It’s a brand new year and time for another adventure from the ongoing saga of the Combat Commander ladder.
The ladder, run by the remarkable Patrick Pence of “Patrick’s Tactics & Tutorials” fame (you really should go check that channel out), is the only way I’m able to play a monthly game of one of my favourite games of all time.
No, not Chutes & Ladders.
The January scenario comes from the Combat Commander: Resistance expansion (which I sadly do not have yet, but can play on VASSAL with no problem).
In The Orient Express, a force of Greek Partisans along with some British Commandos faces off against some Italian units, trying to blow an important bridge to kingdom come.
(I’ve often wondered where that expression came from…is there a kingdom go? Should I be writing while drinking?)
Anyway, this month’s opponent was Scott K, somebody who I had seen on the Ladder Discord channel often but never had the pleasure to play against.
We got the game set up, played for about an hour, and then the VASSAL server went down.
But we regrouped and finished the scenario the next day!
Scott played the Partisans (Yellow and then Tan when the British arrive) while I played the Italians (some weird kind of Green? Not Yellow, that’s enough).
(Keep in mind you can click on the pictures to blow them up a bit)
The Italians set up with two bunkers, but then all units have to be either in the bunkers, on a road, or in a building.
Thus their setup is quite prescribed.
The Partisans can only set up from columns H through L, and only two hexes deep, so it’s a bit prescribed for them too.
Since I had 5 Wires, I decided to set up three of them to prohibit any Partisan fire groups in the forest. In many scenario AARs that I saw, and from what I expected anyway, I thought there would be some major firefights between Italians on the hill and Partisans in that forest. Best to preempt that!
Another Wire was set up to make moving toward Objective 4 more difficult.
The Partisan/British side, when the British come onto the board during Time Check 4, can move one British unit and the satchel charge off of the side of the board over the bridge and water hexes in order to get 10 points (that simulates blowing the bridge).
Most allied players try to do that…keep that in mind.
Objectives 4 and 5 are worth a 12-point swing, and the other objectives are a 6-point swing, so it’s good to try and defend them.
The Partisan rules are sometimes hard to internalize. When Partisan units would die due to breaking, they might just be reduced. Also, melees only happen at the beginning of the Axis turn so if the Axis advance into their hex, they can move out before it happens.
One thing to keep in mind too: there is a Night special rule, which reduces the firepower of all attacks by 1 for each hex of range. So if you’re firing at somebody 3 hexes away, you have -3 firepower.
Another thing is that the Italians, who usually can only discard 2 cards anyway (which kind of sucks) can only discard 1! What are they, French?
Also just a note. Scott thought that the Partisans only got 3 cards instead of 4 for almost half of the scenario.
Having four cards would have made the scenario move faster (favouring the Italians in our case) but it would also have given him more options (favouring the Partisans). I think it all came out in the wash, but it’s good to keep that in mind.
Were my Italians able to prevail?
Let’s take a look!
I also have to say that the luck and minor mistakes mostly evened out, so this was a tense battle from start to finish!
Scott took his first move and Advanced a couple of Partisan stacks into the woods, including Georgi and a Troop, into the Wire.
That could prove costly.
The Italians quickly fired on them with no result.
Except that a Partisan sniper broke Sgt. Ottolini!
That was not a good start.
Ottolini was going to be activating almost all of those units to move out. I even had a Move card ready for them.
And now he’s broken! With no Recover card in hand!
Instead, I moved Lt. Zanella and his men over to the west, trying to get into position to keep the British away from the objective and also the Partisans from moving on the bunkers.
The Italians didn’t get a lot of Move cards early, which hindered things a bit.
Another thing to keep in mind with Partisans is that their reinforcements come onto the board on Sighting markers, not on the edge of the board. And some Partisan cards let them spend VP to get reinforcements ready to come out.
Scott did that for all three Sighting markers during the game, of course. (I mention that only because Zanella and his men were intentionally not moving onto a Sighting marker there. I learned my lesson!).
The Italian medium machine gun fired on Georgi and the Troop in the Wire again, and broke the Troop!
The Italians quickly played a Rout order, drawing an 11 and forcing the Troop off the board! Except Scott decided that wasn’t cool and gave up the Initiative.
After a couple of rounds, the Italian MMG fired back and promptly broke! I couldn’t have that (even though Italian guns jam a lot) so I gave the Initiative back to Scott.
I finally drew a Recover card and Ottolini recovered. I then fired on Georgi again and killed the Troop! Scott also drew an “Inexperienced” event which forced him to discard all of his cards.
Over the course of two moves, Josef was able to get to Objective 4 and take it for the Partisans. That’s a 12-point swing! Leaving the Italians with 10 points instead of 22.
Those two objectives are so critical.
A lot of minor stuff happened, but then Scott started moving towards the railroad tunnel and the first Time happened (due to the Italian deck running out)!
Scott had managed to infiltrate a Partisan section and leader and put him smack dab in the middle of my Italians.
Zanella took the opportunity to dig in to some foxholes.
Georgi, with his Troop gone, had retreated back to help some of his other guys advance.
