There’s no time like the present, which means that the current time–more than a month after Winter Offensive 2013 has ended, is not exactly the time to write an AAR. But between then and now real life intruded in various ways and I did not have an opportunity. That’s a shame, as my memory of the event now is nowhere near as fresh as it was back in January. But I will adopt “better late than never” as my temporary motto.
Winter Offensive is the 2nd largest ASL tournament in the United States, and thus the world. That, of course, means it is still small, but on ASL terms, having more than 100 people at an event is exciting. This year, attendance was well over 100, but that should be qualified, as several years ago MMP opened Winter Offensive to not just ASL but other MMP games as well. That has, alas, eliminated some of the unique character of Winter Offensive and made it more of a general gaming event–and this year there was more non-ASL played than ever before. Moreover, the non-ASL games were not simply other MMP games or even the Euros that people often break out in the evening to relax after intense ASL sessions. Some people had even set up some elaborate fantasy naval miniatures game and played it all weekend long. I wish MMP would host a second event–let’s call it Summer Offensive–for the non-ASL gaming.
The tournament runs from Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, usually on the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, but this year it was moved up a week (Republicans, anticipating a Romney victory, had apparently booked the meeting room for the traditional week; I presume their celebration did not occur). It is held each year in Bowie, Maryland, which is a commuter town about 8 miles east of Washington, D.C. It is known for, well, nothing. Winter Offensive occurs at a Comfort Inn there each year, and the hotel is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Comfort Inn (meaning: nothing special). Almost invariably, the weather is bad at some point during Winter Offensive, generally while people are travelling to or from the event. This makes the event sometimes frustrating for people driving from east of the Appalachians, as they have to cross mountains in bad weather to get there. Luckily, this year the weather was actually quite pleasant, and the only bad weather was moderate fog in the region on Sunday.
I have been attending Winter Offensive since January 2002, so this would be my 11th time at the tournament. I drove up on Wednesday night. Officially, the tournament doesn’t start until late afternoon on Thursday–so that the organizers don’t have to miss work, I presume. However, the room is usually set up well before then, so many early arrivals start gaming during the afternoon. I made the mistake of mentioning this fact on Consimworld to Brian Youse of MMP. Apparently, Brian did not like the notion of people playing ASL, because when I showed up, the doors were locked with signs posted on them that read (I paraphrase) “Do not unlock this room before Brian Youse shows up.”
So Winter Offensive did not start until well into the afternoon. In addition to the main tournament (about which more later), MMP also runs several mini-tournaments, which are three-round side tournaments that begin with eight players. Although sometimes there are other themes, usually they are “playtest” minis. This type of mini is peculiar to Winter Offensive (though every now and then one shows up at ASLOK). MMP selects several scenarios that are mostly, though not completely, playtested, and uses those scenarios as the basis for the mini. Thus, unlike many minis, where players have a limited choice of scenarios to play, here the players get no choice: they are given a scenario to play and they play it. If the scenario is not your cup of tea, you are just out of luck. On the other hand, you get to play a brand new scenario that neither you nor your opponent have played before.
In the past, I have taken part in such minis, and won several, but I had not done a Winter Offensive mini in some years, primarily because I was an “early gamer” (see above), and thus already engaged in playing someone when the minis were opened for takers. This time around, however, I was not thus engaged and had the opportunity to participate in the mini. Actually, after I put my gear down, I got into conversation with a recently local ASLer, Joseph Ladd, and we agreed to play each other. When the minis were announced, we decided to just take part in the mini and play each other in the first round. And thus my Winter Offensive began.
Please remember, with the scenario accounts below, that my memory is a month old and I may possibly misremember or misrepresent certain details–entirely unintentionally.
The scenario that Joseph and I were given was titled “Heart of Athena” and was apparently designed by Pete Schelling. As its name suggests, it takes place in Greece. The 5-turn action is set in December 1944 and thus pits the Communist ELAS guerrillas against the British. Once allied, ELAS and the British had fallen out in a major way, as the British had increasingly supported ELAS’s ideological rival, EDES. The scenario is a small urban warfare scenario, using half of Board 51. It pits 11 6-4-8 British squads and three Shermans against a force of 14 Partisan squads. The Partisans are also given 10 purchase points, which they can use to purchase concealment, HIP, Wire, mines, roadblocks and, crucially, fortified building locations.
