Bill was busy with something too important to put aside last Wednesday, so the next issue of 'Blades' was delayed again. This resulted in Tony and I sitting down to another game of GMT's most excellent Combat Commander: Europe. After my defeat as the Americans at the chateau of doom it was Tony's turn to choose the scenario. He plumped for Scenario 7, Bessarabian Nights.
Set during the Soviet offensive of spring 1944, this scenario features rear-echelon German infantry in action against Russian partisans on a heavily wooded map traversed by a railway.
The scenario set-up has some interesting features. First the Russian partisan units set-up randomly, using the random hex generator on their Fate Deck. This done, the Russian weapons are allocated as the Russian player wishes. Then the Germans set up anywhere they want on the map, with the proviso that all German units must be in a contiguous chain- ie. they are effectively in a column. On top of all of this, the Russians also start the game with a card in their hand which guarantees them a random reinforcement unit as soon as the German player discards (and he will), which unit can be placed pretty much anywhere on the map.
The random set-up notwithstanding, weight of numbers, those very handy SMG squads, and plenty of useful weapons give the Russian player some significant advantages in this scenario. Against this they are seriously hampered by only being allowed 1 order per turn from their 4-card hand, whereas the Germans get 3 orders from their 5-card hand. It is this limitation, and the tactical imperatives it imposes, which did for Tony's partisans in our last closely fought play of this scenario. So our game last Wednesday was something of revenge match.
What went down
Tony's set-up was mixed. Both of his leaders ended up in the southeast corner with few units available to support them. There was a significant cluster of Russian units to the northeast (near the clearing beside point 6 on the compass). The rest of the Russian units were scattered near the centre of the map or up and down the west side of the map. The satchel charges were allocated to the leaders and to 2 SMG squads, the LMG to the remaining SMG squads and to 2 Militia squads, and the mortar to a Militia squad.
The results of this set-up were that Tony's leaders were separated from the units they're supposed to lead, which would limit the Russians to ordering just a lone unit with their single order per turn. At the same time the lone leaders were exposed to my marauding platoons, whose first priority would be to kill the Russian leaders, thus throwing a spanner into the works of the Russian commmand capacity. That said, Tony's mortar was well positioned to bring some useful fire down around the centre of the map. And he'd managed to secure some objectives too. So like I said: a mixed bag.
With my foregoing comments about hunting down the Russian leaders in mind, I set up my platoons in and around those woodland paths to the west of the railway line in the southern half of the board (ie. just below points 2 and 3 on the compass). This put a Russian leader in the wood by the railway within a quick Move and Advance away for an easy kill (I didn't want to get too close straight away because of that satchel charge he was toting). The other leader was in the railway hex right down on the southern edge of the map. I could cover his attempts to move up to his troops, then mop him up at my leisure.
The first noteworthy event came with my first attack (on that first Russian leader IIRC): I drew a 12. Great result! But a Time Trigger too, and that a mere 2 or 3 cards into my first deck. I had the Initiative Card in my hand, and pondered long and hard my decision on whether or not to force the reroll. Let me explain.
One of the neat features of CC:E is that time isn't fixed the way it is in most other games: the time limit is random. How it works is this: there is a Time Track, into which goes a Time marker and a Sudden Death marker. When a Time Trigger happens (when someone exhausts their Fate Deck, or draws a Time Trigger result as I did just then), the Time marker is advanced up the Time Track. When the Time marker advances into or beyond the Sudden Death marker, there is a check to see if the game ends at that point: you draw, and if the result is less than or equal to the number on the Time Track where the Sudden Death marker is located, it's game over. If you add in the Initiative card- which allows you to reroll (or force your opponent to reroll) any dice roll as many times as either player wishes- and you might begin to get the idea that time in a game of CC:E is much more fluid and unpredictable than it is in most games.
In any case, the choice my 12 presented me with was to burn up some of my valuable time early on (with the risk that a run of such Triggers would see me under endgame time pressure before I'd even really started) or not. In the end, I chose to go with a result which I hoped would let me kill that first leader PDQ. This worked out for me, thank goodness.
While I was playing out the consequences of this 12, I faced the prospect of discarding. I briefly considered the option of not giving Tony his hidden unit so soon, but quickly decided he was going to get his unit sooner or later, so I might as well press ahead with my plans as quickly as possible. I discarded. Tony played his card and made his dice roll. Who should pop up but Captain Egorov- the single best Russian leader in the game!
Oh dear I thought. Oh dear I thought again when Tony promptly placed him right at the centre of that cluster of Russian units to the northwest. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Tony was now in a position to mobilise nearly half his force each turn. Plus he had the capability to create a truly fearsome close combat team by stacking Egorov with an SMG squad and a Green team (giving him a melee total of 15 to my best of 7). Suddenly the balance of the game had shifted very much in Tony's favour.
