Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shifting Sands 2014

Shifting Sands 2014 was held last weekend in Mesa, AZ.  This was my first year at the now long-running event and several of my old NorCal gaming friends flew or drove down as well.  All told I think there were ten of us out of the forty that registered.  The event was a Kursk-themed 1500 point Mid War firestorm campaign that added air support to four of the five rounds plus most (but unfortunately not all) players received an exrta platoon of support that varied each round.  I brought a custom designed StuG Batterie with a platoon of StuG III F/8s, a platoon of StuH 42s, some
Marder III Hs and a platoon of foot scouts.

Round One was versus John Halter and a Lend Lease Tankovy force in No Retreat with Germans on the offensive on all tables, no matter the Infantry/Armor matchup.  Additionally, the Soviet players all replaced both of their Objectives with T-34 turret bunkers.  Both sides had Air Support and had to roll to see how effective.  My Firestorm bonus was an upgrade to my Air to Henschel Hs-129B tank destroyers from the standard Junkers Ju-87D bombers.  John received a company of mounted cossacks.
Deployment:  StuH platoon on the far side, StuGs and Scouts on the near side and HQ and Marders up the middle.  John had a company of M3 Lees spread across the middle and another company of M3s with long 75mm guns in Ambush.  M3 Stuarts, BA-64s and Cossacks in Reserve.
My Turn One: I get several hits against the Conscript tanks.
The Germans move out, wary of the danger from Sturmoviks...
Turn Two: StuHs and Marders score a few more kills.
The Ambush is sprung, but line of sight from my forward StuG forces them behind the far hedge.  Stuarts also arrive.
John's Turn Five:  Stuarts charge to getflank shots, killing a StuG.  Cossacks arrive, but don't have a role to fill.
My Turn Seven: StuHs make it accross the board and kill two armored cars that were hiding there.  They fail morale and John's Battalion does as well on his next turn.  6-1 victory for the StuGs.
That game was kinda strange.  Both of us basically forgot about the bunker turrets.  My Scouts were useless but so were John's.  Our Air Support never got a single strike in, but were intercepted more than once.  My Hs-129 upgrade was worthless.  So were the Cossacks.  I'm beginning to see the random nature of the Firestormers...  Ultimately, forcing that ambush so far back really limited their effectiveness and gave me local superiority vs. the remaining tanks.

Round Two would be Breakthrough with the side having the most wins the previous round attacking.  Unfortunately for me, the Soviets and their vast infantry reserves held their ground over all in Round One.  My tanks would now be forced to defend in one of the most difficult situations I could possibly find.  The only recon available to my Batterie were Grenadier Scouts that couldn't buy any vehicles.  Knowing my dire situation, I asked my Firestorm commander (who decided which FS units would be issued to each player) for one of the infantry platoons.  These, I felt would give me a fighting chance.  Without them I was inevitably doomed.  Instead, I got a polish armored train vs. Jeff Plaine and his Tankovy...  Both players would again receive Air Support.
Forced to only deploy my Scouts and one platoon of tanks, I fought a fighting withdrawal back towards the Objectives.  The open terrain easily could have spelled disaster, but Jeff's IL-2s were shooting blanks.
Unfortunately, so were my dice!  Lots of ones for a 2+ firepower.  Jeff's Stuarts arrived from the flank atttack on Turn Four and easily steamrolled my poor scouts.  My Air got one attempt in on my next turn, but failed to any of the seven tanks they had under the template.  1-6 loss for ze Germans, but it could have been different.
My Reich for a platoon of Grenadiers!!  The lack of the requested infantry support pretty much sealed my fate before dice ever dropped.  The near total abandonment from the Luftwaffe didn't help either.  To add insult to very serious injury, neither of us realized that we had only played five turns (of the mandatory six) until we were at the scoring table.  Though my opponent graciously conceded to a modified score of 2-5 ( he had a single bailed T-34 sitting within 4 inches of three StuHs at the end of out fifth turn which he admitted would have been dead meat had we played one more) but the TO refused.  I had a bad feeling that would come back to haunt me...

Round Three saw the only Fair Fight of the event, a modified version of I-95's Blind Domination.  I had played this once before at Historicon but the AZ crew changed it by repositioning the points markers and adding the necessity of touching the markers rather than just coming within four inches.  Also, a Thunderstorm rule set was in effect ( night rules without fire revealing position) so no Air Support.  Art Mehler, the Soviet Marshal, would be my opponent with his Tankovy.  Neither of us would have any Firestorm support.
Art's Turn Three:  He has already ruthlessly gunned down my Scouts, who were the first platoon to arrive, near the bridge. I should have just reversed them once I saw the T-34s, but the river, due to Flooded rules, was extremely deadly to cross.  My StuGs and StuHs march slowly across the fields, but Stormtrooper was a huge advantage in this mission. 
Once I reached the high-value markers first, Art's Soviets were forced to move every turn to contest.  Hen and Chicks wasn't kind, forcing sixes on every shot.  Art also rolled for short distances for firing whenever he needed medium.
This was going to be very difficult for the Conscripts from the beginning.  He could only hit my Veterans on sixes if he moved or was at long range while I hit him on fours or fives.  He was also forced to go through the woods ( re-rolling successful bog checks).  Once my tanks got to the key center marker first I could sit and fire full ROF while Art's tanks were forced to move every turn.  End result was a 5-2 win for me.  After three rounds my Breakthrough Guns haven't had a single gun or infantry team to shoot at, while my Scouts haven't had a chance to do recon things either.