To win, the attacking British must…well, that was the problem. The victory conditions are really long and quite complicated. We did not actually truly figure them out until the game was about halfway through. In this version of the scenario, the British win immediately by getting 3 VP, as long as the Partisans don’t get 3 VP (in which case the Partisans win). The British get 1 VP at the end of each Game Turn if they have more building hexes in certain key hexrows than the Partisans do. If they do not; the Partisans get one VP. A couple other things “count” for building hexes. If neither side has gotten to 3 VP by turn 5, then the turn 5 result will determine the game (because both will have 2 VP), and CVP are now added to their Turn 5 score (though it is unclear whether “score” meant final score in VP or building score to determine who gets one VP). In my opinion, the victory conditions needed a lot of work and much of that work needed to be in the realm of simplification.
That was a shame, because the scenario had an interesting tactical situation and also an interesting SSR. The SSR simulated tram cars that ELAS had loaded with explosives and sent careening towards the British. The SSR uses truck counters as sort of Goliaths, except that the trucks (i.e. trams) can only move on roads (because they can’t leave the tracks). They can only move once and detonate at the end of that movement phase. Because enemy fire can cause them to detonate, too, and because they also affect adjacent hexes, these are double-edged swords that could potentially hurt the Partisans as much as or more than the British.
In the playing of the scenario, Joseph just wasn’t aggressive enough, not quite understanding the need to quickly take buildings in order to “win” turns from the Partisans. As a result, I was able to hold him off and get 3 VP by turn 3, despite his mortar critical hitting me in a fortified building location twice. The ability of the Partisans to buy 3 fortified building locations quite cheaply is probably something that needed to be rectified, given the nature of the scenario, because some simple bad luck could basically just hand victory to the Partisans, if the British are unable to take fortified buildings early on.
Anyway, I ended up winning the scenario, but the confusing VC plus other sloppiness on my part made me feel as if I didn’t really do much to deserve the win. I did, however, enjoy playing Joseph Ladd; this was the first time we played and he was a very fun opponent. Hopefully I will see him at future Winter Offensives.
That took me to the second round of the mini, and this time my opponent was Kevin Meyer, a Winter Offensive regular whom I had played a number of times before and always had fun so doing. The scenario we were given was called African Brothers and is an Italian vs. British scenario (each featuring colonial troops, thus the scenario name). This was the best scenario of the three I played and you should look for it when it comes out in a future Journal. It seemed both fun and balanced and was marred only by a somewhat too-elaborate set of victory conditions.
In this scenario, 20 Italian squads (half 3-4-7, half 3-4-6, all of them ELR 2), must assault a fortified British hill position defended by 14 squads (4 x 44-7, 10 x 4-3-6, ELR 3), who get a platoon of 4-4-7s midway through the game as reinforcements. The Italians also have a 105mm gun, which because of the terrain is not terribly useful other than a Smoke round or two, and three armored cars (one of them with a radio), which are extremely useful. The scenario uses board 5a and half of boards 61 and 62.
To win, the Italians–which ended up being me, to my delight, as I enjoy playing Italians–must achieve 2 of 3 of the following VC: 1) control 1 VP at the end of Game Turn 2; 2) control 3 VP at the end of Game Turn 5; or Control 4 VP at game end. Control of a building and 3 hill hexes provides 1 VP each, while control of a two hex stone building is worth 2 VP.
I misread the VC and did not realize that the Italians had to achieve two of the VC; thus I thought I could win by achieving any one of them. This caused me to focus on the one up-front and vulnerable VP location, the 1 VP building forward of the hill, which I was confident I could take by the end of Game Turn 2. Luckily for me, my set up was such that when, somewhere around the beginning of game turn 2, I realized I was misreading the VC, I could easily adjust my plans on the fly and did not sabotage myself. Lucky me.
