Since acquiring Combat Commander: Mediterranean, we have left Europe alone for a while and played Scenario #13 & Scenario #14. This week we came back to Europe to play Scenario #8 Breakout Dance, which is one that I have been dreading a little bit only because it is another “run off the map” scenario and frankly, those in the past have not necessarily gone my way!
From the playbook, we read the following situation report for the scenario:
Velikiye-Luki, Russia, January 1943 – As the Kalinin Front – led by several Soviet Shock Armies – drove westward they were able to completely encircle the German 277th Infantry Regiment at Velikiye-Luki. Outside relief for this surrounded force was not to be had, however, so orders were given for its units to effect a breakout.
The Soviet 129th Rifle Regiment held the line to the southwest on the road to Nevel. This force appeared to be the weakest, so it was in this sector that many attempts to exfiltrate were made. One such night-time attempt involved Lieutenant Schrader’s platoon of 32 men, who had been hiding in brush-covered slit trenches throughout the day.
I chose to play as the Russians and Alexander played the German forces, with both being on Recon and would each have 5 card hand limits. The Surrender level was set at only 4 for the Germans and 7 for the Russians, which was very unusual as the Germans only had 5 total units. The scenario had the infamous Open Objective W which reads “Exit points are doubled”, so with this Objective and the scenario summary, we knew that the goal of the Germans was simply to attempt to exit the map to breakout and this would affect the way we both assembled our teams.
The special rules for the scenario were the really interesting part. As we read them, we both simply had our mouths hanging open in disbelief! The fact that the scenario was set as a night time action changed the basic rules of engagement.
First, the Axis player had a Discard Capability of only 1, reduced from its normal 4. The next interesting condition was that Fire Attacks will be reduced by 1 for each hex between the attacker and the target hex. This meant that an attack 4 hexes away would be at a -4! Wow! This was most likely attributed to darkness, unfamiliar terrain and the difficulty in command due to the need to attempt to stay hidden by the Germans in their brush-covered slit trenches. The third very unique circumstance was that the Russian OB was only 1! That meant they could play 1 and only 1 order each round. What a major handicap that ultimately would doom my forces. Definitely an interesting and uniquely complicated strategic puzzle to solve!
The scenario required the Russians to set up first in the first 7 hexes from their friendly edge and they had 10 Rifle units (FP 5, Range 3, Move 4 & Morale 8 but a broken Morale of only 6) along with 2 Medium MG’s and a Light MG and Sgt. Kaminsky and Sgt. Maisky (Morale 9, Command 1). As is usual with the Russians lots of men but little exceptional about their statistics. The Germans had only 5 total forces which included 3 Rifle units (FP 5, Range 5 (boxed), Move 4 (boxed) & Morale 7) and 2 Leaders including Lt. Schrader (Command 1, Morale 9) and Sgt. Ganz (Command 2, Morale 8). They had to place their forces in the 7 hexes from their edge of the map (to the bottom of the picture below) while holding the all important (and in this game uber important!) Initiative card while taking the 1st turn. The Time Space started at “0” and Sudden Death was at the “5” space and the Allies started with 2VP.
I set up first by trying to spread my units across the center of the map to create a wall that he would have to go through rather than around. My biggest concern was that he would simply set up after me in such a manner as to simply run through holes or gaps in my defenses to run off the map gaining double points for exiting. If he was going to run it was going to be through a steady and concentrated fire. I broke my available units into 3 separate teams (only 2 had Leaders but the other leaderless team was being set up to only hold him and I wasn’t necessarily planning to use them much).
- Team #1 – I put 2 Rifle units on my extreme left flank holed up in 2 separate groves of trees (cover 2). The Rifle closest to the German held Objective, and what I correctly assumed would be a German forces spawn point, was equipped with a Light MG. looking back on this I would have given the Light MG to the center team to improve their fire group strength as they were my main Fire group. These 2 units were there to slow any German advance along my left flank. They would absorb contact and hold until the center group could move to the left flank to support them.
- Team #2 – I then placed Sgt. Kaminsky (Morale 8, Command 1) leading a larger Fire group made up of 4 Rifle units with the Rifle on the left being equipped with the Medium MG (FP 6, Range 10 (boxed), Move -2) intended to fire on the Germans from the center either on the left or right side of the hill and keep them occupied and thinking about being killed rather than how they could break through and run off the map. I would have to play a Move order to get the group into position after setup depending on where the Germans would set up. 2 hexes behind them I placed a lone Rifle in a grove of trees as a reserve and last line of defense.
