26 entrants from seven countries competed in the 2004 Squad Leader Play-By-Email tournament. This event drew eight of the top 15 active AREA players in the Squad Leader series of games. Using a single elimination format, the first of five rounds was launched on January 5th, 2004. The final match between #18 seed John Blazel and #4 seed David VanBronkhorst was concluded on January 17, 2006. The outcome of this match, which was in doubt until the final die rolls, resulted in David VanBronkhorst earning Championship honors. The individual round summaries are presented below. This event was administered by Squad Leader Academy (Bill Thomson, Pete Pollard) on behalf of the Boardgamer Player Association.
Round 1 Summary
Round 1 used scenario WG102 "Forced Entry" which is a variant of Avalon Hill Scenario 1 "Guards Counterattack". This scenario uses the full SQL ruleset; most notably second level building rules (54). The most noticeable change for the standard Scenario 1 Russian force is the reinforcement group of two SU122 assault guns. The German player must choose from one of three available forces; engineers with smoke, or two infantry forces with differing leader sets and support weapons. The SL list scenario record for "Forced Entry" at the end of 2003 was Axis 2: Allies 4.
Since the field had only 26 players, six received first round byes based on seeding using AREA ratings. Four of the first round matches were not played due to player attrition. In the six matches played, the record was Axis 2: Allies 4 with several post-game comments noting the defending Germans did not take advantage of the second level building status. Hence the accumulative WG102 scenario record of Axis 4: Allies: 8 which may not be indicative of matches between equally-experienced players. Due to real-life priorities and other causes, two of the Round 1 losers joined the Round 1 winners and the players who had the Round 1 byes in Round 2 to complete the field of sixteen. ADVANCING TO ROUND 2: Pete Pollard, Bill Thomson, Allen Kaplan, David VanBronkhorst, Andrew Cummins, Jay Yanek, Michael Pacheco, Dan Leader, Stefan Eriksson, Karl Brannigan, Chris Stewart, Brent Easton, Andy Cowdery, Dennis Jorgenson, John Blazel, and Richard van Vugt.
Round 2 summary:
Real-life priorities interceded again, resulting in only four matches being completed. The Germans compiled a 2-2 record in Squad Leader Academy scenario WG105 "Patchwork". A mobile German force enters the middle of board 3, ahead of the Russian Assault force split between both ends of the mapboard. Charged with retaining control of at least three buildings in the six-turn scenario, the Germans either won easily or failed completely in the matches played. This indicates the ability and decisions of the participants was a key factor in the result. ADVANCING TO ROUND 3: Pete Pollard, Bill Thomson, David VanBronkhorst, Andrew Cummins, Chris Stewart, Michael Pacheco, John Blazel, and Stefan Eriksson.
Round 3 summary:
All four quarterfinal matches were played to conclusion using scenario WG102 "Tooth and Nail"four 4 support weapons) assaults German defenders (three leaders, 9x467, 3x247s, 5xMGs, 2 weak ATGs, and a radio/off-board 50mm mortar with unlimited single hex barrages). German positions are stiffened by two bunkers and entrenchments. The Russians are tasked to occupy six of nine defined Victory Point positions with an unbroken 447 by the end of the game. Lack of long-range LOS on this board, the exposed & scattered nature of the various VP positions, and their shortage of leaders hinders the Russian momentum. The Russian spearheads are susceptible to German counterattack by Turn 3 reinforcements consisting of a StGIII75, two armed halftracks supported by a 9-1 and 3x838s with their toys.
This round's results produced an even 2-2 Axis record, as WG102 continues to be a challenging scenario since its debut at the 2004 WBC SQL Series event. Round highlights saw #17 seed John Blazel upset the top seed Pete Pollard, with a final successful German charge to nullify a Russian-controlled position despite a Russian 2:1 advantage in the final CCPh. #2 Bill Thomson was able to survive #15 Chris Stewart and an initial collapse of his German positions using the reinforcements to eliminate three of the unsupported T34s in German Turn 3. The remaining T34 pivoted to eliminate the flanking STG before falling to the German 50L ATG on a frontal shot. The final turns saw infantry maneuver & firefights dominate, with the final Russian push cut down by interlocking fields of fire and a friendly die server. Many possibilities in the final turn could have moved the result to the other side: FT burning a VP hex, FT flameout, the 1:1 CC in the final German turn, or the creation of a berserker in key location. As Chris aka 'the giant killer' eliminated both Pete and Bill, the top two seeds in the initial rounds of the COI event, he will remain a rising star and is participating in all six SQLA PBEeM tournaments started in 2004. The other two matches posted wins for both sides as #4 David VanBronkhorst defeated #11 Stefan Eriksson and #7 Michael Pacheco dropped #5 Andrew Cummins. ADVANCING TO ROUND 4: Michael Pacheco, John Blazel, Bill Thomson, and David VanBronkhorst.
