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Subject: For the want of a nail. rss

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James Webb
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1940: A detachment of French Chasseurs engage a detachment of Italian Fucilieri in a field somewhere in Europe, fighting over the one true prize - the two entrances to the gully road at the south of the map. The Italians have the numbers, but your French have quality. Or rather, the Italians had the numbers. The kindest thing you can think to say about your opposite number is that he is le imbécile. He decided to charge the vast majority of his forces across the open field at the north of the map, right into the jaws of your outnumbered, but machine-gun-armed, troops. He chose this option, gambling on you not having the required card for opportunity fire. He chose...poorly. His north flank has been Routed into disarray, and your brave troops swarm down the gully road to the entrance held by what remains of the Italian forces. He who controls the gully road controls Map 16. The Chasseurs must flow. It is the rarest of days, namely a day on which it is good to be French. But then disaster strikes. Your new hand consists of two artillery cards (and neither of you have a radio) and three Command Confusion cards. You have a lousy discard capability of one, and you don't even have a futile Order to issue so that you can trash some Actions and get new cards that way. You're looking at probably two turns of nothing but discarding a single Command Confusion before you can get the French War Machine rolling again. And two turns is optimistic. Anything could happen in those two turns. The Italians could rally their fleeing troops, or their mortar crew could finally draw a decent roll and hit your broken unit sheltering in the woods in the north (the worst place for a broken unit to be sheltering from mortar shells, btw). You are, as they say, en difficulté.

In February 1852, just three miles out from the coast of South Africa, the HMS Birkenhead grounded. The pumps were not enough. She was sinking. Among others, the ship was carrying troops for the war against the Xhosa tribe in South Africa. Some of these men were not seasoned veterans – they had been picked up in Ireland, having signed up simply to escape the potato famine. Yet, something strange happened as this ship sank. As the idiots who had painted over the chains and winches of five of the eight lifeboats went about their ordinary lives back in Liverpool, Colonel Seton ordered his men to stand fast and allow the women and children to take the lifeboats. Only the sea and the sharks awaited them, yet not a man – some as green as green can be – broke ranks. They stood fast, and they went down with the ship. And so was born the Birkenhead Drill, better known as 'Women and children first'.

I have never been to war. I don't know how I would go in the heat of battle. If the accounts are to be believed, no-one knows beforehand if they will be a hero or a coward. No-one knows if they will be like the soldiers of HMS Birkenhead or turn out to be something worse. But I am a man, so I have pondered this question. In fact, statistically, you and I are more likely to be descended from cowards. The heroes would have died. But like all men, I push this statistic aside and fantasise about being a hero. But I have no way of knowing, not really. What I do know is that I would, in battle, get a chance to find out. Battles, if the accounts are to be believed, throw up chaos. Battles are rarely, if the accounts are to be believed, perfect-information, ordered, everything-goes-as-planned events. Battles, if the accounts are to be believed, are about seizing unexpected opportunities better than your opponent does. The smallest things can ruin everything. A sentry who turns his head at the wrong moment. A loose shoelace. A misread map. Think Lord Raglan's misunderstood message which sent the Light Brigade charging into the Valley of Death. Think Vice-Admiral Kurita's decision to retreat his First Strike Force from the outmatched and outgunned Taffy 3 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. History is full of kingdoms that have been lost for want of a nail. If there's one thing that even a novice like me can assume about battle, it's that it's not tidy.

As it turned out, the French were not en difficulté after all. The Italians pulled a Time Trigger, and the French commander was able to discard his two artillery cards for their Dig-In actions instead. Suddenly his exposed troops, the broken unit in the woods and one of the units in the gully road, were able to place fortifications. See. While they were waiting for the right cards to be drawn, those troops hadn't been sitting around doing nothing. They'd been digging themselves some foxholes. That's élan. That's Combat Commander.

