What are ASL Campaign Games and What should I expect?

When I first started with Advanced Squad Leader, I was quite baffled by this whole business about “Campaign Games”.  I was keeping an eye out for any available ASL modules and invariably I ran into titles like “Red Barricades“, “Festung Budapest“, “Valor of the Guards“, “Kampfgruppe Peiper I” etc.  They have the usual stack of scenarios and they also have “Campaign Games” or “CGs”, but ..

What are CGs?  More importantly, what do CGs offer that scenarios don’t?

There are tons of ASL articles out there but very few talks about CGs.  I tried reading Chapter O but I couldn’t exactly wrap my head around it.  I wanted to know why I should get into CGs to start with.

I looked for the answer by jumping into it.  I started with the linked scenario-CG A19 Cat & Mouse and moved onto a few others, the latest one being “China-Burma-India : The Lost Theater“.

I then asked the question on GameSquad.  What follows is a very well written piece about ASL campaign games by Jon Halfin aka “Witchbottles”.  I followed that with a piece from John Knowles aka “SunofTzu” that laid out his impressions of the more popular CG games.  I round this all up at the end with select impressions from different players.

I waited a bit before responding myself.. I am a CG fanatic. There is nothing about them I dislike, from a design perspective. If I dislike a CG , it is based only on the merits and weaknesses of the design itself.

Here is my take on CGs, ASL, and the players of the best game ever invented….

Why try a CG?

Campaign Games in ASL are a niche within a niche. For the player, they offer some unique challenges not seen in regular scenario play. They also offer some difficulties for players. This review of HASL, HSASL, and CGs is designed to acquaint the unfamiliar with many of the precepts, both good and bad, about Campaign Game play and HASL map play in ASL.

Let’s look at the terminology. A Campaign Game is any series of linked scenarios. These may be played on one or more Geo – boards, they may be played on multiple geo – board configurations. They may also occur on a portion or an entire HASL map, depicting in ASL terms at least part of an actual battle area as it existed at the time the campaign was occurring. A HASL Module is a Historical ASL Module. That is , it will include at a minimum both a set of scenarios concerning fighting around a specific geographical location at some given time, and a map that is fairly accurate in representing that location at the time of the fighting. Many also include specific rules that will apply to all scenarios played on that historical terrain map. A HSASL Module is all of the above in an HASL module, with some nice additions. It will typically include an analysis article of the battles / campaign as it occurred, another set of geo- board scenarios that represent fighting near and around that depicted on the historic location map, and some background as to how that battle series in the area fit into the larger picture of the war. All Three of these may , or may not, have included system and / or unit counters for specific units to that module or CG.

Campaign Games. These come in two basic flavors, and can be subdivided in both cases into specific sub – groups. The first is the simplified linked scenario CG. It is played on geo boards, or a combination of geo board setups, or even on differing portions of a HASL map. The actions of each scenario award some type of VCs to the prevailing player in each of the scenarios. Those higher level VCs then determine, after all the scenarios are played in a prescribed order, who has won the entire CG. The second is the traditional, multiple date CG. These are more commonly found on HASL maps than on geo boards, but the author is aware that at least three exist in geo board format as well. In these, each scenario is played from the ending position of the previous scenario, with determinations being made for how / where each side sets up. Those determinations occur in a cycle of rules that are followed in between each CG date.

In both cases, players may be provided a method of “purchasing” new units as reinforcements in between each scenario. This represents the first stage of player involvement over and above a regular ASL game. (One of the nicest developments in stand – alone ASL scenarios over the last 3-5 years has been the “ buy your units” presentation being added via SSRs to many scenarios..) Having an ability to construct or add to a specialized fighting force you have committed from various available units of the time period and location places each player in a position more akin to Regimental command vice a much more common Battalion or Company level action typically portrayed in ASL. Now players add another level of difficulty as well. All of a sudden, a player might gack the setup, and loses big in the game or he may gack the purchase choices, and find himself without the tools needed to achieve victory because of it. This “ meta – game” is one of the main allures that CGs have to many players. It function on much the same level as how Australian Balance System would function in creating a “ meta – game” above the board game.

