A Look at Strategy & Tactics for the Germans in Combat Commander by GMT Games

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Today we present another excellent strategy article from our friends at The Player’s Aid, this one by Grant Kleinhenz. I encourage all of our readers to take a look at the outstanding content on their website, and particularly at several of their recent GMT-related articles: 

As always, we are thrilled to have the team from The Player’s Aid contributing their strategy insights about our games here in InsideGMT. Enjoy the article!  – Gene


Combat Commander: Europe is a 2 player card-driven board game covering tactical infantry combat in the European Theater of World War II. One player takes the role of the Axis (Germany) while another player commands the Allies (America or Russia). With additional Battle Packs and Big Box releases (Combat Commander: Mediterranean), the game has expanded into other theaters of war including Africa and the Pacific and introduces additional countries including France, Italy and England. In this series of posts, I would like to take a look at each of the major combatants and their specific strengths and weaknesses and offer some tips on strategy and tactics in their use. This doesn’t mean that I am a tactical genius or that I never lose but simply that I have played enough to generally understand what each side is good at, what they should be doing and how to go about attacking their objectives. Previously, we have looked at Strategy & Tactics for the Russians and the Americans (this post was published on InsideGMT in October 2016) and we are now getting around to our 3rd installment where we will examine the Germans.

The German Army During World War II

But first, let’s take a quick look at the history of the German Army during World War II. After their defeat in World War I, the rest of the world tried to create a situation that would prevent such future wars by limiting the power and growth of Germany’s armed forces. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the German Army was unable to grow to more than 100,000 armed men. Obviously, this low number was a significant road block for any future expansion and there are always political ways to deal with such limitations. One way that Adolf Hitler dealt with this limiting issue was to allow the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to grow rapidly in place of the general buildup of the Army. By 1934, the SA had grown to a force of over 4,500,000 men and was receiving similar training to the Army.

The growth in the importance of the SA worried other leaders in the National Socialist German Workers Party. It also upset leaders of the German Army who feared that it would be taken over by Ernst Roehm and the SA. They were won over to the Nazis when Adolf Hitler ordered the Night of the Long Knives where around 400 leaders of the SA were murdered. Whereas the SA now had lost its real power, Hitler ignored the Treaty of Versailles and allowed the German Army to grow rapidly. In 1935, he introduced military conscription. This enabled the German Army to train 300,000 conscripts per year and by 1938, it had 36 infantry divisions consisting of 600,000 men.

In 1939, the German Army grew to 98 divisions available for the invasion of Poland. Although some were ill-equipped veteran reservists, they still had 1.5 million well-trained men available for action. It also had 9 panzer divisions with each consisting of 328 tanks, 8 support battalions and 6 artillery batteries. When the German Army mounted its Western Offensive in 1940, it had 2.5 million men and 2,500 tanks. Whereas the French Army had the ability to mobilize 5 million men, the Germans who were supported by modern motorized infantry units and aircraft easily secured victory. The German Army continued to grow and in June 1941 around 3 million (including 200,000 from its allies) were available for the launch of Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. This included 142 infantry divisions, 17 panzer divisions and 4,000 tanks.

Despite heavy losses during the invasion of the Soviet Union and in France following the D-Day landings, the German Army had 168 infantry divisions and 25 panzer divisions by January, 1945. The Waffen SS also had 23 divisions, seven of which were armored. During the final months of World War II, the army was also supported by a People’s Militia (Volkssturm) created by Adolf Hitler to defend German cities under attack. This was mainly composed of men too old or too young for regular service and was also poorly equipped as the German economy at that time found it increasingly difficult to fully support the needs of its armed forces due to the effects of strategic bombing of industrial centers by the Allies.

Of the seventeen Field Marshals in the German Army, ten were relieved of their commands by the Fuehrer in the course of the war, three were killed after the July Plot failed, two were killed in action, one was taken prisoner and only one remained throughout the war without being subject to discipline. Of thirty-six generals, twenty-six were removed from their post, of whom three were executed and two were dishonorably discharged; seven were killed in action and only three remained in service throughout the war without disciplinary action.

