Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Got game!

Back to Catan
The regular Sunday gaming session resumed last week. Andy and I had time to sit down to a game before Donald arrived; he fancied Crimson Skies, while I was convinced it was my turn to choose a game of Commands and Colours: Ancients; so we compromised with a game of The Settlers of Catan Card Game.

Settlers cards is a game I really like (as regular readers will will be aware), and I've been pleased recently to have introduced it to Andy to find him take to the game quite strongly. In our last game back in February we'd tried out the Wizards and Dragons theme deck from the expansion (the first time I'd used this most colourful of the expansion theme decks, both literally and figuratively), so this time we went for the Science and Progress deck (Andy's a physics graduate and fancied his chances with it!).

The Science and Progress deck is themed around city expansions, including the University which is essential to using many of the other cards in the deck. Among the various cards, a particular favourite of mine is Land Reform, which allows you to swap 2 different regions, a card which can be very useful if your early expansions haven't gone according to plan. I also just like the way the card takes a very simple action- swapping 2 cards in your display- and gives it a role in the game.

Andy got off to a good start, gaining an early lead. But I had a Scout, and the Grain Mill and Foundry cards. Soon enough I was able to get a settlement built, leaving me in a strong position for building cities. This I soon did, giving me a hold of the Windmill token which I never lost, and with which I was able to irritate Andy with the constant drip-drip of the theft of his resources when the Commerce event turned up. Andy wasn't giving up easily though, sneaking the last settlement off me, and putting up a good fight for the Knight token. In the end though my superior resource base told, and I won by some 13VP to 10.

1-0 :)

Setting out on the Road to Legend
Donald arrived as we were putting the game away. There was no need for a debate about what we would play this time: I had just completed my Descent set with the recent Descent: Road to Legend. The 3 of us had completed the first dungeon of the basic set a couple of months back. We had all enjoyed the game enough to want to play it more often, but I was interested in Road to Legend because it offered a proper campaign structure built on the premise of the shorter playing sessions which we had taken 3 of to complete that lone dungeon.

I'd read the RtL rules, but hadn't fully digested them, so setup and introduction was fairly lengthy. Andy and Donald had to choose and select 2 heroes each to create the party; I had to choose my avatar- I went for the Beastman Lord with extra wounds and speed, and my plot- I chose Ascension, because it was described as the simplest of the plots which give the Overlord player an alternative victory condition (alternative to crushing the foolish heroes when they finally confront me in my keep that is!). The avatar and the plot are features new to RtL. The avatar is the Overlord in person, while the plots define the Overlord's goals in a given campaign (details here). Getting all of these decisions made took time, including the task of adjusting the various card decks which have been modified in RtL. Still, we got a lot of stuff sorted to which we won't have to return, so that's good.

Once we were ready, Andy and Donald's heroes set out to explore the land of Terrinoth, heading out of the fabled city of Tamalir to the nearest dungeon, which they promptly began to explore. Clearing the first level went relatively smoothly thanks to a combination of the mini-dungeon-level format new to RtL and our existing experience of the game, only costing the heroes 3 lives. Packing up at this point we were all pretty satisfied with how things had gone. We'd managed to complete a session in some 3 hours. Mind you, we calculated that we'd need some 40 sessions at that game's rate of progress before the heroes finally encounter my Beastman Lord... That'll be sometime next year then! ;)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Start the week @ RD/KA!: Meanwhile... new TV treats?

I finally got round to watching the opening episode of the troubled season 2 of NBC's Heroes on BBC2 last night. I say 'eventually' because I missed both the original broadcast and the first repeat, only finding out at the last moment that there was a 2nd repeat to catch.

Heroes was one of my favourite TV series last year, being the only one apart from Doctor Who that I made an effort to catch each week. The idea of the series appealed to me, and I liked the low-key way that it handled the emergence of superpowers in our own world. And yet at the same time I found the series deeply frustrating, mostly because it was so damn slow. The sprawling narrative with its wide cast plodded on becoming ever more convoluted as it developed and undermining the series' essential premise as it was revealed.

This is something that really bugs me about a lot of modern SF TV. There used to be a time when series like Star Trek (classic and next gen.) were written with no overarching plotlines or continuity so that episodes didn't need to be broadcast in a given order to make sense to viewers. This changed with the success of Babylon 5 (unless my memory fails me), the impact of which can be seen with the adoption of a megaplot in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and in the plethora of more-or-less vaguely SF action/mystery series which have become staple viewing fodder today, eg. Lost, to name the best known.

All of which would be to the good if it wasn't for the lamentable approach to TV storytelling inaugurated by Star Trek: the Next Generation, with its flabby scripts and time-wasting camera work, all of which contrasted poorly with the dynamic pacing of classic Trek. Layer this approach to creating episodes on top of the sprawling multithreaded narrative now favoured and you have the recipie for the frustration I noted.

Compare Heroes with Doctor Who or The Wire to see how limiting this approach is. Whether it is the sheer amount of story in a 45-minute Doctor Who episode, or the richness created by The Wire's multilayered narrative, it is hard to deny that these series demonstrate qualities precisely the opposite of those I find so unappealing.

Ah well, I guess every TV series can't be the best of the best. Heroes will just have to settle for being the best of the rest. Last night's episode was enjoyable enough. I expect I'll be watching as much of season 2 as I can get myself in front of. But it's got some way to go to become 'must-see-TV' like our good Doctor.

Speaking of our good Doctor, Saturday's episode went down a treat. An nice little prologue, then straight into the action, including a dramatic return of Martha from last season. By the end of the episode the Doctor was facing not just armageddon at the hands of an old enemy, but Donna's grandad was about to become a victim of the first wave, and all in less than 45 minutes. Now that's storytelling! ;)

Start the week @ RD/KA!: Microsoft Vista? Gah!

