164 Hours of DonCon - the 2009 WBCs
J. R. Tracy
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New York
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I've been to every DonCon going back to the Camp Hill days when Avalon Hill was still running the show. There have been a few constants over the years: good friends, great gaming, not a lot of sleep, and Don Greenwood himself. This past week was another excellent convention, with a few fresh titles, several new faces, and a lot of fun.


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1. Board Game: Unhappy King Charles! [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:1317]
J. R. Tracy
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Arriving late Monday afternoon with Red Ted Raicer and Dutch Raspler on board, we checked in and I looked up Gary Phillips for a scheduled game of Unhappy King Charles!. Gary had the Godly, while I was the Kingly. The early game saw a lot of sparring in the south between Hopton and Waller while other generals built up their strength. We fought to a standstill in Cornwall, but I caught a break when the naval track briefly went my way. I took advantage of the opportunity to seize Bristol, anchoring my position in Wales and the Midlands. Up north, the Convenanters appeared to lay siege to Newcastle. To Gary's dismay, I pulled the alt-hist card that sent them packing. Newcastle still fell to the Lord General, but the delay proved fatal for the Parliamentarian cause. Cromwell desperately tried to recover the situation in the south, but the princes converted spaces with mad abandon. A big disparity in the quality of our final cards sealed the deal and preserved Charles on the throne.


A dour Parliamentarian



Trouble oop north
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2. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2241]
J. R. Tracy
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Tuesday morning Dan ManMountain Dolan and I playtested Storm Over Dien Bien Phu, a new title in the works at MMP. This is an area game depicting the 1954 siege in Indochina, using the same system as Storm Over Stalingrad. Dan took the first crack with the Viet Minh and while he cracked the perimeter, he couldn't get to the airfield. I fared a little better with the Reds in our second game. The system works, and the game is fun and evocative. There are some still some spots that need a little smoothing but we left Nick Richardson with some suggestions that appeared to show promise later in the week.




General Giap



Gabrielle under assault
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3. Board Game: Hive: The Mosquito [Average Rating:7.49 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.49 Unranked]
J. R. Tracy
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Dan and I got in a couple quick games of Hive up in the bar over burgers - I just managed to take the rubber match in a best of three set.
 
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4. Board Game: March Madness [Average Rating:6.25 Overall Rank:7521]
J. R. Tracy
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I decided to try my hand at a little sports gaming and dove into the March Madness tournament. I'd never played the game before but the luck of the draw allowed me to pick early and I pulled the '73 UCLA Bruins, the best team in the game. I could've had the '96 Bulls and it wouldn't have done me much good as Jeffrey Martin's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers rolled over me 86-58. I enjoyed the game - theme and gameplay match up well. I'll have to track down a copy for myself.
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5. Board Game: Sports Illustrated Baseball [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:4434]
J. R. Tracy
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Next up was Chris Palermo's Sports Illustrated Baseball event. I picked in the middle of the pack, and all the Reds, Indians and Yankee teams I had my eye on were already gone. I ended up with the '86 Red Sox, a team I saw play 30 times at Fenway. I only managed a few games this year, but my favorite was when Pete Stein's '69 Mets nipped the Rocket 3-1 behind a strong performance by Tom Terrific.
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6. Board Game: Combat Commander: Europe [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:102]
J. R. Tracy
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Wednesday morning I dove into my first wargaming tourney, the Combat Commander: Europe event. I've only played a couple times so I decided to try the mulligan round. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself paired with John Butterfield, one of my favorite designers, responsible for such games as Ambush!, Hell's Highway, and RAF. As it happened, my buddy Dutch was walking Andy Waller (andyinkuwait) through John's Freedom in the Galaxy the night before. John got a kick out of hearing it was still hitting the table.

