Monday, November 12, 2018

North Texas Shootout AAR

Matt Shostack

Just back from the North Texas Shootout and I have a holiday today so I thought I'd compose an AAR while events are still fresh in my memory.

First of all, many thanks to Ed Beekman for running this tourney and doing an excellent job.  He's been helming this for several years now, and running a tournament is not easy.  The door prizes this year were excellent.  Among them were a Korea module, Hatten, and a BFP product (I can't remember which one but BFP is awesome), along with several other scenario packs such as the "Death to Fascism" pack, and some Winter Offensive packs and an Action Pack or two.  I wound up with a pack from the St. Louis club called "China-Burma-India:  The Lost Theater" which looks really interesting and well-produced, including card-stock scenarios in color and a historical map.  Really great stuff.  The entry fee for the tournament is low, and getting one of these things goes a long way to ensuring you get a lot of bang for your tournament buck.  In addition, the trophies Ed found for this tournament are among the coolest-looking ASL trophies I've seen.  I love that thunderbird look.  Thanks also to the DFW / North Texas guys that helped out.

One of the features of this tournament is that games are supposed to be played from a prepared list of scenarios that Ed puts together.  This is a nice change of pace from the Austin tourney, where anything goes, because it means less time spent trying to agree on a scenario to play.  Ed also has a nice little wrinkle correlating the games played with door prize drawing order.  The formula is secret but the idea is that the more variety you play, the more points you get and thus you'll be closer to the top of the order for choosing, and Ed's list of scenarios had a lot of variety in it.  It included some very old chestnuts and also some new stuff and entries from scenario packs that are lesser-known.  He was also careful to include scenarios that allowed players to try to maximize their playing variety, for example, there was a British vs. French fight set in Madagascar, there was a desert scenario, and there was a scenario featuring a couple of AVREs functioning as bridge-layers, just to name a few.  There can be disadvantages to this approach also, because if some of the scenarios don't look all that appealing to you, the choices can seem to dwindle quickly, but every format has pros and cons, and since Austin is a free-for-all, I like this approach for the Shootout, and recognize the effort Ed puts in to create a decent list.  That's why he's in the HoF, folks.

Now for the blow-by-blow of my games.  In this tourney, the Friday games are mainly for seeding the elimination rounds that start Saturday.  My first game was against Ed himself, and we chose "Magnificent Beasts of Prey" which is a late-war Eastern Front action.  I took the defending Germans and Ed had the attacking Russians.  The Germans had to defend a village with a lot of stone buildings, and to do so they had a small force of SS infantry, supported by a JgPz IV/70 (which has a 75LL) and a StuG, both of which can set up hidden.  The Russians had a combined-arms force with three Shermans, a couple of ISU-152, and couple of SU-100s along with 14 elite squads (4-5-8s and 6-2-8s).  The scenario is from the "Death to Fascism" pack, which has a number of special scenario rules, one of which is that each side can customize its support weapon allotment by purchasing them from a table with a certain number of points.  Facing that much powerful Russian armor, I chose a couple of PSKs for the defenders, plus a DC and an LMG or something like that.  I placed the more powerful tank destroyer to protect the German right flank, where I expected his main attack to arrive, but didn't have the guts to double down on this bet by putting the StuG over there too, instead opting to hedge my bets and use it to protect the far left flank, because in this scenario the Russians have wide latitude on their entry.  Early on two tanks with riders ventured into the field of fire of the JgPzIV/70 and were quickly wrecked.  On the left flank, a Sherman scooted away from the StuG, only to discover a hidden panzerschreck team the hard way.  One of the SU-100s got into a good position atop the hill, but malfunctioned its gun shooting at that panzerschreck team.  The Russian infantry began to press the Germans hard on the right flank of the village, but the defenders were able to reposition some troops to shore up the defenses and beat them back.  The JgPzIV/70 later repositioned and knocked out one of the ISU-152s and soon it became apparent that the Russians would have a really hard time taking enough of the village, so Ed threw in the towel.  Fun game.

