Memoir '44 Champions
Back in January, Days of Wonder announced Memoir ‘44’s upcoming expansion, “Through Jungle and Desert,” which would include 6 standard-size scenarios, 2 multi-player Overlord maps, and Combat Card decks for both jungle and desert scenarios. Immediately and sight unseen, GM Sam Edelston decided that the six standard scenarios would be the basis for this year’s WBC tournament. And that the expansion’s two Overlords would be included in the “demonstration” schedule, as well.
Combat Cards are a special 20-card deck that can be used in addition to the regular Command Card deck. Different cards are played at various specified times on your turn or your opponent’s turn, to give special attacking or defensive abilities to one or more units. The new expansion’s Jungle and Desert Combat decks mirror pre-existing Urban and Winter decks.
The tournament scenarios took place in Tunisia, Burma, and Libya. Unlike some of the recent expansions, there are no new units or types of terrain here. The Combat Cards are the one new wrinkle. In rounds 1-4 of this 6-round elimination tournament, they were optional, by mutual consent. In rounds 5-6, they were mandatory.
Special House rules: As was the case last year, some of this expansion’s scenarios normally are played to 5 medals, but since this is an elimination tournament, the GM changed them to 6 medals. Also, one of the scenarios normally has a Sudden Death medal objective, but we played that as a Turn Start Permanent Medal Objective. Finally, because the GM wanted to limit the impact a single lucky card draw could have in an elimination tournament, certain Combat Cards that normally would affect all units were instead limited in scope.
As is customary in Memoir, our format was 2-game matches (each contestant plays both sides of the battle), in a single elimination tournament, with a Mulligan round the night before. We don’t bid for sides. Also, when signing in, every player draws a tiebreaker number (with better numbers going to players who bring a game), and once again, those tiebreaker numbers mattered this year.
Our attendance of 52 was an increase from 49 last year and 44 the year before. About a dozen of the contestants were first-timers at WBC.
This year’s field of players was exceptional, including 9 of WBC’s 13 past Memoir champions! In addition, we had a set of three brothers – Benjamin, Christopher, and Matthew Miller – who have become prominent in the Memoir Online world. Chris, in particular, recently won the Memoir Online League championship an unprecedented four times in a row.
It should also be noted that the winner of this tournament automatically earns the right to compete online for the annual Memoir Championship Trophy. This invitation-only tournament is open only to top finishers from the leading face-to-face and online tournaments. Last year’s WBC champion, Jon Manley, was recently crowned winner of the 2017 Champions Trophy in an incredibly tough field of players.
We also had special prizes this year: Pre-printed maps of the scenarios from the latest Belgian and Dutch Opens.
And now, on to the play-by-play.
Mulligan Round … St. Joseph’s Farm. A classic desert slugfest scenario with mixed forces. Eight American armored units, plus some infantries and an artillery, versus five German heavy tank units and as many infantries. This scenario was chosen for the initial round, so we could give a second chance to any unlucky player who got stuck on the wrong end of a huge Armor Assault and didn’t have a fair chance to fight back. (And, in fact, we did have some one-sided games like that.)
Of the 19 matches, there were 9 sweeps, 9 splits won by Allies, and 1 split won by Axis. The Allies won 27 games, versus 11 for Axis, by an average score of 5.32-3.66 medals and 29.57-17.83 figures. (Surprisingly, the results of Round 1 with the same scenario would be completely different. Rounds 1-4 would prove to be mostly sweeps. But we’re not there yet.)
Highlights: Former champion David Schneider had the biggest wins for both sides: 6-0 as Allies and 6-1 as Axis. Allied 6-1 wins were posted by GM Sam Edelston, Jim McCann, Matthew Miller, ex-champ John Skiba, Brian Wansink, and David Wolfe. The most dangerous pairing of this round was former champs John Skiba vs Joe Harrison (who had just emerged from a grueling, late CCA match), with John winning both ends of their bout.
