Multi-Man Publishing (2018)
Country of Origin:
4 11" x 26" unmounted DASL geoboards (i, j, k, l), 5 scenarios (WO24-WO29) on cardstock
Do you want the good news first or the bad news first? The good news is that in January 2018, MMP released its largest (in more ways than one) Bonus Pack ever. The bad news: it’s a DASL product. That’s right–DASL is back from the grave. Click here to skip the context/history/bitching about DASL and go straight to the stuff about Bonus Pack #9.
So, for the three or four millennials who play ASL, and the one confused Generation Z dabbler, let me ‘splain. In the mid-1980s, when ASL was first released, one of the earliest ASL products was Streets of Fire, which featured geoboards with ultra-large hexes that were ostensibly compatible with 1/285th-scale miniatures. One was supposed to play with miniature figures, but using the ASL rules and boards. Or one could eschew the miniatures and simply play the scenarios–which tended to be large–on the DASL boards. There was only one problem: ASLers didn’t particularly like it. The boards were big, heavy and very bulky–yet because of their ultra-large hexes, there were actually very few hexes on the map area, and thus very little maneuver. Oh, ASLers bought Streets of Fire, and its sequel, Hedgerow Hell, but that appears to be more because they were desperate to buy any new ASL product, amidst very few (and no third party industry yet, either). The modules were actually slow sellers and one could still purchase new copies almost 20 years after their initial release.
In 1996, European ASLer Fritz Tichy, at the time a fan of DASL, wrote Avalon Hill asking them if there was any chance of Avalon Hill ever publishing any more DASL boards, because only having eight got boring fast. Here is his description of the response he got from Avalon Hill (spelling and grammar as in original):
Well, I got a nice reply, where they told me that the first two modules of DASL did not sell very weel, so they refrain from putting out more. I wrote them again, asking if they could not try it once more, but sell it as a normal module (they sold DASL and put much weight on the fact this being able to play with microarmour). I, for instance never intended for a second to use figures but always moved my beloved counters on the boards. A lot of people might have thought DASL is special for miniatures. I got a second reply, and they admitted that might be the case, but sorry, no more DASL nevertheless.
That’s the fact: It died because they removed the drip necessary to keep it alive. One cannot really blame them – if it does not sell it has to be kicked off further schedules of production. I must admit that I know some that really do not like DASL, so the lacking support of the audience might really have been the reason for the death of this branch.
Avalon Hill abandoned the DASL concept shortly after Hedgerow Hell proved not to be living up to expectations, but supported the two DASL modules by publishing scenarios for them every once in a while. Third party publishers, too, printed the occasional DASL scenario, while a couple even produced third party DASL-compatible geoboards. But DASL was, at best, an afterthought for the ASL community. If any proof of this is needed, one need only compare statistics for Hedgerow Hell and Yanks. Both modules were released the same year–1987–and both feature American-German actions. The ASL scenario statistics website ROAR has recorded 279 Hedgerow Hell scenarios played between whenever the website started collecting statistics and now. In contrast, the Yanks module over the same time span has recorded (including playings of the original 8 scenarios reprinted in the 2016 edition of Yanks) some 1,204 playings. In other words, more than three times as many Yanks scenarios have been played as Hedgerow Hell scenarios over the same period of time, despite their similar nature. Streets of Fire similarly under-performs.
However, MMP, the successor to Avalon Hill, was for some reason less disinterested in DASL than Avalon Hill had been, despite having to sell off the older company’s remaining DASL stock (the last copies of Hedgerow Hell were not finally sold until 2005). They talked about possibly releasing new DASL product. In fact, this Bonus Pack is almost certainly what remains from an idea MMP had back in 2009 for a DASL “action pack” that would feature new DASL boards, an idea that never came to fruition.
(In early October 2018, MMP also announced an upcoming Deluxe ASL Redux, which would be a combined reprint of Streets of Fire and Hedgerow Hell, plus a large number of additional DASL scenario reprints. As of this writing, more than a year later, this proposed product has still failed to meet its required number of pre-orders, but MMP has announced it will print the module regardless.)
Bonus Pack #9 represents a revival of the DASL subseries of ASL products and the first new official DASL geoboards in more than 20 years. Four geoboards is more than any previous Bonus Pack has seen (and DASL geoboards are larger than any standard ASL geoboards), while the 5 scenarios are also more scenarios than have previously appeared in an MMP Bonus pack. Of course, the product is also correspondingly more expensive–more than twice the cost of Bonus Pack #8, in fact, though still probably a relative bargain.
The pack introduces four new DASL geoboards (i, j, k, l) to the system. Streets of Fire had four urban boards; Hedgerow Hell came with four rural (hedgerow) boards. Bonus Pack #9’s boards are a mix of terrain:
Board i: An urban board with multi-hex stone buildings and stone walls; quite compatible with Streets of Fire boards.
Board j: More of the above, including a massive 11-hex three-stories-high stone building
Board k: A rural board dominated by a gargantuan orchard taking up 2/3 of the playing area. It also features a couple of building and woods hexes. A pretty specialized board for DASL, and not all that useful. Transitions from boards a-d and i=j would be quite abrupt.
Board l: A hill board, with most of the playing area taken up by a three-level hill. Transitions will be abrupt between this board and all other DASL boards other than perhaps board k. The map artist also unfortunately put a single-hex building on a level-3 hex, which is likely to get eliminated by many scenario designers in SSRs, because it just doesn’t really fit there very well.
Some of these board choices are a bit unfortunate. Perhaps a better decision would have been to have boards i and j represent more rural or wilderness terrain more suitable for combining with boards k and l.
The artwork on the boards is okay. Because of the huge hexes, the graphics are naturally blander and less crisp than they are for standard-sized geoboards. Here there is simply a heck of a lot more space to fill. The original DASL boards were hand-painted, but the new boards use computer graphics, though without any particular fall-off in attractiveness. The new boards still have one of the problems of the old boards, though, which is that the traditional woods terrain artwork used by ASL (which dates back to before even Squad Leader) just does not look realistic at the scale of DASL, because trees ought to appear bigger on a DASL board than they do on a standard geoboard.
The scenarios are a mixed bag of actions:
WO24 (Dew of Death): Uses boards k, l. This is a Sino-Japanese War scenario set in 1938 featuring a Japanese attack with 15 mostly first-line squads against 17 first line Chinese squads, relatively lightly armed. One unusual feature of the scenario is that the Japanese player starts with only on leader. He gets another, random leader (8+1 up to 9-1 in quality, though “none” is also possible under certain circumstances) on Turn 2, and a third, generated in the same way, on Turn 3. They are randomly placed based on the Chinese sniper. It’s not clear what the rationale for this mechanic is, which seems a little gamey. The Chinese seem to have an advantage here.
WO25 (The Replacements): Uses boards i, k, l. An East Front scenario, this action actually features Italians and Soviets. The attacking Italians have 16 elite squads and 6 light tanks; the Soviets have 12 squads and an AT gun. A very simple scenario.
WO26 (Phoenix Rising): Uses boards l, k. Another Sino-Japanese scenario, set in 1944 near the Burma border. It features American-trained Chinese 5-3-7 squads. How many? All of them (26), plus a host of SW. They also get both OBA and Air Support, so there’s that. They have to capture or eliminate 3 Japanese artillery pieces. To defend the artillery, the Japanese have 13 squads of their own, plus toys and fortifications.
WO27 (Checking Out): Uses boards i, j. Here’s an American-German urban action set in Aachen, Germany, in October 1944. Eighteen nasty-looking Waffen SS squads attack 15 U.S. squads and a Sherman. This is (to date) the only scenario that has gotten a lot of play (about twice as much as the next-highest scenario, based on ROAR results).
WO28 (Dean’s Defiance): Uses boards i, j, k. This is a Korean War scenario that requires components (rules, counters) from Forgotten War. It depicts the last stand of General William Dean in the early fighting in Korea, when he lost control of his division and ended up chasing North Korean tanks with a bazooka until he was captured. The North Koreans have 26 (all) 4-4-7 squads, 8 MG, 4 DC, and 4 T-34s with which to dispatch Dean and his friends: 18 2nd-line U.S. squads and two Chaffees. The North Koreans also get random 5-2-7 reinforcement squads.
Astute observers will note that none of these scenarios use any boards from either Streets of Fire or Hedgerow Hell. Perhaps MMP was afraid too many ASLers did not own these products? In any case, four DASL boards constitute a very small pool of boards from which to design scenarios.
This is probably a polarizing product to some degree. Those ASLers who love DASL will no doubt love this Bonus Pack. Those ASLers who dislike DASL, or who are more or less indifferent to it, may be disappointed that it was not a more traditional Bonus Pack instead.