Combat Commander: Europe
2 player historical wargame, ages 12+. Playing time around 2 hours.
Combat Commander is a card-driven board game series covering tactical infantry combat in the European and North African Theaters of World War II. One player takes the role of the Axis (Germany in this first game; Italy & the Axis Minors in later installments) while another player commands the Allies (Russia & America here; Britain, France & the Allied Minors in future expansions). This first game of Combat Commander will include units, cards, and historical scenarios depicting the American, German, and Russian forces. The second game in the series will provide cards, counters, and historical scenarios for British, French, and Italian forces.
Each game will include 6-12 historical scenarios as well as a 'roll your own' scenario system that provides an almost unending variety of map configurations, force structures, and combat situations. Replayability value for Combat Commander is very high. A game of Combat Commander has no strict sequence of play. Each turn is divided into a variable number of Player Turns, each of which may consist of either: the active player expending one or more Fate cards from their hand for their Actions; or passing, which allows the discarding of one or more Fate cards. Players redraw up to their maximum hand size at the end of each of their own Player Turns. Additionally, Reactions may be played by either player at any time, so long as the prerequisite listed is met. FATE CARDS: Players will take turns playing one or more 'Fate' cards from their hands in order to activate their units on the mapboard for various military functions. Each nationality has its own 72-card Fate deck highlighting its historical strengths and weaknesses (lots of Smoke for the US; marksmanship bonuses for Britain; commissar events for the Soviets; broken Italian units will surrender more often; etc.). Each Fate card contains one Action and one Reaction: only one of which may be declared when the card is played. The bottom portion of each Fate card contains an Event, a random hex symbol, and a 2d6 die roll - these can never be �played� from the hand, only �revealed� from the top of the draw pile when a game situation instructs a player to do so. ACTIONS include: Fire, Move, Advance, Rally, Rout, Artillery Request and Artillery Denied. Each nationality also has a varying number of Command Confusion Actions which act as duds while in hand - these cards are useless except for any possible Reaction on the card. Actions, when played, generally activate a single unit to perform that Action, unless a Leader is activated: in which case it can further activate any or all non-leaders within its Command Radius to perform the same Action. There are 15 different REACTIONS. For example: * Sustained Fire - Add +2 when firing a Mortar or Machine Gun. If the fire roll is 'doubles', break it. * Smoke - If a unit with boxed Movement is activated to Move or Advance, place Smoke in or adjacent to its hex. * Grenades - Add +2 when firing at an adjacent hex. * Dig In - Place foxholes in a friendly hex. There are 36 different EVENTS - both good and bad - that will occur at random intervals to add much chaos and uncertainty to each player�s perfect plan. Event examples: * Walking Wounded - Select one eliminated unit. Return that unit to play in a random hex, broken. * Hero - If not already in play, place the Hero in a friendly hex. Rally one broken unit there. * Reinforcements - Roll on the Support Table. Select one available unit then place it along your map edge. * Battle Harden - One unit becomes Veteran. Units and weapons are rated for their Firepower and Range, while units also have a Movement allowance and a Morale number. Most importantly, Leaders have a Command number as well. Command has two functions in Combat Commander. First, it allows a leader that has been activated to perform an Action the ability to further activate any friendly non-leaders up to X hexes away, where X is its Command number (or 'Command Radius'). Second, a leader�s Command number is added directly to every stat on every non-leader currently occupying the same hex. So, for example, a 5-FP, 5-Rg, 5-Mv Squad with 7-Morale in the same hex as a Leader with a Command of 2 would have stats of 7-7-7 and 9 for all purposes as long as that condition existed. Average playing time is about 90 minutes per scenario. A scenario is played on one of several mapsheets, each with a 10x15 hexgrid depicting various terrain at a scale of 100 feet per hex. In addition to playing one of the many pre-generated scenarios included with the game, players can roll up random situations, as well. Playtesters described both types of scenarios as 'fast, furious, and addictive.'
COUNTER MAGAZINE REVIEW Reviewed by Joe Casadonte
A review of CC:E is long overdue in these pages. Some may argue that it's not really normal Counter fare, but I feel the game has more in common with something like Memoir '44 than it does Advanced Squad Leader. Not that CC:E is simplistic or unrealistic, as many claim M44 is; on the contrary, I think it's an exceptional design that represents the subject matter well. Rather, the system is so streamlined that it feels much more like a Euro than an old-time Avalon Hill wargame.
The scale for CC:E is very small; each counter represents 1, 5 or 10 men, and each hex is only 100 feet (about 30 meters). Each map is 16 hexes wide by 10 deep and is a whole map, unlike a system such as ASL where you can string two or more maps together to represent the battlefield. There are no tanks (nor will there ever be any, as the designer has said repeatedly) because the map board scale is completely wrong for meaningful tank activity. Time is a bit more fluid, where each ``time event'' is just several minutes long and a whole game may represent just 30-90 minutes. Playing time, however, will usually clock in around 2-3 hours.