Finally, Campaign Games can in every case be subdivided into one of two basic characteristics. The first is the “ stay put and play it again” versions of the special rules that occur in between scenarios. This concept limits the ability of units to move, shift, or relocate, during the period in between each scenario, and is often used when the CG is representing several actions in the same area over a finite span of time such as a single day or a pair of days. The other major subdivision is the “ Pick em up, and re- arrange at will, then build a new line” versions of CG special rules. These are more commonly found in CGs depicting battles over a longer period of time, typically a week to a month. In both cases, there are usually some restrictions, and some risk, built into the rules for re-positioning units.

The overriding factor, and the major draw of CGs of any type, for ASL players is the elimination of the : last turn suicide rush” to try to win irrespective of losses. Now, in a CG setting, what you lost today is not available tomorrow, making each unit have a relative worth over and above its own intrinsic value in any given scenario. This may appeal to some players, but there are some major disadvantages to CGs as well.

A player may not have the space to leave a large game set up, and many of the available CGs utilize larger map areas. Given the need to play several scenarios in turn, it will likely take players more than two separate sessions to complete a CG. The second major item dissuading players new and old alike, is that CGs require large amounts of side note bookkeeping. Not every ASL player is fond of scenarios that require the level of note – keeping that CGs require. Last, many ASL players do not have the available time to commit to multiple long spans of gaming to complete a CG. This can cause many ASL players to back away from the majority of CGs available.

A parting concern in Campaign Games, and their associated HASL and HSASL modules, is quality of product / playability of product. When a publisher creates an unplayable monster of a CG, or creates a very nice visual product that is unplayable due to rules gaffes or unintelligible instructions, it creates a mistrust for CGs that can cause some players to simply walk away. After all , we each have well over 5,000 published stand alone scenarios of at least a decent quality to choose from. In the end, the choice to play CGs is not a case of “ you don’t fit in cause you do, or don’t play CGs.” It is instead a case of whether or not you enjoy the meta – game aspects, the larger designs, the more varied terrain and maps and special rules, and the bookkeeping to create the “ extra layer” that CGs give an ASL player.

KRL, Jon H

From John Knowles :

I’ve done a number of CGs over the years. Here are some of my thoughts:

Red Barricades CG III: I played this CG about 3 times. 2 of the games petered out after 7 dates or so. My impression of Red Barricades CG III (remembering that I’ve never done the smaller CGs I, II, and IV) is that it comes down to whether or not the Germans can attrition the Russian at a better rate of 3:2. Its a great historic map to be using, and an okay CG. I never really considered it the last word in the ASL experience, although there seems to be plenty of others that do…..

Kampfgruppe Peiper CG I: I’ve played this one 6 times (with half the games going beyond the halfway mark), for me the most of any CG, and perhaps this is my Nirvana. I think CG I is very balanced, if the Americans focus more on getting out the way rather than just trying to take as many Germans with them as they are overrun on 19am. Hook up the guns; you won’t miss them much during Very Heavy Mist (not to mention the SSR CA restrictions), but you might miss them more on later dates after the mist thins. It doesn’t matter if the Sanatorium catches fire (and is therefore reduced to rubble); I would expect that to happen anyway. The same fate will probably befall the Steeple location in j19. The Americans pretty much gain the strategic parity when they have a 3:2 ratio in squads, which increases to a strategic advantage as the numbers close on a 2:1 squad ratio.

Kampfgruppe Peiper CG II: I’ve played this one twice, and it too seems very balanced. Much more limited choices for both sides, compared with the other 2 CGs, which also makes this an easier CG to start with. The Germans are at their most vulnerable during the night date, and I think that a lot rests on how much the Americans can hurt the SS during this time. I would unswervingly point to this as an ideal CG to start with, but only on the condition that both players are well versed in the night rules of Chapter E.

