Hard Going for Laurelists ...
Heavy competition with other events nearly halved last year's
record attendance. Still, competition was tough as many former
laurelists and semi-finalists returned to no avail. Only one
defending laurelist (Greg Thatcher), returned to the Final. In
fact, he was the only former laurelist to do so as the event
continues to defy repeated success with only eight players having
earned laurels more than once in eight years. Jay Fox, Eric Brosius,
and Greg Thatcher pitched in as assistants to allow the GM to
play for the first time in three years. This game sometimes runs
right up to the two hour limit, requiring GMs to hurry the games
along. It's difficult to do this, answer rules questions, and
play your own game at the same time.
The three preliminary heats yielded 17 unique winners. The
GM had the biggest win of the first heat, by nine points, but
was later surpassed by the wins of Yoel Weiss and Tom Johnston.
There were no blowouts, or ties for first, as happened last year.
17 players participated in multiple heats, including Joe Pabis
who got the win he needed on his third try.
When the call for semi-finalists rang out, there were only
two no-shows out of the 25 qualifiers, allowing alternates Eric
Brosius and Chris Terrell to step in. Defending champion Charlie
Kersten was among these semi-finalists, but was defeated in a
close game where the spread between first and last place was
only nine points. Eric Freeman had the biggest semi-final win
by 14 points. In the semi-fianl with yours truly, Brian Kirchner
got out to an early lead by means of scoring cards, but I took
over the lead midgame by means of superior board position. In
the final stretch, however, David Buchholz and I exchanged blows,
allowing Brian to surpass us both.
The first turn of the Final didn't turn up any unusual cards,
but there was a "score any region" card, and Greg bid
his 12, since he had the most valuable home territory in New
Castile. No one overbid with a 13, since that would be overkill,
and therefore Greg opened a nine-point lead. The others tried
to make Greg pay for this, first by Eric emptying Greg's home
province of men, and then Paul locking down the province so Greg
was unable to make use of a "move your Grande to any region"
the next turn.
Turn 2 had Greg choosing the 2 action card, which sent some
people home from other players' courts and provinces, and it
ended up such that everyone bid low on the third turn, allowing
Greg an incredibly cheap pick of the King card with a bid of
7. He was able to retake his home province during the scoring
phase with his pieces in the Castillo, so he did not suffer too
badly, or lose the lead. At the end of the first scoring round
he had 35 points while his nearest competitor, Eric, was held
to 23. During the next three rounds he was also able to move
the King twice more, and use his 1-13. The lead opened up to
15 points over Eric.
Turn 7 was one of the most interesting parts of the game.
Eric went second, and moved the King, setting up an interesting
scoring decision for the third place player, David. Up for grabs
was a "Score the first place in all regions" card.
Greg was currently not in first place in any region, and winning
by 15. Eric had set up the board whereby if David used the card,
Eric would score 15, tying Greg, and David would score 12, with
Brian and Paul scoring 10 and 9 points respectively. David elected
to burn the card, probably since it allowed Eric to get farther
ahead of him (their current gap was four points).
The next turn, Greg went first and chose a "Score any
region" card, and after choosing his home region again,
that pretty much sealed the game.
Since I'm such a big believer in board position, I really
like the Move the King card. I thought that it was interesting
to note that the first and second place players each got to use
it three times. Brian, in third place, used it twice. Paul (5th)
only used it once, and David (4th) never used it.
The tournament ran pretty well, and I still like the two hour
time limits. I think for next year I will simplify the adjudication
process for long games, as the one I have now is cumbersome.
More importantly, I intend to put down some more rules clarifications;
I had a number of questions this year about the card misprints
(again), the veto card, and what happens when players accidentally
dial illegal provinces during execution of certain actions. See
you next year!