Monday, 4 September 2017

Advanced Squad Leader Tournament: Why bother organizing one?

So, I've gone insane.  It's official.  You see, I recently decided, on my own, to organize a tournament for my favorite game, Advanced Squad Leader.  Why would I do that?  Well, for one, I love to play the game.  Not only is it fun, it's a great way to socialize with some of my great friends from both near and far.

Kedge (Left) and Carl (Right). Two great reasons to play ASL
So, I decided, pretty much on my own, to set up a local tournament, advertised around the world via the internet on the site I got.  The site can be found here.  My aim?  I'm hoping to get 16 players for the main tournament, 8 for the mini tournament and 4 for a Marathon Match.  That may be a tall order, but given the number of local players, I'm confident we can get at least 20.  That would put me just barely in the red as far as finances go, but not by much.  Given how much I spend on this hobby every year, well, I'm probably saving money!

So, as with most things, this is just a quick teaser.  I'm sure I'll post updates to this as the date gets closer.  So, hope to see you at the Human Wave 2018!  

Monday, 14 August 2017

Tussle at the Tundra


This past weekend, from 10 to 13 August, I participated in another Advanced Squad Leader tournament in New England.  This one was the Tussle in the Tundra, run by Chuck Tewksbury.  He had asked my help in coming up with a scenario list and I jumped at the challenge.
Chuck guided me and gave me some pointers and in the end, this is the list decided upon:

MAIN TOURNAMENT
Round 1:

ASL 188 Zon with the Wind
A 104 In Front of the Storm
J 106 Marders not Martyrs (Challenge)
FrF 72 The Mubo Decision (PTO)
J 193Raff's Rules (New Blood)

Round 2:

ASL 195 Rocket’s Red Glare
J 103 Lenin's Sons
AP 8 A Bloody Harvest (challenge)
AP 86 Milling About (PTO)
J 183 A Real Barn Burner (New Blood)

Round 3 (Western Front):

ASL 77 le hérisson
ASL 11 Defiance on Hill 30
ASL 27 The Liberation of Tulle (Challenge)
ASL 89 Rescue Attempt
J 182 Belgian Blitzkrieg (New Blood)

Round 4 (Eastern Front):

ASL 1 Fighting Withdrawal
ASL 126 Commando Schenke
J 157 Rage Against the Machine
AP 41 The Meat Grinder (Challenge)
J 188 Grab and Go (New Blood)

Round 5 (Italian Front):

WP 6 Ils ne passeront pas
A 19 Cat and Mouse
A 89 First Day of Diadem
ASL 178 The Niscemi-Biscari Highway (Challenge)
J 190 Trial Run (New Blood)

As you maybe could tell, there was a bit of a theme.  Each round had a "challenge" scenario that was around 60 to 65% rates in favor of one side, according to the Remote On-Line Automated Record, or ROAR.  Each round also had a "New Blood" scenario out of the latest ASL Journal.  Finally, Rounds 3, 4 and 5 rotated from the Western to the Eastern and then finally the Italian Fronts, where the previous 2 also had at least one PTO scenario in the mix.  Most of the scenarios were official products, going all the way back to ASL 1 (Fighting Withdrawal) to a few third Party Products.
ASL 01 Fighting Withdrawal.  Golden oldie!
So, I got to Manchester around noon or so on Thursday before the tournament started, and already Chuck and Brian were into a warm up match.  Hill 621!
Chuck and Brian cleaning up.  Brian's Soviets cleared the hill of Chuck's Germans
I too was able to get a game in:  Rocket's Red Glare vs Jeff.  I was going to play a match against Carl, but unfortunately he and his lovely wife were stuck in traffic from Boston.  So Jeff and I faced off in a match that I won thanks to some very hot dice on my part.   Key moment was knocking out his Wirbelwind with a very good shot during bounding fire.  In spite of this, Jeff put up a very spirited defense and made me work for my win.

Blast from the Past - Updated for the new Yanks
A side note about Jeff.  He's in his early 20s and a very new player.  Just last year was his first tournament.  In spite of his youth and his experience, he's a very good player and it was a treat to play him.  He's embraced the hobby and I'm sure he's going to have years of enjoyment in it.

