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Subject: Combat Commander: Europe - Review rss

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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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This is a great game.

GMT has another hit, I think. I was blown away with Twilight Struggle when it came out, but I think I enjoy Combat Commander: Europe (hereafter referred to as CC:E) even more. This card-driven hex n' counter WWII small-arms infantry game keeps the fun, quick mechanics of card play from Twilight Struggle, but changes the board play to a more traditional, hex and counter system more typical to 'wargames'. The combination is, in a word, brilliant.

My friend, Aaron, and I both worked through the extended Example of Play from the back of the Playbook after I read through the rules solo. Then we continued the game, as suggested by the example, and had a blast. We had to check the rules a few times, but that got me into the habit of clarifying things often. Overall, this game is easy to learn (with some previous wargaming experience), easy to play, fun, and deep enough to keep me interested. CC:E also is infinitely replayable. Seriously.

RULES:
Very well organized, and well referenced on the multiple player aids. It was never difficult to find the answer to a question in the rules. There are a few vague areas in the rules, but with my previous experience playing ASLSK and Twilight Struggle, these could be filled in logically with discussion.

Learning the game is easy if you do what the designers suggest, read through certain sections of the text and then go through the extended Example of Play, checking the rules as questions arise.

I will not comment on what the rules contain, as you can read them online yourself.

The rules NEVER get in the way of gameplay.

There are a few rules that don't make much logical sense. For example, why should a unit get a +1 movement bonus for road usage for simply crossing a street during it's move? None of these are enough to adversely impact my enjoyment of the game, though. In fact, most of these 'unrealistic' rules seem to be purposefully simplified to aid gameplay, and there is nothing wrong with that for a game like this. As long as you don't try to over-analyze the rule, it really doesn't matter all that much. Just play the game the way the designer intended and enjoy it!

9/10

GAMEPLAY:
Excellent. Player devil plays a card for an Order. Any number of cards can then be played, by either player, as Actions while the orders are being executed. The number of cards you have, and can play as orders per turn, are determined by the scenario setup. After player devil finishes his turn, Player arrrh does the same thing. And on. And on.

Cards are also used to ‘roll’, or to choose random hexes for game events, by randomly taking the top card and looking at either the little hex or the little dice in the corners. Random Events are triggered by rolls occasionally to spice up the game and make it interesting, and another card is drawn off the deck to determine which Event occurs.

Wonderfully simple, elegant, yet still allows a multiplicity of choices that is staggering.

10/10

REPLAYABILITY:
There are 12 scenarios included, and a very cool random scenario generation system, that could make this perhaps the most infinitely replayable game that I've ever seen, once you combine the randomness of card draws in a single game. Kudos to GMT for including this extended play feature.

BUT...something feels like I will need more scenarios in the future. As fun as random battles can be, they don't have that same 'realism' that makes a good squad-level game truly soar. I know that there will soon be many scenarios available in the future to remedy this, if I should ever ACTUALLY get through all 12 of the scenarios in this box!

I've already pre-ordered Combat Commander: Mediterranean for exactly this reason. Just when I get through the first, I'll have a whole new set of scenarios to play, including new armies and everything!

10/10

CONTENTS:

A nice, big, pretty box. I do love GMT's boxes, usually.

Three Fate Decks determine the action of the game, one each for the Americans, German and Russian armies. The decks are really nice to look at, and easy to use and understand. The cards are very thin, but I think I like this. They feel very limber, so many shuffles won't bend them easily. I use the card holders from Memoir '44 to stand them up, and this works very well, even though they are a tad bit small. Including card holders in the game would have been a cheap, yet wonderful, addition.

There are 12 maps included in the game, each for a different scenario. They are large and easily understood, and have nice simple graphics as well...more on the computer-created than hand-drawn side of things. The maps are paper. Now I really do need to get some Plexiglas. I wish they were thicker.

Many counters are included, that are top quality. The counters are placed on the map, and they can then Move, Fire, and do many other things after orders are played. I use four standard wargame chit-holders that you can get from a game store to hold the stuff in an organized fashion. GMT only included 10 small bags to hold all the stuff. This is a small complaint, but these bags are not nearly enough to truly organize the pieces.

Another minor complaint is that the graphic design is a bit too simple at times. It totally works, and is nice to look at, but when you compare collectable card game graphic design, you will see what I mean. This is more a personal taste complaint than a definitive one, being that it is purely a visual artistic preference that I have for more 'painterly' illustration in games. I'm old-school. I come from the glory days of the 70's and 80's, so my preferences lean in that direction.

8/10

EASE/FUN FACTOR: My friends and I have been playing ASLSK for the last couple of years, and absolutely love it. It was quite a hurdle to jump to learn that game, but by doing so pretty much every wargame I've played afterwards was much easier to learn and understand.

