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Monday, 28 April 2014

The Art of War - After Action Review



This past weekend (26-28 April) Matt and I took a trip up to Sutton-in-Mansfield near Nottingham for the inaugural the Art of War tournament. The format was Late War 1750 points with some juicy list restrictions as follows.

The organisers used the rankings to determine what list (Tank, Mechanised or Infantry) someone could bring.

Ranked 1-16 OR attended the 2013 UK Masters

A ‘Tank Company’ without penalty. If they decided to use a ‘Mechanised Company’ they would be penalized 6 points from their final score. If they decided to take an ‘Infantry Company’ the penalty would be 9 points from their final score. ‘Fortified Companies’ would not be permitted.

Ranked 17-32

A ‘Tank Company’ or ‘Mechanised Company’ without penalty. If they decided to use an ‘Infantry Company’ they would be penalized 6 points at the end of the tournament. ‘Fortified Company’ would not be permitted.

All other Entrants

No penalties and ‘Fortified Companies’ permitted.

With this in mind Matt and I chose our lists and set out on some practice games in the weeks leading up to the tournament (about 12 apparently according to Matt!). Matt ran a Finnish Infantry Company "Jaakarikomppania". As I have said before a very good list and one that Matt knows how to use properly.
















I decided to run a US Infantry Company, 2nd ID from Devils Charge. I soon discovered in our practice games that this was a mistake as my playing style meant that I wasn't able to use the list as effectively as I could. It turns out I am rather an aggressive player and don't like sitting in my foxholes.
















The journey to the event was probably the worst I've ever taken to the North of England. It took 6 and a half hours to travel 170 miles on the motorway. That's an average of 26 mph on a road where the speed limit is 70 mph! Our plan on going out on the lash and having a curry on the Friday night was therefore a non-starter. We did however set each other a target for the tournament which was not to get 6-1'd all tournament or get 2 wins. Easily achievable we thought.






We saw the venue in person for the first time on Saturday morning and all I can say is, Wow! The Art of War tournament was hosted by the Sanctuary Gaming Centre and they have essentially converted a very gothic looking church into a wargamers heaven. There were over 36 6 foot by 4 foot tables to use. Chatting to the owner, Richard, at the weekend he said that they could have put more tables in and really maximised the space but they wanted to keep an open feel to the venue to allow gamers to walk around and watch games and importantly have the space to play without feeling like they're jostling for space with other gamers.





















The hall set up for the tournament










Some of the tables










Some of the tables










Some of the tables










Some of the tables







The venue was full of little touches as well such as each table having two little wooden stools to sit on (essential for a full day's worth of gaming), an on-site cafe and a gaming shop to buy your new army when you rage quit your current one after a particularly bad round. It is well worth a visit if you're in the area and the local gamers are very lucky to have such a place on their door step.






The prize support was just jaw dropping as well. Along with the usual toys the organisers (Steve, Tim and Leigh) dispensed with the usual trophies and made up a load of beautifully and tastefully done pictures for you to hang in your house. There were prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd ('nuff said), a "For Valour" prize (more on this later), best painted for beginner, intermediate and expert respectively, "Best Newcomer" and a "Giant Killer" prize. So lot's of awards up for grabs!










Excuse the young lad dashing through the photo
















Also impressive were the tournament organisers themselves. Matt and myself are very new to the whole tournament scene and it can sometimes feel a little bit intimidating at first when you walk into one. But not at the Art of War. As soon as Matt and I walked through the door they came over from where they were and introduced themselves and welcomed us to the venue. It's a small thing but one that creates a massive impact especially on new players.


Following the catch-ups with friends new and old it was time to register and again we were impressed. A high quality card printed score card was presented to all the players on registration (with all your details pre-filled!) and an "Intelligence Briefings" booklet.























Again this was a very nice touch as it contained everybody's army lists and even had a short bio about each player. Again it's the small touches like this that really make it a stand-out event.






Once registration was over the first round draw was announced and would you believe it I drew Matt. God damn it! Once we got to the tables they announced the mission, "Encounter". At least it wasn't "Free-for-All" which is my most hated mission.


Matt and I set up and it was rapidly starting to feel like déjà-vu. I mean what are the odds of travelling over 6 hours with my most regular opponent and then drawing them in the first round? I smelt a rat and strongly suspected that Matt had slipped the tournament organisers a wad of used £20 notes to set up a grudge match!










Seriously?! I travel six and a half hours in rush hour traffic to play this guy? C'mon!










































Any illusions I had about us going easily on each other were quickly dispelled as we went at it hammer and tongs and set out to not only grab objectives but break each other as well. Unfortunately for me Matt was able to pin down my advance on the left flank whilst his went in on the right and grabbed the objective and broke my army. A convincing 6-1 win to Matt. Well done to Matt but it now increased the pressure on me to win 2 games.






Round 2 came and it was here that the tournament organisers again introduced a nice little touch. On all the pillars they not only posted the draw but also photos of the current top 2 players (invariably Bill Wilcox!) but also of the current giant killer and best newcomer. Again a small touch but one that added that little something to the whole event.






I drew Graham K, a veteran of the UK tournament scene and a thoroughly nice guy to boot. Graham ran a Kampfgruppe Peiper list with out Peiper. A very aggressive looking force that included 2 King Tigers, gulp! I had never faced King Tigers before so this would be a real learning experience for me. The mission was announced as "Counter Attack".
















