Combat Command 2: Danger Forward
by Peter "Zhukov" Pawelek
Game Title: Combat Command 2: Danger Forward
Developer: Boku Strategy Games
Designer: David Erickson
Publisher: Shrapnel Games
Files: | demo | Patch 1.01 |
Release Date: Dec 13, 2000 (Released)
System Requirements: P166, 32MB RAM, Windows 95/98/ME, 20MB HD
Article Type: Review
Article Date: February 15th, 2001
Combat Command 2: Danger Forward (which I’ll be referring to as CC2:DF) occupies a refreshingly novel niche in computer wargaming. It has a smaller scale than what is usually expected for an operational wargame (which Norm Koger in the manual for The Operational Art of War (TOAW) defines as "a view of the battlefield on a scale just exceeding that at which differing ranges of various direct fire weapons are significant"), and it’s on a larger scale than the usual run of tactical wargames such as Combat Mission and Steel Panthers. CC2:DF has been described by some as ‘grand tactical’, and I think that label is apt. The smallest unit in the game is company level, organized into regiments. The player will control a couple regiments in the smaller scenarios and one to three divisions in the larger scenarios. Boku Strategy Games has really thought out the mechanics of doing a grand tactical WW2 wargame, making CC2:DF one of the most innovative and elegant computer wargames I’ve ever seen.
Specifically, the game scale in CC2:DF is 500m per hex, with turns lasting 2 hours during daylight and 4 hours during nightfall. The number of turns in a game day varies depending on the season: in winter scenarios there are 6 day turns and 3 night turns per game day, and in non-winter scenarios there are 8 day turns and 2 night turns per game day. Unit types are divided between infantry, armour, and artillery. Within each of these types there are numerous subtypes that have special abilities (for instance, mountain troops are infantry units that move more easily through mountainous hexes). The base unit in CC2:DF is company level. Each company-sized unit contains three platoon-equivalents or ‘hits’, which can be lost in a stepwise manner when taking casualties. Air and naval forces figure significantly in CC2:DF, which specializes in modeling invasion scenarios: paradrops, glider operations, and amphibious invasions. Although I’ve seen some really good board wargaming systems that model these types of invasion scenarios, in my experience this is the first computer wargame that really captures the scope of such operations and this will be discussed in more detail later in this review.
What are some of the innovations that separate CC2:DF from other computer wargames? Firstly, although the game resembles a board wargame in that it has a hexgrid map and counters, there are many layers of complexity in how units function within the game. Unlike most wargames, the unit counters are not static merely possessing a combat factor and a movement factor. In CC2:DF, how units move and fight depend significantly on the posture in which they’ve been placed. There are 5 major unit postures in the game: Attack, Defend, Withdraw, Reserve, and Travel. How a unit functions in the game is directly related to its current posture.
Offensive operations conducted by units can either be direct fire or assault. To use direct fire a unit has to be in Defend Posture. One of the advantages of direct fire capability is that a unit can inflict opportunity fire at a distance against moving enemy units. Direct fire damage tends to be light, and is generally ineffective against units dug-in in favorable terrain (although significantly more effective if its coming from an armor unit against a target in open terrain). To root out dug-in units, they need to be assaulted. For a unit to assault, it has to be in Attack Posture. Units from the same parent HQ that are in multiple hexes can coordinate an assault against a single hex if they are all within command/control of that HQ. In combination with air support and artillery, assaults can be devastating against an enemy position, especially if the enemy is already disrupted. CC2:DF is a complex game, and a lot of factors are crunched before the computer decides an assault or direct fire outcome. However, it will show you a CRT (Combat Results Table) just prior to ‘rolling the dice’ which will give you a chance to abort the attack if you see that the odds are not favorable. This is a really nice touch, and well appreciated by an old board wargamer like myself.
