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Monday, April 18, 2016

Long Time, No Heer: My Return to Flames of War

By Mitch Reed with Pictures from David Garvin

In the past I have penned more than a few articles on Flames of War that cover many aspects of the hobby, however now I cannot recall the last time I posted an article about the game.  I have not played Flames of War since the “Fall-In” tournament in early November 2015, a fact that shocked me because I was such an engaged player over the last few years.  My lack of play was not a conscious decision, and I guess I got wrapped up in other great games where I did not miss playing FoW.  Maybe a lot has to do with the fact that the new lines from Battlefront (Team Yankee and the Pacific) are not in my “wheel house”.  While they are great additions to the hobby neither of them gave me the same excitement as the Second World War and Eurocentric version of the game.

I guess it was an email from the I-95 Gamers Yahoo group many months ago that got me back into the fold.  It was for a Normandy themed tournament at Huzzah Hobbies in mid-April, and I quickly signed up for it.  The organizer for this event was David Garvin; a name I have never heard of him before and I thought (incorrectly) that I knew most of the folks who would try to organize a local tournament.
Bocage..... Sucks

Dave made it clear that he was going to add some flavor to this event.  He wanted only 20 players, 10 Allied and 10 German and made it known that the terrain would reflect the Bocage country of France.  The lists were also limited to Overlord and Atlantik Wall with no fortified companies allowed. He also added some other rules, which at the time made me roll my eyes. In all fairness to Dave, perhaps it was my burn out of the game which made me wonder why he was making some changes to the game.  However I was glad to have a FoW event to go to after such a long hiatus. 
I decided right away to go with Panzer Lehr, I mean why not Lehr rules.  So here is how my list looked at 1420 points.   The fact we were limited to the two books, and that each game was going to be Allied vs. German, I did not have to worry about trying to kill a King Tiger or a Russian heavy tank during play. 

My list from Forces of War
As we gathered that Saturday morning, it was great to see so many players who I only get to see at tournaments - like I have said in the past going to an event is like a reunion where you get so see old friends once again.  Dave soon started the intro and I noticed his thick Canadian accent which rivaled the thick amounts of Bocage on each of the tables.  For those of you who have played with Bocage all know how much it is a game changer.  It can reduce even the most mobile of forces to a crawl and creates natural moats and walls which channel your attack in the most obvious of places.

Off we go... Ken is in the red shirt, showing me a magic trick
My first game was against Ken Jacobson, a guy who I have played before and who got me addicted to Napoleon at War.  Ken had a British list with support from some Churchill tanks and chose to use the British “Night Attack” rule for our “Hasty Attack” Mission.  Being a player who has played a lot with Commonwealth forces I wondered why he would do this.  Then I realized why Ken was out of his element, the restriction imposed by the two books prevented Ken from taking a boutique force he usually likes to play with.  Japanese, Finns, Hungarians are lists that he usually plays with, often with great effect. 

I am defending, easy to do behind bocage

With the Bocage the table favored the defender and I just sat back and watched Ken try to break my line and capture one of the objectives.  Ken was able to knock out my tanks and two Puma platoons and I held on for a 4-3 win. 

The scene before Ken killed my tanks and Pumas

During the break, I got to speak with David Garvin the tournament organizer; as his accent gives away he is a Canadian who serves in the Canadian Army and is assigned to the Pentagon.  I saw he had a magazine about Advanced Squad Leader and know I had to find out about this guy.  As some of you know my first FoW force was Canadians, and I am an avid reader of Canadian history in the two world wars, so I am one American who can hold my own in a chat about those Canucks in combat.   While we chatted about folks like Sam Hughes and Arthur Currie, we both realized that the day was the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a major battle that gave the Canadians in the Great War their own unique identity.  After our chat I hoped to get an invite from Dave in order to learn to play ASL.

Throck, pushing Wittman

After my chat with Dave, Steve MacLauchlan and I sat down to play X-Wing since we both had some time before the next round.  It was great to play two of my favorite games in one afternoon.

Throck and Steve after round one watching "Two Grille's and a StuG"

My next game was with Kevin Kelly, a player who I have seen many times at tournaments but have yet to play.  Kevin’s American infantry was pitted against my force in the “Hold the Line” mission.  As the attacker I only had one option; which is to aggressively bum-rush Kevin’s forces before his reserves arrive.  I was able to do this with my large Lehr grenadier platoons while my tanks were in over watch.  I lost a Puma platoon and won with a 5-2 victory, which was my 5th win in a row dating back to last November.  I am glad to have finally played Kevin who is a good opponent!

 Round two.... Operation Bum-Rush

Which Worked... This time

With the downtime, Steve and I finished our X-Wing game while we waited for the final round.  Steve beat me in the game, which in retrospect I should have taken as a sign.

Jeff Knoke's well painted army

The third game Dave announced told me who I was to face, and it turned out to be Steve with his Task-Force A list.   The game marked the fourth time I have had to play Steve and he has beaten me each time; I was hoping to give him a better match up than in our past games.

Steve moving up on me

The mission was “Encounter” and I was lucky to pick the side of the table that had better defensive terrain.  I planned to deflect his attack and strike when my tanks and Pumas arrived.  Steve played this one aggressively and decided that breaking my force was the key to victory.  We ended up creating a “highway of death” in which our forces slugged it out.  I lost my TDs and both my Puma platoons, and then Steve shot up my Panzerwerfers and caused me to take a company morale check, which I finally failed giving Steve a 5-2 win.

This didn't turn out so well

So Steve and I went back to play another game of X-Wing and yes he bested me again.

Wittman.... Dead
How did we all finish? 

1- Luke Melia
2- Steve MacLauchlan 
3- James Best Jr
4- Jeff Knoke
5- Mitch Reed
6- Kevin Kelley
7- Troy DeZwart
8- Stephen "Kato" Lee
9- Ryan King
10- Brian Sullivan
11- Tim Grimmet
12- Sean Sarah
13- Bob Evans
14- Nolan King
15- James Best Sr
16- Ken Jacobsen
17- Seth DeZwart
18- Noah DeZwart
19- Paul Bellerive
20- Jon Baber

Instead of handing out the usual awards, Dave got an idea from Brian Sullivan gave out named awards with each winner getting a very cool unique mug for their efforts. Below are names of the awards he aptly picked for the event.

Now look at these mugs, and the coffee cups (L to R; Brian Sullivan, Luke, Steve, James, and Kato)

1st place was Clever Hans    Luke Melia
2nd Place was Hedgerow Cutter  Steve MacLauchlan
3rd place was Wide Tracks    James Best Jr
Best army was "Dress right Dress"  Steven "Kato" Lee
Most Failed Bog Checks was "Unreliable" Paul Bellerive
Did I mention what I think about Bocage?

Dave Garvin the TO on the left, Kato (Center) was confused when he said "Ah-boot"

As the pictures show, the Bocage played a huge role in this tournament.  Since most of the time the players can sit at a table and before play agree to treat the Bocage as hedges, we do not get a lot of experience of facing this difficult terrain.  It played a huge role in how the players approached each game and I like the fact that this historical element was made mandatory.  It really added to challenge and kudos to Dave for making a part of this event.

After it was all said and done I thanked Dave for stepping up and making such a great tournament.  I had a great time and I was glad to be playing Flames of War again.  I mentioned to him as he left, perhaps we do Italy next.

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