Friday, February 15, 2008

AAR: OwlCon 2008

Zeb Doyle

Well, it's been four days now since OwlCon and I still haven't recovered enough mentally or physically to write a decent AAR. Here goes anyway. First off, just to repeat what others have already mentioned, the best part of ASL is the people. From riding down with Rick to invading Nick's house to invading Tom's house, I feel very privileged to know all of you. The generosity and kindness of our ASL community extends well beyond the boundaries of the game. A special thank you goes to Walter, who once again put together a fantastic time for all of us, and managed to answer all the tough questions we threw his way even as he worked at his real job throughout the weekend. It was really great to see everyone, swap stories, and roll dice.

The gaming started at Chez Nick this year, and although it wasn't quite as palatial as Ken's house the year before, the venue is excellent for hard-core ASL action with great coffee, fantastic (and fantastically cheap!) pizza, entertaining cats, and everything else a discerning grognard could want right at hand. Thanks very much to both Nick and his wife for letting hordes of gamers and gear occupy the entire place for the day. Things started off with a bang, as Rob and Roy had us all playing Vulcan's Forge for Ferocity Fest. They did an amazing job this year with the trophies (and finally picked a decent scenario for once!) and so I was pretty excited about the mini tourney.

My opponent was John Hyler, a very fun opponent and fellow beer aficionado whom I've somehow never played before. That got fixed but good as we ended up playing three times over the weekend. In this first meeting, we diced for sides and I ended up with the Russians. Usually I don't care what side I get, but I felt the Russians are pretty favored in Vulcan's Forge and so that first die roll made me very happy. That also started a unusual trend of wanting and getting a preferred side in most of the other games I played over the course of the tourney. At any rate, we started to play and the Russians ended up having a pretty easy time of it. I had an edge in RB experience over John and in Vulcan's Forge, that makes a major difference. Even worse, John consistently rolled very high and the few good rolls he got were matched by my better rolls. We called it on turn three with the Germans down to nine squads left on the map after starting with 23.

Since the game went so fast and was such a bust, we swapped sides and went at it again. This time things were much closer although I was able to use enough RB tricks as the Germans to get a pretty convincing win. Again, John's dice made things tough on him, with one FT-toting Fanatic 6-2-8 repeatedly failing key NMCs. Overall, a fun scenario and one that worked very well in the Ferocity Fest format, but when playing for blood, give the balance and take the Russians! It was also fun watching everyone else play it out and see the different approaches, although the most amusing sight was Schwoebel and Gerstenberg playing each other. Living two minutes apart in Austin, they have to drive all the way to Houston to play each other! I think that Brian Roundhill and Jeff Toreki ended up being the overall winners as the German and Russian respectively, so congrats to them.

It was then time to head over to Rice University and start OwlCon in earnest. The venue was the same as the last two years, but this time the adjacent table overflowing with roleplayers had been replaced by a bunch of Battle-Tech/Mech-Warrior video games. That was actually much quieter and gave us more room, which was a really nice change from the year before. At this point, I was pretty tired from a late night before and then getting up early to drive down, so when Rick wanted to play the attacker in VOTG14 Pavlov's House, I was happy to do so. My Russians got to sit in a fortified building with Fanatic troops and fire at Germans running across a boulevard, which required no thought whatsoever on my part. Rick was probably pretty tired too, unfortunately, because his attack hinged on setting up a bunch of StuGs on-map and firing smoke on turn one to provide some much-needed cover. I gleefully pointed out that the StuGs enter from off-map and have no smoke by SSR. That was pretty much the game right there, as the unprotected German infantry got chopped to bits. I think the Germans actually have a decent chance to win, but they have to bring their best game, while the Russian is basically on auto-pilot. That was lucky for me, as my mind shut down half-way through and I walked away with another win due solely to the side I was playing.

We then headed over to Tom's place, where he was nice enough to let a bunch of us Austinites spend the night. I was pretty much asleep before my head hit the pillow, although as I was passing out I heard something about how the way I was lying my head was blocking a door. I woke up the next day with no bumps, bruises, or concussions, so thanks to everyone for being careful and not braining me in my sleep. Sorry if I actually was in the way! From there, it was back to OwlCon and more ASL.