My Round 1

For Round 1, I was matched up against Michael, who is also from Canada.  We were to play "In front of the Storm", with me as the hapless French.  Michael is a great player and a gentleman.  His defense was well laid-out and after about 4 turns, it was clear that I was not going to cause any damage.

In Front of the Storm.  Attacking with French Tanks

Michael's defenses laid out for me
 My Round 2

For round 2, I was up against Mark in Lenin's Sons.  This was a to and fro affair that saw my Russians pull off an almost perfect fighting withdrawal to the main defensive area.  Then he broke my back with a great attack (I was probably asking for it.  Ha!), and in the end got to my objective area.  The key attack?  Him firing into a melee where his odds were low to win.  He broke my two elite engineer squads as his own elite squad shrugged off the 1 Morale Check, guaranteeing the win.  

Mid way in the game and my fall back defense is working

My Round 3

So, 0-2 I headed into Saturday.  This time I was to play my old pal Mark in the classic Defiance on Hill 30.  I had won and lost this previously as Germans, so I had a go as the Americans.  Turns out that I needed more sleep or something.  My attack never really got off the ground and I never got close to the objective area.  My casualties stacked up and Mark really did well with his allotment of forces.  So, I went into Round 4 at 0-3

My Round 4

Now I was up against Gary in Rage against the Machine.  
My initial defense against his initial layout

Plenty of residual fire, showing the intensity of the combat.
This was an epic battle and probably my favorite match of the weekend.  This scenario saw it all, I think.  My HIP PAK 40 was able to pop one of his ISU 152s, but then promptly malfunctioned after going on a rate tear.  I fixed it, but then was torn apart by his return fire.  I had a great shot on a T 34/85 that blundered into my field of view of my Panzerschreck, setting it ablaze.  But then my Panzerfausts failed to do any damage to his forces at all.  I shocked a crew of his with MG fire, then saw a breaking unit go berserk and die in close combat to Gary's attacking forces.  In the end, Gary won, but it was a nail-biter that saw both of our armored forces end up as so much scrap.

My Round 5

For round 5 I was matched up against Jeff.  He and I decided to go with something off the official list (since we were both out of the contention).  We ended up going back in the archives to ASL 93 Tavronitis Bridge, formerly known as A 01.  That's right, the first scenario published in the ASL Annual way back in 1989.  It was Jeff's first go at using gliders, so a small tutorial later we were off to battle!

The Scenario


My Initial Set up.
Poor Jeff.  My initial AA fire actually, by happenstance, hit the glider with his 9-2.  This would hurt him, as in the end I was able to finally get a win in the main tournament.  It was close, though. As I said, Jeff may be a new player, but he has skill and he's learning.  Fast!

Why I play

I'm often asked why I bother playing this game and why I go to such lengths to play it.  These photos help explain a big part of it: the people.  These guys are all great players and I learn so much from them.

Carl (left) and Frank (right).  Frank lives in Colombia, but came all the way from his hometown in Germany.

Eventual Champions! Rob (left) would go on to win the main tournament, and Keith (right) would win the mini!

Mark (left) plays Jeff (right).  Jeff was betrayed by his malfunctioning 88s!

Kedge (left) up against Carl (right)

Sean (left) playing the role of spoiler against Dave (right), who was in from the Cleveland area

The legend himself: Wild Bill up against Keith.
There are so many reasons to play this game, but one thing must be said again and again: Chuck runs a great tournament and it's always a great time.  This paired with the Nor'Easter hosted by Carl make New England the place for me to play my ASL tournaments.  Thanks again, everyone!