When my old computer was dying on me last year, I decided to hold off buying a new one until the new Windows OS was out. Don't ask me why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh how I wish I hadn't! Microsoft Vista is quite simply the biggest crock of shit Microsoft has ever sold me.

Off-the-shelf hardware ingenue that I am, I went online and chose a Dell Dimension DM061, powered by a Intel Pentium Duo 2.8GHz, 1014MB RAM chip. I've had no problems with Dell as Dell (expect perhaps they gave me that irritating update checker which reguarly pops up not to allow me to install upgrades?). No, my problems have all been with Windows Vista.

As ever with a Windows OS 'upgrade', the new chrome is nice, eg. the new 'View' and 'Sort' settings in Explorer offer genuine utility in accessing folders full of a large number of different file types, or would if their coding hasn't rendered the entire OS utterly unstable. (And I'm betting that the idea was probably lifted from the Mac in any case, just like so much else of the Vista chrome appears to be.) Here are some of the more minor bugs my Explorer demonstrates:
  • Folders in Explorer reset to random view and sort settings each time I enter them, so I have to click about to get the desired view setting I want over and over again.
  • The shift- and ctrl- multiselect options have stopped working except in my Open/Save dialogue boxes.
The upshot of this is to make file management incredibly frustrating, and, in the case of the malfunctioning multishift, so laborious that I feel as if my machine has regressed to pre-GUI days.

Serious as these glitches in Explorer are, they are minor compared to the extreme bloat that is Vista's main crippling flaw. The 'blue screen of death' used to be the hallmark of the horror that was an unstable Windows OS, now it's the 'Not Responding' message which appears with depressing frequency and usually for no apparent reason. Defragmenting and virus scans take forever too, sometimes literally 6 or more hours, as if the disc hadn't been defragged or checked in weeks.

So as if Explorer wasn't already bad enough, it can lock up and freeze the whole machine trying to move 2 or 3 PDF's from one folder to another, and it will stay locked for minutes before it clears. That's 1 Meg RAM @ 2.8GHz, freezing over a few Meg's of PDF? WTF?! I've learned, when organising files in Explorer, to hit cancel and try again when this dread box turns up. It's usually quicker than waiting for the box to freeze and lock up explorer.

And on top of all that, Badger told me about a story going round that the latest Vista patches- which naturally enough I've downloaded automatically, as you do- have actually made a bad situation worse. I can vouch for that, particularly over the freezes, which definitely seem to me to be getting worse.

So I've had enough of this shit. I'm fed up spending money on a fancy new computer only to find it performing increasingly below specification. I'm no computer whizz, but I know these machines should be working better than this. I'm moving to a Linux OS as soon as I can. Badger tells me that it's easy to test Ubuntu without making installation decisions which might cause problems. I'm going to investigate this soon. ;)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Monthly Review @ RD/KA!: Combat Commander: Mediterranean and Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers

Combat Commander: Mediterranean
Highly anticipated, and delivered by GMT's P500 system with the minimum of fuss and a bare year's wait, Combat Commander: Mediterranean is not so much an expansion of CC:E as the completion of the system, which was released in 2 parts because GMT didn't want to stake their capital on a game that would've cost well over $100 otherwise. Packed in one of GMT's deep boxes, CC:M contains:
  • British, French (Allied Minor) and Italian (Axis Minor) Fate decks, including 3 cheat cards and an Initiative card.
  • British, French and Italian OB sheets.
  • 352 large counters.
  • 140 small counters.
  • 2 booklets.
  • 6 double-sided mapsheets, maps #13-24.
Lacking only the track display and the player aid cards to be a fully playable game, CC:M is therefore a box filled to match that of Combat Commander: Europe, which to this reviewer represents quality, value and bumper fun.

The three fate decks are what you'd expect: good graphic design, not best playing card quality, but durable enough to survive the play they'll surely see. The real value of these decks will be in how they'll fill out the range of cardplay methods to master, bringing Jensen's full design into relief. The additional initiative card is handy, giving one for each Axis faction. Keep them with the Axis decks and you won't have to rummage about looking for an initiative card when you're setting up.

The 3 OB sheets include allied nationalites, so you'll find the expected ANZAC's and Finns, and minors such as Belgians, Bulgarians and Poles. The range of Allied and Axis minors looks to be pretty comprehensive- 12 different nationalities out of 18 in all. This limits the range of available French and Italian OB's naturally enough, but these nations lacked the elite and special forces formations which fill out other nations' OB's. So that makes sense I guess.

The 352 large and 140 small (regulation wargame 5/8" and 1/2") counters provide the three new factions' OB's as per the original. Which means that the faction counters are in attractive and appropriate base colours, contrasting nicely without clashing horribly for the purposes of easy identification during play. The unit and weapon stats are clearly displayed, and typography is intelligently used to highlight important information.

Filling out the 3 OB's left space on the counter sheets. Some of this is logically given over to objective control and OB stats markers, the latter a full new set now showing posture too. The rest of the room provides extra smoke markers-handy, and large objective chits- surprisingly welcome improved readability!

Six double-sided mapsheets provide 12 new maps, the same standard of well designed and printed paper maps set in CC:E. The arrival of the British, French and the Italians brings us to the Western Desert, so 2 maps- #23 & #24- are completely open ground. These'll be fun. There is 1 urban map- #17, a real doozy of densely-packed large buildings skirted by built-up hills with none of the open areas of maps #6 & #10, the urban maps in CC:E. There is likewise a new wooded map- #20, which features a road, low hills, and a lot of water. Another notable is #18, the river map, featuring a 2-hex wide river crossing corner-to-corner, bisected in the centre by a road at a major bridge. The remaining 7 maps provide a crossroads rural settlement- #15, and various farmsteads in farming or hill countries. 'A postive wealth of new material' is the phrase that springs to mind.

