A report from Don Greenwood
The BPA's Second Annual Breakout Normandy tournament was another satisfying weekend of spirited competition, shared comaraderie, frustrating dice, chills and spills, and assorted close calls. 19 veteran players attended with all but two sticking for the full five rounds. For the second year in a row an Avaloncon finalist was sent home with a losing record, as Bryan Eschleman followed Jim Doughan's '98 slump with an unaccustomed look up at the standings. You know the competition is tough when players of that caliber are denied.
The format was decidely different with all games being played to 9.6 VPs and players bidding excess supply on the Allied supply track for the right to play the Germans. Strength of schedule and head-to-head records were used as tie-breakers for players with like records. The results were surprising, but far from conclusive. The bids ranged from a high of +60 to a low of -1. The average bid was 5.7. One would think that this edge of roughly one half of an extra impulse per game would be largely inconsequential, but the Allies enjoyed a 26-18 advantage in the tournament's 44 games played. This advantage would have been even more pronounced were it not for Alan Applebaum's 5-0 performance with the Germans.
The consensus of the players on hand was that this format was superior to bidding VPs for sides. Alan, of course, was of the opinion that the correct bid that could pry the Germans away from him had yet to be found. Strangely, despite the preponderance of Allied wins as a whole, I think that the bids were artifically low simply because most players enjoy playing the Allies more. I know that I feel more confident of victory as the German but prefer to play the Allies because I don't have to think as much. Good German play requires more attention to detail and there is more pressure to avoid a mistake. In a multi-round tournament, exhaustion sets in and the simpler side is more inviting.
Alan's mastery was complete, going undefeated against the toughest
schedule in the tournament, and breezing to an easy win in the Final
battle of unbeatens over Bill Edwards. He had been tested only once, in
the third round, when he needed to come from behind to edge Ron Fedin.
While Alan's victory surprised no one - he is without doubt one of the
best players around - I don't think many of us are willing to concede the
title to him next year. Anybody who captures the magic bridge six times
in five games has had a little extra help in the fate department. Like
Ron Fedin always says, you have to be good to compete, but you have to be
lucky to win.
The final standings were:
1st - Alan Applebaum (pictured): 5-0 - 16 pts
2nd - Bill Edwards: 4-1 - 15 pts
3rd - Phil Barcafer: 4-1 - 13 pts
4th - Marvin Birnbaum: 4-1 - 12 pts
5th - Henry Jones: 3-2 - 15 points
6th - John Grant Jr: 3-2 - 10 points
7th - Don Greenwood: 3-2 - 14 points
8th - Matt Fagan: 3-2 - 10 points
9th - Paul Fletcher: 3-2 - 11 points
10th - Ron Fedin: 2-3 - 16 points
11th - Randy Heller: 2-3 - 13 points
12th - Chris Roginsky: 2-3 - 11 points
13th - Bryan Eschleman: 2-3 - 11 points
14th - Steve Koleszar: 2-3 - 9 points
15th - David Wong: 2-1 - 4 points
16th - Tom Pavy: 1-4 - 12 points
17th - Tom Gregorio: 1-3 - 12 points
18th - Bob Ryan: 1-4 - 11 points
19th - Ken Nied: 1-4 - 11 points
What good is a convention report without a few war stories? Here are a few accounts of the 44 wars fought that weekend.
