On “Wargame Wednesday” this week, Alexander and I decided to try Combat Commander: Europe for the 1st time.  After playing through the Example of Play in the playbook this weekend and writing a preview of the game (http://bit.ly/1XmOLQj ), I was ready to teach and play this great squad level strategic game.

We started with Scenario #1 “Fat Lipki” which involves the Russians and Germans meeting in a reconnaissance action south of Lipki, Russia on July 3, 1941. From the scenario text we read:

As tanks of the 1st Moscow Motor Rifle Division clashed with the 18th Panzer Division’s armored spearhead north of Lipki, infantry elements from both divisions were tasked with securing their respective southern flanks.

One such encounter between these flanking forces occurred in a heavily-wooded hamlet south of town, where several Platoon-sized groups met while trying to secure an important crossroads.

I played as the Russians and set up my troops as two separate leader led fire teams, one team on the west side of the map led by Sgt. Kovalev (Command 2) heading toward objective #4 which was a house located adjacent to an orchard and woods to the north and the other team on the east side of the map south of objective #2 which was a main road running to the north connecting to Lipki led by Cpl. Krylov (Command 1). Both groups had a Medium MG in tow (FP 6, Range 10, -2 Move) for power and had orders to take those objectives first before moving further north to engage the Germans.  The Surrender condition was set by the scenario at 5 losses for the Germans and 7 losses for the Russians (this would be important to the outcome of the game).

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We were playing scenario #1 “Fat Lipki” with me controlling the Russians and Alexander controlling the Germans.

With that, I will give a quick rundown of the events. The first move by my Russians was to activate Sgt. Kovalev with a Move order which allowed for my entire team (being located within 2 adjacent hexes) to move up the road (gaining +1 movement points because part of their move was on a road hex) toward the house and orchard taking objective #4 and gaining 2 VP’s.  I then was able to use a Fire order to activate my Rifle squad with the Medium MG in tow which was set up in the road hex to the west of the house to fire upon the German troops down the road.  My aim was not true and they easily avoided with a good Fire defense roll.  I then passed my final action and ended my turn.

CC First Move Russians
Moved my troops along the road to the north to take objective #4 gaining 2 VP’s. I followed this move up with a Fire order on the Germans to the north but missed.

The Germans first action was to fire back at my exposed (not a great placement for my troops but it worked out) Rifle squad but I was able to roll well and defend from the fire group led by Cpl. Winkler (Command 1). The Germans had quite a lot of trouble with their hand the first few turns and had to discard at least 2 times in the first 4 turns.  They had a lot of Command Confusion and Artillery Denied cards that were good for nothing in this scenario (this problem plagued me in the late game as well).

On the Russians 2nd turn, I used a Fire order to shoot again at the Germans but this time I used a Sustained Fire action to boost my FP by +2 when firing a Machine Gun leading to breaking the German Rifle squad.  My 2nd order that turn, I moved my troops on the east side of the map up to take objective #2 gaining 1 VP and moving into position to occupy the house by the lake in the middle of the map to cover the German advance to that same area.  This provided me a very good field of fire to cover the two approaches to this area.  Later I would move my Medium MG up to a position at the fence row offering limited cover (+1) but allowing them to fire upon the Germans in the house.  (In hindsight, I would have moved the MG team into the building with Cpl. Krylov to gain the advantage of his +1 Command bonus on Firing) At this point, I was leading 3-0 over the Germans by taking 2 of the 3 objectives for the scenario.

Russian Fire on Germans

The Germans then got some good draws (while conversely I couldn’t draw a Fire or Move card to save my life) and during their next 2 turns were able to advance their center group into the house for cover just before I could get my Rifle squad in there (once again for lack of a Move order). This was one of those amazing moments when I could have lit him up as he moved but I didn’t have any Fire action cards in my hand (to my great disappointment and joy!).  He also was able to Suppress my Rifle squad that had taken up cover in the woods to the west of the lake which caused me to miss several times with shots.  That -1 modifier hurt me more than you would think!

Russian Move IN Between

Next, I was getting impatient and decided to take a decidedly aggressive move with the Medium MG and move it up the road to get into a Line of Sight so I could fire on the broken German Rifle unit that had moved one hex to the south east to get out of the way. This would backfire on me as I missed again and was then hit with their return fire and broken.  Ugh!  I have always thought the best defense was a good offense, and in this case that saying didn’t apply!  I did find it humorous that we then exchanged fire a few times over the next few rounds with these broken units.  It was truly pitiful!…but fun.  Also that turn, I chose to play a Rout order to attempt to force the German Rifle to retreat but it backfired as an Event was drawn which allowed the Germans to place a Veteran marker on one of their units.  He chose to place the marker on his Rifle squad in the house on the east side of the map that set him up well for a later Advance order into melee to defeat my Rifle squad and gain his first 2 VP’s.  I refer to this as “The Great Russian Blunder”.