A total of around 12.5 million Germans served in the army during World War II. It is estimated that of these, between 3 and 3.5 million were killed.

Review of Unit Statistics

As we can see from the history of the German Army above, the Germans didn’t have the raw number of qualified and trained soldiers as their enemies did. By comparison, the Russians had a continual supply of recruits, as over the course of World War II, the Red Army conscripted 29,574,900 men in addition to the initial 4,826,907 in service at the beginning of the war. The advantages that the Germans had over their enemies was not necessarily in numbers but was in the area of an experienced officers corps and their acceptance of and integration of technology.

Military technology changed enormously during the 1920s and 30s, thanks in large part to the replacement of horses with engines. This required not just the production of new ‘toys’ in the form of tanks, trucks and aircraft, but the complete reorganization of armies so that they could move not at the speed of a marching infantryman, but at the speed of a tank. The Germans realized this earlier than most and their focus was on mobilization. There also was a cultural reason behind their fighting spirit as the Germans were generally very militaristic and had a very high nationalist opinion of their country. This lead to them treating war as more of a fetish, as the nation’s heroes were generally soldiers, and every child wanted to be a fighter. The Germans also applied their skills in engineering, chemicals and electronics toward military applications and this led to their creation of superior armaments (MP40, STG44, MG34 and MG44), superior mechanized units (Panzer, Tiger and Panther tanks) and the first jet propelled aircraft in 1939 (Heinkel He 178).

The Allies found that even when defeated, the German army could gather new strength and resources quickly, and army units that were ‘thrown together’ in desperation could still fight very effectively. Where British, American and Russian troops would halt and wait, Germans would use their initiative and fight aggressively and effectively. Many of these elements are reflected in the German statistics (but also in areas such as their Discard Capability) and we will discuss these later in more detail. First, a look at the German statistics:

For comparisons sake, here are the Russian statistics and the American statistics:

Quality versus Quantity

The Germans have a total number of 96 units in Combat Commander, which is the middle of the road between their two enemies. The Russians have 111 units or 15.6% more units while the Americans have 84 units or 12.5% less units. For the Germans, it is not about numbers but how those numbers are used.

As you can see from the table above, the Germans are always outnumbered in their scenarios but their advantage is that they have a better Leader to Unit ratio than their enemies most of the time (see exception in Scenario #4, #6 and #9). So what does this mean in terms of the game? It simply means that the Germans have better control over their men than their enemies, which in game terms translates to more efficiency with actions and orders.  Because they have better Leader to Unit ratios, when a Fire Order is played, they will generally be able to create more compact and larger (referring to the number of units involved) Fire Groups with a more impactful Firepower as you can activate a Leader who has a 1 or 2 Command Radius and pick up at least 1 or 2 additional points of Firepower from a couple of nearby units. Compare this to the Russians who have a very poor Leader to Unit ratio, and they may have to play a Fire Order on a single solitary unit and won’t be able to gain the advantages of Fire Groups as often.

Quality Leaders

One stat that jumps out at me is the German Leaders Morale. As you know, Morale is one of the most important stats in the game as it is the number that the enemy must exceed in a Fire Attack to break your units and is a reflection of their heartiness, grace under fire and resiliency. In comparing the numbers in the below table, the German Leaders have the best Average Morale in the game at 8.05, which is 2.7% better than the Russians and 1.3% better than the Americans. These numbers stay consistent once the Leaders are broken. The German Leaders truly shine when they are broken as they will be very difficult to kill which means that they will be around to assist their men with their Command bonus as they attempt to Recover or to defend against further Fire Attacks. Couple this statistic with the fact that the Germans have a good Leader to Unit ratio and your men should be able to stay alive longer and resist Fire Attacks better.

