This was the 18th iteration of the tournament. The game itself did not change from 2015 but other changes were much in evidence. Obviously, the Seven Springs Resort location was a very welcome breath of fresh air. The tournament was run in one place for the entire convention, i.e., no more having to deal with a mid-week relocation as we did in Lancaster. And what a gaming room it was! While consigned to the farthest location, we were hosted in the “Foggy Goggle” which was an elegant slopeside bar with spacious surroundings, a dedicated dining facility, and some great views from our third floor gaming fortress. The sole drawback was the extra walk to reach the room from the hotel proper. Once I learned that the quickest route did not involve traversing the interior of the resort buildings, it became a lot quicker which was especially appreciated when lugging game stuff around. As usual, the event was run within the comforting organizational confines of the Grognard event so that made it quite easy for tourney participants to get into (and get to) other Grognard events also being held in the Foggy Goggle.
A second, albeit unwelcome, change and perhaps derived from the first, was a significant drop in participation. We had 13 entrants who played a total of 25 games, a far cry from the 25 players conducting 42 games in 2015. A large contingent of regulars did not make WBC this year but that did not deter those who did come from having a great time.
Another change, at least for me, was that I chose to run a demo this year. I’d not conducted them previously but wanted to try it out in the new facility. We had eight people sit in for about an hour with varying levels of interest. The “Big Board” version of the game definitely shone in this context - it was with great sadness I had to explain to them that, no, this was not a commercially available version of the game. I’m not sure how to measure the ‘effectiveness’ of the demo, but we did have one person subsequently participate in a game so that’s the metric I’ll be striving to improve on next year. ‘Demo swag’ might also pump up the attendance which would hopefully lead to a few more folks sitting in on a game.
Tournament Administration and Administrivia
Now shifting to the tournament itself, it’s worth highlighting a few non-changes:
- The scenario and rules remained the same. Bidding was not required for side assignment, we used the old fashioned ‘you pick the scenario, I’ll pick the side’ mechanism.
- Game lengths were highly variable because of early concessions but four hours seemed about right for the 6-turn scenario for two players playing casually and taking breaks.
- No adjudications or controversies arose this year. Judging by the number of rules queries raised, it seems clear that most players know the game pretty well by now.
A few quantifiable aspects of this year’s event stood out:
- Only five of 25 matches selected the 8-turn turn scenario. While the participant sample set was admittedly smaller, perhaps this was a more pragmatic realization that the shorter scenario would shave an hour off the playing time.
- More surprisingly, in the 8-turn scenario, the US won ALL FIVE of the matches with four of these ending on Turn 7 because the US had demonstrably secured victory. Something to think about.
- In the 6-turn scenario, it seems like the balancing adjustments over the past few years had done their work - the Germans won ten of 19 matches. Myself and many experienced players have long felt the US had the advantage in this shortened scenario but granting the Germans the army artillery and the implementation of the 17AM random event seems to have had the desired effect. Of course, it’s quite possible that German centric players are trying new things so this balance merits further scrutiny.
- There were NO games played using the most recent edition of the game. There were two large versions of the game that were continuously hosting matches but, other than those, everyone seemed to prefer playing on the L2 edition of the game instead of the newer Compass edition. I ascribe this to laziness, i.e., why break out a new game when you can play the one you have, and map aesthetics - cardboard is preferable to paper to most grognards when it comes to maps.
As always, the ‘open portion’ of the Grognard event saw matches going from the opening Saturday to Friday with the semifinals launching at 9AM on Saturday. Because of the smaller field, there was no need for a challenge round Friday evening. Those not particularly interested in the turn-by-turn recaps of the elimination rounds can probably jump to my concluding tournament summary but anyone with even a passing interest in the game, the event, or the battle might find it worth the read.
Semifinal Match #1: Tom Gregorio vs Marty Musella
Given my penchant for playing the Americans, I was happy to let Marty play the Germans in the 6-turn scenario. We’d faced each other numerous times but he recently applied a drubbing to me in a PBeM match so I was wary. The highlights of the battle as I recall them:
- Marty’s opening salvo was nothing to write home about. No critical breakthroughs and my US defenders were on autopilot as they got to their ‘scripted’ defensive positions. (For those who don’t play the game a lot, there are a lot of standard defensive moves that are made in the opening few turns. They are not always optimal but in face-to-face play, it’s often better to be safe than to try to be creative in the face of a lot of German shenanigans.)
- The first memorable moment came on my US16PM turn: Marty let one of my unsupplied regiments of the 106th sneak out of isolation - and the next turn’s random event was US Air Supply for the 106th! My unit raced south, behind the German lines, to serve as a distraction. Unfortunately, Marty merely pulled Skorzeny back and eliminated the US regiment in combat. It was but the briefest of distractions.