I am not a hex and counter guy. The only war games I've ever really been interested in tend to be strategic level. I like area or point-to-point movement. I like games with British troops in them. Combat Commander has none of those things. So I look at it on my shelf and wonder why I own it. I'm not really a wargamer at all. I'd like to be. I think I should be, but I'm not. My favourite game is Twilight Struggle. As I said, I'm not a wargamer. When I periodically review my trade list, I ponder Combat Commander. Why do I have it? Should I trade it? I remember liking it the last time I played it. I must like it, because I bought the Mediterranean expansion for it. Why did I do that? That's right, to get British troops. I should play it again. See if I really think it's worth keeping. Can I be bothered to do this? Look at all these bags of counters. I need some from this bag and some from that bag. Setting this up is a pain. Is it worth it?

So I play a game, and I remember why I have kept this game. I remember that it is worth it, in all it's hexy glory. The game ends with a Sudden Death roll on turn 7. Both sides are two units away from surrender, but the French have a substantial VP lead and send the Italians home with their tails between their legs. Then I set up another game. Straight away. After all, it is a lot of work to get it out each time. I may as well play again.

I roll up a random scenario. This time it's 1945 and the SS are making a counter attack on a German village held by Russians. The Germans roll well for their leaders, but those SS are expensive and so the Russians have all kinds of cool toys. I've never played as the SS before. I look at the Russian defenders. They heavily outnumber the Germans and have wire spread virtually the whole way across the map. It looks impossible for the German troops, even for those SS with their boxed numbers and the best stats in the game.

I have never played a game of Combat Commander properly. I don't mean that I got some rules wrong. It's actually an incredible smooth design. No excess fat anywhere, or so it seems. It's easy to play. What I mean is that I've never played an actual two-player, face-to-face game of Combat Commander. I've only ever played it solo. It's a card game, and hidden information is important. But I've only ever played it solo. The truth is, that if I owned this game for the next fifty years and only ever played it solo, it would still be worth it. Even solo, it's never disappointed me. I can only imagine that an actual face-to-face game would blow my mind. Unless I was playing someone who took the game too seriously. That would suck.

I've played Conflict of Heroes solo. It's a nice system, with great components. Those massive, thick counters? I love them. The game itself I found to be boring. It's all there – laid out for you to see. It's impossible to play Conflict of Heroes solo and be surprised. Combat Commander, on the other hand, manges to surprise me every time.

It's those Triggers, you see. Flipping the card to see what the dice turn up can change the entire pace and landscape of the game in an instant. I don't have to create my own Charge of the Light Brigade. The Triggers do it for me. A fire suddenly breaks out and turns one of the objective hexes in to a death trap. Your machine gun jams. A sniper takes out your opponent's officer just as he is about to charge your troops in the building. Reinforcements arrive. Some people can't stand it. I get it. I understand. But Combat Commander gives you 'not tidy' every time, and isn't that what a battle should be? Combat Commander forces you to adapt, to seize those unexpected opportunities.

I've played a game where I built a fool-proof plan, where my main attack stalled because of my units stumbling into wire they didn't know was there, and while my main attack force was being pinned down by machine gun fire, it fell to my token flanking force to move through the woods and assault building after building. Which, against the odds, they did. In other words, I had to adapt to someone other than myself.

I've played a game where I charged a leader across a smoke-covered battlefield, running the gauntlet of opportunity fire, just so he could get to a critical unit in order to increase its chances of recovering from broken status. It was just one snapshot from a game. It lasted half a minute, maybe. It felt epic.

Why do I own it? The same reason I own any of my favourite games. Whatever I might think, or think I think, or even write in other reviews, the only reason I own or play any of these games is because I enjoy it. I have fun. I play games because of the way that they make me feel when I'm playing them. Perhaps that's the purest reason to like a game. I don't know. If that is the case then my appreciation of Combat Commander is amongst the purest that I know. This game makes my top ten because it never fails to deliver, above all else, an experience. I've spent seventeen hundred words trying to to explain something that I really don't think I can explain, but I'm sure that most of you – if not all - have games that do a similar thing for you. Well, Combat Commander does that thing for me. You understand that, right? If not, then no amount of my words will convince you. If so, then I don't need any more words.
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Łukasz
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This is one of best -- if not the best -- reviews I've ever had a pleasure to read. Thank you, good sir, for putting down these seventeen hundred words, it made my day.