The first booklet is the CC:M Playbook containing scenarios #13-24, updated RSG, and full counter and card manifests for all the factions, DYO points values and designers' notes.

All the new nationalities are properly introduced in the 12 new scenarios, the British featuring in 5, the French/Allied Minor in 4, and the Italian/Axis Minor in 5. The original Germans, Russians and US feature in 7, 2 and 1, respectively. Standing out for this reviewer are #14 'At the Crossroads', in which your Poles can try rushing the Germans to overwhelm them with speed and numbers as you take on the 1-discard attacking hand for the first time; and #17 'Little Stalingrad', #18 'Bridge Hunt', and #23 'No-Man's Land', on those maps, naturally enough.

The RSG needed a tweak due to the increasing number of maps, but it was also changed after discussion with fans, so that rolling for support is now slightly different. Artillery is no longer available as a routine support option, but you may take as many support items as you wish, to the extent that your opponent might end up with VP to spend on support rolls of their own, and might even end up forcing you to be the attacker. Artillery support is now an attacker-only option, with the added bonus that you decide this Asset Request once you've seen the defender's setup. All of this is a significant improvement, since it introduces more decisions which can influence the shape of the scenario. It is this feature of the RSG which makes it so much fun IMO, so these changes are only to the good.

The manifests are handy, offering a convenient overview of the different factions. Alongside the DYO points values, they should prove a boon to CC scenario designers. Chad and John's designers' notes are excellent. Short and to the point, they introduce the key features of the three new factions and the updated RSG.

The other booklet is v1.1 of the rules, updated from the FAQ meticulously maintained by designer Chad Jensen and series developer John Foley. As an expansion dependent upon ownership of the series original game CC:M didn't strictly need the updated core rules at all, so it's a nice touch on the part of GMT to include this.

There are some typos in CC:M: wrong numbers on the broken side of a British weapon or two, and the missing hex-centre dots on map 18. But these are not serious enough to merit marking down the product overall, because they are so easy to address. And GMT plan to release corrected parts at some point in any case.

Combat Commander Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers
The first genuine expansion for CC, Combat Commander Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers begins GMT's planned series of packs themed by troop types, theatres of operation, or other features, and containing new maps, scenarios, counters, cards and anything else the designers can dream up. Sideways expansion through special rules packs instead of ASL's vertical model of massive new nationality boxed sets is a model which appeals to me. I'm interested in seeing where Chad and GMT can take this. So buying BP#1 was a cinch, but I didn't expect to find it in a FLGS, which to good fortune I did just in time for Martin to get a chance to try out his beloved US paras in new scenarios. Shrink-wrapped in a cardboard sleeve, BP#1 contains:
  • 2 double-sided mapsheets, #25-28.
  • 6 double-sided scenario cards featuring 10 scenarios, #25-34.
That's one-third the number of mapsheets, and the same amount of cardboard as in CC:E- a small fraction of the components and for a quarter of the price. It cannot be said that this is the best value for money, so how does what BP#1 adds to CC make this high price worth paying?

The 4 new maps are farmstead variations in farming countries, the most notable of which is #27, featuring a lot of marsh. The maps bring added variety to the already wide range of maps available for the RSG.

With 2 exceptions the scenarios feature US paras in Normandy or the Bulge. Those exceptions are #25 'Fields of Fire', featuring a desperate 2-part holding action against German fallschirmjaeger on the opening day the Bulge, and #30 'Red Skies at Night', featuring a strong platoon of Russian paras well-matched by 2 German rifle platoons. Of the remaining 8, 5 scenarios are set in Normandy, 3 the Bulge. These include landing on St. Mere Eglise in #33 'We Go!', and a glider resupply operation at Bastogne in #29 'Operation Repulse'.

Gamers who are fresh to board wargames coming to either game in the Combat Commander series might experience a sense of disappointment on opening the deceptively deep box. This is no box of toys after the fashion of DoW or FFG. The maps, counters and cards aren't produced to the same high standards as these companies'. They will certainly endure casual play with average care, but you might want to consider card protectors or a spare set if the game becomes a serious habit.

That minor consequence of the economics of scale aside, the quality graphic design makes the all components- maps, counters, cards, reference sheets and rulebooks a pleasure to use. These combine with the logical and well-written rules to help the game run very smoothly, so that with a bit of practice players really can reach the 90 minutes per game average playing time claimed by Chad Jensen, the designer. This makes Combat Commander simple to teach and quick to grasp, making it easy to get on the table even in a short evening's gaming, and so a game of wide potential appeal despite its unassuming appearance.

Of course the big news in CC:M is the new nationalities. Each has its OB and fate deck adding their own tactical challenges.

The British engineers and airborne are as good as any, matching the best of the Germans or the Americans. These offer the British secret weapon, a mighty force of irresistible attraction which you can be sure will be deployed as soon as RSG conditions permit, namely the Commandos. Going all-out for the full 3 troops, the lucky British player will be fielding 6 each of airborne and guards squads, with 6 weapon teams, 6 LMGs, 6 light mortars, and 3 satchel charges, all complete with 6 (count them... 6!) leaders and 6(!) orders. What a force! And costing 50 points as it does you can be sure you'll be attacking, albeit through some more or less serious fortifications.

