Thursday, April 10, 2008

Got game! Commanders in combat again

Regular readers will remember that Chad Jensen's Combat Commander rapidly became my hot game of 2007, and stayed that way despite some strong competition from Carcassonne. This has continued into 2008. Badger is an avid fan of the game, and for me it remains the single most exciting WW2 game I've seen since Up Front reinvented my ideas about tactical simulation some 25 years ago. More than one third of my 2008's gaming has already been given over to playing Combat Commander. And so it was that last Saturday, Badger and I returned to our goal of playing through each and every official scenario in order.

Scenario 17. Little Stalingrad

Previous games had brought us to Scenario #17 'Little Stalingrad', at which point Badger had insisted we use the Random Scenario Generator for the final game of our previous session, because he really didn't fancy the horrors of urban combat in the densely built-up area that is Map#17. This time though, I insisted amid some grumbling from Badger.

Map 17 is a gem of a map, exemplifying the virtues of Chad Jensen's road rules, in the first instance that roads can run through and modify other terrain types. In map design this allows roads and buildings to be more densely packed, since they don't need to be in adjacent hexes as is more conventional. Moreover, the effect of the road rules is to replace with a richly textured 3-fold rendering the 2-fold road/building representation of the urban setting familiar from, eg. ASL. In movement the road MP bonus of the building/road hexes will speed traversing buildings, and road movement opens infiltration opportunities. Under combat, the -2 cover of the dual hexes is respectable but these hexes will tend to end up as approaches to the -3 cover building hexes nearby.

On map 17 there are some 20 open road hexes, 40 building/roads, and 60 buildings. That amounts to effectively 100 buildings and 60 roads on a 15x10 map. What a layout! 'Hyperdense' is the phrase that springs to mind. Map 17 fills 80% of a compact CC map with this terrain, setting the stage for the most brutal city fight we'll see until the imminent Battle Pack: Stalingrad. Badger's reluctance was never going to avail him a jot!

Random generation gave Badger the Canadians, and he set to deploying. Influenced by objective 5 (the multihex building to the north of the map) being openly worth 10VP, he chose to concentrate more than half his force ready to make a move against that objective. Of the rest, the bulk stood ready to make a move against objective 3 in the south.

Faced with this, and armed with the knowledge that objective #5 was actually worth 15VP, I decided to build my game around holding objective 5 pretty much at all costs. I formed a platoon with my best leader, an HMG and an LMG and set it up in a position to open fire immediately at my prime target- the Canadians massing to attack objective 5. Another strong platoon- my next best leader with 2 more LMG's- was put in position to prevent any funny business in the south. And what remained was placed as a 'forward reserve'; ie. right in the front line to support my northern manoeuvre, but able at the same time to help in the south. And that was that.

This game went pretty much according to plan for me. My HMG platoon did what it was supposed to do, and blunted Badger's attempt on objective 5 satisfyingly quickly. There's not really much chance of winning a firefight against an HMG platoon with a 2-leader in buildings: their combination of attack and defence takes luck or melee to survive and/or overcome, and none of this was coming Badger's way in this game.

Badger did try using his satchel charges to blow open my position, but I wasn't really bothered. First off because I felt that the uses were premature given the satchel charges' secondary use for 'mouseholing' in this scenario. And second because their use wasn't properly coordinated anyway, so they could break but not really kill any of my units.

And he actually grabbed objective 5 too, either through a fortunate melee victory, or because I'd temporarily abandoned the building while hunting down Canadian units in the vicinity. Either way, that 30VP shift was soon returned in my direction never to risk being lost again.

The other flank was much more nip-and-tuck. I concentrated on just keeping the Canadian HMG platoon bottled up so that it couldn't do me any damage. This I was able to do quite happily.

The game ended promptly on Time 7, leaving me the winner with a healthy 26VP, some 11 more than the 15 granted by objective 5.

Scenario 18. Bridge Hunt
Badger was keen on this scenario as soon as he saw it, proclaiming himself delighted with its open terrain and confessing a hankering to play the Germans. For my part I wondered how the game would work with the map typo, which has left off the hex centre-dots, although I was really more interested in how my Yugoslavs would fare against 8 German rifle squads with 6 (count them- 6!) LMG's. I'd played the Poles against Badger's Germans before- winning on the attack in scenario 14; and I'd seen what the French defence could do when Badger beat me in scenario 16- Germans again. So the record was good so far but these Reservists were frankly feeble. At least they had the high ground and some hidden forces.

Random selection gave Badger the Germans he'd hoped for. He split his force into 2 platoons each with 3 LMG's, reinforcing his right flank platoon with the 2 remaining squads. He was clearly planning a hook. Facing this I chose to split my defence into 2 forces, whose roles were simple:
  • Force Fache, holding the northern river bank.
  • Force Allier, holding the southern river bank.
Objective 5 was the most valuable on the map, unknown to Badger IIRC. My plan involved holding it. Lt. Allier and the HMG would go on the southern hill at I3 whenever they got a chance to OpFire at Germans moving north of the river. The rest of the units south of the river were in reserve.

