Farewell Fearless Leader John Hill

Art by Rodger MacGowan, Photo by Jackson Kwan

Mr. Patrick LeBeau sent a beautiful message to the “Squad Leader PreASL” YahooGroup to remember John Hill.  I asked and he kindly gave his permission to republish it here, for all of us whose memories Lt. Hill will forever be a part of.  

Farewell fearless leader

The original John Hill Squad Leader counter: Lt. Hill, a modest 9-1 leader.

When I purchased the famous purple edition of John Hill’s 1977 Avalon Hill game, Squad Leader, at the Origins held in Ann Arbor, Michigan that same year, I and many others were immediately hooked on the game system and ease-of-play. We attended all of John’s lectures and in a day or so mastered the game. By the end of the convention many of us were combining our game boards and units to play monster self-designed scenarios after having played all 12 scenarios in one long weekend.

Squad Leader would also win the title of Best Tactical/Operational Game of 1977

This was not my first encounter with John or his many excellent board and miniature games. Most notably in the mid 1970s was Johnny Reb, now known as Johnny Reb One. I still have the original mimeographed legal size cheat sheet printed on both sides, which was all you needed to play the first iteration of the Johnny Reb system. In that playtest addition, resolution used a single 12-sided die.

I mention these two games and I call them systems because they have an incredible longevity through continuous reprints, revisions and new editions, including new games derivative of earlier manifestations. Although the 1977 edition of Squad Leader is my all time favorite, the game would generate many supplements, which would lead to the development of Advanced Squad Leader. The whole Squad Leader family of games has sparked a gamer following that keeps the game alive (SL or ASL) to this day after almost all of the SL and ASL games are long out of print. ASL is directly responsible, I believe, to the development of the online VASSAL game engine for playing board/miniature games virtually.

Johnny Reb would lead to JRII and JRIII. From my perspective, I see Across the Deadly Field as John’s Opus Majus and final version of the Johnny Reb system. From my point of view, I believe ADF is his finest version and I hope it will emerge as his most popular American Civil War gaming system. I spent the entirety of 2014, from Fall In 2013 to Historicon 2014, and all those conventions in between, promoting ADF.

This brings me back to Lt. Hill, the U.S. 9-1 leader counter of the original Squad Leader. Many of us literally wore out our original counters due to continuous game play and finger handling. We of course replaced them by purchasing new games. This is not true with 99% of the board games I own. Further, in 1977, we understood the game as cardboard version of a miniatures game. Today I play the game using 15mm figures and terrain. My point is that as long as gamers continue to play John’s games he lives on.

In untold thousands of games, his old Lt. Hill counter has often suffered a KIA result or has broken under fire. At times it has conducted heroic acts, or has rallied squads at critical times. Whatever the outcome, Lt. Hill reemerges game after game to fight on and on to the enjoyment of the table top gamer whose only purpose is to have fun, learn history, study tactics, engage in competitive play and build friendships.

John was a good friend and his games build many life-long friendships.

I will miss him. We will miss him. However, as Lt. Hill, he will always be in our games, not only as a counter, a figure, a GM, a moderator, a game designer, a human, a man, and as one of the greatest game designers of all time.

Patrick LeBeau

January 13, 2015

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Don’t Worry, You Can Always Find An Opponent For Advanced Squad Leader

pondering life

pondering life (Photo credit: Chimpr)

Let’s say you found this blog because you are looking for more information on Advanced Squad Leader.

Let’s also say instead of looking for rules forums or after action reports (“AARs”), you are trying to decide whether to take the plunge or not.

At some point you must wonder, with a game this sophisticated (and a rulebook this thick), who’s going to play with you?

If you are in Hong Kong, the first answer to that question is : the good people at the Hong Kong Society of Wargamers. They hold regular games and meetings on the weekends.

The second answer to that question is, and this one’s location independent, people around the world. You should know that there’s a (free) computer program that runs on Windows as well as Macs called VASSAL. VASSAL is a platform that allows people to play virtual adaptations of boardgames in real-time over the internet or “asynchronously” via email.  This is not a computer game per se.  It’s a computer hosted set of maps and counters (plus dice and charts) that facilitates the meeting of opponents around the world.

  • AdvancedSquadLeader.net has a section dedicated to VASL or Virtual Advanced Squad Leader.  This is where you download VASSAL and VASL, the module (“mod file”) for Advanced Squad Leader.
  • This is where you download the maps.  The number of maps available might be overwhelming but you will come to appreciate the comprehensiveness of it all.  You can really play most scenarios with this setup!
  • This is where you download the “extensions“. Extensions are useful widgets that helps with gameplay.

The Homefront Wargame Center gives you terrific instructions to the setup and the usage of VASL.  When you get around to trying an “asych” game of Advanced Squad Leader with someone in a different timezone, you should know there are certain protocols to follow – “The Joys of VASL PBEM” by Matt Romey.

So there is absolutely no reason to worry about finding opponents.  VASSAL and VASL open the world to you!

I hope this helps you and I look forward to any comments/questions.

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Key to the Advanced Squad Leader Modules Before You Buy Any

Advanced Squad Leader is also referred to as “ASL”.  You’ll notice a lot of different Advanced Squad Leader modules out there and it can get pretty confusing. It helps to know there are a few large categories:

  • Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit “ASLSK” : these are complete modules that provide low cost venues for new players to try and to learn the Advanced Squad Leader system.  
  • Advanced Squad Leader Core modules : these are modules, each containing all the counters (“orders of battle” or “OB”) for specific nationalities.  The modules are not complete games by themselves.  There are “dependencies” between modules which we will cover in another post and they require the purchase of the Advance Squad Leader Rulebook “ASLRB” (latest being 2nd edition 2nd print) to play.
  • Historical Advanced Squad Leader module “HASL” : these are modules that takes a deeper look at specific historical events.   Note that they too are not complete games and are dependent on ownership of specific Orders of Battle plus the Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook.
  • Advanced Squad Leader Action Packs “ASL Action Pack” : these are expansions to the ASL system that contains additional maps and scenarios that allow players to get right into the action.
  • Advanced Squad Leader Compatible “ASLCOMP” : these are Advanced Squad Leader variants and expansions published by companies other than Avalon Hill Game Company or Multi-Man Publishing.

I hope this provides a good framework from which you can plan your acquisitions.  Any thoughts, ideas or questions please feel free to comment!

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