Russian Failed Charge
My aggressive move didn’t pan out as I missed them and was fired upon, causing my unit to break and lose their ability to fire the big gun! I called this the “Battle of the Broken Units”!
Russian Blunder Veteran
The “Great Russian Blunder” strikes as a random event from a roll on the west side of the map gave the Germans an advantage with a Veteran marker on a unit on the east side of the map. Glorious!

My next turn I focused on moving up on the west toward the broken German units and into the woods to gain some semblance of cover. This brought our units into close proximity and allowed me to play an Advance order to fix bayonets and enter melee with the German Line team (that had been replaced using the Light Wounds event by the Germans earlier).  I was also able to win the melee and then played the No Quarter action to gain an additional 2 VP’s along with the 1 gained from eliminating the unit. This brought my total VP count to 7.  On this order I used the Initiative card to force the Germans to reroll which allowed me to defeat him, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat!  I love that Initiative card (but I am sure that Alexander doesn’t love it quite as much).

Kovalev First Charge Order
Sgt. Kovalev orders the 1st of several Advance orders to get into hand to hand combat with the Germans in the woods. If you can’t hit ’em with bullets, hit ’em with your fists!

The Germans then had a string of fortuitous events which gained them a foxhole in their hex (adding +1 cover over the woods) and then gained reinforcements in the form of a Weapons team with a light mortar. The mortar never was able to hit my units due to their high morale but it was a nerve wracking experience waiting for that ordinance to explode over my head and forcing me to make Fire defense rolls.  He also had 2 cards come up that allowed him to take units from the casualties track and place them back onto the map, thereby delaying my reaching the Surrender condition.  This was very maddening!

On the next Russian turn, I drew an Advance order and used that with Sgt. Kovalev (he loves to use the Advance order) and the Rifle squad to once again engage in melee with the Germans in the foxhole. I also played the Ambush action which forced him to break one of his units in the melee giving me the advantage which led to my victory.

Melee with Kovalev (2)

With that action, I earned 3 VP and was now at a total of 9 with the Germans having 3 casualties, which was only 2 shy of Surrender being forced. I then did another Fire action that missed but led to an event being played where I was able to recruit a reinforcement of my own.  I rolled high on the table with a 10 and pulled out a Weapons team with a Medium Mortar, placing them in hex I2 on the far southern side of the map, out of the way of any enemy units.  This allowed me to play Fire orders to target units that were broken and finish them off to bring the game nearer to an end.  “Fire for effect!” was something that I was succeeding at.  The reason mortars, especially Medium mortars, are good is that they have an incredible range (3-16) and also have a Fire Power of 9.  But also, when firing into woods, the mortars gain an additional +2 on attack as they airburst, causing trees to splinter dealing extra damage!  With the mortar I was able to eliminate 3 units over a 3 turn stretch which brought us to the climactic finish.

Russian Mortar Team

On the next Russian turn, I was able to play a Fire order on the German mortar team hidden in the woods to the north and break the unit that had already been suppressed by fire in previous rounds. I then followed that up with a Rout order that caused the Weapons team to retreat off of the board, causing the 5th and final casualty (I actually killed 7 units but they kept coming back due to events) needed to force a German Surrender!  My final VP total was 9.

Russian Win
The final blow comes from the Russians with the play of a Fire order followed up with a Rout order to break and cause to retreat off the map leading to the killing of the 7th German unit needed to reach the Surrender condition.

For our first play, I think that we nearly got every rule correct and had a great time doing it! The scenario took us 3.5 hours but that included setup, rules review and many, many stoppages in play to either check the rules for clarity or to check on the kids to make sure they were doing fine! The following were points that stood out to me that swayed the outcome in my favor:

  1. The Germans had a really difficult time drawing Fire and Move order cards when they needed them. They discarded several times during the early game, whereas I had this problem late in the game. This can be a real advantage in the combat but I am fine with it as it will happen to both sides and your opponent doesn’t necessarily know that you have bad cards in your hand!
  2. The Russian units have an insanely high Morale. All of my starting units had an 8 with the exception of Cpl. Krylov who had a 7. This is a major advantage as it allows for more risky moves for the Russians as they can fend off Fire attacks more effectively than the Germans.
  3. I love the random events that happen during the game. The reinforcement that I received in the late game sealed the victory for me. The Germans also got a late reinforcement that was randomly placed near my mortar team but he was never able to threaten me with that unit.
  4. The starting unit setup was one of the major factors in my win. The Germans should have probably focused their forces together to create a more efficient and powerful force rather than splitting them up as they did. I also split my teams but felt that both were still powerful (each had a Medium MG in tow) and were in good position to do what needed to be done. I love the setup phase as you don’t know what your opponent is doing. Great tension to start off with!

We still need to get a little clearer understanding of the fire group concept and all of the bonuses that come from MG weapons, adjacent squads, etc. in those Firing orders as well as a better grip on Line of Sight.

I loved the game, the outcome was awesome as I took home a Russky win, and I cannot wait to give it another try with scenario #2 “Hedgerows & Hand Grenades”. I also think Alexander liked it as he was talking about getting Combat Commander: Pacific and leaving Europe, the Mediterranean and Resistance for me.  Until next time, good gaming!

-Grant