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Subject: A hardcore ASLer tries Combat Commander rss

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J. R. Tracy
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With 700+ games of ASL under my belt, I'm probably not the target audience for a light look at WWII tactical combat, but I'll play just about anything and this beauty moved to the head of the queue last night. Bill Terdoslavich and I cracked the box for a couple games of CC:E last night. The learning process was pretty smooth, though I had to unlearn a couple ASL concepts in the process. We went from unpunched
to playing in about 20 minutes.

Our first game, Scenario 1, was a very close match. The Open victory chit made the building on the German right worth four points. As the German, my secret victory chit made *all* victory locations worth an additional two points. The setup meant Bill's Soviets would have at least eight victory points in hand against my six at the end of the first turn, in addition to whatever Bill's secret chit might add. This put me in the unenviable position of going on the attack at 1:2 odds.

I had somewhat better quality troops but Bill definitely had the numbers, as well as better support weapons. I used three squads and the better leader to secure and guard the three victory locations in the center of the map, and sent my weaker leader, a squad and the LMG to the right. Bill had three squads, a leader, an MMG and an LMG protecting that building, with the rest of his forces in the woods on my left, looking down the road. My attack on the right quickly ended in tears as I fell back through the woods. I added a squad from the center and tried again. This time I had more success - Bill eliminated one of my squads and I lost my LMG to malfunction/elimination, but the surviving leader/squad combo went on a tri-state killing spree, nailing all three Russian squads and the leader in successive melees. Nothing like a fistful of Ambush cards to help things right along.

Bill was up against his casualty cap, but had to launch a counterattack. It took him three turns to move a force over to the chunky VP building, but by then I had assembled a friendly greeting of yet more Ambush cards. We had a mutual annihilation result on a melee in the victory building, leaving it in my hands and Bill over his surrender limit.

Our second game was a bit of a laugher, but displayed much more of the CC:E system. We played Scenario 2, US/German in the Bocage. I had a handful of Conscripts and Volksgrenadiers (Volksgrenadiers? Normandy? Well, we don't play CC:E for the history) amply supported by four leaders, a couple HMGs and two LMGs. Bill's dogfaces were mostly Line squads stiffened by a couple Elites, three leaders, a pair of MMGs, a light mortar, and most importantly, 105mm artillery support. The victory locations start in German hands so the onus is on the GIs to attack. The open VC chit made every location worth two VPs, and my secret chit made one building worth another two. I deployed with my strength in the center (both HMGs and two of my three VG squads) with a leader/LMG/VG picket on my left and my line extended to a leader/LMG/Conscript on my right, and a Conscript playing sweeperback in my rear.

Bill made a strong opening move to turn my right flank. He succeeded in breaking and eliminating my squad on the right, but that was the high water mark for the Americans. Unlike the relatively Event-free first game, we had a cascade of Events in this one, mostly pro-German. First, a new Open victory chit granted me an instant five VPs (one per location in hand). The next event allowed me to cash in some of those on the German support table - I rolled up a groovy HMG team and placed it on my right flank, neatly blocking that route. I was able to get a leader/HMG/squad over to the right as well before Bill could crack my line, and a Foxhole action saw them swiftly dig in. That was probably the key moment as Bill's 10-strength artillery missions made little headway against the +4 foxholes, and he wasn't getting anywhere with his rifles and MGs.

Stoned on my right, Bill had some better luck on my left, using his mortar to send some Conscripts packing from behind a hedge. He rolled up a Hero as well, giving him some hope. I was able to pelt him with a hail of HMG fire, however, and despite a string of Recover cards he just couldn't get his brokies face up again before I killed them off. His only meaningful events other than the Hero merely started blazes to seal a flank and put Mines in the way of his advance! The final Event insults were another instant five VPs for the Germans, closely followed by a second trip to the support table which parachuted a Fallschirmjäger squad right into the center of my line. Sweet! Bill mercifully finished off his deck shortly thereafter for the final Time event, drawing the scenario to a close.

Overall my impression was favorable, but I wouldn't wager a kidney on the outcome. The cards generate a nice narrative, including lulls in the fighting where both players are flushing their hands looking for a useful card. The events certainly spice things up but they also generate a feeling the players are just along for the ride. It's almost like the SASL engine crawled out of its box and joined the game as a third player. While atmospheric, the Events also detracted a bit from the gameplay. I was grateful for the HMG materializing in the path of Bill's attack, but to be honest I was looking forward to seeing how his flanking gambit would play out against my original forces and deployment. In the first, relatively Event-free scenario, the driving elements were maybe 70% players/30% game system, while in the zany Bocage it was more like 50/50.