Next up was Jim Ferrell, and we chose "Fortune Favors the Bold" which is a 1941 scenario in Russia, where a small force of Germans on motorcycles with five PzIIFs must seize a bridge from a small defending force that gets backed up by a platoon of T-26M33s in the mid-game.  The Russians are dug in around the bridge and have a phone line to call in some 76mm artillery.  I took the Germans again and Jim set up.  Because of the artillery threat and figuring the scenario title was a hint (although it's rather obvious by the game length and other scenario circumstances), I decided to bring the tanks right up close and personal with the defenders, so that at least the artillery would have to be called in very close to his own positions, and possibly stray onto them.  Thus the Germans made a beeline right for the bridge and dared the Russians to shoot back.  The observer saw the tanks arrive and promptly picked up the receiver to let the artillery know now was the time to shell the bridge area, but he couldn't raise them.  Jim rolled a 12 on his very first phone roll, X'ing it out for the game.  Yikes.  The chances of Russian victory took a significant hit right there, but if anyone can soldier on and scrappily contest the game anyway, Jim can, and he did.  The main drama revolved at first around the 10-0 commissar in the stone building next to the bridge on the near side.  He was directing a squad with an MMG, and they soon killed a PzIIF that tried to intimidate them by going into bypass.  The other tanks made nuisances of themselves and drove across the bridge to eliminate the defenders on the other side, a squad with an ATR which never managed to score a kill despite several hits, and the now-phoneless 7-0 in a foxhole twiddling his thumbs.  Just as the Russian infantry was being finished off, however, the T-26s arrived, and Jim expertly used them.  They counterattacked the panzers, and overran infantry on the bridge.  If just one of them survived on a victory hex they'd win, and they proved very difficult to kill.  The Germans peppered them with machine guns, and finally knocked one or two out that way, while the other was killed by a PzIIF swarm.  Still it was a very near-run thing, and kudos to Jim for making it so close despite the early setback.  I think that had the artillery arrived, the Russians probably would have won this one.

Friday's games were used to seed the elimination rounds, and I drew Arlen Vanek.  We chose "Block to Bataan" which as you can imagine is an early-war PTO fight between the Japanese and the Americans.  I took the attacking Japanese and Arlen set up a formidable defense.  To win, the Japanese have to clear a road of American units, but the Americans have a roadblock, some wire, and some mines to make things more challenging..  We mistakenly played with two Stuarts instead of one Stuart and one 37LL antitank gun, and I'm not certain whether this is a pro-American change or not, though I might prefer the extra tank if I were defending.  Arlen displayed a lot of sangfroid in not dropping concealment to shoot unless a really juicy target appeared, and the Japanese just couldn't roll low enough on the attack to strip concealment, so they had to rely on the tanks to use VBM to leverage the assault forward (the Japanese get 5 tanks in this one).  With time running out, the Japanese tanks had to land on 3 different infantry groups to prevent them from counting as Good Order MMCs next to the road, and had to risk bogging on the wire to do so, among other things.  Then the Japanese infantry followed up to protect the tanks in close combat.  Ultimately it worked, but all of them had to go my way and luckily they did.  Arlen played a really strong defense and probably deserved a win here.  

Next round I had my driving companion Rick Reinesch, and we chose "Choiseul Few".  This is a bit of an odd scenario set on--you guessed it--the island of Choiseul, in 1943.  The action has a Paramarine force  defending in a village with hills and stone buildings against a Japanese force trying to barge their way through while being chased by another Paramarine force.  As it turned out I'm not sure I'd recommend this scenario, despite it producing the most memorable end-game drama of the weekend.  The reason for that is that the victory conditions produced the rather odd result in our game where it seemed I was incentivized to use the chasing Paramarines not to press on the Japanese heels but rather to just defend a victory building on the far side.  This is because the Japanese win by accomplishing 2 of 3 possible things:  exit 10 points, cause 12 casualty points, or make sure there are no Good Order enemy MMC in 2 of the 3 multihex stone buildings, one of which is far off from where the fighting occurred in our game.  I'll save the juicy details for a "This Happened to Me" column in Banzai, but try to hit the highlights here.  Early in the game Rick deftly made short work of the Marines on the left side near one of the big stone buildings.  The highlight here was a DC hero followed by a banzai against the 10-2 and two squads with the HMG and an MMG.  They vaporized the DC hero with something like a 40 down 4, but lack of rate meant they were now vulnerable to a banzai attack from the other direction, and despite their high firepower and the ability to to use FPF liberally because of their high morale, they caused quite a few Japanese casualties but were ultimately goners themselves.  The Japanese then backed off a bit to hold off the chasing group of Paramarines, but then had to pay attention to the victory conditions, so they exited what they needed, and the rest made their way to the second stone hilltop building on the back right to cause the 5 more CVP they needed, and clear the second building.  I probably made a big mistake here by bringing the chasing group up to help this last building's defenders, and made a big error by firing too much with these guys, which opened the door for a Japanese win by enabling a crazy last-turn banzai charge.  Like I said I'll leave the details for the newsletter, but the Japanese sent 2 more DC heroes to their deaths, including one that was created mid-banzai and was killed only at the last moment by an FPF shot.  It came down to a final FPF that if it broke the firers would give Rick the CVP he needed, but I luckily rolled low enough to preserve the win.  My mistakes at the end should have cost me the game, but if you're going to make mistakes it's better to do it with high morale and high firepower.  The end game was even more dramatic than I've described, and thanks to Rick for an well-played game that he should have won.  I'm beginning to notice a trend here.

