Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Combat Commander Ambush

(Yes, I know Mike's post has been up for a few days. I have refrained from reading it before posting mine, as usual.)

It was my choice for gaming last Monday, and I hadn't played any Combat Commander for a while. After our last OCS-fest, my brain had been turned to mush, so learning something new wasn't a good option. Also, I'd just received the new Panzer Grenadier Arctic Front Deluxe expansion, so I thought a little Winter War gaming might be interesting. That led me to choose scenario 20 from CC: Mediterranean. Finns ambushing Ruskies in the woods.

Mike decided he wanted to be the allies for a change, and took the Russians. They have to deploy along a road meandering from one corner to its opposite. The Finns can deploy only in the woods. This scenario is a bit interesting in that they decided to model the Finnish fighting spirit (“Sissu”) by allowing them to discard one card on their turn even when they issue an order. They're the only nationality in the game (to this point) to have that ability. Given that they're required to use the Axis Minors deck (one of the two worst in the game) and can only discard two cards normally, this seemed like an intriguing tweak. It certainly allowed me to keep active as the Finns – I rarely gave up board initiative.

Mike stretched out his forces, I decided to deploy entirely on one side of his forces, and we got started. My first two or three turns saw hardly any cards in my hand worth using – mostly artillery (useless in this scenario), command confusion, and rout/recover cards. Given that 90% of our forces were not in sight of each other at start, move cards were critical at first. My primary focus at the start of the game was to block the exit point of the road on my side of the board. Once I actually got a move card, that's what I did. That allowed me to focus a little more on attempting to separate and defeat Russian pockets individually, and that's basically how the game went. I'd hide in the woods until I got Advance cards (preferably with Ambushes) and then assault. Mike never came in to get me, nor retreated to the other side of the road.

This was, by far, the most one-sided game of Combat Commander I've ever played. By the third or fourth time trigger, Mike was near the surrender point, and after a pretty solid comeback attempt (eliminating four or five of my units over the span of a handful of turns) hit his surrender point just as we were reaching the first sudden death time trigger. I think the score at that point was something like 33 in my favor. It was ugly. It was rewarding in that I was able to formulate a plan and execute it, but it wasn't much as far as an entertaining game.

Now, having looked up some of the comments on BGG regarding this scenario, it seems to go this way if you don't try for exit points as the Russians. Which Mike never did. When I asked him about it, he didn't think he could do that. (The default is that you can always do that unless the scenario says otherwise, but I guess Mike thought it was the reverse.) So that meant he pretty much didn't stand a chance in this one. (For comparison, the Finns are specifically prohibited from exiting the board until all the Russian weapons are off-map.)


From my perspective, this game hates Mike. Everybody's got one out there, and I think CC is Mike's. (Mine is Age of Steam.) If you go back through Mike's blog searching for session reports of him playing Combat Commander, it's nearly all bad results. Historically bad results. It has nothing to do with his legendarily bad dice, either. I think it's one of those nana-woowoo self-perpetuating thoughts kind of things. (Either that, or there's some major rules Mike has wrong in his head that have never come up – like the exit points thing I mentioned above.) Chad Jensen (designer of CC) has said that doing well in this game, in a large part, is a combination of coming up with unusual ideas and passing your personal morale check. Failing the latter makes the former much harder.

I could see that happening when we played Monday night. Once he started having trouble getting cards for what he wanted to do, the idea of doing other things wasn't going to come, and Mike seemed locked into the idea that the only way to play the scenario was to slug it out. Now, it's entirely possible that the entire game was a case of the cards in his hand being mistimed with the situation on the board, and that's all he actually could do.

Now, Mike's a good player. And I'd wager he beats me ¾ of the time despite the best efforts of his legendarily bad dice. So, it's a tad unusual to see this, unless it's just THAT game for him. Time will tell, I'm sure.


Mike said...

I certainly don't think that I'm a very good CC player, mostly because I forget too many rules, or miss too many things I could have done.

However, that said, the game does seem to hate me. There have just been too many wacky results that allow me to snatch defat from the jaws of victory. My favorite is still the game against Chuck where my American paratroops have driven his Germans from the last VP building, such that he only has a leader left there. I just have to remove the leader with my two squads, and prevent him from moving in, and to do that last part I set up an HMG, in woods, with an LoS along a road, which divides Chuck's remaining squads from the building. He's got no troops in range. His very next card draw for effect is a Sniper event, and the hex draw places it slap bang on top of my HMG. He waltzes across the road into the building and I lose. Inconceivable!

Dug said...

The Deansian Statistical Distortion Field strikes again!

To be fair, Chuck and I played this scenario as well, with me in the role of the heroic Finns and Chuck as the drunken Russians. The result was about the same.

I'm slightly disappointed that the expansion scenarios seem to be a bit less balanced than the originals. On the other hand, I'm not so sure that it's just not me having learned how to play the newer decks (although the two paratrooper scenarios I've played didn't go well either).

I do know that the game is frequently never over, as I've seen people come back from near-certain doom to pull out a win. That's the same as Hannibal: Rome v Carthage, at least in my experience.

Jesse is considering a CC tournament at his store in the near future, and I'll post details on my site ( as I get them.