Firepower and Range Limited

While the German units usually don’t excel at anything, they also don’t have a true Achilles heel in their stat blocks like the Russians, whose Average Range is the lowest in the game at 2.62. The two areas that are concerns though, and of which you must plan for a way around, is their Firepower and Range. The German’s Average Firepower is the lowest in the game at 4.54, and is 2.4% less than the Russians 4.65 (not that significant of a difference and no real disadvantage) and 11.6% less than the Americans 4.54. This difference from the Americans is significant and will always put the Germans at a disadvantage in any scenario against them. This is where the Leader to Unit ratio advantage for the Germans will come in handy as they can significantly increase that low Average Firepower by keeping unit discipline and moving together as one force.

As for their Average Range, the Germans have a respectable 3.88, which is 32.5% higher than the Russians (2.62) but 15.9% lower than the Americans (4.50). This Range disparity seems significant at first glance, but when you look at the individual units, the Germans have the most type of units with a Range greater than 4 (5 total units including Rifle (5), Elite Rifle (6), Parachute (4), SS (5) and Volksgrenadier (4)) as compared to the Russians who have only 1 such unit (Guards Rifle (5)) and the Americans who have only 3 such units (Elite (6), Paratroop (4) and Line (6)). This Range problem can be overcome with using one of the Germans greatest advantages, the Light MG (which is representative of the MG34 and later the MG44). Their Light MG only has a 4 Firepower, but it provides 8 Range and both of these statistics are boxed, which allows for great flexibility and the ability to use such Action Cards as Sustained Fire (Add +2 when firing a Mortar or Machine Gun), Assault Fire (Make one Fire Attack with any number of your units/Weapons with boxed Firepower that are currently activated to Move) and Spray Fire (Play when making a Fire Attack if all firing pieces have boxed Range. Target 2 adjacent hexes simultaneously (instead of 1)).

I know that these poor stats in these two areas make it look very bleak for the Germans but look on the bright side, the Germans can fire up to 2 hexes further than the average Russian soldier so you can definitely whittle that charging group down as they approach you to stick you with their bayonets!

Better Morale than Americans (when Unbroken)

One of the key statistics in the game is that of Morale, or how easily your units are broken under fire. This is an area where the Germans have a slight advantage over the Americans with an Average Morale of 7.33 as compared to the Americans 6.50 but a slight disadvantage from the Russians who have a 7.76. This advantage flips though once the German units are broken as the Germans only drop by 2.7% to 7.13, while the Russians drop by 14.7% to 6.62 and the Americans actually increase by 19.1% to 7.74. Due to their Leader to Unit ratio advantage, I have found that Morale is in fact actually better for the Germans than the Allies as once again their Leader to Unit ratio is superior and that adds a more consistent +1 or +2 to that stat for the purposes of Morale checks.

Good Movement

The Germans excel in one area of the statistics block and that is in the area of Movement. The Germans have an Average Move of 4.27 which is 5.4% better than the Russians (4.05) and 1.4% better than the Americans (4.21). Movement is the key to positioning in Combat Commander and if you can successfully move your troops into position, to not only fire upon your enemies but to take advantage of cover, you will win more Fire Attacks than you lose and ultimately win more.  This advantage is not overwhelming but the same as with our discussion on Firepower, when coupled with a good Leader’s Command Bonus, the Germans can make their Fire Attacks more effective much more easily than their enemies so plan to use your Leaders to your advantage.

Other Advantages

I will now try to outline a few additional advantages that the Germans have that are outside of their statistics blocks. The most important of these advantages is their Discard Capability. As you know, a player’s Discard Capability is usually tied to his posture but the Germans can discard all of their cards in any given turn no matter their posture (due to their Discard Capability of 6). This advantage is huge as normally if you are the Russian player (Discard Capability of 3) on the Attack it will take you at least 2 turns to discard your hand as compared to the German player only losing one turn. I can assure you that a hand full of garbage, that you can’t get rid of, will beat you quicker than any circumstance in Combat Commander. Discard Capability is one advantage that is not insignificant and should be used well by the player to maximize the Germans. Remember that patience is a virtue and discarding a few cards each turn, while waiting for the right combination of good cards to make your attack count, is a very viable strategy and should not be overlooked or minimized. For aggressive players, this is one of the more tricky parts about playing the Germans but you will have to learn to use it or you will lose.

