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.

1 comment:

Et said...

I actually tried CC:E for the first time today, trying the first scenario as well as the one you described. I loved CC:E, the mechanics are interesting, and you have to make tough decisions, and there are always different ways to approach a scenario.

I prefer slightly Tide of Iron though, for the tanks, the models and the map.