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Historical Modules (HASL/HS)

Title:  Red Barricades
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1st edition, 1990); MMP (2nd edition, included in 2nd Edition Beyond Valor, 2001) Product Type: Historical Module 1
Contents:  2 historical maps; 2 countersheets; 7 scenarios; rules (Chapter O); Chapter O divider
Commentary:  Avalon Hill broke new ground in 1990 with the release of the first "historical" ASL module, Red Barricades (RB).  This experiment, designed by Charlie Kibler, easily answered the question "where can ASL go after all the core modules are completed?"  Red Barricades leaves the generic geomorphic mapboards behind and takes players directly to the rubble-strewn streets of Stalingrad.  A huge, incredibly detailed 2-sheet map, derived from aerial photographs, depicts the actual terrain of the area of Stalingrad surrounding the Red Barricades factory.  The seven included scenarios allow players to move and fight in the historical Stalingrad, only somewhat stylized.  One of the scenarios, "The Last Bid," is a true monster scenario.

If this weren't enough, Kibler also introduced a new way to play ASL:  the campaign game (Red Barricades includes three).  Campaign games are a series of linked scenarios; each new scenario takes place where the previous scenario left off.  Although players can purchase a variety of reinforcements, they primarily fight with the forces left over from the previous scenarios, introducing an element of conservation of forces largely absent in ASL.  The campaign games allowed ASLers to experience an entirely new level of strategic thinking; the largest Red Barricades campaign game includes 30 campaign dates, and even though most campaign games are decided before the final date, a Red Barricades campaign game can take months to play and is highly suitable for team play. 

It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Red Barricades has been the most popular ASL module ever.  There are a number of ASLers who play Red Barricades campaign games over and over, rarely venturing into other areas of ASL.  Even people not so fanatic about campaign games will surely appreciate what they have to offer. 

If Red Barricades has a flaw, it is that its campaign games play fast and loose with history.  It is hard to reconcile the forces available to the players with the actual units fighting in the area at the time.  Later HASL modules had more attention to historical detail (some would argue, with correspondingly less attention to quality of play).

A 2nd Edition of Red Barricades (with little substantive change other than the incorporation of some errata and a change to a slightly larger font size) was incorporated into the 2nd Edition of Beyond Valor.  However, it was NOT incorporated into the 3rd Edition of Beyond Valor.

Red Barricades is out of print, but probably not permanently.  Charlie Kibler is working on a sequel to the game, which can be played separately or mated with Red Barricades to form a humongous section of Stalingrad.  It would not be surprising if Red Barricades were reprinted to coincide with the release of the sequel, or shortly thereafter.  One hopes the original artwork is still in good shape.

 

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Title:  Kampfgruppe Peiper I
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1993) Product Type: Historical Module 2
Contents:  2 historical maps; 2 countersheets; 4 scenarios; rules (Chapter P); Chapter P divider
Commentary:  European designer Philippe Leonard and his cohorts provided the second HASL module, Kampfgruppe Peiper I (KGP1) which takes ASLers to the forests of the Ardennes in 1944, where American paratroopers must do battle with the tanks of an SS armored division.  Two beautiful mapsheets (though with smaller hexes than in Red Barricades) depict the hills and forests of the Ardennes in the area of Stoumont.   Special rules introduced a number of terrain types that would see frequent subsequent use in ASL, including slope hexsides, barbed-wire fences, and narrow village streets.

Unfortunately, Kampfgruppe Peiper has never enjoyed the popularity of its predecessor, Red Barricades.  For one thing, the module itself was split in two (Kampfgruppe Peiper II was released subsequently), which was frustrating for many ASLers.  Others did not feel the module, which had only four scenarios, offered sufficient value.  The counters that came with the game also had problems.  The printing on many countersheets was somewhat off-kilter, and the German counters were oddly-colored, resulting in the infamous "purple" Germans.  And for many ASLers, the historical situation represented was not the best (especially the thick mist which pervaded the battlefield).  Perhaps most frustrating of all, Kampfgruppe Peiper I had many problems with the rules (so much so that Kampfgruppe Peiper II basically replaced all of the rules from the first module).

 

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Title:  Kampfgruppe Peiper II
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1996) Product Type: Historical Module 3
Contents:  3 historical maps; 3 countersheets; 6 scenarios; rules (Chapter P)
Commentary:  Kampfgruppe Peiper II (KGP2) completed the two-part Kampfgruppe Peiper module, adding new maps (of two separate areas, Cheneux and La Gleize) and campaign games, and fixed the rules errors of the first module by re-doing Chapter P.  Coming out after a long delay, Kampfgruppe Peiper II made up for the some of the shortcomings of the first module, although it had the same counter registration problems. 

Ownership of Kampfgruppe Peiper I is required to play the sequel.

 

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Title:  Pegasus Bridge
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1997) Product Type: Historical Module 4
Contents:  1 22" x 32" historical map; 1 countersheet; 6 scenarios; rules (Chapter Q, Chapter H vehicle additions, Chapter K update [day 7]), Chapter Q divider.
Commentary:  Pegasus Bridge (PB) was the first historical module designed by MMP, who were producing ASL products for Avalon Hill at the time, and the last historical module released by Avalon Hill before its demise.  It depicts the attempt by a British glider unit to seize a bridge over the Caen Canal on D-Day, the inevitable German counterattack, and the Paras' eventual relief.  Two reasonable-sized campaign games (eight dates and five dates) make this an interesting way to learn the campaign game rules.  However, the British player has no opportunity to "purchase" reinforcements in the campaign games, only fortifications, which may limit the enjoyability for some. 

The game's reputation is mixed.  While it has its supporters (many of whom like playing elite British paratroopers and glidermen), detractors tend to dislike the map graphics and the play of some of the scenarios.   At only $40, though, it is a relative bargain.

 

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Title:  Blood Reef: Tarawa
Publisher/Date: MMP  (1999); based on the earlier Blood Reef, published by Heat of Battle Product Type: Historical Module 5
Contents:  2 22" x 31" historical maps; 3 countersheets; 7 scenarios; rules (Chapter T); Chapter T divider
Commentary:  Blood Reef: Tarawa (BRT), along with A Bridge Too Far, was one of the first two historical releases by MMP after they acquired the ASL license from Hasbro.  BRT takes HASLs to the PTO for the first time, portraying the 1943 invasion of the Japanese-held atoll of Betio by the United States Marine Corps.  What is unique about BRT is that the striking two-part map, created by Don Petros, displays virtually the entire island--thus allowing a "completeness" not seen by any other ASL product.  The entire campaign, at squad level, can be played out on these maps.  BRT comes with three campaign games, the largest of which covers the entire invasion from soup to nuts.

Blood Reef: Tarawa is not for everyone.  Although the designers were careful to include scenarios that did not involve any beach landings, the game is really for ASLers who have an urge to storm the beaches with their Marines.  For such people, BRT is the pinnacle of ASL, and the game definitely has its devotees (some of whom have written a guide to the game which may be published by MMP).  It is a striking sight to see the invasion of Betio in all its glory--even though there are not enough counters between BRT and Gung Ho to do so, and more have to be scrounged, stolen, or created.   In addition to missing counters, some of the counters in BRT also had errata on them and had to be reprinted (appearing in ASL Journal #2).

Blood Reef: Tarawa was originally a third party product, Blood Reef, published by Heat of Battle.  MMP, while working for Avalon Hill, made arrangements to make a revised, official version of the module; luckily, this survived the fall of Avalon Hill.

Because it will not be reprinted, USMC and/or PTO aficionados should definitely get their hands on this module while they can.

At some point, someone created a Tarawa "extension map" that reproduced the far tip of the island missing from the HASL maps.  This can be found at http://www.openground.it/tarawa/addonmaptarawa.jpg.  Associated rules and explanations can be found here:  http://www.openground.it/hh/tarawaB.pdf.  Apparently Italian ASLer Marco Oreste Mario Lombardi was the person who created this.

In 2010, MMP published a one-off magazine, the Blood Reef: Tarawa Gamers Guide that is chock full of articles related to this unusual module.

 

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Title:  A Bridge Too Far
Publisher/Date: MMP (1999); based on the earlier God Save The King, published by Heat of Battle (1994). Product Type: Historical Module 6
Contents:  1 23" x 31" historical map; 7 countersheets; 9 scenarios; rules (Chapter R, Chapter H update); Chapter R Divider.
Commentary:  A Bridge Too Far (ABTF), as its name suggests, portrays the valiant but doomed defense of Arnhem Bridge by Colonel John Frost's battalion of paratroopers during Operation Market-Garden in September 1944, made famous by the book and movie of the same name.  With three campaign games and 9 scenarios, ABTF is a meaty module, one of the first two published by MMP (Blood Reef: Tarawa is the other) following the demise of Avalon Hill.  Blood Reef: Tarawa was a re-design of an earlier work by Heat of Battle; while ABTF was not based directly on Heat of Battle's God Save the King, Heat of Battle did contribute to the module. 

ABTF is another city-fighting module, pitting elite SS against elite British paratroopers (except for Red Barricades and Operation Veritable, all official HASLs/HSs have emphasized elite troops, typically SS, paratroopers, or US Marines).  Its campaign games do not have the attractiveness of many others, because the British are basically surrounded; not only can they not purchase reinforcements, but as the campaign wears on, their force continually disintegrates (due to ammo shortage, walking wounded, etc.).  It accurately portrays the desperate, "last stand," nature of the conflict, but that very realism may make some people less willing to try the campaign games. 

It is interesting to compare ABTF to its Critical Hit "competitor," Arnhem: The Third Bridge.  The latter product has a much more attractive map than ABTF, but even its designer has admitted dissatisfaction with the way its scenarios and campaign turned out.  Overall, ABTF looks like the better buy.

In one respect, ABTF is controversial:  it includes a complete (squads, support weapons, guns and vehicles, although certain units were missing and appeared in ASL Journal #2) SS order of battle featuring black counters with white lettering.  For the uninitiated, it may take some explaining as to why this was controversial.  When SS units first appeared in the original Squad Leader series of games, they were featured with black counters with white lettering.  However, when Beyond Valor introduced the SS to Advanced Squad Leader, SS units were now treated just like every other German unit--they appeared on blue counters with only a small "SS" symbol to indicate that they were SS units.  This did not sit well with some ASLers, a few of whom may have been over-fond of the SS, who called out for white-on-black ASL counters for the SS.

Eventually, a third party publisher, Heat of Battle, responded to this perceived desire and published two products featuring the Waffen SS that included a white-on-black SS countermix.  It was apparently in response to this move that MMP decided to include an entire white-on-black SS order of battle with A Bridge Too Far.  The decision pleased some, who finally had their "official" black SS counters, but it dismayed many other ASLers, who could not help but observe that of all the combat forces of World War II, only the SS had been given their own set of counters with their own unique color scheme.  These detractors argued, with some merit, that this glorified the Waffen SS.  Others complained simply that all these extra counters needlessly added to the price of A Bridge Too Far.

 

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Title:  Operation Watchtower
Publisher/Date: MMP (2001) Product Type: Historical Study 1
Contents:  1 42" x 30" historical map; 1 countersheet; 16 scenarios; rules (Chapter Z additions); historical overview
Commentary:  Operation Watchtower (OWT) was the first "historical study" published by MMP, although the only things that distinguish an HS from an HASL are the inclusion of geomorphic map scenarios as well as historical map scenarios and the inclusion of a historical overview.  OWT is MMP's second historical module featuring the US Marine Corps, this time at Guadalcanal in the fighting for Edson's Ridge (though its title isn't very evocative). 

Operation Watchtower was much anticipated by PTO enthusiasts who wanted more jungle fighting (as opposed to the beaches and palm trees of Blood Reef: Tarawa).  OWT certainly provides that, in spades, especially the relatively small but tense campaign game.

Overall, however, OWT was one of MMP's less successful releases.  The original map had significant printing problems, so much so that MMP had to have it reprinted.  Even fixed, the map (confusing titled Edson's Ridge rather than Operation Watchtower) is problematical because it is so large--it should have been cut into two maps.  It is the largest single ASL map, though needlessly so, and may not fit on every gaming table.  Some ASLers were not very happy about the scenarios, either; many of them are night scenarios, and quite a few of them use a large number of overlays (one uses a very large number).  Moreover, some of the scenarios have been revealed over time to be quite unbalanced (in particular, HS4 (High Water Mark), HS7 (We Know Where They Are), HS10 (Government Property), and HS 12 (Chesty's Turn).  However, one scenario, HS 15 (Hill 27), has become a classic.  Two of the scenarios are actually reprints of scenarios previously published elsewhere; HS3 (Tasimboko Raid) originally appeared in an ASL Annual, while HS9 (Ambitious Plans), originally appeared in MMP's magazine Backblast.

For PTO or USMC enthusiasts, Operation Watchtower is well worth getting.  For others, this can be lower on your ASL shopping list.

Addendum:  One of the less well known aspects of Operation Watchtower is that it was originally going to be published by Front Line Productions, the third party publisher that produced Baraque de Fraiture.  Designer Nadir El-Farra had actually designed two HASL maps for the project--one for Edson's Ridge, which made it into Operation Watchtower, and another for "Hell's Corner," where the Matanikau River meets the ocean (see map image below).  The Hell's Corner map did not make it into the final cut for Operation Watchtower, to some degree due to a miscommunication between designer and MMP over the number of scenarios that had been created for that map.  Several of the geomorphic mapboard scenarios in Operation Watchtower were originally intended for the Hell's Corner map.   2010 Update:  In part due to the publicity generated from this entry, MMP eventually did decide to use the Hell's Corner map, releasing it in Operations Special Issue #3

Another curiosity is not something which wasn't printed, but something that was printed.  Before coming to an agreement with MMP for "official" publication of Operation Watchtower, El-Farra actually printed a small number of copies of a Watchtower countersheet.  Because MMP ended up publishing the module, these counters were never used but were apparently given away (see images below).  This countersheet is one of the true ASL rarities.

 

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The "Lost" Edson's Ridge Countersheet  
below image from Jason Pipes

 
The "Lost" Hell's Corner Map (image courtesy of Nadir El-Farra)

 

 

 

Title:  Operation Veritable
Publisher/Date: MMP (2003) Product Type: Historical Study 2
Contents:  1 22" x 32" historical map; 2 countersheets; 16 scenarios; rules (Chapter Z additions); historical overview
Commentary:  MMP's second "historical study," Operation Veritable (OVHS) portrays fighting between German and Canadians (making their HASL debut) in the Reichswald forest in February-March 1945.  It continues the trend of naming HS modules after uninspiring operational plans. 

