Friday, 10 February 2012

Hivefleet Apophis: Combat Cards!

I really like Combat Cards, particularly using Warhammer 40,000 models mounted on 60mm bases. I have noticed that the game is not only scalable, but also that I actually have plastic tokens from my Fog of War game matching many of the units available in the game. I had the opportunity to play it again tonight, and this time with my Tyranids vs my opponent's Praetorian Imperial Guard.

First a little about Combat Cards: Essentially it's a card game, as each player has a deck of cards representing actions, situations, and results, all mixed in together. So one player sets down a card, and the other player gets an opportunity to play a counter. Of course the decision is whether you want to play that counter when you can use that card's action in your following turn.

The neat thing is where the action on the table acts as a model filling in the structure of play formed by the cards. The table-top states of the elements on the table acts as a function turning actions/situations into results - not the results on the action or situation cards being played, but on a separate card drawn strictly for their results. Which has a tremendous randomizing effect shuffling the cards in a pseudo-random way.

One results. for example, was the deviation of artillery fire. Each card has a distance, and specification of direction, usually in terms of the nearest friend or enemy unit. Meaning that if you find a bunch of units clustered together for an artillery or aerial strike, you can work out which particular unit should be the preferred unit forming the centre of the strike.

Even the distances are relative to the table, so it's effectively scalable: you could have a pocket set, or even used a gridded board rather than an open-board.

The other neat thing is that unit behaviour is really board oriented. One of my behemoth units, for example, entered a diagonal roadway early in the game, and because his tank was sighted along it was continually force to fall back, spending nearly half the game confused, falling back, and out of action twice. The other Carnifex kept trying to close with the tank from another angle on my right flank of the board, and yo-yo'd out of the cover of a forest only to be shaken, or put out-of-action, and then forced to fall back.

Eventually my attempts to kill his last stand of Infantry units and a Command unit in the centre of the board, while two Heavy Weapons units concealed themselves in the woods and rocky ground of my opponent's left flank.

My attack bogs down when I lead the assault with a Ripper Swarm, fail to really connect and then get a pinpoint artillery barrage on my Infantry, Swarm, and Command units that had survived the slog up the field being cross fired by Heavy Weapons on flanks. Fortunately my Behemoths absorbed most of the firepower, and then survived to enter a nigh-perfect kill-box. Things got tight enough that Situational Awareness and Issue Orders meant my Behemoths closing from the flank would probably die if I chose to Assault.

In the meantime his Recon unit of French Hussars skirted around my flank and up behind me, where I would promptly Assault it with a Dug In Swarm of Rippers. The artillery barrage had been where we had first noticed how the presence of friendly units affected where the barrage could go, in that case either a 50/50 me or him, and 50/50 just him. So a turn or two later, having recently shuffled the pack, I got two Aerial Ground Attack situations in my hand, and he had nothing in the way of Aerial Defense.

I should mentioned that earlier I had neutered his Artillery, which was something like a triple-barrelled Thudd Gun on triangular tracks, with my Gargoyle Aerial unit. Apparently Aerial units can attack Artillery, but the reverse is not true. So having destroyed or Out-of-Action'd his two Artillery units, I then bombed a cluster of three units twice with Aerial Ground Attacks. I just love the thought of screaming waves of Gargoyles pouring down on the beleaguered defenders sheltering in the opposite slope of a ridge ready to kill anything that came over the crest, or that came around the hill.

If I were to do it all again then I would take a Biovore to take advantage of Available Artillery situations, and more Gargoyles just in case my opponent goes heavy on Aerial and Aerial Defense. Too much on the sideboard and too little on the mainboard, however and my opponent wouldn't need to meet that 18pts threshold to the game.

I think I would trade out the Heavy Weapon for another Command and another Swarm. Being able to Issue Orders means you can bring numbers to bear: His Armoured unit couldn't kill my Behemoth, but its repeated attacks drove my Behemoth down the roadway. In particular the road meant that the Behemoth was in line-of-sight (LOS) the whole time, and moving a full 8" with every Short move. A Fall Back move in Combat Cards is away from the attacker, and it's interesting to see how it can be used to push targets into cover and out of LOS, or across the LOS of another unit that can then use any number Opportunity Fire situation to light that unit up and hopefully Shake, Out of Action, or even Eliminate it.

Which likewise meant that I managed to successfully play off using Assault and Cautious Move actions to direct firepower at my expendable units like Swarms and Infantry, so that my Behemoths could move into firing position, or close for a planned assault, without themselves being immobilized as Shake and/or Out of Action, or actively moving away from the enemy. After the fact it seemed like a fretful child on a beach, or perhaps more heroically the monster was driven off twice, and the third time the Armoured unit tried to do a Cautious Move out of a Dug In position, where upon the action meant that I could use an Opportunity Fire situation to do what I didn't have a card to play an Open Fire action.

In hindsight I suppose he had the same problem: With no card to actively engage me, the best he could hope for was to put distance between his Armoured unit and my incoming Behemoth unit, so that he could shoot my Behemoth using an Opportunity Fire situation. While there are more Open Fire cards, the problem is that whoever moves into LOS first is more likely to lose a unit first. Behemoths have the Firepower advantage to offset extreme range shots at angles, and resist extreme range shots really well. But they risk 6pts each. Swarms, on the other hand, are almost as deadly in Assault actions and you can lose six for every Behemoth.

Conversely, a Command unit Issue(s) Orders to three Infantry will hold a Behemoth off by constantly forcing it to Fall Back out of position, and thus to find a Cautious Move, Rapid Move, or Assault action to get it back in position, and whether to risk the inevitable Opportunity Fire. Fortunately I had an Aerial unit to break the stalemate.

When I'm talking about Warhammer 40,000, I like to downplay the material aspect, instead trying to emphasize the aspects of time and space usually neglected by material-oriented players. Here, material choices (like more Aerial units or fewer Heavy Weapons) are directly dictated by the need to exploit more situations, although still restrained by the need to balance units against the available actions and situations, and their pseudo-random distribution created by drawing separate card for the results of action/situation-mandated interactions between units.

But in Combat Cards a unit's role and flexibility is defined by its parameters, as well as by its reliability. The ability for Aerial units to attack both sideboard Artillery units, and defend against enemy Aerial units makes them a necessary part of an army, rather than just an aesthetic choice. In fact I really enjoy the list-building part of this game just because of the way that it virtually makes the narrative part of Warhammer out better. I'm not going to say to play this instead of Warhammer, but I think Warhammer fans owe it to themselves to try this game using GW models clustered on 60mm bases. Or with Epic models.

Here's my army list:

Tyranid Warrior with Deathspitter (1) = Command
Tyranid Warrior with Barbed Strangler (1) = Heavy Weapon
2x Ripper Swarm Brood (1) = Swarm
4x Hormagaunt Brood (4) = Infantry
2x Genestealer Brood (3) = Infiltrators
2x Carnifexes (1) = Behemoths
1x Gargoyles (3) = Aerial

I'm looking forward to playing with Personalities and Experience.

2 comments:

  1. Just wondering if you still play these rules. All of the reviews I have seen on the internet show two or three plays, then are dropped. I was wondering if re-play is too similar.

    dale underscore hurtt at yahoo

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  2. I think it's less of an issue that re-play is too similar than frustration with the distribution of action over game elements. That and the game seems to go to the person who gets Counter-Battery Fire card first. Other annoyances include cycling through hands of cards hoping to find some combination that will allow you to do anything.

    Currently I'm working on adapting the rules to a dueling game I've been noodling, as I like how it works when it works. The trick seems to be figuring out how to make all of the cards 'live'.

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Looking forward to hearing from you!