John and I tackled a new scenario set in Berlin in '45. I always get a little nervous when my order of battle is chock full of cool stuff, because that implies some hefty objectives. Indeed, my Soviets had assault squads, flamethrowers, demo charges, excellent leadership, and a 152mm fire mission in support. My mission: seize the Reichstag. John received a motley assortment of troops ranging from didn't-want-to-be-there Volksgrenadiers all the way to hard core bitter-ender SS, with decent leadership, good support weapons, and a lot of fortifications. John's right flank was a little overextended, so I opened the game by eliminating them. John then feared a bolt for the map edge (I could score victory points by exiting and re-entering) and redeployed some defenders. This left an opening for me so I made a sharp turn into the objective building, and was inside in force when time pressures caused John to concede. He was scheduled to give demos for his new RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940 and D-Day at Omaha Beach, so he had to scoot. I definitely had the upper hand but John was still in it; more importantly, I was simply enjoying his company and a good game.

My Combat Commander sojourn ended in tears in round two at the hands of Rob Winslow. This time I had the ragtag Germans, defending a corner of Normandy from Rob's dogfaces. I had what I felt was a pretty strong position, keeping my best leader and troops in a central position, ready to respond to a threat on either flank. Unfortunately, a sniper topped the leader and he was unable to direct the defense. Rob quickly rolled up both flanks and was threatening my high-VP objectives when he put me over the casualty cap and out of my misery. It was a fun scenario but I made a couple poor choices with what proved to be very precious Recover cards, and didn't have them when I truly needed them. Good tourney, well organized by Joel and Bryan.



John defends the beating heart of evil



Freedom in the Galaxy



Yours truly



Trouble in the hedgerows



Like a kitten with a ball of yarn
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7. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:133]
J. R. Tracy
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I nipped down to the ballroom for the first heat of Ra, joining David and Alice Travis and Marilyn Flowers. I found myself invoking the all-father on nearly every spin around the table, managing a win based largely on monuments. Alice was a real threat down the stretch but she didn't manage to get the top sun total at the end, which might've made the difference. I have to sheepishly admit I completely forgot about Ra the rest of the week and by the time I realized it the later rounds were in progress - such is life at DonCon!
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8. Board Game: Alhambra [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:393]
J. R. Tracy
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Time for some more Euro action, this time Alhambra. I was lucky enough to draw a four-seat table (almost all the games were five-handed) and even luckier to find some solid players at my table - Sean McCullough, Arthur Field, and the youthful Manual Bravo (might not have the spelling right on that one). Sean proceeded to mop the table with us, though Manuel made a very good showing despite constantly overpaying. Arthur and I both had fistfuls of blue cards and could only sigh in disgust as a procession of useless shacks passed through that corner of the board. Meanwhile, Sean was enjoying exact change for tasty buildings, and earning his Master Mason card as he built a wall of extraordinary magnitude. A fun group but I was out of this one from about the third tile on.



Sean begins to pull away
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9. Board Game: Can't Stop [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:621]
J. R. Tracy
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Finally, a chance to deploy the full range of my intellectual capacity: Can't Stop. Sadly, my best was not enough as another member of my crew, Chris 'Campoverdi' Greenfield, romped to victory over Bob Sohn, Davario Clinkscale, and myself. This event is a hoot, with a massive crowd fighting for tables and copies of the game, and endless bad advice from the milling peanut gallery. I followed this with a couple games in the bar, the highlight of which was David Doktor nearly closing out the board on a single session but falling short because he just didn't know when to say when.



Davario can't stop
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10. Board Game: PitchCar [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:314]
J. R. Tracy
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It's not DonCon without a raucous session of PitchCar, this time under the stairs on the way to the ballrooms. Joe Doughan organizes this and we usually play teams. We had a good mix, though early on we thought we had a set of ringers on our hands. It proved to be just early luck and the game evened out over the three laps. Team Silver won with a 2nd and 3rd, over Team White in 1st and 4th. Teams Black and Gold failed to place but everyone was a threat going into the final couple turns.


