Monday, 22 September 2014

The making of the Deluxe Pack

Back in 2006 a call went out by Steve Swann for scenario designs to be based around eight newly created deluxe-size boards. The boards piqued my interest – they were predominantly PTO style (heavy on the woods and hills) but open enough in some configurations to be suitable for ETO, too.

Having just finished the book, The Band of Brothers, I was keen to see what a simple scenario would look like and put one together based around the knocking out of the German battery at St. Marie-du-Mont. It turned out to be pretty fun, so I submitted it to Steve and waited.

A few months later Steve got back in touch to say that MMP had sadly rejected the pack idea and was returning the scenario design. I asked if there was a possibility that a third party might publish the pack, or whether Steve would take on the publishing, but he said no, it wasn't really something he would be wanting to do again. I offered to pick up the reins and he accepted.

The pack was in a rudimentary state. Steve had done a great job with the boards and seeding the idea. He’d pulled together 6 scenarios in various stages of play testing so I needed to see where to go from there.

I decided that to drum up some interest in the project I’d need some great art to impress the potential players of the pack. Turning to a good friend who I knew would love this type of challenge; I asked if he could turn the rudimentary VASL style boards into art-work that would be suitable to cover a table in. I expected he’d do one board and simply teach me how to do the rest, but when I saw what an amazing job he did I persuaded him to do the remaining boards, and I tweaked them as needed.

The board art has been shown on some forums, but what hasn’t been covered is the sheer detail and effort that’s gone in to them.

Take a look at this, our board d2:



Zooming in on hex B2, we see a pretty straight forward looking hill/path/woods hex. Here’s just some of the detail that goes in to making it look so good:

 
 


The basic hill, road/path are created, then added to this are some mud layers, rocks, ruts and finally trees, shading, and detail. And that level of attention is for every hex, for every board. It was a true labour of love!

Whilst the maps were being developed I was pushing for more scenarios. One of the problems with pack design that includes maps is trying to spread around enough scenarios so that each board is used enough. With 8 boards initially, and only 6 scenarios, it was clear that something had to change. I dropped one of the boards out and focussed on developing scenarios for the remaining 7.

A good response from the forums meant that a steady stream of submissions came in. With another of my designs, eventually I had the 12 I was looking for: 4 ETO and 8 PTO rounding out the numbers.

I’m really excited to see a three player scenario in the mix too – something we don’t see very often.

One scenario uses board E from Hedgerow Hell, but other than that, each scenario is self-contained (with the exception of counters, of course).

The boards have since been formally “VASLized” and that will facilitate the availability of a digital pack which will be sold through the Scenario Archive (it will contain just the vasl boards and PDFs of the scenarios). Purchasers of the physical copy are able to download the vasl boards too, of course.

During the production I was contacted by Matt Zajac who had an interest in making three dimension representations of the boards.  Here's how they turned out:




For the last few months of the project I focussed on play testing and communicating with the play testing teams around the world. I have 5 separate teams working on the scenarios, and I have to say that I’m always impressed with the efforts that a great play testing group go to. Different groups have
different strengths, but without them all, these scenarios wouldn’t be half as good.

With the pack in final development in 2013, the Intensive Fire 2013 tournament, thanks to Pete Phillips, held a mini tournament giving these scenarios a competitive setting.  Some important feedback came back and the scenarios were again tweaked and tested once more.

At this point I needed to consider how to print and publish the packs.  I contacted Le Franc Tireur and we came to a deal where they would publish on my behalf.  They did an amazing job, and the pack came out with a great amount of quality that I was really proud of.

There's one print run only (so get them whilst they’re there!) and I'm just finalising now the last few copies that are going out to some key contributors.

As I've said elsewhere, I have so much more respect for the guys who actually produce more than one pack – it’s a tremendously large undertaking and one that we all probably take for granted.

Now my job is to "officially" play each one in it's finalised state, and report here how each one goes.

Copies of the pack can be purchased on the ASL Scenario Archive's online shop (http://shop.aslscenarioarchive.com), from the Gamer's Armory, or from Le Franc Tireur.

Friday, 1 March 2013

YAASL. The easy stuff!

Breaking the laws of user interface design is a major talent of mine.  It's always the last thing on a developer's mind, and one always longs for the days where the primary problem is how something looks.

With that said, here's the start of the interface with a few extra bits:



So - we now have a scrollable, zoomable lettered/numbered hexgrid, some functional dice buttons and the beginnings of a log window and information bar.

Next up is to to define a basic scenario (and I do mean basic!) - and have the interface accept moves, through to completion of the game.

So - by next time we'll see a couple of squads, a way of moving through the turn sequence and a resolution window.

The rate of return at this stage of a project is always high.  It's the fun stage.  Big looking things ("a map" - "a dice roller") are trivial in comparison to figuring out the mechanics of how bypass movement or the interface for defensive fire will be implemented.  Keeping up that kind of energy required is near impossible when you don't see the instant gratification of a major functions spring to life so it's important to take small steps and to set realistic goals.

Don't throw away your stuff just yet!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

YAASL

(Yet Another) ASL implementation?

For those on the linux scene (I barely scratch the surface of that wonderful world) there's a common theme - the "Yet Another..." [insert favourite application/utility/idea]  The internet is full of well meaning people who start another unoriginal project, destined never to fully complete it and this little project is going to be another one of those!

There are other implementations out there.  JASL, up until 2004, got mighty far and is certainly the leader in the race for a computer emulation of ASL.  There are without a doubt others out there, I saw a flash based one somewhere, and there are others to be sure. It's a tricky beast, full of rules but the real issue is the exceptions that almost every scenario has via the Special Rules.  It's one thing knowing you have a great specification of the system in the rulebook but effectively breaking those sub-components in every scenario makes creating a workable system immensely hard.

That's a long introduction to set expectations low.  However, it's something I've kicked around for years.  I've always stopped because, quite frankly it's an impossible task.  Trying to squeeze in the SSRs for secret movement DRs, subterranean movement, unique HOB results and the like that two players can (usually) instantly understand and comprehend is just too daunting.

But, like the old saying about eating elephants one bite at a time, I intend to approach the project bit by bit. First, set up an empty board, have a couple of squads on each side, and play a scenario that says last remaining squad wins.  Right there is the essence of the game.  Move, shoot, resolve the scenario.  The rest is "simply" chrome!

So, seeing as we start from the beginning, and this blog is now going to take on a journey of the development pitfalls, here we go.  The first screenshot!

Not much, eh.. But - like a how an artist sees a blank canvas, I see opportunities leaping out at me!

Of course - astute players will already spot the problem of the half hex (even they're a pain in computer ASL, - is it a hex, a half hex, how do we count off-board hexes!?  Urg - all these things that as players, we take for granted.

As you can see, rather than a blank canvas I also see a whole host of UI, programmatic and copyright challenges, but we'll tackle them one bite at a time.

Next up will be the first stab at the basic UI.  We need to show turn number, phasing player and the phase of the turn.  Oh - and maybe a nice zoom function.  Ok - back to work!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The final!

With the larger game taken care of, and enjoying the meal it was time to pick a scenario for the final. The refreshing swim earlier that day was almost a long distant memory.