It is a daunting task to attack up a hill with 2-ELR non-elite Italian troops! However, I had some advantages. The first was that I had a lot of units, so could afford a little wastage. The second was that the British have to defend a wide front, and this, combined with the nature of the terrain, meant that it is difficult for the British forces to be all that mutually supporting, and, indeed, Kevin’s positions were not particularly mutually supporting. Moreover, the nature of the terrain, combined with green British troops, meant that the British did not have a lot of cross-board mobility. This meant that I potentially had the ability to knock off isolated British positions in sequence, rather than having to assault a fully interlocking defense.
My plan–and here I am referring to my “adjusted” plan, after realizing what the actual VC were–was to have a strong assault on my right wing, to take the vulnerable front building, while a much smaller force threatened a hill VC location on the far left flank to keep Kevin honest. Once I took the first building, the obvious place for my next objective was the 2 VP stone building. Taking that plus the other building would give me 3 VP and thus I could win automatically at the end of Game Turn 5. However, that stone building looked really daunting and I was not sure I could actually take it in time. As a result, my revised plan was basically to feint towards taking the stone building, to keep Kevin’s attention and forces focused there as much as possible, but mostly try to soak up fire so that my armored cars and perhaps a couple of squads could actually flank the stone building and get to the hill behind the building. I also had a few units manning a mortar and some machine guns who would have limited utility after the first couple of turns. Once Kevin was focused on the two flanks, these few units could make a push up to the center and threaten some of the other hill VP locations.
That, more or less, is what happened. My left flank force was able, with effort, to take its objective, while on the right flank, my vehicles were able to squirt past the British and get behind them, up on the hill. This was significant because the vehicles, by themselves, could control a hex, as long as they stayed there. My small center force was able to come in and get up on the hill in the middle. His reinforcing platoon came on board on turn 4, but could not stop me from getting what I needed to get on turn 5, and thus I won the scenario. It was a very hard fought scenario and it was fun to play Kevin. Although I once more had problems reading the victory conditions–less excusably this time–I felt that my play was definitely better and I had shaken off the cobwebs (I had not played ASL since ASLOK in early October). So now I was 2-0 and headed to the final of the minis.
The other mini finalist was Sean Deller, an ASL veteran I had seen many times but never previously had the pleasure to play. It was quite fun to play him. The scenario we were given for the final was a Finnish scenario, possibly one that would appear in the upcoming Finnish module, Horkey Porkey, or maybe in a Journal following that module’s publication. I was not crazy about this, as I do not like ASL Finns, and I had deliberately not played any Finnish scenarios since a playing of Fighting Withdrawal many years ago. But I didn’t have a choice.
Like the 2nd round scenario, this was a fairly large scenario and not necessarily great for tournament play. With 7 1/2 turns, it features a Finnish attack against a smaller German force (this is October 1944, after the Finns changed sides and “sort of” fought their former allies). In this scenario, 18 Finnish squads (12 x 6-4-8 and 6 x 5-3-8 green squads, all with an ELR of 2), accompanied by 5 T-34s of three different makes, have to attack 10 5-4-8 German squads with a couple of 50L AT guns and a module of 100m OBA. The scenario uses most of boards 35 and 37, lengthwise. The Finns enter from off board and must travel the boards the long way, winning immediately if they exit 35VP off the center section of the north edge.
By dice roll, I ended up as the Finns. Now, the Finns have some advantages. They have a lot of squads, all with morale of 8 (though none of them are Elite), and they have 5 T-34s, which is always nifty. They get an HMG and a MMG, but are of limited utility and will probably be left behind at some point. More handy are the 5 LMGs which give them some added firepower. Since the Finns have assault fire, they can move and fight pretty well.