The second advantage I’d like to discuss is the possession of the Initiative Card. In looking at the scenarios, in 10 out of the 12 published scenarios in Combat Commander: Europe, the Axis starts with the Initiative Card. The Initiative Card is huge and can be the turning point in any battle when properly used. So, having it in 80% of the scenarios is a great advantage. Remember that you have it, be ready to use it but use it cautiously and definitely make it count, as you most likely will not get it back any time soon.

A Look at the Fate Deck

As I am sure that you know, each faction has their own Fate Deck which consists of 72 cards that are tailored toward the historical aspects of the fighting style of the country. We will now take a look at the German Fate Deck here as compared to their enemies the Russians and Americans.

Orders

You can learn a lot about the play style of your faction by studying their list of Orders. The frequency of certain cards will give insight into their preferred tactics. For example, you will notice from the list of the German Orders above that the Germans have 1 additional Recover than the Americans (9 vs. 8) and 1 additional Rout Order than both the Americans and Russians (10 vs. 9) and 2 additional Artillery Requests than the Russians (but 1 less than the Americans). This should tell you that the Germans should not be afraid to be on the move as they have a greater chance of drawing Recover Orders to save their troops once broken from enemy Fire Attacks. Also remember that their Average Morale is 7.33, which is pretty effective and with a good 1 or 2 Command Leader with them, they should be unafraid to move with a Morale of between 8.33 and 9.33. This is a pretty high Morale to try and break consistently with Fire Attacks. Throw in good cover that they should be working towards, and their Average Morale should be above a 10.  Although they have the lowest Average Fire Power in the game, they should use their 18 Fire Orders to attack their enemies remembering that they can bring greater Fire Power to bear due to their higher Leader to Unit ratio in the scenarios and they always seem to have several Light MG’s that can be given to lowly Weapons Team (FP 2) if for no other reason than to bestow the +1 to the Fire Attack from an MG being involved or allow the use of the Sustained Fire Action that gives an additional +2. Then, couple these attacks with the use of their glut of 10 Rout Orders and they should be consistently pushing their enemies back. I cannot tell you how many times I have howled in horror and dismay as my Russian or American units have been required to do a Morale check because of what seems like 100 Routs and failed. There is power in the use of Rout, especially when the enemy is close to the edge of the map and will be forced off leading them one step closer to the Surrender level and also adding several VP to your total!

You can also see that the Germans have 1 more Advance Order (5) than the Americans but have 1 less than the Russians. I tend to use Advance less often with the Germans as they do not have as many units with Boxed Fire Power (only 26 total units or 27.1%) which grants a +1 modifier when in hand to hand combat and this disadvantage makes me wary of getting into hand to hand fighting.

Events

In this section, I will discuss the makeup of the Events in the German Fate Deck and their relative frequency.  As you know, the Events are simply random and only come out when a card calls for an Event to be drawn so there is no way to plan for getting certain Events as they are random. The following is a look at the breakdown of the Events for all of the factions:

The Germans are less likely to become Prisoners of War than the Russians (only 2.78% vs. 5.56%), less likely to Cower when under fire (only 2.78% vs. 5.56%) and have greater frequency of becoming Veteran through the Battle Harden Event (6.94% to 4.17%). These three Events are the same frequency for the Americans as for the Germans. The Germans will also benefit from their high frequency of the Hero Event (6.94% or a total of 5 cards) in order to be able to deploy Deiter Hero of the Reich!  I love when I get a Hero out as I can simply use him to be heroic and attack, attack and attack, as his death means nothing to my score and won’t provide the enemy with any benefit! The Germans also have a lower frequency of the Fog of War (1.39% as compared to 2.78% for the Americans and 4.17% for the Russians) which forces the discard of a random card from hand. Once again, a hark back to their good leaders.

