This is part one of an after action report of ASLOK (ASL Oktoberfest) 2011, although given the Benjamin Button nature of blog post displaying, who knows in what order you may read this. If I still have the energy, after this AAR is through, I may do another post with some general thoughts about ASLOK, oriented towards people who have never gone.
Tournament/Convention AARs are surprisingly popular in ASL circles. Some people, I suppose, live vicariously through others, some want to hear gossip and exploits about their friends, and then there are those, like me, who primarily want to hear about themselves. 🙂
ASLOK 2011 was my 11th ASLOK (conveniently for counting, I started going in 2001). For many years now, I have taken the “long” ASLOK option, showing up on the first Friday, starting to play Saturday, and playing for the next eight days, heading back the last Sunday. I have discovered that if I want to do this, I have to pace myself, otherwise, I get way too fried and frazzled near the end of the week (this is similarly why I do not typically enter the Grofaz part of the tournament, because late in the week is not when I want to do my most intense gaming).
I drove the two hours to Cleveland Friday night, checked into the Holiday Inn, and Saturday morning walked into the gaming area. This is when ASLOK is at its smallest, as only a few people show up early, with progressively more and more coming throughout the week. Because there are typically fewer than 12 people there and playing that first day, one does not always have one’s choice of opponents. But the other person looking for a game at that moment was a long-time opponent of mine, Stan Jackson, who lives in the Cincinnati area. We have played each other many times (indeed, he was my second opponent at my very first ASLOK) and are pretty evenly matched. So it was nice to be able to play again. We decided on OB14 (Pursuing Kobayashi), a fighting retreat scenario from the Dispatches from the Bunker newsletter that had been reprinted by MMP in its pack of Dispatches reprints. The oddest thing about it is that it had been out so long and I have never played it–it is right up my alley (as my favorite type of scenario tends to be the small-to-medium-sized PTO action). I took the attacking (or pursuing, perhaps I should say) Americans and Stan the Japanese. I was quite rusty coming into the scenario, having only played a few scenarios all summer long, and for me, rustiness often takes the form of aggressiveness. Somewhat to my surprise, my evolution as a player over the years has taken me from a fairly conservative style of play to a fairly aggressive style of play. That’s all well and good–ASL often rewards that style of play–but when I am rusty, I do not always have the right calibration of risk vs. reward. I will often try to accomplish too much, when there is still plenty of time on the play clock. There were several instances in this scenario where I probably suffered needless casualties because of this rustiness. However, the killer for me in this scenario was a quintet of 1s rolled by Stan. Things started off innocently enough when a squad of his took a morale check of some sort in my turn and got heat of battle. Being Japanese, naturally, it went berserk, the little dear. This was not a problem for me, as I could arrange in my advance phase for a nice welcoming committee. The berserk squad was going to have to run right into two American squads and a leader (and, I think, an MMG), along with an adjacent squad and MMG to add some additional pain. The net result should easily be one less Japanese squad. Except, of course, that things don’t work out that way. In his prep fire phase, trying to save his berserk squad, he took a 4+1 or so shot at the big stack and rolled snake-eyes again. Naturally, the stack promptly collapsed fear as morale checks were failed left and right. Shortly thereafter, I triggered his sniper; he rolled a 1, and it went straight to that adjacent squad with the MMG. Now the berserk squad had easy access and could mess with me some more. Anyway, ASLOK started with me in the hole, 0-1.
That evening, I matched up against Brian Wiersma. We had played once before, the previous January, when we played an Italian-Soviet scenario from the recent ASL Journal. He was a fun opponent and I enjoyed playing him. Now we would play again, and he would be looking for revenge. Oddly, we settled on another Italian Journal scenario, J127 (Messervy’s Men), which features a bunch of Italian 3-4-6s defending a hill from a horde of British 2nd liners. With the best TEM being only +1, the Italians will tend to break at the slightest touch, and that is what happened to me. With their low ELR, he was quickly collecting prisoners, too. I held out to the end, but could not survive. Unfortunately, the scenario was just not very fun to play. The Italians just get shot up a lot, while it dawned on me that probably 95% of playings will end up in a battle for three specific hexes, because they are the easiest hexes for the Italian reinforcements to get to. In a sense, it almost doesn’t matter what happens to the main Italian force on the hill, as long as they don’t all just give up and go home, because it will always be a battle for the last level 4 hill hex and the two adjacent woods hexes. In other words, it may be balanced (ROAR tentatively suggests a slight Italian advantage), but it is a very scripted scenario, and I am not too fond of those. That wasn’t Brian’s fault, of course, and he played a good game. But now I was 0-2 and it was looking like a long week.
