October 25th through the 27th saw the arrival of Dragon Fall 2019. At this event, Chicago Dice’s own Andrew and Dexter were running the inaugural Operation Phoenix, a spiritual successor to old favorite Bolt Action tournament, Operation Sting. I was one of the 14 players participating this year, fielding a U.S. Airborne army based on Market Garden and walking away with Best Allies after five great games over two days. My force consisted of a core of U.S. paratrooper squads supported by a machine gun, light mortars, and several artillery pieces, along with a British Artillery Observer provided by the theater selector I was using.
Game 1 – Recon in Force – Matt (Hungarians)
Our objective for the opening game of Operation Phoenix was to control table quarters, with additional VPs for killing enemy officers. I was playing against Matt, a new Bolt Action player who was eager to learn the ropes of the game (Matt’s army shown above). We had a great time going over tactics while we played and talking over potential future projects and armies. During the game I deployed fairly heavily on my right side, hoping to hold my side of the table and push into one of the corners on his end. I was able to do some major damage early in the game, landing a medium howitzer shell that killed his medic and a squad of infantry as well as almost eliminating his lieutenant, which left the middle of the board open. I pushed the right heavily after this opening, and an outflanking move by my SMG-heavy paratrooper squad was able to eliminate his veteran squad that was attempting to stem the tide. His Hetzer was able to run a bit rampant on my left as my AT gun was out of position to deal with it, however my infantry held his forces off and I was able to control 3 table quarters to his 1, taking a 6-2 win on points.
Game 2 – Companies Collide – Jeff (Finns)
Game 2 was against a Jeff rocking his classic Finnish force, who Andrew and I had played previously in Adepticon Doubles. This game was a lot of fun, with three objectives running along a road through the center of the table. The goal was to earn points starting in Turn 3, earning one point per objective controlled per turn. I was a bit lucky in that the game objectives did not allow for outflanking, which prevented his Kaukopartio Recon squad from using their special rules to enter the table on my side behind my vulnerable artillery pieces. My initial goal during this game was to push up to the left and middle objectives, while leaving one squad to potentially harass the right flank and the objective there. My indirect fire from the howitzers continued to perform above expectations, eliminating several units in short order, while the squad on the right ended up making an opening and took the right side objective, and then improbably held it against a pair of Sissi Recon squads that assaulted them. I was unable to breach the middle objective, but I held the left and right sides for several turns and took the win.
Game 3 – Dusk Assault! – John M (Germans)
There was a single central objective in Dusk Assault. This was a highly variable game in which it could potentially end at the end of Turn 4, or could last until Turn 8. Our objective was to capture and clear the central objective until dusk. After Turn 4 you would roll to see if it became dusk each turn (causing limited range/visibility for your units) and bringing you into the endgame, where a player controlling the objective uncontested could win the game on a roll of a 3+ at the end of a turn. John was running Germans with a worrisome choice of armor, including both a Panzer IV and a Marder III (pictured above from one of his other games), which wields a heavy howitzer, an easy way to delete my veteran Airborne units. I decided early that the Marder was my primary threat and deployed my AT gun to deal with it. I landed my first shot on the Marder and was able to destroy it, opening up options for my infantry to advance. I found myself in a good position when dusk set on Turn 4, with a squad holding the objective uncontested, but his Panzer IV raced up the road and blew them apart with an HE shell, forcing me to run one of my light mortar teams onto the objective to contest it and avoid a loss. Over the next few turns the Panzer IV continued to cause a bit of havoc in my infantry, but I was able to eliminate the rest of his army and take the win with a controlled objective.
Game 4 – Supply Drop – Jeremy (Germans)
My fourth game was against Jeremy’s gorgeous German anti-air force (pictured above from one of his other games), which included autocannons on armored chassis (which are great at chewing up veteran infantry) as well as inexperienced/green infantry units. We played on Tom’s gorgeous China table (which won Best Battlefield, well deserved!). Jeremy and I were dealing with four objectives, each of which would (potentially) give a bonus the first time a unit approached them and opened up the supply canister. Other than that it was a classic objectives game, hold more than your opponent at the end. Early on I rolled up on one objective and it turned out that it was worth 3 points instead of 2 in the endgame, so I started to consolidate to attempt to hold my two objectives rather than overextending towards. My howitzers and light mortars continued to perform, knocking out several team weapons and adding pins, while my British artillery observer delayed his enter center early in the game with pins as well. I got a bit unlucky when hitting his Green units, as casualties I caused bumped 3 of them up to regulars, greatly boosting their effectiveness. The game ended up coming down to whether we had to play Turn 7, as I managed to effectively stop his push on my right side and on the left I used an Airborne squad as a roadblock to prevent his tank from contesting my objective in turn 6. Unfortunately for me, we did roll to have to play turn 7 and despite landing several hits from howitzers and the AT gun I was unable to knock his tank off of my left objective and he took the 4-3 win on points. A very good game and a hard fought loss.
Game 5 – Break Out – John S (Japanese)
My final game was against the man, the myth, the legend, John, who regularly wins Bolt Action tournaments. I was incredibly excited for this game as I haven’t had an opportunity to play him in the past. This final game was different than our usual scenario in that we were playing long-ways, with deployment zones being the short table edges and forces having to cross the 6-foot wide table. We played on a fairly open desert map, with sight lines broken up by buildings in the center and a few hills along the sides. The goal of the mission was to kill enemy units and get your units into the opponent’s deployment zone. My army was fairly static (with three artillery pieces and an MMG), and with his Japanese force most likely heading straight for me I decided my best bet was to establish a line and try to bring them down through weight of fire. My artillery officer was able to kill his sniper and drop about 15 pins onto a group of units in Turn 2, delaying his entire left flank for a turn, while my artillery started lobbing shells, landing a few hits here and there. His right flank was highly aggressive, using buildings and hills to maintain cover from my fire and get close to my units. That side of the board became a heated close quarters mess as US and Japanese soldiers fought at point blank ranges, with some of my Airborne forming a line in an open field to prevent his truck and tank from racing through to my deployment zone for victory points. The other side, not to be outdone, became a bloodbath as well, with my 8 man SMG-heavy paratrooper squad holding a building through a 14 man assault followed by another 13 man assault, killing a total of 26 IJA regulars before the last man was able to take the building. My lieutenant couldn’t let that stand of course and assaulted the building shortly thereafter, recapturing it for the USA. In the end, killpoints remained fairly even and neither of us was able to breach the opposing deployment zone, resulting in a draw. An excellent game, and my highlight of the tournament.
Operation Phoenix was created with the intent of having a spiritual successor to Operation Sting, and Dragon Fall is a perfect location for it. This inaugural year went really well, and I’m hugely thankful to Andrew and Dexter for running an awesome event. The crowd of players was great, and I’m looking forward to a bigger and even better event next year!