One odd event that is unique to the German Fate Deck and found very frequently (6 copies) is Blaze. This event allows the placement of a Blaze marker in a random hex and if those hexes are near or adjacent to the Allies that are dug in under heavy cover or fortifications, guess what? That blaze will spread every time there is a Breeze event and it will force them to have to move out of that warm and snuggly cover into an adjacent hex. If they cannot move for some reason, either due to terrain such as a body of water, the presence of other friendly or enemy units or the edge of the map, they are eliminated. This doesn’t happen often but I have seen a Blaze spread through a building and chase out the enemy, allowing me to focus fire on them ending their threat absent that nice cover that was causing me to miss them with my Fire Attacks by only 1 or 2.

Actions

There are many Actions that the Germans must use in order to be successful.  Here is a look at the Actions in their Fate Deck as compared to the Russians and Americans:

As I have examined the German Actions available in their Fate Deck, two things stick out at me.

  1. Defensive – The Axis are the Defender in 6 of the 12 scenarios in Combat Commander: Europe. The reason this is significant is that they have several really good Actions that can only be played when on Defense (see text SCENARIO DEFENDER ONLY in red on the crds). These cards include Hidden Mines (Place Mines in a hex into which a unit just Moved or Advanced. The Mines attack immediately.), Hidden Unit (Play when your opponent discards one or more cards. Roll on the German Support Table. Select one available unit.), Bore Sighting (Add +2 when firing any Weapon with a printed FP of 5 or more.), Hidden Wire (Place Wire in a hex into which a unit just moved or Advanced.) and Hidden Entrenchments (Place Foxholes in a non-Building hex into which your opponent just fired.) Because of their Defensive stance in most of the scenarios, the German player should be looking for ways to use these cards to their advantage.
  2. Command Confusion – The Germans had good Leaders and were seasoned combat veterans due to having been involved in the fighting during World War II since 1939. This is played out in their Actions due to there only being 1 Command Confusion Action in their deck. The Americans have 2 while the Russians have 0 (probably more a product of their Commissar policy!). So you will have more access to useable actions than your opponent. The Germans are always ready to fight and if you are opposed to them in a scenario you had better be ready to be attacked and attacked again…

General Statistics on Fate Decks

Each nation’s Fate Decks have the same distribution of dice combinations on them used in rolling during combat to determine Fire Power or Total Defense.  The following are general statements about the distribution of those numbers and are important for you to remember as you play Combat Commander:

  • 60 cards out of 72 cards have a combination of numbers that are 5 or higher, which equates to 60/72 or 83.3% probability of drawing a combination of cards totaling 5 or higher!
  • 42 cards out of 72 cards have a combination of numbers that are 7 or higher, which equates to 42/72 or 58.3% probability of drawing a combination of cards totaling 7 or higher!
  • 20 cards out of 72 cards have a combination of numbers that are 9 or higher, which equates to 20/72 or 27.8% probability of drawing a combination of cards totaling 9 or higher!

I have said this before, but I am not a statistician and don’t have the capability (or the patience) to put together a true look at the mathematical probability of drawing certain combinations but this is a simplified look at your chances to get certain numbers from your rolls that I think is very valuable. You must also remember that my numbers above are a look at the entire deck and as you know, each player starts with 4-6 cards in their hands, so these numbers would change in that case.

Review of Strategy 

“Part of the German…genius for war was a readiness to seize opportunities with both hands, swiftly to exploit weakness before the enemy could reinforce a threatened spot.” – Max Hastings

 The Germans are a little bit of a mixed bag, meaning that they don’t seem to do any one thing exceptionally well or have one area where they have a clear advantage. Their statistics are solid across the board and they have powerful units, such as the SS (FP – 6(boxed), Range – 5(boxed), Move – 5(boxed) & Morale – 8 (10 when broken!), but they must be played by a patient and methodical player who understands that sometimes you have to waste a turn (or two) in order to assemble the perfect collection of cards to unleash an amazing Fire Attack that cannot be defended against.

Also, the German player must understand the benefits of Leader to Unit Ratios and how this can make for a more efficient war machine that is flexible, can attack and defend equally well, and who can bring greater Firepower to bear than their opponents by skillfully planning out Fire Groups to make sure they include several MG’s as well as good Leaders giving that Command bonus to attack and defense.  I personally love Sgt. Esser and Lt. Von Karsties (his name is just so fun to say over and over again) and if they are in my OoB will make sure to put them with good units and provide them with the power they need to attack the enemy.

