Dare Death 3 Preface (Original) “What ASL is to me”

Dare Death 3One day in February 2013, I chanced upon a copy of Squad Leader on eBay. I was a Squad Leader player back when I was in high school. Unfortunately when I went to university, I found a few other things more interesting and I forgot about wargames all together. So, decades later, while I stared at the screen, memories of great times came back and I bought myself that copy. The internet connected me with some very active Squad Leader groups. I planned to learn the game again and get back into it.

I then came across the tiniest military bookstore one day. It’s the size of a small walk-in closet, except that it’s wall to wall military books. There it was, up on a shelf near the ceiling, a shrink wrapped copy of the Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook v2. I asked to have a look at it, and I never put it back down.

The ASLRB is not an easy book to read, so I asked to see a live game one Sunday afternoon. The local ASL’rs would have none of it. Erwin Lau & Lorricount Hall shoved a Pz IV my direction and said “Here, you are in charge of this one.” They then proceed to tell me what to do with my Pz IV every step of the way. I couldn’t fathom why people who I have just met would let me break into their Sunday game and spend that much time teaching me the mechanics, but they did.

It was a fun afternoon but it’s not an event I can attend on a regular basis. Nonetheless, the rulebook became a lot easier to understand now that I have context.

One day I got an email from Don Lazov. He said if I want to learn ASL, he could teach. I know then it’s choice between continuing to read the rulebook and solo’ing scenarios or having a mentor and actively playing. It was a choice between being a tinkerer and an active player.

I said “Yes but give me a few weeks to finish up Chapter A and Chapter B.” I wasn’t sure why I wanted to push it off. He asked again “Do you want to do this or not?”

I jumped in with both feet. Our first scenario was “RPT1 Ferenc Jozef Barracks”.

After that I ran into Witchbottles, who helped me get permission from Rodney Kinney (who created VASL) for permission to use VASL graphics in my blog. To me, Witchbottles is the embodiment of the modern day Renaissance man. We play ASL and we spent countless hours chatting about history and about life.

I don’t remember how I heard about “Malaya Madness” the 2014 ASL tournament in Singapore. I didn’t give it any thought at first but both Don Lazov and Witchbottles thought I absolutely must go. I struggled with it for a while. I mean, paying for flight and hotel to play a boardgame is crazy! I brought up the topic to my wife, expecting her to kill it (for good reasons). She thought about it for a minute and said “Yes”.

I rented a bunk bed in a hostel to save money but I went to Singapore for the tournament. There’s something truly magical about ASL that ties people together. Playing 1 on 1 on a weekend is one thing. Being in a room with other ASL’rs and playing games after games is definitely something else!

I got a bigger group of opponents after the Malaya Madness. I went on to help organise and to promote the 2014 Hong Kong ASL tournament, “The Gin Drinkers’ Revenge”. I was in New York City on Dec 2014 and I jumped on the train and stopped by Albany. It is THE Albany, the New York State ASL Championship. Joe Loece and Gary Trezza are simply some of the best hosts I have ever met. I met so many people at Albany. I met a lot of the best known names in ASL. I decided to shoot a video for these guys and leveraged on that to chat with as many people as I could.

That of course open me up to more venues and to more people. I picked up a chat from Carl Nogueira when I was walking down the street at lunch one day and he wanted to know if I want to play and to learn. I was getting so used to jumping in at that point I said “yes” immediately.

So you see, ASL is about people. ASL is about the guy on the other side of the table. ASL is one of the few good reasons in life that pulls guys together periodically, to share identical experiences and to chat about other thing as well. If you do solo play most of the time, you are truly missing the best thing ASL has to offer.

ASL is about playing. That rulebook is not for reading. It’s for referencing and as such, the INDEX is the command central for the ASL rulebook The value of an ASL kit is much higher when used and played than it will ever get on eBay.

ASL is about self discovery. As we compete with others, we learn more about our fears and shortcomings. We learn about our risk management and our decision making processes. The man to overcome game after game is yourself. This not something you will realize from ASL not played or ASL played solo.

