One Good Turn – Combat Mission Cold War

One Good Turn is the feature format I reach for when a single segment of a military TBS or TBT session leaves me feeling surprised, smug, or outwitted. When I’m eager to communicate enthusiasm but not, perhaps, ready to pass judgement. While these pieces shouldn’t be interpreted as whole-hearted endorsements, they are proof that the game in question can, when the planets align and the wind is blowing in the right direction, produce bursts of wargaming bliss.

The evenings I’ve spent Combat Mission Cold War-fighting this week, suggest the latest instalment of Battlefront’s wallet-withering WeGo-and-turnless* tactics series isn’t going to help ‘second-generation CM’ overhaul ‘first-generation CM’ in Tally-Ho Corner’s Top 50 Wargames chart (Not voted yet? What are you waiting for?).

* You can play with turns or without them

Untouched fundamentals mean all of the stuff that’s been rattling the cages of CMx1 lovers for years – problematic action spots, flawed FIBUA, mindbogglingly complicated LoS situations, script-reliant AI, the absence of randomly generated maps, poor performance, limited scope… – remains potentially aggravating in CMCW.

Happily, as the Cold War scrap I’ve just concluded illustrates, it is possible to miss the legibility, simplicity, and flexibility of Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord and its two sequels and still have a great time with their pricier successors.

The 45-turn ‘Quick Battle’ in question had me on the edge of my seat dozens of times and boasted several sixty-second sections that would make decent ‘One Good Turns’.

On seeing the rectangle of German real-estate my handpicked band of brothers…

  • 1 x combat engineer company HQ
  • 1 x combat engineer platoon (3 x squads, 1 x HQ)
  • 1 x medium mortar team
  • 3 x scout teams
  • 3 x M113A2 APCs
  • 1 x M60A1 Patton
  • 1 x M150 (A TOW-firing tank hunter based on the M113)
  • 1 x M901 (A modernised version of the above)

…had to wrest from a Russian force of unknown composition, I almost bailed before the first shot had been fired.

Garden-less houses unimaginatively scattered along a west-east highway… countryside devoid of fences, tracks, and agricultural detail… “Village-Hills (912 X 512) 159 Attack” felt like it had been thrown together in a hurry.

But I put my cartographic misgivings to one side and decided to press on.

Aware that I had plenty of time to take the two objectives and keen to remain as unobtrusive as possible for as long as possible, I issued few orders in the early turns. While all of my AFVs and the lion’s share of my infantry loitered in the hidden-from-view deployment zones, my trio of three-man scout teams began watchful rambles eastward. Keen to set-up, the mortar team and their spotters (the company HQ) hurried north to a promising wooded knoll aligned with the map’s longitudinal highway.

My first vehicular order was prompted by a sound rather than a sighting. Uncertain whether the thrum of distant whirlybirds audible during Turn 2’s replay was ambient frippery or a helpful warning of trouble on the way, I erred on the side of caution and directed my trundlers under nearby tree canopies. The shady hiding place I chose for the M150 – the only AFV I’d deployed in the northern half of the map – came with unexpected fringe benefits – foliage-framed views of two T-62s stationary on the eastern edge of the map’s large rapeseed field.

After coolly nailing one of the sunbathing brutes, my TOW toter reversed, reloading as it did so. Using a sickle-blade of carefully arranged waypoints, it then re-entered the woods at a different point.

The manoeuvre worked like a charm. Under human control, the second T-62 would probably have popped smoke or backtracked after witnessing the death of its sibling. In the hands of the stoical AI it sat tight and consequently suffered the same fiery fate.

Things went swimmingly until Turn 17, the turn I attempted my first bit of house-clearing. While my mortar harassed two AFVs nestled in a glade north of the ‘West Village’ objective, I, confident that the coast was clear in the south, sent two engineer-laden M113s bowling towards an enemy-occupied farm that was hampering the progress of one of my scout teams.

Said scouts had, during their approach, swapped lead with an agoraphobic SAM team that they possibly could have overcome on their own, but I didn’t want to take any chances. With one of the M113s providing covering fire from distance and the other, wary of RPGs, hiding behind a barn, the assault went in.

Clearing occupied buildings is always hairy in CM. When, literally out of the blue, your opponent receives help from invisible helicopter gunships, doubly so. Miraculously, the Hind (?) strafing run pictured above failed to damage or deter my assaulters.

The three engineers got into the farmhouse without a scratch and were dropping defenders (I was right to be wary – the SAM team wasn’t alone) left, right, and centre when a grenade exploded in their midst. The fact that all resistance abruptly ceased the moment that fateful RGD-5 went off, suggests the munition killed foes as well as friends.

In the minutes leading up Turn 26, the turn I’ve selected as my OGT, the surprisingly toothless Hinds (?) returned…

…perturbing my APCs and plugging the unbuttoned gunner of my M150.

The Patton got on the score-sheet by potting a BMP.

The northern scouts were blown to smithereens by a single HE round from god-knows-where.

And members of the blue team occupied ‘West Village’, the nearest of the two objectives.

