This year’s campaign to unite feudal Japan was a fun affair. There were 36 participants, up from 32 last year. The tournament wrapped after five rounds, with the first four rounds playing on the first day, and the final being played later in the week (scheduled by the finalists). By the end of the tournament, a new Meta, Eastern Guns, began to emerge.
One of the great things about the Sekigahara tournament is the incredibly supportive environment of the community. This includes allowing new players to play veterans in the first round of the tournament so that they can learn how to play the game. These informal teaching games are great for those who need a refresher or for those who just want to try Sekigahara out for the first time. The GM would like to thank everyone who played in the tournament for being incredibly kind and positive throughout. The GM would also like to thank Sekigahara game designer (and former GM) Matt Calkins for bringing with him the customary honor prizes for those who play late into the night, regardless of their number of wins or losses. This annual tradition has always been greatly appreciated by all participants and is a great way to remember participating for those who play all day, but do not manage to qualify for the single elimination rounds. I love how supportive the tournament and entire community is.
This year’s tournament also featured an extremely high level of play. Throughout the tournament, there were a number of extremely close games, including multiple games that finished 14-13 in pts at the end of the campaign and one major upset. In the second round, 3-time former champion, James Pei, lost a tight game to the quiet, but deadly Tom Drueding, 17-7. As a reward for defeating the most distinguished WBC Sekigahara player, Tom drew 2-time defending champion, Dennis Mishler (the second most distinguished WBC Sekigahara player), in round three. Hooray for Tom! Tom had defeated Mike Mishler (Dennis’s father) in the first round. As expected, this was an incredibly tight match, but Dennis managed to prevail by instant victory as the game entered the final weeks after several battles in the east and west. Other close matches in the tournament included, Matt Calkins vs Edward Povilaitis, Edward Povilaitis vs Bruce Hodgins, Jeff Cornett vs Erin Weir, and America Yamaguchi vs William Kelley. Bob Wooster had two close matches, one in round 3 against Bronwyn Woods (15-12), and a second, which I will talk about later.
The eventual 5th and 6th place finishers were Alex Kraska (3-1) and Matt Bugbee (3-1). Alex’s only lost came in round 3 to Matt Calkins, losing by 7 pts. His victories? All instant victories. Matt Bugbee’s only lost came in round 1 to Henry Rice, who played in the first round and then had to move on to a different game! Matt rallied from this early setback to take 6th overall.
Single Elimination Rounds: Semifinals
After the first three rounds, four players emerged with perfect 3-0 records:
- Dennis Mishler – The defending champion (2017, 2018)
- Jeromey Martin – 2017 runner up
- Matt Calkins – The Game designer
- Bob Wooster – Former laurelist
These four players advanced to the single elimination round, and were guaranteed a top four finish.
For the single elimination matches, Dennis Mishler played against Jeromey Martin. This was a rematch of the 2017 final, where Jeromey made a daring maneuver in the first couple weeks that resulted in an early loss. Jeromey and Dennis both had impressive wins in the first three rounds, each defeating former laurelists. Each had also ridden the Ishida train (new meta alert!) into the semifinals. Having known each other for years, they had discussed a little strategy before the game, and A LOT of strategy after the game. More on this game in a minute…
In the other semifinal, Bob Wooster and Matt Calkins faced off. In order to reach the semifinals, Matt had faced down two very tough opponents: Alex Kraska (former laurelist and this year’s 6th place finisher) and Edward Povilaitis (former laurelist), whom he managed to beat in week 7 in a 14-13 point match. Bob had managed a decisive win over newcomer America, and a tighter win over Bronwyn Woods. Without spoiling the result… this epic semifinal would end up being decided on points, 14-13, at the end of week 7. As the GM was busy in his own extremely tight semifinal, he only caught the final battle of the final turn. The paragraph below is a summary of this match.