OVHS represents a significant improvement over Operation Watchtower.  The map is both more manageable in size and more attractive, while the farmland terrain depicted had not previously been seen in a historical module; this terrain also gives the module's campaign game a rather unique feel and is a refreshing alternative to Red Barricades.  OVHS also continues the inexplicable trend introduced in Operation Watchtower of giving the map a different name (in this case, Riley's Road) from the game itself.

The late war setting insures lots of interesting toys for all sides, while the non-historical-map scenarios include the very inventive HS17 (Water Foul), which does not even use a map!  Instead, it uses overlays to recreate the flooded terrain in which the action too place.  Probably the most popular scenario in the module is HS32 (A Few Rounds), which uses Sturmtigers. 

The only significant drawback to OVHS is that some of the scenarios are quite unbalanced (most noticeably HS18 (To the Matter Born), HS20 (Married Up), and HS23 (Tussle at Tomashof).  Overall, though, it is a very worthy purchase.

 

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Title:  Valor of the Guards
Publisher/Date: MMP (2008) Product Type: Historical Module 7
Contents:  2 22" x 32" maps, 5 countersheets, 38 pages of rules (Chapter V, plus reprinted Chapter O material from Red Barricades), 17 scenarios, 4 campaign games, chapter divider, charts/rosters
Commentary:  Of all the different items of "ASL vaporware" over the years, Valor of the Guards is one of the most infamous, second only to Armies of Oblivion.  Yet VotG differed from AoO in that the latter was vaporware for so many years primarily because of a lack of people working on it, whereas VotG was seemingly being worked on forever.  Its origins and antecedents date all the way back to the "Central Rail Station" project that appeared in the On All Fronts newsletter in the early 1990s.  With a subsequent map from Don Petros, Tom Morin took on the task of making a full-fledged historical module out of it, aided by Vic Provost and the "Bunker Crew" and many others. 

For years, players could occasionally see playtesting of the module going on at ASL events, or hear references on-line to work being done on it, but it seemed like a never-ending project.  Finally, however, Tom Morin turned the game in to MMP and ASLers around the world rejoiced, thinking that its release would finally be imminent after MMP put the game up for pre-order and it had thousands of pre-orders in virtually no time at all.  However, ASLers did not realize that VotG had simply entered Vaporware 2.0, as it languished for two more years at MMP as credit card numbers expired and countenances became crestfallen. 

Finally, however, just as in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when people began to notice signs that Willie Wonka might have re-started his chocolate factory, ASLers began to see signs of VotG-related activity at MMP in 2007 and it seemed that the long-awaited module might finally debut.  Debut it did at the Winter Offensive ASL tournament in January 2008, to great acclaim.

It is impossible to say that any game that took so very long to come out is truly "worth the wait," but VotG is nevertheless undeniably of great value (literally, too, in the sense that it is underpriced!).  It is chock full of components and every aspect of the module seems filled with tender loving care.  VotG is an impressive offering.

What is Valor of the Guards?  It is a historical module set in Stalingrad depicting German attempts to capture sections of downtown Stalingrad, from Pavlov's House to the Stalingrad-1 Rail Station.  Scenarios range from the early German attacks in September 1942 all the way to the reduction of the final pockets of the encircled 6th Army by the victorious Soviets in January 1943.   Most ASLers, of course, will know that the first and most famous ASL historical module, Red Barricades, was also set in Stalingrad, and may wonder what this module has to offer that is truly different.

That is a difficult question to answer.  The creators of VotG, of course, assert that it has a very different feel, and it is true that whereas the Red Barricades map was dominated by large factory buildings, the VotG map contains smaller buildings and more open areas.  Nevertheless, the module is reminiscent of Red Barricades in many respects, from the map artwork to the basic situation (Soviet-German urban combat in Stalingrad in 1942).  And the terrain in both VotG and Red Barricades contain a similar rubble/debris/shellhole strewn landscape.  People who have played Red Barricades will feel instantly at home in VotG; even one of the scenarios, VotG1 (The First Bid), contains a title reference to RB7 (The Last Bid).  Though the two games do not connect (the two areas were far apart geographically), Valor of the Guards is indeed a "sequel" to Red Barricades.  People who disliked Red Barricades are not likely to embrace Valor of the Guards. 

In another sense, the question of how much the two modules are different is somewhat irrelevant, simply because even if they were hardly different at all, the subject matter itself is so popular among ASL players that another Stalingrad-related module would attract considerable support and interest.

The large two-part map, hand-painted by Don Petros (in what may well be the last hand-painted official ASL map  release), is attractive (though that seems like a strange word to use for the rubble strewn terrain of Stalingrad).   Like Red Barricades, it depicts a stretch of Stalingrad adjoining the Volga River (including ferry crossing points, which can play an important role).   The attention to detail is admirable.  In a nice touch, geographic areas such as streets and significant buildings are labeled, so players can easily identify the Brewery, Pavlov's House, the State Bank, and other features.  Even the standing buildings have a distinctly battered appearance, as the shapes of some suggest corners sheared off,  while many other building depictions are actually Gutted Buildings, the artwork for which closely resembling the look of such buildings from aerial photographs.  Overall, the map is very nice. 

VotG comes with 5 full countersheets.  Sheet 1 contains hex control markers and a few other markers, but primarily contains German and Soviet (mostly the latter) units and weapons.  The Soviet markers include a new squad type, the NKVD squad, which is a 6-2-8 squad (note no assault fire) with a hammer & sickle flag on the counter.  Its reverse side morale is 9 (and all its officers are commissars!).  There is also a new, "crappy" commissar (8+1).  Sheet 2 contains a few German AFVs (nothing interesting; there is only one new vehicle type, a modification of a German AA halftrack), but mostly markers, ranging from No Move and Trench counters to new items such as "Interdicted" markers (for ferry piers) and "Fanatic Strongpoint" markers.  Sheet 3 consists mostly of control and other markers, but also introduces special counters for German and Soviet Assault Engineers (presumably to differentiate them from other, similarly valued counters on the mapboard); these counters depict a DC in the upper left hand corner and include increased smoke exponents.  Sheet 4 is just a passel of extra German and Soviet squads and SW.  Sheet 5 is another informational marker sheet which looks as if it came from Red Barricades.

The VotG rules explain the new counters and features, but focus on the terrain.  Strangely, rather than incorporating rules for terrain types such as debris into Chapter V, the rules simply reference the relevant Red Barricades rules.  However, since MMP could not guarantee that purchasers would actually have Red Barricades (which has gone in and out, mostly out, of print), they reprinted those pages of the Red Barricades rules for inclusion in VotG, which as a result comes with about 6 Chapter O pages.  It would have been more convenient simply to incorporate the debris, etc., rules into Chapter V.  New features include rail cars, partially collapsed buildings, gutted buildings, fountains, ciy squares, and Volga piers.  However, it only takes 4 pages of rules to explain all of this (plus the 6 Red Barricades rules pages, of course).  The vast majority of the rules are reserved for the campaign games (although a few of the campaign rules seem to get used in scenarios as well).

VotG comes with 4 campaign games, one more than Red Barricades.  Campaign game rules introduce fanatic strongpoints (of three types) and ferry landings.  Campaign Game I (The Central Railway Station) is 8 CG dates long and features the German attack on the Stalingrad-1 Rail Station and the Nail Factory in mid-September 1942.  It only uses part of the map area.  Campaign Game II (Drive to the Volga) is 9 CG dates long and apparently uses the entire map area; it seems to be a wider version of CGI.  Campaign Game III (Battle along the Riverbank) is a shorter CG set later in September; it has only 5 CG dates and uses the whole map.  The fourth campaign, CGIV (Savage Streets of Stalingrad), combines CGII and III into one larger campaign from September 14-27, 1942.   

Like Red Barricades, the campaign games all depict periods of German attacks.  Perhaps some day someone somewhere will set an ASL module in January 1943 when the Soviets were on the attack.  Don't hold your breath.  At least VotG does have a scenario from the last days of the encirclement, which is more than any other project has.  Overall, from its title to its arwork, VotG is refreshingly un-Germanocentric, unlike so many other ASL products. 

One area in which VotG differs--and in a positive way--from its predecessor Red Barricades is in the number of scenarios that come with the module.  VotG comes with 17 scenarios of a variety of sizes which collectively offer more and better playing opportunities than did the scenarios in Red Barricades (which had a weak collection of scenarios).   The scenarios tend towards the very large in size; only 6 could be considered small or medium-sized, while another 6 are large in size, and 5 more are what could only be considered "extra large" scenarios.  VotG1 (The First Bid), for example, is 19 turns long and features 100 Soviet squads, 10 guns, and 13 AFVs defending against an attack by 81 German squads, 2 guns, 21 AFVs, plus OBA and Air Support.  VotG12 (Siberian Shockwave) depicts a Soviet attack with 44 squads and 4 guns against German defenders that include 36 squads, 2 guns, and 4 AFVs.  The Soviets have OBA while the Germans have Stukas.

VotG9 (Eviction Notice) is the tournament-sized scenario that will probably see the most play.

OBA is present in 4 of the 17 scenarios, Air Support in 6, Night Rules in 3, and Boats in 3.  Interestingly, Soviet attacks far outnumber German attacks in the scenario selection, so scenarios rather than campaign games may be the preferred option for people who want to see the Soviets on the offensive in Stalingrad in VotG.

Overall, the production quality and attention to detail is high.  Assuming the scenarios and campaign games are as good as advertised, this module is likely to be one of the more popular ASL modules.  Red Barricades fanatics in particular may be attracted to this module, as it offers variations on their tried and true Stalingrad battleground.  It is an impressive release and well worth the price.

Three more VotG scenarios, designed by the makers of VotG, are included in Issue #23 of Dispatches from the Bunker--an issue that appeared long before VotG itself actually did!  These are:  DB054 (Soldiers of the 62nd Army), DB055 (Sturmgeschütz Forward!), and DB056 (Breakout from Stalingrad-1). 

Another VotG scenario appeared in Issue #28:  DB073 (Urban Nightmare).

Another three VotG scenarios appear in ASL Journal #8:  VotG19 (Cellar Dwellers), VotG20 (Terror at Twilight), and Votg21 (Defending the Voentorg).

Another three VotG scenarios appear in ASL Journal #9:  VotG22 (Bark You Dogs), VotG23 (Heroes of the Soviet Union), and VotG24 (Raid on Rodimtsev).

Another VotG scenario appears in ASL Journal #10:  VotG25 (Urban Nightmare).

 

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ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK)

Title:  Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1
Publisher/Date: MMP (2004) Product Type: Starter Kit 1
Contents:  2 8" x 22" unmounted maps (y, z); 1 countersheet; 6 scenarios; rules, charts, dice
Commentary:  In 2004, MMP debuted a new form of ASL, the ASL Starter Kit #1 (ASLSK1), designed to introduce new players to ASL and to get intimidated past purchasers of ASL to actually try the darn thing.  Condensing the gist of the ASL infantry rules into just 12 pages of rules (and actually, much of that is illustrations and examples), ASLSK1 designer Ken Dunn distilled the essence of ASL into a small and elegant package.  Publishing the Starter Kit was probably the single smartest decision made by MMP in its years of stewardship of ASL; the Starter Kit has been reprinted twice already in its brief existence.

ASLSK1 provides German, American, and Soviet counters, as well as six fast-moving scenarios, the first of which is a perfect introductory scenario, as it does not use any support weapons and introduces units onto the map a few at a time.  Its two geomorphic mapboards debuted the "new style" of ASL maps.  Older geomorphic maps were printed on paper, which was then glued onto cardboard to create mounted mapboards.  The new geomorphic maps are printed directly onto a thick cardstock.  As a result, they are thinner (and presumably less durable) than the old style maps.  MMP announced at the time that all its future geomorphic maps would use this new style; a decision that was unpopular in some circles, but seems clearly justified by the extreme cost of printing mounted mapboards (few other wargaming companies use any mounted mapboards).  The new maps also use computer graphics rather than the handpainted style of earlier maps; many ASLers were sorry to see this development.  With regard to the particular maps in ASLSK1, they are nothing to write home about--the terrain is necessarily limited, to keep the rules limited (later ASLSK maps are more varied).

ASLSK1 was originally priced at $24, but was frequently sold at a sale price of $18, making it one of the best wargaming values anywhere.  This was one factor which accounted for its success--many players were willing to try it out, because they had little to lose.  Once they purchased it, most found that there was an incredible little game inside.  The ASLSK is a better way to get into ASL than the original Squad Leader was, because the ASLSK and ASL are far more compatible than SL and ASL were; people moving from the Starter Kit to full ASL will have very little they will have to "unlearn."

MMP planned, assuming ASLSK1 was well-received, to release two future ASLSK games, one that would introduce guns to the system and a third that would introduce vehicles.  As the ASLSK popularity grew, MMP has made it clear that the Starter Kit has a future beyond the first three modules.  This has led to some uneasiness among ASLers, most of whom were happy with the Starter Kit as a successful vehicle to bring "new blood" into the hobby but fewer of whom would equally embrace a more comprehensive system that actually threatened to become a rival to ASL.  Yet this is more likely than not the future for the ASLSK.

MMP has made French (http://www.cote1664.net/article.php3?id_article=74), Spanish (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/9823  and  http://http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/15126), and Japanese (http://www.multimanpublishing.com/downloads/ASLSK1_jpn.pdf) language rules for the ASL Starter Kit available, but as downloads rather than as printed products, marketed and sold in those countries. 

Click here for a full review of Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 by Mark Pitcavage.

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Title:  Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #2
Publisher/Date: MMP (2005) Product Type: Starter Kit 2
Contents:  2 8" x 22" unmounted maps (w, x); 2 countersheet; 8 scenarios; rules, charts, dice
Commentary:   The second of its Starter Kit trilogy, the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #2 (ASLSK2) introduces players to on-board artillery pieces.  Along the way, Starter Kit players can have a chance to play new nationalities, including British, Italian, and Allied Minors, in eight scenarios taking place in Sicily, Greece, Luxembourg, Holland, Germany, and Italy (no East Front action here). 

Although it introduces new rules, ASLSK2 neatly sidesteps the trap into which original Squad Leader fell (wherein each subsequent expansion module introduced a new rulebook and made the series more confusing) by including a new rulebook that incorporates all of the ASLSK1 material (highlighting any changes to the original manual for ease of transition).  As a result, should someone be so inclined, they could even skip the purchase of ASLSK1 and start with ASLSK2; it stands completely on its own.  It is a nice solution to the problem.

ASLSK2 introduces two more geomorphic maps to the system, one of which is boring, but the other, a hilly urban board, actually offers some real possibilities to scenario designers. 

 

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Title:  Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #3
Publisher/Date: MMP (2007) Product Type: Starter Kit 3
Contents:  3 8" x 22" unmounted maps (t,u,v); 3 countersheets; 8 scenarios; 28-page rulebook; 12-page vehicle/ordnance historical notes booklet; charts; dice
Commentary:   The Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #3 (ASLSK3) concludes the Starter Kit trilogy by introducing AFVs to the infantry and artillery pieces introduced in earlier modules.  As with ASLSK2, ASLSK3 contains a complete rules manual, meaning that one need not purchase either of the earlier two starter kits before trying ASLSK3.  However, with 28 pages of rules, the ASLSK3 is a fairly big bite to chew off, and beginning players might with to start with one of the earlier Starter Kits before moving to ASLSK3. 

The big draw for the third Starter Kit are the AFVs, allowing novice ASLSK players to duke it out with Shermans and Tigers.  Only a small number of AFVs (all tanks except for two German and one British armored cars) are represented in the module.  There are 14 U.S. tank counters (all of which are Sherman variants), 4 Italian tank counters (representing two types of vehicle), 44 German tank and armored car counters (including two Tigers and four Panthers), 9 British AFVs (most of which are Shermans or Stuarts), and 32 Soviet tanks (most of which are T-34s or Shermans).

MMP also provides the full Chapter H notes for each AFV in a small booklet.  Unlike Chapter H, however, it is printed in black and white. 

As in previous ASLSK modules, the scenarios are a mix of actions, including Crete 1941, Hungary 1944, Lithuania 1941, Sicily 1943, Arnhem 1944, Soviet Union 1943, Soviet Union 1944, and France 1944.  Not all of the scenarios use AFVs; one is infantry only (so a player who buys ASLSK3 as his first module will not have to learn all the vehicle rules immediately).  One scenarios is an all-AFV scenario.  Because of the addition of vehicles, Starter Kit players will probably find that the scenarios play a little bit more slowly than previous Starter Kit scenarios.

One of the scenarios has errata:

S22 Another Summer's Day ERRATA:  German Group 1 should have only 1 50mm MTR, not 2.

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Title:  Beyond the Beaches:  ASL Starter Kit Bonus Pack #1
Publisher/Date: MMP (2009) Product Type: ASL Starter Kit mini-scenario/map pack
Contents:  3 8" x 22" unmounted maps (p); 3 scenarios; 1-page rules
Commentary:   Beyond the Beaches (BP1) is a small supplement for people who play the ASL Starter Kits, adding another map to the system and a few scenarios.  It is small in size, but symbolically represents a point of departure that ASL players should perhaps consider seriously (click here to skip the "consider seriously" part and get straight to the product description).

When the ASL Starter Kit was first conceived, and published as ASLSK #1, the original idea was to assemble an easy-to-learn subset of the core ASL rules that would help newbies get into the ASL system by easing their way into full ASL.  However, as sales of the first two ASL Starter Kits rose, MMP began to reconsider their original idea of having the Starter Kits act as an entrée into ASL and became more open to the notion of the ASLSK as an open-ended series of its own, with further "Starter Kit" products of different types to be released in the future.  The decision was controversial, with some ASLers supporting it (or not caring), but others opposed to the de facto creation of a two-tiered system that would provide new products to people unwilling to make the leap from ASLSK to ASL.  Some opposed the notion of such a two-tiered system, while others did not like the idea of those resources spent on something other than full ASL.

Although MMP began work on a historical ASLSK module and an expansion set (sort of like an Action Pack for ASLSK), the first expansion beyond the three ASLSK core rules sets to actually see publication is BP1,  which appears to have been a relatively hasty production designed for release to coincide with a "Military History Weekend" in Virginia for military history buffs, modelers, reenactors, and military miniatures enthusiasts. 

The release of BP1 is a good opportunity to visit the subject of to what extent ASLers should support the ASLSK series, now that it is going beyond a set of core basic rules into a true parallel system of its own.  Many ASLers supported ASLSK#1, or even Kits #1-3, because of the likelihood that the ASLSK rules would bring new players to the system, players who would "graduate" to full ASL and become future opponents and friends (a phenomenon that has to some degree indeed occurred).   Thus many ASLers bought the ASLSK products in order to teach the system to new players, or simply to support MMP in an idea they agreed with.  Others bought the products, even though they had no intention of using them, because they were completists, because they thought the maps might be used in full ASL scenarios (as they have, to a limited degree, though only with two official scenarios to date, plus various unofficial scenarios), or because they simply were loyal MMP fans and wanted to support the company that produced ASL.

But should those ASLers similarly support these new expansion products?  Unlike the core ASLSK modules, these expansions are products, after all, that do not cater to people interested in getting into full ASL, but rather cater to those people who are NOT interested in getting into ASL, but want to stick with ASLSK.  Moreover, the more of these expansions published, the greater the chance there will be that more ASLSKers will decide not to bother learning the full ASL rules, though they otherwise might have made the effort. 

Thus, "strategically" these products have little to offer ASLers.  Do they offer anything else of value to ASLers?  So far, the answer is not much, primarily because MMP has shown extremely little interest in providing ASL value to any of their ASLSK products.  No ASLSK product contains any full ASL scenarios whatsoever, not even conversions of the ASLSK scenarios in those products.  Nor has MMP independently provided ASL conversions of their ASLSK scenarios for purchase or download.  Only one ASLSK map has ever appeared in an ASL product (map v, which was included in an issue of the ASL Journal), and only two official ASL scenarios use any ASLSK maps (one scenario appearing in the ASL Journal and one in Action Pack #3).  Nor does MMP currently allow people to buy ASLSK maps individually, so that ASLers can use them with official or unofficial scenarios that utilize such maps; ASLers who seek those maps are instead forced to buy the whole ASLSK product, even though they may have no use for the remaining components. 

So far, MMP's rollout of the ASL Starter Kit has not treated loyal ASLers all that well.  If ASLSK expansions included considerations for ASLers, it would be another matter, but it does not appear as if this will be the case (obviously it is not the case for BP1).  It is a legitimate question as to how much ASLers should support the expansion of the ASL Starter Kit, since so far there's been little about ASLSK that has supported ASLers. 

Leaving aside the broader issue of ASL vs. ASLSK, it is time to bore down to the specifics of BP1.  BP1 is a relatively minimalist product  that sells for $10; for that amount, one gets a geomorphic mapboard, three scenarios, and a page of rules (back-printed on one of the scenario cards and also doing double duty as the product's back matter).  Given its origins, and the fact that all three of the scenarios seem designed for use with ASL Starter Kit #1, it seems likely that both products (ASLSK1 and BP1) were offered for sale at the military buff convention at which BP1 debuted.  Ten dollars doesn't seem like much, but one doesn't get much for it, either, and more than $3 a scenario is fairly pricey, given the relative lack of other components.  Though it has no effect on game play whatsoever, it should be noted that BP1 comes with a very striking cover illustration.  The product is merely shrink-wrapped, rather than coming in a baggie or box, so players will have to find some way to store the components on their own.

The three scenarios that come with BP1 are all tiny American vs. German scenarios set in Normandy.  The most squads any side has in any of the scenarios is seven, so the (all infantry) scenarios will play very quickly.

The whole project has an air of being thrown together somewhat hastily, without the care that typically attends official ASL product development.  The scenario cards contain more typos and punctuation errors than official products usually do (and someone seriously needs to learn about commas), and some of the scenario rules don't seem adequately proofread, either.  For example, in S43 (Clearing Carentan), the third SSR states that "the Americans can use any available DC counter without penalty."  All well and good, except that there is only a single DC counter in the entire scenario (and all the American troops are anyway elite).  It is as if the German OB originally contained a DC that was later eliminated, but the rules reference to it was never deleted.   Postscript:  After this review was released, MMP clarified that the SSR was included because American DC counters were not added to the ASLSK countermix until after ASLSK1 was published, so owners of that product only would have no American DC counters to use.  Unfortunately, the SSR seems to refer to play conditions, not OB selection and set-up.  It might have been better had the SSR simply read something like "Players without an American DC counter can substitute a German DC counter, with no captured-use penalties applying."

Several of the scenarios feature "lite" versions of complicated ASL rules sections; namely, OBA and HIP.  In each case, an SSR paragraph is used to construct a simplified rule designed to capture the major effects of the actual ASL rule.  In doing so, some of the effects are considerably different.  For example, the OBA SSRs bring down a 16FP column IFT attack on a seven-hex grouping, but unlike normal ASL, TEM is not taken into account, making it potentially much more devastating (especially considering how tiny the scenarios are). 

Some of these rules, too, do not seem adequately edited.  For example, the faux-HIP rule in S43 states that if an American unit enters a hidden German unit's hex during the Advance Phase, then close combat will ensue and "the hidden unit gets a -2 on the ambush dr if in a building hex."  But the very first sentence of this SSR states that the Germans may only place hidden units in building hexes, so the second reference is at best redundant and might even confuse new players.  It seems likely that this error appeared because the designers cut and pasted the HIP SSR from S42 (One More Hedgerow), which allows HIP in three types of terrain (two of which would be ambush terrain), without adequately editing it.

Similarly, sentences such as "An attack against a hidden unit is resolved as Area Fire with half FP on the IFT" could be confusing to ASLSK players, who may not understand that this is a reference to firing at an empty hex that might contain a hidden unit.  The S42 version of this SSR adds "or for ordnance by adding a +2 DRM."  However, S42 contains no ordnance, not even a simple mortar.  Did the OB originally contain an American mortar, perhaps later deleted for compatibility with ASLSK #1?  Perhaps so, but the rule as is may leave newbie players wondering what is even meant by the word "ordnance" in this context.  It is pretty sloppy.

In addition to these SSRs, BP1 also comes with a page of Hedge rules, printed on the back of a scenario card.  This should immediately raise alarm bells for ASLSK players.  The single most problematic aspect of the original Squad Leader series (Squad Leader, plus its three "sequel" gamettes) was that each new SL product introduced more rules, in a separate rules booklet, some of which replaced or modified rules in earlier products.  Players needed to be able to keep track of rules in a variety of different rulebooks and it became extremely difficult to do so.  This is one of the major reasons why ASLSK #2 and ASLSK #3 recapitulate the entire ASLSK #1 rules, as opposed to simply adding new rules (the other reason is so that people can "start" with one of the later kits).  Even so, there are currently three separate "versions" of the ASLSK rules, and now a fourth rules section, which is not even printed as a rules page but included on the back of a piece of cardstock.  It seems as if the squadleaderization of ASLSK has now begun.

The "Hedge Rules" add simplified rules for ASL hedges, made possible by the fact that the accompanying map is carefully designed so that there are no hedges adjacent to terrain such as woods or buildings.  One hopes that these were adequately developed, but given that even the full ASL wall/hedge rules just recently were given a revision for clarification purposes, a quarter century after their initial release, it may be a bit optimistic to assume so.  Some of the language used may be rather confusing for beginners, such as the rules for LOS along a hedge hexspine:  "A hedge laying lengthwise (on a hexspine) exactly along a LOS is a LOS obstacle only if the hedge hexspine is not touching the viewing or target hex, or if touching one of the viewing/target hexes and the vertex opposite of the viewing/target hex has walls/hedges on all of its three hexspines."  It doesn't help that the rules sometimes refer to walls, as in the above example, which are non-existent in ASLSK. 

The Hedge TEM rules state that "the TEM of a hedge is +1 if the target is in the hex formed by that hexside/hexspine," but they do not add "and the fire crosses a hedge hexside/hexspine," so reading the rules literally, it could seem that no matter where the fire came from, a unit adjacent to a hedge could claim hedge TEM.  Interestingly, the way the hedge "wall" advantage rules are written, a unit in a woods/building hex could simultaneously use the woods/building TEM yet still have wall advantage over the hedge (though the way map p is constructed, there are only two places where a hedge is adjacent to a woods or building hex:  V0 and T5, both of which are adjacent to hexspines).  The rules also don't explain what happens when two enemy units face each other across a hedge hexspine.  Is there "wall" advantage?  Do both sides get the TEM?  ASL players, of course, know the answers, but ASLSK players would not.

The Hedge Rules are encompassed in just four paragraphs; however, there is also an illustrated example to depict how they work.  Some of the example text could have been better worded.  For example, explaining LOS, the example text reads:  "Generally, you can see the hex immediately behind a hedge hexside, but cannot see beyond that hex."  It probably needed to have the phrase "unless you are adjacent to a hedge hexisde/hexspine," after the word "generally."    The example text also states that "this also applies when LOS is traced along the hexside, not through the hexside."  Was one of these supposed to be "hexspine?"  It is also only from the example, not from the rules, that one learns that a unit without wall advantage can still get the Hedge TEM if fired at by a unit that does not actually possess that wall advantage.

Given the nature of map p, which features grain fields with hedge hexsides in which the grain butts up right against the hedge depiction, it probably would have been useful for the rules or the examples to clarify whether fire shot down a hexspine (such as from BB9 to Z9) gets a grain hindrance DRM or not. 

The last component in BP1 is the map, map p.  This map depicts a small crossroads hamlet with stone buildings, as well as some outlaying orchards and fields.  Judging by the scenarios, one of which even includes a form of "bocage" rules, it is apparently supposed to stand in for hedgerow terrain in Normandy, which it resembles not at all.  It is, however, a serviceable village board.  The buildings are not so tiny as in some other ASLSK maps, so LOS is not as wide open as in those maps.  The artwork is better, too, than in some earlier ASLSK maps.  Unfortunately, the map contains a physical defect, in that it was somehow improperly cut, with a small part of row GG "chopped off," such that when the board is folded in half, one half-board is slightly shorter than the other half-board.  This will not affect any scenario that only uses map p, but will be irritating to players trying to line that map edge up with other map edges.  It is reminiscent of some of the poorly cut ASL mounted maps, which were a problem the new style mapboards were supposed to have eliminated. 

As a product, BP1 seems somewhat sloppy compared to previous ASLSK releases; it does not appear to be one of MMP's better efforts.

