Combat Commander: Europe is a card-driven board game covering tactical infantry combat in the European Theater of World War II. One player takes the role of the Axis (Germany) while another player commands the Allies (America or Russia). With additional Battle Packs and Big Box releases (Combat Commander: Mediterranean), the game has expanded into other theaters of war including Africa and the Pacific and introduces additional countries including France, Italy and England. In this series of posts, I would like to take a look at each of the major combatants and their specific strengths and weaknesses and offer some tips on strategy and tactics in their use. This doesn’t mean that I am a tactical genius or that I never lose. In our head-to-head games between Alexander and I, I hold a slight 6-4 lead so I have lost my share. The first country that we will be examining is Russia.
The Russian Army During World War II
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army’s ground forces had 303 divisions and 22 separate brigades (6.8 million soldiers), including 166 divisions and 9 brigades (3.2 million soldiers) garrisoned in the western military districts. The Axis forces deployed on the Eastern Front consisted of 181 divisions and 18 brigades (3 million soldiers). Three Fronts, the Northwestern, Western, and Southwestern conducted the defense of the western borders of the USSR. In the first weeks of the Great Patriotic War or World War II, the Wehrmacht defeated many Red Army units. The Red Army lost millions of men as prisoners and lost much of its pre-war matériel. Stalin increased mobilization, and by 1 August 1941, despite 46 divisions lost in combat, the Red Army’s strength was at 401 divisions.
The Soviet forces were apparently unprepared despite numerous warnings from a variety of sources. They suffered much damage in the field because of mediocre officers, partial mobilization, and an incomplete reorganization. The hasty pre-war forces expansion and the over-promotion of inexperienced officers (owing to the purging of experienced officers) favored the Wehrmacht in combat. The Axis’s numeric superiority rendered the combatants’ divisional strength approximately equal. A generation of Soviet commanders (notably Georgy Zhukov) learned from the defeats, and Soviet victories in the Battle of Moscow (October ’41 to January ’42), at Stalingrad (August ’42 to February ’43), Kursk (July ’43) and later in Operation Bagration (June through August ’44) proved decisive, building a very effective if not dominant fighting army.
During the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army conscripted 29,574,900 men in addition to the 4,826,907 in service at the beginning of the war. Of this total of 34,401,807 it lost 6,329,600 killed in action (KIA), 555,400 deaths by disease and 4,559,000 missing in action (MIA) (most captured). Of these 11,444,000, however, 939,700 rejoined the ranks in the subsequently liberated Soviet territory, and a further 1,836,000 returned from German captivity. Thus the grand total of losses amounted to 8,668,400. This is the official total dead, but other estimates give the number of total dead up to almost 11 million men, including 7.7 million killed or missing in action and 2.6 million POW dead (out of 5.2 million total POW’s), plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet partisan losses. The majority of the losses, excluding POW’s, were ethnic Russians (5,756,000), followed by ethnic Ukrainians (1,377,400). However, as many as 8 million of the 34 million mobilized were non-Slavic minority soldiers, and around 45 divisions formed from national minorities served from 1941 to 1943.
Review of Unit Statistics
As we can see from the history above, the Russians were not short on men but were definitely limited in the amount of good soldiers and innovative leaders they had. Many of their soldiers were simply farmers who had been conscripted into the army in order to provide fodder for the war machine. The strategy of the Russians was always to throw more men into the battle than the opponent in a hope that they would simply win through attrition. Due to Stalin’s purges of the officer corps, the Russians had few trained and innovative commanders and most who were promoted were simply not experienced enough to do much else than order frontal assaults with major casualties expected. These two factors also play themselves out in Combat Commander: Europe as you can see from the statistics below.
For comparisons sake, here are the German statistics:
Mass of Humanity
The Russians have more units than the other two major combatants in Combat Commander: Europe. With their 111 units, they have 13.5% more units than the Germans (96) and 24.3% more units than the Americans (84). This plays out in a majority of the scenarios as the Russians almost always have more soldiers! Below is a table showing the scenarios where the Russians are fighting the Germans and their additional units. You will see that more often than not, they have nearly double the number of units.
This doesn’t mean that the Russian units are better but simply that they have more of them. For example, in Scenario #3 Bonfire of the NKVD, the Russian units consist of 10 Militia (FP – 5, Range – 2, Move – 3, Morale – 7) and 1 Green (FP – 3, Range – 2, Move – 3, Morale – 6) which are up against 6 Rifle (FP – 5, Range – 5 (boxed), Move – 4 (boxed), Morale – 7) and 1 Weapon (FP – 2, Range – 2, Move – 4, Morale – 8). Each side does have a few MG’s but the stats are not equal with the Russians having very limited range (more on this later) and movement. This scenario becomes a sit and wait until they are in range affair (remember the saying “Don’t fire until you see the white’s of their eyes”?) for the Russians as their limited range makes it impossible to truly shoot the Germans as they are advancing. Their strategy in this scenario is to simply wait the game out and hope that the Germans don’t take the objectives.
