Thursday morning came around again with a lot of familiar faces - and a few new ones to join the group. Our field of 23 was comprised of 18 regulars, 2 returning after a long absence, and 3 new players. I was most pleased to see the Kendricks return en masse to join the fray. The friendly banter and trash-talking started early with the accusation that William Kendrick was too chicken to come back to defend his title and the counter-claim that Richard's win last year was "tainted" due to lack of competition. (This GM knows a lot better than to believe any of it.)
The morning got off to a fast start. After the first two rounds, there were 6 players at 2-0. No surprises among the 6 and all six eventually qualified for the elimination round. The surprising results were on the other end of the spectrum. Both last year’s winner - Richard Irving, and perpetual qualifier Kevin Emery were 0-2 and in danger of being eliminated. Each were going to need to go 3-0 in the afternoon session to even have a chance at qualifying for the elimination round.
The afternoon progressed smoothly enough as William Kendrick ran the table to finish at 5-0 to earn the coveted #1 seed. Jeremy Billones, and John Emery qualified at 4-1. There were 6 people ending up at 3-2 with only 5 slots available. Keven Emery had a perfect afternoon, going 3-0 to qualify. Joining him were Ed Kendrick, James Kendrick, Andrew Maly, and Bruce Young. Nathan Wagner also finished at 3-2 but failed to qualify for the elimination round based on the tiebreakers. Also failing to make the cut were Richard Irving, whose perfect afternoon was ruined by Ed Kendrick, and Ralph Gleaton who was eliminated from contention by Kevin Emery.
On the lighter side, and just in case you get to thinking that these top players never make mistakes, we have two examples from this year disproving it.
In an early round, a top-notch, first-class player was the attacking Americans in Infantry's Iron Fist (Scenario F) against the Japanese defenders. (Names have been removed to protect the embarassed.) The Americans get an armored car in this scenario, which is quite vulnerable to the very-potent Japanese anti-tank rifle. Relatively early in the scenario, the Japanese managed to kill the armored car, significantly reducing the American's firepower and tactical options. Then, later on in the game, the Japanese started to advance to build a better defensive position. The American player, having forgotten that he started out with the armored car, then forgot that he was the attacker in this scenario and started adopting a defensive posture. The Japanese player was perfectly content to let the clock run out to take the win - at which point, much to his chagrin, the American player realized his mistake with having given the game away.
In a later round, another top-ranked player admits to simply have forgotten the victory conditions. He wasn't paying attention to how his opponent could win and did not take steps to prevent the victory until it was too late.
It just proves that under the pressure of a tournament setting, anyone can make a mistake that costs them a game.
So once again, 5 of the 8 finalists have the last name of either Kendrick or Emery.
The top four seeds ended up being William, John, Jeremy, and Ed, with each of them winning their first-round matches. The Semifinal games were between the father-son duo of Ed and William, with the other game between Jeremy and John
The most exciting game of the day to watch was the Semifinal game between Jeremy and John. Jeremy took the Russians attacking John's Germans in Armored Recon Patrol (Scenario E). John's defense held tight, putting Jeremy in a desperate situation toward the end of deck 2. Seeing no other path to victory, Jeremy decided to charge the Germans with the Russian halftrack with the intent to overrun. The halftrack makes it way to relative range 5 and plays the sideways movement card to overrun a German group in the woods. The halftrack bogs! No attack occurs. John attacks the halftrack - no effect. He then attacks with the infantry's inherent anti-tank capabilities - no effect. Meanwhile, Jeremy is discarding and drawing cards trying to get something useful, and not drawing anything of real value. John attacks again - this time pinning the halftrack and getting a Commander Killed result. Jeremy still can't draw anything good. John then attempts three more attacks before finally killing the halftrack in Close Combat, breaking the Russian squad.
This advanced John to his umpty-umpth Final and the possibility of a 9th win.
Less exciting, but no less important was the other Semifinal game between William and Ed. William managed to grind out the win, advancing him to his second consecutive final.
In the Bronze-medal match, Jeremy successfully broke Ed's squad in Assaulting a Pillbox (Scenario C) to take third for the second year in a row. This was a game basically described by both players as being a case of "Ed ran out of rally cards before Jeremy ran out of fire cards."
This set up a Kendrick vs Emery rematch of the 2016 finals - John vs William. This time, they chose to play Armored Advance (Scenario H), with John's Germans attacking William's Americans. In this scenario, the Germans get an armored car, while the Americans start with a reduced-squad with an infantry gun and the hopes of getting reinforcements on the board after the first deck. After some early combat resulting in losses by both sides, the pace slowed down a bit as both players went through a little dry spell looking for suitable cards.
William did manage to force the Puma to button-up, reducing its effectiveness but still allowing it to be useful. John managed to drop one of William's groups in a stream, preventing them from getting to the terrain they were trying to occupy. John found a gully for his troops, allowing them to advance without being fired upon, and then came up out of the gully into the woods. At that point, John fired multiple times, frequently pinning the Americans, but William was mostly able to keep them rallied. William was able to bring his reinforcements into the game, but never drew the cards needed to make them useful. John was able to advance his group up to range chit 5, giving him the win and his 9th First Place plaque.