Matt bid 1 to play as Tokugawa, a very standard bid, given the Tokugawa’s ability to have a “double turn” whenever he likes, and an overall ability to determine who plays first. The game developed, mostly as expected. Each side consolidated: Ishida in the west, Tokugawa in the north/east. In week 6, the two sides began to meet in the middle of the map. The Ishida stood at Gifu, while the Tokugawa waited to the east, avoiding a large battle. As a result, the Ishida moved a contingent east/south, taking Hakone. During week 7, Ishida won the turn order bid, and decided to go second. During this week, the Tokugawa moved to recapture Miyazu (northwest) and Hakone (east). Meanwhile, the Ishida split their large Gifu force during Week 7, turn A, maneuvering half the force towards Kiso and the other half to Tsuruga, threatening a number of castles and resource locations. Critically, Ishida also mustered two Kobayakawa blocks in Osaka. At the end of the Tokugawa B turn, Matt had managed to consolidate to a 15-12 pt lead, with a large force of 6 blocks holding Miyazu. This castle was Matt’s only exposed source of points, and so Bob’s only chance to win was to take Miyazu by moving ALL of his surrounding forces (Tsuruga and Osaka) into Miyazu. It was close, but the Ishida (Bob) managed to surpass the 35 impact needed to wipeout the Tokugawa force, and as a result, took control of Miyazu. This gave Ishida a 14-13 pt victory. This was an extremely tight game, and featured an exciting ending with both players pushing into castles and a massive final battle.
While this game was happening, Jeromey Martin and Dennis Mishler played an equally tense game, but with a different meta. Both players had played Ishida all day long. Both players had come to the view that Ishida, when played properly was no longer at a ~1-block disadvantage to the Tokugawa. There were strengths in the Ishida’s sprawling board position and consolidation of power into mostly 3 clans, instead of 4. Thus, when Jeromey said “I will play Ishida for 0 blocks”, Dennis was not too surprised, and thus countered with a bid of 1 block for Ishida. Jeromey accepted this bid, and played Tokugawa with 1 additional block. At this point, the GM feels it is important to highlight that both of these decisions seem correct in his mind, both at the time and in hindsight. A 2-block advantage seems crazy, but as gameplay evolves, who knows what will be best tomorrow or next year.
In the early weeks of this game, Jeromey moved aggressively to pacify parts of the east – Ueda –, while bringing in a large contingent of Maeda troops, and using some of these troops to help deal with Ueda, while also keeping the Ishida a bit off balance in the west with the remainder. Meanwhile, as Dennis slowly consolidated in west, he continually mustered one block into Aizu in the northeast. This was a strategy he had used earlier in the tournament. He was bringing in guns: guns from any clan that he could find. Since the Uesugi already start with a large horde including two rifle units, bringing in more rifle blocks essentially creates a dual-suited army: a suited army of Uesugi and a suited army of guns. This army does not even need to attack to be scary. It just needs to be there, and suddenly the Tokugawa player must act. Eventually, Jeromey brought a large force to Aizu to deal with the situation, reducing the threat, but by then Dennis was able to finish his western consolidation and to move a large force into Kanazawa while also threatening or controlling the south in the Okazaki region. Thus, as the game headed into the final week, Jeromey was forced to initiate a battle at Kitanosho, west of Kanazawa. He had a large, suited Maeda force, while Dennis had a large prepared force, primarily of Ukita. The battle ended in Dennis’s favor with a total of 85 impact, one of the largest battles of the tournament. Although the game was not over at this point, Jeromey conceded. He did not feel that he could reverse Dennis’s board position, given the loss of his main consolidated force, the Maeda.
At the conclusion of the game, Dennis and Jeromey continued their earlier strategy discussion regarding the factions, board position, and opening maneuvers. Jeromey reflected that maybe he should have bid two blocks because the Ishida position on the board can often be dominating, if you can deal with the threat of the Tokugawa double movement. From this match, Dennis decided that he would play Ishida in the final, regardless of the bid, and had already decided to continue his “Eastern Guns” strategy with the Uesugi in Aizu.
The Final Game
Thus, this year’s final featured defending champion, Dennis Mishler, and first-time finalist, Bob Wooster. The final was played later in the week, at a time convenient for the two players, and as such there were only a couple of attendees watching, although a couple of others came by to say hi. If only we could stream the final on Twitch (or some other service)!