Undoubtedly, the game of the weekend, and the only one which tested Alan's mettle was his third round match with Ron Fedin. The game started out fairly normal with each player joking at the other. The Allies lost at Omaha and were unable to clear Utah. The Brits won at Sword and Gold, but didn't clear Gold. Repulsed at Juno, Ron spent the Advantage for a reroll and got good value for his investment by clearing the beach. The first impulse overran Gold and won heavily with a 7:6 into Bretteville. Alan retreated the D1 unit into Villers-Bocage, and left the D2 unit in Bretteville. All the Bretteville bridges were then dropped except the ones to Juno and Villers-Bocage (it was fortunate for him that it was the Villers bridge and not the Tilly bridge). Ron then brought on the second armor from Juno and took Bretteville. Alan responded by taking the 'magic' St. Mere Eglis-Montebourg bridge with a 6 dr on his very first try. He treated it like his real estate all day - capturing it in all five games - adding insult to injury by capturing it twice in the Final vs Bill Edwards after Bill spent the Advantage to force a reroll. With only one assault wave left which could not attack St. Mere since the Utah German defender was still hanging on, Ron had only one hope to take St. Mere. So he attacked with the two lone fresh paratroopers in St. Mere at 5:5. With bocage, he had to win the dice roll by 5 or more to take the area. He won by six. Allen immediately flipped the Advantage for a re-roll. Ron won that toss by five, again taking the area for the third time that weekend with his paratroopers - having done it to Matt Fagan in the prededing round. Alan was stunned. He was stunned again when Ron repeated the trick on the other side of the board by taking Merville with a pair of +4 rolls sandwiched around another Advantage loss.
Alan regrouped two units into Tilly (one being D+1) and left Villers-Bocage empty planning to fill the Villers hole with Lehr in the first impulse of the coming turn. Ron interdicted all of Lehr except the Flak unit before they reached either Villers-Bocage or Audauy sur Odom (five via D+1). Now facing a lone spent unit in Villers and an empty (2 VP) Audauy, Ron rolled to fix the bridge to Verson successfully and then blew away Villers with infantry and put an Armor into Audauy, cutting the board in half. Alan's only means to cross the board was now Zone movement, and he faced the very real possibility of a Breakout. Alan was devestated.
Then fate intervened and Ron's good fortune abandoned him. With the British overextended, they could only defend (though they also picked up Merville on June 8th), even though the line just west of the British was held by just single fresh units in Caumont, Tilly, Bayeux and the area north of Caumont. Alan quickly filled Carentan with bodies and it turned into a meat grinder. Omaha was struggling to get going, but eventually took Grandcamp and Treviere (fighting three times to take Treviere). Allen blew both the Grandcamp-Isigny and Treviere-Columbiere bridges. Ron proceeded to roll five times to fix the Grandcamp bridge and four times for the Columbiere bridge. Naturally this was delaying the Omaha forces significantly. Finally, Ron was in position to take Carentan solely with the Utah forces. He needed to only lose by two on the dice or better to take Carentan (and the game). He lost by three and immediately flipped the advantage and promptly lost by three again. Now the end game was near. The Germans pushed body after body into the point areas. Alan had been holding on by his finger-tips the whole game and he continued to do so as June 12 ended. The game came down to a final dice roll to clear Isigny needing +1. Ron didn't get it. It was a great game. Ron couldn't recall enjoying a game more - even though he lost.It was a nail-biter from the beginning. He kept trying to push him over the edge and Alan kept fighting back, with wild swings of luck on both sides.
Alan's only other close call came in the first round against Marvin Birnbaum when Alan was forced to intentionally abandon Carentan rather than risk an Overrun that would also surrender the Advantage. Marvin was unable to take another VP though so the withdrawl paid off with a one point victory margin.
My own games couldn't compare to "the" game but I'll recap them anyway, if only because they are the ones with which I'm most familiar. I drew Randy Heller in the first round and my Allied invasion could do little wrong. It was just one of those games. It seemed that every unit Randy moved was disrupted by air and every downed bridge I came across was rebuilt on the fly. It was an Allied breakout on the 10th. That was pretty much my quota of luck for the weekend. For the rest of the tournament I was doing my Timmie imitation - looking up from the bottom of a well for salvation from the sky. Regardless of the side I took, the next four invasions were almost totally one-sided in the other guy's favor.
Round 2 was against Steve Koleszar, a strong Storm over Arnhem player with several plaques on his wall. He played the aggressive four-bridge opening in St Mere and after four tries at the magic bridge with double odds I was still empty-handed. Needless to say he was in Carentan on the 7th. He also took Merville on the 6th by foregoing the bridge seizure in favor of a 4-3 daylight assault on the Merville CA. Things were looking pretty glum for Adolf until Steve lost a +5 assault on Caen, flipped the advantage and managed only a stalemate on the reroll. That turned the tide and I gradually retook control of the situation. This game was characterized by huge swings of fortune with lots of enormously important dice rolls on both sides yielding surprising results.
