Friday, February 6, 2009

Along the Beaches of Butaritari

Mike's turn this week, and he wanted to get back to the sunny South Pacific. So, Combat Commander: Pacific hit the table again, this time Scenario E – an advance by US Marines along the beaches of Butaritari. This scenario's got Sighting markers and the Sengoku Hei sniper counter. Two of the new tweaks for CC:P.

Mike asked me which side I'd rather have, and as I'd been curious about using the sniper, I took the Japanese. This had the unintended side-effect of having put me in defensive posture for both our CC:P games despite having played both sides.

(In this report, I'm going to assume you know the basics of how Combat Commander works. If not there are myriads of places to get a summary – just a friendly warning.)

The (partial) map for the scenario can be found on the geek. The portion shown is the Japanese deployment zone for the scenario, and the US forces are attacking from the left. The sighting markers are placed in the 8 jungle hexes in the center of the map, and the open ground is strewn with a line of foxholes and wire. In the center of the line is a bunker with an infantry gun inside. The sniper must be deployed in a palm hex, and half the starting Japanese units must be placed in infiltration boxes.

The way the sighting/infiltration rules work is this: The Japanese player can play an Infiltration Order (which specifies box A, B, C, or some combination) and you can do one of two things: If there's nobody in the listed box, you roll on the support table, choose an appropriate unit, and put it in the box. If there's somebody already there, you instead take the units in the box and place them in a hex with a sighting marker, and remove the sighting marker from play.

Sighting markers move whenever a random hex is determined for any reason. After resolving the reason for the random hex, you then move one of the existing sighting markers onto that hex. This leads to some interesting decisions late in a scenario as you're trying to maximize the potential threats.

I got a little aggressive in my deployment. I placed a medium MG in the objective jungle hex at the bottom-right of the map with a leader. I also placed a light MG in the other objective jungle hex just above it. These are worth 4 and 2 points each according to the open objectives. I then put the sniper forward in the palm tree hex on the hill closest to the US forces. My thought was to maximize the amount of damage he could do right off and the elevated LOS would allow him to see the entire US deployment zone.

My plan, for the most part, worked. There was this matter of the sniper sucking wind, though. He got two shots off before being wiped out in a melee and failed miserably. The way the sniper works is that he's treated as ordnance. You have to successfully make a targeting roll first, and if you do, his FP of 3 is added to the product of the dice rolled, not the sum. This makes his shot a potential 39 points. And, given that doubling the defender kills him outright, you can see where this guy has the chance for serious damage. At least it's mitigated by him only being able to target a single unit, no matter how many units are in a particular hex. He managed to roll a 4 and a 5 on his two damage rolls, though. Pretty poor. (Average is 12.25)

That being what it was, everything else was going pretty well. The medium MG was slowing Mike down severely on my left, and a couple infiltrations slowed him down on my right. Some quick time triggers left us with one time triggers left before sudden death rolls kicked in and me with somewhere around 12 or 13 VPs. One thing that helped mightily was acquiring a 150mm OBA gun early on. I never killed anything with it, but it really slowed him down. Mike did get a hero in play, but he didn't do much early on.

About here things changed. Both of us were near the tops of our respective card decks, so there was likely a lot of game until the next time trigger. Right about here was when Mike disabled the light MG that was in the jungle hex near the beach. He realized there was a gap around the wire that he could get units through once the guns were down. Some fortunate Asset Denied orders (and my lack of Asset Request orders) shut down the guns, and opened up a channel for him to exit the map. His having drawn bonus exit points as his objective chit didn't hurt his cause, either. I was desperately trying to get over there and do something (or just kill what I could otherwise) but never managed to have any luck. Mike took the objective near the beach, started getting guys off the map, and got the benefit of one extra time trigger past sudden death. (I don't know that it made a difference, though, as I had little left with which to fight.)

Final score was either 19 or 20 in Mike's favor at the end. At one point just before the tide started to shift, Mike commented that it didn't matter a whole lot what he did as his position was lost. I've come to believe that that's almost never the case in Combat Commander... This game can see massive shifts in fortune. All it takes is one break (in this case the loss of MGs opening that exit gap), and some time to exploit the break, and it can all swing the other way. As it did this time.

That might have been the most enjoyable game of CC I've ever had. The story written during play is one that would fit into any history of the Pacific Theatre. (The Marines were nearly stopped trying to advance into a prepared enemy position – shots coming from everywhere, Japanese units appearing out of nowhere, snipers in the trees. It looked bad, but heroism emerged. The guns were disabled, sniper found, crews taken out, and the Marines managed to break through the position just in time.)

Oh, and Doug – Mike did have his own wonderful DSDF moment as you mentioned in the comments to last weeks' post. There was a pretty important shot Mike was taking (can't remember the details) and he rolled a four. That wasn't going to cut it, so he passed over the initiative, rerolled, and got a 2 with a time trigger. Worst possible result given the game at the time. EXACTLY the situation you predicted.

I really believe CC:P may be the best CC to date. The rules are absolutely rock solid. (Every time we had a question – which isn't much lately – the answer was right there in crystal clear language. A couple times it was even as its own single-sentence paragraph. Obviously the odd cases were thought through.) The scenario design is fantastic. While Scenario C (The Ilu River scenario we played a couple weeks ago) didn't seem particularly “pacific-ish” it was certainly well-designed.

I haven't played the cave rules yet, but that's next, I'm sure. And I've never had a chance to venture into the Random Scenario Generator yet for any of the games released to date. (A system that the game was originally designed around.) An absolute gaming treat, and it only took 2.5 hours to play.

Then again, I've yet to play Stalingrad. Could it get better? CC:Pacific sets a VERY high standard.

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