Dare Death is an effort to arouse and to maintain that interest. Dare Death is the embodiment of a group of ASL’rs who play on a regular basis and discuss rules and tactics on live chats when not playing. If enthusiasm sells then Dare Death is a powerful force in ASL.

And enthusiasm sells.

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Journey to a Tourney, Part 3 : The Aftermath

M36 JacksonI never expected this, but there IS an “aftermath” to having done a tourney for the first time :

  • Having prepared for all 25 tourney scenarios, I read a lot more of the rulebook and the scope of scenarios I can play expanded.
  • I met some great folks around the region as well.  I have a few more regular “Live” games now on VASL apart from my usual stable of PBeM (“Play By eMail”).
  • I play a little faster.
  • I play differently too, having seen different styles of play.  For example :
    • I know I should be more aggressive with my movements.  Moving and encircling is way more effective (and time efficient “turn wise”) than sitting and shooting.
    • I know what establishing a tempo as an attacker feels like.
    • I don’t care about the die rolls anymore.  “Reversion to Mean” dictates that it will all even out at the end.  Good decisions win the game not die rolls.
    • I overheard Ian Percy and George Bates said (and this is far from an exact quote) : “it’s not so much about what you do, it’s more about presenting your opponent with a serious of tough decisions and one way or the other, he’s going to mess a few up.  Make him do all the work.”
    • It’s important to plan out where you should be on the map and also when you should be where on the map especially as the attacker so you don’t run out of time.
    • There was an earlier poll on GameSquad asking whether folks are more comfortable attacking or defending in a scenario.  I can’t find it now but someone said “Is there a defence?”.  This thought rang in my head during my last round as the IJA (Imperial Japanese Army) defender in J116 Brigade Hill.  The IJA were infiltrating and cutting the attacker’s rout paths.  My understanding of Book VI (“Defence”) in Clausewitz’s “On War” echoes the thought : defence is just a different form of offensive action – counterattack!
  • Now I am getting ready to support the Hong Kong Society of WargamersAdvanced Squad Leader Tournament this year!!

Lastly I want to share something from the tourney with everyone.  John Charles Knowles, who’s teaching me jungle warfare through Operation Watchtower at the moment, wrote a cheat sheet for the PTO for our benefit.  Here we are :

Malaya Madness Chapter G Cheat Sheet

Cpl Kwan 7-0

Journey to a Tourney, Part 2: The Battles

Round 1: AP8 A Bloody Harvest

Maik Brinkmann

Maik Brinkmann

Maik Brinkmann

Maik Brinkmann is a methodological player with a great personality.  He stores his counters in boxes of little white envelopes which hints at an equally efficient and practical mind.  We decided on playing  A Bloody Harvest through email correspondence before I arrived at Singapore.

Bloody Harvest - old VASL setup for illustration only.

Bloody Harvest – old VASL setup for illustration only.

Germans started from the top of the board and their goal was to clear the area I got marked at the bottom of the board clear of “good order” Poles.

I played the Poles.  I decided to place my medium machine gun on the 1st level of the stone building that faced the grain field.  From the Pole’s angle there were three possible approaches.

There was the right side that is heavily lined with trees where the German could very well approach.  I placed 2 trenches within those woods to delay the Germans.  I made sure that the two trenches upfront can support each other (and not be able to shoot at each other).

There was the grain field in the middle that my medium machine gun (MMG) covered from the first level of the stone building.  I also had a squad in a trench that covered the road leading up to the grain field.

There’s also the left side that’s less wooded and was the longer way around.  I had a trench with a squad on the immediate left of the village, plus another squad in a stone building on the left covering that approach.  If needed, they could move back to the village to help.

Maik divided up the Germans and attacked down both flanks.  He was bogged down on my right as the Poles withdrew into the village.  He made better progress on my left but couldn’t converge onto the village in time.

The funny part was a stubborn Polish half squad that kept running retreating through the grain fields while harassing the Germans on the left.  It absolutely refused to be broken.

It was a great game that introduced me to a new friend.

Round 2: J103 Lenin’s Sons

Mark Humphries

Mark Humphries

Mark Humphries

Mark Humphries need no introduction in Asia or globally in the ASL world.  He runs the ASL Ladder from the Philippines.  We decided on Lenin’s Sons and he gratefully allowed me to play the defending Russians.