That win put me in the final against the formidable John Garlic.  I wasn't really keen on doing the PTO again, but the scenario list was rather limited.  For the final, any scenario is allowed but I hadn't brought any scenarios with me so it was hard to choose.  We picked "The Gin Drinker's Line" from Dispatches from the Bunker because John was interested in gaining more PTO experience, and it looked a bit more interesting than one of the ETO scenarios I was contemplating.  In this one a bunch of British (really Indian?) troops in two groups defend a small village of huts from a determined Japanese attack.  PTO terrain is not in effect in this one, although the buildings are huts.  To win, the Japanese have to score more points than the defenders, and points are scored by CVP and by hut control, and the Japanese have to get at least 5 of the 7 huts.  The defenders are in two groups, one with trenches and wire covering far from the village across a valley and facing one of the Japanese attacking groups, and the other in the village itself to the rear, awaiting the attack from the main Japanese group but also from the Japanese flanking group, which can enter on either the second or third turn; if they enter on the third turn they have the entire board edge to use and can therefore get right after the hut village from the flank and rear pretty quickly.  Looking just at the card I thought it would be hard on the Japanese, so I opted for the defense, but then once I began setting up I doubted my choice.  The cover is really flimsy in those huts, and those defenders are a bit too far away to help the trench-line defenders.  I set up a simplistic defense with the four trenches in a line and the 4 wires in front.  When John saw this, his attackers started veering to go around, although a few seemed sort of committed and therefore they continued to press the trenches on the defenders' right.  With the help of some light mortar smoke, the attackers worked their way around toward the British/Indian left, and eventually got there in good force.  When the flankers arrived as expected on turn 3, things got really desperate for the defense.  John launched 2 more DC heroes at my defenders, and one of them succeeded and blasted the MMG squad in their hut.  In the end game, finding rout paths was difficult and the casualties mounted.  Seemingly two-plus-one shots were the most common from the Japanese, and I dreaded each one because so many of them seemed to hit home and force morale checks.  The end game had the usual PTO drama, where sometimes a pin on the Japanese was a worse result for them than a break, because it prevented them from advancing into CC.  Finally when the clock ran out we tallied the points, the defenders were ahead by 1, and the Japanese had only gotten 4 of the needed 5 huts.  John said he had never done a banzai before, but he played like a PTO veteran, using DC heroes and banzais to great effect.  You could point to many events and rolls that, if they had gone the other way the game could have had a different outcome.  This was the fourth nail-biter of the five games I played.  I could easily have been 1-4 rather than tourney champion.

There were a number of interesting games that I got to watch a little bit of.  Ed arranged a mini for the players that got eliminated from the championship bracket, and it ran along the lines of Austin's Ferocity Fest, where players play the same scenario, and compete with the other players of their same side for who does the best, including for fun events not necessarily related to winning the scenario, such as getting bonus points for killing a Tiger tank, etc.  I can't remember what the first-round scenario was, but the second round was the classic "Eye of the Tiger" from the Windy City Wargamers pack.  I saw several players having a lot of fun with this one, including one of Matt Evans' tanks bouncing quite a few 75L shots off the front of one of Ralph Garringer's Pumas, which was amusing to everyone watching save possibly Matt.  

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