When WBC emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of the former AvalonCon, we were treated to an explosion of games from a wide array of publishers. In the flood of new games that emerged were a variety of eurogames, wargames, family and late-night fare—all of which combine to give WBC a feel that really isn’t replicated by any other boardgame convention.
What was sometimes lost in this euphoria was the fact that, even with the increased number of events available at WBC, there is a limit to the number of tournaments one can play, even in a very long week. One of the biggest effects has been a reduction over time in the number of sports games played at WBC. This was inevitable, and part of the price we pay for our gaming happiness.
So, one of the reasons I have been GM of March Madness for the past 15 years was to keep one of the best sports games active in the entertaining WBC mix. I’ve always felt that MMS is in many ways the quintessential WBC event. There are multiple heats, and advancing to the Final Four only requires that you win one of them. If you win, you advance. If you lose, you move on to another WBC event. And you have multiple bites at the proverbial apple, which offers a degree of flexibility to all kinds of gamers, regardless of whether they regularly push stacks of units across hexagonal maps, excel at multiplayer diplomacy, or slam their Liar’s Dice down with abandon.
Somehow, MMS appeals to gamers from across the spectrum. Certainly, it doesn’t get hundreds of entrants, but it always produces a good crowd. We had more than 50 entrants again – not bad for a game that has been out of print for a quarter of a century.
The first heat didn’t break records, but had a more than respectable 28 players. Somehow, Doug Gallulo avoided the winner’s curse, which usually demands that the defending champ should go down unceremoniously in the first round. Picking the top seeded Indiana team from 1953, Doug beat Derek Landel, Sam Berk and Nicole Reiff on his way to a showdown with Stuart Tucker.
For his part, the longtime Hannibal GM proceeded to mow down a host of fellow strategy gamers on his way to the regional final. Adam Wojtaszczyk, Don Greenwood, Terry Coleman, and Marvin Birnbaum were no match for Stuart, who seemed to change his style of play as needed to win each round. It didn’t hurt that his team, 1970 UCLA, was one of the most versatile in the event. In the end, UCLA balance was too much for even IU’s mighty Don Schlundt, and Stuart was in the Final Four.
It should be noted that some family members did better than others. The young Joseph Birnbaum, with one of the lowest seeds, won his first ever official March Madness game over Steve Caler, who was a good sport about the whole thing. Laurie Wojtaszczyk beat Jeff Finkeldey and Wes Lewis before finally bowing out to Marvin.
One of the reasons for the continued success of MMS is that we continue to get enough new players to balance out folks who can’t play for whatever reason. I was a little concerned about the lack of participation in the demo this year, so we may have to address that in future years.
Heat two, however, showed no such concerns, as it featured a healthy 23 competitors. Once again, the top seed advanced, as Bruce Reiff marched through his first three opponents like Roger Federer at Wimbledon. Then he ran into Henry Rice, whose fast-paced UNLV team was not the least intimidated by Cincy 61. Henry’s reward for knocking off Bruce was to lose a close game to Terry Coleman, who then faced Harry in the regional final.
It is hard to recall how many times Harry and Terry have faced each other over the years. Harry tended to win in earlier rounds, while Terry has had the better results in the Final Four. This time, Harry took a slight lead at halftime, only to see the lead change hands multiple times through the second half. Trying to get an edge, Terry played the Injury card for the first time in nearly 20 years. The strategy backfired. As Terry suffered an injury to his own team. Still, the game remained very close, and it looked as though the contest could go into overtime. Harry’s play of a slightly risky defensive card pulled out the game on the last roll in regulation. It was a fittingly tense game for this long-time, friendly rivalry.
With two of our Final Four participants penciled in, there seemed to be a renewed surge for the final two spots. The third heat had our best attendance this year, with 29. Chris and Sarah Bauch made a return appearance after a couple of years away from WBC. The dad looked a little rusty, while the daughter beat Huston Johnson before falling to Joe Birnbaum. Joe followed that win with a good game against Terry, before falling too far behind in the second half. Joe seems a natural, and is practically a veteran at MMS already – we wish him good luck in the future.
Longtime Afrika Korps GM Jon Lockwood showed his expertise on the parquet courts, winning two rounds before falling to former champ Dennis Nicholson. Pete Stein spoiled Harry’s bid to advance another team to the Final Four, and then lost to Marvin. In the top bracket, Jeff Mullet coached Arkansas 78 all the way to the semis, until Terry shut down his guards.
In the regional final, Terry and Marvin reprised their epic PBEM match of mere weeks earlier. The ‘live’ result was much the same, with Marvin winning on the final die roll, and moving into yet another Final Four. Terry was left with the somewhat dubious achievement of losing two regional finals in the same tournament.
Heat 4 was the smallest group, with 16 players. The games were completed at a fairly rapid pace, despite a few new players. Sarah Bauch beat her sister Emily, who was playing in the tournament for the first time, while their dad, Chris, lost to Don Greenwood. Don seems to have finally remembered how to play his own game, as he made it all the way to the semis. Don’t feel sorry for Don, as he won the online MMS event this year – he often rolls virtual dice better than real ones.
Once the upsets were over, Jeremy Billones defeated Craig Yope for the last slot in the money rounds. On paper, Jeremy’s team looked to be even with Marvin’s, but he fell too far behind and could not catch up in the end. Harry, meanwhile, was able to overcome Stuart’s versatility and make it to the championship game.
Marvin had won multiple titles in recent years, but Harry had never gotten over the hump, losing multiple times in the Final Four. The teams were well-matched, with strong big men inside. Harry’s Florida squad had better guards, while Marvin had the better bench. The lead swayed back and forth throughout the game, until Harry finally prevailed 88-87 after the last position was resolved.
Marvin unfortunately lost in both the final at WBC and in the PBEM event. But he is a great player, and he will be back. Congrats to him for a great tournament, and for bringing both of his sons to play MMS – it probably won’t be too long before they are joining their dad in the Final Four.
It is also great to see Harry triumph after so many close losses. He has a ways to go before his MMS trophy case comes close to his Paydirt wins, but he’s off to a good start. I would also like to commend everyone who played – especially the first-time players, who brought new energy to one of the best tournament games at WBC. Thanks again for making this such a joy to run. Until next WBC, have a great year.