Last fall, when Days of Wonder announced the new expansion, The Battles of Khalkhin Gol, which would contain 6 standard scenarios and 2 Breakthrough as well as 2 Overlords, GM Sam Edelston decided that the new expansion would form the basis of this year’s tournament. The campaign took place in mid-1939, before the start of World War 2, pitting Japanese occupiers against Russian and Mongolian forces in a border dispute between Manchuria and Mongolia.
This expansion introduces two new units: Japanese light tanks called tankettes and armored cars. The armored cars are single figures that are ordered and can overrun like armor and move 4 hexes. They can be hard to kill, because hits must be rerolled, playing a significant role in many matches. Many of the scenarios also feature cavalry, flamethrower tanks, machine guns, and Big Guns. The Commissar rule is in effect for all these scenarios, so the Soviet player has to choose his cards one turn in advance.
For the first time ever, we used a Breakthrough scenario in the tournament, complete with the special deck and rules, for the Finals.
Several of the Khalkhin Gol scenarios are normally played to 5 medals, but since this was an elimination tournament, the GM changed them to 6. Also, one of the later scenarios normally has a Sudden Death medal objective, but it was played as a Turn Start Permanent Medal Objective.
As usual, our format was 2-game matches, each player plays both sides of the battle, in a single elimination tournament, with a Mulligan round the night before. There is no bidding for sides. Also, when signing in, every player draws a tiebreaker number, with better numbers going to players who bring a game, and tiebreakers were necessary this year not once, but twice.
The Mulligan Round used the scenario of The Khalkhin Gol Spark. The Russians are dug in, with support from armor and artillery, and protection from hills and sandbags. The Japanese force is all infantry on their left and center, all cavalry on their right, and vulnerable to attack as soon as the first turn.
There were 7 sweeps, 5 splits won by Allies, and 2 splits won by Axis. Also, the first time we’ve ever had this problem, there were three incomplete matches. The Allies won 19 games, versus 12 for Axis, by an average score of 4.70-3.97 medals and 22.90-16.10 figures.
Winners included defending champion David Schneider along with past champions Chris Kalmbacher and John Skiba. AGM Eric Mosso’s superior tiebreak number won his tied match against Doug Smith. No shutouts in this round, but 6-1 wins were gained by Omar Chbaklo as Axis, and Jon Manley and Ed Rader as Allies.
Round 1 used the same scenario as the mulligan, The Khalkhin Gol Spark. There were 8 sweeps, 4 splits won by Allies, and 2 splits won by Axis. The Allies won 16 games and lost 12, with an average score of 5.00-4.64 medals and 22.58-18.45 figures.
In Round 1, Former champs Joe Harrison and Gordon Rodgers were paired against each other where Joe swept their match. GM Sam Edelston was swept by Charles Speer, marking the first time in 10 years he failed to make it past Round 1. The only 6-0 shutout wins were by Frederick Webb as Axis and Wayne Laustsen as Allies.
Round 2 would move to The Halha River Shelling scenario. Normally the fifth battle in the campaign but because it uses the exact same map as the Round 1 scenario with very different troop configurations, is was put second. The Russians are more dug in, with 11 units in sandbags and they have a bit more firepower. But the Japanese have brought in armored cars, tankettes, and three especially menacing artilleries. Despite the identical terrain, this scenario plays very differently. We had 7 sweeps, 1 split won by Allies, 4 splits won by Axis, and another incomplete match. Thank goodness that was the last one of those we had! The Allies won 12 games and lost 13, with an average score of 5.96-5.48 medals and 23.48-21.48 figures.
In the round, Ed Rader swept ex-champ Chris Kalmbacher. In our second tied match of the tournament, Stephen Smith ousted ex-champ Joe Harrison on tiebreaks. In a battle of the two AGMs, John Skiba ousted Eric Mosso in a split match. There were no shutouts this round, and the only 7-1 battle was John Skiba’s win as Axis.