Our swimming location, earlier in the day
The choices were "Men From Zadig", "88s at Zon" and "Ham and Bloody Jam".  The best scenario here is probably Ham and Bloody Jam, the short opening to the Pegasus Bridge campaign, which has the night glider landing - but John and I both felt that with time pushing on, a Glider and Night rules refresh was probably not the best option.

Keeping things straight-forward we opted for 88s at Zon, which is the starter kit conversion scenario of Zon with the Wind. I'd not played it before and with just a half board in play it seemed like a sensible option.

Playing Starter Kit scenarios in a full ASL setting can be a little tricky.  Do you allow bypass, defender's concealment, snipers, multi-level buildings, etc?  Marc had ruled that the scenario should be played under full ASL rules, with SANs of 2.  The question about prisoners (counting double, or usual VP or nothing) for exit conditions was also tricky. With just 7 VP needing to be exited by the US, under normal rules a squad with a German squad as a prisoner would make up 6 of those points.  We decided to try to play the game without exiting prisoners, to keep it unambiguous.

The scenario itself is relatively well balanced, 30-35 in favour of the Germans. With the lack of a high German sniper number often seen in situations like this, the Americans would also benefit from both a speed boost thanks to bypass and danger from any difficult LOSs to deal with from the Germans up in higher level buildings. However, the German concealment would mean that the initial defensive and first prep fire shots in the US turn 2 would be probably ineffective.

Bypass for this scenario exposes the US to more open ground to cross, and with 2 88s holding up the German OoB I felt they would have enough to stop 10 US squads. We both bid Germans - so diced for sides.  I won the Americans with balance, an extra 7-0 leader, and I left John to set-up.

I tend to struggle with exit VP scenarios. They probably are the hardest to judge when attacking from a timing point of view. The first turn tends to be a struggle to get on board, the second usually has the infamous prep-or-move dilemma that is extenuated due to the time shortage issue.  Turn 3 is the consolidation turn and turns 4 and 5 are all about moving into position for the final push off the board on turn 6.

John's set-up looked like he was defending in depth on my right, where the majority of my forces were due on, in turn 2, but plenty up front to keep me honest at the start with 2 squads on the left covering the grain and hilltop. I'd need to push hard at the start on the left and exploit any weakness that the might occur - giving him the dilemma of weakening his left to prevent the break through just as the new troops were arriving.

John, smiling after the pain of my dice..
I knew this scenario will punish Americans for dilly-dallying and figured that the US can't hang around.  I moved aggressively to begin with, with the 7-0 "free" leader, giving him a BAZ that he shouldn't have been able to fire as I discovered later.  Then the traditional half-squad rush began and with my turn 2 reinforcements about to come on the right, John's defending squads began to ruthlessly chop down my first probing attack.  A K/2 and another squad broken, followed by the loss of the leader were all compensated when I managed to win the close combat and reclaim the dropped BAZ from the initial combat.

John pulled inwards to defend the hill a little stronger but in doing so a gap appeared along the left, I pushed a squad along the foot of the hill and generated a hero who became instrumental in encircling the front line squads.

The heavy side of the US OoB arrived to take their place on board, but I was hesitant to give them too much open ground to cross. At the beginning of turn 3 they faced 3 concealed stacks of defenders, open ground a stone buildings on hills to occupy.

"If in doubt, don't prep" is a mandatory thought for these types of games, but with a MMG, 3x747s and a 9-2 leader, it's awfully tempting!  My heart sank when I announced "no prep fire" on turn 3 and began the dashes. A few sneaky half-squad 'bumps' to drop concealment helped turn the close combats my way and I got lucky with some morale checks, making it largely in tact.  Feeling good that I had traded 3 or 4 hexes in movement for not taking the prep-fire shots John's problem was now one of having to shoot at me and reveal himself to the oncoming 8+3 shots from the assault firing 7-4-7s or remain concealed with the squads that hadn't yet shown themselves.

The view from my bedroom window
By turn 4 I was ready to begin pushing towards the exit hexes when finally one of the 88s showed up.  Predictably it broke the 747 but hidden in the woods it allowed me to alternate hexes to force the gun to continue to change CA as it attempted to hold off the Americans that would be running on turn 5.

The defence on the right was crumbling, and although the melee was holding me up, 6 points of squads had made it off board.  The Gun had fired, lost rate, intensive fired but there were gaps free of residual and it allowed the 9-2 to jump from his spot on the hill to race past the finish line.

The second gun never revealed itself - it too being on the back hexrow - we discussed how maximising these Guns was key to the German positions, and perhaps one Gun needed to be in a more advanced position.

However, I'd won the game thanks to some solid morale check dice results and I like to think, avoiding the prep-fire phase in T3.

We wrapped up and finished off a bottle of wine. Marc had beaten Jan in the Men from Zadig, but although happy with winning the tournament, I was pretty sad not to be seeing these kinds of views in the mornings..

I'll upload some more pictures later, as the prizes were great.  I was presented with a book on the Tatsiskaya raid, which I'd like to put a scenario together about (although one does exist already), and almost as importantly, an ASL umbrella!

I headed back off the next day, thanks to John and Wally driving me back to the station, where we said our goodbyes.  I was left to reflect on again, the hospitality, camaraderie and good times that we'd had over the last 3 days.  Marc's organisation of the tournament was first class, the food was great and the weather had been perfect (rain when we were playing, sunshine when we swam, overcast and cool when I'd hiked).

The tournament is run twice a year, and whilst it's only one full day of ASL scenarios, I'd challenge anyone to come up with a better view whilst playing the game.

The flight back was mercifully uneventful and all too soon I was back in drizzly London.  The bank holiday gave me a chance to recollect all the great memories and new friends I'd made.

John, Jan, Wally and of course, Marc - thank you!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Dropping down to Earth

The view from the venue
Another day to visit Zurich, and more spectacular scenery.  Every time I felt I'd seen something great, there was something even better.  The only disappointment was that the photos just can't do this justice - I would come across another great view, only to see just how little a camera (especially a phone camera) can capture.

It's no exaggeration to say that it felt that my eyes were wider as I struggled to take in the vast valleys and amazing colours that the various lakes presented.

By Friday we were on the way to the Sieblick house, which turns out is part of a perk/bonus of Marc's employment.  The employees share it throughout the year, and there's no surprise that between them there's barely a weekend spare.

A train, and then bus took us up the hills, and beyond the Wallensee lake where the tournament was to begin.

Friday night was spent preparing dinner and chatting ASL - as we met Jan and John. John's an ex-pat, from Scotland, living in Germany and Jan was from Germany living in Switzerland.  Along with Wally, John's girlfriend we were 5, and soon dinner was prepared and we settled in to a German card game that pitched us all together in bar-room-brawling.  The mechanics were simple, you attack someone with an attack card, modified by perhaps a weapon and a fighting style, and the opponent may respond with a defence or counter-attack.  Despite me seeming to be the first choice for everyone to attack, my Knight style combined with a morning star was enough to give me a slender victory.

Then it was time to pick scenarios and opponents for Saturday's game.