The rest of the British OB is steady and reliable. With no boxed firepower or range stats the squads and teams get only smoke and no assault or spray fire actions. The British LMG is 3FP just like every other non-German LMG, although it has the longest range of these. And only the French don't have MG's heavier than the 7FP British Vickers. If the British have a trick that is all their own it is the 2" mortar. Although one of the weakest in the game it's also one of the most portable, and the only one with smoke. This is neat.

Most of these stats seem to me to make sense relative to each other, but I have to query 2 British weapon stats, namely 7FP and 10FP for the 3" mortar and the 25pdr respectively. Making the mortar weaker than everyone else's 81mm models is fine, but -2FP for the sake of a difference of some 5-6mm? Making the British 3" mortar the same as everyone else's 60mm? That seems excessive. Unless perhaps the British round's charge was disproportionately light for its calibre? And the 25pdr was an 88mm weapon, a full 13mm greater than the 75mm guns with which it shares 10FP. Maybe there's something I'm missing again, but I wonder if there's scope for tweaks if the real-world data add up- 11FP instead of 10 in the case of the 25pdr.

With no special forces and just 1 Elite squad, the French and Allied Minor OB is a match for its British equivalent in all respects except range. French weapons are on a par with the Italians' and the Russians'- ie. largely weaker and/or shorter-ranged than their British and German equivalents, but without the Italian and the Russian OBs' heavier MG's. One unique French feature is the Maginot Garrison formation, which is the only RSG formation to start with IG, the French 75mm- as many as 3 with 3 HMG's in the full company. This is another force I expect to be fielding as soon as RSG conditions permit.

The Italian and Axis Minor OB is the weakest and most fragile of all, with either firepower, range and/or broken morale- and sometimes all 3- lower than almost any equivalent units'. Notable exceptions are the short-ranged Russian squads, which the Italians and Axis Minor are liable to face. The Guastatori are respectable special forces, and the Finnish Sissi are elite troops unique to the Axis Minors. The most significant feature of the Italian OB which will counteract this poor troop quality is sheer numbers. The Italian RSG OB's give them between 1½ to 2 times as many squads as any opponent, and this is typically reflected in the official scenarios. The downside of this is that this also gives the Italians the worst leader/squad ratio of the game.

The Italian/Axis Minors have a range of weapons matched only by the Russians, with 7 assorted MG, mortars, and their mountain gun. The MG's are in the 3rd class with the French and the Russians, while the mortars and the mountain gun are on a par with their various equivalents.

While the OB help define the different national characteristics, the key source of national character in Combat Commander is discard capacity. Already known to CC players- being printed on one the reference sheets- the new discard capacites are: British- 4 cards, French- 1, Italian-2.

The British discard is the 'best of the rest' after the Americans and the Germans. With a 4-card discard the net effect for the British is that they are as good in defence as anyone and better than most, but will be less flexible in more aggressive postures than the Americans or Germans. This is a perfectly reasonable estimation of relative ablities IMO, and is a good example of how CC:M highlights features of the Combat Commander design which were always present, but not so easy to perceive with a half-complete game.

It is the Italian and the French which are the most interesting here. The Italians have just 2 discards, the French a puny 1. This is so bad as to provoke some players to fear that the French especially are virtually unplayable, all the more so for a game where the designer and developer's crucial tactical advice is about discarding as often and as in as great numbers as possible. These fears are unfounded. I've seen the French in play 5 times so far, the Italians the same. The French have won 4 games, including once on the attack against the Germans; the Italians likewise, including once on the attack against the Russians. Clearly then the minor nationalites are eminently playable despite the apparently extreme handicap of their discard capacities.

The main problem I have noticed for the minors so far with these limited capacities is that they find it harder than anyone else to find that card they really must have. This tends to apply most of all to that crucial recover, but it also means that sometimes the minor player simply must plan on having all cards needed already in hand before embarking on a risky manoeuvre, eg. 2 moves and 1 or more recovers if you're planning a rapid dash through enemy LOS.

I noted above that the "real value of these [new] decks will be in how they'll fill out the range of cardplay methods to master, bringing Jensen's full design into relief". I hope readers will be beginning to see what I meant by now. It was easy to look at a CDG where national characterstics are determined by card discard and see a difference between 6-card and 1-card discard capacities as excessive. I'm sure that the design of the decks helped here, but I'm coming to the conclusion that separating hand size from nationality by allocating it according to posture plays a significant role in making the discard-based nationality rules workable.

If the fate decks of the 3 new nationalities in CC:M finally display Chad Jensen's essential CDG mechanic in all its glory, the new maps and scenarios included in both CC:M and BP#1 highlight the other merits of Jensen's design.

It'll come as no surprise to readers to hear that 2 key features of good scenarios are interesting situations and replay value. Having played nearly all of the official scenarios by now (7 unplayed out of 36 available to me) I can vouch for both of these. Every single game has been exciting, and each scenario is one I would happily revisit more than once on either side. Clearly the scenario designers- Chad and others (in BP#1) deserve credit for for their research and development efforts.

Combat Commander: Mediterranean and Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers aren't for every gamer. If you're new to board wargames or only have a casual interest in WW2 tactical gaming you clearly want to try Combat Commander: Europe before investigating any expansions of the system. If on the other hand you're a WW2 grognard, or if you've tried CC:E and want more, then take a look at CC:M. It completes the CC system with useful tweaks to the already valuable RSG. In other words: if you liked CC:E, whether you expected to or not, and expect to play it regularly, then CC:M is definitely for you.

BP#1 is only for the afficionado to a greater degree. As I suggested above, scenario packs like BP#1 are no-brainer expansions for a game like Combat Commander. Containing 'just' new maps with new scenarios BP#1 just scratches the surface of what can be done with this format and CC. The full scope will be seen in the future. In the meantime, BP#1 is definitely a worthwhile purchase for lovers of Combat Commander.

