DB081 Lack of Discernment AAR – Attacking

This scenario took place on Dec 15th 1927, a full 12 years before World War Two.  It’s based on some of the earlier conflicts between the Red Chinese and the Nationalists (Guomintang, GMT or Kuomintang, KMT).  The conflict took place in Canton 廣東, not too far away from Hong Kong.  The Canton Red Chinese overestimated their strategic position, started a general uprising on Dec 12th and the Nationalist Chinese came for a brutal visit.

DB081 Starting position-proc

Carl Nogueira and I played this scenario twice.  I was the attacker – KMT Chinese and Carl the Red Chinese.  We then switched sides and played it again, you will read about the second one from a later AAR.

The victory conditions of this scenario is structured around the multi-hex buildings on the map.  The ones north of the canal are worth 2 points.  The ones south of the canal are worth 1 point except for the two building designated as factories.  The game ends on Turn 4 if the KMT Chinese get 8 points, Turn 5 for 9 points, Turn 6 for 10 points and Turn 7 for 12 points.  The KMT has to accomplish that while losing no more than 24 CVPs.

I planned to focus the main body of my troops to the right.  They are to capture the building on the right.  From there they can attack the factory immediately to the south of the canal, meeting up with a smaller force on the left flank.  Capturing the right building also allows for the possibility of forces wading across the canal for the higher value buildings on the north bank.  The small force on the far left is to protect the buildings from possible Red Chinese reinforcement  on Turn 3.  You see, the Red Chinese can choose to introduce their reinforcements from the north (top) side of the map, or the west (left) side of the map.   However if they come in from the south side of the canal, the VP requirements for the KMT drops by 1.

Anyway, that’s the plan .. until bullets start flying.

DB081 KMT1 DF-proc

KMT Turn 1 : The KMT rushed across the street.  A fearful death star appeared on the left flank in the single hex two storey building I never paid attention to before.  On the 2nd level, there was an MMG, a HMG and an 8-1.  On the ground level, there’s the 37mm gun sporting an ROF of 3.  These guys shot up a few of the squads on the left, rendered my HMG team useless for the duration of the scenario and made the rest of the folks very nervous.  The fortunate bit was that the elite Chinese squads were well placed to offer smoke grenades in support.

I was perhaps too careful with the armoured cars.  They are 5 CVPs and 7 CVPs (with a 9-1 armour leader) each, points that I hope won’t contribute to the Red Chinese 25 CVP goal.  Fearing a gun on the right side of the board, I planned to sneak around the side of the roadblock.  However when we ran into the death star, we froze.  In retrospect, the 37mm infantry gun has little more than 6% chance (HE only) of killing the KMT Type 22 armour truck (Chris Edwards’ Kill Calculator).  Granted, MGs can kill these vehicles but freezing in place is not the proper tactic either.

DB081 RC1 Sniper killed RC 8-0 GMT Ldr wound malf deathstar-proc

Red Chinese Turn 1 : Folks in the Red Chinese death star probably didn’t get their ancestors properly lined up.  First, a sniper killed the 8-1 .. and then both the MMG and the HMG malfunctioned on the same shot!  The concealed squads in the factory advanced out to the walls, which was brilliant.  I am not entirely sure why I never made use of the upper levels of the buildings I had to negate the walls.

DB081 KMT2 Sniper broke crew fire lanes-proc

KMT Chinese Turn 2 : KMT attacks!  The turn opened with squads advancing into the smoke that the élite squads laid down.  A 8-0 leader on the right went across the street and kicked the door in with the squad behind him ready to fire.  Other squads moved up and found the second gun at the rear of the building to the right of the map, as expected.  You can see the  laid and the Red Chinese squads putting down residual fire very efficiently.  The deathstar saw the HMG fixed but the sniper returned and broke the crew!

DB081 KMT2 End CVP 4-proc

End of KMT Chinese Turn 2 : This showed how ineffective the KMT attack was.  Losses was light fortunately, the Red Chinese accrued 4 CVP so far.

Red Chinese Turn 2 : On the right of the map, the KMT squads in front of their target building hope to  survived enemy fire and return a massive Defensive Fire back.  The KMT got a MMG team together with a 9-2 and kept the MGs in the death star suppressed. The KMT Chinese were getting ready to attack again.

DB081 KMT3 MPh-proc

KMT Chinese Turn 3 : KMT troops advanced forward on the right into the building.  LMG fire from across the canal came straight down the street.  On the left flank the KMT Chinese figured they should take advantage of the crippled death star and tried to rush the building, only to find the bottom floor fortified.  Worse – it’s fortified with a building full of self rallying crew!

DB081 KMT3 End-proc

End of KMT Chinese Turn 3 : We got into the building on the right. The rush on the left failed as the squad got shot up and bounced off the side of the fortified building.  The centre was pretty decimated.  The leaders were working hard to convince a few to get back into the fight.

DB081 RC3 End-proc

Red Chinese Turn 3 : The reinforcement came in from the north.  Things were not looking up for the KMT Chinese.   We only had a foothold on the right.  The troops on the left and in the middle were broken in huddled masses.  KMT didn’t seem to have enough people to make a third try.

DB081 KMT4 MPh All Shot up-proc

KMT Chinese Turn 4 : The KMT made an all out attack for the factory and the rightmost buildings.  Whilst they would get the right most building, the KMT Chinese got shot up everywhere else.

DB081 KMT4 End CVP18-proc

End of KMT Chinese Turn 4 : The KMT Chinese captured the gun on the right although they haven’t quite secured that building.  The force in the middle were almost entirely reduced into broken stacks.  Folks on the right who were there to guard against the Red Chinese reinforcement decided to move north to have a go at the death star.  I really like Carl’s demonstration of high level tactics.  Here we have a position where, if I attack, makes no contribution to the CVP.  However if I don’t, it will always interfere with my attack elsewhere.

DB081 RC4 End-proc

Red Chinese Turn 4 : The Red Chinese counter attacked!  Can you see the stack with the “DM” counter on top and a grey dotted line that extended to the left?  There’s an MMG in the stack and I should have laid a fire lane down that path to stop the Red Chinese from counter attacking.  However instead I was distracted by the first squad that rushed up.  Now I got 2 big stacks of broken troops threatened by marauding Red Chinese troops.  Since the Red Chinese already racked up 25 CVP, the scenario ended and Carl Nogueira won as the defender.

Notice the 2 fortified locations Carl revealed after the game.  He had the commissar situated in a fortified location in the middle of the factory.  He also had the other fortified hex immediately behind.  That last hex would be his “Alamo” before the Red Chinese bow out of the building.  Capturing a building like so was going to take a few turns more.

I would have the opportunity to improve my play by being the Red Chinese defenders against Carl’s KMT Chinese.

That will be in the next AAR!

 

 

 

 

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Shanghai 1937 in Flames!!!

"Shanghai 1937 - Stalingrad on the Yangtze" by Peter Harmsen

(This is an interview conducted via email, where I talked to Peter Harmsen, the author of “Shanghai 1937 – Stalingrad on the Yangtze” about Advanced Squad Leader.)