Sunday morning, I sat down for my one and only “World Cup” match (oddly, I only played one non-American in the first few days), against Dutch ASLer and collector Hennie van der Salm. Hennie is a good player; we had played 2-3 times before and I don’t think I had ever beaten him. We decided to play a scenario from the just-released new Rally Point: RPT53 (Tiger Blood). This was the one Rally Point scenario I played during the week. In this 1945 scenario, which uses 4 ASLSK half-boards, 13 American squads, mostly elite, supported by 5 Shermans (including one with a 105mm gun and a “Jumbo” with 18 frontal armor), have to clear out a low hill and a building of defending Germans. The Germans have 9 1st and 2nd line squads, an HMG, some odds and ends, an 88mm Flak gun, and a King Tiger. I ended up with the defending Germans. I didn’t think the hill was defensible, so I just set up a few units in the vicinity to be speed-bumps; mostly I set up to defend the key building in the town. I set the Tiger up very conservatively, as I was concerned about it being swarmed by Shermans. That was one concern of mine; the other was smoke. With all his Shermans, as well as 1945 bazookas and mortars, he had an awful lot of smoke at his disposal. After I saw his set-up, I was somewhat relieved. He separated his AFVs and had them entering in three different groups, none of which would be easily able to get to the others. I had no real worries about being swarmed at that point and could use my Tiger aggressively. It quickly took out his Sherman 105, then went hunting for more prey. Meanwhile, my little force on the hill actually soaked up a lot of his resources, hanging on much longer than it had a right to, and even ended up taking out another Sherman with a Panzerfaust. My 88mm Flak gun also performed heroically, immobilizing the Jumbo with a lucky shot, then forcing its crew to abandon, then in the following turn, doing some major damage to his infantry. When it was all over, all of his vehicles were dead and so were most of his other units, having died in one of those “last rushes” to get to the building. I felt I had played a good game and the rust was definitely off. Now I was 1-2.
I did not play another game that day, as I had to drive back to Columbus that evening to pick up some prescription medicine I had accidentally left behind (I tried to get it refilled locally, as I had a refill left on it, but the refill had expired, alas). So my next game took place on Monday morning. Pierce Mason–a new opponent to me–and I decided to play another Schwerpunkt scenario, from the previous year’s edition, SP192 (Rock the Csaba), a Soviet-Hungarian scenario in which the attacking Soviets have to cross an irritating stream or gully (I forget which; whatever is on Board 59). The Hungarians have crappy troops (6 3-4-7s and 3 3-3-6s, but they have an HMG, a 80L AA gun and two Nimrods with good IFE. Later they get a crappy armored car to irritate the Soviets with. The Soviets get 15 1st line squads, their own HMG, and 3 open topped, no machine gun SU-76ms. I put the scenario in my “to play” booklet last year and I notice now that in the year since its release, ROAR suggests that it may be somewhat hard on the Soviets. Luckily, I did not know this. Pierce had a good set-up for his left flank, but when he analyzed the situation, he really did not account for the possibility of the Soviets using the stream as cover to get close to the buildings, which is what I did. Once the Soviets can get past the open ground and in and among the buildings, with their solid TEM, they are going to mop up the Hungarians, and that is more or less what happened. He might have been better off having a sacrifice unit or two positioned to deny me easy use of the stream. In any case, he was a fun and gracious opponent, and now I had bootstrapped myself back up to 2-2.
My second Monday game was against John Dober. We played a scenario from the new Schwerpunkt, SP196 (Hussars and Hounds). I played an unusual number of Schwerpunkt scenarios this ASLOK, as it turned out. This scenario is somewhat similar to Tiger Blood, though it stars the British rather than the Americans. They basically have to clear the Germans (that was me) out of three of four buildings, which are fairly divergent. The Germans have a small, not so great force, of 8 squads (elite, 1st, and 2nd line), an HMG, and two JgPz IV/70s, one of which can be HIP. The Germans can also fortify a building location, though I forgot to actually do this. The British have 11 squads, a few elite but most first line, a 9-2 leader, two Challengers, a Cromwell VII, and a Carrier C. It a good force, but may be a bit small to take on such a big task in just 4 1/2 turns. For the third scenario in a row, I was a tank-killer supreme, taking out vehicles left and right. Three hex panzerfaust shot? No problem. Low odds bounding fire shot? Easy peasy. In the end game, I had basically made it virtually impossible for him to get the buildings he needed and he conceded. A number of people were playing this at the beginning of the week, because the size is just right for tournament play, but by the end of the week, it was already getting a reputation for bad balance and that reputation may be right. I note that it is currently 6-0 right now in favor of the Germans on ROAR, and presumably all of those playings came from Schwerpunkt. So John can perhaps comfort himself with the fact that he probably had an uphill battle, but I will settle for now being 3-2.