When I dabbed the ‘execute orders’ button at the start of Turn 26, this was the situation I was facing:

A) M901 (No kills)
B) M150 (Two kills. One crewman KIA)
C) T-62
D) West Village, occupied by one of my scout teams, and the engineer squad that captured the farmhouse earlier
E) Patton (One kill) pushed forward last turn in order to deal with the BTR-60 lurking at I
F) Unidentified enemy tank possibly making for the central highway
G) Another unidentified enemy AFV
H) Crossroads, the main objective
I) BTR-60

When the sixty-second intervention-free action phase begins, my eyes are fixed on my MBT. If CM has any golden rules “Don’t lead with tanks in close terrain” has to be one of them.

As the vulnerable M60A1 edges forward, scrutinising the belt of trees ahead for LoS/LoF lines to the stationary Soviet APC beyond, I brace myself for a folly-punishing RPG or Sagger impact. Instead, a second or two into the turn, a slight turret twitch tells me the US tank has found the foliage hole it’s been looking for.

A tree bough bears the brunt of the M60A1’s first 105mm emission. However, the second strikes Bronetransporter rather than bark, producing results as gratifying as they are predictable.

The next drama to draw my eye involves two friendly units that would, in other wargames, end the battle decorated or promoted. Because I’ve forgotten to give the scouts on the the upper floor of the big building at West Village, a hide order or short-range combat-discouraging cover arc, they decide to have a go at a tank visible through the north-facing windows. The unplanned LAW attack has unexpected consequences.

Spooked but seemingly undamaged by the AT rocket hit on its flank, the T-62 decides to relocate. A hasty move northward puts distance and greenery between it and its assailant, but exposes it to a new threat, my M150. I doubt the distracted TC notices the smoky signature of a TOW missile launch amongst the oak trees to the west. Even if he does, there’s nothing he can do to save his dyspeptic dacha.

Any celebrations within the M150 are cut short by an acorn-scattering near-miss moments later. Something, possibly the same unidentified enemy AFV that eliminated the northern scouts with a single shot, has spotted my hat-trick heroes and wants them dead. I look on approvingly as the friendly TacAI kicks in, and the US tank hunter retreats deep into the undergrowth.

The sound of an agitated American assault rifle prompts another camera shift about halfway through the sixty. Not content with one tank kill assist this turn, the lofty scout team at West Village are busy molesting another MBT. An unbuttoned T-62 making for the main highway from the north finds itself on the receiving end of an M-16 fusillade. One round hits the incautious TC and he drops into his turret, in my mind’s eye at least, bracing a bloody arm against his chest.

Does that wound have any bearing on what happens next? There’s no way of telling for sure (it certainly doesn’t protect the opportunistic sharpshooter from swift/brutal retaliation) but a commander racked by pain or on the verge of passing out would help explain why, when the T-62 eventually reaches the road, it notices the in-cover engineers down the street but not the fifty-ton crop crusher glaring at it through the trees.

The wayward LAW rocket fired by the former is still in flight when the on-the-money HEAT round fired by the latter projects its jet of molten mayhem through the T-62’s  side armour.

Three enemy AFVs dispatched in under sixty seconds at the cost of one topped scout? In a game as cruel as CM often is, that’s a rate of exchange I’ll take any day of the week.

16 Comments

  1. Excellent writing as usual Tim. CM is exceptional. But I’m always hoping a developer will mimic it to tailor for the part time grog that rarely gets the time required to learn and enjoy CM.

  2. CM is an old love, but one that I simply can’t play anymore. First off, it is the graphics engine. It is simply too old and clunky. It annoys me that they haven’t been able/willing to update it all these years. One should think they got a nice ROI on it after 21 years. Then there is the micromanagement. I know it is ‘CM’ but I get so tired before I even start a scenario at the outlook of all that pointing and clicking ahead of me.

    • I wouldn´t mind the graphics so much, but what keeps me avoiding CM is the pricing policy. I don´t feel taken seriously if I am expected to pay extra for an engine upgrade which seems to be nothing more than a patch. A quick glance didn´t tell me if I actually had to buy that extra if I, for instance, would fork over the not inconsequential sum of 90$ for a complete Fortress Italy. And then maybe another 80$+ for another war theatre.
      I´m not even sure if I got the details correct here. I found the storefront not to be very informative.

      High quality video AARs and write-ups like Tim´s here keep me entertaining the thought of buying into CM, but the nagging feeling of being taken advantage of kept me back so far.

  3. I should add that in recent years, I find that I play more and more Graviteam. That game is amazing and they keep adding more realism to it. And the engine is lightning fast.

    • Same boat. I kind of want to buy this, but I know that if I do it will be disappointing at this price point for all of the usual reasons.

      Reasons to buy this – how cool at T-64s, can the US Army circa late 70s hope to stop the soviet steamroller? This really hasn’t been done before in terms of the actual conflict. I’ve often thought this would be really cool, especially given the technological transition of the US Army, and the on paper Warsaw pact advantege.

      Reasons that I suspect it will be disappointing:

      1. It still looks and feels like CMSF 1. The current game engine runs a little like CMSF 1, at least up until current version of CMBS – seemingly regardless of system speed. It’s just a slightly better looking more stable version.