Sgt. Fache, with the LMG in support, would go into the J8 woods to anchor the left flank. It'd've been nice to have put him with the HMG on a hill, and I wasn't happy at having to put ML6 Axis Minor reservists on a road behind a hedge, but I needed to be able to fire on the Germans from here too. Pondering the weakness and vulnerability of this firing line, I decided on reserves and the better leader to bolster the position. If they did their job properly, these guys were going to suffer the brunt of the German attack. The teams would be placed as appropriate to support this plan, with my initial idea being to get one onto each end of the bridge. Of course, that part of the plan needed friendly units actually in the bridge hexes, which I had neglected in my initial setup.

Once again my defence went largely to plan, although not without Badger putting me under some serious pressure. The Reservist squads revealed themselves to be every bit as fragile as I'd feared, so I was pleased at the effectiveness of my deployment south of the river- it could've been so easy for the Germans to've fought their way onto the end of the bridge if I hadn't left enough men to hold this flank. Hidden entrenchments proved their worth in helping to hold this line.

Blazes were rampant. I was forced to move my HMG as much to avoid the blazes cutting off LOS as any smoke laid by the Germans, running it back and forth along the crestline to reopen LOS. Badger meanwhile was becoming almost completely cut off from the bridge by the resulting wall of fire, spread right into the NW corner. He eventually made a dash bringing all but 1 of his units through a last handy gap just before another breeze closed it off, leaving G6/H6 (right beside the bridge!) the sole remaining way through.

Badger did get close to the bridge, although by that time I had put an IG on objective 4 thanks to a hidden unit. And I had a string of hidden wire and mines to slow down Badger's Germans as they worked their way along the road to gain the end of the bridge. Time was against Badger eventually: the game ended at time 8, and I won by some 20+VP. Badger was having fun though so he insisted we play on, just to see what happened. Those Germans did eventually fight their way across the bridge and force a surrender from the Yugoslavs, although it took them until time 11, at which point they were on the verge of surrender themselves. I confess I was quite surprised that they made it that far at all!

Random Scenario
 These 2 official scenarios done and dusted, Badger wanted to use the Random Scenario Generator (RSG) for our last game. I suggested we set out likewise to play a random scenario using each map in turn. Badger agreed, and so off to map #1 yet again it was.

The CC RSG is another gem. It provides a simple method of generating scenarios which satisfy what, to my mind, are 2 of the key requirements of a viable scenario design system for a game like CC:
  • It is quick and easy to use.
  • Scenario creation includes features so that DYO scenarios remain fresh relative to carefully tailored official scenarios.
The Combat Commander random scenario generator satisfies these in spades, generating scenario details with a quick series of dice rolls. Players' decisions are clearly defined and carry subtle consequences. Careful assessment of the terrain prospect the map orientation presents is needed to judge the proper OB to choose to bring the engagement under your control- the biggest and best attack is not always the best option!

So the map chosen and oriented, we were soon in 1944, with my elite Germans against Badger's line Americans. I ended up choosing an Elite Rifle Detachment, Badger a Line Rifle Detachment. Rolling for support, Badger decided that he wanted to remain the defender for this game, so he took the cheapest useful item- a weapons team w/MMG. We generated leaders, then Badger invested in some foxholes and setup his units.

I decided to roll for artillery support, which gave me a 150mm radio- pretty damn good! Even if the close terrain wasn't ideal for calling down artillery strikes the woods would make them effective when they did come in. My plan was to break the US centre, establish a firebase, then exploit the left flank. I set my units up accordingly:
  • Lt. v.Karsties w/LMG-squad, HMG-team and 3 additional squads to attack the MMG nest in the US point.
  • Esser and 2 LMG-squads to cross the road into the woods on my left flank to close with Sgt. Divine and his HMG position.
All of this done, Badger added his 3 foxholes to the hexes with his MG's.

As ever, my initial fire attacks went well, and I quickly dealt with the point units. And then, well then what exactly? Was I feeling cocky? (I was.) Was it just late and I was tired? (Both true too.) Whatever already, it was plain dumb: I advanced v. Karsties and his stack under the guns of Sgt. Smith's stack and some 3 other squads, without a recovery.

As Badger began his next turn with unexpected glee I noted that I expected that this position would prove decisive. I wasn't wrong. It took Badger a bit longer than it had for me to crack open his point, but v.Karsties and his squad were still soon dead and gone, although my HMG survived. Reduced to a single unit/order and deprived of its leader my main attack was utterly blunted. I was gutted and feared that the game had turned a corner round which it wouldn't return.

And so it proved. Both my promoted private and my hero appeared. Toting the HMG and leading a squad and a weapon team, the hero charged all the way up to C4, from where I tried to kill any and all US units in sight then to exit the squad and team ready to return for another time period. Neither the HMG nor the hero/Esser's best efforts with the radio got my KIA VP anywhere close though, and I couldn't pull it off. Badger won a healthy victory by some 19VP on or around time 8. We played on for the fun of it as we'd done at the bridge, but Badger's hold on the game was never seriously in danger the way my own turned out to be at the end of scenario 18.

Grins ;)
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