I didn't really fancy "Sherman Marches West" - and I'd drawn Marc, the tournament organiser.  He fancied playing "A Desperate Affair", featuring a German paradrop against a dug-in British defence.  Happy to give it a go we chose sides, and both ended up with our preferred sides. I wanted to be a master of my own destiny, preparing a defence rather than submitting to the fickle whims of a paradrop, whilst Marc looked at the chance to seize Crete in what would be a reversal of history with one of the very few airborne assaults the Germans made in WW2.

The scenario is fought over 4 full size boards.  To win the Germans must clear two connected (horizontal or vertical) half boards, and occupy them.  With 3 full wings of paratroops, and a 4th landing on turn 3 of 8 it would prove to be a dispersed yet frantic game.

I was pleased to see that John and Jan had chosen the same scenario, it's nice when there's the same scenario going on next to you because you immediately have context when there's a talk about balance or a rules question comes up.

The British have a choice to either defend in clumps or spread out.  If you opt for a dispersed attack the paratroops have an easier time of the landing, but they must spread out further when crossing the mostly open ground to flush out the defenders.  Defend in strength in small areas, the Germans know where to push, and can focus on securing larger areas of the board, but must risk a much tougher landing that they are almost powerless to prevent.

The paradrop rules are simple and effective. It doesn't stop the first hour of the game being one constant reach for the rulebook, but soon the lightly armed Germans are scampering around re-arming themselves (pre-1942 airdrops have a special rule combining the number of hexes entered with a dice roll that allows the squad to jump from an almost unarmed unit to the 5-4-8s they were trained to be).
Here's me, holding on to Crete's finest grain fields...

I opted for a mix of dispersed and clumped defence.  Marc's drop-points were then determined (they begin a full distance/direction extent before the drift even begins) and it looked like he was going to force a strong attack in the centre of the board, with an adjoining wing coming in on the flank.

My dice were good and Marc's deployment rolls (when the paratroops hit the ground they require a NTC to prevent deploying) were bad.  I'd eliminated 2.5 squads before I'd taken the first casualty but as the game went on the Germans with their rearming and weapon canister recovery become ever stronger.

It looked good for me, then it swung back around again and by the half-way stage it was pretty even.  Even in that we both thought we were going to lose.

A break for a swim in the Wallensee lake (and some interesting photos to probably appear, 3 almost naked ASL players in the back of an Audi!)  - then some light lunch, meant we were ready for the second half of the game.

Marc (right) considers the drop zones
My British troops were crumbling but the Germans were struggling with their own difficulties.  Having finally found the particularly useful 81mm mortar weapon canister the half squad gave it to the crew, who quickly assembled it. The British, being no strangers to the damage the larger mortars can do, quickly ran into hiding, leaving the German crew manhandling the mortar for 3 movement phases up and down hills.  Having been there yesterday - I felt their pain, but none more so than Marc who when they finally had the target in their eyes, they promptly broke the mortar.  A quick repair later, but by then it was too late as the poor half squad they were originally targeting had run off to the safety of a board edge!

The fight continued with Marc taking a half board and giving him options to take one of the three adjacent half boards.  With only between 1 and 2.5 squads defending each I couldn't afford a break or sniper attack to decimate my defence.

On my last turn I generated 2 heroes, and one of these ran around to cause a problem in Marc's rear(!) - but he put a quick end to that as his 9-2 and 8-0 combined with each other to wipe out my hero and full squad in CC.  It was a mutually destructive combat that left us both feeling like we'd got the wrong end of the luck.

Finally the last turn had come and Marc had chosen his target.  I had 3 hexes to defend, each with a half squad, and one with a LMG, hero and 8-1 leader, at the front.   The charge came!

The first half squad KIAd the first on-rusher, but another got close.  A squad ran towards the LMG/hero stack and was taken on on a 3 down 4 shot.  The next shot took out another half squad but there were more coming.  The squad reaching the adjacent hex I had to consider the safety of the stone building or final protective firing another 3 down 4.  I took the shot, rolled an 11 and groaned.  Breaking the MMC in that hex meant there were just two half squads left to defend the board.  They were 2 hexes away from the closest German squad. One in the open, one in woods.

Marc is sure the weapon canisters were somewhere...
Marc's last chance was a spraying fire, 1 flat and 1-up-1.  Needing low low dice, he didn't get the luck and that was the game wrapped up, by the closest of margins.

It had taken us about 7 hours, but a replay of the same scenario would be much quicker knowing the paradrop rules (again) now.  That assumption's only valid for the next few months as they'll be forgotten soon, but we all commented on what a fun scenario it had been.

On the other side of the table, John's British had defended against Jan's Germans, but it had almost been all over from the first turn.  Jan's first wing almost completely landing off board (and suffering a 1 hex move for the first 3 turns) meant that it was almost impossible to recover from.

We packed up, drank more wine and settled down for a BBQ, which somehow tasted better in the fresh clean air of the Swiss hills.

Dragon training

After the stresses of the check-in everything else would seem calm and organised.  The flight was a quick 90 minutes and I was soon at Zurich airport.

Picking up an All Zone ticket for the train journey to Marc's B&B that he'd rented to me, I paid the 20 swiss francs (£16) and received a tour guide like description from the ticket office of just what that bought me.  Not only would it take me on the trip to (and back) to Marc's house in Erlenbach, but would allow me free travel all day on the trams, buses and even boats.  There were free entries to museums and discounts at restaurants too.

The train ticket operator slipped from Swiss-German to English effortlessly and not for the last time would I be a little ashamed of my poor foreign language skills.  Ah well, I can't roll dice well and be fluent in other languages.

The train journey was smooth and efficient.  The trains (complete with two floors) arrive exactly on time, they left, on time, were clean, quiet and spacious.  The scenery was amazing, and just in time for Marc to send a text to check I was ok, I'd arrived in Erlenbach.

Settling in, I checked out the local area and then headed off to Uetliberg, a hilly-'mountain' type area.  It was another train journey that promised more opportunities of a great view of Lake Zurich and the surrounding area.

To get there, it was a more quaint journey, on a happy orange train. I felt a little guilty jumping off at the top to see pensioners walking up from the foot of the mountain, and even joggers, complete with a drenched-in-sweat t-shirt, but I tried not to let it put me off my coke and cake!



Arriving there, and walking to the summit I wasn't disappointed.  Amazing views of a spectacular area. I spent the afternoon there, and returned back to Marc's house where he, his wife Mirjana and lovely 3 year old daughter, Lynn had cooked dinner for me.

Marc's house is nearly 400 years old, and had recently had over £1m spent on it in renovations.  Its location and decor was a wonderful place to spend the evening whilst we enjoyed a chat and the delicious cheese, nut and onion flan that Mirjana had baked.

We finished the evening with a quick game of Dragonheart, a two player card game that combines trick-taking with press-your-luck. Marc beat me but of course, I'll put that down to jet lag :-)

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Unconscious Incompetence

Sometimes it's hard being an international jet setting ASL player.  

The 6am flight from Heathrow to Zurich posed some logistical challenges:  Firstly there was the fact that I was arranging everything - something I'm not that used to, and frankly, not that good at.  Secondly it was the early flight.  Very early.  

Heathrow is an hour away from me, and proud in the knowledge that I've never missed a flight yet, I knew no matter what happened, I'd make it on time! 

