Combat Patrol - command and initiative system.

The command and initiative system in Combat Patrol is simple and easy to implement, however under its apparent simplicity lie some tough decisions for the player to make. In designing the system I wanted to be able to reflect the following criteria:
• The training the squad has undertaken – a well trained squad can undertake coordinated actions. In Combat Patrol, the quality of a squads training is represented by the maximum number of cards a player may hold in their hand or draw at the start of a turn. The better the training the more cards/option are available to the player at any one time.
• The quality of individual leaders. A good leader can organise and motivate a squad making it far more effective in combat. In Combat Patrol each leader has a command rating which determines the number of orders they he can issue each turn as well as the maximum number of soldiers that can take actions each phase.
• The quality of individual soldiers. Not all men (and women) are equal and so are not all soldiers. Combat Patrol allocates each soldier an initiative rating that reflects an individual soldiers’ ability to act independently.

The three criteria above are the real heart of the Combat Patrol system. The interaction between the three criteria forms the basis for many of the decisions that occur during a game turn. Some of the common decisions that need to be taken are:
• Who to issue orders to?
• How many action cards to draw in the opening hand?
• When to try an attempt to make an initiative check for a soldier to gain an extra action?
• How long can you wait until you draw a soldiers’ activation card you need?
• When to use a resource card?

Who to issue orders to?
At the start of a turn a player can issue orders to specific soldiers in the squad. Soldiers issued orders can undertake two actions during the turn rather than just a single action. Using the established tactics of fire and movement it is often the movement element of the squad that are issued orders. The firebase element may use their single action to lay down suppressing fire, while the movement element may advance and close assault, throw grenades, etc. using their two actions. This is a pretty proven military tactic and indeed such tactics work well in Combat Patrol. When issuing orders it is important to look at the make up of the squad. Soldiers with low initiative ratings are the best choice for issuing orders to, as higher initiative soldiers can take an initiative check and gain another action themselves if they wish. High initiative soldiers are the best to undertake flanking and infiltration actions, although orders are needed to guarantee the extra action, when tough situations occur and orders are really needed elsewhere, those soldiers have the best probability of gaining an extra action and so be more effective acting independently.

How many action cards to draw in the opening hand?
This is a tough one and one that changes over the course of a game. The more cards you have in your hand at the start of the turn the more options you have so when you do get an activation you have a greater choice of action. If your tactic revolves around 2-3 soldiers simultaneously acting together then having a larger starting hand increases the chances of being able to play those cards together. The downside is that the more cards you start the turn with the fewer cards are in the draw pile and you do not get an activation until you draw one of those cards. Basically the more you wish to organise your actions the more probable there will be a delay in executing them. There is quite a dynamic to this process, let’s look at an example potential situation:

You are leading an assault against an enemy position and things have not gone well. Your starting squad of 12 soldiers are now only 7 with your opponent still having 9 soldiers (not a good ratio!) Both you and your opponents squads are Regular so can have a maximum hand size of 3. A couple of your guys are stuck in an exposed position after a failed assault. What are the options on drawing a starting hand? First you don’t know what your opponent is going to do, but probably they will draw a maximum of three cards as they do not need to take the initiative and the more cards they have in their hand the easier it will be for them to discard a specific soldiers card for an automatic reactive opportunity action. The objective this turn is to get the exposed soldiers back to safety – a tough ask! If you draw your maximum hand this would give your opponent the higher probability of drawing an activation card – as they would have 6 cards in the draw pile to your 4. This could allow the enemy to have first fire and with a hand of 4 cards the chances that your exposed guys are going to draw some fire is quite high, either that or they are marked with a planned opportunity marker. If you draw no cards then the draw pile would be in your favour by 7 cards to 6, still not great odds but might give you the opportunity to lay down some covering fire for your guys at the start of the turn, although you will only be able to action a single soldier. Maybe the best option is to draw one card, this would give you parity in the play deck and if you do get to play first then you can activate two soldiers, a bit of a Hobson’s choice.