Combat Commander: Mediterranean: 10/10
Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers: 9/10

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Got game!

Once more the din of combat
As I said on Monday, Badger came round last week and we sat down to a Combat Commander megasession. We weren't taking notes this time, so all details below are purely from memory.

Metaxas Season
We picked up where we'd left off, with scenario 19 'Metaxas Season', featuring a German assault on a section of the Greek defensive line in 1941. My immediate thought was that my 75, my HMG and my best leader should go on the highpoint, for lines of fire and to hold a valuable objective. Quickly checking the position I could see no reason not to do this. I put a couple of squads in trenches by the cliffs to stop Badger sneaking his Germans up that way. I put a squad with the other leader in the remaining trenches, and the last squad went in one of the buildings.

My thinking behind my fortifications was that Badger was most likely to make a move on the buildings rather than the bunker, so I used the wire to do 2 things:
  • Preclude an easy flanking maneouvre on Badger's part- if he wanted to avoid the wire he'd have to go really deep, costing him time and putting his units under more OpFire.
  • Deny the use of flamethrowers and satchel charges to units assaulting the buildings from the flank.
The mines were an added layer of defence to the easy approaches to the bunker, which would have to be secure because I'd be unlikely to be able to reinforce it. I was really hoping to discourage Badger from even thinking of trying to get up that hill!

I made a small mistake at this point, setting up my fortifications with everything else, before Badger had set up his units. We said at the time that this had been to Badger's benefit if anything. Looking back as I write this I'm no longer so sure. Badger might've been more willing to consider an attempt on the hill if he hadn't seen my fortifications set up with the precise intention of driving the very notion from his mind. This might've been to his benefit.

In the event, Badger set up his entire force on the hill to the NE. He was clearly planning to try to smoke or suppress the bunker then advance on the buildings in the centre. The problem he had with his deployment that this was exactly what I wanted him to do. Badger's entire advance was down 1 axis, which left my bunker unmolested. To make matters worse for Badger, he'd strangely decided to equip an elite rifle squad with his IG, which promptly began pushing thing around the map instead of engaging its fire mission against the bunker.

The result was satisfying: the Germans never reached the road, let alone penetrated my defences. I won on a surrender.

A March in December
Scenario 20 'A March in December', features Finns ambushing a Russian column in Finland in 1939. Online discussion has already given the Finnish Sissi a fearsome reputation despite their puny 1-card discard, so I was looking forward to this one.

My Russians started strung out along the road, which effectively left me the choice of 2 hexes to leave empty. This done I attended to my leaders and weapons. The 'Raid' special rule put an absolute priority on my weapons' survival to prevent the Finns from gaining heaps of exit VP. Spreading the weapons out among my units would just let Badger pick them off 1 by 1, so I decided to mass them. I went for the centre in the end, because it gave me a hilltop firing position with the best lines of fire I was going to get. In line with this plan I put 2 leaders with this group, including my best. My other leader went in the south. I'm not sure why really. Maybe I had a sense of what Badger was about to do. I dunno. It proved a wise decision in any event.

Badger looked surprised to see that I'd left pretty much the entire northern half of my force out of command. Whether this suited his plans or induced him to change them he didn't say, but he proceeded to set up fully half of his squads, with most of his molotovs, flanking my isolated northern column on both sides of the road. They were all neatly within the command of his best leader. The bulk of what remained of Badger's force was concentrated in the SW.

The carnage as the Finns to the north opened fire with waves of molotovs was bad, but I was at least left with stragglers. Perhaps Badger was regretting his decision to add 2 molotovs to his southern force- these could perhaps've had more effect in the north in that first onslaught than they eventually had elsewhere. Meanwhile I got on with my plan, building my fire position in the centre with a move here and there to get units into place. I made what attacks I could in the south, pulled some northern stragglers into the centre, and ran a couple more off the map for exit VP.

Badger had got a bit bogged down by this point. He was engaged in a firefight against what remained of my southern units, which I meantime began to move east through the treeline to keep them safe from advancing Sissi squads. Elsewhere he was moving on my centre, but wasn't pressing hard enough. Eventually I was able to sneak in front. Unable to gain the quick and easy exit VP's which would otherwise've been available, Badger didn't regain the lead. I won with 12VP on time 8. I had pulled off a win as the Russians, but it'd been close.

Saint Agatha
It was off to Sicily in 1943 next for the interesting match-up of the Italians against the Americans in #21 'Saint Agatha'.

Drawing the Italians, Badger set up first. He put the expected HMG nest with support on and around the high spur near the centre, a platoon with a leader to cover the objective to the NE, and a couple of squads in foxholes in the woods to the SE. Two of his 3 precious foxholes for an outflung picket? This surprised me. Badger's response was to gloat about his tactical acumen.

IIRC, my plan was to make a main drive up the right with a diversionary attack up the centre. My good leader with 5 squads and all the MG's went on the right, what remained in the centre. My plan started to unravel quite soon, as Badger's picket held me up long enough for Badger to accumulate a hidden mines or 2 to drop on me as I began to push forward after clearing the picket. Elsewhere, my diversion was proving to be exactly that, as I was unable to bring worthwhile attacks to bear on Badger's hilltop units without any decent heavy weapons.

Hidden mines continued to appear willy-nilly as I struggled to make headway. I kept the game going for an extra time period, but it was all to no avail. My big push on the right had barely made the first crestline of their line of advance when it was all over. Badger won with a healthy 23VP.