Since Nikolai just appeared in front of all of those massed Italians, they had to be fired on.
The Section broke and Nikolai was suppressed!
Even with the Orchard as hindrance and cover, that was a lot of firepower.
The Italians managed to Rout the broken Partisan section, leaving Nikolai all alone.
The broken section did manage to Advance into Objective #2, taking a 6-point swing.
They were quickly routed back another hex, though.
After a little bit of firing, the Italian swarm finally started moving!
And that’s when the VASSAL server gave out.
On the next night, we continued.
I continued the move. Nikolai promptly fired on some of them, but to no avail. Objective 2 was in Italian hands again!
A couple of units stayed back to keep an eye on Objective 1. But they didn’t actually occupy the objective, which would prove crucial…
Anyway, things weren’t looking too badly for the Italians.
On the second night, Noel joined us. That rules guru who helps everybody he encounters.
And eventually Scott found out (from Noel) (Edit: actually, it was somebody else who pointed that out) that he had been taking too few cards!
The Italians quickly fired on Josef’s Troop in the Woods as well as the broken section (which broke down to the Partisan Hero, Nina).
Subsequent Partisan fire didn’t do much by itself, but caused another sniper that broke Zanella!
The Partisan sniper was really effective this game, mainly when I really wanted to do something with my leaders.
Georgi and his men advanced on the bunkers and since I had fired so much, I didn’t have anything to stop them.
Zanella quickly rallied and kept moving toward the bunkers, hoping to reinforce them.
A movement factor of 3 on the squads really made that difficult, though.
Then the Partisans advanced into one of the bunkers!
This resulted in one of the weirdest luck effects I have ever had in Combat Commander. And that’s saying something.
I had 2 Ambush actions and Scott had one.
I had to break my squad but the Partisan Troop had to break twice.
On the second break, the Partisans have to draw from the Force Deck of cards instead of being eliminated outright. If they draw something smaller than what they already are, then they become that (broken) rather than being eliminated.
Scott drew a leader, so the Troop broke down to one man.
After Scott drew his melee card, I only needed a 7 or more to eliminate him.
I drew a 7! Which is also an Event.
I took it, since that meant I would win the melee.
(My deck also ran out in the middle of this, causing a Time trigger that made a Partisan troop go into the hex of an Italian squad)
The event was Prisoners of War, which causes one Italian broken unit adjacent to a Partisan unit to become eliminated.
This was my only broken unit!
So it was eliminated, which meant the melee ended and the Partisan leader maintained control of the Pillbox.
If that event hadn’t happened, I would have won!
On the next turn, the newly-arrived Partisan Crew, which arrived on top of an Italian squad, had to face the music.
They were quickly eliminated (though I had to give up the Initiative for that!)
The second melee, from when the second stack of Partisans advanced into the other bunker, resulted in another dead Italian unit.
A subsequent Italian Rout didn’t do anything, but a sniper trigger actually broke a Partisan in the bunker, the only time the Italian sniper did anything.
Ottolini and friends fired on Josef and killed the unit that was with him, leaving him all alone!
More of that fire resulted in a Time trigger, bringing on the Brits!
With two exposed leaders out there, I decided to take it to them and advanced into melee with both of them.
Partisans are so good in melee and the Italians don’t have a lot of firepower, so initiating melees isn’t really an Italian thing. But this was important!
Since Scott didn’t have a Move/Advance card (or didn’t want to waste it on them), they both died horrible deaths.
Though not before making it interesting by rallying both of them!
While we were waiting to do the melees, the Brits advanced and took Objective 3 by the railway tunnel.
Both Partisan leaders died in the ensuing melees though.
Ottolini thought that getting Objective 4 back would be beneficial, so moved down the hill and into the brush.
There weren’t a lot of Partisans down there, so it may be a good move.
A Time trigger happened, bringing the last infiltrated Partisan reinforcements onto the board, a Crew and Molotov cocktail adjacent to Zanella and his men.
Ottolini moved onto Objective 4 and then back into the brush, taking the objective and getting a nice 12-point swing for the Italians.
A subsequent fire attack brought an Italian infiltration event, bringing another squad onto the board (though in hindsight, a leader might have been better).
Here’s where things got interesting.
I kept moving my units to see if I could interdict the Brits from moving to the bridge and getting an easy 10 points.
Instead, Scott moved them up the middle of the board to try and move them off my side of the board! I hadn’t foreseen that and didn’t leave units in his way.
But that was later.
The Italians advanced into Nikolai’s hex but he ran away before the melee could start.
He would then move off the board for one VP, but he couldn’t come back because Scott didn’t have any more Sighting markers available.
Scott did advance the guys in the bunker to Objective 5, getting another 12-point swing.
Some movement happened, Nikolai moved off the board, and two Partisan snipers broke two Italian squads!
Damn his snipers…
I did draw a Walking Wounded event, bringing another squad onto the board, broken.
Thankfully I had a Recover card!
The Italians have very low broken morale, but I managed to roll 5 or less three times!
(“rolling” a 5 or less three times in a row is actually quite difficult to do)
Another Time trigger happened and Scott did what I totally did not expect him to do (as mentioned earlier): rush the Brits up the center!