Day two would dawn with my Batterie holding a very respectable 2-1 record with 12 VCs, good for the top third or so.  The Germans had dominated the Blind Domination and we would be attacking again, this time in Surrounded.  My opponent would be Dan Wilson, a fellow Californian whom I have had the pleasure of playing in previous SoCal events.  He was running Strelkovy with KV-1s and a God of War battery, supported by scouts and light anti-tank guns.  I would receive a battery of Wespe SP artillery, while Dan had an upgrade to his IL-2s.  Both sides would have Air Support.
My diversionary StuGs would tie down the larger of the two Strelk mobs while scoring kills on the defending artillery guns from behind.  
My Stukas finally kill something! They bag a KV-1 on the first turn.  StuHs work their way forward to fire on first the artillery, then the Strelk.  HQ following behind with Scouts lifting GtG.  Marders put fire on the KV's, who appeared from Immediate Ambush.  Wespes kept the God of War pinned for several turns.  
Dan finally was forced to charge the StuHs, hoping to chase them off, but defensive fire from them and a few supporting scouts force the assault back.  Once the final KV is killed by Marders, the StuHs are able to claim the Objective.  6-1 for the StuGs.
Finally, the type of opposing force I designed my list to fight.  StuHs and Scouts working as a team while the Marders provided long-range fire support.  I love it when a plan comes together.

With things looking up after four rounds I knew I still had a shot at one of the ranking spots.  My final match would be against one of my NorCal guys, Brad Feliz, and his Rota force.  Brad learned early the ways of negotiating Firestorm troops and had consistantly had the pick of the Soviet crop.  This final round he bargained for a battery of dug in 85mm AA guns, while I secured a battery of Panzerwerfers (smoke!).  The Soviets had lost the previous round and now would be defending in Fighting Withdrawl.
Unfortunatley I only got a single shot of the end of the game.  This objective held all of my attention but the Red Air Force absolutely cleaned my clock.  Brad had IL-2s coming in every turn, usually with three planes.  My Stukas were chased off every single time they were supposed to arrive.  That was pretty much the whole story right there... 
Brad quite handily secured a 6-1 victory and needed only his Air Support to do it.  The Sturmoviks killed seven of my ten tanks and most of my Scout platoon while breaking three of my five platoons with only minimal support from ambushing Su-122s.  They killed two tanks.  

Final thoughts:  I thoroughly enjoyed the event and all of my opponents were great to play against.  I met lots of new people and I think the organizers did a fantastic job putting everything together.  That said, the randomness of the Air Support (both sides roll on a table to see which level they would receive) was frustrating.  Additionally, IL-2s are significantly better than Ju-87Ds.  Had I known that four of my rounds would be played under threat from above, I would have found the points for AA.  The normal thinking of 'even platoon count' was proven incorrect, as the Firestorm platoon counted for all purposes.  Five was much preferable to four, as it would usually be increased to six.  Additionally, there just wasn't a fair system to distribute the Firestorm troops.  Some of the options included Ace Tiger Is or Ferdinands, while others amounted to a re-roll or replacement of Ju-87s with Hs-129s.  Theorhetically, one player could have a 500+ point advantage on his opponent, as many players played without any additional troops or even the re-roll.  There just weren't enough FS troops for every player.  Soviet players also had a disadvantage with these troops, as their best unit was arguably a KV-1 hero worth an estimated 150-180 points.  Players could bargain for FS support.  The players who finished near the top consistantly had the best and most expensive (points wise) FS options.  The top scoring players were the ones who had the better FS support in every round.  That point that my opponent was willing to concede, but the organizer denied?  I ended up one point shy of Best Axis General...  Next year!

Some of my NorCal friends want me to come run a similar event for them later this year.  If I can find the time and money, and secure spousal approval, I will totally do this.  The only things I think I would change are thus:

1. Eliminate the over-all General for both sides.
  Players can determine which sectors to attack and with which types of troops themselves.  I guess there was an overall strategy going throughout the event, but no one really knew what was going on.

2. Tie the strategic map to the tables.
  If there is a sector on the map that is urban, it should be tied to an urban table.  That way, the type of army sent into that area matters.

3. Tie Firestorm Troops to the tables.
  This will keep them balanced.  Keep the points for the units close (within 50 points) so no one feels like they played disadvantaged.  Make sure there are enough FOR ALL PLAYERS.  If they are tied to particualr tables they can be evenly matched.  City board?  One player gets a platoon of pioneers, the other some flame tanks, etc.

4. Make Air Support a Firestorm unit.
  The ever present threat of air attack was pervasive.  If air is a FS option, tied to a table, it won't dominate some games, while never showing in others.


  1. Richard, I was your opponent and had a great time. I have also blogged my AAR at

    I had a great time playing you in our match. If you consider running a firestorm themed event I'd recommend looking at what we did last year at Sands. I was the TO for that event. The players had a lot more interaction with the campaign. You can find the write up on the FOW site at and my prep work here

    1. Jon I also really enjoyed our game. Your articles from last year are what convinced me that SS 14 was a definite must-go this year. I'm very glad I was able to attend and had a great time meeting new people.