Iacta Alea Est!

Wargaming is a method for historians, professionals and hobbyists alike, to get inside the minds of the actors of past conflicts. The games, or simulations, can take place at the grand strategic level, as described in a previous post about the game Dai Senso. They can also offer a more intimate look at combat, putting the player in charge of just a handful of soldiers and facing him or her with difficult tactical decisions. The Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) system is an example of the latter. It has thousands of fans around the world who use its flexibility to play scenarios from a range of theaters during World War Two and the years just before and after – including the Second Sino-Japanese War. We asked Jackson Kwan, a veteran Hong Kong-based ASL player, to introduce the system and especially describe how its versatility facilitates scenarios from the war in China. (The Q & A was performed by email, with special thanks to Jon Halfin for editing.)

Very briefly, what is the Advanced Squad Leader system?

Advanced Squad Leader is a detailed tactical gaming system that models company to battalion level combat in the Second World War period.  It simulates an amazing range of combat parameters: from weather to terrain, national characteristics, leadership and morale, different weapon systems and artillery support.  This allows the examination of engagements from the Pacific theatre to desert terrain, to European theatre and even tundra conditions.  It’s detailed enough to have rules for night battles and for vision effects under differing moon phases.

A short synopsis can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Squad_Leader

How do you generate new scenarios?

Scenario designers from all over work with Multi-Man Publishing and other third party publishers to produce scenario packs and/or entire new modules (settings) that includes map boards and new counters that represents new nationalities, troop types or weapon systems that did not already exist in the system. Scenario designers combine detailed research of certain engagements and various elements including weather, terrain, troop types, conditions and morale, weapons available and ammunition supply into an abstraction that may or may not completely parallel historical outcomes. The best scenarios often have a creative feeling of the historical events, yet balance out asymmetric conditions, allowing both sides equal chances of winning the engagement.

How good is the system at simulating the Second Sino-Japanese War? Are the results realistic, i.e. are they similar to what really happened during the war?

This is a game system that reflects the feel of the position the opposing commanders faced. It seeks to address asymmetric conditions that battles often are while giving both sides a balanced opportunity to prevail through specific winning conditions and other parameters.

T6 Axis Move-procFor example : if you look at the battle at Shanghai’s Sihang warehouse*) alone, you will find at least four scenarios from different designers that put their own interpretation to the events.  My favorite of the four is a scenario named “Shanghai in Flames” where the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) battles top quality Chinese troops (who were still around at the time) across a generically represented map reflecting the terrain styles, into the warehouse. Some of the buildings start already on fire and may spread according to wind conditions as the battle progress. As the Chinese fight a desperate withdrawal through the streets against the IJA pushing aggressively in, as the spreading fire almost becomes a third player, routing friends and foes alike.

Producing realistic results is not the primary objective of Advanced Squad Leader designs.  Putting players under similar decision making parameters and operating constraints to reflect the feel of combat command is the bigger goal.

But making these battles competitive and fun is the biggest objective!

What are the main differences between scenarios based on the war in China and, say, scenarios from Europe 1939-1945?

Obvious differences are weapon systems that the IJA uses (vs various European combatant). Differences in national characteristics, leadership styles, training and morale level – of the Japanese, Chinese, Gurkhas etc vs the Germans, Soviets, partisans plus the myriad of Allied and Axis minors. Differences in weather and terrain – jungles, kunai, caves, beaches, marshes, palm trees and huts in the Pacific Theatre of Operations vs woods, brush, buildings, rubble etc in the European Theatre of Operations.

If people want to get into the ASL system, what should they do?

The heart of the Advanced Squad Leader system is the Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook (version 2).  There are various modules for different nationalities and theatres.  The more modules you have therefore, the more variation you will have in the scenarios you can play.  The best thing to do however for new players is: Get in touch with Advanced Squad Leader players in various cities (and there are tournaments held almost every month around the world  http://aslladder.com/asltournaments.html) and/or on online forums.  Advanced Squad Leader is primarily about the chap across the table and definitely not meant for solo play.  (Although a well-developed Solitaire ASL system does exist, it has been out of print for some time. It does indeed make solitaire play possible.)  Most people in the ASL community are willing to teach new players and proficiency in the basic rules usually requires 3 to 6 games before you are ready to move into the various spectra the system can provide.

The Advanced Squad Leader Starter Pack 1 is designed as an initial step to see if this game’s for them. The Starter Pack is a small, self-contained system that will help any new player make the decision as to whether to dive into the full system headfirst, at a minimal cost – and was designed to replace the long out of print original “introductory” module for Advanced Squad Leader “Paratrooper”.

*) An incident during the 1937 battle of Shanghai when during a general retreat about 400 Chinese soldiers stayed behind, defending the Sihang Warehouse next to Suzhou Creek. The decision to make the stand at the warehouse was mainly motivated by a wish to demonstrate to local and foreign opinion China’s willingness to continue the fight.

(Original of this interview can be found : China in WW2)

J116 Brigade Hill AAR, a PTO classic!

 

J116 - Setup-procThis is a game that I setup earlier in the year when I found that J116 Brigade Hill was going to be one of the scenarios in the Malaya Madness tourney.  Erwin & I managed to do a few turns before the Malaya Madness and sure enough, Brigade Hill was my last game at the tourney.

The Battle for Brigade Hill was part of a campaign where the IJA pushed the Australians along the Kokoda trail towards Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, during the Second World War.  The IJA setup a blocking force between the Australian brigade headquarters and its forward battalions.  The cutoff Australians were therefore asked to reestablish contact with their headquarters.

I played the IJA and my buddy Erwin from Belgium, the Australians.  The Australians had to take 3 or more of the hill tops marked with “V”s.  The fourth “V” that you can’t see from the map above was under the foxhole on the top right.  This setup is taken from Chris Doary (of BattleSchool).  The Australians came in from the right.  The big hill was tough to defend apart from a reverse slope setup.  In this instance the big hill was left bare and covered by 2 medium machine guns from the hill on the top left and a mortar from the bottom left.  This channelled the Australians through the jungles on both sides of the big hill, ideal IJA country.  I put a HIP (“hidden initial placement”) in the second most likely frequented clump of jungle on the big hill.

J116 - T2 IJA - End Vol Breaks-proc

End of IJA Turn 2 : The Australians advanced carefully to their first VC position and probed the right IJA flank.  The mortar from the top right hill opened fire but it broke on the first shot.  The IJA chucked it down the hill in frustration.  The IJA on the right flank voluntarily broke and melted away into the jungle, looking to use the gully as the second line.

J116 - T3 IJA - Blocking on right Shoot Brits off Hill top Reinforcement entered 02-proc

End of IJA Turn 3: Guns and mortar from both of the small hills start shooting Australians off the big hill-top.  Reinforcements from both combatants entered.  The IJA chose to enter in the “back field” to help defence on the left flank and to tie some Australian units down.  The units on the right flank got into a blocking position and would gain concealment before the turn was over.

