Saturday, January 17, 2009

Down by the River

Last week, Mike and I got together for my choice: the new entry in the Combat Commander line of games, CC: Pacific.

Now, my copy hadn't arrived yet, and when we were looking at what scenario to play, I suggested we play Scenario C. (CC:P letters the scenarios instead of numbering to avoid confusion with the other games in the series.) Scenario C had been mentioned by the developer as possibly being the best scenario design in the entire product line, but I was shooting blind in choosing it. So we gave it a go.

I'm not going to get into the actual rules of Combat Commander all that much, as I've covered them before and CC:Pacific mostly just includes changes needed to reflect the marked differences in ground combat found in the Pacific Theatre of Operations vs. Europe.

Some of the differences are that the Japanese have a Banzai posture available to them (some scenarios, such as the one we played, start in that posture while others may have it foisted on them from an event) that only allows 3 cards in your hand, but gives you the option to give Charge orders that activate every unit you have that hasn't been activated yet to move. Very human wave-ish, but the allies get to automatically activate everyone for opportunity fire. So it's a human wave everyone can shoot at. Other major rule changes involve Sighting markers that move whenever random hexes are determined – this allows Japanese units to come onto the map when revealed in those spots – gives a real feel of “where are they coming from?”

There's a lot more that's changed. Thankfully, the rules include a page that runs down nearly all the changes. Rereading the rules reminded me just how well they're written.

The scenario we chose involved the US forces attempting to fend off a wave of Japanese infantry crossing a river on Guadalcanal. The map for the scenario can be found here. All the beaches hexes above the river (as shown in that image) contain wire. So, the Japanese must spend all their MP on a turn to get into the river, and all their MP on a turn to get out of the wire. So they get slowed to an effective standstill twice. The dark green bits on the map are swamp (which blocks LOS) and the larger, lighter green bits are jungle (which also blocks LOS). I constantly thought the swamp was jungle while we were playing. Just need to get used to the new terrain. The rest of the green bits are palm trees which only cause a minor hindrance to any shots going through them.

The US are outnumbered about 2:1 to start, but have two Mgs and a howitzer available to them. As soon as the Japanese enter the river, reinforcements come on after the next time trigger, then after the Japanese get into the Palms they get reinforcements. The focus of the game is on the three objectives on the edge of the jungle facing the river.

I played the US in this one, and posted the howitzer on the middle objective, one MG just to its right, and the other on the objective closest to the beach. I tried to maximize sight lines, and was just hoping to hold out long enough. I goofed early on attempting to get radio reinforcements and managed to get a denial – this kept me from getting the radio that would come on as a reinforcement later. (Once you get an artillery denied marker, you're stuck with it.)

Mike started moving, and the swamp was blocking most shots I had for a while. Once he started moving close enough, I started opening up. I scored a few hits on units closest to the beach but wasn't having a whole lot of success. What was happening though was that my howitzer was failing its targeting rolls so badly it was hitting Time Triggers. (These are usually found on double 1s and double 6s – I kept hitting the double 1s) This was really helping me out because Mike managed to pull off a handful of Charge orders and I was really feeling pressured.

About halfway through the game, I lost the howitzer. This left the majority of my defense to the MG in the center of the map. Mike's units got fully across the river and were starting to enter the palm trees by the time we got down to the final time trigger before sudden death rolls would occur. He had units all across the line, but had focused on taking the objective furthest forward. (This was also the one I had defended the least.) He did take that, and was starting to move down to the next objective when we hit the next time trigger. Mike had initiative, but the odds were against him and the game ended at that point.

The US side starts that scenario with 23 VPs, and we ended up with me winning with 19. I'd lost five units (IIRC) and still needed three more losses before I would have lost to surrender. However, those 19 points are very tenuous, as had one other melee gone Mike's way, it would have been a 14 point swing. Much closer than the final score indicated.

I'll second John Foley's (the developer) opinion that Scenario C might be the best scenario design in the CC series. I've probably played CC a dozen or so times now, and this definitely seemed to be the best and most balanced design. Had the time triggers not come up so fast in the mid-game, I likely lose that one.

Mike felt it didn't really highlight the changes in the CC:P game, and other than the Banzai/Charge rules, he's probably right. I certainly felt pressured by the Charges, though, and was very concerned one more was coming up late. It would have made things extremely dicey on my end. I'd really love to give a scenario with sighting markers a go sometime soon. There's a whole set of rules involving caves, tunnels etc. that look like they'd be very nasty to go up against.

If you love CC, you're going to love Pacific. If you like it a bit, it might not provide enough new stuff to make you pull the trigger unless you're a bigger fan of the PTO vs. Europe. It is a standalone game, however, so you don't need any prior entries to play. If you don't like CC, well, it hasn't changed THAT much, so you probably won't like this one either.

In any case, it reaffirms to me that it's a series that belongs right a the top of what I enjoy. I'll always be eager to put that one on the table.

No comments: