Below is the after-action report for the Bitter Woods tournament held in August of 2015. (The version posted on the BPA website was abridged to fit the constraints of the yearbook.)
It was the end of an era, with 2015 being the last year that the Bitter Woods tournament would be feted at the Host, but it was also the beginning of era with yours truly taking over the reins as the Gamester for the event. From the tight confines of the Heritage to the wide open spaces of Lampeter, over an eight day stretch, the Bitter Woods faithful battled it out in Lancaster.
During the Grognard rounds, several things were notable:
- No bidding occurred, despite much wringing of hands beforehand on this topic. Players chose to randomly roll for scenario and sides or they resorted to the age-old practice of one player choosing the scenario and the other getting to choose the side. When all was said and done, the results spoke for themselves as regards to balance. (“Shark Repellent”, which allowed players more than 1000 AREA below their opponent’s rating to choose their sides, was exercised.)
- Game length did not seem to be an issue. Many six-turn games went over five hours while some of the eight turn scenario matches approached eight hours in duration.
- Only one match was observed to have been played using the Compass Games edition of the game. (This was the first year that the Compass Games edition of the game was the default version of the game to be used. )
- Three different big-board versions of the game were set up at one point leading to no small amount of consternation. In future years, some additional planning will need to occur to ensure usage of these doesn’t negatively impact the ability of others to get their games set up in the designated area.
- As always, Kevin Hacker was creative – he successfully shocked 28/109 on his German opening which increases the chance of that unit taking a step loss from 16.7% to 67%.
- Everybody seems to know to use the VdH paratrooper 18AM random event to disrupt US artillery usage on 18AM. Equally, everyone, including this GM, forgets to plan for that possibility by dispersing their US artillery on 17PM!
- Numerous sharp openings seem to be in vogue these days – attacking 14AC with 20 or 28 factors on the opening turn can create some very unique opportunities for the Germans in the 5th Panzer Armee area.
On Friday night, after seven days of cardboard combat, the traditional Grognard evening challenge round was held with four players participating. Despite having gone 4-0 during the preliminary rounds, Michael Mitchell chose not to challenge since he wouldn’t be able to participate in the weekend semi-finals, thus ensuring he left the Bitter Woods competition undefeated. The top two seeds, Bill Morse and Tom Gregorio, were spared this process as several potential challengers were exhausted and the prospect of having to play, and win, in the wee hours proved not to be too promising. Bill and Tom were joined in the semi-finals by Forrest Pafenberg and Jeff Hacker.
This match proved to be anticlimactic as circumstances dictated an early concession from Forrest.
This was the second time Tom and Jeff played at WBC as they’d matched up earlier in the Grognard portion of the event. Tom, again, was the Germans in an eight turn scenario. Some early highlights included a weaker form of the Hacker’s gambit with an infantry and Middleton garrisoning Clervaux. (The intent of this gambit is to slow down the German advance in the south but the standard response these days is to trap the Allied units in that town and bypass it on both flanks.) At the end of the day, Tom won a 2-1(-1), a fifty-fifty shot at forcing an Allied retreat, at Eupen which secured the VP and match for his Germans.
Bitter Woods Finals:
Shortly after 5PM on Saturday, Tom Gregorio and Bill Morse got down to it. Bill was the 2014 event winner while Tom had six prior championships giving him ample street cred. Tom chose the scenario, the eight turn, and Bill chose to be the Americans.
- The opening went well for Tom’s Germans. He used his normal, and possibly outdated, opening but that was sufficient to build the bridges in front of Clervaux and Vianden. In an ominous sign, two things were noted at the end of the turn: No US units were lost, or damaged, and, more critically, Bill confiscated Tom’s “little white die that could”. The Americans counterattacked on 16AM and killed the German infantry that had the temerity to advance into the position that the US 99/395 had been evicted from earlier. On the next turn, 16PM, the Germans were hamstrung by a series of engagements. After his turn, Tom realized that his good luck die from turn 1 was nowhere to be found. On the US half of 16PM, Bill still had a full complement of units so he threw out three units as speed bumps for the next German turn. Such a provocative deployment is usually not feasible but the US position was, indeed, that strong.
