Recently, I purchased a copy of GMT Games Combat Commander: Europe along with Battle Pack #1: Paratroopers designed by Chad Jensen and released in 2006. This was my first squad level war game and I was very excited when the shipment arrived on Saturday! I immediately opened the box and began looking through the rules and preparing the 632 counters (Thanks GMT for the included tray! Much appreciated!). I have played other war games throughout my life as I discussed in my blog post titled “Why I find the COIN Series of Games by GMT Games so Fantastic!” (http://bit.ly/23sN3wC ) but not necessarily any hex based games with counters and chits. In fact, I am a child of the 1970’s which is a time when the end of WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam War were all fresh in the minds of Americans. In fact, I remember watching many great WWII movies with my dad and brothers such as “The Longest Day” (1962), “Battle of the Bulge” (1965), “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970) and “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) and gaining a love for history and an appreciation for the sacrifice made by those soldiers to keep our freedoms intact. I also remember owning what seemed like 100’s of plastic army men in both green (US) and gray (German) that my younger brother and I would set up in the room or outside in our sandbox with various objectives and fight it out, sometimes using dice to determine hits or more often than not using air rifles with plastic pellets to shoot at and take out opposing forces in order to win our mock combats! As you can see, I was already playing Combat Commander before it was even invented!
A Little Bit about the Game
So what can you expect when you purchase one of the greatest squad level based combat simulation games on the market (made by one of the premier publisher of war games)? Combat Commander: Europe is a card-driven strategy game (I love CDG’s if you didn’t know!) covering tactical infantry combat in the European Theater of World War II made for 2 players, although there are several ways to play solo if you search on Board Game Geek. 1 player takes the role of the Axis (Germany) while another player is one of 2 of the major Allies, either the United States of America or Russia. In later expansions such as Combat Commander: Mediterranean, other forces are added including the French, British, Italian and Japanese. The players will take turns playing one or more “Fate” cards (each side has a deck of 72 available cards) from their hands in order to activate units on the map to perform military functions such as fire, move, request artillery support, recover, dig-in, etc.
Each of these actions can be countered at the appropriate time with the playing of a card from your opponent’s hand that acts as an instant or interrupt, changing the conditions of the battlefield and affecting the results of the originally played card.
Players attempt to achieve victory by moving their units across the game map to attack their opponent’s combat units and occupy as many objectives as possible before the final time check is triggered or a “Surrender” condition is met which is typically a preset number of unit losses allowed. The degree to which a player succeeds or fails is measured by specific “Objective” chits (some that are known and some that are hidden), the destruction of enemy units (scores are given for the size of the defeated troops), and the exiting of friendly units off the opponent’s board edge.
Each unit in the game is represented by a counter with a set of statistics which includes movement, range, fire power, morale, and if a leader, command. Each of the counters represents either a single Leader, a 5-man Team, or a 10-man Squad. Radios and individual weapons larger than a pistol, rifle or BAR are represented by their own counters and are “carried” by various units to enhance their abilities in combat.
Summary of the Scenarios
The base game comes with 12 different maps contained on six double sided full color printed (which are beautiful) sheets that measure 17” x 22”. Each map is tied to one of 12 specific scenarios that is then listed in the Play Book which gives setup instructions for the various units for each side and outlines who is the attacker, defender or if both sides are on recon patrol. This is important as it determines the number of cards that each side can draw from the “Fate” deck and have in their hand at any given time. Here is a link to the list of scenarios on Board Game Geek: http://bit.ly/1V6qHkt The thing that I really like about the scenarios are that they are at least based in historical accuracy and are set up by date in the war so if you wish, you can play through a good portion of WWII and get a feel for the various situations that were encountered by the troops. There are 6 scenarios pitting the Russians vs. the Germans and 6 scenarios with the Germans vs. the US.
Also included in the Paratroopers Battle Pack #1 were an additional 10 scenarios and 4 new maps. The acquisition of the Battle Pack along with the base game has provided me with a possible 44 different plays (assuming I play each scenario as the Allies and then again as the Axis)! Talk about re-playability! You can also try out the RSG (Random Scenario Generator) at the back of the Playbook as well to provide even more variety to the game by creating your own scenarios to try out. I think that this game will be on my table often, both solo and with another player, for a long, long time. I feel as if this was a great investment as far as war games go due to the re-playability.
Run through of the Example of Play Scenario
I then moved ahead trying out the Example of Play which uses map #1 and involves the Germans vs. the Russians with the Germans taking the role of the Defender in the scenario (limiting them to a hand of only 4 “Fate” cards) and the Russians playing as the Attacker (giving them 6 “Fate” cards in their hand). The year is 1943 and the Germans have taken up defensive positions in 2 buildings located on the north edge of the map with a fairly sizable forest between them and the Russians who are deployed in a small orchard and house at the south edge.