What is being simulated above is whether the squad undertakes actions based on a prepared drill, by the player drawing a full hand. This simulates a more organised approach but loses some spontaneity in terms of reacting to your enemy. Alternatively by drawing no cards each soldier is flying by the seat of their pants, you might get an advantage but also you will be less organised by having fewer options in your hand. The final solution offered above simulates a little bit of both, a common reality in a chaotic battle.

When to try an attempt to make an initiative check for a soldier to gain an extra action?
So you have issued your orders and the soldiers are in place to carry out your plan and then your opponent does something that messes that all up, what can you do? Well the safe option is to regroup and prepare for another attempt; however that is not always possible. If you need to change things on the fly, then individual soldiers can attempt to gain an extra action by passing an initiative check, the downside of that is if they fail they don’t get any actions that turn. The soldier either sees an opportunity and takes it or hesitates and the opportunity passes. Now not all soldiers are created equal, the British have generally good combat skill but poorer initiative reflecting the cautious nature of unit tactics taught in the British army. The US soldiers have generally a higher initiative than the British, with slightly poorer fire discipline. The German troops by mid 1944 are a pretty mixed bag, there are some very experienced soldiers but also some that are pretty poor. The French Resistance are a very mixed bag of both good and poor initiative ratings. The US airborne troops have consistently the highest initiative ratings which allow them more independence of action; having a greater chance of rolling for an additional action (their leaders are pretty good too.)

Sometimes in a turn the situation can change dramatically, say for instance your suppressing fire is especially effective or your opponent uses all their opportunity fire early in a turn, chancing your arm by taking checks for extra actions can be very worthwhile and sometimes is a game winning tactic.

How long can you wait until you draw a soldiers’ activation card you need?
Again this is a question along the lines of how long is a length of string? No two combat situations are ever the same and so no hard and fast rule works each time. A regular squad led by a competent Sergeant with a command rating of 3, will see the player holding up to 4 cards at any one time (max hand size of 3 +1 for the just drawn card) and being able to play 3 cards in one action phase. If you have a cunning plan that requires three specific soldiers activating in the same action phase to undertake a key manoeuvre then you might be waiting a while. The probability of getting the cards in your hand at some point is not that low, but by waiting you are giving the initiative to your opponent and probably by the time you have the right cards in hand you may have other issues to deal with. During playtesting coordinating two soldiers with the above squad setup was pretty reliable, and that breaking down coordinated actions into two soldier units was pretty tactically sound. If you find yourself waiting for more than a phase or two for the right combination then make sure you are still imposing yourself on the battle with the soldiers you are drawing but don’t immediately need. If the battle lulls then the enemy will be sure something is up and they will do their best to upset your plans, usually by a well place grenade in the group of waiting soldiers.

When to use a resource card?
There is a temptation in Combat Patrol to use your allocated resource cards early on, I am not saying that is always a poor choice but the impact of them on the middle to late game can be far more dramatic. Take the use of the Medic! card common to all sides in most battles. I have yet to play a battle where there have been no casualties, despite how well a plan is executed. Playing your precious Medic! card on your first casualty or two is very tempting after all there are never enough soldiers in the battle for all the things you want to do, but often in the middle to late battle a key soldier takes a hit that you cannot afford. The soldier may be the only friendly soldier in a victory location or worst of all, the last soldier you need to exit the map for a win! If you are lucky enough to have two Medic! cards then by all means use one early on the keep the momentum up, but your last Medic! card is a very precious thing indeed. The same can be true for most of the other resource cards, saving them for later use in a battle might just be what you need, so restrain yourself and keep your enemy guessing.

This short article is to show some of the nuances and decisions that take place behind the apparently simple command and initiative system used in Combat Patrol. There are many other factors such as the timing of when to activate a soldier which I will discuss in a later article. Please post any questions? Comments? Criticisms?

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