Lenin's Sons - old VASL setup for illustration only.

Lenin’s Sons – old VASL setup for illustration only.

The Germans attacked down the length of the board looking to capture most the buildings on the bottom of the board.  From the Russian point of view, the left side of the board is open ground.  The German had a big wooden building at their jump off point.  The Russians had a hedge and an orchard in front of the buildings they are to defend.  On the right side were the woods.

From Mark I could see how ASL is really a game of movement.  The Germans would always move forward in every turn.  I failed to create a cross fire on the left and the SS was able to process across the open ground without breaking much until their rifles came into range.

In the woods on the right side Mark was constantly looking to encircle the retreating Russian troops.  The Russian had a demolition squad hidden in the woods and were able to channel a leader and a squad towards them but my timing was wrong.  The demolition squad sprung out, got shot,  and the demolition pack went flying harmlessly through the air.

It was a slow game but Mark made progress in every turn.  By mid game he was already in the orchards  in front of my buildings.

Another great game!  Mark showed me how it’s done : attacking in open ground and in the woods alike.

(PS : if I play this scenario again, the 10-0 commissar will go into the woods and the Russians will do a fighting retreat like IJA in the jungles.)

Round 3: ASL145 Shanghai in Flames

Jamie Lee

Jamie Lee

Jamie Lee

Jamie Lee is an experienced war gamer who is a newbie with ASL rules but is very well versed tactically.  The Singapore ASL’rs warned me about him.  On the other hand, he’s very unassuming and can easily disarm the unwary.

The scenario was Shanghai in Flames and I played the Chinese.  I played this a while back with Erwin Langlois before and I enjoyed it immensely.

Shanghai in Flames - old VASL setup for illustration only.

Shanghai in Flames – old VASL setup for illustration only.

The large building on the bottom left of the map was the Sihang Warehouse (factory).  The IJA were to clear the factory of all “good order” Chinese squads.  Squads in the factory were fanatic (a point I forgot at the tourney).

From the Chinese point of view, the likely angle of Japanese attack would be down the left side of the board along the line of buildings.  The big stone building in the middle of the board was a good jump off point for the final attack as well.

The row house along the right of the factory was an important landmark.  As long as it stayed in Chinese hands, it allowed them skulk and to rout safely.  Once it fell into Japanese hands it became a beautiful fire base for the IJA

The Chinese got 3 fortified hexes and instead of fortifying the 3 top hexes of the factory to prevent the Japanese from charging directly in, I only fortified the middle hex the hex to it’s right.  With the risk I took from not fortifying the left, I exchanged that for a tunnel that linked the building on the left to the row house on the right in front of the building.

My plan was to fight a delaying retreat down the left side while a leader and a squad start a fire on the building to the left in front of the factory.  They could use the tunnel and go to the row house on the right and start fires there too, thereby denying the IJA of jump off points.

There was also a Chinese MMG team together with a protective squad and a 7-0 leader all the way down the street on the right side of the board.  Given there were two long streets, I plan to cover the first with a long fire lane, and move to the street closer to the factory when the IJA broke through.  Guess what?  The 7-0 overseeing the operation was none other than “Corporal Kwan” recently designed by the talented Sava Toufexis.

photo

Chinese GMT 7-0, “Cpl Kwan”

As it turned out Jamie was a lot faster than I expected in fighting through my retreating squads on left flank.  A dare death half squad made its début by playing dead for a while and finally snapping off its concealment and delivering point-blank fire into a stack of passing IJA squads and a 10-0 leader.  The shot wounded the 10-0 and decimated the IJA squads.  Another volley from a squad between building killed the 10-0 and further amplified the misery.  The Chinese managed to set fires to the building and woods on their left flank and routed to the row house on the right.  By that time the IJA forces had already arrived to prevent further acts of vandalism.

By mid game the IJA was in the row house along the right of the factory.  I lucked out in that the building to the left of the factory was on fire, denying its use to the IJA and making my unfortified left factory hex less of an issue.  After a few turns the IJA broke through into the factory from the right but the Chinese squads had spread themselves out on the factory floor, promising another 2 to 3 turns of close combat.  The IJA simply ran out of time.