J116 - T4 IJA - ? 237 ambush 458 squad-proc

End of IJA Turn 4: The IJAs got aggressive on the right flank.  An IJA half squad was sent to unconceal an Australian squad.  It was killed in the process but the Australian squad was ambushed and killed in the subsequent close combat when a concealed IJA half squad moved in.  The IJA was pressured on the left flank however, the forward units pulled back and the reinforcement group pushed forth to the Australian hilltop.

J116 - T5 Bri - Mortars fight Leader wounded berserk-proc

Australian Turn 5: The opposing mortars continued to duke it out, the IJA finally caught a lucky shot that wounded its leader and made a half squad go berserk!

J116 - T5 Bri - HIP-proc

Australian Turn 5 (still): The IJA revealed a previously HIP’d unit in hex W7 when an Australian squad left its 9-2 leader behind.  We didn’t do this correctly though as the HIP’d unit should have appeared concealed.  Either way as such, the adjacent Australian squad piled in (which I was happy about) but they managed to roll an ambush against the IJA (which I was less delighted about).  The Australians decided to take their leader and withdrew.

J116 - T5 IJA after MPh-proc

IJA Turn 5: The last Australian turn put the IJA left flank under pressure.  The IJA reinforcement group decided to shift back to threaten the Australian rear.  The previously HIP’d IJA squad continued to pursuit the escaped Australian 9-1 (and the 458).  See that stack I noted as “Dummies” in the foxhole?  That hill would have been Australian quickly had Erwin know this.  The IJA stepped up their counterattack on their right flank.  The IJA broke the other Australian squad on the lower left of the map and the berserker piled in!

J116 - T5 IJA CC Entire Stack killed-proc

IJA Turn 5 (still): An  IJA HS jumped back into the 9-1 & 458 stack and managed to annihilate everyone in the hex.  The brokie routed away from the berserker on the bottom left at the moment, for a little while longer.

J116 - T6 Bri Mortar + Snakeeyes killed 8-1 breaks squad .. both MMGs broke-proc

IJA Turn 6: The hill on the bottom left was threatened by a slow-moving concealed Australian stack up the middle.  The wounded 8-0 in the lonely foxhole decided to grab the mortar himself and took a shot at the approaching Australians.  A snake eyes shot along with fire from the previously HIP’d IJA squad on the big hill broke the Australian squad and killed a leader.  This squad would then be eliminated for failure to rout.  Our death star on the top left tried to hold off the hoards and broke BOTH MMGs together!  Baadddd timing …

J116 - T6 IJA CCPh -procIJA Turn 6 (still): This was the last IJA turn before the final Australian onslaught.  The IJA made an unsuccessful effort to take the Australian fox hole on the top right.  The IJA berserker chased down and killed an Australian brokie on the far left.  A concealed IJA squad, determined to clear the field, advanced onto and killed a half squad in the middle right.  The MMG crews and some half squads stacked up on the top left hill.  Since IJA crew stripes instead of breaks, one round of gun fire would not be able to push them out of the hex.  If the Australian half squad moved up the hill and engaged the stack in close combat, the Australians wouldn’t be able to own the top left VP hex without another squad stepping in.  The IJA right flank resumed its blocking position.

J116 - T7 Bri End CC-proc

Australian Turn 7: On the top left of the map, the Australian half squad refused to be broken by IJA gun fire. It advanced up and engaged the IJA stack in close combat.  Since Hand to Hand combat is not an option for the Australians, the likely outcome here was that the units would be locked in a perpetual mêlée.

We rolled.  The Australians failed the “To Kill” number by 1!

The IJA got a Critical Reduction result, thereby killing the Australian half squad.

The IJAs won.

Other AARs:

 

 

AP90 Smashing The Hook (an AP9 “To The Bridge!” scenario)

I was chatting online about Gary Fortenberry’s new Advanced Squad Leader Action Pack “ASL Action Pack 9: To The Bridge!” when Sam Tyson offered to play.  The next thing I knew, I was experiencing a truly action packed scenario, well designed and well “interpreted” by Sam. This was February 1942 in Burma.  Patrols from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry discovered IJA roadblocks around Danyingon.  So elements from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the 1/7th Gurkha Rifles set out to evict the IJA from the area.

There were 2 roadblocks in predestinated positions on the map.  The British goes from the bottom of the map to the top.  They get an instant win when they clear both roadblocks or if there are no good order IJA troops around either roadblock after five and a half turns.  The British got a mix of armoured cars and (scary) Gurkha ladened carriers.  The IJA got to hide (always good) plus a Mountain Gun. 001 AP90 BT1 Start-proc

British Turn 1 : You can see where the IJA gun was hidden and where it was bore-sighted.  There was an MMG on the hill to the top left bore-sighted to a path through the jungle.  There was an IJA half squad hidden in the brush hoping that the British would pass him by and another IJA half squad near the first roadblock in the middle of the map.  There’s a scenario special rule that requires all hidden IJA to reveal themselves via Banzai attacks in Turn 4.  I figured that might be where the British would be by then.  The British were very aggressive in their first move given the short time frame.  My foxhole on the hill on the bottom of the map was immediately overran.  Nothing but a human speed bump!  The carrier hooked around the foxhole and made sure there was no escape for the IJA half squad therein. 003 AP90 BT2 AFPh Start-proc

British Turn 2 : The British methodically beat down the brush and found our first hidden IJA half squad.  A British armoured car headed straight for the defending IJA at the roadblock.  IJA’s LMG scored a hit and a lucky kill.  The IJA started backing off. 004 AP90 BT2 RtPh Vol Break-proc

British Turn 2 Rout Phase : The IJA started melting away before the British could engage them in close combat.  The IJA looked to delay and to collapse into the last roadblock gradually.  They formed a line right before the tree line where the hidden IJA half squad was. 005 AP90 JT3 DFPh Cleared Roadblock-proc

IJA Turn 3 : The end of the turn saw the IJA melting away again, collapsing towards the last roadblock.  Before the MMG team on the hill on the middle of the map did, they vaporized a British half squad coming down the jungle path.  The Brits then decided to use a carrier to create a trail break in the jungle nearby.

006 AP90 JT3 CCPh Jumped the Brits-proc IJA Turn 3 : The IJA MMG team from the middle of the map repositioned to around the last roadblock, MG trained onto the road.  A big stack of British troops successfully removed the first road block.  A British 9-1 and a Gurkha squad walked into the hidden IJA half squad in the last turn.  The half squad should have popped up in the earlier British Turn when this happened.  Hand to hand fighting nonetheless ensured immediately and they were all killed. 007 AP90 BT4 Gun appears carrier immo-proc

British Turn 4 : The Brits were out to chase down the routing IJA squads.  The first carrier sped down the road and the IJA gun roared from behind the second roadblock.  The carrier was hit and immobilized.  Meanwhile the hidden stack on the bottom of the map tried to get the British armoured car’s attention by slowly creeping towards the British backfield. 008 AP90 BT4 MG hit but bounced Int Gun kill carrier-proc

British Turn 4 still : The action heated up as the second carrier comes running down the path.  The MMG managed to score a hit but the bullets bounced off.  This carrier managed to hook around and cut off the IJA brokies’ rout path.  The third carrier went straight for the roadblock!  The gun crew intensive fired  and killed that one too.  The rest of the British troops moved in quickly.  This was Turn 4, the British had 2 more Movement Phases to go.