The game isn't supposed to be this scary
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11. Board Game: Storm Over Stalingrad [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:1844]
J. R. Tracy
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I've had Storm Over Stalingrad since it came out but never had a chance to play it. Brian Youse took me through a training game Wednesday night and Thursday morning I opened the tourney with a first round matchup against my ancient Advanced Squad Leader nemesis, Jim Mehl. Jim was also new to the game so we decided to bid two for the Soviets (they had to hold two riverbank areas to win) and diced for sides. He got the Reds and away we went. I immediately seized the Kurgan for the extra card draw and began patiently working against the flanks. My first hand sucked, with both Sniper and both Engineer cards, useful but not usually until later in the game. I wasn't too worried as that just meant the juicy stuff was yet to come. Sure enough, the midgame saw Pionier-directed Heavy Bombardments devastate Jim's positions, and going into the final turn I had a full ten units in the Tennis Racket, one of his last two refuges. Unfortunately, despite a series of high firepower attacks I was unable to evict him and Jim escaped with the win. He went on to finish second in the event.

SoS is a real treat - there is plenty to think about, the cards provide variability from game to game, and it plays in about ninety minutes. This will be a go-to game for short game nights in the future.



Atop the Kurgan
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12. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:47]
J. R. Tracy
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A quick aside on the Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) event. Mike Buccheri, aka malloc, wanted to run a TI3 event; I sponsor a game every year so I committed to TI3 and Mike committed to GM the game. He got a pretty good turnout with 25-30 people participating. That's no small achievement because it's a demanding game in terms of both space and time. Mike seized the stage of the auditorium for his very impressive layout for the eight-seated final table. My roommate Dutch Raspler emerged as the galactic emperor, and I think Mike might have the numbers to make this a regular event going forward.



Galaxy in the balance
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13. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
J. R. Tracy
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I managed several games of Dominion in the bar with old friend Jim Doughan, his sister Beth, and Steve 'GorGor' Pleva. Always a great game, but I'm still way behind the curve. I have a knack for a few sweet combos but I always seem to fall for the trap of, "What a cool card! I'll buy one more than necessary!" I'm looking forward to trying Dominion: Intrigue too.

 
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14. Board Game: World at War: Eisenbach Gap [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:1564]
J. R. Tracy
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With Advanced Squad Leader off the menu this year, I continued to search around for other tactical gaming options. Having played a couple World at War: Eisenbach Gap scenarios I decided to give the event a try.

I opened against Kevin Shaud in the mulligan round, playing Maelstrom. His heavy Soviet force had to push past my depleted scout company and off the map before a company of Abrams could intervene. Unfortunately for the Warsaw Pact, 1st Tank, the main Russian formation, didn't make it onto the map for two turns and my Abrams were in a position to put a stop to the nonsense before it even got started. Kevin had some hope for a pair of Hind gunships but they were quickly knocked down by my Chaparral missile battery. By the time the 1st Tank showed up, the putative support formations, 33rd and 87th Motorized, were already devastated and 1st Tank soon shared their fate. This is a fast and furious game, but events often turn on the order of the chit draw and this would hold true throughout the tournament.

Next up I faced John Keating in the first round - John was a little rusty with the rules so even though I was 'through' to the second game I helped GM Jeff Schulte by playing John and rounding out the numbers. We tried Blindsided. John's West Germans were racing back to defend a town against my entering Soviets. He got the first couple draws and was in position by the time I approached. NATO forces typically enjoy good to-kill numbers and extended range in this series, so I stayed out of sight in the lee of woods and hills until I could hit the objective with my entire force. Unfortunately, John's missile fire was deadly accurate, and my dead pile was impressive. Most damaging was the early loss of my headquarters, which caused me to lose an activation and left me in open ground for a turn longer than expected. That was enough to seal the deal, as John advanced.