Old St. Joseph had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. And on his farm he had some tanks … and we certainly did have a boom, boom here and a boom, boom there!
Round 1 … St. Joseph’s Farm. Same scenario as the night before, though with strikingly different results. 13 sweeps, no splits won by Allies, 2 splits won by Axis. The Allies won 13 games and lost 17, with an average score of 4.63-4.77 medals – though figures still slanted the other way, at 27.00-22.08.
Highlights: The biggest win for Allies this time was 6-1, by Chris Miller. There were five 6-2 wins for Axis, by Chris Miller, Alex Bell, Davis Brooks, Philip Royce, and Eric Stein. Former champ Chris Kalmbacher was handed an early exit in a split match against Eric Stein, and ex-champ Jarett Weintraub was swept by Tim Hitchings.
Round 2 … Sbeitla, Tunisia. Another desert battle, but with somewhat more infantries and fewer tanks in the mix. Also, this map has two temporary, last-to-occupy turn-start objectives for either side in the middle.
Out of 16 matches, we had 12 sweeps, 2 splits won by Allies, and 2 splits won by Axis. The Allies won 16 games and lost 16, with an average score of 4.50-4.50 medals and 22.38-22.25 figures. It doesn’t get much more even than that.
Highlights: Former champ Johan Vanhuyse ousted reigning champ Jon Manley, 5-6, 6-4. Caley Roark gave two-time champ Joe Harrison an early exit, 6-4, 6-3. Geoff Heintzelman swept last year’s runner-up, John Kirk. There were no shutouts in this round but, oddly, three players – Patrick Day, Matthew Miller, and Ed Rader – won 6-1, 6-1 sweeps over their opponents.
Round 3 … Hlegu, Burma. Our first jungle scenario. Nine Japanese infantry units against a British force of eight infantries and three armors. The Japanese are mostly in jungle, while the Allies start on a mix of jungle, hill, and open hexes. In the center, there’s a 1-2 hex gap between the opposing forces at the start. This map normally has a Sudden Death exit objective, but for this tournament, we made it a permanent objective worth two medals, which could be claimed only once per game.
Unlike the past couple of years, we had a full complement of 16 players and 8 matches for this round, and in fact, nobody would drop out the rest of the way. Here at Hlegu, we had 5 sweeps, 1 split won by Allies, 2 splits won by Axis. The Allies won 7 games and lost 9, with an average score of 4.88-5.13 medals and 31.75-29.33 figures.
Highlights: Former champions Steve Lollis and David Schneider were swept out of the tournament by, respectively, Chris Miller and Caley Roark. GM Sam Edelston lost a split match to Jeff Cornett, 6-5, 5-6, by 4 figures. (“Maybe I shouldn’t have Countered that General Advance and banzai-charged out of the jungle on my first turn, after all.”) The biggest wins were Johan Vanhuyse, 6-2 for Allies, and Ty Hansen, 6-2 for Axis.
Round 4 … Taukkyan Roadblock. The Japanese all-infantry force here is protected by a mix of jungle and sandbags. The British have superior numbers, and they have some tanks again. Most British units start in the open, but out of range. There’s a 2-3 hex gap between the forces at the start of this battle, forming a treacherous No Man’s Land in the middle of the board.
Once again, most matches were sweeps – 3 out of 4. Allies won 3 games, and Axis won 5. The biggest win was Chris Miller’s 6-1 victory as Allies, in game 1 of his sweep over ex-champ Geoff Heintzelman; Geoff’s Japanese infantry had been damaged by long-range tank fire, and when they finally charged forward, they ran right into a big Assault Center. Meanwhile, in a battle of ex-champs, John Skiba eked out a split-decision win over Johan Vanhuyse, 4-6, 6-3, in a match played with Combat cards. Ty Hansen swept Caley Roark, and Jeff Cornett swept Ed Rader. The average score was 4.75-4.50 medals and 30.67-27.17 figures.
