March Madness entered the new millennium with verve and innovation. The team from the old Time On Target ran the tournament. Mike Reed, personifying all that is good with ASL, was the director, and Paul SomethingOrOther took the place of his #2, previously held by Mark Neucom. Mark was not to be seen.

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March Madness 2000
(or MMMM)

It was held March 10-12 2000 in Kansas City at a new location of the Raddison. While sounding posh, the hotel was little more than a remodeled Hotel $79.99. The front staff could hardly answer my question of getting back to the freeway, but I did get the directions in two known languages, one unknown one and a passerby (possibly an out town guest) even threw in his finger-pointing help. However, the accommodations were adequate and, really, ASL only needs marginal ambiance to make it fun. It seems right to mention at this point the modeling class taking place next door. While the would-be models were no more than 14, it didn’t stop many of the guys from ogling and, in turn, it didn’t stop many of the girls from being creeped out.

The small turn out was disappointing. March Madness had been drawing crowds of 70 on a regular basis. I’d like the blame the discourteous front desk help but apparently many were scared off by the change of format: too bad for them. Still, about 20 players showed up and considering you’re only going to play five of them, it didn’t matter much. Needless to say even with less competition, I couldn’t place much above average. There was even a father-son team present; reassuring in this day and age.

Regardless, the point of the weekend was ASL and we got plenty of that. The tournament introduced a twist: that of limited fog of war. I hesitate to call it limited intelligence, since I’ve been doing that most of my life. The scenarios were specially created for the weekend and no one knew anything about them. Initially, cards were draw to make the pairings. The Attackers went into one room and the defenders into another and each group was briefed separately. This had a military motif, which is not surprising since Mike and about everyone else in the room was military to some degree. They presented nice overheads with the battleground (“maps” in ASL terms), the enemy disposition (“units”), the overall situation (that textual discussion next to the picture on each scenario), and the goals (victory conditions). We were to write our own Aftermath. Afterwards, the counter pulling begun and even after that, the games began.

The games were quite fun. For starters they were varied. They ranged from early war French and German encounter, a Russian clash in the desert-like steppes, Americans in the bocage and finally a Jewish-British force assaulting a defensive line in Italy. Scenario sizes were almost manageable. I don’t think a game was ever finished in the time allotted although they did not run over too much. Only the Sunday afternoon game had to be adjudicated on any serious scale. The largest was the Russian-German tank battle during Kursk featuring every known Russian tank and three Churchills against an equally mixed German force.

The thing everyone wants to know about is the limited intelligence. In short: excellent idea if done right. And they did it right. It’s a unique twist to be sure. Every tactic you know for ASL had to be thrown out. While you knew what most of the enemy forces were, it was the hidden or the unknown ones that made it fun. Gone was tactic of rushing a sector because you knew the enemy has one anti-tank gun. Gone too was the ability to count counters and to be secure in the fact that you found all his HIP units. Since the scenarios were new to all the players, the experience level was evened out, at least to some degree.

Players relied on their skills and quick thinking to rather than some rote routine. The scenarios generally made everyone a little more cautious even though caution may not have been the tactic needed. For instance, the Germans could have won the Russian scenario easily if, from the start, he sped straight for the VC. Instead, many players took slower approaches. You got a feeling of how risky “bold” was. While we like to read accounts of a leader or unit being bold, the same action could have ended in disaster. In game terms, few players are willing to risk an entire eight-turn game during the movement phase of the first turn. Logically and wisely, they took a slower, more certain pace. I suspect we will see more tournaments like this one.

As for the tournament organization, it was well run, something we have come to expect from Mike Reed. The biggest complaint was the rounds did not start on time. Somewhat expected due to the novel structure of the tournament but did not effect too much. As usual, there were always a few players up until three or four in the morning. “You can always sleep in Abilene,” as the saying goes. The scenarios had way too many overlays for my liking. Much of the setup time was spent managing these. However, people have also come to expect special situations like this from the ToT crew. Apparently if it’s not extensive and arcane SSRs, it’s overlays.

The bottom line? I’d go back in a moment. It was more fun than I had in a long time at any tournament. With the lessons learned from the first time, I can hardly wait to go again a second time. However, the 14 year old models need to change their practice to the weekend after ours for everyone’s sake.