Kampfgruppe Peiper CG III: I’ve played this one four times, but with 2 of the games ending early. The Americans really need a bit of help here; the Germans simply have too many squads, and the Americans have to wait right until the end until the big green wave shows up. It’s a very fun map to play on, but if I were to do it a 5th time, I would recommend reducing the CG RG Maximums of German groups I2 and I4 from 4 to 2. I would also give the American infantry who show up before 22AM a -1 DRM/drm on all Leader DRs and Platoon Quality drs.

A lot of ASL players seem to get the impression that the mist and the slope hex sides makes KGP overly complicated. Slope hex sides are easily grasped; after a while, you come to miss them when you return to the regular ‘billiard table topography’ of ASL. As for the mist, it actually simplifies most of the tactical situations by moderating the deadliness of long range fire.

Pegasus Bridge CG I: I’ve played this once (as Germans). This was a thoroughly enjoyable CG, and went as close as close goes with a Germans HS surviving a CC WD attempt to reach the VC area in GO on the final turn of the final Date. The British need to guard against attrition, or its all over. My opponent (Peter Palmer) experienced some anxious times, but hung on to the last Date, where an epic battle was concluded.

Pegasus Bridge CG II: I’ve played this once (as Germans). This could be a good CG to start with, it would pay to have the more experienced player take the British. Our playing ended in failure for the British when Lord Lovat’s Commandos failed to get across the bridge. In spite of the abrupt end, it was still a fun CG to do.

I’ve also done 3 of the Platoon Leader CGs, which whilst being plenty of fun to do, have more bugs in them than an unmarried man’s kitchen. It’s a shame that such a clumsy mess was made of the Platoon Leader series; it had the potential to be something really awesome.

Campaign games appeal to those who don’t find meticulous planning tedious. I enjoy being rewarded for my patient planning, so CGs really appeal to me. There is a bit of work involved, but if you’re able to enjoy the long-term planning of it all, then the work isn’t much of a burden.

Here’s my 2 hints for playing CGs:

Hint 1: Infantry and Fortifications are invariably the best bang for your buck in CGs. Get as many (if not all) of these as you can.

Hint 2: Read Hint 1 at least a couple more times.

John.

Here are an assortment of quotes from other players that might help you decide :

From Blackcloud6 :

I like the concept of the CG, the macro-planning, the long view, fighting to achieve something a CG days down the road. But in practice, I find the play, like Jim B. does, to be tedious. I’ve only played two: Hart Attack and CG1 from FB. If a game is going to take a long time, like the CGs do, they have to be very exciting to hold my attention; and I have to be involved with it constantly to keep my motivation up (which is why I only like to play very large scenarios at a setting like ASLOK). So far, I have found CGs a difficult thing to do. I’d like to try one again, but don’t know if I want to invest the time.

I like the planning aspect “between days” but I don’t like the force purchase method. Commanders don’t do that, they work with what they have and what their next higher HQ decides to give them. Maybe purchasing units was the best way to do the force structure in a CG and it might represent you, the playing stepping into a higher level of command to select the forces to accomplish the task, but it does not seem right that you get to go to “Soldiers-R-Us” and purchase your toys for the next day of gaming.

I would like to see smaller CGs.

From BattleSchool :

The forthcoming Hell’s Highway from Lone Canuck might fit the bill.

It is is short, a maximum of six “dates.” The counter density is very manageable too.

But it is the nature of the CG that makes this one more engaging than most. The map is neither open like Riley’s Road, nor urban like Stalingrad. Both sides get to attack during the day.

The Germans (Panzer-Brigade 107) are on the offensive to begin with, but later must face counterattacks from opposing directions. The German force features heaps of AFVs, including many specialised halftracks that players won’t want to throw away on VBM gambits. Panthers vs Shermans, some of which are Firefly variants. “Screaming Eagles,” Guards Armoured (including OP tanks), and 44 RTR (under command of 101st Airborne) provides for some interesting force mixes.