009 AP90 JT4 WP and formed a line-proc IJA  Turn 4 : The IJA mortar crew laid a white phosphorous (WP) round on the carrier but the Gurkhas were too tough for it.  The WP round did allow the IJA troops to slip by and escaped back to around the second roadblock.  The IJA gun killed the immobilised carrier, taking more of an interest in its Gurkha crew.   However, I should have left the gun pointing towards the right for the next British round. The British were consistently great at cutting rout paths and taking prisoners.  The IJA realised they need to stop the British from getting behind them if they were to survive – hence the line. 010 AP90 BT5 IJA Vol Break-proc

British Turn 5 : While their comrades held the line, the IJA on the left melted away so they could counter attack against the British troops at the roadblock.  The armoured car on the bottom of the map finally verified that we had a moving stack of dummies.  It was a miracle that the IJA kept this armoured car out of the battle for so long! 011 AP90 BT5 CC 2 Melees Big stack on Roadblock-proc

British Turn 5 still : The British were unlucky in that all four close combats started with IJA ambushes.  However the IJAs were killed around the gun and 2 of the fights resulted in melees.  Only on the right did we see a solitary but concealed leader slaughtered a British half squad and slipped deeper into the jungle. 012 AP90 JT5 Counter Attack!!-proc

IJA Turn 5 : The routed IJA again rallied and attacked towards the roadblock.  The British were assembling around the roadblock at this stage.  If they manage to clear the roadblock, they get an instant win but if not, they would need to makes sure there were no good order IJA troops around the area marked with a big red hexagon. 013 AP90 JT5 -9 Roadblock Clear mod-proc IJA Turn 5 – Game End : The close combat phase was a good one for the IJA, they reclaimed two of the hexes around the last road block.  However, the British were able clear the roadblock by rolling less than 10.  (You need to roll 2 or less on a pair of dice, but the Brits had enough people to get a -7 modifier.)

Mr. Sam Tyson won!!

A44 Blocking Action at Lipki AAR

I love PTO.  However, jungles do not present decent tank country.  Too much time spent in the PTO as a newbie can result in lopsided development that is short on armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) experience.

This scenario took place near Borisov (Russia), mid-1941 – the opening stages of Barbarossa.  Elements of the 1st Moscow Motor Rifle Division was sent to block the spearhead that was Guderian’s 18th Panzer Divison.

001 Turn 2 German Rally-proc

North is on the right of the map.  The Germans deployed on the top map (west) and the Russians came in from the bottom (east).  The Russians win when they exit more than 15 victory points (VPs) off the top edge of the map between the road on the top middle to the road on the top right. The other way to win was to kill enough Germans.  The KV2 was worth 7 VPs, the T-34 was also worth 7 points and each squad was worth 2 points.  As you already know, the Russians had a KV2,  a T34 M40 and a couple of BT7s.  The Germans had a couple of PzIIIGs, a halftrack sporting a 37mm gun with a high rate of fire (I forgot about the ATR that it also carried) and a couple of halftracks with the usual machine guns.  They were backed by a 28mm antitank gun and further reinforced by a pair of PzIVEs in Turn 4.

The above was the German Turn 2.  You can see the two Panzers on the left lying in wait and hoping to get a first shot at the Russians.  The antitank gun was towed to a clump of woods near the exit for a last-ditch defence.  The half track with the 37mm gun was on the right and they could hear the speedy BT7s and a convoy of trucks rumbling towards them.

002 Turn 3 Russian Move HT37L blew up BT-7 rof-proc

 

This was the Russian Turn 3.  The T34 came up the left and the PzIIIG fired, looking to scoot behind the woods quickly afterwards.

I rolled a 1,1 .. and  a 1.  Critical Hit!!

The T34 exploded into a burning wreck, and the German tankers sat stunned as bits of Russian tank rained down.  On the right, the 37mm gun pumped shot after shot into one of the BT7 and killed it.

001 Turn 3 German Idiot Move ATR-proc

This was the German Turn 3.  I am very inexperienced in tank warfare so you won’t see an end to idiotic moves in the near term.  This was one of them. I backed a PzIIIG up over the bridge on the left in the hope of being able to get away faster when the Russian tanks appear.  Not only did I presented my rear facing to the Russians, I forgot to button up.  The tank was immediately stunned by infantry fire and then killed by a Russian antitank rifle (ATR).  Things worked out better on the right as my 37mm gun shocked the other BT7.

005 Turn 4 German DPh Capers abound-proc

This was the German Turn 4.  To the left you can see another one of my moments.  The Germans were hoping to crash a halftrack through the woods on the left, get back on the road and circle around the back of the Russian trucks on the right.  However, they realised that trail breaking took a little time and by the time the half track emerged from the woods, it was looking down the barrel of a KV2!  So instead of breaking to the right of the map, they sped towards the left to escape.  The KV2 fired but the halftrack speed and its size saved it.  The surviving BT7 recovered from its shock and killed the gun-toting halftrack.  Unfortunately the reinforcing PzIVEs arrived and got it bracketed from two directions.

008 Turn 5 Russian DFPh Truck immo-proc

This was Russian turn 5.  Our escaping halftrack on the left had a Russian ATR squad on its tail.  The KV2 on the other hand laughed and used the trail-break created by the charitable halftrack to get to the “inside line” of the Germans.  The BT7 blew out its gun in a shootout with the PzIVe on its left (which also malf’d its gun) and was killed by the PzIVe on its right.  The right PzIVe proceeded to shoot up the Russian trucks one by one.

009 Turn 5 German MPh Berserk Charge Killed by Sniper-proc

During German turn 5, one of the German half squad had a berserk moment.  They got tired of the shooting and concluded that the proper thing to do was to charge the Russian medium machine gun.  So off they went.  They ran through Defensive First Fire, then Subsequent First Fire … jumping into the MMG nest, they survived Final Protective Fire!!  “.. and THIS is how it’s done!!” they yelled.  Meanwhile, Katya, the peasant girl sniper rolled her eyes, spat and muttered “Men” before shooting up the marauding German half squad and ended the lunacy.

011 Turn 6 Russian DF KV2 moved up German shot up trucks-proc

This was Russian Turn 6.  During the last German turn, the only Panzer with a functioning gun sped into its final position while its colleague proceeded to kill all the Russian trucks with its MGs on the right of the map.  However,  the KV2 killed the halftrack that tried to escape from in front of the wooden house.  The escaping halftrack to the left survived another shot from the Russian ATR and ran.  The KV2 crew watch incredulously as the crazy halftrack ran across its covered arc.  Then it realised that KV2 can’t intensive fire.  The halftrack disappeared behind some woods.  In this turn, the KV2 followed.  I can only imagine the commotion on the halftrack as the KV2 reappeared on its “rear view mirrors”.

