On “War Game Wednesday” this week, we pulled out Combat Commander: Europe and played Scenario #2 Hedgerows and Hand Grenades (we were set to try out Falling Sky but Tim had to pull out last minute so we went with the trusty 2 player game). The map is a tightly packed labyrinth of nearly impenetrable hedges which force assault to come from certain areas, making the defenders job a little easier in some ways but more difficult in others, particularly in maneuverability and line of sight. If you do not know anything about the hedgerows or “bocage” in France, they are trees/bushes that developed thick tightly packed roots and grew very closely together forming a wall to separate pastures for livestock and other agricultural uses, similar to a standard fence. The American’s referred to them as hedgerows and had to develop a specialized Rhino tank fitted with “tusks” (hedgerow cutting devices) to make any progress through the French countryside after the D-Day landings. This made each of the hedges a fortress to assault!
From the scenario text we read:
A few weeks after the D-Day landings, General Bradley was keen to choose a suitable place for a swift, decisive breakout with a minimum of casualties in order to get his armored forces into more tank-friendly terrain. The key ground to the south of US First Army, however, was the town of St. Lo along the Vire River – which could only be had via a tough slugging match through moors, marshes and a patchwork of tiny fields surrounded by dense hedgerows.
One such skirmish occurred amongst the latter terrain on the outskirts of Pont-Herbert, just a few miles from the vital St. Lo-Coutances road.
In this scenario which takes place in July 1944, the Surrender conditions were set at 8 units for the Germans and 9 units for the Americans, so right up front we knew that this would be bloody!
I played as the Americans and began play by having to place my units first in the first 3 hexes on my side of the map. I created 2 teams , one led by Sgt. Smith (Command 2) with a fire team of a 2 Line squads with 1 carrying the Medium MG (6 FP, 10 range) and then with 2 Elite units nearby to be able to be commanded by Smith, one on the road looking to move to the east toward the house on the side of the map, drawing German attention and one on the left to move up in concert with the fire team. I placed the Weapons teams with the Light Mortar in back to beginning shelling the Germans.
My second group was led by Cpl. Hubbard (Command 1) and was set up in a wheat field just south of a house on the west side of the map. He was leading 4 Line units and was planning to advance to the north taking the building to set up a fire position and put pressure on the Germans to focus on his movement to allow for Sgt. Smith to obtain Objectives #3 & #4.
The Germans then proceeded to set up and placed a pretty effective fire team in the building at Objective #3 led by Sgt. Biermann (Command 1) and a Conscript and backed up by a Light MG team on the road and Cpl. Rittenhaus (Command 1) and a Volksgrenadier unit in Objective #4. They hoped to use the hedge rows to slow me down and allow for them to make multiple Fire actions as I moved into position (this would not happen though as they didn’t draw the needed cards!).
After their setup, I decided to place Lt. Blankenship (Command 1) in the very far northeast corner to allow him to quickly move off of the board scoring me 2 easy VP and then placing him on the first Time check space to allow for redeploy on the board. I cannot say that this was my idea but was borrowed from someone on Board Game Geek.
I am typically a very aggressive player and having never played this scenario, and not fully understanding the hedgerows, their negatives and their proper use, I decided to move into action as quickly as I could in order to take Objective #3 and use that building as a fire base. With that I moved Sgt. Smith’s team up to the hedgerow but because of the +2 Movement imposed by the scenario for the hedgerows I was unable to get through and was stuck at the hedgerow. I feared that I would be fire upon but was confident with Sgt. Smith and his +2 Command bonus as well as the +2 cover offered by the barrier that I would make the needed Fire defense rolls for the Line unit with the MG.
I then tried to fire the Light Mortar in the back of the map onto the building in front of Sgt. Smith to soften the Germans up…only to have the mortar break! Damn that was unlucky but fun in the same breath so I was totally ok with the outcome. I then took fire from the Germans in the building through the hedgerows but was able to shrug it off with very fortuitous high Fire defense rolls (and in part due to the +2 cover bonus from the hedgerows). On my next turn, I was able to move through the hedgerow to the open area just adjacent to the German position (did I mention before that I am an aggressive player!) and took opportunity fire leading to my Weapons team breaking.