A Veritable Bloodbath
The British made a welcome appearance in #22 'A Veritable Bloodbath', fighting against stubborn German resistance on the road through Holland to the Rhine in February 1945.

Playing the Germans I had to set up my fortifications first. I expected to be facing a main thrust down my left towards the large cluster of buildings. So I laid the wire to give Badger the choice between going through and getting caught, or running further through the open to outflank it. The trenches on the left were an obvious choice for this position. Those on the right were placed to enable me to station my puny conscripts a hex further forward so they might open fire sooner.

Setting up as the British, Badger was just a tad put out by the vast expanse of no cover at all which his men had to cross to close with me and make an attempt at the objectives. He chose to make his major push in the west as I'd expected, putting his HMG and mortar in the woods. A few units with an LMG or 2 started in the field in the centre.

My better leader and the 2 volksgrenadier squads with the HMG and a LMG were the base of my defence, going into the trenches on the left (the rightmost 2, to widen their lines of fire against Badger's units in the woods). The other leader went on the right, with some conscript squads, the mortar and the last LMG. What remained was put in reserve in or around the rear objectives.

Badger shared my still fresh experience of watching your plan unravel straight away. Both my mortar and HMG were able to fire on his main force from the get-go, and the quick advance up the woods Badger had been hoping for didn't happen. His attempts to use the mortar to lay smoke to block the fire failing, Badger's efforts otherwise to relieve the pressure on his main force included charging a squad to within shouting distance of my mortar position before it was finally eliminated, an exercise in heroic futility if ever I saw one.

The hindrance of the gathering dusk didn't enable Badger's tattered force to regroup, and my defensive fire forced a surrender during time 4. A crushing victory!

Six Hills
We'd played scenario 23 before, so we moved straight on to #24 'Six Hills', pitting the Indian Army against the Italians in Somaliland in August 1940. Map 24 is another of the 2 desert maps, this one featuring a central hillock dominating the otherwise completely open terrain. Not really the sort of terrain in which you fancy conducting small unit actions without some armour support in other words. Just my luck then to be forced on the attack with the Italians.

Badger set up the HMG and mortar nest you might expect (good leader, squad, team, HMG, mortar) in the foxholes to the east. He put an LMG nest next door, and a squad with the other leader in the last foxholes. The remaining units were split in support of the 2 main positions.

Facing this, I hit upon what I thought was a neat trick. I split my force into 2. The junior leader and 3 or 4 squads deployed for a diversionary attack in the centre. Everybody else deployed on the right, set up to bring heavy fire down on the HMG while using the crestlines to hide some of my units from Badger's on the hill. I hoped that this might buy me enough time to win the firefight which ensued, naturally enough.

The best-laid plans rapidly unravelling was clearly in the air that night. Badger drew an almost immediate time trigger which would've brought on my reinforcements, so giving me access to artillery smoke. Before this implication had struck me though I'd cleverly used initiative to force a reroll, according to the usually smart rule of knocking back early triggers when attacking. My early artillery therefore resulted in strikes which ultimately had no worthwhile effect. Smoke, when it did arrive, proved to be of mixed value at best.

My diversionary manoeuvre did little more than give Badger some elimination VP as my units floundered in the open without a proper mission. I eventually rallied the survivors and made a play for exit VP up the left. Over on the right I was never able to crack the HMG nest, although I was holding in the open with line Italians, which I thought wasn't too bad. It couldn't last though as long as the HMG survived. Unless I'm very much mistaken, it did, helped along the way by, among other things, my losing all my MG's.

The game went the distance, leaving me with my left flank essentially gone, and my right stalled on its start line and withering. Badger won with a decisive 40VP.

Fields of Fire and Blood
The previous game concluded the scenarios from Combat Commander: Mediterranean. Badger was keen to play a scenario from Battle Pack: Paratroopers before we stopped. We had a break, and set to.

Scenario 25 is a 2-part scenario: 25a 'Fields of Fire' and 25b 'Fields of Blood'. The paratroopers in question are German fallschirmjaeger, leading an otherwise ragtag bag of volksgrenadiers and conscripts across the snowy fields of Germany in the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

This is a scenario I've pored over several times since I bought it. It's a fascinating setup, which basically tests MGs' pure defensive firepower against infantry assault. The twist is that the American 'defenders' are actually in recon posture, thus denying them the the 'Defender Only' actions and the VP benefits of the clock, although they get an extra card in their hand. On the other side, the fallschirmjaeger notwithstanding, I'd much rather attack here with a regular German rifle company, even against such a small defending force. Those volksgrenadiers and conscripts are just a bit too weak and fragile. And where's the HMG? On top of all that, the 2-part nature of the scenario promised to be entertaining.

I played the Americans. Putting the best leader with the .50 cal in the bunker in the centre with clear fields of fire was an easy decision to make. Double-checking the position I realised I had to hold 3 objectives at all costs, to keep Badger from ratcheting up exit VP. The 3 objectives to hold were obvious, and it didn't take me long to add the junior leader to the left flank position. This MMG team was going to have to hold by itself, and so needed to be as strong as possible. Another MMG went in foxholes on the right flank objective, and the last went in trenches beside the bunker, from where it enjoyed the same wide lines of fire for the purpose of firegrouping with the .50 cal.

Badger set up, at which point we realised that we had incorrectly conducted the 'Morning Barrage' special rule the implications of which had much exercised me during my setup, and the results of which had fortunately proved quite harmless. Correcting ourselves, we redrew our random hexes. Tragedy! I drew my bunker, which was promptly replaced with foxholes, halving the .50 cal's cover. Significant gaps were likewise made in my last of line of booby-trap defences.

