If You Love It So Much, Why Don’t You Marry It Then?
1. I’m already happily married.
2. In spite of the rapid and random redefining of civil marriage these days, I don’t think “One Man:One Boardgame” is ever gonna make the cut in even the most liberal of societies. But you never know…
But I still love this game.
A friend recommended it last year and I hemmed and hawed (i.e. stalled) on getting it. It would (as always) be for solo play and didn’t I already have some great player-plays-both-sides games? But there was something about its high rank on BGG and the positive reviews and community that kept drawing me back to it.
Then it came.
Birthday. Amazon Gift Cards. Oh what the heck! So I ordered the base game of Combat Commander: Europe.
Then it came.
The rules are amazingly clear. When a different rule is referenced, there is a reference number so that you can look it up. They are also surprisingly short for such a detailed game. The basic rules cover about 7-8 pages (admittedly small print), but in practice they aren’t very hard to understand, grasp and apply during gameplay. In addition, each card’s available orders, actions, and events are explained in detail as are the different terrain and special unit features. While I have had to look up an occasional edge case in the rules, I’ve almost always been able to find the answer very quickly.
The main rule to grasp (and is hard to set aside by my loophole hunting brain) is “a rule means exactly what it says”. So when you read a rule and then go “but what if…” slap yourself and remember “a rule means exactly what it says”. “Yeah, but…” — no. No. NO!
To get started you can play a simple setup game, read a subset of the rules and the details on Opportunity Fire and off you go.
The base game comes with 600+ counters, 12 scenario maps (on 6 medium sized, double-sided map sheets), 3 decks of cards (one for each faction) and then of course rules, scenario book and player aids. The 5/8″ counters are for the Russian, American (Allies) and German (Axis) sides of the game. Also included are a mix of 1/2″ counters for marking various states, conditions, control of areas, etc. Obviously any good wargame needs its counters clipped and no X-Acto knife can hold a candle to the Oregon Laminations 2.5mm Corner Rounder, so these got a proper haircut before reporting for duty.
The maps are simple but functional. While they aren’t the prettiest in the world, they also don’t clutter the game field with ambiguous artwork. I like that the maps are fully contained for the scenario. There are no combining small panels to form a map. There are no overlays either. With the setup time for some other games like Memoir ’44, it’d be nice if they also provided paper maps for each scenario.
The cards are brilliant as they are used for a multiple purposes: Orders to units; Actions which supplement attacks and defense; Events which play out at random times throughout the game and change things up for good or bad; Random hexes for times when certain events require them; and finally Die Rolls. Yep… no physical dice in this game… you draw cards for them. A first I didn’t care for this part, but have grown to love and appreciate it. It works perfectly and the cool thing is that people who don’t like random die rolls should like this since the possible die combinations are evenly split across the 72 cards. Get high rolls early, expect low rolls later on.
I do sleeve the cards. Not because they are prone to damage, but because you’re going to shuffle them. A lot. It’s so much easier when they are in sleeves. I use penny sleeves, but might splurge to get some nice ones for this game.
The Playbook has one annoying quality that I’m happy they fixed with the later expansions: The scenarios were printed in the book. Later scenarios come on double sided mission cards, so you can just have the card out and this works much better. I scanned my mission pages for the 12 missions in CC:E and the 12 in the Combat Commander: Mediterranean expansion and reprinted them on cardstock just for this purpose. I have them saved as a PDF and hope GMT will allow me to share them at some point here.
I played the first scenario “Fat Lipki” not long after I first acquired the game. I loved it. But it took awhile to play and I needed to clear the table. So I packed it all up. But I was not done. On the power of one play of one mission, I ordered every expansion for the game (for CC:E, not its brother, Combat Commander: Pacific). I clipped ALL the counters, sorted them into GMT Trays, made card boxes. I put all the mission cards into page protectors and into a binder.
I was in, baby.
But then newer games would come along and kept me from getting this back out. I’d resolved to make February “Combat Commander Month” and only play it. But it didn’t come to pass.
I’m going to play this. I’m going to play this. Who gets all this goodness and then doesn’t play it?
Then I started to worry that I suddenly was not going to like it. Another game I loved at first, Galaxy Defenders, I took a break from to paint all the miniatures and when they were all ready couldn’t wait to get it back to the table. And then when I did, it fell a little flat on the replay. Would CC:E suffer the same after replay?
Nope. Not in the slightest!