 

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Title:  Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit Expansion Pack #1
Publisher/Date: MMP (2011) Product Type: ASL Starter Kit scenario/map pack
Contents:  3 8" x 22" unmounted maps (q, r, s); 8 scenarios; 2 die-cut countersheets (524 counters total); 6 pages charts; 8 pages vehicle/gun notes; 28-page rulebook
Commentary:   The Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit Expansion Pack #1 (whew, let's just call it EP1) is an odd duck.  It is called an Expansion Pack, but it is not actually an expansion pack at all.  Rather, it is a complete de facto ASL Starter Kit #4.  Not a single counter or map or chart from the ASLSK is required to play this product; in this sense, it does not "expand" or "add on" to the ASLSK at all.  It is entirely self-contained.  Other than the lack of a box, the only thing that distinguishes this from any of the three previous ASLSK sets is that it does not add any new rules (though it does provide the latest version of the ASLSK rulebook, with the most recent errata added).  If someone put the contents of this product in the ASLSK3 box, a purchaser would probably be none the wiser; this is basically an alternative ASLSK3.

The wisdom of this decision is somewhat debatable.  EP1 is not only an alternative ASLSK3, but, in fact, it costs every bit as much as ASLSK3.  While the advantage for a completely new player is that he can play this right out of the wrapper, the disadvantage is that, for non-new players, especially owners of ASLSK3, they will be purchasing components all over again, things that they already have.  And one must assume that the majority of purchasers will not be using this product to enter the system (indeed, the very title of the product makes it likely that many potential purchasers may not even realize that they can do so).  It also means that people who own the previous ASLSK products won't get to use any of the maps or counters they have already purchased when playing this product. 

The rationale behind this decision was apparently because of the desire to entice people who may own one or two but not all of the previous ASLSK modules.  But this just gets back to the questionable decision of making a series of three separate, entirely self-contained ASLSK modules in the first place, as well as the decision to continue ASLSK as a separate expanding product line rather than encouraging people instead to make the jump to full ASL.  Will every future ASLSK product contain an ASLSK version of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," each product containing the essence of the earlier ones all over again?  One could easily imagine, were this to be so, an ASLSK player accumulating a stack of rulebooks and charts that could be very high indeed.

So, for someone completely new to ASL and ASLSK--someone unlikely to be reading these words--this product is indeed yet another way to get into the system, in addition to ASLSK1, ASLSK2, ASLSK3, and, of course, full ASL.  It provides all the rules and charts for ASLSK, as well as all the specific counters, maps, and historical notes to play the included scenarios.

For people who already own ASLSK and/or ASL stuff, what does this product add?  Well, as noted above, it does provide the latest version of the ASLSK rulebook.  It also provides three new mapboards, though one will have to wait for future scenarios for them to be combined with previous ASLSK mapboards.  These three maps are the only ones called for in the included scenarios.

Board q is a semi-rural map, with a tiny wooden-buildinged crossroads hamlet in the middle.  The buildings are small and spaced out.  One one side of the hamlet are a mixture of thin woods, fields, and a hill.  On the other, more interesting side of the hamlet, the terrain is more wooded, with a couple of small hills.  For scenario designers, it is this side, hexrows r-gg, that may well be more useful.  Especially with a few overlays to help it out, it could be a useful woods or jungle half-board.

Board r, on the other hand, is undoubtedly the worst board of all the ASLSK boards released so far.  Indeed, it could give almost any ASL board a run for its money as worst board in the entire ASL system.  This is a "city" board, but a very unrealistic one.  It consists largely of small wood buildings (one and two hex), widely separated, with open ground in between them.  There are some places where terrain like this may have existed to some degree (the Warsaw suburb of Wola, perhaps), but probably not many.  For a city board, it is amazingly unclustered and wide open.  It just doesn't have the feeling of verisimilitude that is important in creating a geomorphic mapboard. 

Board s is rather better.  It is a "tale of two half-boards."  One half is mostly a mix of woods, open ground, and orchards, with a few buildings thrown in.  The other half is a stone-buildinged crossroads village, one that conceivably could get quite a lot of use by scenario designers.  It is certainly the best board in this product.

It is frustrating that MMP's map graphics cannot be consistent from one map to another.  For example, in EP1, as with other ASLSK products, orchards are represented by 4 bizarre amoeba-like green shapes.  In the other ASL boards, they are represented by (much nicer looking) 4 green circles.  Why are there two different types of orchard art?  Why is this not standardized?  There are other inconsistencies, too.  For example, the woods hexes in EP1's Board q have no drop shadow, but the woods hexes in Action Pack 7's Board 61--printed at basically the same time--have drop shadows.  It is hard to understand why these inconsistencies exist at all. 

The counters provide all the counters needed to play the included scenarios.  This includes about a half-sheet of markers.  In addition to these, there are 54 AFVs and Guns (12 British, 11 Italian, 12 German, 10 American, 4 Soviet, and 5 Axis Minor).  Infantry and SW include 34 Allied Minor counters, 72 Italian counters, 34 British counters, 71 German counters, 73 American counters, 33 Soviet counters, and 45 Axis Minor counters.  The British counters are only used to represent the Free French in this product.

Because EP1 comes with no box, or even a ziplock bag, but is simply encased in shrinkwrap, purchasers will have to find their own way to store its components.

The 8 scenarios represent a range of actions, including Finland 1942 (Soviets vs. Germans), Sicily 1943 (Americans vs. Italians [2 scenarios]), France 1944 (Americans vs. Germans, French vs. Germans), Poland 1939 (Poles vs. Slovaks [2 scenarios]), and Germany 1944 (Americans vs. Germans).   Oddly, there are no East Front scenarios set in the Soviet Union; however, the opportunity for ASLSK players to play other nationalities more than compensates for this.  The scenario set in Finland, S46 (Where the Winter Lingers), appears from the historical description to be a generic scenario that is not an actual recreation of a specific historical tactical event.  If so, it is a shame that it would be included.

Though most of the scenarios don't have many SSRs, several of the scenarios have some very long SSRs  (9+ lines long); these are usually due to attempts to recreate by SSR sections of the ASL rules missing from the ASLSK rules (such as offboard artillery or hidden units).

S50 (N-463), named after a road in southern France, is an interesting scenario because it features the much-ignored 1st French Army in its fight to reach the Rhine through the Belfort gap in late 1944.  The scenario features a German counterattack by elite forces supported by two Jagdpanzer Vs against the 9th Colonial Division and the 1st Armored Division.  The defending French have 8 elite squads and a penny-packet's worth of Shermans, as well as an AT gun.  The (very lengthy) VC basically just say that the Germans win by being able to apply 21 FP points along a key road.

Scenarios S47 (Not So Disposed) and S48 (Converging Assaults), both set in Sicily at the Gela beachhead, can be played independently or linked together for a two-part scenario, with some pieces carrying over from one scenario to the next.   S51 (Enter the Young) depicts a strong American attack against a smaller but very nasty German force.  S49 (Cooks, Clerks, and Bazookas) basically does the exact opposite. 

If there is such an audience as "dedicated ASLSK players" out there, then they will no doubt eat this pack up, as it adds 8 scenarios to what is, after all, at this point a fairly limited pool of ASLSK scenarios (about 1% of the ASL scenarios out there are ASLSK scenarios).   The scenarios, though, are relatively few in number and many are not all that exciting.  It might well have been more appealing for some would-be purchasers if it did not contain all the rulebooks and charts but were instead less expensive or had more scenarios.  It is an okay product but it is hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm for it.

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Periodicals

Title:  The General
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1964-1998; ASL content 1986-1998) Product Type: Magazine
Contents:  ASL contents included articles and scenarios.
Commentary:   The General was the long-running house magazine published by Avalon Hill to promote and supplement its board wargames.  Issues of The General included articles on game strategy, history, variants, game replays, and more.  Occasionally variant counters or other game materials would see print.

The General covered ASL regularly from the game's publication until the magazine's demise.  The most common feature was a long-running "column" on SL/ASL, Squad Leader Clinic, by Jon Mishcon; however, its actual useful content was slight.  However, from time to time more substantial articles would appear in The General (many of these were later collected and published as "ASL Classic." 

The General was also a regular source of ASL scenarios.  At first, such scenarios appeared irregularly, but in its last years, nearly every issue of The General would feature one or two ASL scenarios.  Almost 90 ASL scenarios were published in the pages of The General, including a number of classics such as G6 (Rocket's Red Glare),  T1 (Gavin Take), T4 (Shklov's Labors Lost), and the Squad Leader remakes, A (Guards Counterattack) and E (Hill 621),  among others.  The scenarios also included a fanciful scenario making use of a map appearing in an Avalon Hill Civil War game.

One issue of The General, Volume 28 Number 6, contained a small countersheet with variant counters for several Avalon Hill games, including several German and French ASL counters to fix errors in their original versions.

Another issue, Volume 30 Number 3, included corrected DASL overlays.  They had originally come with the ASL Annual 95, but had been printed at the wrong size.  The overlays in The General corrected the sizing error.

 

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Title:  ASL Classic
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1998) Product Type: Magazine (single issue)
Contents:  ASL contents included articles and scenarios.
Commentary:   With ASL Classic, Avalon Hill decided to reprint some of the better articles and scenarios that had appeared in out-of-print issues of The General.   The articles also included the most influential/controversial ASL-related article to appear any other ASL-related publication, the dreaded "One-Half FP:  The Incremental IFT Variant," which introduced the IIFT to ASL.  However, few of the articles are remarkable, and in general, the articles in the ASL Annual and ASL Journal are of higher quality.

The 16 scenarios included A (The Guards Counterattack), B (The Tractor Works), C (Streets of Stalingrad), D (Hedgehog of Piepsk), E (Hill 621), F (Paw of the Tiger), G (Hube's Pocket), H (Escape from Velikiye Luki), I (Buchholz Station), J (The Bitch Salient), T1 (Gavin Take), T2 (The Puma Prowls), T3 (Ranger Stronghold), T4 (Shklov's Labors Lost), T5 (The Pouppeville Exit), and T6 (Dead of Winter).  These are solid scenarios worth getting. 

 

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Title:  ASL Annual
Publisher/Date: Avalon Hill (1989-1997) Product Type: Magazine (published more or less annually)
Contents:  ASL contents included articles, scenarios, and the occasional map.
Commentary:   In 1989, with the audience for ASL growing ever larger, and the clamor for new materials ever greater, Avalon Hill decided to launch an annual compendium of ASL material, both to satisfy the demand and to insure that ASL material would not swamp the pages of its house magazine The General.  The result was the ASL Annual.  Its first issue, Annual 89, contained material for both Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader, but the annual quickly became an exclusively ASL publication.

The ASL Annuals--for the most part--were of high quality, with good articles combined with strong scenarios.  Some of the issues are definitely stronger than others.  The final two Annuals, 96 and 97, were produced by MMP under the auspices of Avalon Hill, and this is immediately obvious; these issues resemble MMP's old magazine Backblast with higher production values.   Altogether, eight ASL Annuals were published, one for each year except 1993 (which saw two) and 1994 (which saw none).  Some ASLers produced a satirical "ASL Manual 98" in 1998, featuring Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman on the cover and a scenario featuring Godzilla.

Highlights

ASL Annual 89.  64 pages. The articles are not particularly interesting, though "One-Half FP:  The Incremental IFT Variant," introducing the IIFT, is printed herein.  Scenarios include two Squad Leader scenarios--which look remarkably anachronistic to modern eyes--and 15 ASL scenarios, including the following noteworthies:  A1 (Tavronitis Bridge) and A7 (Slamming of the Door).  All in all, not one of the better Annuals.

ASL Annual 90. 64 pages. The Annual's second outing once more has a weak article offering, although it does have an ASL "series replay," a very popular type of article in which two players and a neutral observer play out an ASL scenario, offering comments along the way.   However, its 16 scenarios include some nice ones, such as A15 (Stand Fast the Guards), A17 (The Penetration of Rostov), and one of the all time ASL favorites, A25 (Cold Crocodiles). 

ASL Annual 91.  64 pages.  Another Annual weak on articles, although one of the articles is a very good and meaty series replay of a Red Barricades campaign game.   Good scenarios include A28 (The Professionals), A29 (A Meeting of Patrols), the classic A32 (Zon with the Wind), A33 (Tettau's Attack), A35 (Guards Attack), A37 (Dreil Team),  and A38 (North Bank).  The strength of the 16 scenarios makes this Annual one of the ones worth picking up first.

ASL Annual 92.  80 pages.  The fourth ASL Annual is the fourth in a row weak on articles.  Too many of the articles in the early Annuals are historical articles or overviews of some sort (many of dubious quality), with very few articles on game play (this would improve in later Annuals and in the ASL Journal).   The 15 scenarios in Annual 92 are a mixed bag, with no true classics among them, although some of the PTO scenarios included are memorable, including A41 (OP Hill), A47 (White Tigers), and DA10 (The Tiger of Toungoo). 

ASL Annual 93a.  48 pages.  What would have been Annual 93 was instead split up into two smaller magazines, Annual 93a and Annual 93b.   Annual 93a was the first issue with a strong article selection, including an article on tank warfare by Bruce Bakken, a scenario crossfire by Robert Banozic and Mark Nixon, and a look at bypass by Philippe Léonard, among others.  Annual 93a has 11 scenarios, including some very strong actions that include two genuine classics, A59 (Death at Carentan) and A60 (Totsugeki!), one of the all-time great ASL scenarios. All in all, this is one of the better Annual issues.

ASL Annual 93b.  48 pages.  A mediocre mix of articles and some indifferent scenarios might have let Annual 93b drop to the bottom in terms of interest, but it is redeemed by the inclusion of a historical mini-campaign game designed by Dan Dolan on the invasions of Gavutu and Tanambogo, two tiny islands off Guadalcanal, in 1942.  The maps are essentially designed as overlays that can be cut out and used with ocean overlays to create the terrain needed for the scenarios and campaign game.  This was the first time Avalon Hill had tried anything so inventive and it was well worth it.  The issue does have a few good scenarios, notably the massive A63 (Action at Balberkamp) and A66 (Counterstroke at Stonne). 

ASL Annual 95.  96 pages.  Depending on whom one talks to, Annual 95 is either the best annual ever published or the worst; opinions are highly polarized.  It is easy to see why.  On the one hand, Annual 95 was sloppily composed--it is full of errata, including an entire sheet of DASL overlays that are useless because they are the wrong size.  On the other hand, this issue contains probably the highest proportion of good and/or classic ASL scenarios of any Annual.  On the third hand, many of those scenarios were not original scenarios but reprints of scenarios first published in third party publications--which is to say that many ASL grognards already had them.  But on the fourth hand, the article content is strong and the issue is the longest of all the ASL Annuals.  These sorts of controversies were typical of Gary Fortenberry's relatively brief reign at the helm of ASL before Avalon Hill brought MMP in to handle the series.  Good articles include a "crossfire" analysis by Robert Banozic and Mark Nixon, an article on routing by Steve Tinsley, and a Kampfgruppe Peiper I series replay.  Annual 95 includes many impressive scenarios, including the all-time classic A68 (Acts of Defiance, reprinted from Critical Hit), A69 (Broich Bash, reprinted from In Contact), A70 (Wintergewitter, reprinted from At the Point), A72 (Italian Brothers, reprinted from At the Point), A80 (Commando Schenke, reprinted from Tactiques), and A88 (Surprise Encounter, reprinted from The Route Report).  Well, at the very least, Gary could pick a winner.  Despite the errata, the tremendous scenario strength in this issue makes it well worth getting.