Tuesday morning, I lined up for my sixth game against Robert Scripps. We decided to play another new Schwerpunkt scenario, SP193 (Kamikaze Gorge), a late war PTO scenario in which the attacking Americans have to clear the Japanese from two of three hills (one forward, two back). He must fight the terrain as much as the Japanese, as the first hill is literally an uphill battle and he has to cross a stream with just a few options for his vehicles. Robert gave it a good try, but he had never played a Schwerpunkt scenario before and it showed–he did not realize that in the typical Schwerpunkt scenario the attacker must play very aggressively or he will simply run out of time. But Robert set about rather methodically trying to reduce my forward hill force, and I used every trick in the book to convince him that it was tougher than it actually was. As a result, he had just barely crossed the stream when the scenario was over. I never did get a chance to use the crazy SSR allowing the Japanese to strap DCs to the front of tanks and ram American vehicles with them! Anyway, now I was 4-2.
My second Tuesday game was against Jim Rischer, a local Cleveland area ASLer whom I had played a number of times in the past; he is an easy-going and genial opponent. We decided to play a rather exotic scenario from the recent LFT From the Cellar pack: FT161 (French Civil War in Gabon). There were a fair number of playings of this scenario during the week; it is fairly exotic and the size is right. It features Free French vs. Vichy French in Equatorial East Africa–so PTO terrain but no PTO (which felt right with some things, like jungle and kunai, but not so much right with bamboo). I ended up the attacking Freen French, while Jim had the defending Vichy French. I left him to set up, and when I got back, I thought I was in trouble. This scenario uses two half boards, one which is mostly for the hut overlay and the other which is the actual airstrip half of Board 38 (which is itself usually covered up with an overlay). However, the Free French set up on the bottom part of the air strip board and have to cross all that open ground before they can even get to any cover. The defending Vichy French have 9 1st line squads, an HMG, a 37mm 1/2″ counter infantry gun, a 20L(4) AA gun, and 5 trenches. Later, they get a platoon of end-game reinforcements. The Free French (11.5 elite squads, a 9-1, 2 8-0s, 2 MMG, 1 LMG, and 1 60mm mtr) have to basically cross the open ground, get past or through the French defense line and into the village, where they have to control 6 or more huts–ALL THE WHILE KEEPING UNDER A 10 CVP CAP. If you think about this, you can imagine my concern. With no smoke or anything like that (not even smoke grenades, thanks to an SSR), the Free French have to cross a ton of open ground, while their opponents can sit in trenches, then go on to capture a bunch of low TEM huts, all without losing more than 9 CVPs. Once I realized all that, I really regretted picking this scenario. However, I decided to give it the old college try. The nature of the terrain was such that, on the other side of the airfield, about half the board-length had a jungle line, then an open ground gap, then another bit of jungle and orchards. Jim set the bulk of his force in trenches along the jungle line, with a small force in the jungle/orchard bit. It was clear that his HMG was situated to defend the “gap.” Analyzing the situation, I thought the only chance at all that I might have would be to set up really heavy on my left, i.e., opposite the jungle/orchard bit, and try to set up some big prep fire attacks to pin or break his HMG and another squad that could fire on the left part of the board. With my other forces, I would “conservatively rush” his “bit” defenders (which turned out to also include the HIP AA gun). If I were successful, I would have turned his flank, and might be able to scoot a force around the left flank and get back into the village before he could retreat. If I could dislocate his line in this fashion, then he would be at a disadvantage. The whole plan, though, was dependent on me getting some good prep fire and having luck crossing the open ground.
As it turned out, that is pretty much what happened. I did break the squad with the HMG and broke or pinned another key unit. My attack force largely survived crossing the open ground, and was able to break or get into close combat with most of his “bit” force. Meanwhile, my tiny right flank force, only intended to keep his trench units occupied, did a sterling job, fixing his attention right on them. He didn’t realize the danger to his position–if he had, he would have immediately abandoned his trench line and begun to move back to the village (he had the advantage of interior lines). However, he failed to realize this just long enough for me to steal a march on him, and I was able to get enough units into the village that in the end, he could not successfully counterattack to take enough huts back to win. And I stayed under that damned CVP cap, too. So in the end I won, and I could be happy with the victory, too, but I do not think that most playings of this scenario will end this way. It still seems to me that the defending Vichy French have a big advantage in this scenario. But I ended my day 5-2, with five straight victories and my ASLOK half over.
Okay, continued on next rock….