"Keep Summer Safe!"
[This review based on some initial thoughts I wrote up in late '06. I've cleaned up some details and expanded a bit.]
CC:E seems inspired by Up Front, that not-quite-ageless classic that still looks good, despite the outlandish outfit and wrinkles. Combat Commander embraces the hex-map, each scenario occurs a small single board (10 rows of hexes with 15 columns). Leaders, units and squads are chits, and actually move around. This eliminates Up Front's Relative Range (a fairly simple concept in a confusing package) but reduces fog of war.
In CC:E, each power (German, Russian, American) gets its own deck. Up Front managed to handle everyone in a single deck (by having split cards that acted differently depending on your nationality).
Splitting the deck allows for more customization of each power, so its a draw. Like Up Front, cards serve multiple purposes. If you need a die roll, you flip the top card and use 2d6. Here's where the fun starts: Sometimes a die roll triggers an event. Some events are standard (weapon jams, sniper attacks, and advancing the time marker). Otherwise you flip the next card and use its event. The rulebook has 35 sections on events, so I assume there are 35 different ones. (These sections take a paragraph, perhaps two. Some of them a sentence).
Additionally, each card has an Order and an Action. Orders are what you'd expect:
* Call in an Airstrike
You play orders on your turn, and each squad can only perform one (although some orders target players). Actions can be played whenever appropriate; many are small modifiers (like a bonus to firepower, or morale). Others have bigger effects, like laying smoke, or firing while moving. Opportunity fire (by the inactive player) is an action, as is firing while moving.
Another noteworthy rule is Initiative. In CC:E the Initiative is a physical card. When you have it, you can cancel a die roll (and its event). Of course, you have to hand it over to do that. Should the scenario end in a draw, whoever has the initiative wins.
The rest of the rules are fairly standard — Line of Sight, Firepower, Morale, Movement, Objectives. Each map lists objectives (1-5), and then the scenario may direct their value. But often players will randomly draw objective chits from a cup. Some of these may be given to a player, which means the exact score may not be obvious to one (or both) players during the fight. So they'll take what they can, to cover their bases. It's also possible for one player's "secret" chip to be revealed (some chits can't be kept a secret, and some events force them to be revealed), which would let one player "know the score," while the other is in the dark.
The rules are clear, but dense. (I can now explain the basics in about 20-30 minutes, but I read the rules several times, as well as setting up the example of play.) The cards are nice, similar to GMT's Card Driven Games. The box is the Command and Colors: Ancients size, but not nearly as sturdy. Plenty of space for expansions. With three countersheets, it would be nice to have a few treys to separate squads by type (rather than bags). And I bought a card case for each deck. Apart from the rules, you get the scenario book, play aids, & 6 (double sided) maps. I can see where the money went, at least.
Overall, I don't think anyone primarily interested in Euros will care about this, but I love it. (Those who are looking for something a bit more complicated than the Command & Colors games may be interested.) CC:E lets players build a dense 'narrative' of the story. It's chaotic, but the sheer number of random events means that each scenario plays differently. This is an 'experience' game, but with a reasonable amount of skill. That being said, I've had a few games where the cards just take over. This is not a title control freaks would enjoy.
I'm tempted to rate this a ten, but it's too early for that. I suppose the shine may wear off. But I've already pre-ordered Volume II, and I'll be snapping up expansions for a while, I think. With the caveats mentioned above, I recommend this highly.