Round 5 … Payagyi, Burma. For the first time, the Japanese have some tanks to match up against the British armored units. And on this map, there’s an even larger No Man’s Land in the middle of the board – this time 3-4 hexes deep, with a fordable stream running across it. A lone bridge over the stream is a last-to-occupy medal hex for both sides. Cross it if you dare! And don’t forget your Combat Cards!
On Board A, Jeff Cornett faced Christopher Miller. In the first game, Jeff’s Japanese invaded on their left flank, crossing the stream and scoring hits, but often missing kills – though he did manage one turn where he killed three weakened units on that flank that had hung on until then. The winning turn for Chris came with the score tied 4-4, when his Armor Assault killed Jeff’s infantry on the bridge and took ground for the final medal, making it a 6-3 victory.
In the rematch, Chris’s Japanese infantry attacked on their right flank, through the jungle, pressing Jeff’s infantries against the back row, and killing three of them there. Then, the fighting moved to the middle of the board, around the bridge. This battle also ended 6-3, in Chris’s favor, to sweep the match, though it was a lot closer than the score suggests.
On Board B, John Skiba’s Japanese faced Ty Hansen’s British forces. Ty started the game with 3 Left cards, so he pushed hard on that flank, but John had an Assault there, as well as a Spider Hole Combat Card and Ambush, which all combined to eliminate a British armor and infantry. John would continue with kills on the next three turns, as well. Meanwhile, Ty’s dice against infantry were so bad that he kept a cumulative count aloud after every turn: 1-for-8 … 6-for-24 … 12-for-36. Some late hits brought him up to about 18-for-48, with a productive DHQ yielding a couple of kills before John finished the game. However, John’s Japanese had started with a solid 7-for-8, and he stayed strong enough for a 6-3 win.
In the rematch, John’s British forces started slowly, with 3 Recons in the first 5 turns, giving him three extra Combat cards. On Ty’s first turn, he barraged a British tank off the board. John’s British Finest Hour rolled 4 orders, but whiffed with 6 dice against IJA troops who were under cover of jungle – and he followed that with a DHQ that scored only 1 hit in 8 dice. A Firefight then wiped out two Japanese tanks, but then a Japanese air strike finished off a British infantry and tank. After killing and infantry, John Barraged another Japanese tank to death, for his fourth medal, to clinch the match. However, a Japanese push in the center eliminated three weakened British infantries. So, Ty gained a split with this 6-4 win, but John’s extra medal was enough to advance to the finals.
Round 6 … Bardia. Back to the desert, but this time the mixed British force faces a well dug-in Italian force that includes two artilleries and an armor. What’s the catch? The Italians start with 6 cards in their hand, but every time one of their units is eliminated, they lose a card, until their hand gets down to 3 cards. Also, Italian units may retreat up to 3 hexes per flag. Taken together, those two rules force the Italian player to make difficult decisions. Totally insidious. Oh, and once again, we have Combat Cards.
Game 1: Chris as Allies, John as Axis. In this center-focused battle, John lacked good center cards for much of the game. Several turns in, an Italian Firefight scored the first kill, but the Allies Countered, killing an infantry and deep-sixing an Italian Close Assault card. The Allies killed another infantry on their 10th turn, with an Armor Assault, causing John’s Italians to lose a Direct from HQ. Two turns later, Allied artillery killed the infantry in a medal town.
The British advanced an artillery to their third row and used it to eliminate a back-row Italian infantry unit, before the artillery was itself wiped out. Finally, the British Armor Assaulted with their three surviving tanks. One attacker was ambushed and took a pair of hits, but it still pressed its attack, wiping out a 4-figure infantry on the Left and taking ground into the adjacent town, while another tank killed a 1-figure Italian infantry to clinch a 7-4 win for Chris.
Rematch: John as Allies, Chris as Axis. Again, John lacked Center cards. Chris’s Firefight with a Spotter killed the tank on the Allied Right and flagged an artillery to the back line. John’s Artillery Bombard killed an infantry and swiped an Assault Center from Chris. But then an Allied Finest Hour ordered only two infantries and did absolutely no damage.