- On 17AM I made a terrible placement with a US artillery unit. Marty was able to sneak an infantry across a river and through the light woods and move adjacent to my artillery which prevented it from being able to provide support for other defenders. I barely got through my internal recriminations when Marty resolved an attack against that artillery which resulted in his German infantry being thrown back. Not only was he repulsed, in every sense of the word, but now my artillery was freed to provide defensive ground support for subsequent combats since it was no longer adjacent to an enemy unit! We both felt silly after that sequence for entirely different reasons.
- The US seemed to have the game well in hand and Marty was quite despondent. Sufficiently so that he was willing to concede. In a moment of gracious foolishness, I urged him to continue as we still had a few turns left. As I’ve learned in the past, fate has a way of dealing with competitive fools.
- On the next turn, Marty snuck Skorzeny through my lines and surrounded US forces between Malmedy and Stavelot. He then assaulted Stavelot and captured it. Not only did he get the VP for that town, he also killed three US defenders which took him to 12 eliminated US units which was sufficient for ANOTHER VP. At that point, Marty had the VPs necessary to win.
- The US would have one last shot however, a 2-1(+1) which would require a ‘1’ to be rolled. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t happen and Marty persevered for the win. Well done.
Semifinal Match #2: Bill Morse vs Johhny Hasay
Two experienced players sat down to the 6-turn scenario. Bill, the 2014 champion, believes that the US has an edge in the 6-turn scenario but Johnny “The Judge” Hasay had been fine tuning his German attack all week and had more than a few surprises up his sleeve.
- On the opening turn Johnny went for the killer punch up the middle against the 106/424 and was rewarded with a D4; the advance here really compromises the US’s flexibility in their opening defensive response. The Germans built the Clervaux bridge and trapped THREE US units. Even more surprisingly, because of the retreat priorities, a failed assault on the US 28/109 led to Germans legally retreating ACROSS the Our River!
- Undeterred by the bigger picture, Bill counterattacked on 16AM and drove the Germans back at Hoffen in the 6th SS Panzer Army sector.
- The German 16PM turn saw the Judge mopping up two trapped American units and getting units through Clervaux.
- On the US 16PM, Bill carefully used two air interdictions to block the route towards Bastogne and sacrificed a unit at St. Vith to slow down the 5th Panzer Army. When faced with tough decisions, a commitment of US air to interdiction can often be a game saver when the US is running low on units.
- The 17AM random event was, as in the other semifinal, “106th Air Supply” but it had no impact in this match. Johnny’s 1st SS Panzer division caved in the US defenders in front of Stavelot and by the end of the turn, three more US units were eliminated.
- Bill wasted no time in counterattacking on the US 17AM turn - he assembled sufficient forces for a 6-1(+1) counterattack and killed a PzG regiment of the 1st SS but was unable to blow the bridges near Malmedy and Stavelot.
- On the German 17PM turn, Skorzeny successfully snuck behind Malmedy. In the South, the German 7th Army was not able to impede the US 10th Armored division from getting to Bastogne. In the North, a D4 blowout result was sufficient to see the Germans capture the Francorchamp fuel dump and Peiper advanced into Spa.
- On the US 17PM turn, Bill furiously counterattacked a Deitrich led Skorzeny but the 1D1 result at 6-1(-1), a 16% chance, allowed them to hold the space. Another SS regiment bit the dust when it succumbed to a 4-1 result. Pieper was now surrounded in SPA.
- The 18AM random event was JagdPanthers. On his turn Johnny attempted to relieve a surrounded Skorzeny but the US held firm. Middleton issued standfast orders at Noville so the Germans were denied that objective. Lehr recon worked their way around the flank and was now south of Bastogne.
- On the US 18AM turn Skorzeny finally was eliminated and Bill was also able to seal off Parker’s Crossroads, Neufchateau, and Trois Ponts. (“Sealing off a VP space” means that the defensive positioning is such that no amount of maneuver or luck will allow the opponent to capture that VP.)
- On the last turn, 18PM, the Germans were one shy of the requisite three VPs needed for victory. They got mixed combat results and were thrown back from Bastogne and Noville but did get their third VP by increasing their total of eliminated US units to 12.
- On their half of 18PM, the US took back the Francorchamp dump which knocked the Germans back down to two VP which is sufficient for the US win. It was a close one for the former champion but he gets the cigar!
Final: Bill Morse vs Marty Musella
Second Saturday afternoon saw two war-hardened, but weary, veterans duking it out in the Foggy Goggle. The weather had been weird all week in the real world, with several severe thunderstorms visiting the Lurel highlands, but gamers are known for their obliviousness when at the table so I can’t say the weather had any impact on the tournament. In the Final however, the weather was cold while the dice were hot. Marty was again the Germans in the 6-turn scenario.
- The German opening saw the US 2nd Infantry division trapped in the North, a D4 against 28/112, both the Clervaux and Vianden bridges built, 106/423 killed, and 106/424 trapped.