I moved on to play John Vasilakos in Wittman's Ghost. John is a good egg whom I've known for years, both on line and at DonCon. Surprisingly, this was our first game together. Here John had a powerful force of West Germans, including a PanzerGrenadier company and a Leopard II team. I had a lightly-armed airborne company holding a town, with 1st Tank (of Maelstrom fame) riding to the rescue. The Leo IIs are some of the best armor in the game, so I eyed them warily. However, on this day 1st Tank's timing was impeccable, as they made it onto the map before John's panzers could activate. Now, instead of his armor interdicting my movement, the reverse was true. My to-kill numbers were much worse than his, but I had a huge advantage in numbers. That in turn forced John to be cagey even though the clock was working against him. Ultimately he was unable to close on the objective in force, so my paras held on for the win.

In the semifinals, I faced John Keating again, this time in Hold the Line. John's British had to hold off the mighty 74th Guards Tank. John had a light force of infantry and recon troops, albeit well-armed with Milan missiles, both on foot and vehicle-mounted. He also received a pair of missile-armed Lynx helicopters. My 74th Guards however had a company of BMP-mounted infantry and a host of T80s. The T80s weren't quite up to LeoII or Challenger standards, but they could move and fire much more effectively than any other Pact model. John deployed atop a ridge and in the objective town. I moved into a tree line and what building cover I could, and braced for the inevitable missile volleys. John hit me hard, killing some armor and all my BMPs. Fortunately my precious infantry survived, along with their all-important SA-16 SAMs. My return fire knocked John off the high ground. John's copters caught a couple more platoons but my SAMs quickly knocked them down, assisted by some Saggers. With that, I pressed forward, and despite the loss of my HQ I made it into the town to eliminate the infantry with T80 fire. With my own groundpounders moving up, John conceded and I moved on to the final.

I joined Ted Drozd for the final, which was short in duration but did not lack for drama. Ted had a bunch of events in the next couple hours so instead of the scheduled meaty scenarios, Jeff suggested Opening the Spigot. This was set in 1985, with a company of West German M48A5s supporting a Milan-armed British infantry platoon, against a swarm of T64s. Ted used an up front defense for his NATO forces, so I decided to close quickly and use assault combat. Ted had an advantage in to-kill numbers and armor saves, but we had the same values for assault fire and armor doesn't matter in assault combat. So, I tiptoed through the forests and descended in a rush. A picket M48 picked off a couple T64 platoons, and three more died killing off the British infantry, before Ted counterattacked with his HQ and remaining Pattons. We threw dice at each other for a couple turns before the dust settled with Ted the last man standing. We wrapped it up in 22 minutes, probably about the length of time actually portrayed.

Ted got the plaque, but I scored an Osprey book on my beloved T80s. Thank you Jeff for running a slick event, and accommodating my schedule as I bounced between this and Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42.



The Ghost of Wittman considers his options



1st Tank, in position and ready to party



Jeff looks on as Ted prepares to summon a storm of sixes
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15. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:48]
J. R. Tracy
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I only managed one game of Race for the Galaxy, with Steve, George Young, Bill Edwards, and Ed Kendrick. It wasn't a very impressive effort on my part. I tried a multi-production strategy, with several cards rewarding diversity. Unfortunately I went 0-for-3 on successive fishing expeditions for production planets, and when I finally got rolling again Steve was double-producing and burying us all.

 
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16. Board Game: The Kaiser's Pirates [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:3391]
J. R. Tracy
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Andy Maly introduced The Kaiser's Pirates to GorGor, Bill, and myself. We stumbled our way through a game with some early rough spots but we enjoyed smooth sailing by the end. Bill took the win when he defeated an Armed Merchant Cruiser Steve played out of his hand, racking up 20 points for Bill. I'm undecided on the game - I like it well enough but it seems a little long for what it is. It's a good looking presentation, though the dice icons are ridiculously small. Being colorblind, I was actually trying to count the sides on pictures of dice that were less than 2mm across. Anyway, I own it and will certainly play it again, but I think I'll try the team option next time to see if that adds to the experience.