012 Turn 7 Russian AFPh KV2 Malf-proc

This was Russian Turn 7.  The mighty KV2 lumbered towards the goal line.  The PzIVE and the antitank gun bounced shot after shot off its front armour.  The KV2 went to a “fork” position, threatening the German truck with its rear MGs while shooting back at the antitank gun with high explosives from its terrifying “bunker busting” 152mm gun.   The antitank gun crew worked as fast as they could, dreading the massive fireball that the next moment must bring.

Then for a moment, there was silence – the 152mm gun malfunctioned.

My First Foray into PTO terrain : ASL153 Totsugeki! AAR

I played ASL153 Totsugeki! a while ago with Brian Y.  I played a few PTO (Pacific Theatre of Operations) scenarios before but this is my first foray into full-blown jungle terrain.

The usual Chinese vs Japanese (IJA) or Canadian vs Japanese scenarios occurred in China or Hong Kong, both of which are not in PTO terrain.  ASL153 Totsugeki! however, took place in northern Burma.  “Totsugeki” is Japanese for “Charge”.  Chinese gunners, working with the Americans, were cut off in the jungle with fields of fire still uncleared.  The IJA 55th Regiment pushed in and everyone in the 6th Field Artillery Battery found themselves fighting for their lives.

 

A60-JT1a-proc

IJA pushed in from the top of the map.  There are three Chinese guns in specified hexes.  The Victory Conditions for the IJA is to eliminate or to capture all three Chinese guns and to occupy their hexes with good order crew/half squads/squads (“MMC” in ASL parlance) in 6.5 turns.  The Chinese has 14 first liners vs the IJA’s 11 but they were understandably shaky (ELR 2).

This is Japanese turn 1.  The IJA wasted no time in rushing both flanks.  They showed that the IJA squad will almost always get to where it wants to go.  The jungle hindrance of course helped a great deal.

A60-CT1 AFPh-proc

End of Chinese Turn 1 : you can see the IJA was successful in turning both flanks.  The Chinese 2 squads stack with the leader posed an issue though since it occupied a key position in the center of the map.   Approaching IJA units invariably got shot up.

A60-JT2 MPh CANDYGRAM!-proc

Japanese Turn 2: The IJA decide to get the party going with a DC Hero (“CANDYGRAM!!!”, a phrase favoured by one of my ASL mentors, Witchbottles).  Unfortunately the Chinese weren’t ready to go wild yet and promptly shot the messenger.

A60-JT2 CC Ambush Kill-proc

Japanese Turn 2 still : IJA forces slid down the left flanks, ambushed and killed the Chinese medium machine gun (MMG) team.  This flank looked shaky but the Chinese held firm in the middle.  That double squad Chinese stack in the middle were still chuckling over their DC hero kill.

A60-JT3 Banzai-proc

 

Japanese Turn 3 : The IJA was getting frustrated about not being to make much inroads in the centre and on the right flanks.  On top of it, trotting through the jungle was a very slow going affair.  So they decided to do a banzai attack!

 

A60-JT3 End-proc

This is my first banzai attack in jungle terrain and I started to appreciate how well banzai attacks go together with jungles.  It is got to be terrifying to have IJA troopers crashing out of the trees and falling into the ranks with bayonets and swords waving!  This charge allowed the IJA forces in the centre to link up with the right flank.

A60-JT5 End DFPh - both Chinese guns malf-proc

Japanese Turn 5 : The IJA spent turn 4 bringing the troops together for the final assault on the guns.  The IJA mass assault moved through the jungle.  The two guns on the flanks fired pointblank at the incoming IJA and they both malfunctioned!

A60-JT6 MPh Banzai Charge-proc

Japanese Turn 6: The IJA came into contact with the Chinese troops around the gun and one last banzai ensured!

A60-JT6 AFPh .. DC Hero shot-proc

Sensing that the game was almost over, a DC hero decided to gave it another go.  He too was shot before he could deliver the payload.  On the other hand the last banzai piled a few IJAs into the last gun hex.

A60-JT6 End-proc

The IJA captured the last Chinese gun and surrounded the defenders.

Totsugeki is a great introduction for me to the PTO terrain.  Going toward I’d very much like to explore the best ways for DC Heros  to play together with Banzai’ers.

I’d also like to commend Brian Y as a terrific ASL player.  Thanks for a great game Brian!

Please see also my friend Joss Attridge’s experience with Totsugeki : “Totsugeki (ASL 153)”

Banzai

 

 

“Advanced Squad Leader is the Greatest Wargame Ever Published”

JT3a-proc

Ladies & Gentlemen, the following is Mr. Eoin Corrigan’s “Majestic”, the best essay to date on the beauty of Advanced Squad Leader, published with his permission.  

Let’s begin with a provocative statement: Advanced Squad Leader is the greatest wargame ever published.

Obviously, I’m unashamedly partisan. My purpose in writing this review is to persuade you that the preceding statement is true.

I’m sure you know a little about ASL but just in case you haven’t here are the basics. Following the success of its predecessor system, Squad Leader, Avalon Hill published ASL in 1985. The game is best understood as a modular system. At its core are the rules, the famous three ring binder of several hundred pages. Beyond Valor is the first of the modules and provides the German and Soviet orders of battle, the necessary information counters, 20 odd scenarios and the map boards on which its scenarios are played. A series of further modules provide the counters, rules and map boards necessary to play a scenario based on almost any tactical engagement which occurred during WWII.

ASL as a play experience is usually based around a scenario, almost always a one page document which describes the victory conditions, the general environmental conditions, the map boards depicting the terrain and the infantry units, vehicles and guns which will be used in that scenario. In all but a few cases, scenarios are based on an actual historical engagement, although often the representation is somewhat stylised; this is a game, after all, not historical research. Both players set up their forces and begin play, which generally proceeds on an IGO, UGO turn basis, which is familiar to most wargamers and indeed most gamers of any hue. The core of the game is an elegant set of mechanics which are far less complex than the game’s reputation suggests.

Those are the basics. If I may, I think it may be worthwhile at this point to address some of the obvious objections to my opening statement.

Yes, ASL is expensive. So are most things in life worth having. You can’t take it with you, so why not spend your money on things which will improve your life? Like ASL, for instance.

Yes, it can be difficult to source out of print modules. For those of us who have begun playing ASL during the last 10 years this has been a fact of life. However, out of print components of the system are reprinted and, in the interim, it’s possible to source second-hand copies or to simply play the many, many thousands of scenarios which are playable right now with in print material. You don’t need to own the entire system to play. Take the long view.

Yes, we’re still waiting for the Finnish module. It’s coming!

Yes, learning to play competently can be a challenge. So what? Step up. Learning to play ASL well is the wargaming equivalent of the marathon. ASL is obviously not a svelte Euro; the system provides more text describing Belgian armoured vehicles than the entire rules set of some other tactical wargames. That’s a feature, not a flaw. Besides which, no pain, no gain, my friends. And if you’re having trouble with the rules you can avail of a lot of help along the way.

Yes, ASL is chrome rich. But this chrome is usually associated with a dilemma or two, with a set of potential benefits and risks which amplify a play experience which is already decision-rich.