Badger set up again, repeating his plan of driving down each flank, with his main force working through the woods to the east. He was able to push me quite hard, bringing units down the right flank, and onto my positions at one point. Deprived of its bunker, my centre just had to give at some point. When it did I had to run units back and forth a bit to stop Badger exploiting his advance into a game-winning breakthrough. I held on, for an extra time period, winning with a scant 6VP. Whew!

'Fields of Blood' began with my setup-as before, and another barrage- I lost maybe a couple of booby traps, not much in any case. We then set up the remnants of the morning's attack, a random process the outcome of which was that Badger's units were as widely scattered, in as poor cover, and as open to as many of my lines of fire as I could contrive. Some had gone into the casualty track and a fair smattering of them were broken or suppressed to boot. I then took my first turn.

With all those units of Badger's in poor cover and broken or suppressed, I just needed to start with a rout and a fire card or two to face the chance of driving a significant proportion of his units off the board immediately. I got what I needed, but in the event I was only able to eliminate a couple of units before Badger played the recover he needed. The prompt arrival of the German reinforcements put paid to any idea of a quick mop-up for a comfy VP cushion.

Badger's plan was pretty much as before. Remembering that the booby-traps were special '1-shots' he was much less leery of entering them. He brought my left flank MMG position under heavy pressure, while repeating his manoeuvre of bringing units all the way down the right flank. In fact, I think 1 of the 3 key objectives must've fallen to Badger at one point, because I'm sure he exited at least 1 unit. It was my hero who saved the day IIRC, grabbing the NW objective to seal the breakthrough again.

In the end though, with the bunker in play my centre held, and I won through to an 11VP victory.

Grins :)

The first thing that Badger and I noted after our last game was that blazes had played no appreciable role in any game. A few had appeared here and there, but they'd never spread into anything significant.

Also notable was a pattern in how we went down to most of our defeats, a pattern revealing a combination of poor force division, mission definition and axes of advance. In #19, Badger didn't divide his force at all, and packed them tight to move down the flank; in #21 my centre force wasn't epuipped to do anything other than loiter as targets, while my (thus overstrong) right force went for an easily-blocked advance up a narrow board-edge terrain feature; in #22 Badger repeated the above feat; in #24 my centre force was poorly chosen and had no clear mission; in #25 Badger's advance down the right was easy to stall as above.

No matter how uninviting the terrain then, you're going to have to have at least 2 taskforces in your plan, each with a well-defined mission and the equipment to carry it out. Opting not to divide your force leaves you open to your entire plan stalling in the face of enemy action. And when the terrain is that uninviting, it might be better to avoid the temptation to try to sneak your main taskforce up one of those narrow terrain features running up a map edge. Sure, you'll have to move out in the open. But otherwise you risk getting stalled behind a point unit, unable to bring your firepower to bear. And you concede the centre. And if you're going to bite the bullet, you might as well bite it properly.

Looking back at those scenarios above, that amounts to: going up the cliffs with the Germans against the bunker in #19; bringing the American main force up through the woods and buildings in the west half of the map in #21; taking the British main force right up the centre in the fields in #22; a proper end-run platoon out on the Italian left in #24; and in #25? Well I guess that comes down to which objective you decide to go for first, left or right, and which units you want then to make the break for exit VP, and from where. I mean to say: a good basic plan is to use fallschirmjaeger to storm the western objective, but I wouldn't want to exit them if I could avoid it. I'd rather keep them in action. So I'd need other units backing them up to make the exit once the objective is secured. This would weaken the first wave over on the right, which would have to rely on reinforcements from units exited to make a major push, and so on.

Most of the remaining scenarios in BP#1 feature open maps, ideal for applying lessons learned. ;)

- A Winter War. Unbalanced but not broken?: we have another go.
- Combat Commander scenario 20: a viable Russian strategy and its opacity

Monday, April 21, 2008

Start the week @ RD/KA!: Meanwhile... just last week

Badger and my ongoing effort to play all the Combat Commander scenarios continued in a marathon 7-game session which took us into the new Battle Pack scenarios.

Before that though I lazed a day away watching all 13 episodes of The Wire, Season 4, which I'd been given for my birthday last month. Pure unadulterated TV heaven. Watching it, I was made vividly aware of how DVD's radically change the way we consume TV, enabling us to watch the TV we want at our leisure, the way we're familiar with from books. This strikes me as something more than just a matter of convenience, a notion which for me was underlined by the oft-cited 'novelistic' style of The Wire, a feature of the show which I'd warrant works better for the DVD viewer than the weekly TV viewer.

Speaking of TV heaven, I'm keeping up with the new Doctor Who season too, naturally enough. I know some people weren't too happy at the thought of Katherine Tate as the new assistant. No fan of her comedy sketch show myself, I've been reserving my judgement. Three episodes in, I'm quite happy. The essential relationship between the Doctor and Donna follows logically enough from those of Rose and Martha- true love, unrequited love, and now no love at all. This projects a nice line of character development for the Doctor and his assistants (all of whom we know are to appear in this series). The comedy aspect, which would be expected from a writing team playing to Katherine Tate's strength, has been handled well.

Something I'm finding particularly intriguing is the sense that, in the new series, everything is simultaneously familiar and different. Familiar: it's the Doctor we've come to love all over again. Different: I can't really say for sure. I just feel that the new kind of relationship between the Doctor and Donna gives the episodes a dynamic subtly different from those featuring Rose or Martha. Whatever, I'm liking it.