My first opponent of the day was Bill Dorre, a very enthusiastic player who always finds a way to make every game close. We picked out Eye Of The Tiger, a scenario I recently got off Ebay and had heard great things about but had never played. I would have happily played either side here, but the dice gave Bill the Germans. The scenario has a weak company of SS with some PzIVs, Pumas, and a Tiger attacking a Russian village without losing more than 30 CVP. The Soviet side is your standard infantry force, and gets some T-34s and an SU-85 as reinforcements on turn one. The Germans get a little help with a turn one 280mm artillery FFE as well, which complicates the defensive set-up just a bit! In our game, the OBA came in and killed a squad but also started a bunch of fires, which really constricted Bill's attack. He also made one mistake by leaving all his armor in motion on turn one. I was able to aggressively drive up my tanks and knock out all his AFVs at a cost of a single SU-85. However, Bill does have that knack of hanging tough and making the game close, and his SS actually made a very credible push into the village. With the scenario in the balance, I threw a captured DC at a platoon of SS and sent them all Berserk and spent the rest of my turn setting up a nasty trap for them. In Bill's next MPh, he was forced to run the 9-1/3x 6-5-8 into a 12-2, a 20-3, etc, etc, and that blood-letting triggered the CVP cap. Fun game, great scenario, but a tough way to lose for poor Bill. I'd never seen anyone lose a game by rolling snake-eyes before, but Bill handled it with his usual great sportsmanship.

Since that was another quick game, I sat around for a bit until John Hyler showed up. No one else was close to being finished, and Walter nicely allowed us to play again. We pulled out Pomeranian Tigers, another classic I'd never played, and this time the dice gave me the attacking Germans. The battle takes place on board 41, and features six 6-2-8s, an MMG and a 57LL holding off six 5-4-8s and some StuGs. The Germans get another six 5-4-8s, a StuH and two King Tigers on turn three, while the Soviets get three Stalin tanks on turn four. I attacked on a wide front, with an eye to getting around John's defense with the initial wave of 5-4-8s, and then try to use my reinforcements to crush the Soviets in place. Unfortunately for me, the third time was the charm for John and I couldn't get anything to go right. My trap worked well enough, and my reinforcements forced four or five 6-2-8s to Dash across a street under the eye of a lot of Germans, but a ton of 2-2 and 1-2 attacks came up totally empty.

John's Stalin tanks then came on and took up defensive positions. I had a King Tiger waiting for this and strung perhaps the prettiest LOS I've ever managed, reaching an amazing 12 hexes across the cluttered terrain of board 41 and trapping a Stalin squarely in my sights. A malfed gun was my only result. That left the Soviet defense intact and with three big tanks against only one of mine now, but all was not lost. John's 6-2-8s were out of position and my StuGs could put down some smoke and allow me to take out the 57LL and MMG group, which were stacked together in a high-risk, high-reward position. Three rolls later, we discovered that none of my S9 weapons had brought any smoke. Well, there's always the sD, although the positioning would now be very tricky. I figured risking a small-target StuG in a HD position for a single MP in LOS of the AT gun would be reasonable so I could lay the smoke. One CH later, I had some smoke via a burning wreck....just not where I wanted it.

From there, things went downhill. I boxcarred a few MCs and turned 5-4-8s into broken 2-3-7s, while repeated 20+2 attacks on the gun/MMG stack did nothing. John got bolder with the Stalins watching this fiasco, and gave me a rear HEAT shot with a 105 gun on one and a 20+1 attack on the CE crew of another, but I never managed to affect him. Meanwhile, a return snake-eyes CH from the 122L splattered another 5-4-8 with a 36-4 attack. Eventually, the MMG malfed and I took out the AT gun in CC, but it was far too late in the game and I ended up scoring 6 out of a required 40 VP. It was charitable of John to call our game close, but I think he overstated things a bit...Now that I'm done whining about the dice, let me add that John played a very solid game overall and made it tough on me. Also, as the end-game unfolded and the writing was on the wall, I should have risked my second King Tiger by aggressively going after the Stalins. The odds wouldn't have been in my favor, but it would have given me a better chance than trying to save it for EVP that clearly wouldn't matter. Poor play on my part for not doubling down at that point and using all my assets.Meanwhile, John did use all of his. Nice work by him, and he also did a fantastic job handling my whining and frustration over the dice. Apologies for that, John.

