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Monday, July 15, 2013

Combat Commander: RSG radio variant reprised

This is just not on chaps
I wrote back in December 2008 about my frustration with the way that Combat Commander: Mediterrean’s updated Random Scenario Generator allows only the attacker to start with a radio. This just didn’t work for me at a basic level of historical authenticity. My general reading has taught me that the German army used their company and battalion 81mm mortars as immediate on-call defensive artillery fire. And George R. Blackburn’s monumental The Guns of War is chock full of examples of British and Commonwealth forces in Europe in 1944-45 using artillery directed by an attached Forward Observation Officer to break up attacks in progress. So I just can’t go along with the idea that defenders can only get access to radios via the Reinforcement event, which has a mere 3% chance even with the Americans for whom it is most likely.

“Give me fire for effect!”
All that said I could see that the essential issue was simple enough: while it was plain that either the attacker or the defender starting with a radio worked well enough, making radios available to both sides risks turning the game into a rather uninteresting exchange of big guns: the choice being mutually available, escalation would be very tempting because why not, after all? The idea that the points cost alone of selecting a radio would be sufficient disincentive just didn’t add up for me. More important perhaps is the fact that most of the ‘Artillery Request’ cards are also prime ‘Defender Only’ actions; eg. 6/9 in the American deck, including the 2 ‘Hidden Wire’ actions. On the other hand though, 6/9 ‘Artillery Request’ cards in the American deck are ‘Dig In’ or ‘Hidden Entrenchment’ actions. It is easy to imagine how keen a defender with a radio would be to use these for the artillery strikes. So the alternative uses of the defender’s ‘Artillery Request’ cards strike me as little more of disincentive for artillery escalation than does the points cost.

8cm Granatwerfer 34
Anyway, I made an effort to develop a variant in which the defender paid more than just points for taking a radio, plumping in the end for the idea of giving the attacker extra time. Badger and I tried out my first variant in 2009 but I felt that it didn’t really gel. Now, Badger and I having played our way through most of the CC:E scenarios (there are a few Stalingrad battles we’ve yet to fight) and being well on our way through Battle Pack #4: New Guinea, I figured that the time would soon be right for some RSG scenarios. An apt time then, I thought, to review my variant RSG Radio rules.

The rules
Solid German trenchlines
My main aim in this variant is to make the defender pay as much as possible for taking the killer option of heavy fortifications backed by Off-Board Artillery: VP alone are just not enough sufficiently to discourage this! The idea is that the various choices' consequences will be greater encouragement for players angling to play defence to have to think twice before opting to choose a radio. In addition I wanted to make sure that the variant defaults to the RSG status quo ante when a defender doesn't buy a radio and/or an attacker makes an Asset Request.

RS.7 Support Rolls
The player with the lower-cost OB may purchase an available radio, paying the VP cost as usual. This can only be done as the 1st player with the lower-cost OB; ie. should the 1st player's support purchases move the VP marker past 0, the 2nd player can not purchase a radio with their support roll. If the 2nd player wants to try to buy a radio in this situation, they should force the Attack posture with their support purchases and make an Asset Request as per RS11.1.

Radio. If the player with the lower-cost OB purchases a radio as a support option during RS.7 in the RSG sequence:
  • They may purchase no other support options.
  • +1 Sudden Death.

Defence line. If the ultimate scenario defender has purchased a radio and any fortifications other than foxholes:
  • +1 Sudden Death (cumulative with above).

NB. Both of these are conditional on the lower-cost OB/defender purchasing a radio: otherwise purchasing fortifications just cost VP as usual.

The rationale
British 25pdr in action
in the Western Desert
All of these rules are ultimately about discouraging players from buying that extra radio because I suspect that too many RSG scenarios with 2 radios would make for dull games. All other rationalisations aside then, these rules are about balancing the game back in the attacker’s favour if the defender opts to buy a radio. Note that the variant is designed to prevent both players from buying a radio during RS.7. I decided that that option was too fiddly and just decided to foreclose on it by ruling it out completely.

Soviet 203mm
B-4 howitzer model 1931
If the eventual scenario defender buys just a radio- giving the attacker 1 extra time period to play with, you could be, eg. defending against a counterattack over ground you’ve just captured: your ‘Defender Only’ cards representing the attacker’s and your (partial) knowledge of the positional defences. This is effectively the same with foxholes: you’ve just had time to go to ground properly. The extra time?- well, if your HQ is giving you extra assets in the form of battery access, you’d be expected to hang in there that bit longer don’t you think? The lack of extra support?- well, “We’ve given you battery access, what more do you want?” That’s just one of many tactical situations you could contrive to explain the relative postures of the same opposing OBs. My point here is that that extra time in the game represents higher expectations based on the allocation of extra key assets.

The 105mm: workhorse
of US artillery in WW2
The ‘Defence line’ represents a full attack on a prepared position- the VP costs alone should serve to limit the number of games in which the defender can afford to build one. As such, even more time to carry through the attack makes sense to me: a commitment like this is not one to be given up lightly. Similarly, it isn’t unreasonable to imagine that the attacker would be given a bit more time because they’re attacking a fortified position.

Quirks and caveats?
Pesky German hero?
There will be, naturally enough, quirky situations which could result from this variant if players choose 2 OBs whose points costs are very close; eg. a player with the cheaper OB could buy a radio and force a Recon scenario, which would give just 1 player a chance to buy a radio. I suggest that these would increase the variety of games played under the RSG, which must surely be all to the good if the presence of more defenders' radios isn't unbalancing. Unbalancing the RSG is the real issue this variant will fill, so only time will tell if this turns out to be a problem. In addition, having these variant rules in play would add to the considerations players face when they’re choosing their OBs: again, no bad thing in my book. Some might disagree with this, but it's in any case more a matter of opinion than it is something conceivably demonstrable as are balance issues.

Quick playtest report
Badger and I played a Combat Commander: Europe RSG scenario after our play of BP#4’s Scenario M4. Templeton’s Crossing at our last Combat Commander session. Set in 1944, the scenario featured Badger’s Veteran American rifle detachment defending against my SS detachment. Badger opted to try for a radio, and got an 81mm, which gave me a support roll. I made sure to send the VP marker back over to his side of the VP track so that I could make an asset request myself. Badger used these VP to buy foxholes and my asset request gave me an 81mm radio too. The net result was that we both had a radio and that the Sudden Death marker advanced from the 6 space to the 7 space.

I think that the latter is perfectly reasonable since it corresponds to the time track typical of published scenarios of the size we were playing- or even smaller for that matter. As for the fact that we both ended up with radios? Well I know that the idea of my variant is to discourage the ubiquity of radios, but we were testing the variant so that’s fair enough it seems to me. In any event, neither 81mm radio proved overpowering and Badger won with 7VP on time 7. Badger proclaimed himself satisfied and I suggest that the variant looks OK after its first test in the line of fire.

And that's that. I hope some of my readers who are fans of Combat Commander: Europe might care to give these variant rules a try. I'd love to hear some independent feedback about how people think they work. ;)
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