Round 3 moved to the Attack on the Soviet Outpost scenario. This actually is the last battle in the campaign, taking place nearly three months after the first scenario. The Japanese now have an advantage in tanks and armored cars, as well as an extra infantry unit. We had 2 sweeps and 5 splits that were all won by Axis. The Allies won 2 games and lost 12, with an average score of 3.00-5.64 medals and 12.79-20.00 figures. ,/p>
With only 13 players making it to round 3, the GM played as an eliminator, winning his match. John Kirk and John Skiba swept their matches. Kirk, who has competed in this tournament for the past several years, had lost in the Mulligan round, but then as a re-entrant was the only player to sweep his first three matches. David Schneider, the reigning champ, was deposed of by newcomer Jon Manley in a split match. Jon Manley had swept his first two matches. There were no shutouts, but the Japanese won three 6-1 games, by Jon Manley, John Skiba, and David Wolfe. Best Russian performance was Skiba’s 6-2 win.
Round 4 would feature the scenario Down in the Dumps. The Japanese here hold fully half of the board, but their force consists of various kinds of infantry units, complemented by just a single armored car. They’re opposed by a mixed Russian force, including two armored cars, a regular armor, and a center artillery. With only 6 players surviving to round 4, the GM announced that the Lazarus rule would be invoked, the highest-ranked available loser in this round would be invited back for the semifinals. The Axis won 5 of the 6 games, by an average score of 3.83-5.50 medals and 15.33-15.50 figures.
John Kirk eliminated David Wolfe, 5-6, 6-2. In the first game, John’s Russian armored car took the HQ objective, but Wolfe’s Japanese killed it with a single reroll, so it couldn’t claim the turn-start medal. With the score tied 5-5, Kirk rolled 4d at a 1-figure infantry in the HQ and whiffed. Wolfe finished the battle with an Armor Assault, attacking a 1-figure infantry and rolling 4 grenades. Boom! In the rematch, Kirk’s Japanese played Their Finest Hour, rolled 5 orders, and scored 2 kills, bringing the score to 4-0. About 4 turns later, Kirk played a second TFH, which got the last kill.
Wayne Laustsen swept ex-champ John Skiba, 6-2, 6-3. In game 1, a single Japanese armored car took out 4 of Skiba’s Russian units. Meanwhile, it took the Japanese a total of only 5 dice to knock out both Russian armored cars. In game 2, Laustsen’s dice were simply unbeatable, as he rolled a ton of grenades, while Skiba was just shooting stars.
Jon Manley eliminated Ed Rader, 5-6, 6-3. After a close loss in the first game, Manley opened the rematch by barraging the Russian artillery off the board. His hot dice continued through the battle, bagging both Russian armored cars with just about 8 dice near the end.
When the GM did the math to see which defeated player would return for the semifinals, John Skiba edged out Ed Rader, with 5 wins each, but 41 versus 40 medals.
For the semifinals, Kawatama Bridge was used. This map actually is similar to the Round 1-2 maps, except that the terrain is shifted one row toward the Japanese side. The Japanese hold a slight advantage in armor, while the Russians have more infantry units. The Kawatama Bridge hex is a Turn Start objective worth 2 medals for the Japanese. With three of the four contestants having the same first name, we nicknamed the two semifinal matches John-John and Jon-Wayne.
On board A, there was heavy fighting on the Russian right flank, as the reincarnated John Skiba’s Russians killed a Japanese tankette and infantry early, in exchange for their flame tank. A bit later, tied at 3-3, his Russians played an Infantry Assault with a decent shot at 3 medals. However, they instead rolled a sad 3 hits. Kirk’s Japanese responded with a Close Assault, ordering 7 units, and gaining 3 kills to end the battle, 6-3.
In the rematch, more heavy fighting on the Russian right. Skiba’s Japanese got up to a 5-2 lead, including an armored car capturing the bridge objective, but he missed on a potential match-winning shot at a 1-figure infantry. Kirk responded with Their Finest Hour, rolling 3 orders, and killed two units to clinch the match for himself. Skiba followed with a Barrage to win the game 6-4 and salvage a split.
On board B, Jon Manley’s Russians opened by going Behind Enemy Lines and wiping out a Japanese tankette, soon amassing a 4-1 lead. Ultimately, he finished with a pair of kills on his right to make it 6-4.
In the rematch, Jon Manley’s Japanese armored car took the bridge objective, but Laustsen totaled it with an Artillery Bombard, with 6 dice and 4 rerolls. Manley penetrated deep on his right flank, but lost a tank and a tankette. After Manley got his fifth medal to clinch the match, Laustsen’s DHQ was sufficient to win the game 6-5 and salvage a split.