ASL Annual 96.  64 pages.  The MMP-produced Annual certainly looks like it; the scenario content is overwhelmingly rules-related, including articles explaining snow, moving/motion/non-stopped status, CX limitations, gliders, and caves and cave complexes.   The scenario selection is average, but does include the gems (some of them unpronounceable) A93 (Faugh A' Ballagh!) and A98 (Crossing the Gniloi Tikitsch), and the classics A103 (Mayhem in Manila) and A104 (In Front of the Storm).  These scenarios make this issue worth getting.

ASL Annual 97.  64 pages.  The last Annual, this issue featured a wonderful going away present--a small historical map of Nhpum Ga in northern Burma, and scenarios (but no campaign game) to accompany it.  That fact alone has made Annual 97 a prized possession, and hard to find.  The article content is not bad, including a series replay of G28 (Ramsey's Charge) and an interesting article on early war anti-tank strategies by Tate Rogers.   Among the better scenarios are the exciting A110 (Shanghai in Flames), A115 (Blockbusters),  and A117 (Maggot Hill). 

 

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Title:  ASL Journal
Publisher/Date: MMP (1999-  ) Product Type: Magazine (published more or less annually)
Contents:  ASL contents included articles, scenarios, and the occasional map.
Commentary:   Following the demise of Avalon Hill, MMP obtained the license from Hasbro to continue to produce ASL products; their first effort was an ASL publication called the ASL Journal, which was the old ASL Annual under a new name.  Subsequent Journals followed, at a rate of not quite one per year.  In style and content, the ASL Journal was identical to the ASL Annual--which was no negative, as the Annual/Journal has towered above all other ASL related publications in terms of quality.

Highlights

ASL Journal 1.  64 pages.  The Journal set the bar high with its first issue.  The article content was an extremely pleasing mix of every sort of article:  rules articles (such as one on SMOKE by Tom Huntington), a series replay (of A109 (Scouts Out), by J.R. Tracy, Chris Kavanaugh, and Michael J. Puccio), a new SASL mission, a new Red Barricades campaign game, articles on learning and playing the PTO, and more.  The scenario content was equally strong, with 12 scenarios that included one of the all time ASL classics, J1 (Urban Guerillas, designed by Pete Shelling), as well as the gems J2 (Battlin' Buckeyes),  J7 (Slow and Steady), J8 (Block Busting in Bokruisk), J9 (A Stiff Fight), and J12 (Jungle Fighters).  ASL Journal 1 is a must-have.

ASL Journal 2 70 pages, 2 countersheets, historical map.  How do you top Journal 1?  How about making Journal 2 longer, with more scenarios, plus a historical map and some countersheets?  That is just what MMP did, which made ASL Journal 2 one of the best ASL bangs for the buck.  Its main feature was a beautiful historical map of Kakazu Ridge on Okinawa drawn by Don Petros and accompanying scenarios designed by Dan Dolan (of Gavutu-Tanambogo fame) that allow some late-war PTO cave-fighting action.  The countersheets that come with Journal 2 primarily provide fixed counters to replace errors in Blood Reef: Tarawa and Doomed Battalions.  Articles include features on Kakazu Ridge, designer and developer notes for Pegasus Bridge, a comprehensive rout example (later included in the 2nd Edition ASL Rulebook), and good articles on armor use by Matt Shostak and Chas Smith.  ASL Journal 2 includes 24 (!) scenarios, which include some real classics (a number of the scenarios are reprints from Hell on Wheels, a scenario pack from Bounding Fire Productions designed by Chas Smith).  Noteworthy scenarios include J19 (Merzenhausen Zoo),  J20 (The Guns of Naro), J23 (Kampfgruppe at Karachev), J24 (Smashing the 3rd), J27 (High Tide at Heiligenbeil), J28 (Inhumaine), the classic J32 (Panzer Graveyard), J33 (The Slaughterhouse), and J35 (Siam Sambal).  This combination of value makes ASL Journal 2 one of the great ASL products--unfortunately it is out of print and very pricey on the secondary market.
     ASL Journal 2, "2nd Edition."  68 pages, 2 countersheets, historical map.  In June 2010, after considerable delay, MMP reprinted the long out-of-print (it was originally published in 2000) ASL Journal #2.  It is mentioned separately here because there are some noteworthy changes, though most are relatively minor.  Some of the scenarios have errata incorporated into them.  The obviously outdated convention calendar was removed; the Internet resources article was updated (it includes this site, for example).  The rout example is now the same as in the 2nd Edition ASLRB.  The errata on the countersheets has been fixed in the reprint.  Most importantly, perhaps, the Kakazu Ridge map was printed on glossy paper, not matte.  A number of ASLers, and wargamers generally, do not like glossy maps, typically on the grounds of either 1) glare or 2) durability.  It is hard to tell whether this is a vocal minority or a majority, but glossy maps definitely have their detractors.  The one good thing is that, unlike a great many glossy wargame maps, the Kakazu Ridge map is not printed on too-thin paper; this will help its durability, though cracking may still be an issue over time.  In all, though, new ASLers will be happy to get a copy of this popular ASL product; few people who already own it are too likely to buy it again--the differences are probably not worth it to most.

ASL Journal 3.  80 pages.  The longest of all the Journals, it also sported by far the ugliest cover.  It also had a weak article selection, with a plethora of historical articles as well as rules articles on obscure subjects such as trucks and anti-aircraft guns.  It did provide a mini-campaign game of sorts, designed by Pete Shelling, in the form of several linked scenarios, and an SASL mission.  The meat of Journal 3, though, was in its 30 (!) scenarios, the most that would ever be included in an ASL Annual/Journal.  These include some nice actions, such as J37 (Tretten in Flames), J41 (By Ourselves), the classic J43 (3rd RTR in the Rain), the classic J44 (Audacity!),  J45 (The Last Roadblock), J46 (Strongpoint 11),  the classic J59 (Friday the 13th), the classic J60 (Bad Luck),  and J63 (Silesian Interlude).  The strength of the scenarios make this an issue well worth getting.

ASL Journal 4.  48 pages.  Following Journal 3, MMP made a concerted effort to tone down the size of Journal issues and make them more manageable to produce.  Starting with Journal 4, issues would have 48 pages and 12 scenarios each.  So Journal 4 definitely looks less meaty than Journal 3, and it is.  It is also, unfortunately, one of the weaker Journals, with historical articles on Indochina and obscure AFVs, and other light fare.  Many of the scenarios feature British Bren gun carriers, which are not exactly the sexiest vehicles in World War II.  Nevertheless, Journal 4 does have some strong scenarios, including J69 (The Army at the Edge of the World), J74 (Priests on the Line), and J76 (Ultimate Treachery).  Overall, though, despite the attractive cover art by Ken Smith, it is not the strongest of ASL Journals. 

ASL Journal 5.  48 pages.  Featuring another strong Ken Smith cover, ASL Journal 5 improved in article content, with a greater emphasis on gameplay, including an article on jungle tactics by Mark Pitcavage and an analysis of the campaign game in Operation Veritable by Oliver Giancola.  Pete Shelling provided another set of linked scenarios, this time in the desert, while Ian Daglish contributed a useful article on AFV passenger and crews.  Unfortunately, the scenario content was not as strong; some scenarios were just not interesting, while others were not balanced.  Best of the lot include J84 (Makin Taken) and J88 (Escape to Wiltz).   Strangely, two scenarios released when ASL Journal 5 were released were not published in the magazine but only online.  They can be downloaded for free at http://www.multimanpublishing.com/downloads/W1.pdf and http://www.multimanpublishing.com/downloads/W2.pdf.  Overall, Journal 5 is one of the weaker ASL Journals.

ASL Journal 6.  48 pages, HASL map and CGs.  After relatively weak issues in Journals 4 and 5, the ASL Journal makes a great rebound with Journal 6, which features the most striking cover illustration (by Ken Smith) to appear on any ASL magazine or game.  What makes Journal 6 so special is the inclusion of a attractive historical map, along with accompanying scenarios and campaign games for Primosole Bridge in Sicily.  This adds considerable value to Journal 6, even though the article content is weak.  Good scenarios include J92 (Your Turn Now), J94 (Kempf at Melikhovo), J98 (Lend-Lease Attack), and J100 (For a Few Rounds More).

ASL Journal 7.  48 pages, 8" x 22" unmounted geomorphic map (v).  The seventh ASL journal (with another excellent Ken Smith cover illustration) comes with a modest extra, an unmounted geomorphic mapboard (which later was included in ASLSK3), but articles and scenarios are the main content.  The article content is not particularly strong, with much of the issue taken up with part two of an over-lengthy historical article on the British Army.  However, there are gameplay articles on HIP and Commissars and a scenario analysis of HS26 "Got Milk" from Operation Veritable.  The magazine also includes the latest ASL errata, one piece of which (which adds an extra -1 TEM to bridge hexes) was particularly controversial. 

Of more interest, perhaps, are the 12 scenarios (one of which, confusingly, is a "missing" scenario from Armies of Oblivion and is thus numbered 122 rather than Jx).  The emphasis is on tournament-sized scenarios; almost every scenario is small or medium-sized, with only one that could be considered large.  Three of the scenarios are reprints of scenarios that originally appeared in the French ASL magazine Le Franc Tireur.  Thematically, the scenarios are very narrow; every scenario is set either on the East Front or in the Balkans.  However, overall, they are a decent set of scenarios.  Good scenarios include 122 (Extracurricular Activity), J103 (Lenin's Sons), J105 (Borodino Train Station), and J111 (Prussia in Flames).  Scenario J106 (Marders not Martyrs) is the scenario that uses board v.

ASL Journal 8.  64 pages.  Journal 7 came out in 2006; few people at the time thought they would have to wait until 2010 before seeing another issue of the journal.  This issue is a no-extras issue, but at least is longer in content than most recent (cough) issues of the journal.  The article content is okay; perhaps most interesting is an article by ASL whizzes Bret Hildrebran and J.R. Tracy that provide two very contrasting set ups for scenario J113 (Maczek Fire Brigade).  Matt Shostak also provides a good analysis of J74 (Priests on the Line).

This issue of the Journal comes with 16 scenarios, though of these, 6 are reprints from third party publishers.  Several of the reprints are from the highly regarded Swedish ASL scenario pack series Friendly Fire; these, combined with original scenarios by Swedish designer Ola Nygårds, give the issue a certain Scandinavian flair.  Certainly the abovementioned J113 (Maczek Fire Brigade), a Friendly Fire creation, is an excellent scenario that deserved enshrinement in the pantheon of "official" ASL scenarios. 

Of particular note is the presence of three additional scenarios for Valor of the Guards:  VotG19 (Cellar Dwellers), VotG20 (Terror at Twilight), and Votg21 (Defending the Voentorg).   That last one is a somewhat novel three-part scenario in which three small actions are combined into one.  Fans of DASL will no doubt appreciate the two DASL scenarios included in Journal 8:  J123 (Charging Chaumont) and J124 (Cobra Kings).

Overall, there is a very nice mix of small, medium, and large scenarios (though no very meaty ones).  Many are nicely tournament-playable.  Two scenarios use OBA (plus another that places a bit of OBA SMOKE); no scenarios use Night or Air Support rules.

Of the scenarios, J113 (Maczek Fire Brigade) and J118 (Elephants Unleashed) are excellent, both destined to be classics.  J116 (Brigade Hill) is a solid, tournament-sized PTO scenario featuring Japanese and Australians (all three of the preceding scenarios are reprints).   J120 (Ishun Tank Traps) is a tournament-sized East Front scenario with a very interesting twist:  the German player may create 6 hidden tank trap hexes that AFVs can potentially fall into.  J125 (Everything Is Lost) is that rare geomorphic map scenario with Sewer Movement (for aficionados of reeking tunnels). 

Overall, it is a very nice effort, though an extra "goodie" would have made it even better. 

NOTE:  LATER ASL JOURNALS HAVE THEIR OWN INDIVIDUAL ENTRIES; SEE BELOW.

ASL Journal #9

ASL Journal #10

 

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Title:  ASL Journal #9
Publisher/Date: MMP (2011 ) Product Type: Magazine (published more or less annually)
Contents:  64-page magazine (including 24 scenarios), 24" x 26" historical map, one sheet of die-cut counters (244 counters), 16 pages Chapter Z rules
Commentary:   Fans of the ASL Journal had to wait years between Journal #7 and Journal #8, and when #8 finally came out, it was a bare-bones issue, with articles and scenarios only, devoid of any "goodies" such as maps, counters, or play aids.  Luckily, the wait between Journal #8 and Journal #9 has been refreshingly brief, and Journal #9 comes loaded.  Journal fans should be very pleased.

As of this writing, in early 2011, the ASL Journal is the only place in the ASL world where one can get reasonably good and well-edited ASL writing.  After the Journal, the quality level drops off precipitously and the quantity drops almost as much.  Many ASL players couldn't care less about written content, but for others, reading articles about a game they love is sheer pleasure.  For those players--which includes this writer--getting a new Journal is always a welcome experience.  One could only wish that there were more people who combine the writing ability, playing skills, and ability to communicate game concepts that is necessary for a good ASL article, so that there were even more articles.

Journal #9 is a hefty issue, but much of that heft comes from the amazing 24 scenarios (see below) included, as well as a few pages devoted to background or linking concepts.  The longest article is a tactics article by Mark Pitcavage on defending key buildings.  A shorter gameplay article is "The Art of the Banzai," by veteran ASLer Bret Hildebran, which talks about some of the intricacies of the Banzai Charge in ASL.  It's a good article, but it could have been even longer (it is only two pages long).  Accompanying it is a second article by Jim Bishop which is an extended example of play to help players understand exactly how the mechanics of the Banzai Charge play out in practice. 

A useful rules article is "Getting Your Feet Wet," by Jon Neall, which goes through the rules for water obstacles and devices used to traverse such obstacles, such as boats, amphibians and landing craft.  Tim Hunsdorfer provides a short rules article on Panzerfausts.  Lastly, Pete Shelling provides some tips on scenario design.