The whole concept of withdrawal in CC2:DF really shapes the dynamics of the game. Once a unit enters an enemy zone of control (EZOC), it cannot leave it until it changes into Withdraw Posture and makes a Withdrawal attempt which could cause it disruption or even a loss of strength. This is much more detailed than most wargames where leaving an EZOC usually just entails a movement penalty, and it reflects that fact that to withdraw from an engaged position, you really have to turn your back to the enemy with all the danger that that entails. It makes one think twice before moving a unit adjacent to an enemy position, and coupled with opportunity fire, maneuver in this game is fraught with danger. Given the scale of the game, Boku could have added an extra dimension here if they would have included unit facing in their system. As it is now, withdrawal penalties are an adequate abstraction of a unit facing away from its enemy to retreat.
Infiltration rules give units engaged in an EZOC a chance to move into another EZOC hex; infiltration has its own risks depending on the unit nationality, terrain and time of day in which it’s attempted. Nightfall is the best time to try infiltrations of enemy positions.
Unit performance is degraded by disruption, which is accumulated through 4 levels. Units at Disruption Level 4 are essentially basket cases that should be withdrawn from the front lines and put into Reserve Posture to become undisrupted faster. A disrupted unit is much more vulnerable to enemy assaults and is greatly reduced in offensive operations. Also, the ease of getting disrupted is largely dependent on a factor known as Troop Quality, which reflects the historical effectiveness/morale of a particular force. The interplay between disruption and command/control is exceedingly well-done. If a unit is within control of its headquarters, it has a percentage chance of losing a disruption level every turn, and if it’s in Reserve Posture this percentage is even higher.
The one thing that is not modeled in the game is fatigue. Considering that most of the scenarios last for three or four days, I would have liked to have seen some negative effects on continuously pushing my forces to their limits throughout the day and night. Also, unit ‘brittleness’ would be another welcome addition; in this case, units which have been previously disrupted by enemy fire would be more susceptible to disruption in the future. Combat Mission is an example of a game in which unit brittleness is factored.
Both supply and command/control rules are quite straightforward; in both cases an uninterrupted string of friendly-controlled hexes must be traced from the supply source or HQ to the unit to determine if it's in supply or in command. Individual companies who can establish a command link with their parent HQ are capable of functioning as a larger formation when conducting concerted assaults. Units out of command control have their movement allowances halved. Supply status is crucial for having full attack capabilities. Furthermore, if a unit’s supply is cut off, it will lose Troop Quality factors over time which in turn has devastating effects on a unit’s ability to perform.
Whether a unit is in command control or supplied depends on a number of modifiers involving factors such as the presence of enemy EZOC’s, state of unit disruption, etc. Initially it can seem a bit cryptic as to why a unit becomes unsupplied or out of command; however, the rules explicitly lay out all relevant modifiers so that in all cases a particular outcome can be figured out given the circumstances. This is where CC2:DF is superior to a game like TOAW since it has a transparent rules system. Everything is described in detail in the manual, and all of the tables that the computer uses to make decisions are available at the back of the manual. In contrast, the ‘blackbox’ nature of the TOAW system often leaves one to take the game system on faith that everything is behaving as it should.
CC2:DF can be played with or without ‘fog of war’. If ‘fog of war’ is selected (which every self-respecting grognard will want to do), the amount of intelligence that you can gather on the enemy varies over four levels (Hidden, Fog, Limited, and Full) depending on the situation of nearby friendly units, the terrain that the enemy is in, and the time of day. Once an enemy engages in Direct Fire or Assaults, more intelligence can be gathered on the firing units.
Finally, victory in a given scenario is determined by a number of factors. Victory Points (VP’s) are awarded after the last turn of the scenario for occupied objective hexes. Depending on the scenario design, these VP’s are converted into one of five levels of victory (Draw, Pyrrhic, Marginal, Substantial and Decisive). This level of victory is further modified by the amount of troops the player has remaining on the map that are undisrupted and not adjacent to the enemy, reflecting the ability of the player to exploit his victory beyond the artifical end of the scenario.
