So, after my failure in the role of the global jihadist, we had a couple of gaming hours to spare. Nick returned from a gaming convention in Manchester saying how he’d played Combat Commander: Europe and how he really enjoyed it. I’ve had the game for years (my son and I played it a lot when it came out), but I’d forgotten to tell Nick that I had it, and anyway, we’d gone down the Conflict of Heroes route for WWII squad-level games. Now was a perfect opportunity for a trial game. Here’s my initial thoughts on the game from my BGG entry from March 2008 (doesn’t time fly…)
I shied away from this initially because of the lack of armour, but when I finally chose it over Tide of Iron, I found that the lack of armour wasn’t important – it’s a brilliant game anyway. The use of the cards for multiple purposes (orders, actions, events dice-rolls etc) adds to replayablity, though the frustrations of not having the right combination of cards in your hand is constant!
You can’t do everything you want on every turn, so you have to prioritise and hope you get the results you need to move on to your next priority. However, even shots that seem certain to break or kill a unit can be influenced by your opponent playing an action card in your turn. When the game ends is never set in stone either, and leads to many cinematic “just one more push (turn)” type actions, when you a praying for the game to go on so as you can get that elusive victory point to win, whilst you opponent is praying for the game to end for the same reason. This variable time encourages the attacker to take the initiative, as he is bound to lose if he doesn’t, because the defender usually starts off holding most of the victory points.
National characteristics are also built into the system without seeming overbearing, with the year the scenario is set in dictating troop quality and equipment.
Anyway, I can’t praise this game enough, and the criticisms it received for being too random don’t seem fair. Things go wrong in battles despite the best-laid plans (guns jam, people run away at the wrong moment), but if you use the wrong tactics, like advancing over open ground towards a HMG, then you will lose (opportunity fire can be punishing). I read somewhere that the 1st play of this for someone was like playing the original Squad Leader for the 1st time, and that struck a chord with me – it has that freshness which I remember from Squad Leader, and that is definitely no bad thing.
All still true of the game – after an initial slow first few turns while we brushed up on the rules, we fairly flew through the first scenario. The usual frustrations where there – a handful of Move cards when you want to shoot and vice versa, but in the end it came down to both my Russian leaders dying herioc deaths but leaving their men leaderless. The poor saps tried their hardest, even charging into melees against troops in foxholes and killing them in an ambush (did they put Schnappes outside to tempt the invaders out of their defenses?), but the 5 VPs from dead leaders and 3 from an event clinched it for Nick when the second sudden death roll signalled the end of the game.
I predict this one will be hitting the table again very soon…