Ich bin ein Pirate
 
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17. Board Game: Crokinole [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:75]
J. R. Tracy
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I jammed out a few quick games of Crokinole Saturday night. GorGor and I beat Dan Dolan Jr. and his buddy Ryan within an inch of their lives, with a passerby showing a lot of interest. Steve had to run off for a Puerto Rico heat so the passerby, Sam [last name unknown] and I paired up for a win and a loss against Dan and Ryan. Sam enjoyed the game and had a real knack for it. I ran into him later and he said he will pick up a board for his dad. I was bummed to discover no Crokinole Juniors event this year - I had a blast teaming up with one of Jim Doughan's kids for last year's tournament. It's a superb team game and a great way for kids and adults to game together on an equal footing.
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18. Board Game: Liar's Dice [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:561]
J. R. Tracy
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With expectations well managed, I entered the Liar's Dice event, another mob scene. I was blown out in rapid fashion, losing a couple dice early due to some bad calls by my tablemates, and then making one of my own that cost me my last couple cubes. I still got good value for my twenty minutes. I like these big light events, because they're a great way to meet some new people at the convention. Many of these brief initial encounters blossom into real friendships over the years.



Louise knows a bullshitter when she sees one
 
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19. Board Game: Hansa [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:708]
J. R. Tracy
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Andy Maly once again donned teaching robes to walk George, Greg Schmittgens, and myself through Hansa. This is a trading/set building game set in the Baltic. Players sail around establishing a presence in various ports to collect goods for either sale or conversion into sets for VPs. The trick here is there is only one ship, and the routes are one-way. This has the potential to be a very vicious game, with many ways to screw your neighbors. Greg ran away with the win but I enjoyed a couple nasty moves and look forward to playing this one again. Later, Andy taught Automobile to high acclaim. I missed that one but heard some very good reports.

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20. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:2241]
J. R. Tracy
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Nick Richardson of MMP fame is cooking up Proving Ground, a light build-and-fight game inspired in part by Galaxy Trucker. I don't want to give away Nick's ideas, but Brian Youse, Perry Cocke, Gary Phillips, and I had a blast with this one. We had an excellent game with trash talk interspersed with new ideas and suggestions from all parties. This has real potential and could be a hit with clever theming and solid art.



Mexican standoff
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21. Board Game: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:389]
 
J. R. Tracy
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Along with the SoDBP playtest and World at War: Eisenbach Gap, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 tournament was the wargaming highlight of my week. This is another title I've dabbled in, with a couple playings in hand. I liked it well enough but it had some gamey aspects that left me less than thrilled. However, the designer, Uwe Eickert, tweaked the mechanics a bit and I was curious to see how the new rules played out. As it happens, I was very impressed and I had a lot of fun with this event, interweaved with the Eisenbach Gap tourney.

Before the tournament got underway, GorGor and I tried a scenario from the original game using the new mechanics as briefly described by Uwe. In the old system, one player activates units while his opponent interrupts with opportunity fire and expenditure of Command Action Points. A player can pause in his activations, allowing his opponent a turn. We found this devolved into a game of chicken, with players reserving actions for an end of turn flurry. The new mechanics have one player activate a unit, and the opponent respond with a unit activation of his own. The interaction is much more granular, and the tension is superb. In our little test scenario, GorGor's panzers were trying to unseat my monstrous KV2 from a crossroads, an actual historical event that is portrayed in several different game systems. He managed to ding my KV and rolled on to victory, a familiar experience for Steve. We were ready for the tournament itself.

For the first round I drew Mike Nagel, who got in his own practice session the previous evening. Uwe had prepared a set of very small scenarios with the idea opponents would play twice, once each side. For our game, the Soviets held a small town with a couple Maxim and rifle squads, with an SMG squad entering the map carrying a captured courier's pouch. The Germans had a pair each of rifle and panzergrenadier squads, looking to fight their way into town and recover the pouch. This game was dominated by Mike's crappy dice. He simply could not catch a break, and to make things worse, I got a big roll whenever I needed one. My panzergrenadiers quickly blew through Mike's screen and were able to kill off the SMG squad for the win. In return, as the Russians I diced Mike's Germans right off the map, never missing a shot. It was fun playing Mike for the first time after all these years, but as a competitive exercise the dice pretty much took the situation out of our hands.