The Trophy




Monday, 3 April 2017

My time at the Nor'Easter ASL Tournament

Well, I have just returned from the Nor'Easter, an Advanced Squad Leader tournament that was held in Boxborough, Massachusetts.  I had a wonderful time and I must at first credit the organizers for hosting a great tournament.
Nor'Easter at Nor'Easter
I arrived on Wednesday evening and settled in for some rest.  The next day, Thursday, was open gaming.  It was a chance for all players to warm up their dice and to get some games in.  Heeding some advice from an old ASL Annual article on how to win a tournament, I ensured that I wouldn't burn myself out, especially in the open gaming.
Pace yourself, lads
I first played my old friend John Wood in a game from Bounding Fire Productions.  "The Commissar's Folly" is a match set in Poland in 1939.  The army of the USSR invaded Poland a few weeks after the Germans did and this represents one of those battles.  For this match I drew the Poles.
Poles ready to Defend
I defended well against John and ended up winning the match.  For the weekend I started on a positive note!
Not this time, Commie rats!
Next in my schedule was for me to heed advice from the article.  I decided to eat well and then up to my room for a nap.  Playing is mentally taxing and I confirmed this once I got to the room: I was asleep within minutes!
Artist's Rendition: me napping between matches
I returned to the playing room later and John wanted a rematch!  This time it was "Among the Dead", a scenario from Journal 11.  This scenario represents a battle between German paratroopers and soldiers from New Zealand.  Set in Crete, the Germans are set to attack the defending New Zealanders, with some Greek troops in the village.  I was able to withstand attacks by German Stukas and in the end emerged with the win.  Not a bad start: 2 and 0 in open gaming and my dice were indeed warmed up!
Ready for the attack!
Next was the Main Tournament.  My plan was to lose in the first round and then enter the mini tournament on Saturday.  That was not to be!  I played Chuck Tewksbury in a match set in 1940 with the Germans attacking the French.  "Go Big or Go Home!" was the title, and in a tight match, I was able to hold off the Germans for the win, actually knocking out one of his attacking tanks and immobilizing the other!  So, 1-0 in the tournament and 3-0 overall!  I had completely shattered my expectations!
I went big and Chuck stayed home.  Ha!
Now I was on to round 2.  So, from 32 who started, I was in the "Sweet 16".  My opponent was Vic Rosso.  We both wanted to play the defending Americans, but he rolled for them, thus giving me the balance for the scenario.  The year for the scenario was 1944, and as the German, I had to flee past French Maquis and US forces.  Also, the bulk of my forces were in horse drawn wagons.  And to add a bit of color, the US had air support to help them in their efforts!
"I'll call you 'human shield'
I started out cautiously with my wagons following my meagre armored force.  With the armored cars racing for the exit, my wagons followed behind in their pathetic column.  Some French resistance fighters did engage, but with little effect.  In an effort to help them out, the US Army Air Force came in and strafed many of my men, sending them scattered into the ditches.  Alas, my armored cars raced off for a total of 15 out of my required 25 Victory Points.
The Escape underway
The US forces were soon on board in force and a duel of sorts rang out.  One of my Marders scored a lucky hit on a US Armored Car, destroying it.  I was now 5 points away from victory!  A failed critical hit by a bazooka later (the dreaded boxcars following the snake eyes!), I was able to force my way past his defenders with a Marder for the win.
The one that got away!
So, after the second round, I was 2-0 in the tournament and 4-0 over all!  I had now completely shattered my expectations.  Now was time for rest and to get ready for round 3.  I was in the final eight!

