Competing for the 1st time in 10 years, Alan Applebaum won the 2018 WBC War At Sea championship, becoming the 4th player to win both War At Sea and its sister game Victory in the Pacific at the WBC (joining Andy Gardner, Mike Kaye, and John Sharp — in different years; no one has ever won both in the same year). A couple of trivia notes: Alan is a charter member of the War At Sea Hall of Fame and was the very 1st War At Sea GM way back at the 1991 Avaloncon in Camp Hill, PA. Alan finished with a 7-1-0 record and defeated Jim Eliason in the final, getting revenge for having suffered his only loss to Jim in the preliminary Swiss rounds. Jim had a 6-2-0 mark. Former champ Dennis Nicholson took 3rd with a 6-1-0 tally, and was the only player to go undefeated in the Swiss rounds. David Rynkowski’s 4-2-1 log was good for 4th place.
Other playoff contenders were Jim Kramer in 5th at 4-2-0, and 3 former champions, Bruce Monnin 6th at 3-2-1, Andy Choptiany 7th at 3-3-0, and Steve Packwood 8th at 3-3-0. Bruce has now made the playoffs 8 straight years, surpassing Jonathan Lockwood’s previous high of 7 years in a row. In addition to Bruce, only Andy Choptiany and Dennis Nicholson repeated their playoff appearances from last year. In lieu of plaques, the 5th through 8th place finishers received books as prizes, either a World War II Battle of the Atlantic history or a copy of War At Sea PBEM GM Darren Kilfara’s wargaming novel, Do You Want Total War? Rounding out our top 10 were the GM in 9th and Mike Ussery in 10th, both at 3-2-0.
At the conclusion of the Swiss round games, the top 6 finishers automatically qualified for the single-elimination playoffs: 1) Dennis Nicholson, 48 Victory Points/5-0-0, 2) Jim Kramer, 42 Victory Points (4-1-0), 3) Jim Eliason, 40 VPs, 4-1-0, 4) Alan Applebaum, 38 VPs and 4-1-0, 5) Bruce Monnin, (35 VPs/3-1-1), and 6) David Rynkowski (35 VPs, 3-1-1). A strength of schedule tiebreaker was needed for the remaining 2 playoff spots, with Andy Choptiany and Steve Packwood topping the GM. All 3 of those players finished with 3-2-0 ledgers and 30 VPs.
The single-elimination quarterfinal pairings had to be reconfigured slightly to avoid rematches. In the 1st game, #1 seed Dennis Nicholson’s Allies, bidding 2.5, knocked off #7 Andy Choptiany’s Axis by 2.5 POC. In the 2nd contest, #6 David Rynkowski’s Axis tripped up #2 Jim Kramer’s Allies (bidding 1.5) by an 8.5 POC margin. #5 Bruce Monnin’s Allies, bidding 1.5, sailed into the Barents on turn 1 and lost 7 ships to #3 Jim Eliason’s Axis fleet’s zero; an Allied resignation wasn’t too long in coming. And finally, #4 Alan Applebaum’s Axis prevailed over #8 Steve Packwood’s Allies by the exact 1.5 POC margin of the Allied bid.
In the 1st semifinal, #6 David Rynkowski’s Allied fleet met the same fate as Bruce Monnin’s had, and against the same opponent, #3 Jim Eliason. David’s 2 British battlecruisers rolled boxcars attempting to sail into the Barents; then, Jim’s Axis sank 7 British ships while losing only 2 in return. David hung on gamely, but in the end the Allied bid of 2.0 pushed the final margin to 3.0 POC in favor of Jim’s Axis. Axis supremacy continued in the other semifinal, with Alan Applebaum’s forces prevailing over Dennis Nicholson’s Allies (bidding 2.5) by a 4.5 POC margin.
I quote Alan Applebaum about his final against Jim Eliason: “We could not remember making even the semifinals, much less the final, so this was a new experience for both of us. Both of us were more comfortable with the Axis (in fact, I had played the Axis every game up until this point), but both thought we could get away with receiving a POC spot for taking the Axis, so the bidding became somewhat of a poker game. I lost, as Jim stuck me with the Allies for a 1 POC bid, which in practice meant that I had to win by 2 POC or I would lose the game.”
Thanks also to Alan for the following summary. Alan opened with a standard Barents on 1, a little light with 6x117, 2x336, Hood and Ark Royal. Both 336s passed their speed rolls but Jim went to the Barents anyway. The Allies won the battle easily, sinking 3 Axis ships, losing only 2 themselves and establishing the blockade. (Veteran War At Sea players recognize this scenario as a near disaster for the Axis. If they sail on turn 1 but cannot win an area; they are playing behind the entire game.)
On Turn 2, the Axis decided they needed to make a move, so they risked attacking one of the Allied rear areas with their subs. The Allied 7 ASW sank 2 Axis subs and disabled the other two, winning both the battle and the war of attrition.
The Allies kept sinking Axis subs, so they never got above 5 in one turn, and never broke the blockade the entire game. Axis luck turned slightly in the middle of the game as their LBA sank Convoy 1A, and in another Barents battle, wasted 6 Allied ships while only losing one. However, in the mid-game one Russian survived 14 bonus dice and came back the next turn to win a 1-on-1 battle with a German cruiser, swinging 3 POC and pretty much locking up the game while the rest of the Axis fleet (only 5 ships by this time) went to the Barents for a 3rd time and lost again. The Allies were able to guarantee the win by landing convoy 3C in England, leaving them with a 6 POC lead after Turn 6 and the Axis still unable to break the blockade with either their fleet or their subs. The Axis resigned at that point. Congratulations again to 2018 War At Sea champ Alan Applebaum!
Notable this year was the fact that, due to circumstances beyond our control, we were not able to use chess clocks. Nevertheless, this veteran group of competitors played promptly, no games needed adjudication, and every round started and concluded on time.
The 2018 field was comprised of 36 players, who played 71 games, both totals off marginally from last year. The favorite opening Allied strategy was again Barents on 1 by a wide margin; only an occasional Mediterranean strategy was seen. About half the Allied players responded by sailing on Turn 1 and the other half preferred to bide their time. Best Axis Player was 4th place finisher David Rynkowski with a 4-0-1 score; Best Allied Player honors were garnered by Dennis Nicholson’s 6-1-0 mark. Robert Frisby, who apparently learned the game only in the past month or so, earned Rookie of the Year with 11th place finish and a 3-1-0 mark that was the best of any 1st-year player since 2006.
Play balance tilted in favor of the Axis this year, with the Axis taking 37 games, the Allies 31, and 3 contests resulting in ties. The Axis win percentage of 52.1 was their highest since the 1997 Avaloncon and the Allied win percentage of 43.2 was their lowest since the 1996 Avaloncon! Back that long ago, about a quarter of the competitors were bidding for the Axis and an equal percentage were bidding for the Allies, with half not bidding. This year, 9 contests had no bid, with 62 showing Allied bids ranging from 1.0 to 2.5. The average bid this year was 1.50 for all games and 1.72 for games that had a bid, both down from last year.
As always, putting on the War At Sea tournament is a team effort, starting with veteran Assistant Gamemasters Rob Drozd and John Sharp. Thanks also go to Greg Smith for one again volunteering to be the odd man out on Round 1 if necessary (this year, it wasn’t). Gentlemen, thank you very much.