With an alarm set for 2:30 and a second set for 2:45 it meant that I'd have no problem catching that plane!  Like clockwork the Swiss themselves would be proud of, I awoke 2:30 in time to see the alarm go off, switched if off smugly, then promptly fell back into a deep sleep.  2:45 arrived and this time I remembered that it really was time to get up. 

Showered, packed (yeah - I know I should have done this earlier) and heading off I felt unstoppable! My organisational skills would be undoubtable from this point on.

An hour later I was pulling into Terminal 1 at Heathrow suddenly aware that I hadn't seen any signs for 'Purple Parking' the long stay car-park that the holiday booking thing had booked for me.  I figured it would simply be a case of following signs to the long-term parking and that would be it.  Oh no.  That would have been far too easy...

When I arrived at the long-stay parking it didn't look very purple, and gave me the distinct impression that the £20/night wouldn't be covered in my itinerary.  Not to worry - it was only 4am, 2 full hours before the plane was leaving - I had time to find the real Purple Parking.

I drove around for a bit, saw a sign for the magical, mystical Purple Parking but couldn't see any way in.  I drove some more and ended up in another car park, so I asked the man behind the button in the machines (that I only thought were used when the barrier had trapped the car inside the carpark).  He scoffed a reply about being in the wrong place and directed me left, right - 3rd right and then left to the lights and on my right - or something like that.  I didn't even know if he actually knew where I was or even which way I was facing, so I was a little perturbed at his laxidasical response. 

Little did he know I had the star of my world - a mobile phone complete with the internet.  A quick search for Purple Parking, Heathrow gave me the mystical post-code and I was on my way. Albeit a little longer way than I'd expected - it was 6 miles away and a 14 minute drive.  No wonder the barrier phone man sounded so unconvincing in his directions…

At 4:25 I made it to the back waters of Heathrow- in an area that resembled downtown Mexico rather than our wonderful Olympic city. No matter - with time to spare I rolled into the car park, and with efficiency I'd only come to expect from anywhere other than the UK, the carpark attendant greeted me with a sarcastic sounding "Mr Ramsey?" - both impressed and concerned at his tone, I nodded.

"Yeah mate, good news is you're at the right company car park - bad news is it's not this one. You're booked into the Heathrow one."  Sigh. Really.  So - then he gave me my dilemma: "You can give me some time and I can book you into this one, or you can drive to the Heathrow one, and you can get your bus from there.  It's quicker from there, but you've got to get there yourself" (obviously!)

Urg - with time ticking away I foolishly trusted myself to get me out of the mess I was minute by minute getting myself into.  I would drive to Heathrow (again) with the help of his (new) postcode he gave.

So, back I went - time ticking ever onwards…. Only, at the exact point of the postcode there was a different car parking company. Parking Express.  So, of course, like the idiot I am, I pull in, take a ticket - go through the barriers, and then decide it's probably worth checking I'm at the right place.

By now, you're probably ahead of me.  You're right. I'm in Parking Express - very unlikely to be Purple Parking. But do you think it deserves the disdainful look that the next bus driver I asked where I was?  Probably it did.

So, at this point even finding the exit in these car parks was a frustrating exercise.  All the while annoying myself that it was now nearly 5am, I'd in all likelihood have to pay to get out of this car park and stuck behind other drivers who felt like at 5am they had all the time in the world to catch their probable 10am flight to no-where-specialville…

Eventually I find the real Purple Parking, tucked behind a Premier Inn and wait for the bus to take us slloooooowly to terminal 3, then finally allowing me the chance to get to Terminal 1 with no time left.

5:31am I reach the check-in desk at Swiss Air. It's deserted - no queues, no cases, just bored looking check-in clerks. Not a good sign.  There could have been some tumbleweed rolling across the area - I didn't have time to look hard enough.  I needed help - I need humanity to show a kind face to me.  This is the moment that Darwin tells us that we must rise up to the challenge! Here was my destiny. Here was my challenge!

Do I pick the camp looking guy or the chewing-a-wasp faced battle-axe of a woman? The guy looks kinder but he's further away? No one said it would be easy.

I risk the angry lady and opt for the sympathy card.  

"Hi - I'm so sorry I'm late, have I missed my flight to Zurich?"
"Uh hu"
"Oh - no, really -I'm desperate to get out there, I've really been messed around by some incompetence today!" (technically my own, but no need for details at this point)
"No.  Unless you've already checked-in."
"Ah - no, that's what I was trying to do here"
At this point, she actually sniggered.

She asks for my details and here I learn another valuable lesson:  Don't store your foreign currency inside your passport.  She looked at it as if it were a bribe and passed it back to me almost smiling at her camera as if to say that she wasn't going to get persuaded like that.

She sighs again - picks up the phone and dials deliberately slowly... and this is how it went (word for word - her side only):

"Hi, got one here that wants on for the Zurich flight -
… uh hu
… Really? [the incredulity in her voice was as audible as it was croaky]
… He's got baggage to put on.
… Are you sure? [snidey look at me]
… Really, at this time?
… but at this time?
… sigh. Ok - I suppose so"

Now - I'm no genius - but I don't think she wanted me on that flight.

"You'd best run, it's the gate furthest from here" were her parting words to me, in what proved to be the understatement of my day so far.  

Running though Heathrow I had "Chariots of Fire" playing in my mind.  It's a long song, so I had to put it on repeat.  Gate 33 is closer to Gatwick airport that Heathrow.  

I finally made it. 5:52!

I thanked the staff for allowing me on - "No worries" the lady said "I'm still looking for another 31 passengers!"  

I wanted to tell her they were probably still hunting for Purple Parking, but decided to relax for the first time in the morning and waited for the flight to board.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Time for another trip!

Continuing the theme of exciting ASL trips around the world, my next destination takes us to picturesque Switzerland for the Alpenfestung IV tournament.

The tournament is in perhaps the prettiest location I've ever seen for an ASL event (having been to both Blackpool *and* Ohio, I appreciate I'm coming from a limited perspective!) but take a look at the venue below. 


Marc Blume first contacted me to talk about his project about timing scenario play lengths, and we had a brief chat about how the algorithm works for the Scenario Archive.  He's taken a different approach, namely using both a statistical and algorithmic approach, somehow factoring in other people's reported playing time too.

It's clever and there's some heavy maths behind it all, which interests me because I took the lazier approach of sticking to a formula for the archive's predictive time for scenarios.  It's interesting to me because I was hoping to see whether the times for each site can be comparable, and if they differ was there an obvious preferred approach.

Here are the scenarios on offer, and a comparison of the Archive's time to play vs Marc's time:

Scenario
MarcArchive
Ham and Bloody Jam
2:30
2:36
The Men from Zadig
2:39
2:12
88s at Zon
2:30
2:24
A Desperate Affair
5:11
6:00
Gabriel's Horn
4:47
5:12
Sherman Marches West    
5:06
6:42

So, you can see with the exception of Sherman Marches West, they all fall within Marc's predictive 11% range - it will be interesting to see how close we both get.

Anyway - back to the venue, because the photos are more interesting than playing time predictions!



