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Friday, November 22, 2013

Bolt Action - Judson's Fall-In Tournament Report

Fall-In is behind us, BARbarians, and I've got something to say about it! (Obviously.)

John Brader. Lightning hands.

After what seems like years of preparation, Fall-In is over. Like any other exciting, dramatic, and potentially life-changing event, it's tough to put it all into words! I suppose I might as well start at the beginning. Not including, of course, the three months of shop talk that preceded the event itself.

Snow? Isn't it bad enough I need to drive that far in a Suzuki, Mother Nature?

Leave it to Mother Nature, that power-gaming witch, enough snow would fall while the sun shined to leave a slushy mess on the road at the beginning of my trek. To those of you living in more hospitable parts of the world, here's a quick snow driving primer: Driving during a snowfall is generally no problem at all. Driving on a sunny day, early in the season, when the road crews aren't yet ready for it, immediately after a snowfall is a different matter. The road's warm, so the snow starts to melt, but the air isn't warm enough to get rid of the piles of snow that built up on it. Before long, piles of slush build up outside the tire tracks, and in the shade, that make driving way worse than even a crazy snowstorm. The slush gets kicked onto your windshield incessantly by vehicles in front of you, leaving a salty film all over your windshield, especially after kicking on your wipers. During a snowstorm, you're driving slowly. On a sunny day, not so much.

Wait a minute - this is about Bolt Action. TL;DR Mother Nature rolled sixes on sixes on me before I'd even arrived.

So many Germans around those two British vehicles!

Arrive I eventually did! Thursday night, or Friday morning, I strolled into the hall where I'd spend most of my time at Fall-In, to find Dano with a posse of BARbarians playing Panic at the Stock Market. We played a couple games, had a couple drinks, and yelled a lot. The perfect end to a hellish day of working and driving.

The picture above came from some of the warm-up games BARbarians were playing Friday during the day. I believe this particular shot catches a glimpse of the action between MikePWithTheMasterPlan and Painter Joe (new name) running their tournament lists. It was great to see pick-up games happening on the day before.

I played in a Flames of War tournament Friday. It was a good time, and you can hear about it, as well as the Bolt Action event, on the next episode of News From The Front. It was recorded live at the Lancaster Host. Tons - almost literally - of prizes were handed out to attendees.

Before I get too far into the event itself, let me rewind a bit.

"Step aside, folks. You don't want any part of this vacuum cleaner."
Any BARbarian that's been around for awhile has already heard about the terror convention bathrooms invoke in me. For those of you that have ever doubted it in the past, the above picture is the sight I was greeted with after walking out of one of the halls.

That is, for those that don't follow me on Facebook, a gigantic hose heading into the bathroom. Those shadowy gentlemen straddling the tubing? They're the bathroom security force. Not surprisingly, even a convention bathroom with a huge vacuum tube darkly leading into it would not deter the most intrepid convention goers. They needed to be dissuaded from entering. Seriously, what is wrong with us?

"It's a historical gaming convention, boss. We'd better send two trucks."
I was equal parts appalled and entertained by the arrival of the bowling-ball-in-the-toilet-dislodging crew, which comes as no surprise to Bolt Action Radio or LRDG listeners. I'm fairly certain that random people, having no connection to BoltAction.Net, will remember me tugging on their sleeve, saying, "See? I told you about these convention bathrooms!"

All emergency bathroom pumping aside, a Bolt Action tournament was played on Saturday.

Saturday morning arrived, way too soon, and the tournament started. I faced off, as pictured above, against John Brader in Demolition. There's now officially some sort of rule that we must face off against one another in every round one of every tournament.

The table was relatively sparse in terrain compared to some of the other tables, however it featured several elevation changes that interrupted lines of sight. My force included a couple snipers for fear of Forward Observers, and Brader's American observer seemed to fit the bill. Although I had twenty order dice to his ten or twelve, he pulled the first die of the turn and brilliantly didn't waste an order before calling in his air strike.

My snipers finished his observer later in turn one, but not the strike had been called. Unfortunately, Brader's bad luck against me continued, and he rolled a one on his air strike. The resulting boomerang left one of his infantry squads gutted, and a pin or two on a couple others. This basically opened the middle to my Soviet infantry horde, and it spilled through obligingly, getting to his objective.