Jamie is very strong tactically.  He’s also very fluid in his thinking, making him a very tenacious opponent.  This scenario went for 7 hours before we called it.

Round 4: J116 Brigade Hill

Vladimir See

Vlad has been ASL’r for a while.  He was one of the first guys I came into contact with when I got into ASL.  I remember one of my first chats with him was about how he felt about his Kampfgruppe Scherer purchase.

We agreed to Brigade Hill with me being the IJA.

I adopted Chris Doary’s setup.  (Erwin: Spoiler Alert .. we still got a game going, if you look you will ruin our game!  🙂 )

There were four hill tops on the map.  The Australians started the scenario owning the hill-top on the top left of the map (approached by concealed IJA at the time of the photo).  They were to control, three or more hill tops out of the possible four.

Brigade Hill

Brigade Hill

Starting from the general direction from the foxhole on the top left of the map, the Australians probed both sides of the big hill before moving onto the first hill top.  That might have burned more time than the Australians could afford.  While I had the hill top bore sighted, I forgot to use the die roll modifier in the excitement.  However when an Australian half squad, a squad, a leader and a machine gun moved into a nice clump of woods to set up a fire base on the hill-top, I remembered to spring forth a hidden IJA squad!  The IJA initial triple point-blank fire on the stack didn’t have any effect but the Australian advance fire striped the IJA.  They reduced the Australians in the mêlée and ultimately killed them all in the next close combat phase.

The Australians made a bit of headway chasing a mop of IJA half squad rabble through the woods on the right flank beyond the first big hill.  They cornered and killed off a half squad and the 9-0 IJA leader and one of the Aussie half squads went fanatic.  When the Aussie reinforcements appeared from the bottom right encircling the “bottom right hill” it looked bleak for the IJA.  The Australians who killed the IJA leader jumped another IJA half squad in close combat and got ambushed instead.  The Aussie half squad got slaughtered and I was going to infiltrate the victorious IJA half squad back closer to the “bottom right hill” but suddenly I had a thought.

I moved the IJA half squad behind the pursuing Australians.

That IJA half squad then eliminated a stack of routing Aussies!!  When the leader and a squad among the incoming Australian reinforcement broke, I double-timed a squad of IJA through the orchard behind them as well, a lone surviving Aussie squad defensive fired through the orchards but IJA squads had ever been stopped from going wherever they wanted to go.  The IJA squad was in a position to eliminate the routing Aussies against the board edge in the following turn.

The small IJA reinforcement found the Aussie foxhole on the top left guarded by a lonely squad.  They advanced up the hill and did a one hex banzai charge into the foxhole.  The “score” between the IJA and the Australians went back to 3 hill tops to 1.  The Australians had two more turns left and decided to concede.

Vlad is a meticulous and a very fair player.  Throughout the game he kept reminding me of repairs, missed negative die roll modifiers (on my shots) and (my) SAN etc.  It is an honor to play him.

(PS Vlad reminded me that I can’t boresight if the attacker didn’t start offboard.)

Later at Singapore Changi’s Airport

I wrote Don Lazov and Witchbottles, my two ASL mentors from the airport.  Don wrote back and said:

“I sincerely hope you not only had a lot of fun, learned a bunch of new things, ideas and concepts, but most important (beside/or next to having fun) made some new friends, and many memories. To me that is what ASL is really all about. Playing a great game but playing that game with great friends and making memories.”

I had seen a lot of new tactics.  Whether I had truly internalized them remains to be seen:

  • Jamie Lee’s aggressive and effective use of half squads
  • Mark Humphries’s constantly flowing half squad amoeba attack through the woods
  • Vladimir See’s tactical planning and creative movements that made great use of available cover
  • Ian Percy’s comment I overheard about him not “doing things” to his opponents but “constantly presenting tough choices to the opponent” and “making HIM do all the work”.  Given enough choices his opponent is bound to make the wrong choice and choke.
  • The power of IJA behind the enemy and the horrific efficiencies of eliminating the stacks of enemy squads for failure to route.

