The Grand Slam compared:
Belgian Open v French Open v WBC
These are the three major Memoir 44 competitions that I know of, and I have the good fortune to be able to compete in all 3 in the past year. If anyone has another tournament that they think should be up here, then please let me know; maybe I might even come to it.
In this review I hope to be able to compare and contrast the three, partially so that the rest of you can live vicariously through me but also as a practical guide to anyone considering running their own tournament.
Started: 2012 1 tournament
Games: 6 over 2 days
Where: Louvain-la-Neuve – don’t know if this will stay the same going forward
Format is pure Swiss, with 6 rounds. Players with the best record play each other. Players are only briefed on the scenario they will be playing a few minutes before, with a video introduction on the historical background and then the scenario itself. This helps occupy the time it takes for the organisers to enter the standings, generate the pairings for the next round and set up the maps.
Because you are playing blind, the ability to quickly read an unfamiliar map and a form a plan is highly tested here.
Scenarios are ready printed and setup with troops in the start positions and all relevant special cards available on or by the map.
The field is probably the most diverse, with players from the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and Belgium. However the French field is probably stronger.
Organisation and support are very good, with a non-playing organising team, videos, spreadsheets, presentations.
Venue was a lecture theatre in the university.
Started: 208 5 tournaments
Format: Seeded semi Swiss
Games: 5 over two days + public final
Where: Paris, talk off returning to Normandy for 2014
Players are grouped by ability, so if you are an average player you should play one expert, one novice and 3 people about the same as you; in theory anyway. The details are opaque to me but they should be able to do this given that this is the longest running tournament with an established player base – so they know how good the regular players are. Who you will play is decided right at the start.
1/5th of the field plays each scenario at one time. The scenarios, except the final, are available in advance. Scenarios are ready printed and setup with troops in the start positions and all relevant special cards available on or by the map. Usually you set them up after you finish the previous round so they are ready for the next players.
Scoring is based on medal count, with extra medals for winning and holding objectives. Tie breaker is figures kept alive.
The field is probably the strongest overall, though less diverse than Belgium. This is mostly a French affair with some Belgians and a couple of Anglos. No Dutch or Germans this year to my knowledge.
Current venue is the museum of playing cards in Paris, the first was held in St Mere-Eglise.
Started: 2004 9 tournaments
Games: 6 in one day
Where: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
This is very different to the other two, which are M44 only events with a significant amount of official support. Here it is part of the larger WBC where over 100 games are played in tournament format, because of that the organisation and structure is very different. There is one GM and at least 2 assistants to run the event, and they all play, assistant GMs are there to rule in the game the GM is in. Neither pre-printed maps nor figures are provided; one rule at WBC is that you are only guaranteed to pay if you bring a copy, in practice it is very rare for anyone to get turned away because they don’t have one.
No decadent European 3 games a day format here, start at 0900, 6 knock out rounds scheduled for two hours each. In theory this should finish around 2100, but can and has run much later.
There is a Mulligan round the previous night that gives entry into the 2nd round, so all players can have at least two games if they wish. In the event of an odd number of participants in a round someone already knocked out plays as an eliminator.
Scenarios are chosen and available in advance, scoring is straight knock out with medal count and figures killed as the tie break.
Point by point:
I consider the Belgian format to be the best for a pure M44 tourney; the strongest and best performing players will play each other. It does need quite a slick organisation to run however.
Knockout format works fine for WBC because there is so much else to do there if you get knocked out and some people will only want to play a couple games anyway. I would not advise anyone to use it that way for a M44 only event, but it is perfect for what it is.
That WBC needs 6 games in 12 hours is possible because it’s a convention where everyone is staying either in the venue itself or nearby, it would not work where people are commuting as in France or Belgium.
French format, this bugged me, and I have worked out what it is. The best players do not play each other by design, only by accident or in the final; instead they are competing to rack up medal counts against less good players. The only thing that is good about this format is the spectated final.
The French open has the largest and maybe the strongest field, but not a very diverse one.
WBC and Belgium are about the same size wise and in diversity of field, however I think Belgium is marginally stronger because as a pure M44 event it attracts M44 players, as opposed to WBC which has a diverse player base, but they are to play many games ofwhich M44 is one.
Size Strength Diversity
France 5/5 5/5 2/5 12/15
Belgium 3/5 5/5 4/5 12/15
WBC 3/5 3/5 4/5 10/15
Where are you playing and what is close?
The Playing Card museum in Paris is a pretty unique venue, and is in a major city. Belgium is in a university campus after the end of term, so everything is shut. On the other hand you get your mission briefings in a proper lecture hall. WBC is in a not-especially great hotel during a convention, but there is a lot there.
Is this easy to get to, is it expensive, can I justify that trip, does my non-playing SO have something to do while I play with my toy soldiers?
You are in Paris which is both awesome and expensive, if you are in Normandy and your SO isn’t interested, less good for you
Belgium in November is not a top holiday destination, but, there’s things to do and it is one of the most fought over places in Europe, so if you are into military history, not a bad choice. I was able to go to Waterloo last year on my trip.
Lancaster is not unpopular tourist destination so there is other stuff to do if necessary, really though you are coming for WBC. If you are coming across the Atlantic for that, might as well take some time in the US to do other stuff
Belgium and France have non-playing organising teams, pre-printed maps, pieces and cards provided, you get to take the maps home when you are done.
WBC does not have any of those, on the other hand a day of WBC is $20 (all you need for M44 unless you play the Mulligan) up to $100 for the whole thing. Belgium and France run to more than EUR 40.
WBC wins here, as you are taking part in a tradition of gaming going back to the origins of board war gaming and there is plenty else to do as well as play the competition. There are usually 4 or so Overlord demonstrations scheduled, as well as open games you can pick up. Amongst the other games with Touneys are other Richard Borg games like Command and Colours and Battle Cry as well as DOWs Ticket to Ride
Compared to that you can meet other players FtF for first time at France and Belgium, and maybe some of the personalities. I have seen Richard Borg at WBC and jdrommel at France.
Belgium comes out top as the best all round event, the French Open is let down by the format but supported by other factors to tie with WBC.