The Kiyosu Push takes center stage.
This year’s campaign to unite feudal Japan was a fun affair. There were just under 25 participants, similar to last year, but down from the pre-pandemic numbers. The tournament wrapped after five rounds, with the first three rounds playing on Monday and the Semifinalists all desiring to play Tuesday morning, with the Final finishing that afternoon. This year saw several familiar faces returning to the
Semifinal, but also some new players making strong pushes in the tournament. Notably, we had approximately 5 teaching games in the first round, with several of those players continuing to play a second or third game. We hope they will be back next year! And, if you are reading this and wondering whether you should join us in 2024, please do join us. Whether you are a completely new player or a veteran with years of experience, we would be happy to have you!
While this year’s tournament lacked a few former finalists, including the 2022 champion, we were fortunate enough to have one of the top international players (currently ranked #1 in Sekigahara on Yucata) join us. Going by “Zanlin,” Weihan Lu made an impressive run within the first three rounds, emerging 3-0. He defeated longtime Sekigahara player Patrick Murphy in the first round, last year’s 3rd place finisher (Andrew Emerick) in the second round, and 3-time former champion James Pei in the 3rd round.
The other two 3-0 players were longtime Sekigahara veterans. First, former finalist Bob Wooster reached the Semifinal by besting a pair of Canadians in rounds 2 and 3 (Larry Sisson and Erin Weir). Second, former champion Dennis Mishler, who defeated the eventual 4th and 5th place finishers in rounds 2 and 3, also advanced. Dennis and Bob previously faced off against each other in the 2019 finals.
The last Semifinalist was Bronwyn Woods, who emerged as the sole 2-1 player to qualify. After the first three rounds, Bronwyn and Ed Povilaitis emerged with equal records AND equal pts in their sole loss (14 pts each). Thus, we went to the second tiebreaker, strength of schedule…. which was also equal. Since they had not played head-to-head, we skipped that tiebreaker. Finally, we went to high card pulled from the deck… which they again tied. Eventually though, Bronwyn pulled a higher card, earning her the advancement to the Semifinal.
Since she had already played Dennis, she was matched (randomly) with Bob Wooster in one Semifinal, while Dennis played Zanlin in the other Semifinal. All 4 players preferred restarting at 9am on Tuesday as opposed to playing past midnight on Monday.
Single Elimination Rounds: Semifinal
- Bob Wooster – The 2019 2nd place finisher
- Bronwyn Woods – The 2022 4th place finisher
- Dennis Mishler – The former champion (2017-2019) and the 2022 2nd place finisher
- Zanlin – First time WBC participant and top-ranked player on Yucata
These four players advanced to the single elimination round and were guaranteed a top four finish.
In the match between Bronwyn and Bob, the game went the full 7 weeks, with a lot of fighting, including an incredibly large impact battle in the middle of the game. In the end, Bob triumphed 17-10 at the end of Week 7, sending him to the Final.
In the match between Dennis and Zanlin, Dennis won the right to bid first and offered 2 blocks to Zanlin in exchange for the right to play Tokugawa, which Zanlin accepted. This was an incredibly tight match that also went to week 7. In this match, Dennis established early dominance at Kiyosu-Gifu against Zanlin, forcing him to primarily stay bottled up in the far west. Going into Wk7, Zanlin’s army was up to 16 blocks, while Dennis’s was only 12 blocks. Rather than fighting, Dennis (Tokugawa) decided to disperse and go for a victory on points. He was lucky enough to draw the necessary cards and to finish with a 15-12 victory at the end of Week 7.
The Final Game
Thus, the 2023 final was a rematch of the 2019 finals: Bob Wooster vs Dennis Mishler. Dennis won the right to bid first and offered 2 blocks to Bob in exchange for the right to play Tokugawa, which Bob accepted. At this point, it is necessary to take a slight detour.
Since the end of the 2022 final, in which Randy Buehler won as Tokugawa with a strong western push (the “Kiyosu Push” from the 2022 event report), the GM has felt that the Tokugawa western push is just extremely strong and hard to counter. Online (at Yucata), many of the best players had come upon the same conclusion: The best Tokugawa action is to quickly move as many blocks as possible west, primarily along the southern highway, although there are variants. There are layers to this strategy, but the basic concept is this: move west, kill Ishida blocks in Gifu, and then dominate the board position by locking the Ishida into Osaka and Kyoto. This strategy does a couple of important things:
- By not prioritizing the destruction of Ishida blocks in the east, Ishida does not gain ~4 early cards – incredibly important for fighting with and for bringing out Mori.