While we’re here, let’s put another criticism to bed. ASL is not a simulation of a WWII company level commander’s lot (nor, for that matter, is any other multiplayer tactical wargame played for fun). The ‘failed-simulation critique’ is often levelled at ASL and is based on a misunderstanding, wilful or otherwise, of what a simulation is. In ASL, each player has:

– Perfect knowledge of the OOB of both sides.
– Almost perfect knowledge of the opponent’s forces.
– Real time perfect knowledge of the quality, status and location of friendly forces.
– Perfect knowledge of the terrain.
– An abundance of control. Players decide the exact movement of individual men and small units. Players decide on the engagement priorities of each and every weapon system and infantry unit.
– Absolute victory conditions. Force preservation is, more often than not, irrelevant. In a standard scenario, casualty rates will be extremely high, as one or both sides fight to utter destruction.

A simulation of a WWII company commander’s perspective would be a very different creature. A host of information and control constraints would be required which would compromise the fun aspect. An umpire would also be required. If you’re looking for a two player simulation look elsewhere and bear in mind that you’ll probably have to look far beyond Boardgamegeek.

ASL is a game and it has limitations. Don’t mistake detail for simulation. Winning a couple of scenarios will not qualify you to lead men into high intensity combat. Recruiting officers from your nation’s military will not be handing you a commission after your first tournament win.

Now that we’ve dispatched the simulation red herring, some words on ASL’s purpose. The game’s intellectual origins lie in Squad Leader, its fêted predecessor, which had two primary conceptual platforms:

– Post WWII studies performed by the US Army which indicated that the performance of a given tactical unit under fire is highly dependent on the actions of a few individuals. These individuals are not necessarily the NCOs and junior officers, although they are often found in those ranks. These are the individuals who demonstrate initiative, bravery and leadership, the men who turn and win battles.
– The observation that an assault is generally preceded by a bombardment. ASL inherits its turn structure from Squad Leader, in which the preparatory fire phase, which represents fire to reduce and suppress the enemy, precedes movement.

These are the core elements of ASL’s intellectual inheritance. ASL is a refined, more coherent and fuller expression than Squad Leader. ASL’s grand success lies in the fact that its design ambition was to go much, much further than any predecessor had dared. The goal of ASL’s designers was to produce a system which could represent or portray any tactical engagement which occurred during WWII. ASL is designed to comprehend the whole land war at the tactical level; every theatre, every front, every major weapon system, every belligerent, every season, every weather condition, every tactical situation.

ASL has delivered on this design goal. In so doing it has provided us with some superb vistas:

– Vicious clashes of Nationalist Chinese and Imperial Japanese Army infantry and armour in 1937.
– The frustration of German anti-tank gunners facing France’s Char B1bis outside the village of Stonne in the summer of 1940.
– Dutch colonial troops outclassed by the offensive flexibility of the Japanese army amid their assault on the East Indies in 1941.
– Partisan ambushes against rear echelon Axis troops in Croatia.
– Budapest under siege in the winter of 1944. The gradual degradation of the defending Hungarian, Wehrmacht and SS troops as ammunition, fuel and food supplies dwindle.
– Anxious advances by US infantry through the ruins of Aachen, fearful of the inevitable ambush.
– Imperial Japanese troops defending tiny atolls against the awesome firepower of a late war American amphibious assault.

ASL has taken many of us to these places; the game sketches such diverse actions very well. And in so doing, the game can provide some insights into why the war was fought in certain ways, and why certain armies tended to prevail in certain circumstances.

In many respects ASL represents continuity in wargame design. Modular map-boards with hexagonal grids and combat result tables were long established features of wargames in 1985. ASL innovated elsewhere, along two principal avenues. As described, it sought to be all-encompassing. This goal was, and remains, a hugely innovative objective which no other tactical game of World War II has come close to realising, or even attempting. The second path of innovation is gameplay related. The structure of each player turn is relatively simple: rally, conduct preparatory fire, move, defensive fire, advancing fire, rout, advance and close combat, a sequence largely inherited from Squad Leader. ASL’s great leap forward is in the mechanics of defensive fire occurring during the movement phase, a time when moving units are particularly vulnerable. In short, a defending unit may interrupt movement and fire on a moving attacker; however the defending unit may usually fire again at the same moving unit or other moving units subject to certain limitations. A consequence of the defensive fire mechanics is that each player’s movement phase fully involves both players in a sub-game, with a quasi-psychological component, of movement and defensive fire. It’s a vastly engaging element of the game during which both players are totally involved. Rapid decision making based on sound judgement and an understanding of attacking and defensive priorities is required. As the phase progresses, the complex interplay of risk and benefit shifts, requiring fresh mental calculations. Perhaps more than any other aspect of the game, this is where games are won and lost, the part of the game which distinguishes poor players from good players.

Player decisions and agency aren’t the be all and end all, however. Playing the game can be a frantic, chaotic experience. Friction on the battlefield is well represented in ASL. The sniper mechanism is a roving element designed to both provide random loss of cohesion and also to check the good fortune of the side which is benefitting from the better die rolls. In most scenarios, a high frequency of low dice rolls by a player has a greater chance of activating the enemy sniper who may wound or kill leaders and heroes, pin or break squads and even cause tanks and other AFVs to depart the battlefield due to the loss of exposed crew. This is another example of a typical dilemma served up by ASL’s mechanics. Does a player expose his AFV crews to avoid poor vision related fire penalties, or are they exposed to enemy fire? It’s your choice. The rolling of double-6 boxcars can also have disastrous consequences as weapons systems fail, vehicles fail to start or units take unexpected casualties. However, the friction depicted shouldn’t give the impression that the game is a free for all dice-fest, devoid of skill. Good players mitigate risk and ride Fortuna’s wave. ASL tournaments are dominated by a small cohort of elite players; these are the players who consistently make the best decisions.

The game has what may seem to be a schizophrenic relationship with history. In some respects it seeks to be faithful, in others ASL departs from history. My argument is that ASL consistently and sensibly privileges player latitude and agency over the imposition of historical constraints.

For instance, engagements in ASL tend to emphasise unit destruction and manoeuvre, and are therefore probably quite unrepresentative of many WWII assaults, particularly in the late war European theatre on the Western Front. The role of supporting artillery is present but downgraded and the role of manoeuvre units is correspondingly elevated. Company and battalion level indirect and direct fire support is often absent; for instance, by the end of the war German infantry companies were each allocated three 81mm mortar tubes. These weapons are rarely represented in ASL.

The nature of engagements is different to that often depicted in the historical record. In very few ASL scenarios does a defending unit take 10-15% casualties and then elect to undertake an orderly withdrawal as generally tended to occur in real life; in most cases units fight to their utter destruction. Similarly, attacks are often high intensity and very direct. Formal reconnaissance is largely irrelevant or is outside the scope of the typical scenario; if it does occur in the course of a scenario it’s usually achieved by aggressive manoeuvre or reconnaissance-by-fire, as opposed to a cautious advance by specialist regimental or divisional reconnaissance assets. If WWII had actually been fought this way it would have ended a lot sooner.

