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)
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
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.