Round 4 summary: Semifinals:
The scenario utilized was WG110 "Reconnaissance in Force B". This represents a 1944 infantry action on the Western Front using Board 16, whose principal features are large wheatfields, three wooden buildings, and a lack of elevated terrain. A small German force (6x467) attempts to slow down an American infantry force (10x666) augmented by two smoke-capable 847s and DC. The Germans are reinforced by a detachment of elite infantry (4x468) and an armed halftrack. The American goal is to occupy with an unbroken squad (or destroy with a DC) all three buildings in the center of the board. This must be effectively accomplished prior to the arrival of the German reinforcements. Both sides lack excellent leadership and the luxury of time, given the six game turns.
The first match pitted the German defenses of John Blazel against Bill Thomson's Americans. The initial American assault proceeded as planned, brushing away the German screen without receiving casualties. But the stiffening German fire melted the American lead elements, which headed to the rear to regroup during the middle turns, and prevented the early American grab of all three VC buildings. The remaining German forces, anchored by building L6, were able to keep the GIs at bay as the Panzergrenadiers arrived. Disorganized by enemy fire, the 847s were out of position to contribute effectively to the final assault. The final American rush was predictably costly and sealed John Blazel's victory and entry into the finals.
The second match saw the David VanBronkhorst-led Americans square off against Michael Pacheco's Germans. The American forces were augmented by 3x666 through the bidding process. Initial prep fire neutralized German flanking squads, then the central attack pushed the Germans back through the wheatfield while taking substantial losses. German dice were nothing lower than 6 on all fire attacks through the first four full turns, and American rallies were few and far between. At the end of GT4, the Allies had three squads KIA'd and four broken, including both the elite 847's, one of which was then eliminated on a 12 in the next rally phase. However, even as the German reinforcements entered, American fire started to register, KIA'ing a 467/MMG/8-1 stack during its advance and breaking a squad in the halftrack that had been a particular thorn in the Americans' side. That suppressed the German defensive fire enough to allow the remaining 847 to attack through smoke and plant a DC in the final building, claiming an American victory. ADVANCING TO ROUND 5: David VanBronkhorst (#4) and John Blazel (#18)
Round 5 summary: Finals:
The scenario in use for the final match was WG111, "Nutcracker". The scenario represents a cautious American assault vs a German city across board halves of city boards 20 and 21. The boards are less dense than board 1 but possess a variety of stone and wooden buildings, several of which are multistory. The large graveyard in board 21 is converted to woods, with other changes to negate post-SL terrain. The Americans are attacking to gain uncontested control of the dominant building 21J3. The German player benefits from being able to use sewer movement without the requirement of a leader. Additionally, after setups are complete, the German player decides who moves first.
The American force is centered on 12x666 squads, a mix of leaders & support weapons, a 105mm howitzer, an M4M52 Sherman and an 81mm OBA. A late-game pair of M10s completes the US arsenal. The defending Germans are centered on 8x467s, a mix of leaders & support weapons including a captured .50 cal HMG and a relative wealth of Panzerfausts. Additional assets include a 50mm ATG and a single-hex 120mm OBA with six fire missions. Mid-game reinforcements include a StGIII75, a MkIVF1, two squads with leader and SW. Most significant of these is a smoke-capable 838 with DC.
The players agreed to sides after a bidding process which resulted in David VanBronkhorst leading the Americans with one additional 666 squad added to his OOB. John Blazel, continuing his underdog status, led the German defense. Due to its recent design, this scenario was new to both players.
During opening maneuvers the German HMG and 120mm mortar exacted heavy casualties (3 squads KIA'd and one broken) as the Wehrmacht soldiers shrugged off any return fire and kept on the move to deny the American 105mm guns (Howitzer and M4M52) any targets. However, the defense (including the HMG and 9-2 leader) stretched its left flank a bit too far across the graveyard/woods, creating a weakness in the center. The US then struck quickly through OBA smoke, gaining a toehold in the central objective building and knocking out a leader and the German radio. The German left wing was able to collapse back to the building but the defensive outposts on the right wing were cut off from the central building by American MMGs sited down the road. Simultaneously, German reserves arrived and the assault engineers counterattacked in the building under smoke, breaking the squad spearheading the American assault.
The German STG was knocked out attempting to overrun the Howitzer in the street. The Panzer IV finished that job, but on its own was unable to make any dent in the American armored force. As the Germans' stock of panzerfausts dwindled, with none of the shots finding the mark, the Sherman 105 was able to get in position to bring the central building under fire, and promptly took the German 838 out of the action with a barrage of HE rounds. A vicious exchange ensued in the building: the German 10-2 and HMG squad were KIA'd by fire directed by the American ranking officer, but the Germans quickly recaptured the HMG.
In the last two turns, the Allies were on the brink of losing due to casualties, but their concentrated firepower methodically wore down the defense in the building. In the final turn, German defenders remained in one upper level hex and one lower, while a lone leader and broken squads held control of two other VC hexes. The Americans used enhanced mobility from the recently arrived M-10's (losing one in the process to the German ATG) to cut off routs and eliminate the broken units, but could only mount a single-hex head-on assault on the good order squad in the upper level manning the HMG. The gamble paid off as the German defensive fire was ineffective. It looked to all like the game would come down to a final round of close combat, but in a surprising turn the Americans called up snakes for their advancing fire and KIA'd the final German holdouts.
WINNER AND CHAMPION: David Van Bronkhorst!