ASL does not enforce doctrinal imperatives. For instance, ASL allows, and even encourages in some circumstances, a panzer grenadier commander to use his halftracks with reckless aggression, to levels which would likely have resulted in a court martial. Specialist units, such as AFV crews which have abandoned hors de combat vehicles, are not safely ushered to the rear but are usually thrown into engagements for which they had little training. There are different schools of thought; some players generally try to avoid ahistorical practices and especially the (mis)use of transport assets. I generally don’t like to play against opponents who accompany their attack with a host of empty trucks seeking cheap overrun targets. Other players have no problem at all with such practices. Fortunately, it’s easy to find players who share one’s preferences.

In other ways ASL displays faith with the historical record, although again I stress that it does so with gameplay in mind.
Nationality distinctions are an important feature of the game. Different nationalities have differing squad types. Nationalities are further distinguished by Heat of Battle modifiers; an elite German squad is far more likely to produce a hero or become fanatic than a conscript Romanian squad. Certain nationalities also have special rules. Pre-October 1942 Soviet units may be accompanied by political commissars. Certain Chinese infantry units have close combat bonuses and may voluntarily go berserk. Most Commonwealth squad types have steady nerves and therefore do not cower, which has important implications for defensive fire. The ASL designer notes freely admit that the nationality distinctions are based on stereotypes. I think it’s fair to say that they are also inaccurate, in several respects. For instance, the treatment of elite Italian units, such as the famed Alpini or Folgore, surely does a disservice to those high quality formations with proud combat records. However, with minimal rules overhead, belligerents are well differentiated and the points of differentiation tend to produce interesting narratives. Most ASL players have a story about how a Soviet conscript squad has won them a scenario with an unlikely act of derring-do.

The Japanese in ASL deserve special mention. At first glance, their squads and half-squads seem unremarkable. However, some ingenious mechanisms specific to Japanese units lend them a very special flavour. Japanese infantry tend not to break; instead they step reduce. Their leaders never break. Japanese can launch a special form of human wave attack, the famed banzai charge which, when used well, can win a scenario outright. The Japanese are depicted as close combat experts with a great skill for camouflage and concealment. Japanese units are also skilled in the use of set demolition charges and may produce tank hunter heroes; in modern parlance, IEDs and suicide bombers. All in all, these qualities provide scenarios featuring the Japanese with a unique set of characteristics which are highly entertaining to play with or against. Happily, the Pacific Theatre expansion for ASL, Rising Sun, will soon be back in print and will give a new generation of ASL players an opportunity to experience the many delights of the Pacific War, as rendered by ASL.

A further element of nationality distinction and historical accuracy is the attention paid to capturing the effect of each combatant’s mix of support weapons and ordnance. The designers of ASL were clearly fascinated by the gadgetry of warfare. In general, support weapons are assigned to squads and half squads and are individually depicted with their own counters. Most common are the three classes of machine gun; light, medium and heavy, the distinctions usually based on ammunition and tripod availability. Each belligerent’s machine guns have bespoke counters; a German medium machine gun is far superior to its Soviet counterpart. The famed Japanese knee mortar is depicted and is a highly effective tool. The Soviet anti-tank-rifle has a greater likelihood of penetrating armoured vehicles than similar British or French weapons due to its larger calibre. A seductive array of company level support weapons are available: flamethrowers and demolition charges for the assault engineers; low calibre mortars and direct fire guns for company level fire support; bazookas, piats and panzerschrecks for anti-armour teams. Certain weapons are abstracted, such as panzerfausts, molotov cocktails and anti-tank magnetic mines; the subsystems governing use of these abstracted weapons provide fog of war and some delicious moments of uncertainty at the cost of a little additional rules complexity.

A mechanic associated with certain shaped charge weapons which I particularly relish is the backblast rule. A player may opt to absorb the dangerous backblast effect of firing a bazooka or similar weapon from a building or rubble, but with the benefit of a much greater chance of hitting the enemy target. For me, this is a superb example of an interesting gameplay decision made possible by ASL’s attention to detail. The average player turn in an ASL game is punctuated by such dilemmas. The chrome pays off.

While ASL’s nationality distinctions and gadgetry fixation reveal some of the systems predilections, the vehicle and terrain rules reveal the evident fascination the designers have with the battlefields and AFVs of WWII.

ASL’s depiction of the geographical environment is exceptional. Chapter B of the rules address terrain. Again, the hallmark is the comprehensive approach. It’s no great insight to observe that geographic conditions have a pronounced impact on tactical considerations. The suburbs of Arnhem and the high mountains of the Caucasus are very different places. An ASL scenario set in Normandy’s bocage, Stalingrad’s factories or the Libyan coastal road will have the terrain to match. Olive groves, graveyards, swamps, wooden huts, cactus hedges etc. etc. are depicted in over 60 official geomorphic map boards. You can even send your brave boys into the sewers, hoping to emerge from a basement and achieve a close quarter ambush. The historical modules provide maps based on actual terrain, often sourced from photographs taken during aerial reconnaissance sorties. The rules differentiate terrain types in a manner which is usually simple and concise, although some of the Pacific-specific terrain types, such as caves and paddy fields, are overly complex. Deformation of the physical environment is not uncommon; shell-holes can be created, grain fields set alight, buildings may collapse due to large calibre high explosive hits. Achieving a hit on an enemy machine gun position which not only eliminates the crew and weapon, but which collapses an entire upper storey and sets a building ablaze is the kind of drama which ASL excels at delivering. And such changes can often have a huge impact on the tactical situation. The smoke produced by a burning copse can shield an assault. The collapse of a steeple can deny a perfect observation post for an artillery observer. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in other games.

ASL’s treatment of the urban environment is particularly notable. Sewers, cellars, roofs, burnt-out buildings, huge factories and terraced houses are all addressed. Much of Chapter E concerns weather effects. Dry conditions result in increased chance of fires breaking out. Icy conditions freeze streams and jam weapons. Gusting winds cause fires to spread and play havoc with landing gliders. Mist and rain result in vision based modifiers to fire attacks. Mud impedes off road movement.

As comprehensive as ASL’s terrain and weather rules are, its treatment of the vehicles of war is outstanding. Turning its back entirely on the simple approach to armoured combat taken by Squad Leader, which is simply an adjunct to infantry combat, ASL fixates on the technical details. Every major vehicle of every combatant is depicted, from the legacy WWI tanks fielded by many nations at the beginning of the war to the late war behemoths which fought on the Eastern Front in 1944 and ‘45. Extensive vehicle notes supplement the information found on counters and provide for bespoke rules specific to vehicles which have unusual capabilities or limitations. Reading the vehicle notes is an enjoyable and educational experience, in and of itself, and the detail provided offers its own narrative of the evolution of the war. See, for instance, the ad hoc development of tank destroyers by the Wehrmacht in late 1941, as it responded to encounters with the T-34 and KV series tanks fielded by the Soviets. Consider the very different design philosophies of the various combatants and how they evolved over time.