Next up, Bill Ashbaugh tried a very interesting scenario featuring hidden movement. The Germans occupy a hamlet in the center of grain-covered steppe, with a mass of Soviet infantry on the attack. However, lurking in the grain are a pair of snipers, while the Germans have a pair of hidden squads of their own. As the Russian, I set my snipers well back and killed each HMG unit in turn before my infantry entered the map. Bill managed a couple ambushes with his hidden riflemen but without the HMGs in play, he was quickly overwhelmed. Turning things around, we had a very close game with Bill's Sovs on the attack. I managed to spot his snipers but he used CAPs or cards to hide them again and redeploy through the grain. My own HMGs survived just a little bit longer than Bill's had, dinging his entering infantry. The scenario came down to a fight at the edge of the town - I got lucky and killed off one sniper, improving my chances on my left flank. I was able to hold Bill off here while my engineers maintained the center, and I just managed to eke out the win.

For the final, GorGor and I faced off with a classic Kursk scenario: outnumbered panzers facing swarms of Russian armor. The Germans have a immobilized Tiger on one side of the board, with a group of panzers escorting a prime mover coming to the rescue from the other side. In the middle, four T34s and four T70s are on the attack. The Tiger is a true beast, well armed and armored, but the T34s can fly. We had two terrific games. In the first, my T34s got behind Steve's Tiger and closed in for the kill. I had two opportunities to knock it out with rolls of seven or higher (on two six-siders), but rolled six each time. Steve took advantage of his new lease on life and eliminated my T34s in retaliation, and his relief force bested the balance of my armor for the win. Turning things around, Steve also got to the flank of my Tiger, but when he needed a ten or better he rolled an eleven for the kill. I managed to win the scenario, wiping out all his armor, but my loss of the Tiger meant that GorGor won the tournament on the tiebreaker.

This event was a blast, and Uwe's enthusiastic presence and patient responses to our many questions helped make it a success. The man could sell ice cubes to Eskimos, so the Charlies received by Uwe and his baby should come as no surprise. He has a good product and knows how to pitch it. Also, he had the guts to tweak what was already a pretty successful system, making a good game great.

Afterward, GorGor and I joined Uwe along with Uli Blennemann and Pat Braun of Phalanx Games, and David 'Herr Fuchs' Fox, for a meal at Aryan Bistro. Talk turned quickly from gaming to soccer and back again. It was a very enjoyable meal, and ranks as another high point of the week.



The Dreadnought of Raseiniai



Mike doesn't realize the four in the tray would be his highest roll of the morning



By rights, that Tiger should be dead
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22. Board Game: Slapshot [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:2762]
J. R. Tracy
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Wrapping things up games-wise for me was Slapshot. This event is legendary but I've somehow missed it all these years. I planned on missing it this year too but David Doktor slipped a roofie into my cola and I soon found myself chanting, "Let's go, Rangers!" alongside a dozen lunatics. I don't think much of the game, but I had a lot of fun at the event. Bruce and Keith run a good show and Mark helps keep rowdy participants in order or in the penalty box. At our table I craftily hung back, avoiding the awful possibility of advancing. To my horror, I discovered that despite being in seventh I was eligible for the playoffs! The nightmare continued as I won my first round. Fortunately the spirit of Gordie Howe smiled on me and I was knocked out by Dan Dolan, Jr, and I was able to exit gracefully.



Who are these guys and how did I end up here?
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23. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:15]
J. R. Tracy
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A couple more shout outs before this too-long geeklist draws to a close. First, my buddy GorGor captured the Puerto Rico crown along with his Comedy of Heroes title. Campoverdi won The Republic of Rome, Dutch won TI3 as mentioned above, and Dr. Rob placed second in Imperial - in all, not a bad showing by my Tuesday night crew. Second, another big thank you to Don Greenwood for making this whole thing work; I'm already looking forward to next year.



The Puerto Rico final closes out the con



A busy man finds time to enjoy an old classic
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