Comparisons to ASL hold superficially in terms of look and scale, but the better analogue is Up Front. The card-driven frustrations and opportunities feel very similar. The complexity is about on a par. Where the two games diverge is in the exogenous Events and the playing time. We wrapped up two games in about four hours, while you could probably get in five games of Up Front in that span. I find the playing time a little longish given the heavy element of randomness - I'm no control freak but if the game system is going to take my fate from my hands, I'd like it back in an hour or so. Fans of ASL, ASLSK, and ATS can rest easy – this is no substitute. The chaotic elements can overwhelm player decision-making, to the point of occasionally dominating the outcome. The key to enjoyment is to not take it personally if you find yourself absolutely screwed.

In sum, CC:E is a fun diversion, mechanically light and clean if a tad long in execution. Thumbs up,

JR

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Steve Huskey
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Thanks JR for the wonderful review. It is nice to read a well thought out and articulate synopsis composed by a veteran ASL player. I think this is the best review I have read. You cover both the pros and cons with a fair and well-worded analysis.

I would point out that it seems your opponent missed a strategy in the second game that may have altered it. The artillery can also be used to lay smoke, not just FFA to kill. When faced with a well dug in opponent and having 6 cards to 4, it may be better to get the ambush cards and then advance into melee under the cover of smoke to root them out.

Getting VP's for doing nothing by events seems a bit trite to me. You should have to do SOMETHING to earn them. Then again, it enables a player to potentially win when all seems lost. So it encourages you to play on because you never know what is going to happen.

I think this is what I like about the game. Even when all seems hopeless, if you persist you may still prevail. So many games are over at a certain point and you may as well concede. Not this one!!
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Ubergeek
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I'm curious how much of a workout the initiative card got in your games. Was it ever in the right hands to block an event?
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David desJardins
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Good review.

Walt Mulder wrote:
I'm curious how much of a workout the initiative card got in your games. Was it ever in the right hands to block an event?


The Initiative doesn't let you block an Event. You would have to use it immediately when the Event trigger is rolled, before you know what Event you're blocking. That seems too speculative since most Events are unimportant. How would you guess that this Event is the critical one?

P.S. The idea of letting the player use the Initiative to block an Event, after it's revealed, might not be a bad one. It's just not in this game.
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J. R. Tracy
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Walt Mulder wrote:
I'm curious how much of a workout the initiative card got in your games. Was it ever in the right hands to block an event?


Walt, I had the initiative card from the beginning of both scenarios. In the first I had the option of conceding it in return for the first move, but didn't feel it was worthwhile (I couldn't prevent the Russians from reaching the big victory building, and could reach the closer objectives unhindered moving second). I like holding onto Mulligan chits when I have them, until the situation really feels like it's at a crucial turn - in the first scenario, all those situations went my way, and the second was a runaway German win, so there was no need to give it up.

I will say this is my least favorite aspect of the game. I don't like the pingpong quality of unlimited Mulligan plays in succession, and I feel it is undervalued in terms of victory points if held to the scenario end. I prefer the Breakout: Normandy mechanic - the Mulligan still gets used but in a much more judicious manner. I'm guessing the designer wanted to mitigate extreme results, but with the randomness so high I don't think it matters much.

(Edit: I see from David's post I may have misinterpreted your question. I felt I didn't know enough about the vagaries of the events to preempt one sight unseen - as it happened, they almost entirely went my way or were relatively neutral.)

JR
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David desJardins
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jrtracy wrote:
I don't like the pingpong quality of unlimited Mulligan plays in succession, and I feel it is undervalued in terms of victory points if held to the scenario end. I prefer the Breakout: Normandy mechanic - the Mulligan still gets used but in a much more judicious manner. I'm guessing the designer wanted to mitigate extreme results, but with the randomness so high I don't think it matters much.