Incidentally, Doctor Who is one of those shows which just has to be watched each week. The eager anticipation, the hook of the prologue, the thrill of the theme, these features of the episodic format are irresistable essentials of the pleasure of Doctor Who for me. There's no substitute for that Saturday moment! ;)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Start the week @ RD/KA!: Meanwhile... elsewhere, at the table, and on the shelf

It's been an eventful few months in the gaming industry since last August. D&D4 had been announced just before that last post and has wreaked its attendant hullaballoo across the net in subsequent months. I haven't played D&D regularly since my teenage years, so I've not been following much of this at all. I daresay I'll end up buying the game just to see what it looks like. The most I can hope for from it is that I'll find it interesting enough to read it from cover-to-cover, unlike D&D3 and 3.5

Black Industries finally releases one of the longest awaited and most hotly anticipated roleplaying products ever, namely the 40K RPG Dark Heresy. It shifts shedloads just in time for GW to announce the closure of their Black Industries subsidiary, the better to concentrate on Black Library's core publishing. Lamentations and woe betide us all! Until Fantasy Flight Games rode to the rescue with a licencing deal for GW's (non-miniature) boardgame, cardgame and RPG licences.

Note that Black Industries made their announcement on Jan 28, FFG's was Feb 22. What was the purpose of this three and-a-half week delay I wonder? Was there really so much unfinished business? Or were there just salesmen who couldn't resist the opportunity to sow the seeds of some panic-buying, such as yours truly, who promptly went out and bought the Dark Heresy book which might otherwise've been left lying for some months to come, and who finished off his WFRP collection for good measure, "just to be on the safe side". Also, some readers might remember that BI had procured the licence for the DC RPG. Has this now reverted? Or can we expect something from FFG? Its announcement refers specifically to GW's IP, so I won't be holding my breath.

Elsewhere, Steve Long announced summer 2009 as the release of HERO 6th edition. In a surprising move, he also announced that he'd sold the Champions Universe property- the official setting of the Champions' RPG since the original edition- to Cyptic Studios, who are to use the setting (but not the rules) in their upcoming Champions Online MMORG. Long meanwhile plans to licence the IP back from Cryptic Studios for use in the HERO games line.

Finally, as roleplayers the world over know, Gary Gygax died on March 4th. As people've tried to put his contribution to roleplaying into perspective, we can be sure that roleplaying would've happened without him, but he certainly put his unique stamp on the early days of the hobby with things like his infamously quirky list of polearms in the AD&D DMG. And, whatever his precise contribution at any stage of the creation of D&D was, Gary Gygax became, to all intents and purposes, the founding father of roleplaying. I think the last thing any of those guys were thinking as they dreamed up new ways of playing games with their toy soldiers (when they really ought to've been "far too old for them", remember!) was that they would start anything which would transform the gaming industry, let alonge grant possible 'founding father' status to any of them. So we have to reckon that Gygax's coming to bear this honour was probably as unexpected by Gygax as by anyone else. When all is said and done, he seems to made a tolerably good job of bearing it. And D&D and roleplaying have outived him, which must have pleased him in the end, wouldn't you think?

Gaming stopped completely for a couple of months last year after I went offline, restarting in December in time for the Xmas day Combat Commander bash with Badger. Combat Commander has been at the table a lot since then, but regular sessions with Andy and Donald mean that a lot of other favourites, new and old, have been seeing action. Highlights have included my first victory as the Overlord in Descent, the thrilling tales of my derring duo of ace pilots in Crimson Skies, and my first game in more than 20 years of the old AH game of chariot racing Circus Maximus. Commands and Colours: Ancients and Settlers Cards have also made welcome appearances recently, which I would hope to see again in the future.

Of course, I've bought a few new games, mostly filling out games with expansions: Days of Wonder's Memoir'44 Air Pack and Battlelore Specialist Packs, CC:A expansions #2- Rome & the Barbarians and #3- The Roman Civil War,and the Descent expansions, including the new The Road to Legend campaign expansion. Fast Action Battle: the Bulge and Manoeuvre, both by GMT, are 2 completely new games I've bought recently. Alert readers will already've noticed that I've recently played Manoeuvre (see right...), but it's still too early to report other than to say that it looks like the game delivers what I'd hoped (which was 'what it said on the tin'- check out the link to its page at GMT's site to see what I saw...). I'm still digesting FAB: the Bulge, but I like the look of it quite a lot. Quite a lot indeed.

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 ;)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Start the week @ RD/KA!: Meanwhile... playing catchup

RD/KA! in review
Recent visitors to the RD/KA! homepage will perhaps be less surprised than readers who follow feeds, but I'm back at the keyboard after a 7-month bloglag, the longest since RD/KA! launched back in August 2005. Thanks to those of you who were prompted to contact me because of this long silence. I was gratified and encouraged as ever.

As you'd expect, the longer RD/KA! went untouched the more I shrank from returning to it, to the point where I was telling myself just to give it up. The wish to give the thing in passed along with the worst of my mood downswing (the trough bottomed-out December last), but I still had to endure months' of writer's block which could've left me just giving up on the darn thing if it'd been as simple a matter as just slinking off and leaving RD/KA! another dead blog long forgotten. But of course, I've got RD/KA! as my homepage. It appears every single time I open a new browser window. So I the darn thing won't just slink off and die. No, I've got to put it out of its misery good and proper. Which I just couldn''t face doing, naturally enough.

As the figures on the right show, on the face of it RD/KA! has had a chequered publishing history, with posts in the initial half-year equivalent to those in the 2 subsequent full-years combined. The 200+ total posts average some 6+ posts/month, a figure which, if maintained, would give both an active blog and a healthy schedule of deadlines which has a fair chance of continuing unchecked through moodswings (fingers crossed!). So here's hoping that 2008-09 sees my existing output organised through a proper schedule so that RD/KA! becomes more regular than ever before.