However, the scenario provides them with some real challenges. The first is the terrain. It is hard going, thanks to an SSR making all grain Brush. Moreover, a third of the Finnish force is Green (3 MF), and the Finns only have 3 leaders for 18 squads. To make matters worse, the EC are Mud, adding 1/2 MF cost to open ground hexsides. What this means is, in effect, that 1) the Finnish force will, by and large, move at a crawl, and 2) they HAVE to keep moving or they will lose the scenario. Remember, to win, they will have to exist 35 VP. The T-34s are worth 7 VP each, and it is highly unlikely, given the AT guns and the mud, that all of the T-34s are going to reach the board edge. This means that at least some infantry will have to exit, too, and that means that they have to keep moving forward, no matter what.
Only the fact that the Finnish supermen have 8 morale and can self-rally gives them any chance at all in this respect. They will be taking flat shots and down shots every turn. Moreover, the Germans have that 100mm OBA, and the best TEM DRM the Finns can get is basically 0; other than that, it is all airbursts (unless they capture an enemy sangar). The OBA can simply shred the Finns–who, especially in the early game, are constrained somewhat by the terrain to bunch up.
The advantage that the Finns have, other than their own supernatural qualities, is that they greatly outnumber the Germans, that the Germans are going to necessarily be somewhat spread out, and that the Germans will have no more mobility than the Finns.
There are two different realistic exit areas for the Finns. On their left flank, they can exit through a road going through the woods. On the right flank, they can exit through the huge mass of orchards.
My initial strategy was to advance on a broad front, to the extent possible, to try to minimize damage from the OBA, but to look for opportunities to squirt units past German positions on the flanks and get behind the Germans. I would also try aggressively to close with the Germans, because with half the squads I had, the Germans could not afford to wage a war of attrition. I expected to have units break regularly and would rely on their ability to self-rally. I would also look for any opportunities to route forward, again, hoping their self-rally capability would bring them back and give me a significant movement advantage.
That was my basic plan and, in the most general sense, it worked. But not without some changes and a ton of desperate fighting. At two points in the scenario in particular I felt that I was faced with “do or die” situations.
The first situation occurred early in the scenario. The German player probably has two primary options for his artillery. He can either place his observer relatively forward, with the goal of causing massive casualties to as much of the Finnish force as possible in the early game, crippling them for the mid or late game, or he can place his observer further to the back, primarily with an eye to covering the rearward orchard areas, as they allow the fastest and most feasible movement towards the exit. For the latter, harassing fire is a nice option, to cover as much ground as possible.
Sean chose the forward option. He got his OBA going and it was as nasty as I had feared it would be. He totally shredded my HMG/MMG kill stack–something that was indeed bad but sounds worse than it is because the high PP of the weapons means their utility in the scenario is limited–and he was in a position basically to tear apart my whole left flank.
At this point, I came to the conclusion that if I did not take out his observer, I was basically going to “lose” the left flank and, with it, probably the scenario. As a result, I had to launch a massive attack right at his observer. It wasn’t foolhardy but it was definitely aggressive. In the end, between breaks and pins, all I really got to his hex was a T-34 in bypass. However, in one of my few strokes of luck in the early game, my Motion T-34 actually killed him in close combat! The radio fell to the ground. On the next turn, he moved forces (either a squad and a leader or two squads and a leader, I forget, though I think the latter) next to the hex to take it back in CC. He would have an almost automatic ambush and then some serious shots at my tank (a squad and a -1 leader with ambush against a motion tank in bypass would need a 7 or better to affect it). However, he failed all of his PAATCs! This allowed me, eventually, to destroy the radio and live to fight another day.
I was pretty aggressive with the vehicles, especially in the early to mid game, because I figured his AT guns were probably further back, covering the two exit areas or the approaches to them. I felt that I had to ignore the mud completely and just hope I did not get mired (overall, I had quite good luck with his mud bog rolls).
His die rolls in the early to mid game were quite good, however. He shrugged off many attacks, while consistently causing me casualties (again, thank goodness for self-rally). Through much of the mid game, I felt like I didn’t have a realistic chance to win, but I never quite got to the point where I failed a personal morale check, so I kept going.