The Initiative is not worth much in terms of victory points, but it can prevent the game from ending at all! Thus giving the trailing player many more turns to catch up. I think its value is generally highest at the end of the game (except when Sudden Death is far along the time track, at 12 or 13), and this causes precisely the phenomenon of it not trading hands except on critical occasions. There are some occasions (like Melee) where so much is at stake that it is definitely worth playing. On the whole, I think the balance is about right, and it certainly adds to the game. Maybe you would see that too, with more playings.

I do feel (and I've expressed this to Chad, although I didn't get the warmest welcome) that the free Reinforcements can be awfully swingy. I would prefer a tweak where the beneficiary of Reinforcements pays a VP cost for his choice from the support table. If paying the full printed cost is too much, then perhaps half the VP cost. I don't aim to eliminate that randomness, just tone it down a little. And also balance the available choices a bit more.

P.S. I see that I may also have misinterpreted Walt's question, and he's asking about blocking some occurrence within the game, not necessarily an Event.
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J. R. Tracy
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DaviddesJ wrote:
The Initiative is not worth much in terms of victory points, but it can prevent the game from ending at all! Thus giving the trailing player many more turns to catch up.


Hmmm, missed this bit - how does that work? By overriding a Time! result on a dieroll draw?


DaviddesJ wrote:
I think its value is generally highest at the end of the game (except when Sudden Death is far along the time track, at 12 or 13), and this causes precisely the phenomenon of it not trading hands except on critical occasions. There are some occasions (like Melee) where so much is at stake that it is definitely worth playing. On the whole, I think the balance is about right, and it certainly adds to the game. Maybe you would see that too, with more playings.


I agree with you here - I always hold mulligan/advantage chits for key situations, and the later it is in a (close) game, the more important the result. I held it throughout both as a result. I guess my impression from reading the rules and the example of play was the intent was to have the Initiative card flying back and forth across the table throughout. Sound play will likely trend toward what you describe, I reckon.


DaviddesJ wrote:
I do feel (and I've expressed this to Chad, although I didn't get the warmest welcome) that the free Reinforcements can be awfully swingy. I would prefer a tweak where the beneficiary of Reinforcements pays a VP cost for his choice from the support table. If paying the full printed cost is too much, then perhaps half the VP cost. I don't aim to eliminate that randomness, just tone it down a little. And also balance the available choices a bit more.


Did we screw this up? I paid the printed VP cost for both my Event-derived reinforcements - and felt it was worthwhile in each case. The first (HMG on the flank) saved a shaky situation, and the second was effectively a game-ender.

Thanks for the comments,

JR
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Chad Jensen
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Excellent report, J.R. - thanks!

Quote:
Hmmm, missed this bit - how does that work? By overriding a Time! result on a dieroll draw?

Two different ways: if you have the Initiative you can cancel and re-roll the "boxcars" - which also cancels the attendant Time trigger. Or you could cancel and re-roll the Sudden Death Roll itself.

Quote:
I guess my impression from reading the rules and the example of play was the intent was to have the Initiative card flying back and forth across the table throughout.

Sometimes it will do this, sometimes it will never change hands once. All depends on the vagaries of the situation on the map and the predisposition of the players.

Quote:
Did we screw this up? I paid the printed VP cost for both my Event-derived reinforcements.

The Reinforcement - and Infiltration - Events give you your new piece "at no cost" (step 2 of each event). The listed VP costs on the Support Tables are only used during Random Scenario Generations.

These two Events are powerful, to be sure, but playtesting has shown that they are really no more "swingy" than a well-placed Sniper, or an opportune Walking Wounded, KIA, Medic, etc. And the main drawback to receiving new units via these two Events is that your Surrender level doesn't concurrently increase - so your Surrender percentage drops with each new addition to the battlefield.

Again, nice AAR!
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John Paul Sodusta
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I used to think that the reinforcements was just plain broken. However, this impression is changed after playing more than 25 games when I noticed that those extra men do not make a huge impact in the game. Most of the time they are left in the far rear ranks that get rarely used because more pressing issues are in the front of the battle. If the game allowed all units to be activated all the time every turn, then those reinforcements would indeed make a huge difference.

Hidden Units are different things though.
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David desJardins
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Barkam wrote:
I used to think that the reinforcements was just plain broken. However, this impression is changed after playing more than 25 games when I noticed that those extra men do not make a huge impact in the game. Most of the time they are left in the far rear ranks that get rarely used because more pressing issues are in the front of the battle.