- Team #3 – I then put Sgt. Maisky (Morale 8, Command 1) along with 3 Rifle units, one being equipped with the other Medium MG, on the far right edge of the map to cover my right flank and the other possible escape route. The MG team setup in the buildings (cover 3) at Objective #1 and would be my main Fire focus of this group. The hedgerows and wheat fields provided light cover and hindrance to his fire but were almost more detrimental to my setup than his. If the Germans didn’t set up on this side, I was planning to be flexible with this group and move them up and over to be able to defend the right flank and bring fire on the Germans in the left. In the end, this group would not play much of a role in the battle. The Germans then decided to setup all their units bunched together at Objective #5 on the hilltop to attack my left flank and placed their 3 foxholes strategically to provide maximum cover. After all of that, here is a picture showing the German initial setup and the bird’s eye view of the starting set up.
Take That Hill and We’ll Break Their Backs
After the setup was done and I knew what it was that I was dealing with, I had my objective in mind! I was going to take that hill at all costs and due to the reduction in Fire Power caused by range due to darkness, was going to have to do it by advancing into melee and settle this in hand to hand combat. With the Surrender Limit for the Germans being set at 5, I felt like that was my best option as I was hampered with only 1 OB. So, I can hear Sgt. Kaminsky talking to his gathered troops at the top of their own hill and imagine it went a little something like this:
Sgt. Kaminsky: “Comrades, we have the Huns on the run and have chased them out of Stalingrad behind the leadership of Comrade Stalin and by spilling our blood!”
Men: Muffled cheers and comments from the men such as “…for Mother Russia!” and “….here’s to Comrade Joseph!”
Sgt. Kaminsky: “We have been ordered to take that hill and dislodge the Krauts as they are trying to break out of our encirclement and escape their doom…but we cannot, no, we WILL not allow that to happen! I know they have MG44’s trained on our positions and I know they are good fighters, but you are better! You have survived their onslaught at Stalingrad! You have taken their best shot and are still fighting. You have them defeated and on the run. You have the ability to take that damned hill! Lets take that hill and we’ll break their backs!”
My first action was to play a Move Order to move down from off the hilltop to the relative improved cover of the brush to begin bringing fire on the Germans in order to soften them up. As I moved, he took a Fire Action on me and with the -3 penalty due to darkness, I was able to defend pretty easily. The next turn, I was able to create a small fire group and took a Fire Order on the German position with a reasonably good 18FP, even with the penalty.
The dice were not in my favor though, and this would be a trend throughout the scenario, and he defended and pulled a Sniper Event that went off in hex H5 breaking my lone Rifle unit on the hill. This was the 1st of at least 6 times that Sniper fire would break my units! We traded shots for a few more rounds until I finally drew 2 Move Orders along with an Advance Order. But at the same time, he was also on the move as he Moved Lt. Schrader’s group to the east toward my right flank in order to take my focus away from his main group.
I did reposition Sgt. Maisky along with the Heavy MG team in order to be able to fire upon the Germans as they moved into the buildings at Objective #2 on my right flank. Had I had enough movement I most likely would have tried to get into the buildings to take the Objective but the Heavy MG’s -2 move penalty coupled with the +1 move requirement for the hedge row stopped me where shown. I did use my 2nd Move Order the next turn to advance Sgt. Kaminsky on the hill to the east side, trying to keep as much distance as possible between me and the 2 Light MG teams set up there until I got up to the hill itself. Kaminsky made it and was able to bring a pretty good Fire Order against the German MG team the next round with a FP19 but he defended and all I was doing was biding my time to draw an Ambush Action to go along the Advance Order I had in my hand, at which time I would throw all caution to the wind and fix bayonets and charge headlong up the hill into melee.
A fun Combat Commander moment happened next with an event. As I mentioned earlier, my units stretched through the middle of the board were the victims of crack shooting by German Snipers throughout the entire game. I was the unlucky victim of no less than 6 such events. So, at any given time I had at least 3-4 broken units in the middle of the map. At one very inconvenient time, I was forced to play the Commissar Event which reads “Make a roll for one broken Russian unit; if greater than its current Morale, eliminate it; if not, Rally it.” Due to the trouble with Sniper Events, I had several broken units to choose from and chose one that wasn’t necessarily critical to my success, the lone Rifle unit located in the grove of trees holding Objective #4. His Morale was a 5, reduced from its normal 6 due to having been Suppressed. I gritted my teeth, pulled the next card from the top of my Fate Deck, and low and behold, I rolled a 4 which was under my current Morale causing that unit to Rally! Wow, I got a lucky break! These are the moments that CC is famous for, a truly random and chaotic side effect of war which is based in truth and fact! I love it….and love it even more when it works in my favor!