So, the tournament revolves around 2 rounds, between 4 players.  We play one scenario from the "long list" and one from the shorter one.  I've played only Ham and Bloody Jam from the list, it's a classic night scenario from the Pegasus Bridge module. It's a little dicey, and can often come down to whether the British can land their gliders without heavy casualties.  Lose more than a squad or two, and the Germans will most likely succeed in defending the bridge.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is Marc's incredible efforts in organising the event.  Through the use of his wiki, he's meticulously planned everything and if the weekend runs as smoothly as it should, it will be a great trip.

I leave for Switzerland at an ungodly 3am tomorrow morning...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Homeward bound

It's Sunday, the final day.  The Grofaz (the main competition) is coming to a close. It currently sees a battle of the ASL titans, Gary Fortenberry against Bob Bendis in one of Gary's own designs, Shouting into the Storm.  Gary has the defending Russians - with the balance as I understand.

The Grofaz pairings
Back to the games between mere mortals I came down to see who was around for one last game.  Step up Ed Fritz Jnr, a softly spoken, fresh faced engineer from (I think) Carolina. He had a slow soothing voice one that you could imagine in a late night radio show, easing the listeners to sleep, and his politeness and easy going play style meant, again, the game was a pleasure.

We picked BB Gun at the Baby Parade (is there a better scenario title around?) from the latest Design Pack - defending Germans against the might of the early war Polish armed forces!  The Poles have 3 TKS tanks, worse tanks you'll be hard pressed to find in the entire war, with next to no armour and a mighty 2 FP BMG these radioless beasts were still a challenge for this ill equipped German holding force.

The Germans have a 20L AT gun, (6 TK) and one ATR so their anti tank options are limited.  The Poles have to cross some murderous open ground to get either off the board or to clear the road path.

The Poles (Ed) were clearly going to go for the exit conditions.  Needing 16 points to win, the tanks, fully functional would be worth 15 of these.  How hard would it be to get one of 12 squads or 3 leaders off the board edge?

Quickly the AT gun opened up, bounced a shot of the lead tank and promptly malfunctioned (B11).  The tanks fired back but suddenly found themselves breaking their machine guns, too.  Crucially this would reduce their off board points down to a total of 13.

Ed, smiling throughout the dicing I dished out
My ATR squad broke and was killed for failure to rout and my 'kill stack', a 467, lmg and 9-1 leader, were suddenly surrounded, with 5 squads around them in each of the 4 hexes adjacent to a sm (they were on the right hand board edge).  The Germans needed a miracle to escape, and it came from a crazy prep fire step, first the lmg taking two shots breaking 3 squads, then the IFE of the squad breaking another.  Finally an adjacent squad to the Polish HMG broke the leader and MG squad, enabling the Germans to capture this precious asset.

The game came down to a mad last turn rush.  The perfectly placed fire lane (from the German point of view) meant that every Polish squad that wanted to try to exit would have to face a 4-2, with the 9-1 and lmg squad also having an input.  With the captured weapon breaking on a 10, Ed's valid tactic was to encourage the firelane shots by running squads who couldn't make the exit across the firelane to try to break the MG.  It wasn't to be, with all but one squad breaking at the last minute.  It was left to the 8-0 leader to try to make a run for it.  He jumped over the hedge, an exact distance away to just be able to make it.  He took a 1MC from the firelane - and passed!  Suddenly the 9-1 and squad+lmg were the only ones able to make a stand.   They fired.  Another MC - but the leader passed.  I'm about to concede the game to Ed, when he reminds me he has moved 2 points into the hex. What a gentleman. I have a final shot.

Once more my dice are kind and I force another morale check on the poor 8-0 leader.  Needing a 7 or less to avoid breaking or pinning, Ed rolls a 10 and the game is mine.

Andy, left, with Chuck and his best
(unintentional) zombie impression
I can't say I deserved it.  The key AT gun breaking was huge - but that prep fire phase turned the game on its head.  Ed was a fantastically gracious opponent and with this being his first ASLOK he had a winning record behind him too.

I'd finished the week with 3 wins and if I'm being generous, I should have won another 3 (the ones against Wes, Mark and with a little more luck, JR)

My aim had been to win a couple of games and to enjoy myself.  I'd managed both.

To my left, Andy Smith, my fellow UK traveller, had paired up with Chuck, who suddenly had forgotten all talk yesterday of a rematch (I was pretty happy about that - my loss column didn't need more padding) - they played something with Ghurkas and Japanese and I watch the ending as Andy seemed to be on the wrong side of a number of close combats that could have given him an impressive win.  With all the talk of zombie movies it was with a sense of irony that I looked at this photo and Chuck's expression!

Gary Fortenberry (left) against Bob Bendis for the title

With a 4pm flight to catch, it was pretty much time to go, so Andy and I made our way out, leaving the Grofaz final on a knife edge.

Both players were deep in concentration in an almost empty ballroom so we left as quietly as we could, saying our thanks and goodbyes as we went.

I'll wrap up formally in the next post, with some overall thoughts - but I've just got home and need to start saving up some wife points again for a trip out there again, one day!

Thanks for reading this, the feedback's always appreciated and I hope you've enjoyed it half as much as I enjoyed the trip.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The lessons we learn

So, it's Saturday, my last full day here and almost time to wrap up and go home.  I'll do a wrap up post before the end, but here's some more weird and wonderful pictures from the wacky world of ASLOK.

Firstly, the T-Shirt - coming in a funky tan colour this year, featuring the Australians in action on the front.  On the back is a list of all the various mini tournament winners, including our very own Derek Cox, who as an accountant, was pretty chuffed to win the "Foreclosures" mini (I've no idea...) last year.

He's known to be so happy with his name in lights that he's threatening to buy one each for each of his children.  Thankfully for them, they might be in for a decent present next year - Derek unfortunately lost in the final of the Action Pack 8 playtest mini this morning.

Here's a picture of Jack Daniel's 'ASL furniture'.  Jack's quite the carpenter as you can see below.  He's also known to make folding game tables - without the legs, to hold everything in place whilst you play.

The photo doesn't really do it justice but you get the idea here.

The panzerfaust toting Buddha!
I've no idea how this arrives (or is even assembled) up here in the hotel room (the tournament sits up on the 6th floor of the hotel in what's a very large ballroom like area).

Next is the funkiest piece of ASL gear I came across - the panzerfaust wielding Buddha. Clearly the double-one on the dice finish it off!

You can't actually see on the photo, but there's the full German instructions on that PF too.  Crazy!
The biggest dice tower on show
Lastly on my little tour, here's the largest dice tower I came across.  You can't really appreciate the scale here but it must be close to 2 feet in height!

It kind of clonked its way through a dice roll but no question about the randomness it delivered...

Anyway, onto today's games:

Today I was in the Tommy's Mini tournament, and paired up with Chuck Hammond.  Chuck is one of the SoCal group that published the Melee packs and he's designed a few scenarios including Marsh Madness and A Worthy Adversary.  He also helped design Eddie Z's Berlin Red Vengence. He was in the running for the Grofaz for a while yesterday so there was a question as to whether our game would go ahead, but he lost out on that game, so pitched up to play me in the British mini.