I had no defense against that and it really boggled my mind, actually.
I was expecting them to go toward the railway bridge, exiting a team and satchel charge off for 10 points.
During some other firing or moving, another Partisan sniper broke Lt. Zanella! Partisan snipers were brutal this game!
Partisan fire ended up breaking their Medium Machine Gun, which ended up (eventually) being discarded so that the unit holding it could move better).
That unit discarded the MMG to move toward Objective 4 and get an even bigger partisan swing in VP. But the Italians said “no!” (See? I speak Italian).
Here’s where we get to my one major mistake, but in my defense, why would the Brits run forward rather than blowing the bridge?
Anyway, I did not have a unit on Objective 1, which meant the Brits could run up and just take it.
Which they did. Another 6 point swing!
In other news, the Partisan Troop moving toward Objective 4 was routed off the board for one Italian VP. Yay, me!
At this point, I knew I needed to do something to bring things back in my favour.
Ottolini and his men ran off the board for 5 Italian VP while other Italians moved to cover Objective 4 so Scott wouldn’t get any ideas about it.
And here’s where my second mistake came, though it may not have worked anyway.
I played a Move to move an Italian squad and then an Advance and moved another Italian squad.
What I should have done, even though it would be a bit of desperation, is advanced onto the British unit occupying Objective 1.
I think I was thinking I would try and retake Objective 5, but there wasn’t enough time left to do that unless Sudden Death didn’t trigger.
Winning the melee would have almost ensured me the game if Sudden Death triggered. The other Brits would have had to delay exiting to retake it.
But I didn’t.
Instead, the Brits exited (even the crew I fired on) and Scott got 6 VP to give him a 3 VP lead.
Scott only had 1 card left in his deck at that point, so did a Fire order to use it.
Since he had Initiative, he would be able to reroll the Sudden Death roll. He needed to roll a 7 or less to end it.
And he did.
The Partisans ended up with a 3-point victory.
Here’s the final situation.
Mistakes were made on both sides, and the luck kind of evened out. I got some good rolls on firepower attacks to break some of his units, and he had deadly snipers.
Surprisingly, the Italians mostly came out on top of the melee sweepstakes, if it hadn’t been for that terrible Prisoners of War event that ended up giving the bunker to the Partisans instead of the Italians. Usually melee is a Partisan thing, but the Italians killed a couple of leaders in melee.
That bunker melee may have cost me the game, since Scott was right next to Objective 5 to just take it with no issues.
And this scenario was pretty bloodless for the Italians too!
There was an Italian “Walking Wounded” event which brought one squad back out, but still.
The Italians are so brittle with their low morale and everything that usually they pay the price.
This was a tense, back and forth affair where both of us thought that the other player was going to run away with it.
I thought Scott would have it easy running the British satchel charge off the board for 10 points, but was totally surprised by his run up the middle instead. I wasn’t ready for it at all!
Scott was a great opponent and it was even better that we were able to get two nights together since the VASSAL server went down on the first night.
Many thanks to Noel for his rules help on the second night (he abandoned us on the first night to play Fighting Formations…who does that????)
I’m now 10-10 on the ladder. I looked back and for the last 6-8 months, I’ve had streaks where I win one and then lose two.
I have to break that cycle.
Starting next month?
February brings us to the “Fall of the West” battle pack. More French!
Hopefully I won’t be the French.
Not that I have anything against the French.
I just hate the “discard 1!” rule for them.
I already did that this month!
Anyway, if this interested you at all, why not come join us on the Combat Commander ladder?
Maybe you’ll get to play me! (An almost guaranteed win).
Either way, join me next month for another adventure.
Combat Commander Ladder – After Action Reports
May 2021 – Scenario #112 – Sonnenwende
July 2021 – Scenario #23 – No Man’s Land
August 2021 – Scenario #34 – Encircled at Hill 30
September 2021 – Scenario A – Grassy Knoll
October 2021 – Scenario M6 – Breakout
November 2021 – Scenario #35 – Spartakovka Salient
December 2021 – Scenario #51 – The Uneasy Wait
January 2022 – Scenario #65 – Road Trip
February 2022 – Scenario #75 – Sturmgruppe Beton
March 2022 – Scenario #90 – The Man Who Would Be King
April 2022 – Scenario LoM9 – Operation Mercury
May 2022 – Scenario #119 – Sky Fall
June 2022 – Scenario #9 – Rush to Contact
July 2022 – Scenario #14 – At the Crossroads
August 2022 – Scenario #30 – Red Skies At Night
September 2022 – Scenario E – West Tank Barrier
October 2022 – Scenario M4 – Templeton’s Crossing
November 2022 – Scenario #41 – The Commissar House
December 2022 – Scenario #53 – Deeds Not Words
January 2023 – Scenario #67 – The Orient Express
February 2023 – Scenario #82 – Hidden Guns Lash Out
March 2023 – Scenario #91 – The Battle of Trafalgar
April 2023 – Scenario LoM8 – Codes in the Sunrise
May 2023 – Scenario #105 – La Fiere Counterattack
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What a close game!
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