      2. They hit us up for money for patches (upgrades), despite point 1 above. The most hateful part is the patch doesn’t typically fix the most grating issues. I’ve gone down that road every time though. Shame on me.

      3. Despite having been on CM 2.x (I don’t believe that CM3.0 or CM4.0 are actually more than iterations of CM2.x) since 2007, there are still the same sad issues – no operational layer, clunky campaigns, poor performance on larger maps, no fire planning options, arbitrary map edges, arbitrary reconnaissance, “unusual” delivery profiles for smart weapons. All of this has been justified in various ways by reference to scale/scope/balance issues, but frankly that has worn very thing. Other publishers have fixed those issues in less time.

      4. The patches haven’t addressed longstanding gameplay issues, including but not limited to the use of the action square system for infantry combat/movement. Game choices are driven by micro-management, and the hand break (TacAI) doesn’t work – the quirky TacAI, action squares and lack of any proper control over SOPs require additional micro. You end up in an unending cycle of micro. All of the micro is directed towards picking and driving down a flank or unlocking some rubik cube of battle positions and keyholes to defeat some random position in detail while the AI opponent just lets you crack on with it. My theory is the scenario designer, knowing precisely the dispositions and tactical plans of the opponent will often “balance” scenarios for either P v P or “challenge” without having any thought to whether it makes sense on a playthrough.

      5. The mission and campaign content itself typically sucks or is inconsistent now – it used to be better or perhaps I was more willing to accept the problems. Typical problems include issues with scale, deployment zones, orders of battle, time limits etc. Additionally the content is now held back by the engine. A trench with overhead cover? No -never. How about digging in an AFV – better hope the map maker has made the relevant depression? Can I drop a cut-off on the reverse slope – no your mortar platoon don’t have a range table. Luckily the AI probably isn’t going to move it reserves to the critical point unless it’s pre-progammed a zerg rush. I’ve got OPs on the flank, but having carefully micro-d my way through a scenario, a company of T-72s arrives behind my right flank (which is otherwise apparently open terrain) with no warning.

      6. Battlefront seem open to balanace passes which I believe is a serious amber light for any historical war game. Tweaking ammo load-outs, armour or smart weapons for balance raises questions about other short-cuts for the small minority of P v P players. Most of the problems could be solved with bigger maps, operational layers or enhanced flexbility, but the game cannot support those solutions.

      Like Count Valar, I’ve drifted to Graviteam. Battlefront could and should fix these issues at this point or move the pricing down towards a mid-tier release point where you would be inclined towards benefit of the doubt.

      • I’ve felt this way about CM for a long time. I kept telling myself I’d get Cold War, but now all I can see in my mind’s eye is the tedious micro involved in ordering a Soviet Battalion-level attack.

        My dilemma is that I really prefer the Cold War theatre to WW2, and my impression is that Graviteam only has one Cold War module, and it’s the relatively obscure Angolan War at that. Is it worth it?

        I’d otherwise be playing Armoured Brigade, though that game still lacks a cohesive operational layer. Is there anything else out there?

        • Well, it seems Graviteam is about to release an 1980’s Iran vs Iraq campaign set. It’s not Fulda Gap, but you got a lot of the same equipment making an appearance.

          Armoured Brigade is pretty good too. The dev is working on version 2 which I’m keeping an eye out for.

          Then there is Steel Beasts. Although its a tank simulator, it has a pretty good RTS layer with infantry and everything. You can play it as a wargame without ever getting into a vehicle. It’s really very good, the maps are huge, very atmospheric too. And to top it off, there is something called operations, which is a sort of campaigns where you fight linked scenarios with the same units.

    • The lack of alternatives is why I feel like I’m building up to buying CMCW. Fortunately, it isn’t even a lot of money these days, it just hurts to pay full freight knowing it’s got all sorts of issues. There isn’t a gap in my life to accomodate the hateful micro, cryptic briefings and 12 FPS, so it will sit on my hard drive reminding me that I lack discipline. I will boot it up and surf through the scenarios, probably end up rage quitting or cheating my way down the map edges and feeling distinctly unsatisfied.

      Re Graviteam, Iran-Iraq (Basara 85/86) DLC is coming. Bush war content is well done, but it has it’s own pecularities, especially in so far as the SADF AI isn’t very sophisticated. Graviteam could scale up but they tend to stick to stuff they think they can do relatively well – which isn’t some Gds Armd Reg trying to smash through a screen of Armoured Cav, as much as that would be insanely cool in the Graviteam engine. Sword of the Prophet for APOS was pretty good, but not sure they are rebooting that.

      • Hum, yes that sounds about right. I tried out Tunisian tank warfare because it was on sale and found Graviteam’s interface design a little baffling, but maybe I’ll give it another go some day.

        Ah well, hopefully AB2’s development is getting on ok!

      • Well if you have nothing against RTS there are three titles by Eugen Systems that are Cold War gone hot titles, then you have Microprose getting ready to release Regiments and then Slitherine/matrix has Broken Arrow on the Horizon. Then you have Flashpoint Campaigns, which is pretty good.

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