Chuck has it all.  With charisma, intelligence, witty and dice that'll bring tears to your eyes he's a funny guy that's great fun to play. But, jeez - that guy can roll low dice! His only weakness is the Scottish accent that he thinks he's perfected based on some commercial he saw on tv.  I didn't like to be rude (you know us English!) so I told him it was very good.  I suppose it was if the Scots talked like Welsh daleks, who've had a little too much whiskey. He's a German philosophy professor so if you take a moment to picture what you think he'll look like you might be surprised to see the reality (I don't have a photo yet of him, but I may be playing him again tomorrow - so he won't get away too easily next time).

The choices were Going to Church, Baw Drop or Hussars and Hounds.  I couldn't face playing that scenario for a third time, and Going to Church is a bit long in the tooth.  We decided to play Baw Drop and so for the second time in the tournament I was playing the same scenario, as the same side again.

Chuck's a canny player and despite a valiant attempt my Japanese couldn't get through his retreating British screening tactics. The feeling in the room was that the scenario was pro-British, and Chuck's dice were hot throughout.  All week, and for a few months now, I've tried really hard to smile about bad dice because if you get grumpy about it, that's how players remember you.

We went down to the adjoining restaurant for lunch, (buffalo wings and a burger) - which Chuck kindly treated me to. We chatted about the education system, house prices, the various ASL clubs and tournaments around the world and, of all things, Zombie movies.

Chuck was a very fun guy to play against though, so I had no gripes at all about the defeat.  He was a strong player and I hope he'd enjoyed the game as much as I had. 

As is customary at ASLOK, the organisers put on a 'pizza party' which is free beer and pizza for those quick enough to get their slices onto the plates.  It was a welcome break and as it was being organised it gave me a chance to hook up with a game with Mark Pictavage.

Mark, "Pitman" to many, is a formidable force on the forums.  He runs an amazing web site that all ASL players are familiar with, Desperation Morale. Mark is known for opinionated comment and sometimes it is perceived as a little bumptious.   I was keen to meet with him, talk to him and to get to know him some more.

Mark has a fascinating job, which involves educating the various law enforcement agencies in the US about extremism.  He's often quoted in the press and is used in interviews around the country for opinion and educational services.  As Mark explained, it's a little bit like the hurricane experts - they're only wheeled in when bad things happen - so it can be a tough role to fill.

Mark comes across as a well educated, polite and unassuming character.  He's quietly spoken and it's hard to see the posting style that he's know for come across in person.  He's also funny and a pleasant guy to be around.

We picked something from his play list, funnily enough a scenario from the Melee pack that Chuck had previously been involved in.  'Just a bit Outside', MP15, sees the US defending against Japanese with an ever-funneling approach across a ford, on board 37 with the large PTO overlay working its magic.

The victory conditions are that the US must have more good order points in infantry over the stream which is at the rear of their defence than the oncoming Japanese.  It's infantry only, with the US having 80mm OBA to support their position.

It's hard to say how badly I messed this one up, so I'll go quickly.  Effectively it was the last turn of the game.  I'd been slowly retreating back across the board, avoiding close combat and digging away at the Japanese as they sneaked across the map.  The 9-2 leader was rallying everything that self broke back to him and was a forceful fire group whenever the Japanese dared come into sight.
Mark, giving the secret sign to my artillery observer.

In terms of points over the stream - I had about 13, with 4 more coming back over the stream, albeit broken but heading towards their rally point for a probably 17 or so points.  I'd estimated Mark had between 13 and 15 - but it was hard to say how many.  With just the Japanese player turn to go, my OBA finally contacted and was in with a chance to be brought down.

There was a spot where, if it was accurate would almost certainly win me the game, preventing two squads from coming across the river and with the possibility of a drift, it could even hit up to 4 Japanese locations to guarantee a win.

If the OBA was inaccurate (on a dice roll of 4,5 or 6) then there was simply 1 direction I had to avoid - what's the worst that could happen?

Well, you can guess. OBA was inaccurate, just don't roll a 5!  I don't have to write what happened next, but I will, so that some day if you're in the same position, you won't do the same as me.   I rolled a 5.  So now the OBA comes down on my own hex, overstacked thanks to the luckless routing troops, which if rallied (on a 11 next turn!) simply win me the game.

I roll for the effects.  16 down 2. A 1KIA!  Everyone in the hex breaks (3 squads, 1 leader), and a half-squad is killed.  All I can do is shake Mark's hand.

Mark's a decent guy and I'm glad I got to play him.  I'm gutted that I robbed myself of the win (it turned out Mark had 13 points over the stream) but, bah - you live and learn - I hope!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

This dog doesn't bark..

For those who play Squad Leader (and if you don't I'm surprised you've got this far!) players like to play balanced scenarios - those that alledgedly have a 50-50 chance at winning with either side.

Now, I'm not in the camp - I don't care.  Take this tournament for example - I don't think there's a scenario released that any of the great players could not beat me at given average luck on both sides.  The equivalent might well be to take a rook or bishop from a chess match and expect me to beat a grandmaster with that advantage.  Most scenarios are balanced to within a pawn or two, to continue the analogy, but in order of how a scenario plays out, for me, it's skill, then luck and balance.

Bill 'at work'
Interestingly someone commented about this blog that it appears that ASL is simply too much luck dependent, and reading back you could accept that - if you just go on posts like mine.  There's a politeness amongst players -when you win, you must accept you had a good share of luck, and likewise you must acknowledge your opponent's bad dice.

I'm as guilty as anyone of doing that - it's not really a gracious victor that bemoans his luck whilst filling in the 'W' column of the tournament chit, but that causes its own problems.  It's hard to learn more from your opponent when you lose if they explain away their win to the dice.

Anyway, this introduction was just to explain that an unbalanced scenario is generally referred to as a dog.  Alright, so onto the action.

Tired from the late night with Burnie, I started the latest mini tournament with less hope than usual.  I was paired up with Bill Stoppel.

William L. Stoppel is a First Star General in the US Army, there's him above (obviously on the left) at his promotion ceremony and I can only say what a pleasure it was to play him.  He has an amazing politeness, topped with the utmost modesty.  We spoke about his job and career, his family and it's hard to say just how nice the man came across.

We played Hounds and Hussars from the new Schwerpunkt.  In typical Scwerpunkt fashion, the attacker has 4 and a half turns to take 3 of 4 buildings.  "Take" isn't quite the right word though, as the German defenders simply have to have a non-broken MMC in the buildings.  That makes it tough.  Given one building is a church (with steeple), another is a 3 hex rowhouse, and the other two are multihex buildings too one wonders whether it would even be enough should the Germans simply deploy each squad at all opportunities and hunker down in each building location.

Would Bill's Drill Sergeant be happy
with this sloppy pose?
The British on the attack have two Challenger a Carrier and two Cromwell tanks, so enough HE and AT capacity to deal with the threats but with one HIP self propelled gun and another on the prowl the British must expect to lose one AFV before they get going, and if they're unlucky it could be two.

I pushed hard on the first turn and made good ground, but Bill's tanks took on mine in a duel that had the Germans on top.  My carrier was hit twice by the infantry to be recalled and the close combats didn't go the way the had to.  I called time on the scenario on the last turn with me not being able to get the third building I needed.