The next match pitted me up against Ron Duenskie.  For this one, I was set back in Poland in 1939. Not many realize this, but Poland was attacked by Slovakia in conjunction with the Germans.  This scenario, "The Winter City" represents a battle between these two belligerents.  I drew the Poles and by the end of the first turn I had no doubts as to the outcome: his 81mm mortar was on a rate tear and cut my force in half.  The blood bath was over soon and I fell.  This of course knocked me out of the tournament for top 3 (it's a single-elimination style tournament), but still, after starting 4-1, I was quite happy.
Those trenches didn't help...
Fate would see me battling John Wood again. This time we chose Panzer Spirit, a battle set on the Eastern Front in July 1943.  He would be the attacking Soviets and I the defending Waffen SS in a battle near Kursk.  His eight (8!) T 34s were up against my four meagre Marders.  My men were tough, but few in number. And my only AT Gun was a puny PAK 38. I didn't like my chances.
"I can't believe they called us 'puny'"
As the battle progressed, it turned out to be a see saw affair.  I started out hot by knocking out 2 of his tanks as they approached the town.  But then things got messy.  My men started falling and his got closer and closer to town.  The one high point for me was that his tanks avoided my hidden Anti Tank gun.  I unveiled it, knocking out an enemy tank at point blank range.  John made sure the crew paid for it with their lives, over running them, not once, but twice!
URRRAH!
In the end, I needed to mount a counter attack to win the game, but that I did.  My men held out and with all but one of my Marders destroyed, I sent the Russians back from whence they came!  I improved to 3 and 1 for the tournament and 5-1 overall.
Victory Smoke
For the last day, I was up against Mike Allexenberg for Zon with the Wind.  I drew the defending Germans against the attacking Americans.  This scenario represented one of the many battles in Operation Market Garden.  The US Paratroopers are trying to take a bridge as the Germans defend it with some 88s.
Defending 88
In the end, I lost, but the key part was near the end when my 88 fired point blank on some US troops. They actually all passed their MC.  I fired again, needing an 11 to hit. Naturally I rolled 12 and that allowed his forces to swarm past me for the win.  I ended up 3 and 2 in the tournament and finished probably 6th or 7th (some of the other participants left early and didn't finish the fifth round).
That bridge is MINE
So, home I went.  I won more games than I lost.  I expected to win a game.  Maybe two.  But to come home with five, I was extremely happy.  Tired, but happy.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

ASL Replay: LASSH 12 Contact!

Today I got to play another game of Advanced Squad Leader.  This tactical war game is considered the gold standard of such games.  It is rather complex, but in its complexity one will find its genius. As I stated previously, it is by playing ASL that I have gained a better understanding of the events of the Second World War.  

So, today I set out to my friend Monty's place for a match that pitted members of the SS-Division (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler against defenders from the Soviet 51st Army. Crimea would be the setting for the battle as the elements of II. Battalion.  This was the ASL Scenario "Contact!" by Lone Canuck Publishing, part of a series of scenarios focused on this Waffen SS division.

The Scenario

As the Soviet, it was up to me to defend.  With my meagre force of ten first line squads, augmented by four machine guns, I was hoping to hold off a total of 11 elite SS squads augmented by a variety of support weapons, including eight machine guns. My leader to squad ratio was to be 1:5, while Monty had 1:2.4.  Quite an advantage!

I had a plan, fairly simple. I would develop a forward force that would conduct a delay to buy time and then fight the main defensive battle on the objective hills on the near side of my board.  I would face an initial force of 7 squads and then a reinforcing group of 4 squads with 4 (!) machine guns!

Monty's SS about to enter the playing area

So, we had our sides set and away we went.  As he moved up, I had a machine gun open up at long range with good effect.  I broke a squad and then another and the initial feeling was that I was going to be able to keep Monty's forces at arm's length for a few precious turns.  

Inevitably, however, Monty was able to get enough forces up in order to get the massed firepower to start to chip away at my troops.  With a paltry morale level of 7 with an ELR of only 2, it was inevitable that my troops would break.  And often.  As such, I had plenty of space for routing back; however, Monty played his SS troops quite aggressively and was able to close the gap quickly and by the end of the game had captured 3 of my ten squads.

Waffen SS gain the base of fire

As the game progressed into turn 2, I was soon to realize that I would be unable to stand toe to toe with the Waffen SS.  Their base morale of 8 proved to be just too tough to crack as the game went on.  My machine guns had the range, but failed to achieve any rate tears. The closest I came was in one turn when a forward-positioned MMG (with a rate of fire of 2) was able to get 4 shots in against the enemy in one phase. My HMG was sited with my 9-1 way at the back and was able to bring effective fire to bear; however, not once was it able to get its rate of fire (his rate is 3).  Conversely, Monty was able to fire back at long range into the machine gun nest and break the manning squad.  

Typical sight: my troops unable to withstand low IFT +2 TEM attacks

On turn 6, the bubble burst from my defense.  I had the HMG manned with fresh troops and my commissar was rallying the broken troops, hoping to hold back the Waffen SS troops for one more turn.  That was all I would need to keep the enemy at bay.  It was not to be. Monty's forces were just too much for me.  The final nail in the coffin was two-fold.  First he broke my HMG squad with long range fire (again) and then, to add insult to injury, an IFT 2 DRM +2 shot against a concealed squad ended up with a 1 MC and broke my lads.