I have not played the CG. But I enjoyed playing the scenarios, especially those involving a lot of German AFV. Not much Assault Moving going on in those scenarios. I doubt that this would change much during a CG. Appears challenging for both sides.

At less than $30, HH is a low risk purchase. Did I mention how cool the map is?

From ecz :

May be I’m not experienced enough to judge CGs in general, but everytime I approach a CG I think that in the same amount of time needed to setup and play the first date I could probably play three ordinary scenarios. Any excitement of HASL vanishes in front of the cruel lack of time to commit myself in something absorbing all my ASL time for months.

ASL time is too short to waste it with CGs

From Sparafucil3 :

I have played PHD. I have Ozerekya Bay. Pegasus Bridge is not much different than RB/VotG/FB. It has some chrome, but seriously, CG’s are like a Buick. They will get you from point A to B, but they are boring as hell. Can’t stand them.

The biggest problem with CG is they are SLOW. They feel like they drag on forever. Here’s a hint: if you ever really want to be beat me, slow down. Make it take forever. I will resign and move on eventually. Life is too short to play bad ASL (and CG’s are the worst part of ASL IMO. YMMV). — jim

From Michael R :

Although I have done a few CG, I do not play them often because they remove a desirable feature from my ASL experience: variety. I enjoy going from early war to late war, ETO to PTO, Allied minors to Finns, with each play session. A CG removes that variety.

From Binko :

I tend to dislike the standard style of large CGs. Stretching a squad level game up to a large multi-day campaign is simply out of scale, in my opinion. You just have a long string of tactical actions without any of the command and supply constraints that larger formations had to suffer. It’s like moving a mountain of dirt using 100 guys with wheelbarrows and no supervision rather than using a few well managed excavators. 🙂

I also can’t wrap my head around the concept of sweeping the board clear between campaign dates. It feels like it negates any advantage you are building up, adds to the CG logistics, and makes it impossible to make long term plans.

What I DO like are some of the innovative things that 3rd Party Publishers are doing with small CGs. Lone Canuck’s small CGs on historical maps that feature a series of engagements over a single day is much more in keeping with the scale of ASL, in my opinion. The new Burma pack from the St. Louis guys also looks great with a series of linked scenarios on a smallish historical map. I’d like to see more stuff like this.

But many players I know simply love big CGs. And I think that’s great. ASL is a big expansive gaming tent and one of it’s strengths is that there are a multitude of different types of scenarios and CGs to play.

From Grumblejones :

I’ve played the Pegasus Bridge and Purple Heart Draw campaigns and enjoyed them both immensely. CG’s do take a huge time commitment, but if you and your opponent are focused and stay on track, it can flow nicely. Watching Pegasus Bridge unfold from the time the gliders landed until the British reinforcements arrived on the Dusk Turn was just awesome. It’s one of the few ASL experiences where I felt like I saw the historical event unfold before me.

I certainly hope to play a few more before my ASL days are over. Bloody Buron and Crossing the Moro are high on my list to do some day.

From Delirium :

Primarily, CG play allows for additional player agency:

  • Whether to attack;
  • When to attack (night or day);
  • Most CGs have fairly broad VC objectives for a given date (such as 20 stone locations) which allows for considerable player latitude in determining precise objectives; and if course,
  • Crafting one’s force by making reinforcement purchases. A few assault engineers or many conscripts? Air support or INF guns. Delicious dilemmas.

Another aspect which just occurred to me:

  • As the defender, with HIP, mines, and other fortifications available, it’s possible to lay quite complex traps for the enemy by inviting an attack in a certain area which is seemingly lightly defended. Fantastic when it works.

A further advantage is the extent to which CG play emphasises studying and learning the topography. A well placed pillbox can be a thorn for several dates, for instance.

