Bolt Action Tournament Report: the Welsh Open, 2014

This past weekend Ulick, Tony, and myself headed over to the Welsh Open.  We had heard great things about this tournament from the previous year and the air fares fell the right way for us (€70 round trip).  This is a lengthy report for a blog post so I'll break it into three acts:
Act 1: Getting there, venue, organization, ice-breaker tank game
Act 2: My tournament games
Act 3: Lessons learned, planning for next year

Act 1

Ever wonder what Maynooth, Ireland, looks like at 4:00 a.m.?

Our flight was at 6:15 a.m. so I caught the 4:00 a.m. airport hopper from Maynooth.  I met Ulick and Tony at the airport.  Security let us straight through and we were a bit hurt not to be given the opportunity to take out our models and explain the detailing and shading on the metal minis.  By 8:00 a.m. we were on a shuttle bus to Cardiff city center and we were at the door of Firestorm Games at 8:45 a.m.  Don't you love it when modern air travel lives up to its reputation?

Firestorm Games is easily the best gaming shop I have ever experienced in terms of stock and facilities.  Only the original Dakka Dakka in New Hampshire, U.S.A., comes close, but it lacked a bar.  Ulick was particularly impressed by the Flames of War stock.

Table after table for Bolt Action, FoW, GW systems, Infinity, or any other system (with the possible exception of 6mm ancients).  There was an abundance of high-quality, varied terrain on hand too.

The tournament was a strictly Allies vs. Axis affair.  Each table had a specific mission tied to an actual World War Two battle.  A world map with the missions' locations was a nice touch ("He'll see the big board!!!").

This table strewn with ruined 4Ground buildings was one of my favorite battlefields.

The players assembled for a briefing/welcome from Ian and we all got to work for the first game: the ice-breaker team tank battle.

Ulick and Tony played on a North African table

I played on a table with this awesome rail gun

 My partner played a U.S. list and I brought a T-34/85, SU-76, BA-64 DShK,tank riders, and my green squad in a truck.  The T-34/85 bagged a Pz-IV at long range, and the two other Pz. IV's on the enemy team exploded much too easily on the next turn. 

My green infantry squad destroyed a Puma in assault, easily earning them "unit of the match" designation.

The only tricky moment came when My BA-64 fubared, but in what can only be described as the best spot prize ever conceived, I was handed a beer because I had fubared.

After the tank game we retired to the lounge/bar area of Firestorm Games and had more beer.

Act 2

I brought a 12 dice list:

1.  Senior regular lieutenant with friend (the +2 proved decisive at least 3 times).
2.  Kommissar with friend
3.  Regular SU-76i
4.  Regular BA-DShK
5.  Guards: 8 rifles
6.  Guards: 5 SMGs, 2 rifles (1 panzerfaust)
7.  Regular ZiS-3
8.  Regular truck with MMG
9.  Assault engineers (flamethrower, 6 SMG, body armor)
10.  Scouts (2 rifles, 5 SMG)
11.  Sniper
12.  Free green squad

My first game was against Steve who was fielding a German force with several kitted-out regular squads, a StuH, a pioneer unit with flamethrower in a transport and a few other bits and pieces.  The game got off to a promising start when my scouts assaulted and wiped a squad on Turn 2.

However, a poorly judged outflank cost me the game.  Steve had his pioneer squad in outflank, and I had my assault engineers outflanking too.  My error was to bring them on first.  They drove on, wiped an infantry squad but were then wiped by Steve's pioneers.  I scrounged a point for holding the secondary objective and another for a tertiary objective.

My next game saw my Soviets head to South East Asia to engage another German force on this lovely airfield table:

My opponent, Rob, fielded a Pz. IV, heavy mortar, 222 recon car, MMG, air observer, and a decent amount of infantry.  Smoking hot dice for me proved fatal: my sniper killed the MMG and the mortar.  A lucky turn 1 shot from the SU-76 eliminated the air observer before he could call in the strike.  My ZiS-3 and SU-76 hid from the Pz. IV and by the end of the game it was just about all Rob had left.  I was able to claim three points for the win, and two extra points for the secondary and tertiary objectives.