How is the AI? Well, it holds its own compared every other computer wargame AI that I’ve seen, but it still has its flaws. For instance, playing the Heraklion scenario as the Germans I was able to capture Heraklion Airfield and achieve a Decisive Victory by taking an indirect route, initially attacking the Greek forces in Heraklion city to the west of the airfield and then infiltrating my way through British positions along the coast towards the airfield. In the process, I saw numerous opportunities for the AI to drive its armour north towards the coast effectively cutting off the link between my infiltrating forces and their parent HQ unit. However, the AI chose to keep its armour in a static defensive role and lost some golden opportunities. That being said, it was really nice to see the Greek forces melt away with a few withering assaults, reflecting their poorer Quality compared to the British forces.
What saves CC2:DF as a good single play comptuer wargame is that most of the scenarios are invasions, in which a static AI-controlled defender can still provide a good challenge. Although I haven’t played it multiplayer yet (and the game can be played either as PBEM or direct TCP/IP), I’m sure that this is where gameplay would really excel. That being said, CC2:DF will provide you with a good single-play challenge most of the time, with the occasional wince at gaffes perpetrated by the AI (then again, I’ve committed my fair share of wargaming gaffes over the years, so who am I to quibble?).
The CC2:DF manual is very well written, concise and thorough in its description of the game system. It reads much like the manual for a board wargame, and includes all charts and tables used in the game so that the player has an excellent appreciation of all game factors. If you want to get good at CC2:DF, reading the manual and understanding the game systems are essential. For instance, you can end up losing a lot of units if you try infiltrating in clear terrain during daylight hours. This, to a certain degree, is common sense. But it’s only when you see that there is a 40% decrease in the probabilty of infiltration success due to these conditions that you really would think twice before doing it. That’s where reading the manual comes in. The manual lacks screenshots illustrating some game concepts, which is a bit of a drawback but not a showstopper.
Graphics and Interface
The game graphics are clearly in the ‘no frills’ category. That being said, the graphics are functional if not overly pretty. I have a bigger problem with the game interface, which at best is awkward and at worst downright irritating. For instance, if you left-click on a unit it will immediately highlight all the hexes that it can move into, along with numerical values within these hexes denoting movement point expenditures. If you then left click on one of these hexes, the unit will move there. This is convenient when one wants to move, but often I find myself left clicking on units across the game map to inspect them. Because of this, I very frequently end up moving units by mistake because I’ll click in one of its eligible movement hexes to try and deselect it. Sure, it’s my error, but it happens a lot and it seems to be that the programmers didn’t anticipate the players browsing the map in this fashion. Fortunately, there is an ‘undo’ function for most moves (unless they move into a hex and take opportunity fire). However, doing a lot of ‘undos’ in a PBEM game can be problematic.
Also, the interface is not as informative as it could be. I would like a feature seen in many computer wargames where I could click a button and instantly see which hexes that I control are in supply or not. Similarly, it would be nice to be able to graphically trace command control relationships between HQ’s and their sibling units. That being said, there is a function which will display supply and command/control status of the units, but this is often hard to read when dealing with large stacks. Screen real estate could be better used to portray this type of information. If you select a unit, its relevant statistics are displayed on a side-bar on the left of the screen. If no unit is selected, however, this side-bar shows some artwork from World War2 propaganda posters. I guess the designers thought that this would somehow enhance the atmosphere of the game, but I find it highly distracting and a waste of space which could be better used to help me manage my units.
On the positive side, CC2:DF provides some nice touches like pop-up windows portraying all the units in a given stack, so that they can be individually accessed and given customized orders. Also, you can call up an Order of Battle window which allows you to centre on individual units within a parent formation as well as showing you their command/control status. A jump map also appears in a mini-window which can be rapidly used to locate units. Finally, the game system allows for a high degree of interface customization, and there are multiple options for deciding which counter values that you want to have your units display.