- Bill’s 16AM response was to again counterattack at Hoffen but Dietrich enabled the German infantry defenders to standfast. (Dietrich often goes to the far north on the German opening but Marty had a premonition and kept him in the center of the 6th SS Panzer Army front.)
- The German 16PM saw Marty crush the US 2/38 and 99/394 but the latter was able to be a formidable speed bump as the DE result limited the combat advance to one space. 28/110 also effectively delayed the Germans in front of the Clervaux fort.
- Bill pulled out all the stops on the US 16PM turn - he defended forward instead of mindlessly going into the “Triangle Defense”. The 106/422 would sacrifice itself near Ambleve but further south the 333A found itself in trouble as, in a flashback to Marty’s semifinal match, he was able to get infantry next to this US artillery unit.
- The German 17AM turn was very productive from a casualties perspective - four US units were bagged in the North while the 9/CCR was eliminated in Clervaux.
- On his 17AM turn, Bill used interdiction to slow the German 7th Army rush towards Martelange and blew the Stavelot bridge to stave off the Germans in the North.
- The German 17PM turn saw a fortuitous advance after combat and exploitation move where the Germans got adjacent to Bastogne, thus delaying the construction of the fort in that VP town. The 1st SS division broke the Ambleve River line southwest of Malmedy while Skorzeny successfully snuck through the lines between Malmedy and Eupen.
- On his half of 17PM, the US 10/CCR entered the map further east than is normal and cut German supply lines near Ettlebruk. The skulking Skorzeny was eliminated in the North.
- On the German 18PM, the random event ‘Commandos' prevented the bridge at Trois Pont from being blown. FJ 5/15 was pulled back from outskirts of Bastogne which consequently enabled elements of the US 10th armored to garrison the unfortified Bastogne. German infantry successfully isolated Stavelot and Trois Pont in the North.
- On the US 18AM, Bill counterattacked and got more units into Stavelot, a VP town, and kept German units back from Trois Pont.
- By 18PM the German luck sputtered out with attacks against Bastogne and Stavelot resulting in CA results. While ostensibly a bad result for the attacker, if the defender is trapped, this can force a defender to counterattack at low odds and a defeat consequently forcing retreat. (Or elimination in this case.)
- With the odds in his favor, Bill used Ridgeway at Bastogne and Hodges at Stavelot to support the counterattacks with attacker defeats being negated by the standfasts those leaders could issue. In the north the US sealed the game by retaking an isolated Trois Pont from the Germans with a 4-1(-1) attack. At that point the Germans were back down to two VP and the US had secured for Bill his second Bitter Woods title.
While it was a depleted force that took to the field this year, there nonetheless were many highly competitive matches. For experienced players there aren’t a lot of surprises in the game. It all comes down to who can take advantage of the situation when fate turns their way. Yes, there were defensive misplacements at times but none of them seemed to be decisive. At the end of the day, Bill Morse added the 2016 BWD plaque to a growing crowd on his wall. Marty made clear that he was a rising force to be reckoned with while Johnny Hasay and Tom Gregorio were highly skilled challengers. This GM looks forward to 2017 and anticipates even more changes as we adjust to the new location and strive to improve the event, making it more attractive to newcomers and veterans alike.
|Johnny Hasay falls to Bill Morse in
||Thr finalists enjoy the big board
battlefield and a slopeside view.
Bill Morse encounters GM and the game's co-designer, Bruno Sinigaglio, on the way to his second title.
Play By Email 2016
The eighth BPA Bitterwoods PBeM Tournament ended recently after 34 games with Bruno Sinigaglio's Americans defeating
Bill Morse in the six-turn scenario as the last two survivors of the 24-player field vied for the title.
This was the fourth consecutive BPA PBeM Championship for Bruno. In three of those, including the latest, Bruno survived to win
against Morse on the last die roll of the game. Statistically, Bill should have won both the earlier contests, as Bruno only
had a 16% probability of victory in each of the final battles.
In thus latest championship, on 18PM, Bruno needed to eliminate one more German mech or take back a victory hex.
He chose to go after a mech kill. In the attached graphicd, the red dot units attacked the 2/2 mech at 7-1(+2) hoping
for a retreat of two that would surround 2/304 mech and prevent Von Manteuffel issuing a Standfast order to either unit;
then Bruno could attack the surrounded 2/304 at 2-1(+0) with the blue dot units. A result of 1D1 or D1 on the 7-1(+2)
would only allow a 2-1(+1) by the blue dot units guaranteeing Bill the win. The overall chance of success for
Bruno was 10 of 36. Fate favored the grognard again, yielding a D4 vs 2/2 and a D1 kill of 2/304.
As a result, Bill lost by a hair, again, demonstrating further that he is "snakebitten" in close games vs Bruno.