I'd heard about Bill attending the tournament and I had planned to congratulate him on his promotion (I don't think he would have really cared about that, but it's a great opportunity to speak to a General!) so to go one further and game with him was fantastic.  I also got a chance to chat to Jack Daniels who is the man behind the "furniture" of ASL (although saying it like that kind of sounds like he's going to jump out behind the sofa!).   I'll put up some pictures shortly of that.

So, onwards and downwards went my record - I'd stopped counting at this point.  I was pretty sure it was going to end 2-'lots' but I was more than happy with the two wins.  At this point the target was to continue to put names to faces, catch up with some online guys who'd wanted to say hi, and to carry on enjoying myself.

Chris Doary, of BattleSchool - the guys who specialise in funky precision dice with all the insignias you could want had asked for a game, so now was the perfect time to play.  He'd set himself up in a prime location with plenty of light and a nice secluded spot it was like walking into his asl zone.  A clock sat proudly on the sideboard, and his various equipment was positioned with home-like comfort.  We chatted about the way the military had produced (or attracted) such polite, efficient and gracious players (Wes, Bill and Jack) and Chris said that he wished he had the same levels in each.

Having played Chris I can say for sure he was every bit as mannered and gracious as those guys - and the scenario we were to play gave me a chance to enjoy his company.

Before I talk about the scenario I have to mention Chris's wife, Helen, who must rank quite highly on the "Great wives of ASLers" chart.  Not only did she sit alongside Chris through many of his scenarios (and pull counters when needed), she played a scenario or two (winning the one I'd enquired about earlier) and was still learning the game.  She's also a medal winning sniper - and now works in the medical profession analysing blood. 

Did I have any scenario in mind, asked Chris.  Nope, I'm always happy to play anything, after all there are close to 5,000 released to-date.  No problems says Chris, I'll pick something in a bit, give me a few minutes to finish up some things. I popped off to see if I could catch up with the kids on skype, but no joy.  I returned to see that Chris had set up the boards and was pulling counters for one of the latest Schwerpunkt scenarios - Hussar and Hounds. Oops - that's the one I've literally just finished.

I was happy to play it again, having come close-ish to winning against Bill, so gamely took on the British (by dice-roll) again.

I'd like to say I learned the lessons before, and again had a great first turn.  I got all the Smoke (and WP) I needed and even took a full squad prisioner in the first turn.  With no casualties crossing all the open ground at the start of the game, and Chris down to 7 squads it surely couldn't be long before I'd avenging the defeat!

My British on the attack - I'd thought I'd done enough at this point
Suddenly it started to go wrong.  The half-squad holding the prisoners was killed, the prisoners re-armed and suddenly I was fighting to hold on to what ground I'd already made up.  The HIP SP Gun took out a Challenger, the other skirted out from behind cover and carelessly exposed its rear armour to the 75mm gun of the Cromwell.  Needing a 6 to hit, the British tank crew cursed the 7, and then found themselves staring down the barrel of a 75LL which was now pointing directly at them.  The next turn the mortar laid some smoke to give them a fighting chance, but Chris hit the tank, and quickly I was down to my last tank.  This one was swarmed, and all it could do was jump into motion, deploy smoke dispensers and prey for bad dice!

Chris's dice were hot throughout the game, but I made him work for the win - which he fully deserved. I'd got adjacent to one smoked building with 2 4-5-8s and a leader, but crucially they pinned on the return fire.  The configuration of the attack point - a one hex building followed by open ground before the mult-hex building is very difficult to attack if you can lay covering fire across the road. I simply couldn't get a foothold and resigned on the last turn.

Chris and Helen - brilliant 'hosts' in their ASL corner
It's hard to say the scenario isn't balanced - it's certainly a lot of fun, but with so many Schwerpunkt scenarios as the attacker you feel you can't build up the attack.  Smoke, then move, advancing fire, advance into CC seems to be the secret but if any of those steps don't work, you're stuck behind the curve all the way through the scenario - there's just no chance to recover.

Despite that I enjoyed the scenario, and I'm a firm believer that fun is more important than balance.  As long as the scenario is winnable, it's the fun of the game that's key and Chris and I definitely had fun.  Continuing the theme, I lost but had a good time doing so!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Other bits and pieces

Gifts from the Great 
So, before I get into the next couple of games, let's show you some other random assortment of fun photos and various goings on here:
 
Firstly, check out these funky gadgets (left).  Steve Pleva gives these to players who give him a really tough game where he has to think so hard to grind out the win that it hurts his head.  He gave me two.

Actually, I'm just kidding, I think he gives them out to anyone who asks nicely when he plays them, and he asked me to pass one on to my regular opponent back home.

Any ideas what they do?  These little rascals are for testing vehicular bypass widths.  Place them on the hexside and look through the hole.  You see some obstacle, it's blocked.  Ingenious, and much easier than the suggested approach of trying to look down the width of a counter thickness.

Next up is a picture of the amount of stuff that Derek's bringing back with him for his crew.  There's 5 copies of Crucible of Steel in there, and goodness knows how many regular scenario packs.  That stack was actually so heavy it won't actually balance when upright, it kind of slides right off - I'm not kidding, we took that picture just before it started to collapse under its own weight.  There's probably close to $1250 worth of ASL just there!

Talking of CoS, here's one of the various monster scenarios that are going on around the room. This one is Flying Turrets, from the newest pack from the Bounding Fire Team. There are around 60 tanks on each side - 40 or so T34s which are supplied in counters in the pack.  These guys were on turn 2 for about 2 hours, the last time I checked!
Flying Turrets, or the sign of an untidy mind?
There's talk of a free bar downstairs now, so I'm off to check that out.  Tune in next time to hear about my double chance of winning one of the latest Schwerpunkt scenarios, Hussars and Hounds - one of which was against a very real General of the US Army!

12 years undefeated...

When I first started playing ASL my second ever opponent, and second ever game was against Burnie Fox.  Burnie was in the UK on assignment for work for a year or so, and we hooked up to play about 10 or so games.

He beat me in all but one of those games and the one that I did beat him in had two things going for it. The first was that we'd just played the same scenario and had some spare time at a tournament once so we swapped sides and replayed it.  I modified his setup enough to call it my own (shuffled some dummy counters around, most likely) and essentially I played Burnie against Burnie.  That simply wouldn't have been enough.  I got lucky too on the last meaningful shot of the game, which if I recall in 'Noble Craft of Warfare', was a long range IFE shot at a CE tank needing to exit for the win.

Burnie was back in town, and we'd agreed beforehand to get a game going.  I said I'd meet up with him when he arrived, but it had been 12 long years and my memory of faces must be getting worse.  I assumed I'd recognise him when I saw him, I remember he was tall but also that he was "carrying a little timber".

So, I'm walking around the hall and some ripped guy with a sharp hair cut extends out his hand.  Dave Ramsey? "Sure, hi" I say.  "Burnie Fox" comes back the reply.  My only response was "No way dude!" - and as he'd later told me, he's dropped 120lbs and he was looking great.  If I wasn't married, with kids, (and had an inkling for guys), I might have blushed!  Burnie also has the geekiest tatoo you'll ever see; he has his wife's name tattooed around his calf - in Hexadecimal! Nothing says "I love you"  more than 49:20:6c:6f:76:65:20:79:6f:75 (you can work that one out..)

