I was at Sentry Box yesterday to check out the Calgary Strategy Gamers and was lucky enough to sit in on a game of Combat Commander. The two players, Kevin and Robert IIRC, we’re playing a scenario from the Mediterranean expansion for the game.
The scenario pitted a group of Italians with OBA support and Engineers against a hill with entrenched Indian Colonial troops. The Italians were attempting to gain control of the hill and the Colonial troops were just trying to hold out and push the Italians back.
Combat Commander can best be summed up as a combination of Squad Leader and Up Front (if that helps you at all) with a focus on infantry actions but using cards to generate all the dice rolls, actions, events and random occurrences in the game.
Players get cards from their national card deck each turn based on their role in the scenarios (attacker, defender or recon) and these cards can be used to activate troops, or leaders, to move, fire, assault or call OBA. Cards also can have modifiers to attacks, can force broken troops to rout or allow troops to attempt to rally.
The rules for the game are easy to follow and the card system adds a very interesting combination of fog of war (does your opponent have the cards needed to assault a position) and random chance (breezes blowing away smoke or troops stumbling into wire) that even the most basic scenario is going to have an enormous amount of replayability.
The game I watched swung back and forth several times and it looked as if the Italians were going to lose as they don’t have the ability to make that last push to roust the Colonials from the hill. In e end the Italian player hoarded cards to give them the advantage in one last assault that eliminated the Colonials from one objective and did enough casualties to push the Colonials to their Surrender point.
The game system uses a very fluid turn system. Players exchange being the active player but the turn marker only advances when a player runs through all their cards or a Turn Event is drawn. No-one really knows how long the game is going to last or when it will end. In addition each side has a Surrender level which denotes how many casualties they can take before their morale is broken and they surrender.
This gives your actions in a game a certain urgency since you can’t presume a given number of turns and you also can’t toss your troops into a meatgrinder to force a victory as you may just push your troops to their Surrender point.
If you don’t like randomness in your games then Combat Commander is not for you but I think it appears to do a very good job of giving players a taste of the unexpected and chaotic nature of what WWII combat must have been like.
The card system means that the game really can’t be played solo and it is this one point that has stopped me from immediately picking it up. If I can find a regular opponent though it will quickly find a place in my shelf.