So, Egorov duly did what he should've, bringing that northern force storming south to assault my platoons. Meanwhile Tony's mortar brought down some useful fire on my most forward infantry beside the railway (next to point 2 on the compass). The short range coupled with the effects of airbursts made me decide on a prompt withdrawal out of LOS. At the same time I sent a platoon south to mop up a Russian squad lurking on the southwest of the map, just to make sure it couldn't screw me up with an attack from the rear.
It was at about this time that Egorov's lads crossed the railway into the woods. Not feeling ready to face them yet, I withdrew. Egorov and his lads continued their advance. By this time I had a hand which I thought was sufficient, plus I was wagering that Tony's card-cycling would leave him with a weaker close combat hand than my own. No time like the present I decided. So I played an Advance, and sent a leader and 2 squads in to attack Egorov. This was a very risky ploy. Let me explain.
Stacking limits in CC:E are very tight: effectively 1 leader, 1 squad, and 1 team per hex. Overstacked hexes result in the elimination of units. So by sending in 2 squads against Egorov's stack, I was effectively condemning myself to losing half a squad should I win the melee. But there was nothing else for it- Egorov would've made mincemeat of me otherwise, so I had to hit him with as much as possible before he could pick my units off one by one.
Then the Ambush cards were played. Let me explain again. Ambush cards are the key feature of close combat in CC:E. What an Ambush card does is force your opponent to break one of his units in the melee before cards are drawn for dice rolls. You can play multiple Ambush cards, so it is quite possible to eliminate an opposing force in close combat via a double-break without any dice rolls being needed at all. I had 1 Ambush card when I Advanced into melee. I was gambling on Tony's hand being poor. It wasn't. He had 2 Ambush cards naturally enough.
The result of this was that my best option was to eliminate one of my squads entirely, leaving me with a squad and a leader in the melee. Tony drew his card first, getting a melee total leaving me needing 11 or 12 to win and save my entire position from being ripped wide open by the rampaging Egorov. I drew a 10- mutual destruction. Deciding that keeping Egorov alive was a good idea, Tony promptly handed over the Initiative card to force a reroll- an 11! My cheers were probably heard halfway down the street. Tony's cries of you spammy git weren't so loud, but were totally justified I must admit.
This was the decisive turning point in the game. Tony tried to press home his attack, but my superior firepower and command capability made that difficult for him. For my part I was sufficiently far ahead in VP that I could afford just to sit where I was and force him to come after me. I did send a squad and leader out to finish off that leader of Tony's who'd been lurking by the railhead since the beginning of the game. We played cat and mouse for a wee while, but eventually I killed that leader too, and secured another objective.
This squad then went on to charge northwards towards an objective I wanted to grab (the railway hex on the north edge). Pausing only to eliminate another Russian squad in melee (at the cost of the leader thanks to more Ambush cards), this they did. Tony conceded soon after. I was left with 34VP.
In the post-morterm we concluded that the elimination of Egorov had been crucial to this game (no!), so much so that I expect I'll enjoy years of value from the use of the word 'Egorov' as a taunt! More than that, Tony's real problem was that he didn't regroup the rest of his forces, leaving him weak and scattered when he had to press his attack after that crucial melee.
Those details aside, what I found interesting about this game was that it was much more static than previous plays of this scenario. This was down to Egorov again. Y'see, although he died quickly, the forces he'd brought with him didn't. The result of this was that the bulk of my force stayed hunkered down in the woods where they'd deployed. I wasn't happy with this, but I needed to keep hold of at least 1 objective to secure myself against a Russian victory, and at the same time I had to maintain my forces in mutual support against the prospect of Russian advances.
All-in-all then an unusual and dramatic game.
To the skies once more
Time was short after our game of CC:E, so we decided upon a game of Wings of War: Dawn of War. I ended up taking the Me109 and the D.520 against the Spitfire and the Hurricane again.
I decided to follow the same strategy as before. This left me doing the same thing as I've done in the previous games: sideslipping too fast for too long so that my turn towards the enemy comes too late and I overshoot on my first pass. Still, my extra experience told while Tony was getting to grips with his flight lessons, and I managed to shoot down the Spitfire. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, Tony's Hurricane headed for the edge of the table while I was turning to start my next pass.
I'm continuing to enjoy this game a lot. It's a vivid recreation of its subject using simple rules, making it ideal to fit in when you have the odd hour or so to fill. And there are lots of optional rules I'm looking forward to trying, plus campaign rules. On top of that, I can't wait to see the confusion of a 4-player game with 4 planes per side!