Off to read your other reviews, there seem to be couple of them. Cheers!
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Chadwik
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Thank you for the kind words, James. Glad you like it!
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Eric
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The random events is what makes this great game an awesome game IMHO.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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Most enjoyable read I've had on BGG in a long time. Made my Friday morning. Also made me want to finally crack CC:Med and get the French into action.

Thank you.
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Kyle Seely
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Bravo.

I haven't played a game yet that creates chaos as delicious as that created by Combat Commander.
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Tom Stearns
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I too have played most of my CC games solo. I agree with your take on it as a solo experience. It never disappoints. Tells a great story filled with surprises and unexpected twists. A very enjoyable read.
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David Janik-Jones
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Up Front fan, Cats were once worshipped as gods and they haven't forgotten this, Combat Commander series fan, The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!, Fields of Fire fan
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That was one of the finest thoughts on Chad's brilliant Combat Commander system I've ever had the pleasure to read. Have some
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Troy Hughes
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revgiblet wrote:

Combat Commander forces you to adapt, to seize those unexpected opportunities.


THIS, right here, is all you needed to write.

But I'm glad you wrote the rest! Great review! You sold me again on one of my already favorite games.
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Chester
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Great review. I hope you get a chance to sit across from an eager and savvy opponent someday. The game comes to life in ways that are hard to articulate, but the tension and excitement really shine. For someone who already appreciates the system, I hope you get this chance to experience it in that way.
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Darrell Hanning
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Personally, I prefer my deus ex machina in my TV shows, instead of in my games, but a sterling review by any measure.
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Joe C Faust
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Turns out I feel exactly the same way about the Combat Commander system - I just didn't know it until I read your review.

Well said, sir!
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stephen
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Perfect review for the only game I rate a 10 for exactly the reasons you gave.
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Rick Aichele
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As any wargame I play tends to be solo these days, so I have been debating on whether Combat Commander was a game I should own.

This review has convinced me that CC should be my next game purchase/trade. Thanks for bringing the game to life for me!



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Troy Hughes
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Oh, and if you want to get a solo game in but don't want to take the time for the setup, try VASSAL. It's a great simulation of the game board, counters, and cards - all virtual instead of paper. With all the extensions, you have any scenario at your fingertips - all the correct counters pulled and ready to be set up!

It also works great for play by email games, live games against someone anywhere in the world, and even "hotseat" games against someone in the same room. (Allowng for play on, say, an airplane or automobile trip! Just don't try it while driving...)
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rexbinary
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What a great review! Thank You!
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Greg S
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James, you are brilliant! Your reasoning, and conclusion, is spot-on.

In my opinion, the ONLY reason you should play a game is because of the way it makes you feel, and because you enjoy it!

Ratings/rankings be damned!
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A.T. Selvaggio
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Super review. Like you, I play only solo. While the solo rating is 3 on the box, it is 10 for me. I agree that it beats other games because of the potential for chaos and randomness triggered by the cards.
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Mattias R
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My hat goes off to the fine writing in this review. Thank you.
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Steve Bishop
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Superb, you hit the nail right on the head!
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Michael Debije
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I also play mainly solo, and love it. In fact, finished my first play of a CC scenario, #A. Came down to a scratch win by the US for controlling 15 points worth of objectives, to win it with 3 points. I, too, love this game.
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Jason Lindsay
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I usually don't read posts that are this long.
However, your presentation of your thoughts lured me
in and held my interest indefinitely.
Your narrative is so very eloquent and pleasantly verbose.
A big THANK YOU from another Combat Commander fan!
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Mike Smith
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Find a CC face-to-face opponent! Do it now! There are loads of them out there for precisely the reasons you specify.

Oh, and sort the counters into counter trays. This game is not tedious to set up, compared to many wargames, if the counters are sorted. Worth it because you will want to play it often if you have FTF opponents.

Thanks for the review.
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Stacey Hager
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If you can't find an opponent...train one. I've found that the game is easy to teach. The action-packed results that each session yields promises instant gratification for the newb. Chances are, you can find someone who will like this if they are remotely interested in table games , and are willing to give it a shot.
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