Combat Patrol (TM) Review

Combat Patrol (TM): WW2 is a set of WW2 skirmish rules released by Buck Surdu featuring some innovative features designed to speed up play and maintain friction and player interaction in a multiplayer environment. I bought the “bundle” from Sally 4th here in the UK, which priced at £25 (+£2.80 P&P) got me the rules in hardcopy, an activation deck and 2 action decks of cards (enough for 2-4 players – Extra action decks are available priced at 4 for £22.50) . I bought them Thursday, they arrived Monday well packaged in a padded envelope.

On unwrapping the package and getting the contents out, the first thing I saw was that the rulebook was on decent quality shiny paper, and although not hard backed had a decent card cover. The card decks were decent enough quality, a bit thicker card might have been nicer, and the “tabs” where they’ve been held in a frame having been die stamped (presumably?) are a little prominent on the sides. More concerning is that they appear to be losing their back colour at the edges already, but that might be something that doesn’t get any worse.

Reading through the rules I’m struck by a couple of things, the first is that the font used is something similar to a Remington Typewriter font. I can see why there’s been a few complaints about it, it’s not that easy to read and doesn’t look sharp and clear. More importantly however is that the illustrated examples of the rules in action are not very clear, you cannot read the cards that are being displayed because they are so low res. I don’t know if this is a function of my copy being produced in the UK from a different file to the original US versions, or whether they all look like this. The rules themselves are laid out in an odd fashion IMO, almost like they were meant to be two documents. The intro talks about “quick start rules” and these I think are the 6-8 pages of basic infantry rules with few frills and chrome. There’s then a whole series of advanced and/or optional rules to add detail and chrome, which refer back to the basics. Personally I would have preferred to have had everything in one place to do with a topic. I noticed a couple of seeming inconsistencies within the rules and examples also which suggest maybe previous iterations of the rules have crept in or not been changed out – easy to do when you’ve been involved with something for 2+ years but suggests that proof reading wasn’t done by a fresh pair of eyes. The worst issue though is that despite using graphics (not particularly clear or high res I might add) throughout the cards to indicate various things, there’s no pictorial glossary, just lists of them referencing the unclear image of a card on a previous page in the rules. Problem is that at least for one of these lists (Cover) these are almost certainly in the wrong order despite being explicitly stated left to right. It would have been a simple thing to do, and much more obvious than the list buried in the middle of relevant mechanics. All in all, my reaction to the components of the rules are a little muted compared to my expectations.

Onto the very limited playtest I ran. The basic rules themselves are fairly clear to understand, excepting the issues above. Additionally there are a series of video’s on youtube featuring walkthroughs by Buck of various mechanics which is how I got interested in the rules in the first place. Having an idea of what is going on can be pretty dangerous when trying a new ruleset as it’s easy to let prejudice and expectation get in the way of actually how mechanics work. It can of course be helpful in filling in blanks where needed also.

I happened to have some troops on table from an abortive Force on Force game we (tried to) play last week, so I quickly rolled some dice to get a few squads their activation numbers, and shuffled the decks (not quite as well as I could have done as it turned out!). I had to make a few quick judgements on how to rate the Vietnam weaponry, opting to simply make M16’s and AK47’s the same as rifles, M60’s and RPD’s the same as Light Machine guns, and RPG’s the same as rifle grenades. I rated the US as regular and VC as green to see both in action. Jungle halved movement as per the woods rules, and off we went. The The “Double Random Activation” sequence works well, and is quick to use. Troops who activate get one action, Move, fire, throw grenade, reload etc. Movement was quick and ran from the cards easily although the rules make reference to an optional D10 there was no mention of how that worked or why it would be necessary in the basic rules. Shooting initially was a bit of a joke, I managed to pull 7 out of ammo cards in succession. Clearly the Force on Force game had used it all up!  After a couple of activations for some of the fireteams, one for others and none for one, the “reroll and shuffle” card came up. This is basically like the Tea Break card in IABSM, however unlike that card, there is no obvious “end of turn” activation for troops who haven’t activated and are in range or what have you. Thus it seems entirely possible that some troops may do nothing all game given the right combinations of dice and cards (Unlikely but not impossible). After the next couple of activations, troops had managed to reload, and I started shooting again. The VC were in bunkers and the US in the jungle, so I expected it to be relatively casualty light and it indeed was, one US trooper was hit (twice in the same activation), the first time a wound and the next in the head so he was out of it, and another was hit but cover saved him. I was somewhat unclear as to whether this stunned figure accrued a morale marker, the rules seemed to be inconsistent on this point – “When a figure should have been wounded or incapacitated but cover protected it, ….still accrues a morale marker” yet in the illustrated example this is not the case and the text for the morale tests says “whenever a figure is wounded or incapacitated, it’s leader figure accrues a morale marker” – no mention of near misses. Still, one of the figures had been hit, so a morale marker was placed and on that unit’s next activation a card was turned for the mandatory morale test which was fine.

All in all, from a limited reading and very quick partial play test, the rules seem promising and above all seem quick and focussed, which is what we desperately want. Yes there appear to be a few issues here and there, but there is a Yahoo group for players to ask questions on, and I have experienced lightening fast responses from Buck when posting some initial questions. Yes the (TM) and the acronym for the GAMER system are a bit odd and a bit OTT as an Englishman but Buck is American (they do stuff differently over there!). I do tend to the overly critical side of the spectrum but I do not think these rules warrant a rant, there’s simply a few disappointing factors from what I have seen thus far. What I need to do now is work out exactly what amendments I need to make for Vietnam if any, and play a full game incorporating all the rules in the advanced section that are relevant. Frankly if they work, or can be made to work then they are a damn sight more useful than Force on Force to us!