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!

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