Finally back to the table this week and moved onto Scenario 2: Hedgerows and Hand Grenades… took a quick refresher on the rules since it had been nearly five months, but on seeing the recent Drive Thru Review of the game, it really fired me back up and got me excited. I even started a second game, a replay of Fat Lipki, using the Vassal module.
So while it’s been nine years since CC:E was released and there are lots of sources for how to play the game in detail, I’ll just cover in brief (you call this long article BRIEF?) the things I love about this game.
The Cardplay: Based on their posture and quality in the game, each side will have a varied number of cards in hand as well as cards they can play. This means you cannot always do what you want each turn. You might go several turns without activating a unit because he’s been stranded and there is a higher priority. I love the event system and the die-rolling cards system. Thing can happen that are unexpected, just as in a real battle. You think you’re gonna move these five guys and then all of the sudden a sniper takes one out. It could happen, it can happen in the game.
I’ve had Germans bail from a farmhouse when it caught fire, then have to flee from the next hex when the breeze shifted the fire toward them again. I’ve launched a perfect artillery barrage (from off-board) only to have it drift right back onto two of my squads and wound them. Heroes have charged into the fray and taken down greater numbers. Americans have been surprised as a pillbox they’d not seen suddenly open fire on them.
The Time Track: Many games have a set number of turns and in some fashion your move your guys, I move my guys and we finitely dance around the board until one is dead or the timer runs out. In CC:E, the length of the game is variable. You have a set number of turns, but when that turn marker advances is mostly uncertain. It will happen when either side runs out of cards OR when a die-roll with a time trigger is activated. I had the first two turns go very long, triggered by deck depletion and the next two happen one after the other as the die roll fired it.
The Variety: If you get it all, you’ll end up with six forces (adding the Italians, British, and French) as well as partisan fighters. Scenarios involving all these forces are added as well. And I’ve not even tried the Random Scenario Generator which will create infinite replay.
The Support: CC:E is an active system. GMT’s latest C3i Magazine included new scenarios, counters, and campaign rules. Scenarios have been released in many past issues as well. The base game was came out in 2006 and the most recent expansion Sea Lion, was released just last year.
The Fun: Hard to quantify, but this offers an experience like no other that I’ve played. I’m very diverse with the types of games I enjoy, I’m certainly not a wargamer, per se. But of the wargames I’ve played, CC:E is certainly the best one by a mile. No it’s not the most detailed. It’s not the most complex battle simulator. But it’s fun to play. While I hate the term “narrative” when it comes to games, this one does tell a great story. I don’t necessarily get drawn into my named characters like I did with Ambush!, but I do get drawn in for each side as I’m playing them. I look forward to getting back to the table, playing out a few hands and seeing the game progress. Just when I think one side is down for good, they suddenly seem strong and able to hold off the enemy.
Combat Commander: Europe is a two-player game. Some have tried to create solo rules to accommodate an AI opponent. Some have suggested that when you draw cards you do it face down and only look at the other side’s cards when necessary. I don’t bother with any of that. And it works just fine. About the only issue is the use of opportunity fire, but in general I don’t use that unless it’s pretty obvious when it’s time to do so. I try to move units through open areas as little as possible and when I do, I assume they are going to get shot at. But as the opp. fire side, I have to really have a good shot to play those, because I may only have one in my hand and have it planned for another purpose.
Yes there could be times when there is a conflict, but you could always roll a die (a real one, don’t burn a card for a non-game use) to help you decide. Or shuffle your hand and draw two cards at random, if one is a fire card, use it, if not, don’t. As the event system proves, there is no perfectly executed battle, so don’t worry that you’re not playing something right. Just play the game and have fun. This isn’t meant to be a super accurate military simulation. It’s a game. It’s a great game, with a lot of real”ism”, but it’s still a game.
So as you can probably tell from all this rambling, er, narrative, I highly recommend this game for anyone who loves wargames, boardgames, or just having fun. This one will never leave my collection.
The entire Combat Commander: Europe experience consists of the following titles:
Combat Commander: Europe
Combat Commander: Mediterranean
Combat Commander: Resistance!
Combat Commander: Battle Pack #1 – Paratroopers
Combat Commander: Battle Pack #2 – Stalingrad
Combat Commander: Battle Pack #3 – Normandy
Combat Commander: Battle Pack #5 – Fall of the West
Combat Commander: Battle Pack #6 – Sea Lion
* Battle Pack #4 was for Combat Commander: Pacific