I was able to recover that unit and then Sgt. Smith moved up into the buildings that had just been vacated by the Germans in a tactical retreat. My opponent was attempting to bait me into an aggressive move into the open but I was satisfied with simply taking over Objective #3, gaining 4VP and establishing good cover from which to fire into the Light MG team on the road the next round as he began to move to the north, breaking him and then eliminating him the next round. This was the 2nd German unit eliminated, which brought me to within 6 units of a victory by forcing a Surrender.
I then moved up my Elite unit through the hedgerow and into the buildings at Objective #4 with a plan to Advance into melee with the suppressed Cpl. Rittenhaus after my Fire orders broke the Conscript squad in the building. I finally drew the needed Advance card and moved into melee which was definitely in my favor with my FP being a 7 (adding +1 for the boxed FP) against his decidedly weakened FP of 0 (due to the suppressed condition) leading to my victory and control of Objective #4 gaining me a total of 7 VP (5 from the Objective and 2 from eliminating Cpl. Rittenhaus.
Meanwhile on the left flank, Cpl. Hubbard was doing some great work of his own by leading the smaller and less powerful Line units up on the Germans and advancing through the hedgerows to surprise them in melee. I then decided to do something a little out of the ordinary. I used an Artillery Request order to try to take out the Heavy MG team located to the north in the woods. I say this is out of the ordinary because I knew that I could be affected as well by the artillery but staying true to my aggressive play style I believed in my leaders and their ability to defend and proceeded, throwing caution to the wind.
One of the great things about Combat Commander and the “dice rolling” mechanic using the cards is the random events. So as you can see from the pic above that I was a little off with my spotting and the artillery landed in the hex right in between us which meant I could take damage as well. I was able to successfully defend against the roll while he became suppressed but there was an event triggered that allowed me to make one of my Line units Veteran. This Veteran status gives them a +1 bonus across the board on all stats including morale, FP, range and movement. What an awesome turn of events! This action led to the Germans being weakened and my units being strengthened and preparing them for my next planned action, a possible point blank Fire order or an Advance order (both of those cards are in my hand) on my next turn!
With that we decided to put the game on hold and take it up next time to finish as it was getting late! We left the game in the 4 Time marker space with the Germans having 5 casualties (only 3 away from the Surrender condition being met) and the Americans having none (I was able to make several Recover rolls with my units thanks to Sgt. Smith’s Command bonus of +2)!
For our 2nd play, we cleaned up a lot of our earlier mistakes and got the rules mostly correct. The scenario to that point took us 2.5 hours but that included setup and a quick review of the Fire team bonuses. We will most likely be able to finish in another hour or s0 next time. The following were points that stood out to me as being key:
- The Germans are very disadvantaged in this scenario as they have great opening positions but unless they draw the needed Fire and Advance orders will not be able to properly defend those positions. I was able to also split the German forces with the placement of two good teams on the east and west not allowing him to focus only on one area. I also put good pressure on him by moving the two teams up and then splitting off one of my Elite units on the east to move toward Objective #2. This Elite unit also benefited from a Veteran upgrade and was able to be teamed up with my hero after he was placed through an event.
- The American units have good morale and coupled with my use of Sgt. Smith leading the strong fire team to take Objectives #3 and #4, had a better time of it than the Germans. Sgt. Smith is a great leader as he has a +2 Command bonus and also has an 8 morale himself, making him very hard to break. I have definitely learned that you must lead your main force with your best leader as they will see a majority of the action.
- I love the random events that happen during the game. I was able to make three of my units Veteran which has now set them up very well to move into melee in a few key positions. I also benefited from 2 Sniper events that broke his units making them easier for me to eliminate.
- I need to make sure to focus on using my Artillery Request orders more effectively. I was only able to really use it once effectively due to the need for a spotter and Line of Sight issues caused by the hedgerows. I would like to figure how best to place Lt. Blankenship in the future to take advantage of this ability.
Until next time, when we finish up this scenario, give Combat Commander a try as it will not disappoint you. If you missed my preview on Combat Commander, you can read it here and if you want to see my AAR for Scenario #1 you can read it here.