Quick Note to Fellow Newbies

"The Malaya Madmen" - Perry Cocke

“The Malaya Madmen” – Perry Cocke

I wasn’t going to pay for a plane ticket to go to Singapore for the Malaya Madness.  The thought of putting up the time and the expense to go to Singapore to play ASL when I can play games with anyone over VASL was simply too crazy to consider.  However, my two mentors : Don & Witchbottles both advised me to go see for myself.  My family, surprisingly was easier to convince than I myself.

My initial thoughts were :

  • I don’t know anyone there but a lot of the ASL’rs must know each other already.  They are just going to talk and to play with each other.
    NEVER HAPPENED.
  • I am just a newbie.  What’s the fun in losing all my games?
    The Tourney Director matched players based on their skill levels.  Besides, everyone I  met are a total pleasure to play with or without the competition.  
  • I played quite a few people around the world too on VASL.  I can lose games equally well on VASL without having to travel, thankyou.
    Face to Face games carries a dynamic that just doesn’t exist via other mediums.  The chatter, the shrieks, the comments, the groans and screams of delight over die rolls, make FtF experiences second to none.  Besides, it’s even more fun to play people over VASL (afterwards) when you know who they are.  

There are a lot of ASL tourneys every year.  If it’s within your realm of possibility to go, go.  Go at least once.  

And tell me how you feel.  It might just change your ASL life too.

(Journal to a Tourney, Part 1 : Decisions)

Cpl Kwan 7-0

Journey to a Tourney, Day 1 – Photos

I am here!!  I got into Singapore last night and found my way to a bunk that I rented at a “capsule hotel” called “The Pod”.  It’s a little hotel where they have bunk beds in big comfortable rooms (with lockers), clean bathrooms and a nice common area.  I met up with Peter Palmer late last night and went to the Malaya Madness venue early this morning.

By early I mean I got up at 0530 this morning and met Peter at 0615.  We met up with George Bates at 0645 at the Bugis MRT (subway station).  Apparently George got a cab lined up.  That’s quite fortunate as both Peter and I got a big load of gear to haul over.

I am not going to write much more as I am pretty beat plus I would like to take a look at the scenarios for Round 3 and 4 tomorrow, but hey, pictures speak a thousand words (each) don’t they?

Having said all that : a huge thank you to Perry Cocke and Multi-Man Publishing for sponsoring the event!

This is the venue at 0730 in the morning.  Most participants hasn't arrived.

This is the venue at 0730 in the morning. Most participants hasn’t arrived.

George starting up the event!

George starting up the event!

My first opponent Maik Brinkmann

My first opponent Maik Brinkmann

George Bates and Vladimir See

George Bates and Vladimir See

Mark Humphries & David Leong

Mark Humphries & David Leong

Ian Percy & Maik Brinkmann

Ian Percy & Maik Brinkmann

Stanley Neo

Stanley Neo

Lunch, Singapore style : downstairs outside and spicy

Lunch, Singapore style : downstairs outside and spicy

John Knowles

John Knowles, my PTO teacher

Peter Palmer
Peter Palmer

Journey to a Tourney, Part 1: Decisions

I did it.

I registered for my first Advanced Squad Leader tournament, the Malaya Madness (Feb 21 to 23 2014) in Singapore. I bought my plane ticket. I booked my hotel.

Two months ago I never would have even thought about it. (Flying to Singapore for a weekend to do what?!!) A year and a half ago, Advanced Squad Leader (“ASL”) wasn’t even a blip on my radar.

Before I go on, I want to make one thing crystal clear:

  1. If you are a relatively new player,
  2. If you are a “dormant” ASL player who’s quietly learning and playing ASL by yourself,

I am writing to you.

I know there are a lot of you out there and I care to guess that doing ASL by yourself is not the easiest hobby to do. I am writing to you. I would like to share my rationale for some of the decisions I made along the way.

I hope this helps you with your choices.

So there I was, working through the Infantry rules in my room, flipping through the massive 2nd edition Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook. I was highlighting important texts and I was noting important ideas in the margin. I was studying hard. When I got tired, I played a few rounds of ASL solo, planning to play through each scenario in turn.