With that, it was all over. I had one good order squad left, leaving Monty to rush me at double time speed and take the objectives unopposed.  Had I even had a chance to conduct a miracle rally, I would not have been able to even challenge his control of the hills.

"This way, lads.  For you, the war is over."

In the end, a great game. Once again I was able to see why the Germans were able to dominate the Soviets early in the war.  They had superior leadership at the company level and below, they had much better and more mobile support weapons and their troops were better trained.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

ASL Replay: ASL 126 Commando Schenke

Early in the German invasion of the USSR, German forces ran into some dogged Soviet resistance at Liepaja, Latvian SSR.  German Kriegsmarine assault troops, along with some elements of the German Heer launched a final assault on 28 June, a mere 6 days after the invasion began
Getting ready for some street fighting
This battle is represented in the Advanced Squad Leader scenario "Commando Schenke".  It first appeared in the ASL Annual '95 Winter.  It was updated and released with the 3rd version of the ASL module "Beyond Valor".  It was this updated version that I played recently against one of my first-ever ASL opponents, Andrew Luden.
Andrew and I first met on the ASL battlefield in Stalingrad.  My Germans held off his attacking Soviets in that early battle.  This time, however, it would be my attacking Germans against his defending Soviets.
Battling in the ruins
For those familiar with ASL, the following will make perfect sense.  Those who aren't, well, just try to follow along.
My forces were a mix of first line and elite Germans.  The Germans elite units are assault engineers, which means that I had plenty of smoke to mask my movement.  The first line units are great for rooting out the Russians and helping the engineers get to where they needed to be: the objective building.
Facing me were a number of Soviet first line units, some SMG equipped troops.  With only 3 machine guns, the Soviets would be hard pressed to put down plenty of defensive fire.  Also compounding this was his almost complete lack of leadership.  Not very good facing Germans equipped with demo charges and flamethrowers, all necessary to bust my way into his fortified building.
Russian Flambeau?  Coming up!
So, the forces were set.  In the words of Caesar, Alea Iacta Est!  Away we went.
His forces were set up concealed and my initial goal was to strip away his concealment as early as possible, and then to manoeuvre to his right (my left) flank.  From there I would have a base from which I could (hopefully) bust my way into the building, using my DCs to breach, if necessary and thereby gain entry into his fortified building
My initial plan worked. I found one of his 5-2-7 SMG squads and entered into close combat with him, in spite of him being concealed.  This gave him a great initial advantage, but I figured that my 3 squads would prevail.  They didn't.  I needed to augment this building (he did as well) and in the end I took out 2 of his squads for 3 of my own.  Not good.  But I pressed on!
That's not what I meant by "we need some smoke!"
I was able to use some infantry smoke to get around to his right flank with my assault engineers and soon I was in my position ready to assault his fortress.  Due to some fairly effective defensive fire, a sole 8-0 leader rushed into close combat in the fortress, finding his way in due to my pinning of his defenders. (Note: in ASL, if a building is fortified, one can only enter an enemy-occupied hex if that defender is pinned or otherwise not in good order).  I survived the first round of close combat, but Andrew was able to finish off my leader before I could reinforce.  My second attempt to enter was delayed somewhat by my assault engineers all failing to place smoke successfully (Note: in ASL, German Assault Engineers typically need 5 or less on 1 six-sided die.). 
Waiting for the signal to go!
Finally, I busted into the building on the second-to-last turn and starting reinforcing it.  I was able to push his forces into a far corner of the building, but to win, I needed to take all hexes from him.  Andrew cleverly (and treacherously!  Ha!) maneuvered his forces around such that I needed to break or at least pin all of his men prior to getting into close combat with him.  Doing so would give me the win, but it was a tall order.  It turned out that in spite of my using demo charges and flamethrowers, I was unable to get those last few hexes from him.  In the end, Soviet win.
As the initial notes on this scenario state, success depends on "...an adroit German player skilled in the use of assault fire, dash, smoke grenades and maneuver."  Try as I might, it came down to Andrew's skilled defense holding out just long enough to keep me from getting the win.
DAS TUT WEH!
In the end, German losses were heavy, as were Soviet.  This result reflects what happened there back in 1941; the Germans needed 2 days and heavy artillery support to finally clear Liepaja. What was supposed to be a quick battle needed six days' effort by the Germans.  Setbacks such as this may very well have been key in ensuring an eventual Soviet victory on the Eastern Front.
In conclusion, though playing games such as ASL may seem rather silly to some, it has, for me, been a way to better understand the finer details of the Second World War, especially that which happened on the Eastern Front.  I have been able to gain a better understanding of why the Soviets were able to battle the Germans toe-to-toe in the cities, but crumbled against them in the open fighting of the Steppe.  Even large-scale Soviet victories, such as those in the summer of 1944, were at a terrible cost in human life lost.  In playing ASL, I often see how a Tiger tank, for example, can kill 10 enemy tanks in a single battle.  The problem  is, however, that there almost always is that 11th tank that is able to get the kill on that Tiger. 
So, onwards to my next battle!  Next time, I'm going to be taking the side of the defending Kiwis of the New Zealand Army as they defend against the German invasion of Crete in 1941.  Huzzah!
The Scene of the fighting








