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...

A new day dawns

Having been reassured that I'd played two of the best players at the tournament I was almost relieved to hear that Tuesday morning's match up in the Mini tournament had me facing an unknown name to me, Wes Vaughn.  The tournament was the house rule special, the use of Steve Pleva's special set of rule tweaks that give an added twist to the game.

Most people have heard about Steve's idea of the Red OBA chit (+1) going back in the draw pile but there are others that give a different flavour to some scenarios that are sometimes a little predictable.

For example, one rule adds the ability for broken units to effectively fire at half fire power, with a +1 drm, as a FPF shot.  Another removes the +2 drm to the CC attack of an AFV in bypass, whilst also allowing a unit to still fire adjacent.  The 3rd rate of fire dice is something that takes some getting used to (Roll a 6, 1, 4 and try to figure out if it's a great shot or awful) but the visual "excitement" of rolling 1,1,1 is hard to beat!

Back to Wes - coming from Arkansas (I had no idea how to spell this one) - he turned out to be a pretty decent player.  His record at last year's tournament was 11 wins to 1 loss (that's three ones I was less happy to see) and certainly knew his stuff.

We played Shopino Struggle, which is a 'From the Cellar' scenario [FT 165] - and features a Russian rush to 3 sets of buildings.  The Germans defend with next to nothing against the 10 squads and 4 T34s but 3 decent tanks come on at the death for the Germans along with 2 more squads to try to save the day.

We both fancied the Germans, so rolled for sides - I won, so we gave Wes the Russian's and balance. 

I'd set up quite far forward, which seemed to split the opinions of the other guys playing the same scenario.  Wes attacked hard and fast, and it seemed to be going his way until my leader snake-eyed a Close Combat against an unsuspecting T34.

We got to the last turn and I think Wes thought he'd lost.  It came down to me having to just run into one final building hex, take out a squad in a wooden building with a Tiger or knock out a squad and a half from another.  My heavy hitting stack were adjacent, ready and waiting.

The prep fire phase was predictably cruel, the squads shrugged off a 20+1, a 16+1 then an 8+1. The Tiger missed its shot and intensive fire shot too.  It was left to the half squad rush, or failing that, close combat.

Wes, smiling inside about that PTC
The half squad rushed, reaching the hex adjacent.  The T34 fired - a PTC. The squad failed, rolling higher than the magical 7 - pinning at the end.  It would come down to the last close combat.

I advanced in, needing a 5 or less - I rolled high and the game was over.

Wes felt he got lucky, and to some extent he did, but he also made his own luck and in truth my leader taking out his T34 early on helped me immensely.

He was a blast to play against, with a good quick playing style and easy going thoughout.

0-3 now, and I'm getting worried.  It was time to focus on some of the finer aspects of the trip - and where better than to do that over a beer and a sandwich!  Before I did, I hooked up with Jeff Coyle.  He's scanned every scenario into his iPad, a man after my own heart - so we took the top scenario off his 'want to play list', Baw Drop.  We diced for sides and I believed I'd got the Japanese, so I said I'd grab a bite to eat whilst Jeff set up the British.

Time ground to a halt as Derek and I waited for lunch, but being polite Englishmen, we didn't complain.  30 minutes later Jeff came across and needed to check whether I was setting up - as he'd thought he'd got the Japanese too.  Who knows?! 20 minutes later (a mere 50 minutes after ordering the BLT) Jeff returned to checked I was actually still around, and to let me know he'd set up, but that it was wrong, so he'd do it again! I felt pretty bad but the timing worked well.  Eventually the BLT arrived, but now it was time to skype Vicki - so I dashed off and made the call.

It wasn't what she was expecting but I brought the laptop up to the gaming room.  The family got the full panoramic view complete with lots of willing greetings from the 70 or so players that were already playing.

Far too long after we decided to play Jeff and I got started.  The scenario features the British defending 7 huts and 5 portable supply drops which can be moved around.

Jeff has an interesting background within the software industry and had spent a lot of time in the Philippines.  He was telling me about the crazy lifestyle one could have out there, with a great story about how a colleague had sent out four married and one single guy on a project out there.  4 came back wanting a divorce and the other married!

Jeff's oversized laminated boards
Back to the scenario, Jeff's dice deserted him from the start whilst I rolled my way through the first few turns to cope with the odd set-back.  I essentially banzai'd my way across the bottom of the map and Jeff's luck continued to be poor.  He gamely carried on until the last turn, when I broke his two remaining stacks on two 2+1 shots.

