Monday, June 22, 2009

New Combat Commander, same old story

Eric arrived for our latest session and we headed out to the garage to get started on the Sicily game, which we set up after our España 1936 game in our previous session. We both looked at each other, and both expressed an interest in playing something else. It had been a long week for both of us, and I was coming off a cold, and we both felt mentally unprepared for OCS. So we headed back in for something lighter. After throwing around a few options, Eric wanted to try the Pathfinder campaign from C3i #22, so we set up the first scenario, which features the American airdrop on St. Mere Eglise. I'd been playing the Axis in pretty much every game we'd played recently, so asked to play the Americans, and Eric accepted.

The Germans have just a few units on the board, and the Americans land by random draw to simulate the airdrop. About half of my guys ended up along the 'B' hex-column, 2 units adjacent to his guys (and automatically broken), and one on the opposite of the map in each corner. The biggest issue was that 2 of my 3 leaders were at opposite corners of the map, and not near anyone. In the end they played no part in the action at all. The two broken guys were taken out pretty quickly by Eric's fire, although not before I'd drawn a hero event and so just gave him even more points..

My biggest problem was finding cards that allowed me to move, and I seemed to spend half my time discarding cards. I was making reasonable progress, having captured two of the three objectives, when it came down to the usual critical bit of action. At this point we'd pretty much traded casualties, he having removed all the units that landed close as I couldn't find move cards to get them away nor recover cards, and me from assaulting his units in melee. I advanced into his hex holding 2 ambush cars, and generated a +4 attack. He drew a 9, and I calculated the options. He was at +5, so all I needed was a 6 for the clear win, as that would put him over his surrender level. A 5 would have us both killed, but I would be short of my surrender level by 1, so would still win. Hmmm, I need a 5. I decided to use the initiative whereupon he drew an 8. OK, I still need only a 4. And drew a 3.

At this point I have little option but to try another advance and melee as I have little chance of taking him out with a fire (I have no MGs, and only a small mortar). However, once again it takes me forever to find movement cards and he gets the required ambush cards to kill my remaining unit for the surrender win.

Once again I manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with a freaky card draw. Just like a lot of my CC games. This has got so monotonous that I have now placed CC onto my 'Will not play' list and I'm planning to sell my CC games.

This game did bring up one weakness in the CC system, however, one that I'd never really thought about before. The card decks are tuned for a set of tactics, and if you don't have the force that matches those tactics, then you're going to have problems. Take the American deck. In most of the scenarios the Americans (at least all the regular scenarios that I've played) are dripping with support weapons, and the deck provides tactics that match. Lots of fire, break (or kill) the enemy, then maneuver. Take away the support weapons and you're left with a hand that's heavy on fire cards that you can't really use. (A 6 fire attack against a regular 7 morale unit, in terrain, isn't going to see a lot of success. Add in a leader on defense and it gets even harder. And any number of Sustained Fire cards won't help you when you've no MGs.)

I'm not sure how this impacts other nations/scenarios, and it may be a feature of the Americans only (I think the Germans, at least, are rather more balanced on the card distribution), or even just this scenario. The American player here needs to maneuver, to get troops together to build fire teams to provide some mediocre attack fires. But the tactics forced on him by the card distribution prevents that.

One of my other gaming colleagues is only so-so on CC because he feels that it comes down to ambush and advance cards, and this game highlighted that. With no real way to generate high firepower attacks the only real way to remove the defenders and gain the VP objectives is through melee. Then the game comes down to who can draw the advance and ambush cards. And get the better draws in the melee itself. I was lucky in that I drew advance and ambush cards together twice, but I couldn't draw the movement cards to make use of the advance before Eric had time to discard through his deck and also get ambush cards. As far as I can recall, this is the first CC game I've played where the game ended with the surrender criteria being met, rather than the sudden death.

Over the years I've pretty much had a hate-hate relationship with CC in all its forms, and this game was the final nail in the coffin. Too many games have been little or no fun, with random blow-outs to one side or the other. And I've been on both sides, but mostly the receiving side. I may keep CC:Pacific (I think it's the best of the bunch) but the rest are going on the block. The tactical limitations of the pre-determined deck introduce a restriction that I'm not prepared to deal with. Well, that and the game just hates me.

