Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kiwis against eagles

A whole month between sessions, don't you hate it when real life intervenes into your gaming schedule? Still, the new Combat Commander: Mediterranean had arrived on schedule, so it was the game of choice. I'd had it for a week, but hadn't spent much time with it at all, and in fact was feverishly cutting out the counters in the morning before heading off for work, and after I got home. With nothing else to base a decision on, I picked the first scenario, and drew the British. (Well, the Kiwis really.)

This scenario has the Kiwis attempting to drive through the thin German force and exit the board, gaining double VPs for doing so, with no other objectives in play at start. There is a large hill in the center of the board, a load of brush to my left flank, and a small hill off to my right on the German side of the board, with a river splitting the board as well. I set up first, near J1, with the Germans moving first and holding the Initiative.

So, what did I see as my strengths? The biggest is that Brit mortars can fire smoke. When mucho VPs are available for exiting the board, being able to place a lot of smoke is vital. With 2 mortars and the occasional Smoke Grenades action there was plenty of smoke to hinder his fire. Next, Eric mentioned that I always seemed to have a Recover card in my hand, and that's because the Brits have 10 in their deck, the highest of any nationality. I made sure I always kept one around for when I needed it, and I was fortunate to draw them regularly rather than in clumps.

I start with a neutral set up, as I only have 3 squads, and have to start near J1, although I misunderstood the instructions which allowed me to set up 3 hexes from J1, setting up only 2 away. I put one leader and a mortar with the reinforcements due to arrive with the first Time event. Eric placed a single German squad in the house near the edge of the board, one off in the brush on my left (he reinforced it with one of his hill squads pretty quickly), and the rest up on the hill. However, a couple of them were placed on the reverse slope, such that they were unable to get LoS on a large part of the board. I'm not sure if that was deliberate, but it certainly allowed me more freedom in movement.

I started with a great hand of 2 Artillery Request and 2 Artillery Denied cards, totally useless, so my first action was to discard them, but only after Eric had opened with fire from his sole unit able to see me, breaking my squad in the middle with the mortar. I then drew 3 Command Confusion cards to replace them. 'Great' I was thinking, first turn in, one unit broken (of 3 on the board!) and I still have a hand of crap. Looking pretty much like my usual games of CC! However, most of those Command Confusion cards also have Marksmanship actions, so they're not too bad.

Then the typical CC wackiness started. Eric just played a Rout, which I shrugged off, and in my turn played a Fire into his squad in the woods hex at the base of the hill, drawing a 9/Sniper. Eric decided to use the Initiative card, and the next card was a.... 9/Sniper. Wacky. And the squad broke to boot. Unfortunately I couldn't draw Move/Fire, and after a round of discards Eric Recovered the squad, and again broke my mortar squad. I recovered, but failed my fire, Eric tried again, causing the first Time event and all my reinforcements. In my defensive roll I also drew Time!

Looking at his position, with the hill units unable to get LoS, I put most of the squads on the left, and a couple on the right to keep him honest. I immediately started moving on both flanks, drawing a bunch of wire on the right. on my following play I fire at one of his two squads protecting his right flank, breaking it, but causing another Time. Halfway to the Sudden Death marker and I've barely got anywhere! In the next actions he gets an HMG team reinforcements, and proceeds to fire right down the road through the brush, breaking my squad and leader. Dashed unsporting!

Never mind, I've got a Recover in hand, but the leader fails, preventing me from moving that group forward. Still, I press on with both flanks, drawing mines on the right (pfft!), but getting into contact on the left, with an Advance and an Ambush already in hand. He uses Spray Fire to good effect, breaking 2 squads on my left.

Once more, however, I have a Recover card in hand, and draw a hero to boot! I Advance into both hexes, killing both German units, but lose one of my own to over stacking. I can see the edge of the board! Except for that HMG.... :(

Eric starts moving units across to the edge of the hill to try to prevent me from moving off, and I move the central group forward, Advancing and killing his unit in the woods. They are now around the other side of the hill to threaten VPs from that direction.