I then was able to finally draw the Ambush Action I had been waiting for and we now cut to another conversation between Sgt. Kaminsky and his men:
Sgt. Kaminsky: “Comrades, we are in position! We have survived this far and victory is within our grasp. I need you to come with me as I assault this hill! Mother Russia is at risk and all our people stand to witness your actions today to see how you will react. Who’s with me?”
Men: Cheers are heard from the men as they say back to Sgt. Kaminsky…”I am! Me! I am with you to the end Comrade!”
Sgt. Kaminsky: “Then fix bayonets and let’s finish the job that we started here today! Charge!”
I play the Advance Order and Sgt. Kaminsky leads the lone Rifle unit (with broken Heavy MG in tow, another bad stroke of luck for me!) to the top of the hill against the German Rifle unit snuggled in his cozy foxhole. My base Melee FP is a 7 (Rifle = 5+1 Command Bonus = 6 + Kaminsky FP 1) vs. his base FP of 5. At the start of the Melee, I play my Ambush Action (praying that he doesn’t have one) breaking his Rifle reducing his FP to a 2. We roll and I pull a 9 to his 4 for a total FP for me of 16-6. I win eliminating his Rifle unit and killing my first German unit of the day. I felt pretty good about this turn of events and now felt like I was in the driver’s seat and had the ability to win this scenario.
I then set my sights on Sgt. Ganz and the Rifle unit in the adjacent space. We traded Fire attacks a few turns in a row and I thought for sure that my cover would help me while being in the open for him would allow me to break his units. Finally, I was able to break Sgt. Ganz with only an average Fire Attack of 15FP but to my chagrin, he was able to play a Recover Order the next round and his improved Morale of 9, saved easily.
I finally was able to draw another Advance Order and had an Ambush Action in my hand so I decided to lay it all on the line and go for broke! I played by Advance to try to take the hill and break his back! At the beginning of the melee I played my Ambush choosing to break the Rifle unit as it was a wash in the final calculation (he had a 6FP) but to my surprise, he also had an Ambush and broke Sgt. Kaminsky which reduced my FP from 7 to 4. We then drew cards with him holding the Initiative Card. He drew first and drew a 7 so decided to keep it for a total FP of 13. I then drew and pulled a 10 for a total of 14. He forced me to reroll with the Initiative Card and this went back and forth like this for another 3 times where the Initiative Card changed hands finally ending with him winning the melee and for all intents and purposes, the scenario. This gave him a total of 5 VP and severely hampered me as I had only 1 leader with a broken unit and an additional healthy Rifle unit on my right flank that could potentially be brought to bear on him. He began to play keep away and moved his remaining units to the relative safety of the back of the map and at this point I decided to concede. It was a hard decision for me as I simply don’t quit and Sgt. Kaminsky’s brave sacrficie felt wasted but it was the right call at that time.
Summary & Debriefing
I had lost another of the “run off the map” scenarios but not due to the enemy actually running off the map. I fell prey to the Special Rules for the scenario, mainly the reduction in FP due to darkness, and was forced to take a risky stance with my units. The Advance Order has been my friend over our 10 scenarios played to date, with me winning about 90% of the time due to careful planning and always having that ace up my sleeve in the Ambush Action. I know the percentage chances of drawing certain numbers on dice rolls and always feel confident in my use of the Advance. The other difficulty I experienced was only being able to take 1 OB each turn. This severely hampered my ability to move and fire on the enemy enough to make a difference. In the end, I learned a few lessons from this scenario:
- The Initiative Card is King – having the Initiative Card was the reason that the Axis won this scenario, or at least, a major reason. I would recommend that you hold onto the Initiative as long as you can and only use it when it truly is a matter of life and death in having important units eliminated. I obtained it fairly early into the match on a meaningless roll and then rather than holding onto it until it was important, gave it away in turn on a similarly meaningless roll. Never again will I throw that away so easily!
- Pay Attention to Special Rules – the Special Rules for a scenario are the greatest key to understanding the way to win in the scenario. In this instance, I knew ranged fire was going to be ineffective but even with that knowledge, I spent too much time trying to do what I had done numerous other times in other scenarios.
I now lead the series between Alexander and I at 6-4 but am back in the losers bracket! I lost because I forgot lessons that I have learned in previous scenarios. I lost because I failed to do something that was out of the ordinary for me. I failed to adapt to the conditions and simply tried to force the win as per usual. I lost because I could “see no evil and hear no evil….”. Never again will I lose in this manner. This I promise you. Until our next head to head match, I will let this loss sink in and allow defeat to be my greatest teacher.