The big "goodie" in Journal #9 is "Suicide Creek," a small HASL in the spirit of Primosole Bridge in Journal #6.  This HASL represents some of the actions of the 1st Marine Division after its landings at Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain in late 1943 and early 1944.  This action was part of the Allied attempt to isolate the main Japanese base in the Southwest Pacific at Rabaul, on the other end of the island.  The Cape Gloucester invasion ended being of dubious strategic value but, at the ASL level, contained a number of interesting actions, including the fighting for the so-called Suicide Creek in early 1944. 

The Suicide Creek HASL, designed by Darrell Andersen, is based on a 24" x 26" historical map of the creek, the trail that crossed it, and its environs.  The map itself is actually only 21 hexes by 24 hexes in area (basically a tad larger than two geomorphic maps), but the hexes themselves are huge, far larger than hexes in any other HASL.  It's not exactly clear why the hexes are so very large.  Some players will undoubtedly like the large hexes, while others will wonder why the map was not a more manageable size; it is a matter of taste, mostly.  Unfortunately, the map is printed on glossy paper, which often creates glare and also sometimes has durability problems.  It would be nice if MMP would stop using glossy paper for its ASL maps.

The accompanying countersheet includes 20 "Corduroy Road" counters, 18 "Pillbox Cellar" counters, a handful of vehicles and guns, as well as a variety of American and Japanese MMC, SMC, and SW.  A lot of these are simply duplicates of existing counters (such as 20 more 6-6-8 USMC counters or 8 more U.S. MMG counters) and are not really necessary.  There are some USMC 7-6-8 squads and half squads, and some Japanese 4-4-8 squads and half squads, which are marked with DC icons on the counters to portray assault engineers.

The Suicide Creek HASL rules pages provide rules for Pillboxes with "cellars," allowing occupants to, in effect, skulk in place.  They also describe Jungle Debris, which is sort of a cross between Debris and Dense Jungle, and Corduroy Roads (which are like trailbreaks that vehicles can use).  Other features include bulldozer-created Fords, American Trip Wires, and American Supply Dumps (which can explode!). It really only takes about two pages to lay out the basic Suicide Creek rules.  The rest of the Chapter Z pages are basically standard Campaign Game rules.  The Suicide Creek campaign game, The Green Inferno, is a 7 date CG (each date represents about a third of a 24-hour day).  It's a nice, reasonable sized campaign game. 

Suicide Creek also includes 6 of the scenarios in the Journal, most of which use just a small part of the map.  These scenarios tend to be small, and many of them could easily be played at tournaments.   Most of them have few SSRs, other than the standard Suicide Creek rules.

J131 (First Love) takes place in a tiny 8-hex by 10-hex box and features a company sized USMC assault (with 60mm OBA) against a tiny (4 squads, 3 crews) but fortified and very well armed Japanese position.  J132 (Jungle Infiltration) depicts a Japanese counterattack, with 6 Japanese squads attacking 5.5 USMC defenders.  The USMC can draw upon some potent optional reinforcements (2 6-6-8 squads, a 10-3 leader, and an MMG), but only at the cost of VP.  The Japanese are aided by random "Bypassed Units," which appear based on the position of the American sniper; these can sometimes be substantial.  If the USMC player is unlucky, a Japanese unit could basically fall from the sky onto one of his units.  The Japanese win immediately if they can amass 11 VP, which are accrued through CVP, the American reinforcement option, and destroying an American supply dump.   It looks like an interesting scenario.

J133 (One Miserable Night) is a more significant Japanese night counterattack.  They have 14 varied squads, well-led, with 2 DCs, and are aided by a limited pre-game bombardment.  The USMC heavily outnumber the Japanese in both squads and firepower, though only some of their units are forward, which means their ability to react (because of No Move counters) will be somewhat hindered.  The Japanese win immediately if they get 19 CVP (which includes 5 CVP for each of 2 supply dumps, if destroyed), which certainly gives them a reason to hit the forward USMC as hard as they possibly can.  It also makes the American supply dumps, as well as their two tanks, targets for the Japanese, because of their high CVP value.  This is a scenario in which even a victorious Japanese force is likely to look as if it had been totally destroyed.

J134 (Kerry's Crossing) is a smallish scenario depicting a USMC attempt to get an AFV across Suicide Creek.  Fans of bulldozers will like this one.  J135 (Diversion) is a tiny scenario featuring 8 USMC squads trying to push a quintet of Japanese squads away from the stream. 

The last scenario, J136 (Muddy Mayhem), is the largest, and the only one which uses the entire map area.  Though only 5.5 turns long, it is still pretty meaty.  It represents a major USMC attack to get across Suicide Creek.  The USMC have 24 squads (including 4 7-6-8 assault engineer squads), 2 guns, tons of SW (including one FT), 6 AFVs, and a module of 60mm OBA.  The Japanese defenders have 16 squads, 7 crews, 10 MG, 2 knee mortars, 5 DCs, 2 Guns, and 90mm OBA.  They also get 10 bunkers and 6 Wire counters.  It looks like it could be a very bloody scenario.

Overall, the Suicide Creek package looks really nice, with more variety of action than one might expect.  The only negative note that one might sound has nothing to do with the quality of the product, but rather merely its subject matter.  Suicide Creek is the 7th official PTO HASL or equivalent (after Blood Reef: Tarawa, Gavutu-Tanambogo, Nhpum Ga, Kakazu Ridge, Operation Watchtower, and Hell's Corner).  Of these, fully 5 of them have involved the USMC, even though the tiny USMC was vastly outnumbered by the U.S. Army in the PTO, to say nothing of the British, Australians, Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, Dutch, and other Allied combatants in the region.  The focus on the USMC to the near exclusion of all else is both bewildering and somewhat frustrating.  So while ASL players can be happy about what appears to be yet another good HASL, perhaps they can also hope that MMP will in the future spend some attention on the rest of the PTO. 

Three more scenarios in Journal 9 relate to another HASL, Valor of the Guards.  No one can complain that designer Tom Morin has not been supporting his Stalingrad baby since its birth; between the Journal and the newsletter Dispatches from the Bunker, he has released 10 more scenarios for fans of the module.  The three in Journal 9 are VotG22 (Bark You Dogs!), VotG23 (Heroes of the Soviet Union), and VotG24 (Raid on Rodimtsev).

Another three scenarios, designed by Pete Shelling, can be linked together to form a mini-campaign of sorts over the fighting for the German city of Nuremberg in April 1945 between parts of the American 7th Army and the German 1st Army.   These three scenarios, J143 (Circle of Doom), J144 (Three for the Third), and J145 (Golden Pheasants), are all medium-to-large combined arms actions, typically with lots of AFVs.  One of them, J144, has Air Support.  Two Journal pages are devoted to the mini-campaign that links the three scenarios.  If playing the campaign, players can choose from among additional reinforcements to add to their forces in the scenarios.  Of course, the scenarios can all be played independently as well.

The remaining 12 scenarios are a mix of actions, including Belgium 1940 (French/British vs. Germans), Eritrea 1940 (British vs. Italian), Malaya 1942 (British vs. Japanese), Soviet Union 1942 (two scenarios:   Soviets vs. Romanians/Germans; Soviets vs. Italians), France 1944 (two scenarios, both British vs. Germans), Belgium 1944 (two scenarios:  British/Belgian Partisans vs. Germans; Americans vs. Germans), Holland 1944 (British vs. Germans), Hungary 1944 (Soviets vs. Germans), and Germany 1945 (Soviets vs. Germans). 

Of these, only about two are small, while the remainder are equally divided between medium-sized and large scenarios.  One of these scenarios has Air Support; two scenarios have OBA; none of them use Night rules.  Four of them use recently released boards.

A lot of them have potential.  This includes the two scenarios with Italian forces.  The first, J127 (Messervy's Men), is a rare scenario set in Eritrea (i.e. Italian East Africa); moreover, it does not use the Desert rules.  In this scenario, the British are on the attack; they have 13.5 2nd line squads, supported by carriers and armored cars.  The defending Italians have 12 1st line squads, a Gun, and a light AFV.  The British, while not exceeding a CVP cap, must clear the Italians from their hill positions.  The second scenario is J130 (The Art of Dying), an East Front scenario.  Here, the Italians are on the attack.  They have 14 elite and 1st line squads, well armed, accompanied by 5 light tanks; they must capture buildings and Guns from a defending Soviet force of 15 varied squads, including two commissars, with 2 Guns and 2 AFVs.  The Soviet forces, however, are split up between a small, not very good on-board force, and a larger, better set of reinforcements, who must cross a lot of open ground to help "rescue" their comrades.   The Italians have an overwhelming force at first, but don't have much protection for it (low TEM) and may see it degrade over time.  Their quintet of light tanks is perhaps their most important weapon, as they can serve a variety of purposes and, if they can avoid the Soviet Guns, are not too vulnerable to MG and ATR fire.  It is a scenario in which both sides may well have the chance to attack and defend.

Another scenario, J128 (Opium Hill), is a quick playing PTO scenario featuring a smallish Japanese combined arms attack against a slightly larger, but low ELR, British force.  The Japanese get exit VP and some building control VP.  

East Front fans may flock to J129 (Mountain Hunters), a large scenario on board 2a that features a massive Romanian attack (18 squads, all of them elite), well led, loaded with SW, and supported by a Gun and two German StuGs (complete with two armor leaders).  Defending against this horde are 13 mixed Soviet squads, with two commissars (including an 8+1 commissar from Valor of the Guards), and a bunch of their own SW.  They also have three Guns.  To win, the Romanians have to achieve any 2 of 3 objectives, including controlling two key buildings, controlling a village, or controlling high ground.  It's a lot of action in a small space.  Heavy metal fans may like J141 (Riding with the King), another East Front scenario, depicting a massive Soviet attack (including 20 squads and 9 AFVs, including 4 IS-2s) against a small but elite German force of 11 squads and 2 Guns, reinforced soon enough by 4 AFVs that include 2 King Tigers.  Ouch.

One scenario that might end up seeing a fair amount of tournament play, if it proves balanced, is the Ian Daglish-designed J137 (No Mercy in Burcy), which features a German force of 12 8-3-8 squads, loaded with good leaders, MGs, and flamethrowers, as well as a few halftracks, which can win immediately by exiting a bunch of VP off the edge of the board, or by controlling 2 stone buildings by game end.  The defending British have 10 squads, 5 Shermans, and some OBA to stop them.  A larger Daglish scenario is J138 (Point to Make), also featuring British and Germans, only this time the British are on the attack.  They have to take a factory while keeping within a casualty cap.  Both sides get to make some choices (of different types) about their OBs.  Another interesting British-German scenario, designed by Richard Weiley, is J140 (All Down the Line), a short and simple tournament-sized scenario featuring a small but elite British paratrooper force trying to get past (and exit) a motley collection of German defenders.  

Lastly, it is worth mentioning J146 (Ragnarök), designed by Martin Svärd (who somehow just had to get a Scandinavian word into the title of this Soviet-German scenario!) and set in the waning moments of the Battle for Berlin.  It features an attempt by German remnants to escape out of Berlin.  They have 10 squads (4 6-5-8 SS, 4 4-4-7, and 2 4-3-6), 3 leaders, and two halftracks to try to get off the board, and possibly achieve immediate victory.  Trying to stop them are 7 Soviet squads, reinforced by 2 more, as well as 3 AFVs.  The Soviets also get 7 special concealment counters that represent possible reinforcements.  Under certain circumstances, the Soviet player may get to attempt to activate some of these counters during the course of play.  This may result in no effect, or could cause a squad or half squad to appear.  Neither player will know what may or may not be there until the event is resolved.

As one can see, there is a tremendous wealth of play value in this product, with HASL action, mini-campaign games, Valor of the Guards goodies, and scenarios of all sizes and theaters.  Every single scenario is designed by a veteran scenario designer, and some of ASL's best designers are represented here.  When the article content is added to all this juicy goodness, well, how can one resist?  It's a must-have product.

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Title:  ASL Journal #10
Publisher/Date: MMP (2012 ) Product Type: Magazine (published more or less annually)
Contents:  48-page magazine, 2 player aids, 17 scenarios (on cardstock inserts)
Commentary:   The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away and so too, apparently, does MMP.  The 10th iteration of its ASL magazine departs from tradition in two significant ways--one very good and one very bad. 

So how did MMP giveth and taketh?  Let's starteth with the positive.  After well over a decade (longer, if one includes the run of its predecessor, the ASL Annual) of Journals that had their scenarios as pages in the magazine, MMP has finally decided to take the scenarios out of the magazine and include them as separate cardstock inserts.  Finally, players will no longer be faced with the problem of how to get Journal scenarios into their collection:  do they photocopy them?  Cut them out?  Scan them?  Other ASL publications, including Critical Hit Magazine, Schwerpunkt, and Le Franc Tireur had long ago adopted this method of scenario inclusion and it is gratifying that MMP finally saw the light.  Better late than never; this is a significant improvement and ASLers should be grateful.  Kudos to MMP.

So, that was the good.  That, sadly, brings us to the bad.   Once more departing from a tradition that dates back over 20 years, with Journal 10 has MMP changed the paper on which the magazine is printed.  Journal #10 instead uses a thin glossy paper--the sort of paper one might find in People Magazine rather than previous issues of the Journal.  MMP has previously shown its fascination with glossy paper--using it to print most of its non-ASL maps and rulebooks, for example--but until now ASL players were largely spared.  Alas, no more, it seems.

Why does this matter?  While the glossy paper renders color well (though so too did the previous paper), it has less of the sturdiness of its predecessor.  The pages crease and tear relatively easily; owners of Journal #10 will have to treat the issue with tender loving care, including getting a plastic protector for it so that it doesn't tear or crease.  The cover of one of Desperation Morale's copies of Journal #10 managed to crease within 30 minutes of opening.  Here's the difference between People Magazine and the ASL Journal:  people buy People to read and throw away.  People buy the ASL Journal to read and use and keep until they die and their wife sells their ASL collection on E-bay.  Previous Journals were sturdy and could hold up to wear and tear; Journal #10 seems almost disposable.

Lest these comments seem like the lone rant of a disgruntled and cranky individual (though the proprietor of Desperation Morale certainly is that), it should be noted that for the first time in the history of the World of ASL Compendium, Desperation Morale received e-mails asking Desperation Morale to comment on the paper used in Journal #10.  A quote from one such e-mail is representative of the general tenor of the messages received:  "Please say something on your blog about the awful paper of Journal 10! I always look forward to the touch and feel of the Journals, even if the content isn't always super exciting. But now... it just looks and feels like cheap."