The final started with Bob bidding 0 blocks for Tokugawa. Dennis accepted the bid and played as Ishida. Given the two players preferences, both may have been happy with the bid, or even felt that the bid may have been slightly in their favor.
What follows is a weekly summary of the year 1600 campaign to unite all of Japan: Sekigahara
Bob playing as the Tokugawa and Dennis playing as the Ishida.
Week 1: The Tokugawa win initiative and elect to have the Ishida go first.
During this week, the Ishida make a standard move to take Miyazu from the Tokugawa (for the card bonus). Somewhat surprisingly, the Tokugawa immediately muster 3 blocks in Kanazawa and by the end of the week also march on Gifu, Saku, and Takeda.
Week 2: The Ishida win initiative and elect to go first.
During this week, Tokugawa first takes Ueda in one assault, by combining the Maeda and Tokugawa forces. In response, the Ishida move on Okazaki, winning a field battle, but the Tokugawa hold the castle with the Fukushima leader hiding behind the walls. This results in the Tokugawa maintaining the castle lead, and a tie between the players for the most resources. Somewhat surprisingly, the Tokugawa moved the entire Date force to Shirakawa in order to gain the final resource spot they needed. The Uesugi contingent is large and still mostly in Aizu, adjacent to Shirakawa.
Week 3: The Ishida win initiative and elect to go first.
During this week, the Ishida decided they needed to go first to rally from the unfortunate loss of Ueda and to deal with the large Tokugawa contingent in the middle of the board, the besieged leader at Okazaki, and the smaller Date army next to Aizu. The Ishida immediately move on Shirakawa, wiping the Date force, while taking no losses. Unfortunately, the Ishida are not able to get the cards needed to take Okazaki, which the Fukushima leader holds by himself. In response, the Tokugawa move a very large army (9 blocks) to Kiso, threatening Gifu and from there the west.,/p>
Dennis is very aware that the Tokugawa could take Gifu during the “B turn”, and then do an immediate Week 4, “A turn” march, which could swing the game. As such, he consolidates in Osaka, mustering units and moving armies there. He also pushes the Uesugi horde to Oyama, threatening the Tokugawa capital while also sending a block to occupy the Date recruitment center. At the same time the army in Okazaki pulls back to Minakuchi. They are still vulnerable there, but are close to Osaka. However, this is also setting up the Ishida-Tokugawa dance around the country. The Tokugawa control the middle with the largest army in the game, but in the far west and east there are sizeable Ishida forces.
In response, the Tokugawa splits his forces as follows: 4 blocks at Takasaki, 4 blocks at Tsuruga, 4 blocks 4 blocks at Kiyosu, and 5 blocks at Gifu. This distribution reveals that the Tokugawa clearly intends to do a “double march”, i.e. win the next week bid to go first. This distribution also gives the Tokugawa both the castle and resource bonuses. This would seem to be an excellent position, but now he needs to deal with the Ishida eastern and western armies.
Week 4: The Tokugawa win initiative and elect to go first.
During this week, both players reposition their forces on the board. In the west, the Tokugawa do some quick repositioning. In the east, the Tokugawa immediately force march into Oyama, killing 3 Uesugi blocks, while losing 1 block. The Ishida preserve their leader, who falls back. On the Ishida turn A, Dennis moves a large force to Kyoto (7 blocks), reinforces Minakuchi with 1 more block (8 blocks total), and regroups his Uesugi remnants in Aizu. This last move essentially forces the Tokugawa army in the east to continue to move east, with a force large enough to defeat multiple blocks in either a protracted castle siege or a medium-sized field battle.
During Turn B, the Tokugawa redeploys his forces. In the west, the Maeda (6 blocks) force march into Miyazu, taking it. They also force march the Fukushima blocks at Kiyosu to Hamamatsu and add one more block to the Oyama force, bringing them back up to 4 blocks. The Tokugawa leave 1-block garrisons at Gifu, Okazaki, and Anotsu. This gives the Tokugawa dominant control of the castles, but the Ishida still have their turn B. During this turn B, the Ishida take Okazaki with 8 blocks and Gifu with 6 blocks. The Tokugawa still control the most castles, but the board position is fairly neutral. Both factions have castles at risk (Aizu and Anotsu) and both factions have two significant armies.