- Over the next three turns, 17AM through 18AM, the Germans didn’t get much done. Peiper was ineffectual, Skorzeny wasn’t able to sneak through an Allied ZOC and Tom’s pleading for the usage of the die that brought him good fortune on the first turn was steadfastly denied. Tom was just going to have to deal with the fact that Bill knew how to play the game and was not going to make any tactical mistakes. With the ‘special’ die securely tucked in Bill’s pocket it seemed as if all hope was lost. One fortuitous D4 result in front of the German 7th army did ensure that the US 10th Armored would be delayed in front of Bastogne but both Tom and Bill knew that that wasn’t a huge deal. The German 6th Panzer Army tried to bull their way across the Ambleve but was stymied in front of Stavelot for four turns. The 18AM random event was the Commandos – they had a 2/3 chance of negatively impacting individual Allied units traversing the space these Ubermensh occupied. Unfortunately, they turned out to be Unmensch and numerous US units rolled through with impunity. In the center and south, German units infiltrated forward; a few surrounded US units were marched off into captivity but, for the most part, the US had the game well in hand. Both players enjoyed the Lancaster Host pulled pork and, apparently, this is Tom’s new “good luck” dish.
- The turning point in the game occurred on the US half of the 18PM turn: Bill launched a high-odds US counterattack to secure his flank north of Malady, an advance allowing him to hold on to the Ambleve River line another turn. Unfortunately, Bill neglected to account for the availability of German artillery and then, hoping to borrow some Tommy luck, his usage of the little white die was rewarded with a six which meant his US units were thrown back. This resulted in his secondary defensive line now being exposed on the next German turn; Tom wasted no time in sending a probe forward that resulted in the capture of the Francorchamps dump! Dietrich, an SS Mech Regiment, and another infantry surged forward to garrison that hex. The Germans broke through at Parker’s crossroads and sent Lehr Recon on a fruitless hunt for the Samree dump. Bill’s response was to eliminate Lehr Recon with elements of the 82nd airborne.
- Both players were now groggy – it was after midnight. The AC was cranking, the bystanders were in full kibitzing mode, and both players were exhibiting the tunnel vision that is associated with gaming exhaustion. Both players neglected to notice they didn’t roll the 19AM random event. Bill defended in the south in such a manner that ensured he’d be losing a few units each turn and both players were taken aback on 19PM when it became clear that the Axis were going to garner a VP from killing 18+ Allied units. The Germans locked in additional VPs by securing an Ourthe bridge crossing, Parker’s Crossroads, the Francorchamp dump, and losing only one German mech. Trois Pont may have also been German but both players could barely remember their own names, let alone properly account for the VP space control. Shortly after 1:15AM, Bill returned the little white die and conceded.
- A special shout-out is extended to Jeremy Osteen for letting so many folks use his custom Bitter Woods big-board set. The envious slobberings were easily wiped down between matches and it made play sooooo much easier for those of us with failing eyesight and fumble-prone fingers.
- AHIKS was running an “Iron Man” competition linked to this WBC event and, in return with putting up with a statue of the hulk wearing a grass hula skirt on the map, Randy bestowed upon the Bitter Woods tournament winner a wide variety of prizes. (Sadly, the statue was not one of them.) Thank you, AHIKS!
- As always, thank you, Bruno and Bill, for running the Grognard event and ensuring that all us cardboard pushers had ample opportunity to game our brains out.
- Participation was up in 2015, from 21 to 25, while the game count slipped slightly from 45 to 42. Thank you Bitter Woods fans!
- While Bill’s mom was allegedly made happy by his big BWD wood plaque in 2014, Tom’s mom was oblivious and still thinks of wargaming as guys in war paint running around the Amish countryside. Tom’s coworkers are under the belief that this event is some form of adult “Rumspringa” in Lancaster and he doesn’t have the patience to try to correct them. In any case, the 2015 champ thanks the 2014 champ for a very memorable DBW match!