In another stroke of bad luck, Brader's reserve flamethrower unit refused to come on to dislodge the Soviet units swarming his objective, and the game went my way. Of note, three anti-tank guns failed to destroy his M-10 throughout the course of the entire game. Eventually, it fell to ten pins, being veteran, but that's something that would have never happened had it been a fully-enclosed vehicle. This would be the first of many games that my anti-tank guns would fail to perform the primary task they were given.

As always, it was a pleasure to play against John. We've yet to play a game where he wasn't on the cusp of victory before his dice failed him.

There's a reason why "well actually" is a thing. This is the same reason why you can't call a Lambda shuttle a "Lambor-Shuttle" at a gaming convention. C'mon urinal-posting vendors!

Round two came against a relatively new guy named Casey, whom I'd never met before. Apologies to Casey for not noting his last name! We squared-off in Hold Until Relieved.

It was a Soviet versus Soviet match-up, and I really want to give Casey credit for his force. He brought a T-34/85 with several squads of infantry of eight or more men, as well as the expected anti-tank rifles, sniper, artillery observer, and such.

We met on a table with a village surrounding the objective. I won the roll and chose to defend, meaning I would occupy a building within contesting range of the objective with my huge, free, Soviet rifle squad. Unfortunately, having twenty order dice means you're not capable of spreading out enough to mitigate every area-of-effect weapon, and Casey's masterfully deployed artillery observer ranged in on the building my free squad was occupying.

After several apologies from Casey, three of the five units within range of the building were destroyed. (That's Bolt Action, baby! Ask John Brader!) Any hope of realistically wresting the objective from his numerous powerful infantry squads was dashed. We eventually drew, as neither player could  seal the deal.

I hope Casey keeps playing Bolt Action, as he was a great opponent I'd be happy to game with any day.

Twenty order dice did not feel over-powered by the end of the tournament.
Round three found me facing-off against another frequent opponent, Gordon Chase. While I haven't played against him in all of the HMGS tournaments, I'd seen him in the last one, where we drew in a Hold Until Relieved. This time, we would play a Maximum Attrition on a table characterized by extremely limited lines of sight.

This was, if I recall correctly, the only table that featured bocage. This bocage was impassable to any vehicle that didn't have hedgerow cutters (huge fan of including terrain that rewards terrain-specific vehicles) and blocked line of sight to most units in the game. A KV tank could probably see over it, but neither one of us were using a towering behemoth of a tank, so we had very tight windows for firing.

Real talk: Gordon and I were having a great time playing Bolt Action at this tournament, but took a good long look at this table and said, "OK, this one's going to end in a draw." Part of the win conditions of Captain TO's Maximum Attrition were beating the other player by five hundred points. Another way of saying this was, you needed to kill half again what your opponent killed. (It might have been three hundred points, but regardless, a substantial advantage needed to be attained.) There were objectives in both players' deployment zones worth five hundred points, but the nature of the table meant that both players were allowed to place their own objectives within "fortresses" of impassable bocage.

We took advantage of the opportunity, and after the first turn, went to grab G&Ts at the bar. Gordon is, after all, another devotee of the G&T faith.

Gordon and I had a great time rolling dice - I recall both of us making several attempts at each others' snipers needing sixes on sixes - but made no real moves to engage the opponent. It was simply not a favorable situation for either player to expose his units. If one unit advanced into a position where it could shoot at an enemy, given the "window" nature of the holes in the terrain, it would receive overwhelming return fire from the units that had deployed on the other side of the "window".

By the game's end, we had tossed some dice, tossed back some cocktails, and had some laughs.

Really, it was the perfect tournament game.

So, after all was said and done, I came somewhere in the middle of the pack with one (lucky) win and two draws. I knew beforehand that if I didn't win out, I would have no chance of competing with the combat points (destroyed units) of my opponents, and this proved to be true by the end. The important part is, as with every Bolt Action tournament I've ever played in, each opponent was a complete pleasure to play against.

John Brader continued the tradition of bringing "party favors" for each opponent, giving me a beautifully painted objective marker, while I handed out books courtesy of Osprey Publishing. As usual, Captain TO set the bar amazingly high with his event. The tables were all beautiful, the prize support was fantastic (ask tournament winner, Nemesis Andy) and all the players were fantastic! This isn't so much a competition as it is a group of friends getting together for a good time gaming.

Win, lose, or draw, I love these Bolt Action tournaments!

If you haven't been to one, go! If you have, come talk about your experience on the forums!

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