Last month I attended the superb Bolt Action Welsh Open at Firestorm Games in Cardiff.
After the lengthy journey down into Cardiff (not helped by innumerable traffic lights in the city centre) I reached my destination tired but suitably impressed by the vast size and setup of the venue. This place is massive with loads of terrain readily available on the shelves and an absolute plethora of tables for pretty much any system that you can imagine! They also had on site catering for the tournament the whole weekend which was a nice touch and very tasty to boot.
From my own perspective the only negative I could find with the venue/Firestorm Games would be the limited range of Bolt Action goodies in the store. There was a vast selection of Warmachines/Hordes and other game systems (interestingly not GW though they were represented). This is a minor quibble as I guess they need to stock what their local player base buys.
With regards to the Tournament itself, all the tables were themed and had preassigned edges for the Axis and Allies as well as preassigned missions on each of them, which I really liked. Each board also had a marked Secondary Objective to take and hold and you could gain bonus points for specific actions such as killing a unit in an assault or a sniper using your sniper etc. It allowed players who were clearly losing a game something to aim for which I thought was a nice touch.
Again, from my perspective some of the tables were lacking terrain/cover especially 2 of the snow tables I played on but on the flip side some of them had loads of terrain. I guess that this was a deliberate decision on part of the organisers to force players to engage with each of the scenarios but a little more terrain would have been appreciated by me.
There was no Swiss pairing system which was interesting and the matchups were pre decided based on what army everyone was taking and they were limited to Red v Blue as much as possible. This was then tied to an overall campaign map for each of the Theatres of the war, Western Europe, East Front, North Africa and Italy and the Pacific.
However, this did mean my Japanese were pretty limited in which of the Allies they faced and I only played Americans and Russians all weekend, it would have been nice to face some of the other lists but I can understand from the mechanics of the weekend why this was.
In the run up to the tournament I was painting fairly frantically and managed to finish off 11 infantry, 2 tanks, an elephant and an arty spotter that had remained thus far paintless. My list I thought was decent but not overly cheesy:
1x Regular 2 Lt
1x Inexperienced Kempeitai
2x 12 man Regular Infantry both with Light Mortars
2x 8 man Veteran Infantry with 3 SMGs
1x 12 man Inexperienced Bamboo Spear Squad
1x Inexperienced Medium Mortar with Spotter
1x Regular Medium Howitzer with Spotter
1x Regular Type 92 Tankette
2x Regular Trucks
2x Suicide Anti Tank Teams (1 Regular, 1 Inexperienced)
1x Regular Anti Tank Rifle
The overall plan was Vets and Tankette outflank; Bamboo Spears for chaff and normal infantry sit on objectives or assault with help of smoke. As it turned out none of this really came off mainly due to the scenarios forcing me to amend the battle plans! My lack of a sniper was a big problem all weekend as well. The Suicide Teams did nothing all weekend as well as the ATR. All these are being ditched. The Howitzer was superb however!
My first game was against the eventual Allies Tournament winner Chris Carr with his US Marines. He had a very decent list consisting of (forgive my recollections Chris):
1x 2nd Lt
4x 10 man Veteran US Marine Squads with 2 BARs in each as well as Shotguns and pistols and rifles (not sure on the exact mix)
1x Medium Mortar and spotter
1x Medium Howitzer and spotter
1x MMG Jeep
I think that was the heart of it though I am probably missing something.
The board was a Battle of Guadalcanal board, based on an airstrip (photo below) and the scenario was Maximum Attrition. I was deployed on one side of the airfield and Chris on the other. Now, from the off I made a massive mistake in not outflanking with anything and deciding to cross the open airfield using smoke. With hindsight I should have hunkered down in the buildings, traded fire as best I could with his mortars and howitzer and played for a draw hoping my outflanks could come on and do some damage.
No, I took the traditional Japanese view of trying to cross open ground and assault dug in Marines. It ended as well as it did for the Japanese on the actual Guadalcanal with my losing 11-5 in units. I made it too easy for Chris to kill off my mortar with his sniper in the first turn and he got some nice pieces of luck in ranging in his mortar and howitzer on my Veterans and howitzer respectively. Once that was done I had to try and push the attack but was always fighting an uphill battle against all the US Marine firepower especially as my smoke kept moving.
The second game of the weekend was against ‘H’ Crocker and his Soviets on a very bare winter table that had three large hill with objectives placed on each of the hills (photo below). Winner was the person who had the most objectives in their possession at the end of the game.
My plan with this one was to stay off board with my Veterans in trucks supported by the tankette, push onto one objective on Turn 5 and hopefully assault onto it on Turn 6 whilst my Regular infantry held the last objective.
‘H’ list (again what I remember) consisted of:
2x 2nd Lts
4x SMG squads in trucks
2x Flamethrowers in the trucks
Quad AA Lorry thing
Free Inexp Squad
I think there was also another squad or two that I am missing but can’t recall what they were.