Jeff wondering why he didn't just roll low
The man could only take so much, despite me buying him a beer to aid the morale and I sensed he was just happy to get the counters back and put this one behind him.

My first scenario win at ASLOK. 1-3 and to get ready for tomorrow's mini, our English contingent took Jeff out to dinner.  I doubt it cheered him up, but once again, it was an enjoyable scenario and Jeff was a good sport throughout.

Evan and the gang, in team colours
I finished the night up by grabbing a couple of copies of Schwerpunkt and Rally point from the Tampa guys (right).  Then I caught up with the ESG guys to grab a couple of copies of the new Design pack.

The room's getting busier, space is getting tighter and the competition is heating up.

On the bright side the Rest of the World beat the USA for the umpteenth year in a row.  No thanks to my 0-2 showing though!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Cleveland Gambit

A (kind of) funny saying in chess circles, when you lose your opening game in the first a Swiss style Tournament setting is that you're playing the "Swiss Gambit".  This sneaky opening round maneuver assures you of weaker players in your second round (assuming of course that they weren't also playing this cunning gambit) - in the hope that you win the tournament with a 5-1 record.

My opening gambit was based around playing arguably the two strongest players in the convention.  Steve Pleva followed by fellow Grofaz winner, JR Tracy.  Winning either of these games would have been a statement - admittedly probably along the lines of "I'm playing with loaded dice", watch out!

We quickly picked another scenario from the latest Schwerpunkt, SP 202 Fiery Finale.  Steve has suggested that maybe the Germans needed the balance but I decided losing with the Germans withou Steve's recommended balance would give me a ready made excuse and if I lost with the Russians, well, no-one would ever hear about Steve's crazy suggestions...

Rolling for sides I took the 'un-fancied' Germans (you can tell how this is going to go, can't you) who are essentially defending on two fronts, their front and rear.  They have 5 stone building hexes and must hold on to 4 of them with just 5 squads to go around, complimented with 4 Tigers.

With JR set up, I got to set up and move first, and had a great opening turn - essentially destroying his kill-stack and by the second turn 2 of his IS-2 heavy tanks were knocked out.  It got worst for JR as he malfunctioned the last tank and continued to break against the tough exterior of the German defence.

By turn 3 it looked as good as over.  His reinforcements, 4 more tanks and 3 squads were sent on, and here I got lucky with some critical rate of fire shots with the Tigers to knock out 3 T34/85s.  With no Tigers lost and the malf'd IS-2 now recalled it felt good to be on the Blue side. 

JR not yet in his happy place...
JR was a broken man.  He'd had no luck and was pretty much out of options.  His next turn was decisive. Pushing the 57LL AT gun out of the woods (with the help of two squads), then over a wall into the Graveyards on board 3a, he immobilised two tigers, critically forcing the immobilisation bail out of the rear tiger which resulted in an empty tiger pointing towards the rear and adjacent, of my other tiger.

With the Tiger now captured and my panzerschrek also fallen into Russian hands it was now the Eastern forces who were looking stronger.  The psk hit a tiger, the capture tiger hit my other tiger and not once, but twice in succession he rolled boxcars!  Brutal. 

There was still a lot of game left, and JR quickly mopped up the two poor Tigers and the game now came down to the last 4 Close Combat rolls - all of which I was outgunned.  The first, a 9-1 leader managed to CR a full squad, locking him in melee so I now only needed to win one of the next 3.  It sounds closer than it was, but JR did enough to ensure the win by declining the last CC attack to remain concealed to avoid being locked in melee ensuring good order status required for the victory.

A classy victory by a great player.  It was a real pleasure to play both him and Steve. 0-2 for the tournament, but surely they can only get easier...

Oh, and Steve's right - the Germans need that extra squad!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Swimming with the Sharks

So, remember the first scene in Jaws. The little girl, singing the muffin man song.  That's me. The little girl, if I'd had my hair in pony tails and a little one piece swimming outfit I couldn't have been sharked worse.

Bret, the tournament director hooked me up with a keen looking Steve Pleva, who's only won ASLOK 6 times, so he obviously needed to improve his win-loss stats.

2 turns in, I'm the attacking Germans
I went for a paddle and the results were predictable!

We played SP 195 (I don't remember the title - and it's not available yet on the archive - although to be fair the pack's only been out 2 days) - but it's a really nice setup where the French are pulling back with a bunch of tanks and have to exit one and get 7VP worth of squads in a stone building towards the edge they're exiting.