The second crisis point happened about 2/3 of the way through the scenario, when he revealed his first AT gun, which was well positioned. My memory is foggy, but I think he nailed one of my vehicles and was in a position to do a lot more damage. The big problem, though, is that he covered the exit area where my vehicles needed to exit. I didn’t want them to exit down the woods road because I was certain that his other AT gun had that covered and would probably be a lot more deadly. But a 50L AT gun taking rear shots at my tanks could lose the scenario for me–remember, if I could not exit most of my vehicles, I was going to have a hell of a time trying to exit with infantry.
So this was the second “do or die” situation–I had to take out that AT gun or die trying. But basically the only units that could get to the AT gun were my vehicles. So they had to take out an AT gun, basically by overrunning it. I will skip the details–mostly because they are too foggy after a month–but the bottom line is that eventually I was in fact able to neutralize the AT gun. It was very touch and go.
This put me in a better situation. I had some infantry that were indeed able to get around his left flank and get off, and my surviving vehicles were also able to get off. However, I still needed to exit a fair amount of infantry down the woods road on my left flank. Helping me in the end-game was that my luck was getting better and his was getting worse. However, he nevertheless opened up on my infantry with his second AT gun and, if I remember correctly, almost immediately scored a critical hit and vaporized one squad. He also hit and broke one of my stacks and probably did more damage. However, my broken stack was able to rout forward through the woods, with a leader, and actually get closer to the exit area. In the end, I was able to get enough infantry off through that part of the board to finally get to the 35 EVP I needed.
It was a very hard fought scenario and I have to give Sean a lot of credit. The scenario seemed quite balanced. However, I will say that it was not a ton of fun to play, primarily because it is such a slog for the Finns, who, unless they are stacked with a leader, will often be moving only one or two hexes during a movement phase.
With that, I had now won the Mini! Moreover, I was now 3-0. With that, I can perhaps take a second to explain the main tournament portion of Winter Offensive. The main tournament used to be simply that the last person to go undefeated was the winner. However, that could–and eventually did–lead to odd situations, such as almost every contender quickly losing a scenario, causing a winner to be declared very early in the tournament, when not that many games had actually been played. After that, a minimum number of games was decreed. Games played in a mini could count towards the Winter Offensive tournament, but not a person’s first loss or first win–so basically the first mini game would not count. This meant that, after the mini, I was 2-0 if I wanted to continue on with the main tournament (as opposed to simply playing pickup games, which is what I usually do at Winter Offensive). I decided, what the heck, let’s keep going, and thus I embarked upon the tournament.
My next opponent was Jeremy Maciejewski, who was also 3-0 at that point. I had never played Jeremy before. He’s an ASLer from North Carolina and was a fun opponent. We decided to play Adolf’s Amateurs, from the Best of Friends pack released at the tournament (a compilation of scenarios originally published in Friendly Fire packs over the years. This scenario is a tournament-sized Soviet-German scenario (yay) featuring a fighting retreat through the woods (it is set in Finland). Twelve SS 4-4-7 squads (considered Green) and two tanks (Pz IID, PzIIA) are attacking 7 Soviet 4-4-7 squads (ELR 2) with 6 AP mine factors; the Soviets get two light tanks as late game reinforcements. To win, the Germans must score 8 VP; they get VP for each surviving German AFV, for killing or capturing Soviet squad equivalents, and for controlling buildings and bridges. To do so, the Germans have to cross a stream and fight down through the Board 32 woods. In an interesting twist, the Soviets get to place three blaze counters in woods hexes (the blazes do not spread), which they can use to channel the German attack.
I ended up being the Soviets–my third scenario in a row with ELR 2! My goal in the scenario was basically to delay the Germans as much as possible. I had a small force and it was very brittle, so I would have to be conservative. I could not, for example, really openly contest his stream crossing too much, for fear of getting nailed with prep fire, so I would have to do some smoke and mirrors and try to channel his advance. I did have going for me the fact that, having played so many PTO scenarios, I was very familiar with the dynamics of woods scenarios and know how to conduct a fighting retreat like this one. I used the blazes primarily to limit his ability to flank me (controlling the flanks is super-important in any fighting retreat scenario), and I tried to set up my forces so that, while minimizing their risk to prep fire, I could maximize their chances to hurt the Germans once the Germans started moving. I also set up with a HIP trap at a place where I thought he might try to cross the stream. My mortar was further back, placed to be able to hit woods hexes next to the main road in the mid-game. I exchanged my AP mines for AT mines and put them on the bridge–which was a mistake (though it did not hurt me in the game), as I should have placed them in the first hex beyond the bridge, so they could also affect any attempt by him to try to come up through the stream around the bridge then get back on the road. I naturally had lots of dummies pretending to be people (I am the John Magruder of ASL).