I do agree that, often, the Reinforcements don't help at all, because units way back on the map edge never get into battle. But, in that case, a VP cost for Reinforcements wouldn't change the outcome at all, because you could just decline the unit.

But, often, the defender is fighting right up at the rear map edge, and so the Reinforcements come into play just where they are needed. Or, often, the attacker chooses artillery support rather than a unit, and then there's no need to do anything special to bring it into action; indeed, it lets you use those Artillery Request cards that you're otherwise discarding.
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John Foley
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JR, I know you from way back in the days of the early ASLML and I want to thank you for giving the game a serious try with Bill and sharing your thoughts. Very much appreciated. Roll low, good buddy.
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David desJardins
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jrtracy wrote:
The final Event insults were another instant five VPs for the Germans, closely followed by a second trip to the support table which parachuted a Fallschirmjäger squad right into the center of my line.


Was this an Event, or the Hidden Unit Action? If the latter, it shouldn't be regarded as an unusual swing of luck. On average, the defender should get about one Hidden Unit per game (very roughly, depending on scenario length and lots of other things). It's just one of the benefits of defending.

On the other hand, if it was Infiltration Event, and it just happened to be where you needed it, then that's lucky. On the other hand, that means you never got the Hidden Unit Event, which is a bit unlucky. So, still, things averaged out.
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J. R. Tracy
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DaviddesJ wrote:
jrtracy wrote:
The final Event insults were another instant five VPs for the Germans, closely followed by a second trip to the support table which parachuted a Fallschirmjäger squad right into the center of my line.


Was this an Event, or the Hidden Unit Action? If the latter, it shouldn't be regarded as an unusual swing of luck. On average, the defender should get about one Hidden Unit per game (very roughly, depending on scenario length and lots of other things). It's just one of the benefits of defending.

On the other hand, if it was Infiltration Event, and it just happened to be where you needed it, then that's lucky. On the other hand, that means you never got the Hidden Unit Event, which is a bit unlucky. So, still, things averaged out.


Hmmm, dunno - I'll have to pick through the cards to see. I received two different reinforcements - the paras above and the HMG. Lucky or not it sure helped my cause!

JR
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jrtracy wrote:

Overall my impression was favorable, but I wouldn't wager a kidney on the outcome.


I enjoyed this review and report and as a first impression it's grand.

I'm concerned however that anyone might think it was an accurate assesment of the game!

Whilst the stats and game boards lead to an evevitable comparison with SL the game, as John notes, in terms of skill is far more like Up Front. Whilst games of UP Front can seem random affairs to the uninitiated it's one of those games where the same players always seem to win, and I fully expect this to be true of CC:E.

Scenario two is long and does produce many events but when the players underlying strategies are sound these tend to produce a gentle nudge in one direction or a slight set back, not a game wining power play!

Scenario two seems to me to be quite a tactical affair. The American uses smoke, particularly from artillary, to setup relatively low risk melee's systematically breaking down the German position. The problem is that with only four advance cards in the American deck tempo can be a problem and some of the randomness of events and card flow can cause minor set backs and build tension. This in no way equates with the whacky game John describes above..?

I suspect that most of us understood the mechanics of the game quickly leading to the mistake of thinking we knew how to play it. Even coming to CC:E as an Up Front player I know I've had to reassess my play and I think it was 5 or 6 games in before I began to see how I could obtain a better level of control over simple thing such as the risks involved in entering melee.

If people play the senarios in order then two seems quite a jump from the intro scenario. The skill level required to play it well however suggests that CC:E isn't necessarilly the "light" game others are suggesting.




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J. R. Tracy
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jrtracy wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:


Was this an Event, or the Hidden Unit Action? If the latter, it shouldn't be regarded as an unusual swing of luck. On average, the defender should get about one Hidden Unit per game (very roughly, depending on scenario length and lots of other things). It's just one of the benefits of defending.

On the other hand, if it was Infiltration Event, and it just happened to be where you needed it, then that's lucky. On the other hand, that means you never got the Hidden Unit Event, which is a bit unlucky. So, still, things averaged out.


Hmmm, dunno - I'll have to pick through the cards to see. I received two different reinforcements - the paras above and the HMG. Lucky or not it sure helped my cause!

JR


Just checked - I had one of each, with the Infiltration event plopping the Fallschirmjägers right into the middle of my line.

JR
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