Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Winter War. Unbalanced but not broken?

Badger and I returned to the published scenarios, as I'd talked about before. I'd had a specific scenario in mind all along, naturally enough. That was Scenario 20, A March In December, which we'd first played back in April.

It'd been a thread over at the BGG which'd got me thinking about replaying this particular scenario. The consensus on that thread was that this scenario must be broken because it appeared just too difficult for the Russians to win; an obvious challenge to me because I'd won the scenario as the Russians on that first play. And I'd been wanting to try out the Finns ever since I'd got hold of Combat Commander: Mediterranean.

We played this scenario twice that night. I was the Finns the first time and won a crushing victory, forcing a surrender on time 2 (and with 33VP). Playing the Russians in our 2nd game, I lost in the closest result I've ever seen in my Combat Commander career of more than 100 games. That is to say, the game was tied on VP when it ended on time 8, so that it went to the player holding the Initiative card, who just happened to be Badger.

It might seem obvious that 2 more Finnish victories provide grist to the mill of those who think this scenario is broken. It cannot be denied that the scenario is unbalanced. All the same, I think these results amplify Chad's remarks (on that BGG thread) about how the raw statistics might hide the different kinds of victories each side achieved, namely runaway victories for the Finns contrasting with close-fought near things for the Russians.

What I think this comes down to is that this scenario is unbalanced but not broken. The situation favours the Finns, making the scenario- the only one featuring the Finns in CC:M- a suitable exemplar of the historically outstanding feature of the 1939/40 Russo-Finnish war (wiki). But the scenario isn't broken, because there is a viable winning strategy for the Russians, one signalled in the special rules, in particular the rule denying exit VP to the Finns until they have eliminated all Russian weapons.

All the talk over at the BGG about a broken scenario therefore seems to me to be little more than players crashing and burning in the face of a tactical solution the novelty of which has escaped them on their first encounter therewith. I know it may seem obvious to state, but this is the nature of an unbalanced scenario. Not only will one side win more often than another, but it'll win disproportionately more early games until the underdog's winning strategy reveals itself.

- Got game!: our first game goes to the Russians.
- Combat Commander scenario 20: a viable Russian strategy and its opacity

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