Even playing was slow going, I found myself re-reading the rulebook more than I was playing.

Question 1: Do I keep on studying the rulebook or do I dive straight into a game?

I looked for live games. I found the folks at the Hong Kong Society of Wargamers who have face-to-face (“FtF”) games very weekend. Getting experienced players to take you through ASL games shows you the rules in action. It gives you context. The rulebook becomes much easier to read.

Oh yes , in case no one told you :

  1. Don’t wait to read and study the rulebook and “be ready” before you play your first game. Just go look for live games and attend. I have never met an ASL’r who’s not willing to teach.
  2. No, you don’t have the read the whole rulebook. You can start playing infantry only scenarios after Chapter A.

Question 2: Do I keep on dabbling solo or do I get on a regular play schedule?

I attended live games with the Hong Kong ASL’rs, but I couldn’t have joined them every weekend. ASL was still a solo affair for me. Had it continued in this fashion ASL might have become another of my passing fancies.

It never did.

Out of the blue Don Lazov wrote and asked me if I want to learn ASL from him. I was going to keep my “ASL hobby” on a personal level. but here I was, there’s an experienced player offering to teach. Do I keep it a private & low pressure affair or do I get serious about this?

Anything worth doing is worth doing seriously.

I stopped thinking and said “yes”. That decision changed my ASL life. ASL went from a private study to a social affair. Playing intelligent and thoughtful human beings makes ASL come alive from that moment on. ASL becomes the complex and rich experience that it’s designed to be.  Having a regular play schedule helps me internalize the rules.

Question 3: Do I stick with PBeM or do I play live?

I play ASL via PBeM using VASL. What I mean is that I play ASL via exchanging logs generated from Rodney Kinney’s “Virtual ASL” platform. I was up to 9 concurrent games at one stage. PBeM saves me from having to be at appointed places at appointed times. With my work travel schedule that was simply beyond the realm of possibilities. I step through my opponent’s moves from the logs they send me.  I interject my responses and I send my logs back.

What I lost was the social interaction. What I have was perhaps too much time to consider and to reconsider my moves. PBeM games allow for methodical and well thought out games, perhaps too well thought out.

So I started having more live VASL games where I see my opponent’s moves real time and we interact via Skype. Often times another friend(s) drop by and it becomes a virtual club night! I still travel as much but I keep a regular live VASL schedule now.

My other mentor, Witchbottles, a man who’s a lot busier than I am said it’s a matter of time management.

I am learning to play faster. I also learn to give up the notion of playing a “perfect game”. I am learning to square up a situation, structure a solution on the fly and execute!

Play, laugh and have a great time.

Question 4: Do I stay “in the shadows” or do I go signed up for a tournament?

I heard there will be an ASL tournament in Singapore for a little while before it was announced. I have to admit I didn’t give it any thought. The idea of paying for flight and hotel to Singapore by myself just to play boardgames was crazy. I didn’t even join the one in Hong Kong last year (I haven’t turn Fanatic then)!

Both of my mentors said I MUST go. One of them had even said in the past that he doesn’t go to tourneys anymore. He said I should go and decide for myself.

I gingerly broached the topic with my family. I have to admit, it feels like telling them that I am joining a motorcycle gang. My beautiful family was incredulous at first but quickly came around and gave me the support I need.

I signed up for my first ASL tournament.

Do I have a chance in hell of winning anything? No, but that’s not the point, although they do have a prize for the one who lose the most games.

To me the points are :

  • This is my gesture to myself that I want to do ASL well. Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well. I might not become a world class player but I want to be wicked good and a lot of fun to play.
  • This is me reaching out and be part of the Asia Pacific ASL community. These are the core group of guys I’ll be playing countless hours of ASL with for years to come.
  • This is me supporting efforts to foster and to grow the Asia Pacific ASL community. Today I already count among my regular opponents, a player from Singapore and a player from Japan. I look forward to a lot more!
“Journey to a Tourney” is a multipart series that details my personal journey to what’s hopefully the first in a long line of regular ASL Tournaments in Asia Pac. I hope this will encourage any new or experienced players to come join us as well!

References :