Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Resist, you must!

Last week, Mike and I got the new Combat Commander: Resistance! onto the table.

For those who don't know, this expansion presents Partisans as their own force. There's a new deck of cards and a counter set (in yellow), along with a dozen scenarios and six new maps. Some of the scenarios are remakes of existing scenarios that included Partisan forces in earlier releases.

The new Partisan force is very different from any other published so far. First, the deck is only half-sized. Thirty-six cards. This has two interesting implications:

  1. The deck will run out faster, appearing to cause more frequent time triggers. However, this is balanced by removing the Time events from the deck. In two playings of this expansion, I haven't noticed time moving any faster than in a typical game. In fact, the time triggers seem to come in a more regular fashion since only one side has Time triggers.
  2. A quarter of the board isn't covered by random hex draws. I haven't actually tabulated which hexes aren't represented, but this deck will only reference half the hexes normally covered by an allied force deck. I'm sure Chad Jensen (designer) has balanced this effect against broken weapon recovery/destruction and objective placement: It's the kind of thing he's good at. But, I'll eventually compare the deck to the US deck and see what's missing.

On point two, for those that don't know: A Combat Commander map has 150 hexes, and 144 are covered by random hex draws (72 from the Axis, 72 from the Allies – I believe the missing hexes are the four corners plus the top and bottom of the middle column). This is the primary reason why you can't fight two Allied forces against each other, btw. Random hex draws would be completely skewed.

After you get over the tiny Force deck, you are introduced to the Partisan units themselves. And they're very different than what you're used to. All other forces have squads of four figures, teams of two, and leaders. The Partisans have Gangs (6 figures), Bands (5), Troops (4), Sections (3), and Crews (2). Each of these units have a firepower (FP) equal to the number of figures, and a movement rate equal to 7 – FP. So, you trade mobility for strength. There are “Muster” orders in the Partisan deck that allow you to increase the size of a unit to the next level up.

The first major rule change to absorb has to do with the leaders. An unbroken Partisan leader has an eye outline around their leadership rating. This means they can activate any Partisan unit within their line of sight. This is a fundamental change that we frankly forgot about a couple times during our session. It completely changes how you organize your force.

The other major rule change for the Partisans is what happens when a broken unit is broken again. In the normal game, the unit dies, and the Axis player scores 2 (1 for a team) VP. Not here. The Partisans draw from a 19-card Force Pool deck. Each of these cards has a top and bottom unit illustrated. If the bottom unit on the card has fewer figures on it than the unit about to die, the dying unit is replaced by the next smaller unit in the exact same state. This simulates desertions while under fire.

Finally, there's Sighting markers, similar to those in CC: Pacific. They function a tad differently here. There's an Infiltration order in the Partisan deck that forces you to give up 0 to 3 VP (depending on the card) in order to mess with hidden units. You have two options when using an Infiltration order: Add a unit to the time track, or put a new sighting marker on the map. To add a unit to the time track, you flip a card from the Force Pool deck, then choose between the two options on the card. You then put your choice anywhere on the time track you'd like. When the Time marker reaches that space, you put the unit in the same hex as a sighting marker, and remove the sighting marker from the game. To place a sighting marker, draw a random hex and place it there.

Between the Muster orders, Infiltration, and the ability for units to sometimes shrink instead of die, you have to get used to your contingent changing a lot during play.

I chose to play the Thunderstorm scenario (#72, on map 50 – one of the new ones in the expansion). This is a meeting engagement: both sides are in Recon posture, and are merely trying to capture objective hexes. (Each are worth 3 points, each side controls the one in their deployment zone only.) Starting score is zero, so it's definitely a race to grab space. As I chose the scenario, I gave Mike the choice of side, and he chose the Partisans (to my surprise, frankly).

Our game had a definite flow. It took Mike a long time to get a Move order, so he was a bit hampered at first, but I didn't have the best results either, so while I was able to claim two of the three open objectives, I wasn't able to hold the middle one for long. The VP counter moved briefly to my side, then Mike had a run and got the score to around 11 in his favor. It was still around 4 or so on his side when we hit Sudden Death. We did the typical initiative card bouncing trying to get the game to end (or not) in our favor, but Mike had the advantage of 7s working in his favor. I got lucky here, though, and the game continued for two more time triggers. By the time the game ended, the score was 1 for me. Yes, One. The narrowest finish I've seen in a CC game yet.

There were two primary features to our session. One was an incredible number of snipers. There should be more snipers than normal when playing the Partisans (they have 5 Sniper triggers in a half-sized deck, while the Germans have 7 and the Russians have 8) but we saw a LOT of snipers. This certainly slowed both of us down at times, and weakened key units at inopportune times.

The other was a beautiful bit of narrative. I got an event that allowed me to draw reinforcements from the German roster. From the options I had (and in 1943, there's a lot of German options) I chose an Infantry Gun and crew. The random hex they appeared in was down in the corner near my side of the board. The gun jammed the first time I tried to fire it, and was eliminated on the next random hex draw. I could just picture it: “Hey guys! We found this old artillery piece in a barn over here! Let's surprise these jerks with it!” They don't fully inspect it due to the heat of battle, and the thing explodes (or misfires, or whatever) the first time they try to fire it, and they abandon it due to lack of time/ammo/resources. Just a perfect sequence of events.

Oh, and we had one Partisan unit that failed every Recovery attempt, and fell back on every Rout roll. I think that unit routed six hexes off the map by the end.

Things I learned playing against (and in a later play against Doug, with) the Partisans: Have a loose plan, but don't put all your eggs in that basket. Circumstances WILL change, and if you don't have a fall-back plan, you're hosed. Partisan units will survive longer than normal, but may have a hard time recovering after they break. What you have is a real big house of cards. It could work really well, but could fall apart in an instant. When playing against the Partisans, watch those sighting markers – the enemy could appear literally anywhere, and quickly. Finally, don't let the randomness get to you – it's random within a set of bounds, and could settle down at any time. Follow your plan, but snatch opportunities as they arrive.

Overall, this is a welcome expansion to the CC system. It radically changes how you think about playing the game, without breaking the structure of the rules. Just realize it could be an even more chaotic experience than the base game gives you.


Eric said...

And, yes, I completely avoided any discussion of the countersheet. There were some interesting inclusions and exclusions, and it could have been thought through a bit better, but it's a minor thing in the end.

Myk said...

My original ending was "And I got through it without mentioning the missing Molotovs. Damn." But I decided that it might not be as funny as it was in my head.