Week 5: The Tokugawa win initiative and elect to go first.
The Tokugawa begin by consolidating 8 blocks at Tsuruga and 7 blocks at Hamamatsu. The Ishida move part of their Gifu force to Suwa, threatening Ueda. However, the first major battle is about to begin in Hamamatsu. The Ishida attack with 8 blocks to the Tokugawa 7 blocks. The Ishida take this first battle 28-15. Five Tokugawa blocks perish, and the southern balance of power has suddenly swung.,/p>
In response, the Tokugawa consolidate a sizeable force in Hakone from the Hamamatsu remnants plus the eastern army at Oyama, which results in abandoning the attempt to take Aizu. The Tokugawa also move from Tsuruga into Gifu, taking the castle. At the end of Week 5, the Ishida force at Suwa moves to and takes Ueda. Additionally, the still-significant force at Hamamatsu moves to Numazu, leaving 1 block in Okazaki, and the eastern Uesugi remnants move to Niigata. With only 4 turns left (Weeks 6 and 7), the Ishida are playing the point game, and planning to stop all Tokugawa advances on VPs. In other words, the dancing between the armies is continuing: large forces have swept west, east, south, and north, and yet there have been very few sizeable battles.
Week 6: The Tokugawa win initiative and elect to go first.
During this week, both players played loyalty challenges in their bids for initiative, and the Tokugawa elected to go first.
The Tokugawa force in Gifu splits, moving two blocks to Okazaki (taking the castle) and 5 blocks to Kiso, in preparation to retake Ueda. More importantly, the Tokugawa force in Hakone moves into Numazu, killing 4 of the Ishida blocks there, while losing two of their own. The Ishida response is muted. They consolidate 4 blocks at Takeda, threatening Kanazawa while also supporting Ueda. In addition, the Ishida bring out the final 3 Mori blocks.
During the “B turn”, the Tokugawa muster in Kanazawa, move from Numazu to Sunpu (killing the final 2 Ishida blocks there), and march on Takeda, killing 3 of the Ishida blocks there, while losing only 1. However, this has resulted in the largest Tokugawa forces being in Takeda and Sunpu with only 2 turns left: far away from the VP-rich west, and the Ishida still hold Aizu and Ueda. During their turn B, the Ishida take both Miyazu and Gifu. No Tokugawa army can currently threaten either position.
Week 7: The Tokugawa win initiative and elect to go first.
The Tokugawa go first, fortifying and moving to position themselves for a final push during the Week 7, turn B phase. In response, the Ishida forces move to block access to most of the Ishida-held castles and resources on the map.
After the Ishida turn, the Tokugawa concede as there are no longer enough VPs available to him to take. The final score at the time of conceding is 16-11 in Ishida’s favor.
Japan is united under the leadership of Ishida, after a grueling 7-week campaign that focused on maneuvering to acquire better board position over brute force.
In summary, Sekigahara 2019:
For the third year in a row, Dennis Mishler has won the WBC Sekigahara tournament, although this is the first time in several years that the final match went the full 7 weeks. Congratulations to Bob for a well-played final and for a great tournament. The final match was truly a dancing contest, more than a contest of who had the biggest army. Overall, the tournament this year featured many extremely close matches, and the level of play was perhaps the highest ever seen. Additionally, the GM cannot hide his excitement on the potential emergence of a new meta, one that emphasizes the strength of the Ishida. I am deeply interested to see how Tokugawa players may respond to an “Eastern Guns” strategy, one that prioritizes adding a rifle block, once a week, to the Uesugi army in Aizu, over any other mustering event.
Be on the lookout for news regarding an online Sekigahara that will start later this year! Note: I have been saying this for a couple of years… But… maybe this will be the year!
Feel free to contact me at MishlerWBC@gmail.com.