Round 3 was my most memorable game of the weekend. John Grant was also 2-0 and he started off with almost the perfect Allied invasion. Omaha and Sword were cleared (Sword and Utah would be disasters for me all weekend - regardless of side), and St Mere and Tilly both fell on the first day. And all this occurred in but three impulses because he capped off his perfect invasion with a short day. The 7th started with more of the same and both Lehr and 12ss were butchered by the RAF on the trail of tears trying to plug the holes. The bulk of both divisions spent much of the game in the zones undergoing refit. Carentan was hanging on by a thread and Caen fell to assault without reinforcement. By midday I was talking concession. The only reason I didn't surrender was that I would then have had a four hour wait till the next round with little to do. So, I thought I'd be a sport and let John pound on me some more. Needless to say, his dice suddenly went cold and a weather change gave me a glimmer of hope. The paratroop stomp in Pont L'Abbe shortened my lines and gave me a faint chance of rushing troops to the Carentan meat grinder in time. With most of the Allied strength already spent, I decided to lengthen the day in hopes that the weather would hold long enough to improve my supply situation. On the other flank, the sole survivor of the 12ss death march, the 7-8-5, smashed into Merville but was unable to clear it. That job fell to a lone 3-4-3 infantry regiment which was my strongest remaining fresh piece on the board. It did the deed in a 3-3 assault. Getting the Advantage back allowed me the windfall of a short day on the 9th but that respite was negated later by an 11 impulse day on the 10th as John's dice recovered. Cutting to the chase, the 12th dawned with John still short of his required 9.6 at 9.3 and me barely clinging to Catz. We fought a series of counterattacks at Catz-Isigny as the day went on while I slowly gained the upper hand and an ever increasing chance of victory with every impulse as John faced defeat with each dice roll. Suddenly, John switched targets and launched a dual assault into Caumont and Villars from Tilly which stuck - contesting the necessary 5th and 6th VPs for the win on impulse 7. Arrgh!!!! Battling back from a hopeless situation to get so close to victory you can taste it, only to lose it on the last dice roll ... what a game!
Round 4 was payback time for Alan. He had been undefeated last year entering the final round only to run into an incredible series of dice rolls to concede the final to me early. This time the shoe was on the other foot. My night airborne assault and seven bombardments managed to silence all of one Coastal Gun. The invasion forces were butchered before they ever got ashore with 12 units disrupted by interdiction. The assaults at Omaha and Sword went in at -4 with predictable results. Three beaches ended the day totally disrupted. I fought on long enough to get a chance to take Caen with a -2 dice roll but rolled -3. This game is capable of enormous swings in momentum and I've seen remarkable comebacks by players who don't quit. But simply put, you don't beat a player of Alan's caliber with such a horible start without a truly amazing run of luck. I conceded with all of one VP so he could get some sleep for the final round.
Round 5 didn't get much easier. Bryan Eschleman was my opponent - a fellow whom I've never played but has made the finals at Avaloncon twice. I again faced a terrific Allied landing with all the earmarks of a disaster, including Omaha being cleared and St Mere falling on the 6th again, but Bryan made one mistake ... he was too successful. He took St Mere so fast that I didn't get a chance to waste any impulses trying to take the magic bridge and he couldn't end the day soon enough ... having to pass several impulses while the Germans marshalled their forces to face the threat. Facing a disaster in the making at Carentan I threw caution to the winds and assaulted the airborne in Pont L'Abbe on the first impulse of the 7th at 18-10 needing to win the dice roll to clear the area before he could reinforce it. I won and things picked up from there. There was some heavy whining when I had missed nine consecutive bridge demolition dice rolls but, all in all, Bryan got the worst of the dice rolls. I had a strong position on the 12th with him needing to capture three VPs and although he came up with several clever long shot attempts at getting them, I was able to hold on for the win.
All in all, it was a fun weekend. The competition was tough and the atmosphere friendly. I was just one dice roll away from finishing third, but settled for 7th on a head-to-head tie breaker with John Grant. You can't get much closer than that.