Meanwhile, on my left flank with a woods hex between me and the HMG I squeeze up a little, whilst he gets another reinforcement - a freakin' infantry gun!. On its first fire it causes another Time event on the Hit roll, and another on the Effect roll! I really don't want to face a 24 attack and Time, which would force an end of game roll, so use the initiative. The second roll is a 6, and Eric chooses to give the initiative back for a 9 roll, breaking a squad and leader, which I Recover quickly.

The map edge is tantalizingly close, and I have a Move card in hand. Do I go for it and try to Move off the board, risking the HMG, or do I patiently press forward with the group on the other side? Time is ticking away, it's in the 5 box already with Sudden Death check marker in the 6 box. I chicken out and use the Move on the right, and Eric....... discards! Ack, I should have gone for it! Not really, it was the smart move, as both groups are now close to exiting, and I drew an Advance and Move card, which I play next turn, now being right on the map edge on the left, and only a Move away on the right. I draw another set of Advance and Move cards, so I'm looking good for next turn.

However, I've still got to survive Eric's turn, and he turns on the fire, killing one of the squads and leaving the other and the leader broken. And another Time event! Are the fates going to deny me? Not with the Initiative card in hand they're not, and needing to draw a 6 or less to end the game I draw a 7. Phew! I Advance a squad and leader off on the left, and a pair of squads on the right for 16 VPs, swinging the game well to my side, with 11VPs.

After that it's all downhill from there. I decide not to get too cocky and take the simple move to exit the leader for another 4VPs, then start driving through my deck as fast as I can. Eric gets his gun to the top of the hill, but my lone mortar squad makes good use of more Command Confusion/Marksmanship cards to break the team manning it, meanwhile moving my right flank units up, even managing to exit another squad. Eric draws his last card, as do I, and the game is ended with that roll.

As usual, an odd game. The first part of the game sped by, and then slowed down, then took a last minute sprint for the end, then walked across the finish line. The ability of the British deck was very apparent. That extra Recover card really helps them pop up. The mortars firing smoke is also a huge benefit, which I took full advantage of, firing a lot of smoke, which really reduced his fire attacks, allowing me a lot of movement capability. The Command Confusion cards having Marksmanship as their action is also huge, as any Fire suddenly becomes really strong. Yep, the Brits are fun to play with.

In the end, though, I felt I was really lucky in drawing a lot of cards when I needed them, although I was holding the occasional card as I knew I'd need it. With a 6 card hand you have more capability to do that. Winning the melees on the left was big, and drawing Advance cards right at the end solved my issue of Moving in LoS of that HMG. It all contributed to a high VP margin.

I think Eric's set up helped me a fair bit. Starting a third of his squads behind crest lines meant that they took no part in the first phase of the battle. I'm also not sure I'd have given away the Initiative quite as quickly as Eric did. I only used it twice, and got it back immediately both times. i don't think I made too many mistakes, but with the cards I got it was hard to miss the obvious plays.

We made a few mistakes with the rules, getting the artillery rules slightly wrong, and we only used the new smoke counters instead of combining them with the old ones. The Germans don't have a lot of squads to defend with, and need to be careful. I'd really like to try this one again from the other side.

I've also detailed the actual plays, with photos at my own blog.

For our next session Eric has chosen Red Vengeance, the companion game to Defiant Russia that we played a previously, and I've promised to let him be the attackers this time. Bring it on!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Attempting to stall ANZAC advances on Crete

Monday night Mike and I sat down to crack open his new copy of Combat Commander: Mediterranean. Neither of us had played the base game in quite a while and were both eager to see what the new package had to offer. (My copy didn't arrive until the next day, so this was my first look at the contents.)

What you get isn't all that much different than what came in the original box, minus some of the support boards. You get Italians, Brits, and Allied minors, 12 maps with one scenario each, updated rules, and appropriate counters. It's not a standalone package, though – you need the base game. The random scenario rules have been tweaked to handle both boxes combined, so you could see combinations you don't get in either box alone.