Tuesday, 24 January 2017

NATO or bust

According to this article, the government of Canada may no longer be looking to participate in a UN Peacekeeping mission in Africa.  Contrary to popular belief, Canada is currently engaged in several operations at the time of this posting (24 January 2017). Some are large and some are not. As it stands, Canada has committed to augmenting NATO forces in Eastern Europe in the guise of Operation REASSURANCE.   In addition, Canada is closer to leading a multinational battlegroup in Latvia.  In this blog post, not only do I applaud the government's apparent decision to forego a major UN Peacekeeping mission in Africa, but I also urge the government to strengthen its commitment to NATO on the Latvian Front.
UN FORCES IN AFRICA


Canada currently spends less than 1% of its GDP on defence.  The NATO standard, which most of the countries fail to achieve, is to spend 2% on defence.  An intelligent increase in spending on defence, not squandered on pay hikes or arbitrary and unnecessary infrastructure projects is not what I mean.  Instead, this could be very well spent on acquiring battle-ready weapons and equipment.  This means trucks, rifles, missiles and most importantly: ships.  I personally would immediately defund the CBC and shift that money over to the Department of National Defence, but that's not the point.
#NotMyBroadcaster

Canada's commitment to Latvia makes sense from a purely political point of view; however, it would not last long at all against a concerted Russian offensive, which would include attacks across all planes; moral and physical.  In order to act as a viable deterrent, any deployed force must be combat capable and lethal.  It may not be of the size of our brigade group of the latter half of the Cold War, nor even of the even more powerful brigade group of the first half.  But a combat battlegroup, ideally a tank regiment battlegroup equipped with powerful and plentiful tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, would prove to be a thorn in the side of any Russian attack into the Baltics, no matter how improbable that may be.

APFSDS-T can be hazardous to your tank

A battlegroup consisting of a single nation would not rely on several chains of command, languages and logistical requirements.  Although other NATO nations could plug into the battle group on an ad hoc basis, a permanent or semi-permanent presence demands that it be of one nation.
So, the big question: can Canada do it?  The short answer is yes.  After all, we are a G7 nation (G6 if Russia stops participating).  A force of some 2,000 all-ranks would require a hefty commitment from Canada's Army (augmented heavily by its reserve force), but it would not be all that different from our sustained effort in Afghanistan.  The difference would be that we would not be involved in continuous combat, nor would there be as many time zones between Canada and its deployed unit. 

Combat Proven
In conclusion, a Canadian battlegroup, infantry or tank, backed up by a strong logistical chain that goes back to Canada itself, would send a strong signal.  First to Russia, that we are serious about countering any potential Russian aggression in the Baltic states.  Second, to NATO, that we are serious about our commitment to the alliance.  Finally, to Canadians at home, that we are serious about their security, for it is ultimately Canadians we are defending, be it abroad or at home.