Jeremy’s attack revealed himself to be fairly conservative but safe. I had thwarted one of his main attacks, on his left flank, by one of my blaze placements (which nicely occur after German setup), but he successfully got across on my left flank, avoiding any real damage. He also avoided falling into the nice HIP trap that I set for him. However, he (rightly) suspected AT mines on the bridge and decided to try to clear them. This was a big mistake, as mine-clearing is one of the hardest types of clearance in ASL, and it meant that his tanks and what was I think eventually a platoon of infantry were just sitting there doing nothing for a number of turns.
On my turn 1, starting my managed retreat, I actually set a little trap for him. He had, sadly, avoided my initial HIP trap, and in another turn I would have to reveal them to move, so I really only had one chance yet to get much use out of the HIPsters. As I mentioned, he got across with a large force on my left flank. I positioned my retreating forces such that it would seem safer and more inviting for some of those forces to move adjacent to my HIPster (I think it was a squad with an LMG) on their rear side. If he took the bait, I could get a big point blank shot.
On his turn 2, he not only took the bait, but he moved right where I wanted him to with a huge stack. I revealed my HIP guy, took a shot, and rolled low. I basically devastated a platoon of his troops and stopped his attack on my left flank.
What this meant was that out of his 12 squads, about half were out of commission, either broken or trying to clear the mines. This meant that he could only prosecute the attack with half his force, a force equal to my own. Some of his force then started to feel the brunt of my mortar, and to make a long story short, I was able to control the tempo of my retreat and make it impossible for him to get his 8 VP. I think that this was a case where my greater level of experience was the real difference here; Jeremy had already beaten some good opponents (including Philippe Briaux at ASLOK) and is likely to beat more in the future. But the scenario left me at 4-0, and 3-0 for the main tournament.
At this point, I talked to Perry to make sure that he realized that I was taking part in the tournament–because later on they start pairing up the people with the best records to get to the finalists. Last year, I ended up 5-0 at Winter Offensive, but no one had seemingly ever thought I might be interested in the tournament. I wanted to make sure, since I had a shot, that this did not happen in 2013.
Perry paired me up against Dave Reenstra, another long-time ASLer whom I don’t believe I had previously played (this Winter Offensive saw four new opponents for me!). We decided to play one of the scenarios from the latest journal, a British-Japanese scenario called The Sangshak Redemption. I think I knew that at this point if I beat Dave I would be in the finals.
Well, I love PTO–it is my favorite ASL theater of war, by far–and so far this Winter Offensive I had been far from it (Africa, Finland, Finland, and Greece), so I was just plain tickled to finally be in the PTO. Although the Japanese are my favorite nationality to play–they match my playing style extremely well–I am just as happy to be playing against them as well. In the end, I ended up having the British and Dave had the Japanese.
In this scenario, a tiny British force occupies a crossroads hamlet, facing a major Japanese attack. If I remember this correctly–I do not have the scenario card handy–to win the Japanese must sweep into the hamlet and take its buildings, including especially a one hex building with a steeple location. They must then withstand a counterattack from offboard by about a company of Gurkhas–really, nasty Gurkhas, with a big nasty leader and nasty 6-4-8 squads and so forth.
As the British, I had a handful of squads, plus an AT gun and a 76mm mortar. I decided right from the get-go that what I really wanted to do was to set myself up for the counterattack. As a result, I did not position my two hidden guns where they could really hurt the Japanese attack, but rather where they might be able to help the counterattack. I also positioned a squad in a spot just so it help my other units get on board safely. In the main part of the hamlet, I decided that my only goal was to hang on in the steeple building as much as possible, so I had a guy downstairs and a half squad upstairs and I was determined to keep them concealed and safe as much as I could.