Again we went at it very aggressively and I was lucky enough to knock out a King Tiger early on with my artillery. Graham was all over my deployment area within a turn or two and it turned into a real firefight around the objective with some hard and fast assaults that unfortunately for Graham didn't move me off the objective. On the left flank I was lucky enough to get my infantry over to the objective and dig in. My Stuarts then arrived and caused havoc in his rear before dying but then my Tank Destroyers and Bazookas started whittling him down. In the end time was called and I won, but it wasn't a clean or decisive victory on my part as it was more down to Graham's bad luck with his dice and my fortune in reaching the objective quickly enough to dig in. A 4-3 to me (and importantly a much needed win).














































Graham however was a great guy to play against. Often he would point things I could have done, always at his expense, and allow the units to take those actions. Although none of these in isolation were game changing they did illustrate real sporting play. I nominated Graham for the valour award but more impressive was that others that were watching my game were also impressed with his behaviour and had also nominated him.






Round 3 was announced and I drew Alex B, again a real veteran of the circuit and a tournament organiser himself. Alex had the "Panzer Ausbildungs Abteilung" out of Desperate Measures. Again lots of Tigers and a King Tiger or two. I was no longer as intimidated knowing that my artillery could at least do something against them. The mission was "Hold the Line".


















We placed our objectives and again went to work. This battle went very differently for me. The table pretty much dictated that I had to sit there and try and whittle him down as he advanced. I was lucky to again kill a Tiger and a King Tiger early on. His Panzer III Ls and Tigers assaulted into the wood were the infantry were holding on and although they bounced a couple of assaults eventually the combination of direct fire and repeated tank assaults pushed them out of the wood and pushed them back onto the objective which was in the open. By this time however my Stuarts arrived from reserve and drove right into the flanks of his Panzer III Ls and his Grenadiers mounted in their half tracks and annihilated them. My tank destroyers came on and did nothing (all misses!) and then got ripped apart by a fusillade of shots by the Tigers. With the infantry now routed and nothing I could contest with the game ended.

























The first assault goes in










Infantry finally pushed out of the wood




















Tank destroyers arrive










And die!















The Stuarts do their thing










The last turn and the field is lost








Whilst it was a loss it was only a 4-3 loss so kudos to me. I think my opponent certainly felt that it was a hard won win. As an aside it turns out that Alex runs a blog and is a part of a group called the "Reluctant Conscripts" just as well I didn't choose that name then!






Round 4 was the following morning and as was inevitable I had a stinking hangover from the night before. I drew a lovely chap called Keith who was a real old school gentleman wargamer. Keith was running a Panzerkompanie from "Blood, Guts and Glory". The mission was "Cauldron". The board really did not suit Keith as it was a ruined city board so plenty of concealment and bullet proof cover for my grunts to hide in. Again it would be a game where I'd have to pretty much sit there and take it.


















Keith deployed very well and was able to launch an assault in his first turn that successfully pushed a platoon out of some of their buildings and was contesting on turn 1! After that it turned into a real slog fest with him trying to whittle down my infantry more. I wiped out his infantry platoon and thought I was safe. Not so! He then drove his tanks into the buildings in an effort to boot me off the objective. He was successful in his second go and finally pushed me off and that was game. Another loss to me. He talked me through some of the things he would have done differently afterward if he were me and I learnt a lot from him. A true wargaming gent as I say.










































After lunch it was time for the final showdown and no pressure for me or Matt as he got 6-1'd by now and was still on only one win.






Round 5 was drawn and I drew another Mark, seriously what are the odds!? Mark had the Panzer Ausbildungs Verband from "Desperate Measures". The mission was called and it was...... "Free-for-All", groan! I hate this mission more than any other as it just always turns into a real slog fest for me with none of the fun uncertainty with reserves etc. Although I do get that its the most "fair" mission there is.
















We deployed and rolled off to see who had the first go and it was me. Damn it, no bombardments! Oh well. I sat still and pushed my Stuarts and Tank Destroyer's up the right flank hoping to perhaps grab an objective off him. Mark then proceeded in one the most methodical displays I had seen all tournament. He not only pre-measured where he wanted certain units off his to end up but also where I was likely to end up and how it would then affect him for flank shots. However he nearly made a howler of a mistake but checked himself as he nearly moved forward off his objective which would have allowed my Stuarts and Tank Destroyers to grab it on the next turn. As it was we then went at it with all guns blazing. I was trying to pick off his Panzer platoons and he was targeting my artillery and infantry with his tanks in an effort to create the conditions for a successful assault. As it was we ran out of time and even though he was near to breaking me the game ended. Under the "Corrivalry" scoring system we both ended up with a draw but it was counted as a loss for us both but he got the balance of the points.




































The prize giving came swiftly afterwards and I got none and Matt narrowly missed out on the best beginner painting prize with his gorgeous Finns. It was good to see Army Dave from the Breakthrough Assault guys getting the Best Newcomer, especially as he only had 6-1 results all tournament. Admittedly twice they were 6-1's against him but at least he was consistent in his scoring!






Whilst we did not achieve our objectives of not getting 6-1'd or winning 2 games each Matt and I both had fun and the conversation on the way back was mostly positive.


I cannot emphasise enough how much of a good experience this tournament was. Everything from the opponents I faced, the venue, the tournament organisers with their patience when it came to questions and issues, right through to the little touches were amazing and certainly set the bar very high for other tournaments. I for one will be planning to go the Art of War Too in September. Hopefully I may see you there!









I award the tournament 5 Iron Crosses out of 5.