Monday, June 22, 2009

Fulcrums

So, the big plan kicks in. OCS Sicily is back on the table.

Mike and I spent some time after our Espana 1936 game getting Sicily redeployed down in Mike's Garage.

A while back, I saw a reference to an old issue of Operations Magazine that had an article on a simple method for taking down and re-establishing an OCS game. I'll put a post up sometime soon (very soon after this one, schedule willing) that details the method. I can't dig it out at the moment as my access to old Operations Magazines has died with the recent demise of Magweb. Have to consult the archives.

We've used this technique twice now to tear down Sicily for later completion. And it's worked nicely. Took us about 30-45 minutes to get the game back ready for play.

So, last week, Mike and I met to get started again. One catch, though. Neither of us were really mentally ready to play it. I'd been swamped at work, and I believe Mike had as well.

So, what could substitute quickly for an evening's play with no prep time? Combat Commander, of course!

I had been a bit curious about the Normandy Campaign published in the latest C3i magazine. (#22, I believe) it's set up as a sequence of battles where the first is fixed, then you have a small number of choices for each of the next two rounds. So, that meant we were playing scenario #33 from the Paratroopers Battlepack, set on map #2, the bocage around St. Mere Eglise on D-Day. The Americans have landed dispersed and are trying to take the town from a German contingent holding it but not expecting the Americans. Mike took the Yanks as he hadn't played them recently, and off we went.

This is one of those games with random deployment for one side. So, Mike's troops and leaders were all over the map. German reinforcements were due on the 2nd time trigger, and on the 3rd, the American command has organized enough to get an extra order per turn.

For the most part, the the game was tight throughout. VPs toggled back and forth a bit, and I managed to pull an extra HMG crew and leader from the support forces. Time wasn't going nearly quickly enough for my taste, however. Mike had managed to assemble two primary fire teams while two or three other squads remained in cover out of the action.

The weaker of the two teams managed to take out my HMG – a useful item, but with somewhat limited effectiveness in the reduced sight lines around the bocage. This gave Mike one of the three objectives. I had just a lone unit in a second, neighboring objective.

We finally reached a tipping point – Mike had split his primary fire team under cover of smoke to prepare for an assault on the third objective. Success on his part would put me one unit away from surrender and move the VP count to around zero. All this with around three time triggers before we even started rolling for sudden death. Then, I hit a time trigger and removed one of the key smoke markers. I pretty much had to take initiative here and assaulted the smaller piece of the split fire group, eliminating it. If I had not, I would have been assaulted with unstoppable force. However, in the process I had to abandon the objective. I had expected Mike to move into the objective, taking the 8 VP swing, and make me try to take it back from a stronger force while he brought up a unit four or five hexes away in reserve.

Nope. Mike assaulted my unit+leader instead. He had the initiative card and a 4 point firepower advantage. No ambushes, so it was straight up. I rolled a 9, and Mike figured it was worth spending the initiative to make me re-roll. (This after some discussion on which had higher odds: me rolling higher, or his troops dying.) He decided to spend the initiative card and force me to reroll. I proceeded to roll an 8.

If Mike rolls a 5 or higher, he's pretty much got the game in the bag, though I'd spend initiative to make him try again, of course.

If Mike rolls a 4, we all die, I'm one unit from surrender (while he's 2, I believe) and I have almost nothing left on the board while he's got two unencumbered squads available to claim open objectives. I wouldn't spend initiative to re-roll this, as at least I've got a shot at a surrender victory if I can gang up on somebody.

So, 8% of the time I win outright. 8% of the time it's a draw (though really a win for Mike given the circumstances). On the other 83%, I force a re-roll with the same odds. That works out to around a 16% chance or so of my winning the combat outright. A little less than rolling a natural 6 on one die.

Mike flips the card.

He rolled a three.

Yep. In the one critical point where the game is essentially decided either way he had about an 85% chance of success (about 75% of that outright success) and the dice failed him. DSDF rears its ugly head. Again.

At that point, Mike pretty much failed his personal morale check. He still had a great shot at victory as I had two broken units very close to a unit of his, but I was able to rally them before he could take advantage. From that point on, Mike mostly threw things at my units hoping they'd stick with the unsurprising result of a German win by American surrender.

Of course, I saw it as a very tense hard-fought battle that came right down to one critical point where the result wasn't what was expected and involved a very interesting decision point. Somehow, I don't think Mike's report is going to portray it quite that way.

The interesting thing about it is the number I rolled: a 9. Given the 4-point spread in our firepower, this exactly straddled the bell curve, providing the illusion of a toss-up decision.

In retrospect, I don't believe that's the case. I'm not sure I would have spent the initiative when he did. My 9 was going to be the same or better around 27% of the time on a re-roll. If he keeps the initiative, he'd have failed the assault 16% of the time, with another 11% being a “winning draw.” The exact same odds.

I'm going to have to drum up a simulator to figure out what's the best choice here. I've already got the state machine defined, just need to code it up. In my free time.

My gut says, though, that I'd rather have the initiative to re-roll my rolls. I have no idea if that's statistically correct, though. Either way, I was surprised when Mike first assaulted my units, and more surprised when he made me reroll a 9.

Yet another Combat Commander scenario that comes down to one or two critical points. Which, of course, leads to two minds on the thing – either the games are tense and exciting and come down to one or two critical junctures that may go either way, deciding the game; or you may as well just roll a die and declare a winner and save yourself the time.

I'm firmly in the first camp, in case you haven't figured that out on here.

2 comments:

Dug said...

I prefer not to use the Initiative card until it's *really* important. If all I need is to roll a five when you roll a nine, that's not important enough. Better to try to improve your own weak roll, especially when the odds are stacked in your favor.

I would argue that every game out there is going to have a handful of critical rolls that will decide the game, at least a good chunk of the time. If someone can't live with that, they probably shouldn't play wargames that involve a chaos factor, and instead stick to 18xx.

Finally, I'll say that there are times in every CC game where one side or the other will decide that they've lost and need to "rush the barricades". While I'll admit that there are definitely those times, at the same time I've seen game after game go the distance after a seemingly insurmountable loss to one side or the other early on. Unless your deck is running out and you're close to a bad SD roll on the time track, you're better off sticking to the plan, assuming you have one. As THGttG says, "Don't Panic!" And bring a towel.

Mike said...

Those two units in the melee were enough to put you at surrender level, so it was a game winning roll on a 4 (mutual destruction) or higher.