For me, this game was one of the simplest I've ever learned. Being a lifetime wargamer has probably made it easier for me to learn this game than it would be for a younger, or less experienced gamer. Still, it is relatively simple. I think a 10-13 year old could learn and play this game, if they were pretty smart.

Once you get through the rules and examples, you will pick the mechanics up very quickly. The game will be VERY easy to teach to others.

And, the be-all/end-all of gaming, in my humble opinion: CC:E is fun. Really fun. Even when you lose, its fast and furious and fun, and that's all I need in a game, when you get right down to it. Couple this enjoyability with deep thinking and tough decisions, and you have something really great.

10/10

FINAL ANALYSIS:
To sum it up, Aaron said, "It's kind of like a great combination of all the good stuff from ASL and Memoir '44." And I think I have to agree. CC:E is simple enough, yet still deep enough, to satisfy both the grognard and the gamer.

This is one of the best games I've ever played, from the perspective of someone who has only played half a game, and a solo scenario. It strikes a nice balance between ease and depth, realism and randomness, fun and intense strategy. This may be the perfect introductory wargame.

I can't wait to play it again. Kudos GMT, Chad and everyone else involved in bringing this home before Christmas '06. I got my present early this year.

9/10

paulus22
Paul Franklin-Bihary

UPDATE 1/12/07:
I finally played my first full two-player game of CC:E, and wanted to add a few notes to my earlier review.

First, the game is still great. Two-player is of course more fun and exciting than solo play.

All of my previous statements hold up at this point. So, take this review no longer as purely a solo/example of play review. It is full-fledged, and complete, and I stand by my previous claims.

I must add a couple of small issues.

CHANCE:
This game is HEAVILY random.

I personally have never understood the complaint that chance ruins a game, because for me it does not, not in the slightest. In fact, this game relishes in it's randomness, and it is one of the things that makes it suprising and interesting.

For some gamers, this will definitely be a negative. I personally feel that the random events and rolls are well integrated into the gameplay and do not detract from the game at all, but some would easily disagree with this assessment. So, if you don't like excessive chance in your games, you probably won't like this one very much.

SCENARIO BALANCE:
It seems like most of the scenarios included in the game are skewed to one side or the other. Again, this is a personal preference issue as to how it effects the game: some like well-balanced scenarios only, some enjoy the challenge of trying to find the 'right' way to win an unbalanced scenario from the challenging position. This does not effect my rating, but is an issue that some should be aware of.

So, overall, I'd still give it a 9/10.
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Eric T
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Re: Combat Commander: Europe - Extended Example of Play Review
Thank you for the review, is there any squad or player advancement within in the game, ala Ambush style, where your troops could improve over scenarios, or is it just run a scenario and see who wins?

 
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Chad Jensen
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Re: Combat Commander: Europe - Extended Example of Play Review
Thanks, Paul. So glad you enjoy the game!

And don't worry: there are plenty of scenarios coming for this game series....
 
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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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Re: Combat Commander: Europe - Extended Example of Play Review
Nope. Sorry, Eric. There is no troop advancement. The scenarios are very small and dense, and this wouldn't really work in this game system.
 
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Doug Cooley
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Re: Combat Commander: Europe - Extended Example of Play Review
paulus22 wrote:
Nope. Sorry, Eric. There is no troop advancement. The scenarios are very small and dense, and this wouldn't really work in this game system.


Part of the problem is also that the game plays out over a pretty broad swath of history. Plus, you have two sides to worry about - do you really think that a given American squad would face the exact same Germans battle after battle?

However, with the "random scenario" rules, it would certainly be possible to simulate one side's increasing experience to some extent. You choose a given unit size, from Platoon to Company, and you can increase their troop quality over time from Green to Line to Elite, and equipment availability changes over times as well. If you created your opponent randomly, but kept your own unit relatively intact, it would be possible to do this with a little common sense.

For example, your Platoon does quite well in an early scenario, so in the next one you'd move up to "Line" quality, perhaps with a slightly better commander. However, your boys run into some very bad juju in the next encounter, losing your strong leaders and half of your troops, so perhaps you are bumped back down to Green.

While this isn't really something I'm interested in (it would be more fun if you could come up with an AI for your opponent, perhaps a set of tables that would determine their actions, or at least their ability to perform actions), it's certainly possible. I fully expect people to come up with both of these concepts in a much more fleshed out form as time goes on. However, I think with tools like VASSAL and with such an accessible and teachable game that we will not suffer for opponents.

Doug
 
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Eric T
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Re: Combat Commander: Europe - Extended Example of Play Review
Thank you Doug and Paul, great idea's Doug, might have to try this game out regardless.
 
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Chad Jensen
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Re: Combat Commander: Europe - Extended Example of Play Review
Quote:
might have to try this game out regardless.


Please do!
 
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