CC2:DF comes with twenty scenarios covering four West Front theaters: Greece/Crete ’41 (Maleme, Heraklion, and an alternate Heraklion scenario which includes a German amphibious invasion which was historically blocked by the British Navy), Sicily/Italy ’43 (Syracuse, Gela, Palermo, Primosole Bridge, Troina, Salerno, Sangro River, San Pietro, Anzio), Normandy ’44 (Sword, Carentan), Battle of the Bulge ’44 (Stolberg Corridor, Hurtgen Forest, St. Vith, Bastogne, Celles). A Sealion scenario is also included.
These are all isolated scenarios since CC2:DF does not come with a campaign mode; however, the larger scenarios like Bastogne and Hurtgen Forest will give you more than enough to chew on.
The scenarios vary in size between small (where you control a Regiment containing a dozen or so company-sized units), to large (where you control one or more divisions, with each division having about 50 or so company-sized units). Scenarios range from one to six game days (which can be either 9-54 turns, or 10-60 turns depending on the season).
Out of the twenty scenarios included in the game, nine are invasion scenarios involving paratroops, gliders and/or amphibious landings. Given the success of this game system at portraying invasion scenarios, I really hope that Boku will release an expansion covering the island-hopping amphibious invasions in the Pacific Theatre.
CC2:DF also comes with a versatile scenario editor. Although my experience with it is limited, it appears well-equipped for anyone who has the ambition to design a scenario of their pet airborne or amphibious operation.
Airborne and Amphibious Operations
This is where CC2:DF really shines. The base rules for command/control and supply integrate very well with the game systems employed for executing these types of operations. One tends to forget how small the scale is in this game (500m per hex), so it’s always shocking to see how widely dispersed your paradrops will be compared to the drop-zone hex you specify. From my experience, it is almost immaterial where you specify the drop-zone hex since your units will be scattered across the map anyway (well, as I found out, you do NOT want to specify this drop-zone hex close to a body of water, lest a majority of your force drowns upon landing!).
Glider landings tend to be more focussed around the landing hex that you specify. Finally, amphibious landings can suffer a bit from water drift, but tend to be the most accurate. In terms of casualties, amphibious landings are the bloodiest type of invasion operation in CC2:DF. You won’t suffer as many immediate casualties in a paradrop, but units tend to land in a dispersed state, out of command/control and supply and at the mercy of nearby enemy forces if they land too close. There are mechanisms to land units off-board and have them enter as reinforcements. This was the only way that I could take Heraklion Airfield as the Germans, although I always felt that I was cheating a bit by doing this. On the other hand, if your paradrops enter the map as reinforcements, the enemy has a much longer time to entrench. Theoretically, then, a well-executed paradrop within one or two moves to the enemy should be effective in dislodging a defensive position before it gets to heavily defended. I have yet to succeed in doing that in the game, however. So, be prepared for CC2:DF to give you a really good challenge when playing invasion scenarios as the attacker.
Frankly, I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a computer wargame since I got my copy of ‘Panthers in the Shadows’ from HPS Games about 5 years ago (and, yes, this means I like it more than Combat Mission…). It is truly innovative, well designed, well researched and fun to play. For someone like me, who has played board wargames long before computer wargames were around, CC2:DF is faithful to the board wargaming genre. Ironically, it is a welcome change that breaks the mold of many recent computer wargames which have tried too hard to distance themselves from their boardgaming roots. Heck, in CC2:DF you can even specify that the program shows you the dice rolls!
Given that most of the scenarios portray invasions, CC2:DF is well suited for single play against the AI (when it is on the defensive, of course). However, I really see the potential for this being a great multiplayer game; the rhythm of play is fast and would lend itself well to direct TCP/IP play, which is supported. Although it leaves a bit to be desired in terms of graphics and interface, the game system is so well done that I cannot help but give Combat Command 2: Danger Forward my highest recommendation. Now, get over to the Shrapnel Games website and order this game because I desperately need more multiplayer opponents!!
Shrapnel Games - Combat Command 2: Danger Forward
© 1997 - 2001 COMBATSIM.COM, Inc. All Rights Reserved.