Lack of Leaders
Once again, true to history the Russians have the fewest Leaders per Unit ratio in the game. All three factions have the same number of Leaders with 19 but the Russians have far fewer per unit with 1 Leader per 5.84 units; the Germans have 1 Leader per 5.05 units and the Americans have 1 Leader per 4.42 units. This makes it very difficult to effectively control your units on the battlefield. The Russians will be unable to create tight firing groups and will regularly have 1 or 2 units standing alone, which are very hard to utilize efficiently as you will have to play a Move or Fire order and only activate 1 single solitary unit. When a 1 or 2 Command Leader is properly centered around units, you will be able to move 4-6 units with one card, which is much more efficient and will lead to more actions per game taken which will lead to greater chances of victory.
Range and Movement Limited
The Russians have two Achilles heels in their stat blocks; Range and Movement. Their Avg. Range for units is the lowest in the game at 2.62 while the Germans have a 3.88 and the Americans have a whopping 4.50. That means that the Germans can shoot an entire hex further than the Russians and the Americans can shoot nearly 2 hexes further. In this tight tactical game where the board is 10 x 15 hexes, this means everything! The Russians only have one unit with a Range greater than 3 and that is the Guards Rifle who have a Range of 5. Use them well as they are your only units that can soften up enemy troops for a close quarters assault and possible melee attack. The Russian units Avg. Movement is also near the low end of the scale at 4.05 while the Germans are at 4.27 and the Americans are at 4.21.
More Hardy than Americans or Germans (when Unbroken)
One of the key statistics in the game is that of Morale, or how easily your units are broken under fire. This is an area where the Russians have a slight advantage with an Avg. Morale of 7.76 as compared to the Germans who have a 7.33 and the Americans with a 6.50. This advantage is lost though once the troops are broken as the Russians drop by 14.7% to 6.62, the Germans drop by only 2.7% to 7.13 and the Americans actually increase by 19.1% to 7.74. This element is very thematic as I believe one of the reasons for the Russian soldiers will to fight on in the face of dire odds was Joseph Stalin and his policies. Stalin ordered his forces to fight to the last man and never surrender.
After seeing millions of Soviet troops captured in the early days of the German blitzkrieg, Stalin issued August 1941’s “Order No. 270,” which proclaimed that any troops who surrendered or allowed themselves to be captured were traitors in the eyes of the law and would be executed if they ever returned to Russia. The dictator later upped the ante with July 1942’s famous “Order No. 227,” better known as the “Not One Step Backward!” rule, which decreed that cowards were to be “liquidated on the spot.” Under this order, any troops who retreated were to be shelled or gunned down by so-called “blocking detachments”—special units who were positioned behind their own lines and charged with shooting any soldier who tried to flee. Stalin’s draconian orders were designed to increase the Red Army’s fighting spirit, but they weren’t empty threats. According to some estimates, Soviet barrier troops may have killed as many as 150,000 of their own men over the course of the war, including some 15,000 during the Battle of Stalingrad. This aspect of history has been well integrated into the game in the statistics but there also is an event that pays homage to it, 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.”
I have found in my plays that I can take a little more risk with the Russians than I can with the Germans or Americans and run out into poor cover in order to close the distance between my units and their targets to get in range (remember they have a poor Avg. Range that hinders their fire attacks). With a higher Morale, the Russians tend to break a little less frequently than their counterparts. This doesn’t mean you should be foolish but quick runs through an open hex to gain 2 hexes in Range to enable you to fire on the enemy is definitely worth the risk for the Russians.
The Russian Fire Power numbers are better than the Germans but not as good as the Americans. The Russians have an Avg. Fire Power of 4.65 while the Germans are at 4.54 and the Americans 5.07. When broken, the Russians still have a solid 2.11 FP while the Germans have a 2.02 and the Americans have a very good 2.83. The Russians only have 2 types of units with a Fire Power greater than 5; Guards SMG with a 6 (boxed) and Assault with a 7 (boxed). Conversely, the Americans have 4 types of units greater than 5; Engineer with a 7 (boxed), Elite with a 6 (boxed), Paratroop with a 6 (boxed) and Line with a 6 (boxed). This emphasizes the need for creating good fire groups with multiple units participating in order to increase the Fire Power needed to defeat the Germans.
A Look at the Fate Deck
As I am sure that you know, each faction has their own Fate Deck which consists of 72 cards that are tailored toward the historical aspects of the fighting style of the country. We will take a look at the Russian Fate Deck here as compared to the German.
The Russian Fate Deck has some really good cards that can assist you in emphasizing their strengths and taking advantage of situations. These cards are as follows:
The playing of the Concealment Action at the right time can significantly reduce the Fire Power of your enemy as they try desperately to dislodge you from cover. The card works the best when used while in the cover of a bunker (Cover 6), trench (Cover 4) or buildings (Cover 3), but also can be useful when you are in less advantageous cover such as woods (Cover 2) or field (Cover 2). These cards are good to hold until you are ready to perform an aggressive advance or moving up on an objective through woods. There are 7 of these cards in the deck or 9.7% so they are not readily available. The Russian Fate Deck has 2 more of these cards (7 vs. 5) than the Germans.