Without any information to work with, we decided the first scenario is as good as any. I drew the Germans, and had to deny the 5th New Zealand Brigade taking the high ground on this part of Crete near the Maleme airfield.

In this scenario, victory points for exiting the far side of the map are doubled, making it doubly important to protect your ground. Mike took loads of photos during our play, and I'm hoping he posts most of them. You'll definitely see how things progressed.

This is a tough assignment for the Germans – you have six units to defend the entire baseline broken up by two large hills. Initially you're only facing three units and three leaders but six more units appear after the first time trigger. So, you're quickly outnumbered. Mike had to set up first, and clumped most of his troops towards the middle. I deployed one unit in the buildings near his baseline, and the remainder split between the northern point of the hill and the brush to my right.

As I'm the defender here, I want time to pass quickly. Sudden Death could kick in any time after the 6th time trigger, so I just needed to keep him delayed. The first time trigger came very quickly, bringing on the remainder of the ANZACS. Two of them deployed far to my left, the rest behind his initial units. I eventually collected mines and wire cards and managed to constrict the left side of the board – the road on the left had wire in the A column, mines in the B column, and the river in the C column. Very slow going over there. (It turned out later a blaze appeared down on my side of the A and B column almost locking down that side of the board.) Shutting that side down allowed me to concentrate more on my right and the center. Soon after deploying the wire and mines, I got a Hidden Unit action. I held onto that puppy like gold. Eventually, Mike discarded some cards and I got to go shopping on the German Support Chart. A roll of 10 got me a heavy machine gun and weapon team to man it. I stationed it on my edge of the board pointed right down the road through the brush. This completely changed Mike's plans on that side of the board and likely slowed him down a lot.

We traded fire back and forth for a while and it always seemed like Mike had a Recover action available when he needed it – and I was having trouble synchronizing my plan with my hand. It seemed whenever I needed Move actions, I had Fire and vice versa.

The first four time triggers seemed to come rather quickly, and I was thinking things were going pretty well. As Mike was working his way down the board I was hovering anywhere between 3 and 7 victory points – barely hanging on as each squad he could get off the board was worth 4 points. He was just about to emerge from the brush (after wiping out the two units I had there) when I got a Reinforcements event that brought me the IG33 infantry gun. Woohoo! Now, all I needed were fire actions to be able to use it...

Just as Mike was getting three or four rows from the edge of the board, he started using Advance actions to move his troops so I couldn't get opportunity shots at him. I would fire when I could, but he'd recover back any results and advance again. As he got to the final row on the board, we hit the 6th time trigger and I was at around 4 VPs. If the game ended here, I'd win, but if not it was looking rather bad. Unfortunately, Mike had the initiative, and it's not all that easy to roll under a 6 with two dice twice in a row... Needless to say, the game didn't end at that point.

He was finally able to exit three units and a leader off the board on that side as I simply couldn't respond to what he was doing. That meant the only chance I had was to start killing off units remaining on the board. With the help of Lt. Von Karsties I managed to drag the infantry gun up to the top of the hill. This gave the gun nearly the entire map as visible targets. I commenced firing at every opportunity. I managed a couple kills, but it wasn't enough in the end when the game ended on the 8th time trigger. I think Mike had something like 16 VPs at the end. It got pretty ugly with troops practically streaming off the board.

Great fun as usual. The new volume offers (very) slight tweaks to the system, but we were able to jump right in without any difficulty. The fact that we really didn't have to consult the rules all that much after a couple months away from the game reinforces the game's elegant design. Things just work, and the rules are very clear.

I think I could play this game every week for a very long time if it were logistically feasible. The random scenario rules are the next thing I want to test in this game. The accounts I've read are favorable, and if that bears out they'll give near infinite replayability to the Combat Commander family. This is an absolute Top Shelf game system.

Check Mike's post for photos – he'll give a more detailed game progression than I did, but the great thing about CC is it tells a story in prose. You almost don't need hex and counter data to understand what happened.

Until next time, when Red Vengeance hits the table... Happy gaming!