Squad Leader’s initial scenarios are set in Stalingrad. As a consequence, Stalingrad is a spiritual homeland for ASL players, the place where it all began. Stalingrad 1942 is the subject of the first historical module, Red Barricades. One of ASL’s unique aspects has been the production of historical modules based on specific actions. They come with a map based on the actual battlefield and a set of scenarios describing elements of the battle. They also include campaign games which are a set of linked scenarios in which force preservation becomes an important factor. Thus far, a wide variety of official historical modules have been produced and each has been based on extensive research by the designers. Besides Red Barricades, others are set in the Ardennes, Normandy, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, the Rhineland and Arnhem. Most recently, Festung Budapest describes the late-1944 siege of Budapest. The historical module campaign games are perhaps the point at which ASL most closely resembles a simulation of sorts: the maps are faithful renditions of the actual terrain and the players are required to deal with some real life constraints, such as the need to limit losses and to trade space for time. Each historical module is an opportunity to experiment. Festung Budapest is particularly innovative as it models the impact of a protracted siege on the Hungarian and German garrison; the impacts of ammunition, fuel and food shortages are captured. The map is fantastic, a beautiful treatment of an urban battlefield completely unlike any other ASL map. Playing a module like Festung Budapest gives one a very strong sense of some of the tactical dynamics of an actual battle and the impact of the actual geography; as a player one develops a very real understanding of the savagery of a late war, urban winter siege.

Another unique aspect is that ASL can boast a literature of sorts. A lot of words have been written about ASL during its three decades of existence. The official magazines, the ASL Annual and ASL Journal, have been in semi-regular production. In recent years the ASL Journal has been published on a yearly basis. Third party magazines and rules guides have also been published, some of which are of extremely high quality, such as those produced by Bounding Fire Productions or Le Franc Tireur. As such, there’s an extant bank of articles on specific areas of the rules, beginner’s tips, scenario guides, play analysis, designer notes etc. This knowledge is extremely useful to players new to the community; a great way to learn the subtleties of play is to read articles on specific matters written by distinguished ASL players. A very wide range of excellent articles are available, many of which are hosted online and are free of charge. Many of the older Annuals and Journals are out of print, but are available on ebay etc., although sometimes the prices can be very high.

ASL’s detail and rules provides some insights into the war and how it was fought. The manner in which the game depicts WWII combat can be illustrative. The game’s rules provide an answer to questions such as ‘How did the Wehrmacht’s Panzer IIIs and IVs overcome the Soviet KVs and T-34s during Operation Barbarossa?’ A player of ASL will be familiar with many of the simple tenets of modern warfare. An early learning outcome for all beginners is the dangers of stacking. Fire attacks usually apply to all units in a location, so the greater the degree to which you stack, the more efficient your opponent’s attacks. The game provides other lessons, such as:

– The positioning of important weapons systems.
– The importance of camouflage.
– Combined arms, particularly the benefit of infantry and armour working well together.
– The frailty of unsupported armour in urban settings.
– The bankruptcy of the cavalry charge yet the continued usefulness of horse borne dismounted troops operating a lá dragoons, particularly against partisan formations.
– The advantage of high ground; as an ASL player part of the skill set you will develop is the analysis of terrain depicted on the boards, identifying vantage points, lines of sight and dead ground.
– The peril defenders face when surrounded and when avenues of retreat are cut off.
– For the attacker, the importance of outflanking and achieving envelopment. The destruction of opposing infantry is often most efficiently achieved by breaking key units, penetrating the defensive line and rendering the entire position untenable, as opposed to destroying enemy units using direct fire attacks or closing to close combat and exposing your forces to the risks of close combat.

Much of ASL’s detail is intended to cause players to incorporate actual tactical considerations into their play. Players are often incentivised by the rules to deploy their troops and weapon systems in ways which mirror historical practice. Infantry will disperse in attack and in defence. Once in contact with the enemy, your troops will assault in short dashes under cover. Tank platoons will manoeuvre together, each responsible for different sectors. Defending machine gun teams will be placed in prime vantage points, covering open ground, junctions and interdicting movement along streets. Overwatching firegroups will attempt to suppress enemy defences with weight of fire. AFVs will deploy behind walls or hull down on hillsides. In scenarios set later in the war, hidden tank-hunter infantry teams armed with shaped charge weapons will lie in wait by crossroads and bridges, hoping to ambush enemy armour. Antiaircraft halftracks will accompany your armoured columns hoping to discourage or impede enemy air support. ASL’s rules, more often than not, encourage behaviour which maps well to how we know the armies fought.

ASL’s unique advantage over every other wargame is the scale and degree of connection among the playing community. Estimates of the playing population vary, however I’ve read that there’s a core of 5,000 active players and I have no reason to dispute this. These 5,000 are largely dispersed across North America, Europe and Australia / NZ in numbers sufficient to support vibrant local clubs in many of the larger cities. There are also regular weekend tournaments which occur all over the world. Even if you lack local opposition and cannot travel to play, there’s a very lively and supportive online community. There are at least two ongoing international PBEM tournaments and a less formal ASL Ladder. Finding an opponent is very easy. There are a number of forums where one can ask for a PBEM or live VASL game and I can guarantee that in 99% of cases opponents are found within 24-48 hours. And it really is a community, members of which are happy to teach newcomers and often to share or sell-at-cost material which is difficult to find or out of print.

I think it’s important to dwell on the community point. Wargames are designed to be played. To an unhappy degree, wargaming has taken a backseat to the hobby of collecting wargames. The wargames industry, such as it is, annually produces a quantum of games which quite obviously dwarfs the capacity of the wargaming population to play those games to any meaningful extent. As a consequence, it’s all too common for a wargamer to own shelves of unplayed wargames. Possessions take precedence over experiences. ASL is in counterpoint to this general state of affairs. First and foremost, ASL is played. There may be many ASL collectors or those who have abandoned ASL for greener pastures, but there can be no doubt that ASL as a play phenomenon dwarfs all but a handful of other wargames. ASL provides a venue in which those who may be tired of buying unplayed game after unplayed game can, if they wish, halt and commit to play, as opposed to staying on the merry-go-round of new game after new game, or worse still, collecting purely for collecting’s sake.

Quite aside from strength of community, ASL is also flourishing in another sense. Multiman Publishing, the official publisher, regularly produces new product and reprints of out of print modules. A stable of well-regarded third party publishers, such as Bounding Fire Productions, Le Franc Tireur and Friendly Fire, produce complementary material, usually scenario packs and campaign games, some of which are highly innovative. That’s a remarkable testament to the strength of the fan base and the dedication of the publishers; after almost 30 years fresh, quality material is still coming.

ASL is an intense and immensely engaging game experience – decision point after decision point, dilemma after dilemma. The design’s devotion to capturing detail is outstanding. The game system can describe almost any tactical engagement which occurred during the war. ASL boasts a large and growing literature. The system is still growing; a healthy stream of scenario packs, magazines and modules are produced every year. The community is large, friendly and supportive of new players.

For all of these reasons, ASL is the greatest wargame. Hence the remarkable longevity of ASL and its vibrant playing community.

If you haven’t played ASL before, I hope I’ve convinced you to consider joining us. Buy a starter kit. Give it a go. Come join us! Come play!

Eoin Corrigan’s “Majestic”, originally published on BoardGameGeek, July 10 2013.