And, sadly, it does.  One can only hope that perhaps MMP will reconsider and, for future issues of the ASL Journal, return to the practices of the past.

Aside from these two major changes, what else does Journal #10 have to offer?  It should be noted up front that, in terms of quantity, Journal #10 offers its purchasers less than Journal #9 did.  It is about a third smaller in length (though keep in mind that scenarios now appear on cards), contains about a third fewer scenarios, and comes with no map, counters, or campaign game (it is, however, also considerably less expensive than Journal #9).

The article content of Journal #10 is somewhat disappointing.  Part of the reason for this is due to the inclusion of a very long Festung Budapest scenario replay, which takes up a major portion of the magazine:  21 of the magazine's 48 pages!  Scenario replays are quite popular among a large segment of the Journal's readership, so one can't argue against including a replay.  However, this particular replay needed editing for length but did not get it (it is not until the 7th page of the article that the participants start discussing the first turn!).  There are additional steps the editors could have taken to make the article more manageable.  ASL's long experience with scenario replays (in both official and unofficial publications) strongly suggests that very few people actually set up the pieces and follow the piece-by-piece play using the Replay Log.  Not including that log would have saved considerable space.  It is also true that including a series of "neutral comments" is a luxury that can be dropped if a Replay would otherwise be too long.  Scenario replays work pretty much just as well with only comments from the two actual participants.  Had this replay been half the length it was (or if the Journal had been much larger), it would have been an excellent article; as it is, it dominates Journal #10 and if a purchaser happens to be among the people who do not care for scenario replays, then they are out of luck. 

The rest of the content in Journal #10 tends to be short.  Aaron Cleavin has a one-page article on the chances of rolling a sniper on low-odds shot (which, in one of those odd "small world" coincidences, was the same subject of a longer article that appeared a month earlier in Schwerpunkt Volume 18; neither writer had any idea the other was working on the same topic).  Spencer Armstrong contributes a "different sort of chronology of war," which consists of a play aid which lists when during the war certain ASL rules/abilities come into effect.  Bruno Nitrosso offers a "CC Simulator," which tries to compute the odds of winning a CC combat, but may be of limited practical utility.  One longer article is Robert Wolkey's "The Beginner Blues, Part I," which offers advice to newbies.

Journal #10 also includes something called "Son of Squad Bleeder," put together by Bret Hildebran.  Essentially, this is a collection of three semi-generic scenarios in which the boards, units and other factors are largely determined randomly or purchased, creating as much uncertainty and "fog of war" as possible.  By their very nature, the scenarios (one set in the Soviet Union in 1943, one in France in 1940 and one in Burma in 1944) can't be pre-balanced, so would not be used in a competitive setting, but rather are just for fun.  It is nice to see them here, though perhaps these should have been printed on scenario cards along with the other scenarios.

The magazine also has assorted bric-a-brac, including a Festung Budapest FAQ, a Festung Budapest play aid, and the usual issuing of ASL errata (including Festung Budapest errata) that now occurs with every Journal.  It is perhaps worth pointing out here that it has been 12 years since the publication of the 2nd Edition ASL Rulebook and in that dozen years a huge amount of errata, some very minor and some not so minor, has accumulated.  It may well be time for a 3rd Edition rulebook come out.

Leaving aside the "Squad Bleeder" actions, Journal #10 still comes with an impressive 17 scenarios.  They stem from an oddly international mix of designers, who hail from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Canada/Netherlands, and Switzerland.   The actions themselves are also varied and include:  Soviets vs. Germans (Stalingrad 1942, Latvia 1944), Americans vs. Germans (Belgium 1944 [2], France 1944 [2], Germany 1944), Chinese vs. Japanese (China 1937), Slovaks vs. Hungarians (Slovakia 1939), Americans vs. Japanese (Philippines 1941 & 1945), Canadians vs. Germans (Germany 1945), Soviets vs. Germans/Hungarians (Budapest 1945), Indians/Gurkhas vs. Japanese (India 1944 and Burma 1944), and British vs. Germans (France 1944).

The scenarios tend somewhat towards the large:  2/3 of the Journal #10 scenarios are large in size, with the remainder divided between small and medium.  Four scenarios have some form of OBA, one scenario uses Air Support, and one scenario uses the Night rules.  That scenario is a Valor of the Guards scenario, the tiny VotG25 (Urban Nightmare).  There is also a (much larger) Festung Budapest scenario, FB18 (Red Banner Days).  Scenario J158 (It Don't Come Easy) is a DASL scenario.  One of the scenarios, J149 (Taking a Stand at Rosario), is a reprint of an earlier Dispatches from the Bunker scenario. 

One of the early favorites to emerge from Journal #10 is J157 (Rage against the Machine), a Soviet-German scenario that teeters on the edge of tournament playability (it is probably a tad too large, except for speedy players).  This scenario was designed by Peter Struijf and Chris Mazzei, who have contributed a number of scenarios to the Journal and to Friendly Fire packs in the past.  They also designed a very interesting PTO scenario, J147 (Into the Grinding Mill), which features a large Japanese attack (including a flamethrower, DCs, and 5 tanks) against a fortified Chinese position.

J159 (Tropic Lightning) is another meaty PTO scenario designed by the Bongiovanni brothers.  It features a seriously powerful American force attacking a far weaker Japanese force, but the Americans face daunting victory conditions.  J150 (The Sangshak Redemption) is a tournament-sized PTO scenario that might see significant play.  A company-sized Japanese force have to attack a reinforced Indian platoon, then withstand a major counterattack by a truly nasty Gurkha force.  Unfortunately, another tournament-sized PTO action, J151 (Squeeze Play), though it features an interesting situation, is probably too unbalanced to play--the defending Japanese have too few forces to defend a fairly large area and the attacking British, who also have a flamethrower and 4 Lee tanks, can range across the battlefield causing havoc.  The Japanese balance probably wouldn't help them much, either (instead of the listed balance, players might try adding a Japanese 4-4-7).

Pete Shelling's tournament-sized J156 (Mageret Mixer) ought to receive a lot of play; not only does it seem balanced, but it includes one of the best SSRs in the magazine.  In this scenario, the German player places four Pz IVJ wrecks on the mapboard (in pre-designated places).  However, one of these wrecks--determined randomly--is not really a wreck and will "wake up" mid-game, perhaps to the dismay of the American player, depending on which of the wrecks wakes up.  Shelling also contributed the more meaty J154 (Cradle to Grave), which features a mixed American/FFI (French maquis) force defending against a German attack (the "mysterious maquis known only as 'Captain Clin'" mentioned in the scenario aftermath was actually Maurice Colin).

Overall, the scenarios are a solid mix, with a lot of actions that are fun to play.  This makes Journal #10  worth getting, even if the thin glossy paper of the magazine is a major drawback.

 

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Title:  Out of the Attic #1
Publisher/Date: MMP (2003 ) Product Type: Magazine (published extremely erratically)
Contents:  Articles, scenarios.
Commentary:   Out of the Attic was conceived of as a way to bring long out of print third-party scenarios to the newer ASL audience; its contents consisted of reprints of old articles and scenarios.  Its articles were generally good, with many of them focusing on night rules, including a good overview of night rules by J.R. VanMechelen.  This article, like several others, originally appeared in MMP's own Backblast magazine (MMP is fond of cannibalizing from Backblast).  Other articles come from the Fire for Effect and In Contact newsletters.

Twelve of the 16 scenarios in Out of the Attic come from the long-defunct ASL newsletter In Contact.  One scenario, Sicilian Midnight, appeared in an ASL Annual, and apparently was included simply because there was a series replay of that scenario in the magazine.  Two scenarios came from the underappreciated Baraque de Fraiture/Parker's Crossroads module, while two more came from--no surprise here--Backblast.

Unfortunately, none of the scenarios in Out of the Attic are true standouts--perhaps that was why they were so long out of print?  OA7 (Celles Melee) and OA 13 (Brief Breakfast) are probably the best of the bunch.

Out of the Attic was originally intended to be an occasional publication, but apparently it did not sell well, and MMP rarely expressed interest in a follow-up.  In 2009, however, after Chas Argent was hired by MMP to manage its ASL line, the concept was revisited and a second issue came out in 2010.

 

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Title:  Out of the Attic #2
Publisher/Date: MMP (2010 ) Product Type: Magazine (published extremely erratically)
Contents:  Articles, scenarios.
Commentary:   Out of the Attic (OotA) was originally conceived of as a way to bring long out of print third-party scenarios to a newer ASL audience through publishing an occasional magazine with reprinted scenarios and articles.  Its first issue appeared in 2003, but apparently the reaction wasn't what it was hoped to be--in any case, for whatever reason, MMP lost interest in the concept and the notion languished for years, with many ASLers consequently assuming that it was a one-and-done notion.  However, in 2009, Chas Argent came to MMP to handle its ASL line and he began to revisit a number of stalled or aborted ASL projects, including Out of the Attic.  As a result, in 2010, after a wait of seven years, the second issue of Out of the Attic debuted.  OotA2 is a 48-page magazine with 16 scenarios. 

It's nice to see a second issue of OotA, and newer ASLers in particular will appreciate its contents.  To the extent that OatA2 has a weakness, it is probably in the article content.  This is not to say that the article content itself is all bad.  Actually, most of it is good, especially Tate Rogers' "What Do You Do When You Don't Have a Can Opener?" and Bruce Bakken's "Panzer Gegen Panzer."  The only bad nut in the bag is a collection of three Jon Mishcon "Squad Leader Clinic" columns from The General; they highlight mostly just how bad Mishcon was in writing about ASL (especially if one considered that these columns were ostensibly his best).  With chestnuts of advice like "We never use AAMGs unless there is a Hero riding the tank" and "always use more than one SMC when possible [when engaging in CC vs. an AFV]," it doesn't take long to determine that his columns are worthless.

However, all of the articles are drawn from official ASL sources, not obscure third party sources, and veteran ASLers are likely to already have all of them in their original form (nor are issues of The General or the ASL Annual really that hard to find for clever newbies).  So the articles are not exactly exciting.  Still, it is worth noting that there is an incredible paucity of good writing about ASL within the ASL community and most of the best ASL writers write for "official" ASL publications, so even if MMP had looked further afield for article content, it would have had difficulties filling the pages of the magazine with strong content.  What this strongly suggests is that Out of the Attic might work better as a scenario pack than a magazine; one hopes that MMP at least considers this in the future.

There's a much nicer situation with the scenarios of OotA2, for newbies and veterans alike, and editor Chas Argent did some good work in scenario selection, particularly because of the decision to not simply look to old third party scenarios for republication possibilities, but also to look at some of the scenarios floating around in the ASL world that were created originally for play at tournaments but which did not see subsequent print publication.  Even the four third party scenarios which are reprinted in OotA2 have an association with a tournament.

For example, OA17 (Panzers Forward!) and OA18 (Parry and Strike) are reprints from a very limited edition scenario pack created by Canadian ASLer George Kelln.  This pack, the Panzer Aces pack, was only given away as a prize at tournaments and was never put out for sale.  As a result, most people who have copies of the scenarios have them only through photocopies obtained by pleading and arm-twisting someone who legitimately won a copy.  The two scenarios reprinted here are probably the most popular scenarios from the pack.  The other third party reprints are somewhat more available but still not easy to find.  OA24 (Buying Time) and OA25 (Side by Side) come from the ASLOK 'XX' 20th Anniversary Scenario Pack, a scenario pack put together by Rich Jenulis to commemorate the ASL community's largest tournament. 

Scenarios OA28 (Where Iron Crosses Grow), OA29 (The Amy B), OA30 (Raider Ridge), OA31 (With Friends Like These), and OA32 (The Riley Shuffle) were scenarios originally designed for the 1997 Southern Cross ASL tournament in eastern Tennessee.  Two more scenarios, OA26 (Vogt's Ritterkreuz) and OA27 (Long Range Recon), were originally designed for the 2001 Gun Duel tournament.  What these scenarios all share, incidentally, is that they were first made available to a wider audience on the Desperation Morale Web site, though this fact is nowhere mentioned in the magazine. 

Scenarios OA22 (After the Disaster) and OA23 (A Midnight Clear) were originally designed for mini-tournaments at ASLOK.  Scenarios OA19 (The Queen's Prequel), OA20 (The Revenge of the Greys), and OA21 (Gunter Strikes Back) were originally created for an Australian tournament in 2006.

Most of the scenarios include some changes from their original design, as well as additional playtesting and development; the result is a mix of scenarios that will have something for almost every ASLer, newbie to veteran.  It's hard not to appreciate this set of scenarios.

Because so many of them were designed for tournaments, the scenarios skew smallish in this product.  Indeed, many of the scenarios are not simply small but very small, smaller even that a typical tournament scenario.  Only 2 of the 16 scenarios are large and another 2 medium-sized.  The remaining 12 scenarios range from small to very small.  This is a mix that will be disappointing for people who appreciate meatier actions.

Situation wise, there is a decent mix of nationalities and geographic areas, with the exception that the PTO is almost virtually ignored (only 1 scenario features the Japanese).  The mix includes Low Countries/France 1940 (three scenarios), Soviet Union 1943-44 (two scenarios), Italy 1943 (three scenarios), Poland 1944, Belgium 1944, North Africa 1942 (three scenarios), Germany 1945 (two scenarios, and New Georgia Island 1943.

One scenario uses Night Rules, one scenario has Air Support, one scenario has OBA.  Most of the scenarios have few SSRs and it will be easy to get in and start playing them quickly.  Three of the scenarios (OA19, 20, 21) are loosely linked and take place on the same map configuration.  Because they are so small, players could easily play all three in a row in a single playing session, with the person who ends up best of three being the overall winner.  That way, two players could have a mini-tournament all on their own.  For some, that might be the only feasible way to play them, as they will fall below the "minimum size" barrier that some ASL players have in their minds.

One of the nicer scenarios in the magazine is George Kelln's OA17 (Panzers Forward!), a small France 1940 combined arms action which, at its core, pits a half-dozen German Czech-made tanks against two Char B1-bis (each side also has one or two AT guns with which to liven things up a bit).  