- By dominating the Gifu/Kiyosu area, Tokugawa controls not only the tempo of the game (and a double movement at any time), but also both highways, which allows for fast movement east west and the ability to swing south/central. This severely limits Ishida’s ability to leave Osaka, while also allowing Tokugawa the ability to counter most Ishida aggression in the north or east with minimal disruption.
- Perhaps the best way to counter this opening is for Ishida to have enough blocks to absorb the damage the Tokugawa will deal in their initial push, such that Ishida can quickly counterattack to reestablish board position, but to do this you need multiple extra blocks.
And so, Dennis bid 2 blocks in both the Semifinal and Final because he felt like he would need 3 blocks as Ishida to confidently counter any Tokugawa push. Others may disagree and feel like 1 or 2 blocks is sufficient to counter the Kiyosu push.
Back to the finals…
What follows is a weekly summary of the year 1600 campaign to unite all of Japan: Sekigahara
Dennis playing as the Tokugawa. Bob playing as the Ishida (+2 blocks).
Week 1 was a fairly normal open, with each side consolidating their forces. Ishida focused on Kyoto, while the Tokugawa marched their entire force out of Edo along the southern highway.
Week 2 was a similarly low-stress week, with the biggest move being a Tokugawa forced march into Kiysou to link the Fukushima and Tokugawa clans.
Week 3 featured the first large battle. Ishida went first, and during his 3a move it seemed quite possible that he would force a battle in Kiyosu by the end of the week. The Tokugawa continued to consolidate there, resulting in a 12 stack of Ishida in Gifu and a 16 stack of Tokugawa in Kiyosu.
During week 3b, after much deliberation, the Ishida decided they needed to force the issue, marching 11 blocks into Kiyosu while Ishida returned to Osaka. During the battle, both sides played all or essentially all their cards. The battle was an impressive Ishida victory with 52 vs 44 impact – quite large for week 3. As this battle wrapping up, the GM (Tokugawa) was shocked at how many special units Ishida was able to successfully deploy (and stack) for maximum damage. This was week 3! Overall, Ishida lost 6 blocks, while Tokugawa lost 8 blocks and had to fall back to Okazaki, where they rallied their forces…
And then counterattacked! In the final action of week 3b, the Tokugawa were able to attack with 8 blocks against the remaining 5 Ishida blocks in Kiyosu. In this battle, the Tokugawa deployed 29 impact, wiping the Ishida remnants, while the Ishida were able to get to 21 impact. The Tokugawa had retaken Kiyosu. Overall, Tokugawa lost 10 blocks while Ishida lost 12 blocks during week 3.
At the end of week 3, Ishida had 15 cards in their hand!!! Yes, 15! That is the most that the GM has ever seen. Given the high number of losses, it may seem like the Ishida were in deep trouble, but at the end of week 3, the Ishida had 5 Mori blocks left to deploy as well as 6 reinforcement blocks… So, the smaller Tokugawa force (now only ~6 blocks) would not be able to move on Osaka any time soon.
In week 4, both sides reinforced. The 5 Mori came out as did 3 Kobayakawa and 3 Ukita in the west. 3 Tokugawa blocks entered at Edo and began their western march.
During week 5a, the Ishida focused on the west, moving along the northern road, while also consolidating in Kyoto with an 11-stack army. The Tokugawa meanwhile solidified their hold on the south and east, controlling every castle and resource south and east of Kanazawa and Kyoto, as shown in the photo below. At this stage in the game, the Ishida had more blocks on the board and more blocks in combat-ready positions, but Tokugawa controlled the highways and could also deploy additional forces into Kanazawa from the recruitment box. Prior to the Ishida week 5b turn, Tokugawa reinforced his western most castle, which would likely soon be cut off – electing to use his Red Devils (the 4 block).