And of course, the importance of force preservation. Losing that 9-2 to a sniper becomes all the more devastating

From Lobster :

With getting myself into VASL 2012 I got the chance to start playing CG again, as my regular FTF opponents in my area do not like them due to length etc. PHD came into my hand not long before, and with the relative small dimension of the CG it was attractive to start with it.

Since then I played PHD twice and FB CG1 once. None on the CG came to last date. PHD into Mission 3 and 2 respectively, FB Date 3.

At the moment I play KGP CG III (date 5 so far) and Cholm CG I (just starting date 2). I am quite sure that both will not come to the last date.

But this does NOT reduce the fun of playing them.

The decisions about choosing the right reinforcements, developing a strategy etc. makes them definitely worth playing, giving a unique experience, even when knowing they will be decided most of the time (at least in my experience) earlier that the designers hoped for. As Delirium mentioned before, the possibility to lay quite complex traps for the enemy by inviting an attack in a certain area which is seemingly lightly defended (or staging a faint attack to distract the defenders) is a dimension that is only possible in a CG where you have much more freedom to act and react.

For me Campaign Games are wonderful part of the ASL-Cosmos.

I hope this helps you in your quest into the world of campaign games.  What are your thoughts?  Please let me know.

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6 thoughts on “What are ASL Campaign Games and What should I expect?

  1. Hey Jackson,
    Let me start by saying I have had no luck finding “local” FTF opponents. The closest “wargaming” group is 60+ miles away. This club has a few ASLers… but mostly engage in other strategy board games.

    I play ASL Starter Kit, exclusively by SKYPE / VASL or PBeM VASL. During the past year have started 3 PBeM campaigns of “Decision at Elst”.

    My first opponent just stopped playing after moving a couple of his units. Emails ceased coming. Inquiries… unresponsive.

    The 2nd was started in March… and we just wrapped up the 1st British MPh ( I am playing the UK forces). In this case my opponent takes weeks (or a month) to respond with a vlog. For me it is hard to keep my head “in the game” when so much time passes between vlogs.

    The 3rd… I emailed my Axis setup mid August. After two weeks received an email… “life intervened” and was causing the delay in responding. To which I replied “no pressure / problem” … I play for enjoyment. But please let me know if you really would like to continue. Been over a week, and my inbox has not seen a reply.

    Reply
    • I do not play stater kit, but I know many who do and enjoy it. The DaE module was the first and so far , only CG design for starter kits.

      Here’s some take it to the banks when it comes to PBEM VASL gaming:

      1. You are going to have some unfinished games, and a few dropped opponents along the way. It’s called life, and it affects each of us differently. After all, we are PBEing ASL because of life interventions otherwise, be they scheduling challenges or in the case you point to, location difficulties.

      2. You will find with PBEM you can often handle 2 games in the space you could manage 1 FTF game as far as time goes. You might find more enjoyment if you found two opponents, and took opposite sides in the CG for DaE in each one. Plus, this way you ” hedge your bets” against life interventions into gaming time.

      3. Let your opponents know up front what mailing schedule you prefer to encompass your PBEM games. Straight up, my opponents know before ever taking on the game in the first place I am only going to promise 1 logfile / week – and less if it is a finals week ( I am a grad student and work full time). Letting them know you prefer a faster paced game up front will ensure the opponents you do get are ones willing and able to handle that mailing pace for PBEM logs.

      4. Expand your horizons. You will find times you cannot get enough opponents who are interested in a CG, then just play a scenario instead. Other times, you will find you have 12 or 20 responses when all you asked for was a single CG opponent. Life is a fickle mistress, and provides both glut and drought.

      5. Advertise well. I have to say it: you will find FAR more opponents by advertising for them on GameSquad Forums than anywhere else. A distant second is BoardGameGeek Forums for ASLSK. You will find a dearth of them anywhere else.

      Hope all this helps, and remember to ” Keep Rolling Low” – ( KRL)

      Jon H.

      Reply

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