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While the time and venue of WINTER OFFENSIVE this year was much as previous ones, this event was just a little bit different. For one, while this convention/tournament was always predominately about ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER (ASL for ALS fundraising), this year it seemed that ASL dominated even more than usual. Last year there were a lot of non ASL games going on, but this year there weren't quite as many. That might be because MMP released a LOT of ASL products at the con:
ASL Map Bundle done in Starter Kit Style. Contained ASL boards 1-52 and all the ASLSK maps. Eventually all the maps will be republished in new core modules, but for those who can't wait, the whole set is provided. For the grognards used to lugging around the old mounted maps, these are far lighter and more compact to transport from game tournament to game tournament.
Winter Offensive Bonus scenario pack for WO11. Who could resist? There were several signed copies available.
ASL Starter Kit Expansion Pack. This was quite a pleasant surprise, as many of us expected something of an Action Pack for ASLSK and found out it was a complete, self-contained game with updated ASLSK#3 rules. All it needed was a pair of dice to get out and play.
on top of the recently released Out of the Bunker scenario pack which was available.
So there were plenty of new products to try out. Longtime ASL champion Gary Fortenberry won "The Main Event," defending his title from last year. There were a number of winners for the "mini-tourneys" that were held, starting on Thursday night. World Series winning pitcher Curt Schilling, owner of MMP, was on hand Saturday to give us a pep talk and appreciation for attending the tourney and thank us for supporting his ALS charity contributions. As usual, one of his autographed baseballs from the 2007 World Series was a prize during the charity raffle.
The raffle was done a bit differently this year as all the prizes went into boxes and you had to pick one if your ticket was called. As usual, there were a quite a few winners and even one who won twice. While there was mostly sports apparel and a couple rock group concert blankets, some wargame material was won. These included an ASL Map Bundle, a copy of FIRE IN THE SKY in ziploc (hard to find that game these days), any non-ASL game off the vendor table (THIS TERRIBLE SOUND RSS series game was selected by the winner), a signed and unsigned copy of the WO11 ASL Bonus scenario pack. Unlike previous years, there were no overt "gag" prizes (like gallon-sized freezer bags filled with loose punched ASL counters), although any of the guys from Manhattan who won Steelers, Phillies, or--shudder--Red Sox sports gear might have felt differently!
As always, Saturday night was pizza night and everyone took time out from their games to eat MMP provided pizza, wash it down with beer or soda, and get some rare time to spend in gaming comraderie with their friends and other fellows....
I decided not to play any ASL or ASLSK this year, preferring to play other MMP titles. There wasn't a lot of that going on. STORM OVER NORMANDY and STORM OVER DIEN BIEN PHU could be seen in playtest side by side with MMP's first Historical ASLSK module, ELST, undergoing playtest. There were several games of BATTLE ABOVE THE CLOUDS happening and one of A MOST DANGEROUS TIME. A few other non-MMP games were broken out and maybe more titles that I just didn't catch since I was so engrossed in my own games.
Kevin Earle and I had boned up for a playthrough of MMP's FURY IN THE EAST the weekend before at a Tidewater Area Gamers meeting at Sean Deller's place in Smithfield, VA, where I taught him the game and we'd gotten through the initial German two moves. On Friday, we played through the first half of Turn 5 when I conceded to a German Decisive Victory as the Soviet since Kevin was poised to take Moscow, had already taken Leningrad, and was clearing out the rest of the victory cities in the Ukraine. He had never taken a victory point loss on the Hitler Directives. Maybe I taught him too well. In any case, we may have not played the German panzer movement abilities through Soviet full ZOC quite right, interpreting the rule about Panzer Corps being able to leave ZOC so long as they do enter another one as something that could be done at any point in the movement phase, not just leaving ZOC as the first movement point expended. Something to research this week and ask MMP about. Even with a more stringent interpretation of the rule, it's clear that the system is quite unforgiving and we've yet to crack the early game Soviet defensive scheme.
Saturday, David Hoskins was kind enough to supervise Doug Behel and I getting our first foray into the monster game THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON together. We played the first intermediate scenario, "Race to the Bridge." Doug is a long-time Arnhem battle fan and has been aching to play this game. He took the British and suffered terrible luck in the initial drop, losing a step of his recon jeeps and failing all the lead unit force marches on the roads to Arnhem out of Drop Zone "Z," which piled up the grunts behind them. This gave me time to readjust the German SS training battalion KG Krafft to cover the southernmost roads. Chit sequencing was not kind to him either as he tended to pick his Division Activations (which allow only limited actions--none of them combat tasks) before his formation chits. That meant he lost opportunities to exploit the results of combats that he was setting up. I was also lucky that every single event marker covering the roads leading to Arnhem had a combat unit in it--one of which eliminated his half-strength recon jeep troop trying to speed to the bridge. While we didn't quite grasp all the nuances of the rules (particularly regarding indirect fire radio contact), we quickly got an idea of what we did wrong (with the help of David) and resolved to try this scenario again. My own impression is that it might be worthwhile to risk the casualties as the Brit airborne by moving around the Krafft companies and suffer the Opportunity Fire--the Brits simply have more chances to activate than the German and can outrun them to the bridge, provided a bit of luck on the sequencing chit draw. Definitely this is the scenario to experiment with various British maneuver options and German defenses with Krafft's battalion. We got a lot out of this initial foray and will play much better the second time around. Thanks to David who provided a lot of assistance and guidance as we played this!
Sunday, David and I played THE TIDE AT SUNRISE as he showed me the ropes and helped me through the game. He had only a few playthroughs himself before we sat down with this game. We got through 2/3rds of it before we had to call it quits, but my Russians appeared to be doing quite well. David's Japanese were undone, ironically enough, by his very successful assault on Nanshan fortress at the beginning of the game, thereby not allowing the sorely needed siege artillery to arrive for quite some time. As the Japanese, you want to assault Nanshan with the minimum of force and have it fail, so Tokyo sends you the guns that you can use against Port Arthur and elsewhere. Definitely not intuitive! Still, this game does a great job at simulating the vagaries of the campaign even without the naval rules and counters, which are provided for pure chrome and not necessary to enjoy the unfolding situation. Quite a few puzzles regarding when to sortie the Vladivostok fleet for the Russian and what reinforcements to bring on for both sides. My thanks to David for introducing me to this game. I definitely want to play this one again.
On MLK Day I played Dr. Don Hanle, co-designer of PENSACOLA, a game of Mark "Mick" Miklos's newest from GMT, GERMANTOWN. As the British, I was able to eliminate Sullivan's threat to the Market Square and was able to delay Washington from getting the Chew House right away. Stephen's division, despite the drunken state of its commander and erratic moves, never caused a friendly fire incident and subsequent panic of the American Army. But I learned to my chagrin that while I was doing a great job of keeping the Rabble In Arms away from their geographical objectives, they had more artillery, rifle units, and leaders than I did. That gave them an ability to attack my +2 regiments and force them to flee, disrupt, or lose a step in Defensive artillery fire during my turn or in Rifle Fire during American Turn attacks, raising the odds for the American combats. With more leaders, Don had a greater hand of Tactical Cards to play and was using them to good effect. I lost when my Army morale plummeted to "Demoralized" quite quickly after contact on a broad front. It requires quite careful play for both sides as all it takes is two moves in a row (caused by initiative die rolls) to really pummel army morale down. Great fun and another game to play again soon.
If you were there in Bowie MD for this event, tell us your stories!