We fully plan on getting back to Sicily for the next session.


Dug said...

I think you are wise to abandon the game system. It clearly frustrates you and I know from personal experience that you dislike too much chaos in your wargames. Given how you are the physical source of the DSDF, that's a fair reason.

However, I'd argue that every complaint you make against the system can be applied in modified form to OCS, or to almost any wargame out there.

CC outcome hinges on who can collect the most ambush cards (which I'd argue against)? OCS hinges on who rolls the best results on the supply table.

CC doesn't let you move until you've drawn the right card? OCS doesn't let you move until you've amassed enough supply.

CC comes down to a single critical combat and you might as well just roll a die and see who wins? Tell me any tight wargame that *isn't* true of, especially given the surprise rolls in OCS that can turn any battle at any odds into a massive rout of the person with the apparent advantage.

CC requires you to use specific tactics with a given army during a given period? So does pretty much any well-researched wargame. The situation the Americans found themselves in initially in your scenario seemed pretty damned historical to me. At the tactical level, doctrine dictates actions.

CC rewards patience, and in my experience you lose it far too quickly, abandoning your mission objectives and initiative when anything goes wrong. Eric called it a "personal morale check" and he was right on. Like the weather in Denver, if you don't like the situation, just wait 15 minutes and there's every possibility it will change. Desperation attacks are fine, but you resort to them far too quickly in CC. Perhaps it's the tactical scope that throws you, maybe it's the differential combat system, I just don't know. I do know that you tried hard to love the game, but I think the feelin's gone, and you just won't get it back.

If you haven't tried Conflict of Heroes yet, you might give it a look. You have considerably more control over not only your actions, but also your dice in that you can use Command Points to affect rolls before you make them, and you can literally attack or move at any time if you have the CP in your bank (and the game is all about how you use those CP, or force your opponent to do the same). While it's got more of a Euro-ized feel, if you want shorter games at the same approximate scale, that may be the way to go. You've also told me that the narrative element of a game does nothing for you, and while it's present in CoH, it's not as important an element (IMHO) as in CC.

I am very sorry that you've had such a bad experience with the system, and so consistently. Especially when you'd already had such a long day.

I should also admit in the interest of fairness that I had a very similar reaction to Tide of Iron when it first came out, and after two plays I came to the conclusion that the system simply wasn't aimed at me - it was aimed at those who wanted a more detailed version of Memoir '44. Lots of people enjoy the game, and that's great. Perhaps the new Designer scenario book improves the game, although I don't know how you can possibly justify a WW2 era tactical combat system that forces units to expose themselves to fire before they can lay smoke, a critical element of any advance over open ground. That's definitely not a problem that CC has.

Jackson said...

Great comments, I think he just misses the CC boat by 180 degrees.
What stood out in my mind was the use of the initiative to reroll a 9!
No offense, but absolutely Horrible tactics! :)
The better and to me obvious choice was to let the 9 stand as it's close to the average of 7 and it was a Known quantity, and keep the advantage to reroll Your card flip if it came up a 3 or 4 (which it did) then you could have rerolled and had an excellent chance at getting around 7.

Also, in Pacific and the Stalingrad material, they added a change to the Melee process that really helps imo--Melee is NOT immediate, the opponent gets to respond in their turn (depends on nationality in those 2 mods). My friends and I ALWAYS play that way now-- makes the game much less gamey.
You don't have an ambush card and they obviously do (since they haven't discarded for about a week)
Fine, you can move out of the hex.
Make em chase you, and good luck to them getting another advance right away.
As far as your comments concerning the difficulty in moving, didn't you mention that the Leaders were spread out and not where they needed to be?
If so, wouldn't a 'realistic' game make maneuvering in that situation very difficult?
DIfferent strokes and all that, but it's too bad you just don't get CC.
I couldn't agree more that you should try CoH, especially w/the New Kursk game on the horizon.
You get a limited amount of command control, w/out cards- I bet you'll love it!
And we'd love to read a 2 sides report on it.
thanks and enjoy the games