When I regained my composure we caught up and agreed to play later on.  Given my early finish to my previous game, I decided to see if tonight I could double my win count against the old enemy!

We picked one from the newly released Cruicible of Steel (did I mention how awesome that whole pack looks?!) - I forget the name - Onion Highway or something (it definitely wasn't onion, btw), but I'll add it in here when I dig up my pack.  Russians defending a small intersection against what felt like a horde of Germans armed to the teeth with good tank support.

The Russians have a dug-in cupola and receive 4 tanks as reinforcements, including two Valentines, who arrive just in time to ensure the fight is taken to the wire.

Burnie couldn't bare to watch
my troops collapse
Burnie is as cunning as the proverbial fox, no doubt where that surname originated from - he eeks out every advantage from his supporting OoB and then some.  Before you know it, he's encircled you, he's going back in to his box for more prisoner counters, then some more disrupted counters, and finally when you think he's done all he can do, he double checks, and breaks some more of your guys.  He's a mean player in the nicest sense of the word.

We started at 8 and finished up at 1:30am.  There were plenty of other games cracking on, but the jet lag was starting to sink in some more - 3 (or is it 4?) nights now with broken sleep - the mind tends to take a while to relax again after the games, meant that I could have done with an early-ish night.

Taking nothing away from Burnie though he cut through the Russians like a hot knife through butter, I kept the game reasonable by going to the last turn but with a few key breaking squads the idea that I had any chance evaporated.

At least it took him 12 years to beat me again!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Inside the players' minds.

So, halfway through and with my second mini-tournament about to kick off I was able to take a look around and see the amazing collection of stuff that people bring with them, make or just are happy to have around with them as they game their way through the week.

This screen screens something but I'm not sure exactly what.
Throughout the day I've met the nicest people you'd ever want to game with.  Everyone has a passion for the game that's infectious, they're generous with their time and the amount of dedication that the guys have is just incredible.

Lars and I were chatting about the 12 years the Swedish guys have put into Hakke Palle, the upcoming Finnish module.   The wonderful ESG team, who have the energy to playtest those monster scenarios (amongst the others that they produce).




Scott of the Gamers' Armory
Scott Blanton, from the Gamer's Armory was talking about his store, which sits alongside his web shop, but that it wasn't even his day job.  Here's a picture of him on the right - it was great to meet him after our emails that we've swapped over the last few years.  Scott sponsors my site, the Scenario Archive, so I promised him a beer, which I'll be buying him tonight.

I've spoken with Mark Pictavage about his early gaming days, the Schwerpunkt guys were on good form and the Friendly Fire team who continue to push out some great scenarios.

Xavier, from LFT, fits in the creation of the packs with his crew despite his world-wide travelling schedule and then Sam Tyson comes along to deliver Crucible of Steel - a most impressive pack, weighing in at about a kilogram of ASL, with its 32 scenarios, 6 maps and nearly 400 counters!

Here it is below, next to my mac for scale.  Crazy cool and I know if it's anywhere near as good as Blood and Jungle is, there'll be plenty of play to extract out of that, for sure.
Crucible of Steel - adding to my baggage weight limit
The matchbox organisation method
I took as many photos as I could of the various gizmos and gadgets I came across - take a look at them below.

So, because you've got this far, I'll quickly mention that I lost my latest game, the semi-final of the street fighting Mini, against Jason Eickmann, disappointingly early.  We played Cocktails for Molotov and there are 12 or so Polish squads defending the middle strip, width-ways of two boards.  The Russians come on with 7 tanks and right behind them are 6 trucks.  There's a sudden death game end moment should the Russians get 2 squads into one of two buildings.

Jason's clearly no novice and froze every one of my 4 units on the left hand side with his tanks, despite me taking one out with the title inspired molotov.  It turned out that's pretty much all I did - as the Russian trucks simply rolled past.  Well, at least they would have done - but I resigned as soon as I realised there was nothing I could do to prevent the 6 trucks getting deep into my back field.

The coolest dice tower on show?
I was disappointed not to be able to have a "proper" game with Jason, the scenario has a certain puzzle element about its setup conditions, which we discussed afterwards.  It seems that maybe the Poles must defend one side of their set up area with roadblocks alone, giving enough strength in numbers on the centre and their left.  Because they can't setup in upper levels, and can't defend beyond hexrow 8 they're forced into a wide, shallow defence which can be bypassed with relative ease.

Back in my room I realise I needed to lay down more residual on the approach, and had to set the units further apart to keep the platoon moving tanks from bypassing a platoon each.

Either way, the scenario wasn't great - but more from the point that we spent more time setting up than playing.  Never a good sign.

I even forgot my camera so I couldn't take a photo of the disaster, too!

I spent the spare time chatting to Eric and Glenn from the East Side Gamers - promising to play a scenario of their choice from the packs. I feel for the team when they spend so much time working on the designs that sometimes get overlooked if they're not played in the year of release.

Glen suggested The 24 Hour Pass, so that will be my next big scenario that I can write up when I'm back home.

A second stab at a mini: Round one

I'd been entered into the Street Fighting mini due to a mix up with the booking form - I had no problem with playing in any of them and so was paired up with Jeff Walden.  Jeff was in the Marines for 21 years serving as an infantry man - he listed off the countries he'd been deployed to, and it made an enviable list (assuming there wasn't any hostilities going there) - he certainly has seen the world.

We diced for scenario selection from the 3 on offer, and ended up with Dying For Danzig, one that we'd both played as the Germans before.  To win the Germans must have 1 Good Order squad remaining from around 12 equivalents at the end of the game.  The Russians have pretty much everything going for them except time.  Two flame-throwing tanks, two IS2s (I think), two flame-throwers, a 9-2 leader, and a hatful of 628 and 527 squads.

I got the Germans by random selection, making it my fifth axis side in succession, and set up expecting the worst.

Jeff came on strong on one side which helped me in a way because it gave me a natural corner to drift towards.  I caught 3 squads in the open from the heavy machine gun with the 9-1 directing it, but only broke one squad.  That could have been much worse.  The machine gun fired once more before it broke but then Jeff's approach of parking the flame-throwing tanks behind the wall meant he couldn't utilise the deadly 32FP on  either his advancing fire or my turn.

Jeff, safe with his knowledge of how to kill me
 in 4 different ways with his hands tied behind his back
Continuing my streak of players having some misfortune, he broke the MA of on of the big tanks on a smoke shot and the other went down to low ammo.

I played a game of refusing to drop concealment, opting to skulk back whenever I could.  This took Jeff by surprise and he was very cautious for the first 3 turns.   Suddenly with the last two turns he upped the pace and began to rush my position.  The 88LL gun did its job flaming the two large tanks but smoke from the blazes had done a good job of covering the approach.

Horders of Russians piled in but in the end I had managed to spread too thinly for the Russians to suppress everywhere.

The heavy had been repaired in time to come to the aid of a concealed squad who were hoping to escape any ensuing close combat for the win - and managed to break the adjacent squad.  In the end I had 2 and a half squads available, just doing enough to hold on to the win.

Jeff was a great guy to play against, and Jeff Coyle wandered over to lament the poor showing by the Jeffs.  In truth they were both good players who with a few better dice rolls could have won either scenario.

The semi final against Jason Eickmann awaits...