The Brits attacked on their left, and John tried to play an “Armor Hull Down” Combat Card, which would have placed a sandbag on the tank that had just battled; however, that card must be played in the Ordering phase of the turn, so it couldn’t be used. Chris’s lone Italian tank advanced with its own Armor Hull Down, and though it dealt no damage on that turn, the following turn it rolled a triple hit against the British tank. The third Allied kill didn’t come until Chris’s 13th turn, which swiped another Assault Center from Italy. The Allies had a 1-figure infantry on their back line, but it took Axis 3 tries to kill it. Next, on their 16th turn, Axis got their 5th kill to clinch the match for Chris. Ultimately, though, John came back from a 4-6 deficit, eliminating 3 infantries on his last two turns, and pulled out a 7-6 victory, in a battle that easily could have been won by either side.
So, Chris Miller got first place – the fourth time in five years that a first-timer has won the tournament. John Skiba got second. Eliminated semi-finalists Ty Hansen and Jeff Cornett had identical records of 7-3 with 53 medals, and so by tournament rules we went to the tiebreak number, which favored Ty. (Reminder, people: If you bring your game, you’ll get a better tiebreak number, and sometimes it does matter!) For the record, this was Jeff’s third top-6 finish in the past four years.
MULTI-PLAYER OVERLORD GAMES
Overlord Market Garden 2.
Overlord Disaster at Dieppe.
In addition to the tournament, as usual, we had several multi-player Overlord games in the schedule. These are always a highlight, because many players only have a chance to play them at conventions. They also tend to be a source of great battle stories.
This weekend, we scheduled 5 Overlord games. However, so many players showed up this year that in three of those time slots we had to open up a second board. We’ve never had to do that before!
Thursday afternoon: Operation Market Garden. Allies won, 15-14, in a fierce battle that nearly was won by the Germans on their last turn. Eric Mosso commanded the victorious Allies, aided by Geoff Heintzelman, Johan Vanhuyse, and Eric Paperman. John Skiba commanded the Germans, aided by Ethan, Jim McCann, and John Parker. In this insidious scenario, the Allies start with 12 cards, and the Germans start with 3; every time an Allied unit is eliminated, the Germans gain a card, and the Allies lose one.
The Allies quickly demolished the one German artillery with a lucky Barrage. Then, on the fourth Allied turn, it was Their Finest Hour, but they rolled a mere 5 orders, including none in the center. American paratroops advanced in the center, but took heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Germans had little luck against the Allied Right until it was much too late. Ultimately, either side had a chance to win this battle, but German field general John Parker whiffed on a 3d roll against a 1-figure tank – one of several key dice failures for that side.
Bonus game: Disaster at Dieppe. The commanders here were our past two tournament champions. David Schneider led the favored Germans, assisted by Brian Wansink and Steve Smith. (This is a different Steve Smith from the one who joined us last year.) Jon Manley led the British landing, aided by Sam Edelston, Mark Jarvis, and Jeff Cornett. The Allies held a slight edge in their left and center sections – but their right command lived up to the name of the scenario, losing 5 units while killing none. The Germans won this battle, 10-7.
Friday, après-tournament: Henderson Field. From the new “Through Jungle and Desert” expansion. This is a difficult scenario for the Marines. The Japanese are in the jungle, and there are lots of them, with good artillery cover. Tonight, Jon Manley’s Japanese steamrolled forward and slaughtered Geoff Heintzelman’s Marines. Ben and Matthew Miller participated, as did Jackson Manley, and we’re missing the names of other players.