The Germans advanced statistics are above average but one area where they do seem to have an advantage is in Boxed Range where they have 93.8% of their units with this ability as compared to only 21.4% for the Americans and 32.4% for the Russians. This might not seem like a very important advantage but it means that the Spray Fire Action (Play when making a Fire Attack if all firing pieces have boxed Range. Target 2 adjacent hexes simultaneously (instead of 1)), of which there are 6 in the deck, can be played more often. This means more Fire Attacks being brought on more units and causing them to have to make rolls to avoid becoming broken (and less effective in combat) or eliminated (resulting in VP for the Germans). This, when added to the frequency of scenarios where the Germans are on the Defensive, can also lead to the enemies deck being eaten away bringing you closer and closer to the end of the round and ultimately allowing time to run out more quickly bringing you closer to victory, if and only if, you have the lead in Victory Points, which more often than not the Defender has the higher starting VP.

So, enjoy playing the Germans! They are workmanlike and fun to play for those that are patient and can bide their time until they have the advantage they need. Remember to focus on their strengths (Leader to Unit ratio, Average Movement) and minimize their weaknesses (Average Firepower) and you will win with them more than you lose! To read examples of the use of some of the strategy and tactics discussed here in play, read my After Action Reports (AAR) for the following scenarios: Scenario #1 Fat Lipki, Scenario #2 Hedgerows & Hand Grenades Part I & Part II, Scenario #3 Bonfire of the NKVD, Scenario #4 Closed for Renovation, Scenario #5 Cold Front, Scenario #6 Paralyzed from the West Down, Scenario #7 Bessarabian Nights, Scenario #8 Breakout Dance, Scenario #9 Rush to Contact and Scenario #10 Commando School.

If you liked what you read here, please visit our blog at www.theplayersaid.com where you can find AAR’s on various wargames, reviews, interviews with designers, unboxing videos, strategy guides and more.

-Grant


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2 thoughts on “A Look at Strategy & Tactics for the Germans in Combat Commander by GMT Games

  1. Generally a good article, but care must be taken to not get too hung up on the average values as derived from the countermix. Troop types are not randomly spread across scenarios, even when using the RSG, so nationalities with different numbers of unit types, and with better or worse stats at one end or the other, may get skewed. The Soviets may be particularly prone to this. They generally have more units in any given scenario (but more squads and fewer leaders and crews), and the countermix reflects that, but I do not believe the distribution is uniform. That is, I believe there are more 1st line squads than there are conscripts. That may affect the averages, but be totally irrelevant in any given scenario.

  2. interesting read. In general, for the published scenarios at least, the germans tend to attack vs the russians, which in general puts the germans better range into focus against the generally poor range of the average russian units. Scenario 3 is a classic example of this, the russians tend to be dug into strong positions with time on their side, so moving the germans into position quickly is key, and the boxed movement of many german squads allows the use of Smoke Grenades action which is key. Also, their standard LMG with boxed 4/8 stats allows easier creation of larger fire groups effective at larger range. With random scenarios of course the OBs tend to give many more units to the Russians (and corresponding higher surrender limits) so the russians can often swarm german positions and ignore casualties (and even VP) to focus on surrender by overstacked melee.

    Definitely the german discard ability is powerful, but one other factor you didnt highlight was the support roll table, this shows a big edge for the germans, especially vs the russians, you are more likely to get better kit and/or leaders/radios for any given year. Against the USA, the germans are suddenly the underdog, particularly in close combat melee with all those boxed FP US squads who also have great leaders and equipment. I’ve played the germans almost exclusively in my ~90 games (though now we have switched to RSG only I’m getting some games with the others at last), and at least as the germans you have a wider range of typical engagement, they’re pitched in the middle, so usually they’re aggressively going in for the kill vs Russia, or otherwise doggedly defending a position vs the USA, reflecting of course the broad context of WW2, on average.