The components are very well done, both in design and quality. There are 6 unmounted, double-sided maps with the base game (12 total maps), with over-sized hexes, nearly eliminating the need to stack counters. The counters themselves are mostly 5/8'' (weapons are 1/2''), well-punched though not up to Euro standards, alas. The really important components, though, are the cards, as they drive almost everything in the game. They seem well-made, but as is typical with GMT, they do not have a linen finish. I have no idea how well they wear; mine went immediately into sleeves.
There are 3 nationalities represented in the base game (Germany, US and Russia) and each has its own 72-card ``fate'' deck. The cards will dictate what potential things you can do on your turn and what range of reactions are available to you on your opponent's turn. They're also used for dice rolls (each pairing of 6-sided dice is represented twice, hence 72 cards), and determine the passage of time, random events, random hex lookups - they do it all. In fact, except for a terrain effects reference chart, there are no charts or tables or anything to look up that is not located on the counters, cards or Game Track display. That is a significant and very welcome departure from the typical wargame.
The maps are well-designed, with lots of interesting terrain features. They are unmounted, paper maps, and some have complained about that. I have found that a $10 poster frame or piece of Plexiglas is sufficient for keeping the map laying flat. And, really, 12 mounted maps of this size (17'' x 22'') would have made the game prohibitively expensive and hard to lug around (not that a sheet of Plexiglas is convenient, mind you). I would rather have 12 different paper maps than only 2 or 4 mounted maps; YMMV, of course.
Each map has on it 5 numbered hexes, usually buildings, that could lead to victory points for the side that controls it at the end of the game. How many VPs, exactly, is not always known to both sides, and is usually determined randomly at the beginning of the game, which adds to the replayability. There are 12 scenarios with the base game, one for each map, and more are available online and through GMT's C3i publication. Each scenario sets out the forces to be used by each side, any special victory point awards, who sets up first - the usual stuff found in a wargame scenario. They also indicate the troop level (elite, standard or green) which comes into play when units split up, the hand size (dependent on the troop's posture: offense, defense or recon) and the number of orders per turn each side gets.
Each unit has on it an attack rating (0-7 for units, up to 12 for weapons), a range (1-16, with 16 being enough to cover the whole board), a movement allowance and a morale rating. There is no defensive value; that's one of the things morale is used for. In addition, leaders have a command rating, which is critical to the successful execution of your master plan. Finally, each unit has a silhouette of 1, 2 or 4 men on it. Stacking rules are simple: you can't have more than 7 silhouettes in a hex at the end of your turn, with the excess being eliminated.
On your turn you may execute a certain number of orders. Each card has a specific order on it, and your options are limited to whatever is in your hand of 4-6 cards. There are only 8 different orders (one of which is ``Command Confusion'', which is essentially a dud), representing the basics like moving, firing, rallying your troops, and so on, and each nationality has a different mix of orders making up its 72-card deck. When you play an order card, you activate a unit or a player, and each unit or player may only be activated once per turn. You activate a player to rally or rout all troops of that nationality on the map, which is a nice distinction whereby a freshly rallied unit may then be activated to fire. An activated leader may itself activate any or all non-leader units within its command radius, which is why leaders are so important. If you need to move 5 squads down the side of the valley, it can easily be done with 1 movement order if there's a leader there; if not, you'd need 5 movement cards.
Each card also has an action on it. Actions may be played at any time by any player so long as the conditions for its play are met (e.g. play this card when firing on moving units). There are 17 different actions, one of which is, again, ``Command Confusion'', indicating that this card has no action available on it. It's a real bummer when both the order and the action is ``Command Confusion''. Other actions include things like: Firing while moving, laying down smoke, firing on moving units (aka ``opportunity fire''), use of hand grenades and the like. Here again, each nationality has a unique mix of available actions and their frequency. Each action describes the conditions under which it can be played, and either player can play an action at any time. A given card may not be used as both an order and an action, even if the action could modify the order, so there are lots and lots of difficult choices to make.
Combat is pretty straightforward: you play a ``Fire'' order, usually activating a leader which in turn will activate one or more units. If the units will be firing as a group, take the highest attack factor, add 1 for every other unit or weapon taking part in the attack and a variable amount for any leaders present, subtracting a variable amount for certain terrain effects. Then a card is flipped over with the sum of the dice being added to the previous amount, and that's your attack rating. Each unit in the target hex individually ``rolls'' a defense rating (based on its morale, any leadership bonus and any terrain) and the two numbers are compared. If the attack rating (AR) is greater than than the defense rating (DR), the defending unit ``breaks''. If the AR is equal to the DR, the defending unit is ``suppressed'' and if the AR is less than the DR, there is no effect.