Again I played like a muppet, bringing on my reserves far too early and allowing ‘H’ to whittle them down. I wasn’t aided by my Tankette failing 3 turns in a row to turn up which would have hampered his truck borne squads. I sat on one objective till ‘H’ hit them with two SMG squads and Flamethrower with inevitable results. I stupidly fed ‘H’ my two Veteran units piecemeal on the other objective I was trying to take.
By the end of turn 4 I felt it was another loss incoming. At this point my Howitzer proceed to blast all three of ‘H’ squads off of their respective objectives leaving a very depleted Veteran squad of mine a few inches short of one objective and ‘H’ flamethrower left on another facing down my tankette. Basically, I could win if I killed the 2 Flamethrower guys with the 7 point blank shots I had on the tankette. Of course, I killed 1 and the game ended in a draw. I felt that I had cheated ‘H’ out of a win as he had outplayed me all game.
That ended the first day and I went and had a gander at the two further Winter (obviously my Japanese Officer had become geographically embarrassed) tables that I was playing on the next day (photos below).
After a night out in Cardiff celebrating the Welsh rugby win (as an Irishman this was the best result I could hope for!) followed by a nice curry with Mr Ubergruber himself (hi Dave!) I faced off against Rich H Russian inexperienced horde on his own Mannerheim line board that he had generously donated to the event (photo below).
The objective of this board was to hold each objective at the end of the game for which you gained a number of points. If you contested the objective you also got points but obviously less. As the centre of the board was completely free of cover, I decided to concentrate on the objectives on the flanks and to try and pinch them on the last turn, with my Bamboo Spears grabbing the one in the middle.
Rich H list:
5 (incl Free) Inexp Rifles
2 Light Howitzers
2 Medium Mortars
2 T35 (?) experimental tanks
Various Commissars etc
This was the most interesting game all weekend and was fun and tense at the same time. We basically both had the same idea; however I had a slight advantage with the Japanese national rule allowing me to start in Ambush with my Hidden units. I hunkered down in cover and waited. Rich got a tad lucky with his prep bombardment and killed both my Anti Tank teams.
It was basically a waiting game until turn 3 when all hell let loose with Rich tanks showing up on each of my flanks and causing no end of chaos as I only had a Howitzer and ATR that could hurt or pin them. I managed to get on 2 of the objectives but it was precarious with these MMG toting monsters lurking at point blank range. Fortunately, the dice gods then abandoned Rich H and he consistently failed to pass a whole raft of orders tests with his inexperienced tanks and squads. This combined with my better close combat troops allowed me to take 3 objectives by the end of turn 6. I was desperately wishing not to have a turn 7 but of course it came up. In the end it wasn’t too bad as Rich again failed a vital order roll and my Anti Tank rifle proved much better at assaulting than shooting by taking out an Officer team that was threatening to take an objective. This allowed me to take the last objective and win the game at a canter.
Star of the game again was the howitzer for consistently putting on pins and dealing death at everything it turned to. A great game and one that could have easily gone either way.
My final game was against Alex Burridge on another Winter table that very much favoured the Axis player. This scenario asked the Allied player to hold a crossroads in the centre of the table with the rest of his army coming on from reserve. I had the benefit of setting up anywhere on the board outside of 18” of this unit, and I was hidden and of course that meant I could start in Ambush.
I had recce’d the table the night before and thought through what my tactics would be. I decided to sit on the ridge line by my board edge with my heavy weapons teams allowing me fire across the entire board. Again, I kept my Veterans in trucks off board with the plan of using them to assault onto the objective on the last turns. I placed the rest of my infantry in woods on either side of the objective in order to give crossfire onto it. My Bamboo Spears went on the left flank in a house to take the Secondary Objective.
3x Regular 10 man squads
1x Vet squad in a truck
2x Bazooka teams
1x MMG team
I felt fairly confident at the start of this game; Alex was a relatively new player and his list was a nice friendly non tournament list (Apologies for educating you otherwise Alex!). From the off he was on the back foot as I proceed to shoot the bejesus out of his units on the objective. Alex didn’t help himself by spreading out his remaining infantry instead of concentrating them, but then again there was very little in the way of cover to help him in the middle. Personally, I would have put the MMG and a Bazooka on the objective and pushed all of his infantry down one flank a lot more aggressively. As it was, the only threat I faced was his Sherman which was consistently hit by mortars and the howitzer and took 5 pins before being assaulted and set on fire by my Veterans on turn 4 causing the crew to run off. After that it was clean up time for a relatively easy win.
All in all, I came mid table with 24 tournament points. Interestingly if I had been Allied I would have come 4th, such was the Axis dominance. I think this is explained away by the Allied side having several new players to the game and some of the boards obviously favouring the Axis.
The key lessons for me were that I am too aggressive early game with my infantry. Also, that I can’t hit for toffee with mortars and that I really needed a Sniper. The Suicide Anti Tank teams and ATR were a waste of points too. Oh, and that I love medium howitzers……