Both semifinals were decided by a single medal. Kirk over Skiba, 6-3, 4-6 and Manley over Laustsen, 6-4, 5-6. This set the stage for the Final match with the first ever use of a Breakthrough map in the M44 tournament at WBC. John Kirk, with an 8-2 record, versus Jon Manley with a 7-3 record.
The finals would use the Bain Tsagan Heights scenario. This is a pre-printed Battlemap that comes in the expansion. We used the special Breakthrough deck and the associated special rules, most notably which most section cards allow a player to activate one or two extra orders On The Move, meaning that they can move, but not battle, that turn. Bain Tsagan is a group of hill hexes occupied by a phalanx of five Russian infantries, smack in the middle of the board, with a Japanese force massed to attack it. Facing the Russian right is a group of Japanese tankettes, poised to attack either the Russian rear or the side of the hill. On the Russian left are 6 armored units, closing in on a medal-objective group of hills and a swarm of Japanese infantry units.
In game 1, as the Japanese, Manley’s tankettes knocked out the 3 rear units on Russian right. Then much of the action shifted to the Russians’ armor advancing on their left. One highlight, or lowlight, of that engagement was a Russian Armor Assault against a Japanese armored car that had slipped within range. The Russians cut off its retreat hexes and poured 12 dice into it, resulting in 9 rerolls, which all failed. With the score at 7-7, a Japanese Finest Hour rolled 4 orders, and this along with further hot combat basically wiped out the Russian armor attack on that flank, resulting in a 10-8 win for the Japanese.
In the rematch, Kirk’s Japanese tankettes went after the Russian infantry in the middle of the board. The result was a big battle in the center, where the Russians dealt some damage, but ultimately the Japanese broke through and occupied the medal objective hill. Then trailing 6-8, the Japanese attacked on their right. A Molotov Cocktail helped crush a Russian tank, and an On The Move order allowed a Japanese infantry to capture the bridge. Alas, Manley’s Commissar was holding a Probe Right, which he had fatefully laid down by mistake. The Japanese then played a Probe Right of their own, cutting off another Russian tank on the medal hills on that flank. They triple-hit it for the kill and took ground to claim their own 10-8 victory.
With medals even at 10-8, 8-10, the match was decided on figures, 60-57, in favor of Manley. Ironically, Manley reflected afterward, if he had played the card he intended instead of the accidental Probe Right, he probably would have extended the game without much opportunity to pick up more medals, and it might have given Kirk an opportunity to gain a winning advantage in figures. C’est la guerre.
This was Manley’s first time at WBC, but he is a regular participant in the Memoir Online League, where he has made the playoffs several times and the semifinals twice.
As a special prize for winning this tournament, Jon will participate in the international Memoir ’44 Champions Trophy 2017, which will be fought through Memoir Online late this year. Participants in this invitation-only event are winners from the leading in-person tournaments in the US and Europe, along with top finishers from English and French language online tournaments.
MULTI-PLAYER OVERLORD GAMES
In addition to the tournament, as usual, we had several multi-player Overlord games in the schedule. These are always a highlight, because many players only have a chance to play them at conventions. They also tend to be a source of great battle stories.
Tigers in the Snow. A nice, basic Overlord from the Battlemap series. There’s a ton of Russian armor on the left, mismatched against German infantry in terrain. There’s a bunch of German armor on the right, mismatched against Russian infantry in terrain. The commanders-in-chief were the past two WBC champions: David Schneider leading the Germans and Chris Kalmbacher leading the Russians. The German field generals were John Skiba, Greg, and Jon Manley. Russian field generals were Ethan, Sam Edelston, and John Parker. The Russians opened with a devastating air strike against main German town in the center of the board, rolling 6 hits – and they spent the rest of the battle trying to get control of that town. Meanwhile, on their first turn, the Germans blew up the Russian bridge, hemming in their armor though the Russians were able to quickly build a new one. With several big Left cards, the Germans migrated their Tigers and other armor to the center, taking out several Russian Right units along the way, and ultimately played a Finest Hour, ordering 7 units, and killing two units in the center to earn a 13-12 win.