Suppressing a unit merely subtracts 1 from all of the unit's ratings (attack, range, movement and morale). A broken unit is in a ``combat ineffective'' state, and could represent being pinned down as well as actual injury. If a broken unit breaks again, it is eliminated; if it rallies, then it's fine and fully functional. Broken units have a greatly reduced attack, range and movement values, but not necessarily a reduced morale value (some troops get tougher under fire). Most US troops, in fact, have a lower than usual unbroken morale value and a higher than usual broken morale value. The designer has said that this represents the US military doctrine at the time of immediately going to ground when shots are fired, along with their greater discipline and esprit de corps.
Terrain effects are fairly straightforward as well. Terrain in both the attacker and defender's hexes are ignored for line of sight (LOS) purposes. A typical center-dot to center-dot LOS check is made for all intervening hexes and the terrain effects chart is consulted. Some terrain (e.g. buildings and woods) flat-out block LOS, thereby preventing the attack, while others (e.g. orchards or fences) merely reduce visibility, reducing the attack rating by 1-3 points. The defender's terrain is checked to see if it provides ``cover'', which is then added to the defense rating. There are a few weird parts regarding hills, but for the most part it's pretty much that simple.
The active player's moving units are subject to Opportunity Fire provided the non-moving, inactive player has the requisite action card. As with the active player, the inactive player may only activate 1 unit with his action card, and each of the inactive player's units may only be activated once on the active player's turn. Here again, activating a leader allows the player to activate several other units, fielding a large fire group with the play of a single card. Moving is very dangerous, though, and a single play of an Op Fire card allows the inactive player to fire on the moving unit each time it enters a new hex. This can be brutally devastating, as you can imagine, and can often stop a stack of units dead in their tracks, so to speak. Woe be to the unit that breaks in the middle of a movement, out in the open! For this reason you want to have a rally card available when attempting a particularly risky move.
Each attack generates a number of ``dice rolls'', which if you remember is really just a flip of a card. Each draw of a card to resolve a die roll has a chance of revealing a die roll trigger. There are 4 different kinds of triggers, and they are not uniformly represented (how many of each is specific to each nationality's fate deck). Each trigger is resolved immediately and fully before the triggering die roll is used to resolve the original action that caused the die roll to be made in the first place. The process around resolving die rolls is structured to facilitate these interruptions, though, so it's not overly fiddly. And under no circumstances can the resolution of one die roll trigger itself trigger something else.
The 4 triggers are, in approximate order of frequency:
Event! - When an event is triggered a second card is drawn and the event section of the card is referenced. There are 35 different events, not all of which are good, and not all of which are represented equally for each nationality (or even represented at all). Examples include: field promotions, reinforcements, Russian Commissar, air strikes and hand grenades.
Sniper! - When a sniper is triggered a second card is drawn and the random hex section of the card is referenced. The player whose die roll triggered the sniper has the option to break a unit in that hex or any surrounding hex. In the designer's own words: ``In CC, a Sniper! result represents a lot more than just a patient man with a scoped rifle: this mechanism is also used to represent combat occurrences such as friendly fire, panic, shell-shock, snake bite, despair, dehydration, fatigue, a stray shell, dirt-in-the-eye, etc.''
Jammed! - all firing weapons become jammed and are considered inoperable until either fixed or eliminated
Time! - This is one of the two ways to advance the time marker (the other being when a player draws their last card from their fate deck). Advancing the time marker can cause reinforcements to arrive or a game-end check to be made.
These four triggers are generally represented on about 30% of a given fate deck and generate a fair amount of chaos on the battlefield. Many people have complained about this, and it's something you will have to judge according to your individual tastes. To me, it makes the game more ``realistic'' (insofar as I can imagine) and I enjoy the chaos they interject.
The rules really shine for this game. They are extremely well written and organized; I can't remember a better rulebook. A lot of this is probably a result of the underlying game system, which itself is very, very clean. I can only think of two exceptions to a defined rule which, for a game of this relative complexity, is remarkable. It's part of what makes this game so easy to pick up.
There is already one major expansion out, Combat Commander: Mediterranean, which adds fate decks and unit counters for British & the Commonwealth troops, France & the Allied Minor allies and Italy & the Axis Minor allies, along with 12 new maps and 12 new scenarios. There is also a Paratroop Battle Pack available featuring 4 new maps and 11 new scenarios, but no cards or counters. On the horizon is a second Battle Pack (Stalingrad, with 8 new maps, 11 scenarios and new counters) and Combat Commander: Pacific, a stand-alone game based on CC:E but with new rules specific to the Pacific theater. Stalingrad is due out soon, and CC:P is due late this year, early next year. They (along with the Race for the Galaxy expansions) are my most anticipated games coming out this year.
I haven't played Memoir '44 once since I bought this a year ago. In fact, I've played almost as many games of CC:E in 1 year as I played M44 in 3 years. CC:E has in it everything that M44 brought to the table for me and more, while still keeping the complexity way, way down (so much so that I recently sold M44 and its expansions, as I didn't ever expect to bring it out again). I eagerly look forward to my next game of CC:E, though, hopefully next week. See you on the battlefield!