As it was, this turned out to be a wise strategy. As I had thought, the small British force could not have withstood the Japanese attack, so I was wiser to conserve what I could. However, I got an unexpected bonus when my units in the steeple building ended up being a very tough nut for Dave to crack. He smoked the hex, to protect himself on the attack (not knowing those units were going to keep their concealment at all costs), but this prevented him from having any affect on the units therein with his fire. He tried to get into close combat, but kept having no luck at all.
The result was that when my reinforcements began to come on board, he still did not have the steeple building (which he needed to have at least momentarily controlled in order to win the scenario) and his other forces were not optimally placed to oppose my counterattack.
And what a counterattack it was. Gurkhas are the natural predator of the Japanese and these Gurkhas came loaded for bear. They came down like a tsunami, sweeping onto the board and into the town. With a lot of 8-morale units, I felt I could afford to be aggressive, and I was helped by a ton of smoke. Dave’s luck deserted him when he needed it the most and he soon had no chance to win and conceded.
After that experience, I had to wonder if the scenario itself might be unbalanced, but as of this writing, it is almost even on ROAR. I think what happened was that I had a good, solid plan and everything went right for me and wrong for Dave. On some other day, it might have gone the other way.
But that left me 5-0 and somehow in the championship! This was exciting, but costly. Dave and I did not finish our game until quite late, which meant that I did not have much sleep that night. Because I did not want to play the final game and then drive all the way to Columbus while so sleepy, I had extend my hotel stay a night because at the very least I wanted to take a long nap before I headed home.
My opponent in the final would be Gary Mei, a familiar face at Winter Offensive finals (and multiple winner of the tournament). I had played him, I think, twice before, once when I was a relatively inexperienced player and once when I was a veteran, and lost both times. He is a very good-natured opponent.
We decided on another Friendly Fire scenario from the Best of Friends pack, A Polish Requiem. This scenario is a Polish-German 1939 scenario. it is 6 turns long and features only a relatively small number of squads, but a fair number of vehicles. In this scenario, the attacking Germans, with 9 squads and 7 tanks (2 Pz Ibs, 3 PzIIas, and 2 PzIVcs) have to move a long way down boards t and 4 and get at least 3 good order squad equivalents and at least 2 mobile AFVs with functioning main armaments within four hexes of a certain hex. The Poles have to stop them; they start with 3 squads and 4 FT-17 tanks, with 6 more squads (and 2 DCs) and 4 more FT-17 tanks coming in as reinforcements. The terrain is fairly wide open.
I ended up being the Poles. I did not mind this, as for some perverse reason I like playing with FT-17s. I guess it is because you feel so delighted if you get anything at all out of them. So I started to analyze the scenario. The first thing that is obvious is that the Germans must have BOTH tanks and infantry in the victory area, so it is possible to concentrate on stopping one or the other, presumably beginning in mid-game, once you have had a chance to see how things are shaking out.
The second thing one sees is the nature of the Polish forces. The initial Polish platoon can’t really stop the Germans; it can only hope to slow it down and perhaps cause some casualties. The FT-17s, two with guns but no MG, and two with MGs but no guns, can’t really fight a mobile tank battle–because they have no mobility–so they need to be placed in one or two strategic positions and let the battle come to them. The Germans have basic attack paths; one slower but with more cover; the other more wide open, but with a more direct route to the victory area. The German AFVs are certainly better than the Polish AFVs, but they mostly have B11 guns, which means that the German player can’t go crazy with them (because of the VC).
The Polish tanks are the main weapon they have against the Germans. They do start with an MMG and get another one later, and there is always the chance one of those can get lucky. The reinforcements also get 2 DC, which can be used against tanks or infantry. The Polish reinforcements are the key to the game. They have to get defend the victory area, block the approach to the victory area, and kill tanks. Again, because the 4 reinforcing tanks are FT-17s, they basically have to pick a spot, go to it, and stop and wait for shots.