Use this card when advancing to replace a Squad that is about to break with a matching Team instead. This will most likely reduce the effectiveness of your attack force but a healthy Team is usually better than a broken Squad and keeps you away from losing 2 VP’s, although it is really a net reduction of only 1VP. Still, when used strategically, this card can mean the difference between a loss due to reaching a Surrender Condition or through VP’s. The Russian Fate Deck has 3 more of these cards (8 vs. 5) than the Germans.
I always make sure to have an Ambush Action in my hand when I decide to enter Melee. This card can change the course of the battle by giving you the advantage. Breaking an enemy leader is usually the best use as they not only have their Fire Power reduced, but the other units in their hex will lose the Command bonus to their Fire Power calculation. This card is also awesome to eliminate an already broken enemy unit in the hex to end the Melee before it even begins. With 6 of these cards in the deck, which represents 8.3% of the cards, you will most likely not always draw one of these when needed so it is best to hold them when possible.
When played in conjunction with Ambush during a Melee, No Quarter can be a real game changer, giving the Russian player an additional 2 VP along with the VP from eliminating the enemy units.
You can learn a lot about the play style of your faction by studying their list of Orders. The frequency of certain cards will give you insight into their preferred tactics. For example, you will notice from the list of the Russian and German Orders above that the Russians have 1 additional Advance Order than the Germans (6 vs. 5) and 1 additional Move Order (13 vs. 12). This should tell you that the Russians should plan to Move often into position to make sure they have the Range to fire upon the enemy and should also plan to use Advance Orders often to engage in Melee. The Germans have 1 additional Rout Order as the Russians are harder to break due to their higher Avg. Morale of 7.76 and also have a solid Avg. Broken Morale of 6.62, which is only a 14.7% reduction in their Morale when broken.
General Statistics on Fate Decks
Each nation’s Fate Decks have the same distribution of dice combinations on them used in rolling during combat to determine Fire Power or Total Defense. The following are general statements about the distribution of those numbers:
- 60 cards out of 72 cards have a combination of numbers that are 5 or higher, which equates to 60/72 or 83.3% probability of drawing a combination of cards totaling 5 or higher!
- 42 cards out of 72 cards have a combination of numbers that are 7 or higher, which equates to 42/72 or 58.3% probability of drawing a combination of cards totaling 7 or higher!
- 20 cards out of 72 cards have a combination of numbers that are 9 or higher, which equates to 20/72 or 27.8% probability of drawing a combination of cards totaling 9 or higher!
I am not a statistician and don’t have the capability to put together a true look at the mathematical probability of drawing certain combinations but this is a simplified look at your chances to get certain numbers from your rolls that I think is very valuable. You must also remember that my numbers above are a look at the entire deck and as you know, each player starts with 4-6 cards in their hands, so these numbers would change in that case.
Review of Strategy
“The Russians were not good soldiers. But they had very good generals, and they had mass.” – Rolf-Helmut Schroder
The Russians are a fairly simple faction to play. They don’t have a lot of special cards and don’t try to take advantage of advanced tactics which rely on Boxed Fire Power, Boxed Range or Boxed Movement as only 32.4% of their units have Boxed Fire Power or Boxed Range and only 5.4% have Boxed Movement.
The standard Russian soldier was poorly trained and poorly equipped (expressed in lower Range) but very determined (expressed in higher Morale). This lends the player of the Russians to focus on advancing rapidly, crossing open ground when necessary (but don’t take unnecessary risks!) in order to advance close enough to fire effectively and set themselves up for a rush into hand to hand combat with an Advance Order. The higher morale also tells you that you should take advantage of good cover as it will be very difficult to root out a Russian group that is hold up in buildings (which offer Cover 3). Take advantage of this and take buildings using Advance Orders, Hand Grenade Actions to increase Fire Power on adjacent hexes and use what limited Smoke Actions they possess for cover when moving. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice your squads to gain objectives or take out the Germans fewer number of units. If you can trade a bad Militia unit or 2 for eliminating 1 German Rifle or Elite Rifle unit, a headlong charge into combat is not a bad idea. Remember that you will always have the numeric advantage and can afford losses while the Germans cannot. But always keep in mind the VP status and the Surrender Condition. The Russians should remember also that they have 1 more Move Order and 1 more Advance Order than the Germans so plan those moves accordingly and don’t be afraid to get up close and personal. A unit with Boxed Fire Power adds +1 to your Melee total so make sure you have at least 1 Assault, SMG or Guards SMG unit mixed in with your hand to hand plans.
Enjoy playing the Russians! They are a fun and straightforward faction that does what they do well. Take advantage of their strengths (high Morale and good Fire Power) and minimize their weaknesses (poor Range and bad Movement) and you will win with them more than you lose!
To read examples of the use of some of the strategy and tactics discussed here in play, read my After Action Reports (AAR) for the following scenarios: