Alternative Titles/Edition History:
aka Critical Hit Annual Issue 1
Critical Hit (2015)
Country of Origin:
48-page magazine, 18 scenarios (as magazine pages), 7 pages rules (as magazine pages), 386 die-cut counters, 1 historical map made from 2 "12 x 18" unmounted glossy heavy paper/light cardstock map panels
In the mid-1990s, Critical Hit released one of the first third party ASL-related magazines with its Critical Hit Magazine, a magazine that limped along in fits and starts for about a decade. The quality of its contents was uneven at best, with classic scenarios and barking dogs alike. Inconsistency was its hallmark. It died a quiet, unannounced death some years ago.
But in 2015, Critical Hit has attempted to breathe some life into the corpse, renaming it the Critical Hit Annual and releasing Critical Hit Annual Issue 1. The first thing you can be sure of is that it is unlikely to actually be released annually–if there indeed is ever a second issue (Critical Hit has had a history of starting “series” that never survived past item #1 in the series).
The idea of a Critical Hit magazine is rather pointless, anyway. The ASL world is small enough that the intersecting sets of 1) good ASL players and 2) good writers is extremely small–small enough that even the official ASL Journal often has problems filling its pages with decent written content, much less the various third party newsletters and publications. The original Critical Hit magazine had very little good content in it and what content it had was best when it was very modest: designers notes, scenario analysis, and AARs. Critical Hit is better off saving itself some effort by ditching the magazine altogether and simply releasing historical modules as standalone products and scenarios as scenario packs.
Certainly the written content in Critical Hit Annual Issue 1 (hereinafter CHA1) is poor. You know a magazine is in trouble when the lead article in the inaugural issue is a rambling, semi-coherent piece on ‘ASL and Dating” (written, to boot, by someone who hasn’t dated in forever). The content doesn’t get better after that. The issue contains a variety of random e-mails to Ray Tapio which Ray re-purposed as “letters to the editor” and printed (possibly without permission), a list of ASLer Steve Pleva’s favorite house rules with “commentary” by Ray Tapio and Mark Porterfield (illuminating commentary such as “Same” and “OK”), a set of e-mail questions and answers from Ray Tapio to some Vietnam veteran, Vietnam reminiscences from the brother of an ASLer, and that’s it. Not one substantial or serious ASL article in the lot. Editing and quality control is fairly non-existent.
Actually, the physical quality of the magazine itself is also poor. The magazine is printed in color, but seemingly crudely–the pages don’t even line up evenly. None of the scenarios appear on scenario cards–they are all pages in the magazine. This is a step back in physical quality from the original CH Magazine, which had moved to having scenarios on separate pieces of cardstock. Additionally, the rules to the included module are also pages in the magazine, not separate pages, which means they have to be photocopied or cut out of the magazine. The one saving grace, perhaps, is that this saves purchasers a couple of extra articles that otherwise they might have been forced to read.
Not only are the scenarios and the rules included as pages in the magazine rather than separately, but they are not even the center pages of the magazine, so that they could easily be removed from the magazine. No, players will either have to completely dismantle their magazine to remove these pages or they will have to photocopy or scan all the relevant pages instead. The rules pages are not even a discrete set of pages–the first page of rules is published on the back of the last page of an article. It just all seems done with no concern or consideration for how people actually use these things.
Much of the content for CHA1 had been lying around for some time before being put into the magazine and this includes the scenarios, several of whose designers no longer even do work for Critical Hit. Leaving aside the scenarios that go with the included historical module (see below), the remaining 11 scenarios constitute about a scenario pack’s worth of content. Moreover, these scenarios also constitute the magazine’s highest likelihood of quality, as most are designed by experienced scenario designers and it seems that they may have been playtested back when Critical Hit had a reliable crew of playtesters (something they do not currently seem to have). Fred Schwarz designed one scenario, Dave Lamb designed five scenarios, Bob Davis designed one, Scott Holst designed one, and Mike Klautky designed three. The scenarios all use standard AH/MMP geoboards, something worth pointing out, given that Critical Hit has been moving towards using only its own geoboards.
The actions are somewhat varied, including Soviets vs. Hungarians/Germans (Hungary 1944), Soviets vs. Germans (Soviet Union 1941 [2 scenarios], 1943 [3 scenarios]), Soviets vs. Germans/Estonians (Soviet Union 1941), Soviets vs. Germans/Romanians (Soviet Union 1944), Americans/British vs. Germans (Netherlands 1944 [2 scenarios]), French vs. Italians (France 1940). There is a clear East Front emphasis here.
The vast majority of the scenarios are large in size; one is small and two are medium in size. Four scenarios have OBA, three scenarios have Air Support. No scenarios use Night rules.
One oddly grammatical scenario, CHA1 (Who Surrounds Whom), is also quite interesting. The Soviets and the Hungarians set up some forces on board, while the Soviet and German reinforcements each come in from a random direction. The moves first is also determined randomly. The result theoretically is a wild free-for-all; the side with the most CVPs at game end wins. However, scenarios with this type of victory condition often contain an inherent risk that if one side gets a slight CVP advantage early, they will subsequently play keep away, forcing the other player to conduct relatively risky attacks in order to try to move the score (and usually failing).
CHA5 (Mussolini’s Fiasco) is a DASL scenario pitting Italian troops against French troops in 1940; it is also the one small scenario.
CHA6 (Operation Beowolf) and CHA7 (Backs to the Baltic) both use the same set of geoboards because both take place on the island of Saaremaa off the Estonian coast in September 1941 and in October 1944. In 1941, German forces launched an amphibious assault on Saaremaa (and neighboring islands); in 1944, the Soviets struck back, retaking the island after hard fighting. This may be the only pair of scenarios to use the same geoboards to represent the same terrain but with so large a gap in time. The credits on these two scenarios say “original design by David Lamb,” as opposed to the usual “Designer: x,” which would seem to suggest that there may have been some redesigning or reworking of the scenarios.
CHA1 also contains an included small historical module, dubbed “LZ X-Ray: Vietnam 1965-1974.” Having in the past couple of years thrown aside all rational thought and tried to use the ASL rules for such non-applicable subjects such as World War I and the American Civil War (!!!), it is no surprise that Critical Hit would also try to expand the ASL rules forward to the 1960s. Essentially Critical Hit has eaten the heart of Wild Bill Wilder and absorbed his powers (and ridiculousness).
Granted, trying to use an ASL rules foundation for 1960s-1970s Vietnam fighting is not as crazy-stupid as trying to do so for the American Civil War, but there certainly were significant differences in tactics and weaponry both between the WW2 era and the later Vietnam era. Of all the entities out there I would trust to try to attempt to carefully and solidly bridge this gap, Critical Hit would be almost my very last choice–second only to the aforementioned Mr. Wilder. Attention to detail, consistency and rigorousness are not exactly Critical Hit’s hallmarks.
LZ X-Ray is not actually an original ASL product, though. It was originally designed for the ATS system–and published as an ATS module (a not particularly popular one, if Boardgamegeek is any indication) back in 2011. It is not clear who did the porting, although presumably it is Ray Tapio), nor are any playtesting credits given, which is usually a bad sign.
LZ X-Ray portrays fighting near the Chu Pont Massif in November 1965, fighting later made famous by the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young and famouser by the bad movie adaptation with Mel Gibson, We Were Soldiers. The module includes a mere 7 pages of rules, almost 6 of which are taken up by helicopters. Ray Tapio as much as admits that the rules are probably rough and inadequate when he pre-complains: “…these rules are presented as ‘X’ (experimental), for your use, enjoyment, and input. They are detailed and a lot of thought went into them. But since they break new ground, they are not intended for the ‘rules-lawyer,’ or ‘internet weenie,’ the kind of man that would have been ‘fragged’ on a HOT LZ.” This is an interesting rhetorical tactic employed quite a lot recently by Ray Tapio, in which he casts aspersions on the manhood of people critical of rules problems in CH products, either preemptively, as here, or after the fact. Somehow, in Ray’s mind, someone who wants a set of quality rules is not a “real man.” Apparently, real men eat errata and shit Q&A. In any case, whenever a player reads language like this from Ray Tapio, alarm bells should be going off in his head, because this is essentially the publisher openly admitting, “These rules may possibly suck.”
With all the attention spent on hellycoppers, little room is left to pay attention to the NVA, VC or U.S. Armies. The U.S. is represented by a single squad type, a 7-5-8 underlined morale squad, which seems a very generous morale indeed for the Vietnam era U.S. Army, even in 1965. This is designed to represent the 1st (Air) Cavalry Division, mis-named in the module as the 7th Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile), perhaps because it was units of the 7th Cavalry Regiment that fought there. There are no rules to reflect different squad composition or tactics from the World War II era. One odd design choice was to include on-map Vietnamese snipers using rules similar to the original Squad Leader sniper rules. Probably a bad idea.
The seven scenarios all seem monotonously similar. They are all large in size, all feature the Vietnamese as attackers, and all have a huge Vietnamese force attacking a much smaller American force. Of the 7 scenarios, 5 use OBA, 2 use Air Support, and 5 use helicopters. Interestingly, none of the scenarios use Night rules, though there were many night actions in this fight.
The included map uses 2 12″ x 18″ unmounted heavy paper glossy map panels, which join together to form the map area, a cluttered clearing of sorts. The map artwork is okay, nothing outstanding. The included counters are all for the included module and provide U.S. and Vietnamese troops, SW, air assets, and markers. Three “rooftop landing” markers are included for helicopters, though there are no rooftops on the map.
Should one purchase this magazine? Essentially, the answer is NO, and the main reason is that it is outrageously priced at $79.95, at least twice what it should actually be priced. There is nothing in this product worth that amount of money. The magazine content is poor, and the 11 included scenarios would all have to be classics to make up for the price. The one possible exception might be those few ASLers out there who are fascinated by the Vietnam War; perhaps the small module included might make it seem worthwhile. For everybody else, though, this is a safe pass.