had passed the sudden death spot on the time track. The game really could end at any moment, and as I recall, it ended on an artillery attack when I uncovered a Time! trigger while defending against an artillery attack. Here's the final situation:

I had 27 Vps at the end, if I recall correctly. The chateau had increased to a value of 18, so had it changed hands, Tim would have won with 9 Vps. Also, I was only two units away from surrender, and Tim was a good 6 or 7. He could afford to make some high risk assaults.

This was the second time Tim and I had played CC:E. We've both loved it each time, despite the fact I've won both games. The game flows easily, and we only had one situation that we thought wasn't entirely covered by the rules (though I later found the exact passage in the rules that explained it.)

There isn't another game precisely like CC:E. It melds mechanics from a handful of other games (ASL, Up Front, Lock n Load) but really doesn't play like anything else out there. It's the wargaming equivalent of Lays potato chips – you can't just play it once.

Some of the criticisms of the game are that is isn't "realistic," it's too chaotic, and that having the cards dictate what you can do creates "false choices." Well, if you want this game to be Advanced Squad Leader, those criticisms are correct. However, comparing it to ASL is apples to oranges. Yes, they're both WWII tactical wargames played at squad level, but both apples and oranges are fruits, too.

If you want determinism and full control of your troops, don't play this game. If, however, you want to see a different narrative unfold before your eyes every time you play, and want the experience to fit within three hours, this is a great game to choose. (Our game took just shy of 2.5 hours.) I believe you'll be seeing it appear in this blog many times over the next few months. It's on my hot list, and I have a feeling this might become the first wargame to receive a 10 rating from me on BGG.

I'm curious to hear from those that have played CC:E what your experiences have been.

The next game on the docket is 1889. An 18xx game based on one of the Japanese islands. After that is Tim's choice, and I've yet to hear what it'll be.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


First of all, we want to thank all of you that voted for the Gathering of Engineers as co-winner of Best Gaming Blog of 2006 in The Gone Gaming 2006 Board Game Internet Awards. While it was sad to see it end, the fact that enough of you thought so highly of GoE to choose it over currently active blogs is quite flattering. Fortunately, the posts are still accessible.

As a result of both winning this award and a serendipitous bit of timing, this blog is now opening. Tim (the latecomer to GoE) and I are planning on meeting every Thursday to play various two-player games. Our first game is going to be Jan 25th, so this blog is starting in conjunction with our games.

The structure of our gaming sessions is this: I have two young children, Tim doesn't have any. So, we meet at my place at 8pm after the kids are in bed. We're going to alternate choosing the games we play. Any game that can be played in 3 hours or less by two players is a candidate. Beer and scotch may (and likely will) be consumed.

This blog will be the home of our session reports. We're setting the following ground rules:

  1. Only session reports will be posted. Posts could contain other information such as reviews, comparisons, and whatnot, but the primary focus of every post is a session report.
  2. We will both be writing about every session, and we will not be reading the other's entry before posting.
  3. We have a deadline of start of business the following Monday morning.
  4. At least the next upcoming game will be listed so you can plan ahead.
  5. If we don't game that week, a post will appear on Friday stating such.
  6. If we manage to both play in the same game elsewhere, we'll post about that within three days of playing.

The first two games on the schedule are Combat Commander: Europe (scenario TBD) for Jan 25 and 1889 for Feb 1. Tim gets to choose the Feb 8 game. Games I know will be in the mix are Command & Colors: Ancients and BattleLore. Many more will be chosen over time.

Thanks for visiting! We hope you enjoy our posts, and we welcome polite commentary of any sort.

Tim Isakson and Eric Landes