For my third game I faced off against James and his fantastic looking japanese force.  We played the race-to-Arnhem table.  He had four infantry squads, a light tank, a light AT gun, two snipers, a light mortar, three suicide AT guys, and officer.  The mission was hold until relieved.  My assault engineers were absolutely lethal.  They roasted two infantry squads and a sniper.  Combined fire and successive assaults killed James's other two infantry squads.  One of the buildings brewed up and James's officer was caught in the conflagration.  This was another five point win.  The dense table really helped me get my units in close to the objective and assault range unmolested.  A sniper had one chance to kill the engineer's flamethrower but failed to wound.

My fourth and final game was against Rich H's Finnish force.  A win required one of us to hold the objective in the middle of the table--a large house.  A german officer in the woods (at the top of the photo below) provided the secondary objective.  Looking over Rich's veteran list and the large LOS-blocking objective I concluded there was no way I could prevent him from contesting the objective.  I decided to play for the draw and try to rack up the extra points for the secondary and tertiary objectives.

The fighting around the house was cagey but unforgiving.  Rich pushed hard but he couldn't draw LOS to shoot consistently.  I shuffled my scouts and a Guards squad around and used ambush orders on my SMG squad to discourage assaults.

On my left flank a rifle squad spent three turns trekking through a mushy field to capture the German officer and my heroic outflanking assault engineers flame-throwered Rich's sniper and his deep recon squad (but only after it had killed my feckless ZiS-3).

By the end of turn six I had two attrited squads contesting the center building and Rich's veterans and flame-thrower team (which had already killed my lethargic SU-76) were closing in.  I caught a break--finally for my rolling in this game--and ended the game on turn 6 with clutch roll.  I would have been hard pressed to contest the house for another turn.

 I ended the tournament with two wins, a draw, and loss, but I managed to claim two bonus points in each of my games so I finished with 16 out of 20 points.  I was surprised to learn that this put me towards the bottom of the allied table!  The games were enjoyable and it was great to put some names to faces.

Act 3

The combination of venue and organization made for a fantastic tournament.  The prize support was neck deep.  Twenty-two people traveled from far and wide to Cardiff for this event and it's easy to see why.  I'm looking forward to the event next year.

There are a few ways this event could be improved.  These are minor suggestions and I'll be doing my best to attend next year even if the event is a straight repeat!
1.  Missions?
The Axis players got absolutely beat to death.  Just about all of them finished in the single digits.  This suggests that they got the short end of the stick on the missions.  Some will say the more experienced tournament players go for the Allied lists because they are stronger, but that doesn't explain the pounding inflicted on the Axis players.  The tables were fantastic, and I'm a big fan of having a mixture of heavy, medium, and light terrain tables.  Even though the desert table was bald it had two massive hills to block LOS.  My suggestion would be to keep the themed tables but use book missions with players rolling off for attacker/defender as normally.  The secondary and tertiary scoring system was great and I wouldn't change that at all.
2.  Down with that sort of thing?
Something that left a bad taste was to see a few players reverse-moving recce units towards the enemy.  This is a well-known RAW exploit (the rules demand that a recce move be in reverse, but a wheeled recce unit can make two 90-degree turns before moving).  Certainly nobody in our gaming group has the chutzpah to do this.  My suggestion would be for the TO to knock this on its head either in the rulespack or at the player briefing.  There were a few other instances of WAACism--a player denying LOS from unit A to B but then claiming LOS from unit B to A with one of his dice.
3.  Comp?
In addition to missions, the TOs might want to look at the relative strengths of the Allied and Axis lists from the tournament as a possible explanation for the crushing Allied victory.  There was a good bit of recce-spam in the Allied lists, and none in the Axis lists.  Flamethrowers were much more prevalent on the Allied side of the table too.  Thankfully I don't think anyone brought a vehicle flame-thrower.  We're a big fan of the Australian 2014 Cancon tournament rulespack.  It is fairly straightforward:
1.  No dice limit.  2.  Single generic platoon only.  3.  No vehicle flame and 0-1 infantry flame.  4.  Inexperienced indirect fire requires a 6 then a 6 to hit on their ranging shots, then 6, then 5, etc.

These are minor suggestions.  This was the most fun I've had at a tournament in a long time.  The atmosphere was great, the venue fantastic, and the organization was flawless.  A big thanks to Ian, Jack, Dave, Rich and the rest of the organizers for a great weekend.

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