Steve's relief at the win was evident!

Steve showed just how good a player he was by rolling snake eyes on his first two dice rolls.  I could only nod in approval at his technique, and slowly realising where I've gone wrong all these years!

In truth, he didn't need good dice and I certainly had great dice winning every close combat I entered without losing a casualty in CC - but the result was never in question. He played like the expert he is and was an absolute blast to play against.

As we finished up, I was offered a game by Gary Fortenbury who'd smelt blood in the water - unfortunately for him JR Tracy had suggested a game minutes before.  Gary swam back undeterred (he'll get his win!) and we headed out for a bite to eat.

Being the great hosts they are Steve, JR, Jim Bishop took myself and Lars Thurring out to lunch at the local diner.

Check out Jim's number plate...

An Englishman in Newark...

I know I have to adapt.  I know I must be respectful of other cultures.

But really.  Look at this:

This is a cup of tea! It's frothy and the tea-bag won't sink.  It's exactly the type of place my mother warned me about.  The worst thing about it? It was made in the UK! Heathrow airport, in fact. If the Queen could see this now...

To take my mind of this, I passed the time on the flight counting the cliches in the in-flight movie Super 8.  I lost track after "Kids know best", "Misunderstood Alien isn't so bad if you just talk to him nicely", "The Army is not to be trusted", "Dad's don't understand teenagers", "The misunderstood town scoundrel just wanted to say sorry" and "Hippy guys are nice guys but can't be relied on in a crisis" was all it took for me to look for more entertainment.

I passed some more time by counting how many people made it past 10 minutes in 'Tropic Thunder' (none, all 3 switched over after the opening scenes) and then made it through the decent but slow paced 'Gran Torino'.  'Last Night' was all I could cope with- and before I knew it - 9 hours after chewing through that tea, we'd touched down and I was being treated like another suspected criminal entering US customs at Newark with just minutes to spare to catch my connecting flight (the one that will come as a big surprise to NetFlights and their 'Direct Flight Search tool') to Ohio.

At 8pm local time and 1am in her majesty's kingdom, I'd arrived to a cool, wet, dark Cleveland night.  A brief taxi-ride to the hotel, and I'd finally made it!

Monday, 3 October 2011

A Brave New World

Today I head off to Cleveland, Ohio, to ASLOK - the biggest ASL tournament in the world!

When people ask me where I'm going I've tried to explain it as the equivalent of the World Championships of ASL, but that causes a number of problems. Firstly it makes me sound like some kind of national hero - one of only 3 players representing the UK - the second thing I have to do is explain just what ASL is.

My football friends have a vision of me checking in my replica uniform, whilst work colleagues shuffle a little uncomfortably, sometimes staring at their feet before wishing me luck. My parents are over proud - chuffed that I've done so well in something that I'm somehow getting sponsored to do the thing I love. In truth, I'm off to spend a week in an airport hotel playing a cool board game with a bunch of people who every bit as cool as me. Yes, that is kind of an insult to them...

So, what's ahead? A 14 hour flight (cunningly disguised as a non stop flight that if I believed the check in documents will be getting me as far as Newark and no further), then 6 days of gaming, some headaches (lack of sleep/fresh air related) and by all accounts, some good food and times to follow.

I left at 7am, with the family waving me off a little too keenly. To be fair, Alice was a little tearful, but I suppose 7 year old girls can be a bit selfish! :) I heard she cheered up a bit when I gone, I hope the immanent arrival of Grandma and Grandad will cheer her up.

Nearly didn't quite make it, despite my dad's heroic taxi driving service (he got my mum and me to two different airports in two different directions before 9am) only for me to be told I needed to sort out my visa exemption documentation ("Please allow 72 hours for processing" - whoops). I had to do this excercise in form filling online, in-line on my iPhone, which is not easy. A task that was made considerably harder because my w key won't work (I know, it's a touch screen) and nor will the number 2 (he shares the w space on the phone). Now, usually a lack of w's is ok because auto correct will get you out of trouble. Entering my passport number, helpfully with three 2's in it is more difficult. Oh then there's paying via debit card. My middle initial is W and my credit card number has plenty more 2's in there. I owe a debt of gratitude to the good weather. I copied the 2 from our scorching 27 degrees weather from the bbc's weather service. One good thing about global warming!

As I heard yesterday. Greece can have their weather back when they start paying the bills...