Monday, April 16, 2007

Dietel, Hero of the Reich

First, apologies for being late with my post - real-life intervened, in this case work and non-work events conspiring to make me later than I had hoped (I should have it posted on the right DAY at least)!

Eric and I played Combat Commander: Europe last Thursday - it had been a month or two since our last outing, and initially the rustiness showed. However, the rules were easy to consult, and each time seemed to have anticipated just the question we were asking. Which is definitely a strong endorsement of the rules writing (and, I suspect, editing) in Combat Commander! As usual, I enjoyed our playing - I think Eric did too. It was a close fought battle throughout, and while there is definitely skill involved, there is certainly a random element that is not insignificant. The random factor doesn't bother me - especially on nights I'm on the good side of things, as I was this time - in this game, although it might were it longer.

While I picked the game, Eric had been wanting to try Scenario 7, Bessarabian Nights. This is an interesting scenario that puts very different problems before each of the sides. The Russians, in this game Eric, start out spread all over the map - each unit starts play in a random hex. After the Russian deployment, the Germans can set up anywhere on the map they like - but all their units must be in a continuous chain of units. So the Germans start out concentrated, and the Russians start out scattered. To balance this, the Russians (in this scenario, really partisans) can move much easier - no matter the terrain, it costs a Russian unit 1 movement per hex. However, the Russians can only do a single action each turn, which limits their options quite a bit.

Additionally, the objectives up the ante - neither player can gain points by leaving the map, and elimination points are doubled, and there is an open objective that if either side controls all 5 objectives when sudden death occurs, the win immediately. Each side also has a secret objective - in this game, objective 5, right in the center on the railway, was worth an extra 2 points (I don't recall Erics, but I suspect it was the cross-roads on the far "east" side of the map. The feel of the scenario is definitely a German squad stumbling into a partisan encampment, with both sides scrambling to make the most of the occurrence.

After Eric's scattering, I chose to set up my German Volksgrenadiers in the large clearing to the center north of the map, with my units spread in a line along the path, near but not in sight of any of Eric's units. This turned out to be a good move on my part, as I had a hard time coming up with Fire orders in the early part of the game. On the downside, the Russians start with a "hidden unit" card, and on my first discard Eric revealed a weapons team with a Heavy Machine Gun (HMG), with a line of sight on a few of my units in their initial position. The early portion of the game consisted largely of my units taking largely ineffective shots at the Russian HMG, and the Russian HMG taking shots at German units, also to little effect (due largely to my having relatively easy access to Recover cards).

The major turning point in the game came in one of my rolls (I don't recall if it was an attack or defense roll) caused an event - a Hero! Dietel, Hero of the Reich came into play, and over the course of the game he had a huge effect on how things turned out. Dietel joined with one of the Volksgrenadier to start a melee with a Russian Militia unit that had managed to infiltrate close to the German units - I gambled on this attack, as I went into the melee without an Ambush, but I figured if Eric had one or two I could soak them up with Dietel with little ill effect (losing a hero does not give any VPs to the opponent). Luckily, Eric did not have any Ambush cards, and the melee was successful.

After this initial contact, the Volksgrenadier moved back into contact with the German line, while Dietel infiltrated into a clearing behind the Russian heavy weapons units (the earlier mentioned HMG, and a weapons team with a German mortar). Dietel then proceeded to charge the Russian machine gun nest single-handedly, and managed to achieve the element of surprise due to attacking from the rear (I had drawn an Ambush card, which weakened the team manning the HMG) - and again won the melee, destroying the Russian unit and the HMG. My other units then concentrated fire on the mortar crew, who were eventually finished off by another event (I believe it was a KIA event - drawn by Eric - forcing him to eliminate the only broken unit on the board . . . his own mortar crew).

Dietel then proceeded to run up and down the rail line, claiming objective points (in particular objective 5, which I knew was worth 2 extra vp at the end of the game). In the process, the rest of my units continued to take opportunistic shots at Russian units that presented themselves. We had seen several Time! events (and at least one of us made it through our deck, triggering another Time! event), but the score was still pretty close to even due to a few events that allowed the Russians to whittle down the German lead. At one point, I believe the point total was only 1 or 2 points in favor of the Germans, after having been as high as 8 points.

However, from this point on, the game went all the Germans way - Time! events continued to occur regularly, and I used the German ability to issue 3 orders a turn to good effect, shooting at units to break them, and then using Rout cards to force them to leave the entrenched positions they were occupying. Eric continued to concentrate his units, and managed to make a strong assault into the center clearing, but this assault stalled due to concentrated fire from the defending Germans. We had a couple of Sudden Deaths that failed to end the game, but on the third or so, the roll came up under the total and the game ended - with a final tally around 10 or so in favor of the Germans (including the extra points for holding objective 5).

While the final result was a bit lopsided, the game itself felt close and tense throughout - I know I was scrambling to keep the Russians at bay, and it certainly felt as though Eric had the unenviable task of choosing one from any three critical actions at a time. The rules modifications - the easier Russian movement, but limited to a single order each turn - really make the Russian position an interesting one, in that they must spend time concentrating their forces, but while doing so the Germans are given opportunities to maneuver into advantageous positions. One interesting thing we noted is that, as the Germans, I moved very little - the majority of my forces stayed in the woods where they started, the only united that moved much on the map was Dietel, Hero of the Reich. This was in stark contrast to the Russian units, who moved frequently to try and form enough concentrated firepower to drive my German units out of the woods and foxholes they'd occupied.

I am looking forward to trying this scenario again, but with the sides flipped - I think the Russians challenges pose an interesting puzzle for the Russian commander, and choosing a single order a turn certainly seemed to provide for some painful (but enjoyable, I hope) decision points!

Next time, for Eric's choice, I believe we are playing Worthington Games Clash for a Continent, which I'm looking forward to!

Until then, happy gaming!

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