I set up my initial forces with two squads in a building on my right flank, along with the MMG, to slow down the Germans. On the left flank, I only put a single squad in a building, just to pick off any infantry that might come his way. Of my four initial tanks, I created two platoons, each with one of each type of FT-17. One platoon I put behind a wall near the building; it could also help slow the German infantry and would make the German player have to try to kill those tanks, hopefully killing something in the process. The other platoon I put in the left rear of that area, to deal with German forces trying to come around the flanks of the woods back behind the building.
His attack did not start too well, primarily because my little force in my right-flank building ended up being a tough nut to crack. However, my AFVs behind the wall couldn’t shoot for shit, as it turned out–indeed, they ended up being quite ineffective the whole scenario, as it turns out. On my left flank, he had a force of mostly AFVs, with a little infantry.
Soon the carnage started. He killed one of my FTs, while my right-flank building held out–indeed, the MMG even took out a tank. On the left flank, my squad ended up with his ATR and got one of his tanks with it. My reinforcements began to come on board. I sent two squads and two AFVs to protect the victory area, two AFVs to counterattack against his AFVs supporting his attack against my right-flank building, and the rest of my squads into the mid board to contest his infantry.
Over the course of the scenario, Gary ran into some trouble. He had the pesky habit of breaking main armaments. We were engaged in a battle of attrition with our tanks, but as long as he had broken MA, I could come out the loser in that engagement and still be better off. He eventually felt he had to start repairing MA and ended up getting one tank Recalled as a result. Mid-game, it looked as if he would never get to the victory area, as my reinforcements were in position and I still had that up front building. However, then a very fortuitous sniper shot broke the squad with the MMG and the leader could not hang on by himself. With that building cleared, his infantry could advance again. In the meantime, I was taking casualties myself.
As the endgame began, it was clear to both of us that I would not be able to stop enough of his infantry from getting to the victory area–a key defending squad in that area broke on a cheap shot. However, we were also at the point where if he lost even a single AFV (or had it immobilized), then I would win the scenario. So, naturally, I focused my attention on his AFVs. I could not tell you how many MG, ATR, and AFV shots I took against his vehicles, including several MG rate tears. However, this is 1939, and tanks suck but so do AT weapons. Either I wasn’t hitting him or I was bouncing things off of him like crazy. In the end, it boiled down to one tank, which he had in a vulnerable position. I could hit him with my tanks, with an MMG, and could even get into close combat with him. Finally, after what seemed like an endless series of shots, I Shocked that tank.
On the next turn, it turned into an Unconfirmed Kill. All the rest of that turn, I tried killing that damn vehicle, but everything bounced off. It also survived a close combat attempt. The climactic moment of the scenario would occur, then, at the beginning of Gary’s turn 7 (out of 7 1/2 turns). He had a dr to make. One a 1-3, his tank would survive and he could continue playing the scenario. On a 4-6, the tank would die and I would win the scenario and, thus, the title. He rolled low.
As a result, his goal that turn was to get that tank to safety and in position and to set himself up to defend against any final attacks from me on my last turn, the bottom of turn 7. Basically, the top of turn 7 was my last realistic chance to win; I had to kill that tank before it escaped. I again took shots at it but had no effect. On the bottom of turn 7, then, my only chance was a low odds chance to get to one of his vehicles to kill it, but it had no realistic chance of success and, indeed, did not succeed. Thus Gary’s second Shock die roll ended up winning the scenario, and the championship, for him. He played really well and it was a very hard fought scenario.
Through some bizarre tournament quirks, even though I was in the championship round, because I lost, I somehow ended up coming in third in the tournament rather than second. I am not sure how crazy I am about that. In any case, I ended Winter Offensive 2013 with a 5-1 record, got to the finals and almost won, played a really fun bunch of opponents, bought some ASL product, and had a blast.
Thanks to everybody who played me and thanks to MMP for putting on a good tournament. Can’t wait for next year.