Friday, January 19, 2007

Another week, another game

As I work my way through a few games of Combat Commander, NOW I remember why I ditched all of my Advanced Squad Leader stuff years ago. Not to take anything away from ASL’s large following of dedicated gamers – it’s just that it never really ‘worked’ for me as an enjoyable wargame. Tried it for several years running, collected a bunch of modules – all to no avail. It just was never quite worth the effort for me.

Combat Commander never claims to be the ultimate in simulation, but I think the end result is a much closer approximation of infantry combat outcomes than ASL. At least for me. Mostly this is because of the game’s chaos factor. You come up with an initial plan, try to implement it and then adjust as the game moves along. Damn near anything can happen. The game Events can throw all kinds of monkey-wrenches into things – from your own squads breaking at the wrong time to the timely arrival of reinforcements. The Order and Action mechanisms insure that you can seldom do EXACTLY what you want to do.

I think it was Rommel (?) who said something like “The reason the American Army does so well in wartime is because war is chaos and they practice it on a daily basis.” This game captures a nice chunk of chaos, and at a fairly manageable level.

One of the things I like is the pacing of the game. Even ATS pesters me a little in this regard – everything happens too quickly and unfolds too cinematically (although that can be fun as well). In the few games of CC I’ve played so far, the pace feels more realistic. Movement comes in fits and starts. You’re rewarded for using your leadership well. Or, more to the point, penalized for using it poorly. If you don’t keep your leaders in a position to activate multiple units when a Move order is played, then your guys just aren’t going to go anywhere.

Nobody gets as many Move orders as they’d like. All of the Fate decks (one for each nationality) have many more Fire orders. The end result is a game narrative that ‘looks’ right. Grunts in combat don’t typically sprint around the battlefield in sneakers, because they know that moving targets attract more attention. So you try to use Move orders to get your guys quickly from one good position to the next, while simultaneously trying to keep them set up to use fire groups for maximum impact. Closing with a defended position takes a mixture of boldness, planning and patience. In that respect it reminds me of PanzerGrenadier.

Combat Commander is doubly interesting for me because I never thought I’d enjoy a ‘Card Driven Game’ quite this much. Truthfully, it was almost a moment of insanity when I pre-ordered it. I’ve tried several CDGs and the only one of the bunch I’ve really enjoyed is Twilight Struggle. I was quite disappointed with both For The People and Barbarossa to Berlin. Paths of Glory seems more carefully crafted, and is enjoyable enough that I’ve still got it.

In the ‘standard’ CDG methodology, it’s that disconnect between Operations and Events – the ‘fallacy of the false decision’ – that chaps my butt. That effect is completely absent from Combat Commander. In Twilight Struggle, the card mechanism doesn’t necessarily produce the effect because the “Operations” and “Events” are both so abstract to begin with. In CC, that type of decision cycle doesn’t exist at all.

More on this game as we go along.

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