The Example of Play pits Kai (as the Russians) against Alex (as the Germans) and lasts 16 turns. As in most introductory scenarios, it is not necessarily intended to teach you strategy and tactics but to give you examples of many of the games different mechanics.
The Russians had the initiative and immediately began taking shots at the Germans using the infantry gun controlled by a Weapons team. The first shot was a miss and I was disappointed. I wanted to see their aim be true and do some damage to the Germans but it wasn’t meant to be. I will say that it was amazing to see the range of the gun, which showed me the power of this type of ordinance. The Russians then finished their first turn by moving forces north from the orchard through the forest on a path to be within striking distance of the Germans holed up in the buildings. I see the power in leaders as well as by activating a single leader, you can control the actions of the units within their command radius, which in the case of Sergeant Kaminsky was 1 hex around which allowed him to move all of the units in the orchard area.
The Germans then made fire attacks on the infantry gun using a Marksmanship action that increased their FP by +2. I am excited to be able to learn how to use these type of events to improve my actions. Great part of the game! Their attacks broke the Weapons team but they were able to stabilize and stay on the map.
Fast forwarding to Turn 7 which was the Russian’s action, Kai played a move order and as troops began to move Alex states “wait!” and proceeds to play a fire action to interrupt the movement and to fire at the moving troops. The firing was not good as they missed the targets but was a great example of how interrupt actions can be saved and used to inhibit or hurt the other player. Alex then finally interrupted the movement again to play a Hidden Wire action which stopped the Russian unit from further movement along that line. Finally that same round, Alex played one last card, a Cross Fire action to increase the FP by +2 against a moving unit which breaks the Russian squad. Kai then was able to draw a hero event and place that hero on the board immediately. The hero made a charge attack against the German held building but was out played and ended up losing in Melee combat and being eliminated from the board (without giving the Germans VP or adding to the total casualties that would lead to a surrender – an interesting part of the game! Heroes are meant to be boldly and aggressively used even if it means they are sacrificed.)
In later turns of the Example of Play, I was introduced to Dig In actions, Smoke actions, Melee attack actions, etc. The scenario ended at turn 16 and I decided to not continue through to the end as I felt I had learned what needed to be learned from the scenario. This had prepared me now to be able to play my first scenario next time with confidence that I can figure out the rules, turn order and strategy associated with playing the cards at the proper time.
I love this game and am very glad that I took the chance and purchased a copy. There are two major reasons that I love it!
1. One is that it is a card-driven strategy game. The cards are what you rely on to take actions and if you do not wisely manage those cards, you may not have the card you need, such as a fire or advance, when you need it! Some would complain that this is randomness and doesn’t belong in a strategy game but I disagree. I have never been in the service nor had to participate in a battle, but I can only imagine that there is chaos. This chaos changes all of the best laid battle plans and there are certain factors that contribute to that chaos, such as running out of ammo, your guns jamming, being pinned down by a sniper or having your units morale drop leaving them hugging the ground and keeping their heads down, that make battle difficult. The cards represent this part of the chaos and is a genius addition to the game. I also enjoy the way the designer chose to address rolling using the dice printed at the bottom of each order card. This is a very solid way of handling this necessary random determination of combat.
2. The other favorite part for me is the narrative that is told as the battles unfold! As I was playing the Example of Play scenario, I felt as if I was Sergeant Kaminsky trying to inspire his men to move up on the first building to engage the enemy and knock them out of that fortification. I experienced the disappointment of Sergeant Ganz as his troops were forced to retreat to the north to try to repel the Russians who were threatening the German troops in the buildings. I felt the disgust in my unit’s performance when the very powerful infantry gun continued to miss its targets (twice)! I was relieved when the random event put a blaze marker in between my troops and the German forces in the woods obscuring their line of sight and not allowing them to effectively fire. The narrative is the best part and allows my mind to participate in the battle, even though I am not there. It is a similar feeling to a well written book that forces you to take the role of characters and experience their feelings as you read the pages.
Now that I have read the rules and played the Example of Play introductory scenario, I am planning to play 1-2 scenarios a week (some solo and some with my gaming buddy Alexander) and then write up an After Action Report to post on this blog. At that pace, it will take me a good 3-4 months to get through each of the 22 scenarios so I hope that you follow along and see what type of experience I have with Combat Commander: Europe. Even though I believe that I played Combat Commander when I was a kid, even before it was designed and produced, this game is perfect and is a lot more fulfilling than taking shots with an air rifle at plastic army men in a sandbox with my brother!
With that I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes that can be found in the rulebook at the section where leaders are discussed:
“I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep.” – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand
Be a lion and get into Combat Commander: Europe. You will not be disappointed.