At that point, I was frustrated and mentally fried, but had an opportunity to play Nick. Those chances don't come along often and so I jumped at it since he's such a great opponent. I pulled out The Green House, an interesting odd-ball scenario I'd had my eye on for quite a while. It looked like it would be perfect for an occasion like this, where we only had three hours to play and were already a bit winded from a full day of ASL. The dice gave me the defending Japanese, and again I was happy, figuring I could just sit, roll dice, react to Nick's moves, and not really have to think. This time, that didn't work out so well for me. The scenario itself is interesting, but not as cool as it looks on the card (IMO). There's lots of silliness, like having HMG and 81mm MTR teams enter, spend three turns running into position, one turn firing, and then throwing down the weapons for a last turn charge into the VC areas. Nick played his usual masterful game while I sat there and brooded over the previous scenario. So stupid of me, and our game came down to Nick firing a 2+0 at my Japanese 4-4-7. Nick needed a pin or K/ and failed MC to win, and rolled the six for a PTC, which I promptly failed. That was another lame finish for me, and after the game Nick pointed out if I'd used the tunnel that my pillbox came with, I could have automatically won at the end, so I couldn't even lay some of the blame on the dice here.

At that point, dazed, battered, and beaten, I staggered away from OwlCon and found myself wandering the desolate streets of Houston at two in the morning. I was just trying to wind down enough to sleep, but ended up in a bustling tapas bar somewhere. I got some food and drinks and, despite the insanely loud salsa music, was just starting to feel better when I got the bill and realized that my tequila shots were each $9. Ouch. From there, I went straight back to the hotel before I could hurt myself any more and lay down until the sun came up and I headed back to OwlCon.

I stumbled in bleary-eyed and exhausted, looking for another game of ASL, if only to take my mind off the braised ox-tails and Moroccan meat pies doing the flamenco in my belly, and was met by a very chipper Walter informing me that I was playing Brian Roundhill in the championship. I'm still not sure how this happened, since my 4-2 record was looking pretty weak, but maybe the ToT German Rare Vehicles pack and the mint Journal #2 that I slipped to Walter ahead of time came into play here. At any rate, I was feeling horrible, but I was in the finals. I twisted Brian's arm a bit to play a Friendly Fire scenario and he was nice enough to let me go with FrF22 Wunderwaffe. I really like the FrF stuff, as I've said before, and I think they are perfect for championship games: they play as fast as Schwerpunkpt but have way more depth.

As it turned out, Wunderwaffe had a bit too much depth for us to handle. The dice gave me the attacking Russians, and this was yet another case where that roll probably determined the victor. The Germans have some good tools in this scenario and a 50% chance of winning (IMO), but after one playing it seems like they need nerves of steel and a set up that cedes a lot of the VC area to the Soviets. That's not real obvious looking at the card, and so Brian went with a very up-front defense to guard everything that really played into my hands. Even in my befuddled state, I was able to blunder onto the board, lose only one tank to each of the 75LL squeeze-bore guns, and use the remaining armor to chew the German infantry up. It helped that his 9-2/MMG stack only ever pinned my 4-4-7s sitting in woods hexes and that his 4-6-8s pretty much all broke on the first shot and never rallied. Despite Brian's poor luck, I managed to arrange an exciting finish by forgetting I had to capture ten building hexes and playing almost the whole game thinking I only needed eight. Only on my last turn did I realize my mistake, and had to engage in a bit of a scramble to get the last two. This last-turn panic was only intensified by the fact that my sniper counter covered up a building I could otherwise have easily captured. In a great bit of sportsmanship, Brian would have given me that hex, and thus the game, but that was going too far, even for me, and I instead managed to grab the tenth hex honestly for the win. Great scenario, great opponent (Brian is a great sport and is one of the few guys in TX that teaches me new rules every time I play him), and I was triumphantly crowned OwlCon Champion!

OK, so there wasn't any sense of triumph. I really had no business playing in the finals at all and my blunders in my game with Brian were super-pathetic. So, Toreki and Brian, if you guys want to get Walter's permission and play a game at some point to determine the true king of Houston, please go for it! Nick also has a good claim, as I think he finished 3-0 and beat me along the way. There are probably some other people out there who are also more deserving after my three game crash and burn sequence. If no one cares to step up, I'll happily act as place-holder for the championship until next time but the crown definitely slipped out of my hand this year.

I'm sure I've sounded pretty whiny and sorry for myself throughout this AAR, so let me close by reiterating what a great time OwlCon was. As I was heading home, hanging my head and mulling over my losses, I realized that even if I had known ahead of time exactly how the weekend was going to play out, I still would have done it in a heartbeat. Even if I could have changed something, it would be to have played even more ASL, so I could have gotten games in against David Stanaway, Ken, Tom, Rob, Roy, and everyone else I missed...It was great to see all of you, and I can't wait until next time!

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great AAR, and I'm happy you liked Wunderwaffe.