At the close of week 5, the Ishida kept 8 blocks in Kyoto, while marching 8 more blocks to the south – stopping at Kuwana. Bob assumed Dennis must have a loyalty card since Tokugawa was vulnerable at Kiyosu. However, the truth was that Dennis was taking a strong risk/gamble. He was hoping to bait out the largest portion of the Ishida forces, and then hoping to draw a Tokugawa Loyalty Challenge to win the Wk6 bid. Meanwhile, in the north, Kanazawa was under siege as Maeda moved west.
During week 6, Tokugawa won the initiative and elected to move first. Tokugawa fled for his life to the south while leaving various castles garrisoned. In the north, 3 Maeda blocks joined the board, bringing the northern army up to 8, primarily of the Maeda clan. Ishida responded by moving enough blocks to take Okazaki, while also consolidating forces west of Tsuruga, in case Maeda made for the capital. Indeed, on 6b, the Maeda army moved in force to Tsuruga (8 blocks), while Tokugawa and his smaller force continued to retreat east into Hakone.
This triggered an Ishida assault on Tsuruga on turn 6b: 8 blocks vs 8 blocks. This Ishida won this battle, but not decisively as the army was composed of multiple leaders with relatively few matching blocks – most of the Mori force was elsewhere, focusing on Okazaki, Anotsu, and Gifu (all under Tokugawa control at the start of week 6). The Tokugawa remnants from Tsuruga fell back, but the army sizes between the two forces were still fairly even.
Going into week 7, the Ishida had made up a lot of ground in the west and could rightfully feel confident in claiming at least 12 victory points: Osaka, Miyazu, Okazaki, and likely Anotsu and Gifu castles – once fully reduced. Additionally, resources at Kuwana and Kyoto were comfortably theirs. Only Tsuruga could be threatened and it was still under Ishida control. However, the 14th point would be difficult. Between the Ishida and Kanazawa in the north stood a small Tokugawa force, which could stall any advance while additional blocks were mustered in Kanazawa. In the south, Hakone was likely too far since Mori blocks were needed to finish off multiple other castles and Hakone itself had a sizeable garrison that could block advancement or defend the castle. That left only the resource at Kiso as being reachable… if Ishida went first before Tokugawa could block the road.
From the Tokugawa perspective, 13 pts were locked down, and likely 14 since quite a few Tokugawa blocks were on the highway, and thus capable of quickly moving to block the southern or central roads.
On Week 7, Tokugawa won initiative, electing to go first. He quickly moved to lock down 14 pts by
moving sufficient units to block the Kiso advance. The Ishida made an attack in the north that guaranteed control of Tsuruga but could not break through to Kanazawa. Additionally, in a bit of a desperation move, Ishida sent only two blocks to reduce Anotsu. This resulted in the two Mori attackers being defeated by the Red Devils. On the final turn of the game, Ishida made a handful of moves to finalize his 13 VPs (the western 13) and to get vengeance on the Red Devils in Anotsu, while conceding that Kiso was out of reach.
The final state of the board is shown here:
Overall, this was an extremely close game, finishing 14-13 VPs. While Tokugawa was able to establish board control for most of the game, the Ishida were able to break out to reclaim much of the map during week 6. However, the push fell just a bit short of what was needed to control a majority of the victory points.
In summary, Sekigahara 2023:
In the 2022 Sekigahara write up, the GM posited that the “Kiyosu Push” might be a dominating opening for Tokugawa. A year later, it appears that a strong Tokugawa western push – reaching Kiyosu by Week 2A – is indeed a very strong opening. Perhaps over the next year an appropriate counter will develop to challenge or to at least slow down this opening. For the GM, he will be trying such possibilities online, but in live play, he will also be trying to play as the Ishida with either +2 or +3 blocks.
After a year in exile, the former champion, Dennis Mishler, was able to reclaim the title of Shogun, his 4th. Bob Wooster took home his second 2nd place finish, again playing an extremely tight final game. Bronwyn Woods was able to repeat in 4th place and new-to-WBC (and top-ranked Yucata player) Zanlin will return to Taiwan with his first plaque, finishing 3rd. Sekigahara veterans Ed Povilaitis and James Pei finished in 5th and 6th place, respectively. The quality of play throughout the tournament was extremely high this year, as was the number of first-time participants. Hopefully, this is a pattern that will continue into next year!
Feel free to contact me at MishlerWBC@gmail.com with any questions about Sekigahara!