Saturday morning: Operation Lightfoot. Sam Edelston led the British forces, aided by Chris Miller and Ethan. John Kirk led the Germans, aided by Matthew Miller, Geoff Heintzelman, and Eric Mosso. Sam had a big offensive that virtually wiped out Geoff’s German defenders in the left half of the Center, but Matthew sent over two 4-figure tanks which, along with some infantries, plugged the hole and inflicted heavy casualties. The Germans won that section, 8-5. And in a battle of brother against brother, Chris Miller’s Allied Left didn’t manage to finish off any of Matthew’s German units, but lost three armors in the process. The final score was a lopsided 15-7 in favor of the defending Germans.
We also had a battle at Capture of Tobruk. The results of this battle are classified. (Or buried in the sand.)
Saturday afternoon: Tarawa. This scenario, composed by Eric Mosso. Geoff Heintzelman commanded the Japanese defenders, assisted by Jack Morrell on his left and David Gubbay on his right. Chris Miller commanded the Marines, assisted by two Field Generals, one of whom was the scenario’s author. The allies came hard up the middle and on the Axis right, but were stymied by excellent Japanese cards and dice. The Allied right flank has an interesting situation with half their troops starting on the Japanese baseline. The Japanese moved their infantry in to encircle them, but got hit hard by Allied Air Power. Nevertheless, Jack’s IJA eliminated the behind-the-lines American threat, and then turned around to hit the next wave of Marines hard on the beach. The final score wasn’t recorded, but the Japanese won handily.
Bonus game: Peleliu Landings. Eric Paperman led the Marines onto the beach, aided by Mark Jarvis, Ben Miller, and Tim Manley. Sam Edelston led the Japanese defense, supported by Matthew Miller, Barry Shoults, and Daniel Overland. Early in the battle, the Japanese inflicted heavy losses on the intruders, with Matthew eliminating 3 infantries in the Allied far right section and Barry killing 5 armored units in the middle. In a battle near the bunker at the Allied center-left seam, three Marine units and one IJA met their respective makers. After 4 turns, the Japanese held a commanding 10-4 lead. The Marines gained some kills around their center-right area, and managed to push a tank through the exit hex, but the Japanese Right and Center scored the necessary kills to attain victory, with a final score of 13-9.
Meanwhile, back in the city … of Lwow: Just a casual game, but too interesting to omit. Earlier this year, at the Dutch Open, a special 3-way map was introduced. With a hexagonal board that looks a bit like Chinese Checkers, the Germans, Russians, and Polish partisans fight a melee. Jim McCann, John Skiba, and Johan Vanhuyse played a round robin at this map. For the partisan units, Jim McCann’s hand-painted 1/72 miniatures were used, including various townspeople, women carrying baskets (containing grenades), and nuns (delivering messages). Thanks to victories as both the Polish and the Germans, Johan won the 3-game “match.” This unique scenario was created by Wim “Quit2” Debraekeleer.
Saturday evening: Operation Lightfoot. Matthew Miller led the Germans, aided by Jack Morrell, Jon Manley, and David Hitchcock. Joe Harrison led the Allies, aided by Ben Miller, Chris Miller, and David Gubbay. The Germans were loaded with big cards. The Allies were loaded with Probes. The fiercest fighting was in the center, where Jon inflicted heavy losses on Chris’s attackers and David’s reinforcements. The Germans steamrolled to a 15-4 victory. This game was over so fast, cleanup was done in plenty of time for people to go play Slapshot.
The GM wishes to thank AGMs Geoff Heintzelman, Eric Mosso, John Skiba, and Johan Vanhuyse for their help at the tournament and the pre-tournament instructional demo … with additional thanks to Eric, John, and Geoff for leading some of the Overlords. They and the Miller brothers provided information on some of the Overlord games. Super-duper thanks to Johan Vanhuyse for bringing the unique Belgian and Dutch maps, courtesy of the Belgian M44 Club and the Memoir ’44 Brigade Nederland. Thanks, as always, to Richard Borg for creating this wonderful game, and to Days of Wonder / Asmodee for continuing to support and expand it. And special thanks to the organizers of WBC for allowing us to make this North America’s premiere Memoir ’44 event year after year.