Don’t fear the cards

As I’ve often noted in the past, I enjoy playing a wide variety of ‘tactical’ wargames. I’ve either sampled or owned large chunks of nearly all of the tactical hex-and-counter game systems that have been published. I’m not a Game Y vs. Game X fanboi because I believe that each of the game systems I’ve encountered over the years has something to recommend it and has given me some insight into the history of life at the pointy end of the spear.

That said, I’ll be honest and note that some games I prefer to play more than others. And of those “some games”, the Combat Commander series may well rank at the top of my ‘play anytime’ list for a number of reasons.

At the small-unit level, tactics is primarily the art of organizing some sort of success out of total chaos. So goes a game of Combat Commander. It is not a game system that will appeal to either numbers-crunchers or players who enjoy a high degree of control over their far-flung squads and weapons teams. Players who want to carefully weigh and calculate their advantages or who want to engage in finely-timed tactical evolutions will not be rewarded for their efforts.

Good order. Good action. Tough decision.

Good order. Good action. Tough decision.

Rather, Combat Commander more frequently rewards the player who can best assess the situation, plan accordingly and then maintain as much of his planning and organization as possible when the unknown unfolds before him.

Organization and the proper use of leadership are vital components to master in playing Combat Commander. Leaders give you the ability to activate large numbers of squads and teams with a single order. Task-organizing around leaders helps to mitigate the “I only had one [X] order in hand” syndrome that frustrates many players – essentially, a command-and-control problem. Three squads without a leader are only going to be able to accomplish things in dribblets of activity. The same three squads under the direction of a leader, however, could move from their start line, across the map and swarm off through some victory-point exit hexes with the use of only two Move orders.

From what I’ve read and heard, probably CC’s greatest frustration for many players is that they can’t get their ‘guys’ to do what they want, when they want it done. Well, welcome to small-unit command.

If you’ve never been a ‘boss’, perhaps you don’t realize how difficult it is to get a group of people to coordinate in order to achieve a common goal. It’s impossible to micro-manage every small detail, time everything precisely and predict the 25 different ways 25 different people will interpret your ‘orders’. And that’s with nobody trying to hose you down with a belt-fed, water-cooled machinegun.

‘Orders’ in Combat Commander are just that: Your exertion of command influence to get an organized response out of your ‘guys’. For that reason, I don’t view ‘Orders’ as the only activity taking place.

When groups of opposing squads are within sight of each other, for instance, I hardly imagine that the ‘Fire’ order I’m about to issue is a brief interruption to the usual humdrum of bands of armed men sitting 90 yards apart and playing cribbage in small groups. I’m pretty sure that in the ‘real world’ they would be at least taking the occasional pot-shot at each other. My play of a ‘Fire’ order, rather, more likely represents the resolution of five minutes of small arms fire – just as it represents the same effect in many other, fire-every-turn tactical games. Or, just as likely, it may represent the 1st Sergeant showing up to kick some butt and get everybody firing at the SAME target for a change.

If you’ve played Combat Commander, perhaps you’ve encountered the frustration of watching your opponent advance across your fields of fire while you’re stuck without a Fire card in your hand to play for opportunity fire. It happens – although with 20 of each fate deck’s 72 cards bearing a Fire order it should be the exception rather than the rule.

Does that mean your machinegun team is just watching the advance while they sit behind their silent gun, boisterously arguing over who just farted? Hardly. It simply means that – for a myriad of reasons – they are unable to place effective fire against the advance. It may also mean that you’re a dumbass for playing the fire card you held last turn to potshot a single squad while it was still 7 hexes away – but that goes back to the issue of leadership. An effective response to enemy action requires a bit of organization and planning. Plain bad luck intervenes at times, but that’s usually offset in the long run by the impact of good planning and organization.

Effective fire in CC is usually worth the wait. If you can activate a decent fire group for opporunity fire during an opponent’s Move order, that fire group can make an attack on each enemy unit that moves under that same order, essentially every time it moves into a new hex. That’s the potential to do a lot of damage.

All you need is a little patience.

3 thoughts on “Don’t fear the cards

  1. Do you have opponents down in the swamp or are you solo’ing CC?

    In re: Counter trays, wish I had read your blog right before WBC, I could have brought you back counter trays galore…cheap and w/o shipping costs. GMT always has a supply at their table. I have a reasonable number for now, so I didn’t get any this time.

  2. @dropded — I’ve got Vassal sessions of CC on Thursday nights. The Vassal server gakked it up last week, but we finished our previous game in just a couple of sessions.

    With my recent discovery of the secret stash, counter trays aren’t yet critical — especially since I’m not buying games at the clip I used to. But by next year’s WBC, I’ll probably be out again…

  3. >Does that mean your machinegun team is just watching the advance while they sit behind their silent gun, boisterously arguing over who just farted?

    I think this is just one of the ‘problems’ with tactical war gaming. When you move a battalion/regiment/division/corp into a hex and roll some dice to attack everyone accepts the abstraction. By their nature tactical wargames likewise contain a very high amount of abstraction, but because of their ‘personal’ aspect (“I wouldn’t sit on my nuts and let that guy march by me!”) we feel qualified to pick at the abstractions whether we know anything about being on a battlefield or not.

    Or at least I do.

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