Tetsu No Ame. This year’s post-tournament Midnight Madness Overlord was designed by Eric Mosso. Joe Harrison commanded the Marines, aided by Tony Gonzalez and Eric Mosso. John Skiba commanded the Japanese, aided by Wayne Laustsen, Stephen Smith, and Sam Edelston. The Allies won, 16-13. The early game favored the Marines, as the Japanese lost several infantry. The Marines made good progress in the center and against the Japanese right. However, when Sam’s Marines on the right tried to advance, the Japanese brought in several reinforcement units, which dissolved any chance of Marine advances on that flank. In the middle game, the Japanese wore down the Marines in the center, as well. Ultimately, with the score at 13-13, needing 3 medals to win, John had both his right and left Field Generals go Behind Enemy Lines, while he gave an Assault Center to Steve. A kill by each general sufficed for a Japanese victory.
Cape Torokina Landings. It is from the Khalkhin Gol expansion, though this unique map is from a battle that took place later in the war. A channel of water runs across the bottom half of the map, with two Japanese-occupied islands on the left half. Several of the Marine units are in landing craft, but a scenario-specific rule allows those units to battle immediately if they land from an adjacent hex. Sam Edelston commanded the Marines, aided by newcomer Bill Edwards and Chris Kalmbacher. John Skiba commanded the Japanese, aided by Eric Mosso and Stephen Smith. The Marines eliminated three protected Japanese infantries on their second turn, but it was an expensive landing, as they lost 6 infantries in their first two turns. In the center and right sections, the Marines wiped out a large portion of the Japanese, but they were hit hard on the left. Finally, on the Marines’ second Finest Hour of the battle, the center and right ordered 6 units, but only managed one kill. However, their Left, where some kills were possible, rolled no orders. The Japanese came back with one last, game-ending kill. Final score, 15-13, in favor of the Japanese.
Into the Valley of Death. Joe Harrison commanded the Russians, supported by Stephen Smith, Wayne Laustsen, and Chris Kalmbacher. John Parker commanded the Japanese, supported by John Skiba, Eric Mosso, and Sam Edelston. This is a Desert scenario. The Allies led, 8-7, after 6 turns. Then, an Allied Finest Hour ordered a mere 4 units, including none on their left, and got a mere 1 kill. The Germans Counter-Attacked, ordering a mere 3 units, including none in the center, and got a mere 1 kill. But the Allies, in turn Counter-Attacked that, and this time they rolled 6 orders and notched 4 more kills, to slam the door shut, with a final score of 13-8.
The Khalkhin Gol Encirclement. An 18-medal scenario with all the Khalkhin Gol fixin’s. The Japanese were commanded by Jon Manley, with Timothy Manley on the Japanese left, Eric Mosso in the center, and David Brooks on their right. John Skiba commanded the Russians, with John Parker on the left, Steve Smith in the center, and Joe Harrison on the right. On the third Japanese turn, Their Finest Hour rolled 9 orders, killing two Russian tanks and a cavalry for a 7-3 lead. The Russians Counter-Attacked, gaining 10 orders, which killed 6 Japanese units, turning the tables for a 9-7 Russian lead. After the Japanese responded with a couple of big cards and lots of dice, but no kills, the Russians continue with an Assault on their left and an Armor Assault on their right. Three more kills, and they captured the Remisova Hill objective in the center of the board. 13-7 Russians at this time.
At this point, things cooled off for the Russians, while the Japanese clawed their way back. Knocking a couple of tanks and some infantry off the board, they narrowed the Russian lead to 14-12. Then, a second Russian Finest Hour; only 6 orders, but they killed a tank and a tankette, and knocked the Japanese off an objective. But then there was a dramatic battle over an objective on the Japanese left, called Hill 754. A Russian armored car failed to eliminate a weak Japanese infantry, which in turn killed the attacker. The Russians then lost a pair of tanks and another infantry, and suddenly their lead was only 16-15. The Japanese had one last valiant try, where decent dice would have given Timothy a kill and a game-winning objective, but the dice failed to cooperate. The Russians used their renewed life to regain Remisova Hill in the center and kill a cavalry, which gave them a narrow 18-16 win.
The GM wishes to thank AGMs Eric Mosso and John Skiba for their help at the tournament and the pre-tournament instructional demo. Additional thanks to Eric and John for leading some of the Overlords, John for photography, and to Eric for the use of his special Overlord scenarios. Also, a special note of thanks to Stephen Smith for the use of his map for the tournament Finals. Thanks, also, to Richard Borg for creating this wonderful game, and to Days of Wonder/Asmodee for continuing to support and expand it. And special thanks to the organizers of WBC for allowing us to make this North America’s premiere Memoir ’44 event year after year.