Kelln's other scenario, OA18 (Parry and Strike), will appeal to people who like late war "heavy metal" armor action.  It features a German attack on a Soviet-controlled hill (on the dreaded board 47).  The Germans have 10 elite squads, plus 4 sleek new Panthers, fresh off the assembly line.  The Soviets have 7 first line squads, a 76mm artillery piece, and 3 IS-2s and 7 T-34 M43s arriving as reinforcements.   Heavy metal fans will also like Pete Shelling's OA22 (After the Disaster), which has an "everything but the kitchen sink" OB.  Set almost at the same time as the Kelln scenario, it features a large German combined arms attack on a Soviet entrenched position.  The Germans have King Tigers and Panthers, as well as StuGs and halftracks, led by a 9-2 leader.  The Soviets have their own 9-2 leader, as well as two 122mm artillery pieces and 4 IS-2s (with an armored leader). 

The Soviets get their own chance to attack in the magazine's other meaty scenario, John Skillman's OA28 (Where Iron Crosses Grow).   This scenario takes place on Board 4 (only) and the Soviet victory conditions are simple: control all buildings.  To accomplish this task, they have 5 6-2-8 squads (plus 3 more as reinforcements) and 15 4-4-7 squads, with plenty of machine-guns and a 10-2 leader.  For armor support, they have 6 T34-85s and 3 T34 M43s.  The defending Germans have to make do with "only" a 9-2 leader, but they have 5 other leaders and an armor leader to help out, as well as 13 squads (of 4 different types), a half dozen machine-guns, 2 Mk IVs, a 75mm AT gun, and their real strength:  a host of fortifications, including 12 Minefield factors, 4 Trenches, 5 foxholes, and 7 Wire counters.  However, they suffer from ammo shortage.

Overall, Out of the Attic 2 delivers a nice play value for a reasonable price (just slightly over a dollar per scenario; at that cost, the articles are gravy).  Though many of the scenarios are quite small, it still delivers a couple of hefty scenarios, too--and almost all of the scenarios are straightforward "get you right into the action" scenarios.  It is worth getting.

 

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Title:  Operations
Publisher/Date: MMP (1991-2008 ) Product Type: Magazine (published irregularly)
Contents:  ASL contents include the occasional article or scenario for the ASL Starter Kit.
Commentary:   Operations was the long-running house magazine of wargaming company The Gamers.  After MMP absorbed The Gamers in 2002, it gradually converted Operations into a house magazine for all of its games--with one noticeable exception. 

Inexplicably, MMP initially decided it would not include any ASL in Operations, even though they were assured additional subscribers if they included even an occasional ASL scenario.  Starting in 2005, with the advent of the ASL Starter Kit, MMP began including occasional articles and scenarios on the ASL Starter Kit in Operations--but still no regular ASL content.  In 2008, MMP announced that it would end its prohibition on ASL-related content in Operations Magazine.  The first issue to contain full ASL content was the first Operations Special Issue.

When it was published by The Gamers, Operations came out regularly.  Once publication was assumed by MMP, its publication schedule became very irregular.  In 2008 MMP stated that its plan was to produce two issues of Operations a year plus a Special Issue.  It ended up producing Special Issues, but never succeeded in producing a regular issue again, allowing Operations to flicker out after many years in existence.  In 2011, MMP decided to combine Operations and Operations Special Issues into a new twice-yearly magazine dubbed, confusingly, Special Ops. 

#46 Fall 2004  S7 Prelude to Festung Brest
#47 Spring 2005  S8 Ad Hoc at Chef-du-pont
#48 Winter 2005  S17 A Ridge Too Far
#49 Winter 2006  S18 Baking Bread
#50 Spring 2007  S19 Purple Heart Lane
#51 Summer 2007  S28 Out of Luck
#52 Fall 2007  S29 No Monumental Acclaim
#53 Fall 2008 S32 Göring's Men
   

Information on Special Issues of Operations Magazine is HERE.

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Title:  Operations Magazine Special Issues
Publisher/Date: MMP (2008-2010) Product Type: Magazine (published yearly)
Contents:  ASL contents include the occasional article, as well as possible scenarios for ASL and/or the ASL Starter Kit, plus "special" items such as mini-HASLs
Commentary:   Operations Magazine had been the long running house magazine for The Gamers, and after it was acquired by MMP, became that company's house magazine, though dominated by Gamers content for some time.

In 2008, MMP announced that it would soon debut the first planned annual "Special Issue" of Operations, which would not only be larger than regular issues, but would also contain many extras, such as self-contained games as well as expansions, countersheets and other goodies for previously published products--including, for the first in Operations' history, ASL.

It soon became obvious that the original Operations magazine was now, at best, an afterthought; it never saw any further issues.  From 2008-2010, the yearly Operations Magazine Special Issue was the closest MMP had to a house magazine.  In 2011 MMP announced the demise of Operations, both in its normal and Special variations, in favor of a new house magazine, planned to be released twice-yearly, called (confusingly) Special Ops

Operations Special Issue #1

The first "Special Issue" of Operations debuted at the World Boardgaming Championships convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in August 2008.  Prior to its release, it was a somewhat controversial product because MMP announced that due to a peculiar agreement with the designer of the included (non-ASL) mini-game, MMP would print only an unspecified but limited print run described by MMP only as "more than an average Gamers print run."  As normal Gamers print runs are typically several thousand games less than the average ASL print run, this immediately raised concern among many ASLers that copies of it would disappear quickly and some ASLers might be unable to obtain a copy, or be forced to pay a high price on E-bay or elsewhere.  MMP further announced that they would not take pre-orders for the Special Issue but would sell them in person at WBC and subsequently on their website, setting up the prospect of a "run" on copies of the game.  Because of speculation of such a "run," MMP later announced that it would at first limit purchasers to one copy apiece.

The major ASL-related item in Special Issue #1 is the Singling mini-HASL, designed by Chas Argent, MMP's newest ASL wunderkind, which follows in the footsteps of similar endeavors such as Nphum Ga, Kakazu Ridge, and Primosole Bridge.  However, despite its familiar-looking Chapter Z pages, Singling is strikingly unfamiliar in one area, because it features a map by Nicholas Eskubi which deliberately departs from the "traditional" official ASL map artwork conventions (which date from the 1970s) to use some of the more recent techniques and advances in computer graphics. 

This is worth discussing in greater detail, as this is the first time that MMP has embarked upon such an "experiment."  Their rationale was that, because their map components need not be compatible with those of other HASLs or other ASL products, a unique graphic look could be used for Singling.  This is certainly true enough and one hopes that this will occur with future HASLs as well.

The Singling map itself has both strengths and weaknesses.  It is well drawn throughout, with a careful attention to detail (Eskubi is a good artist).  Ironically, tiny details like the wheel ruts in the dirt roads actually are reminiscent of some of the unique details that appeared in the original hand-painted Squad Leader maps (such as sidewalks, etc.), which were dropped from later geomorphic maps.  Unfortunately, the map does not have enough such details; there are no front walks or paths or tiny bushes or backyard gardens or anything else.  Nor does the artwork necessarily take full advantage of its freedom from the constraints of "traditional" ASL artwork.  Since all of the buildings on the map are stone, for example, they could have been drawn more like the actual buildings of Singling, many of which had red roofs; this would have been a nice (and more colorful) detail.

Perhaps the biggest complaint that could be leveled at the map is its essentially monochromatic nature.  Though the palette was presumably chosen to help represent a European village in December, the all-brown nature of the map makes Singling seem more like a town on a wind-swept Tunisian mountain plateau than a French village.  With regard to the way individual terrain types are represented, the crest line hexes stand out as appearing artificial and unnaturalistic--in contrast to the way other terrain types are rendered on the map.

Despite these flaws, the Singling map is still attractive and is a good experiment.  Presumably future such maps can enhance the strengths and reduce the weaknesses.  It should also be noted that the map was printed on glossy paper, rather than matte.  Some gamers do not like the glossy paper because of the glare it can create under certain lighting conditions. 

The Singling campaign game and scenarios feature firefights between the U.S. 4th Armored Division and the German 11th Panzer Division around the village of Singling, France, on December 6, 1944.  Oddly, neither the magazine nor the ASL content explain any of this; the only information about the action appears in the 4 paragraphs of the two scenario cards. 

Singling comes with only two stand-alone scenarios, SG1 (Abrams' Charge) and SG2 (Fitzgerald's Fire).  The former uses the entire mapsheet and is a fairly large, armor heavy scenario; the latter is a very small scenario (4 squads and 3 AFVs against 8.5 squads and 2 AFVs) that uses a small portion of the map.  It looks like it would be very quick playing and is an easy way to try out the map.

The Singling Campaign Game (A Pleasant Diversion) is a small one, with 3 CG dates (Morning/Midday/Afternoon), the first one of which is actually scenario SG1.  With a limited number of units and a shortened "refit" phase, the campaign game should play very quickly and could probably be easily completed in a weekend.

Overall, the Singling materials look like a nice addition to the ASL oeuvre; kudos should go to Chas Argent.

An additional, "bonus" scenario is included, VotG18 (In Sight of the Volga), adapting an old Beyond Valor scenario, ASL 5 (In Sight of the Volga), to Valor of the Guards.  Accompanying this is a "primer" on Valor of the Guards written by ASL veteran Jim Torkelson, which has useful tips in it, although it adopts a faux contemporary German "staff briefing" style rather than just being a straightforward article.

In addition to the ASL scenarios, this issue also includes 2 (non-Singling) ASL Starter Kit scenarios, S30 (Ripples in the Pond) and S31 (Going to New York).  The issue also includes a relatively short scenario analysis for S30.

Contents:
  • 60 page magazine
  • 8 page rules insert (for non-ASL game on Iwo Jima), 2 pages ASL rules
  • 2 countersheets (no ASL counters)
  • 3 maps, 1 play aid (one map is ASL; see below)

ASL Contents:

  • 4 Chapter Z rules pages for Singling CG (Z59-Z62)
  • Singling HASL Map (22" x 25")
  • 2 ASL (Singling) Scenarios
  • 2 ASL Starter Kit Scenarios
  • 1 VotG Scenario
  • 1 ASL article (on VotG)
  • 1 ASLSK article (scenario analysis)
Operations Special Issue #2 ASL/ASLSK Content

Operations Special Issue #2 was a distinct disappointment, with no ASL content whatsoever.

ASLSK content included:

S33 Few and Far Between
S34 Twilight at Baerendorf

There is also a Scenario Replay of S33.

Operations Special Issue #3 ASL/ASLSK Content

Happily, the third Operations special issue returned to providing ASL content, in the form of a historical ASL map and a handful of scenarios that use it.

Interestingly, this Web site and its readers played a (small but interesting) role in the history of this ASL content, which dates all the way back to the turn of the century and Operation Watchtower.  When this project on Guadalcanal was originally designed, it included two maps, the Edson's Ridge map that appears in the final product and a second map, the Hell's Corner map, which depicts the coastal environs of the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal, where some sharp fighting took place during the period August-October 1942.  Though the HC map did not have a campaign game associated with it, it did have quite a few scenarios (around seven) designed for use with it. 

However, due primarily to miscommunications between designer and MMP, MMP only received four of the HC scenarios and decided that it was not worth the additional expense to include the second map for only a few scenarios and no campaign game.  Three of the scenarios eventually were converted into geomorphic map scenarios:  HS1 (First Matanikau), HS8 (Bailey's Demise), and HS11 (The Sand Spit).  The map itself went into MMP's "vaults" and became forgotten.  The ASL audience was unaware even of its existence.

Fast-forward some 6 years to early 2007.  The World of ASL compendium (i.e., what you are reading) was attracting a lot of attention in the ASL community, and, as a result, many people were coming forward to volunteer additional information about various ASL products.  This sort of information led to the rediscovery of the "lost" OWT countersheet and, thanks to designer Nadir El-Farra, the news of the existence of the Hell's Corner map.  In March 2007, Desperation Morale revealed this news to the ASL audience for the first time.  The Hell's Corner map immediately attracted attention and interest, with a number of people enthusiastically asking on the Consimworld Web forums that MMP publish it in some form, such as in an ASL Journal.  MMP's initial response was distinctly unenthusiastic.

Though the Hell's Corner revelations did not cause MMP to publish the map and accompanying scenarios at that time, they planted a seed in the ASL world and also revealed to MMP that ASLers really would be interested in the map.  After Chas Argent joined MMP to shepherd development of ASL products, the Hell's Corner map was finally revived, with an eye towards including it in one of Operation's special issues.  The revived Hell's Corner comes with five scenarios:  three of the original four received by MMP, plus two additional ones (apparently unrelated to the other original Hell's Corner draft scenarios that MMP never saw).

Thus the ASL/ASLSK content of Operations Special Issue #3 is:

  • Hell's Corner:  Battles along the Matanikau River, Guadalcanal, August -October 1942 Historical Map (approximately 21.5" x 32.5" in size).
  • One half page of SSRs (5 total) for all Hell's Corner scenarios
  • 5 Hell's Corner ASL scenarios:  HC1 (First Matanikau), HC2 (Bailey's Demise), HC3 (Samurai Sunset), HC4 (Whaling Good Time), HC5 (The Sand Spit)
  • ASL Article:  Dead Man's Curve:  Maneuvering Around Hell's Corners, by Chas Argent.  A two page article (it is continued on page 31) that serves as a refresher for some of the terrain that appears on the Hell's Corner map (ocean, beach, etc.).
  • ASLSK Article:  A Tale of Two Scenarios, by Kenn Dunn.  Players notes for the two included ASLSK scenarios.
  • ASLSK Scenarios:  S35 (The Volga is Reached!), S36 (Satisfaction and Confidence)

The Hell's Corner map is a very attractive and nicely done map (by Charlie Kibler), better looking than the map that appeared in Operation Watchtower.  It has one drawback and one potential drawback, though.  The drawback is that it is printed on glossy paper (though at least the paper seems somewhat sturdy), which is disliked by many ASLers both for glare and durability reasons.  The potential drawback is that the Hell's Corner map has unusually small hex sizes, slightly smaller than hexes on geomorphic maps (10 geomorphic map hexes are about 11 Hell's Corner map hexes).  In general, this is not likely to be a true problem in practice, because only one of the Hell's Corner scenarios has any guns or vehicles (which, as 5/8" counters, take up more space).  Thus for four of the scenarios it is not likely to have much of an impact at all.  The fifth scenario, though, HC5 (The Sand Spit), features 10 vehicles and 2 guns (in addition to 6 fortification/entrenchment counters), and it is possible that in this scenario players might feel a bit squeezed for space.

The 5 scenarios are a mix of small, medium and large scenarios.  Three of them take place, more or less, in the same area (the mouth of the Matanikau River), while the other two take place further out (leaving a good chunk of the map still unused).  Two scenarios use Night rules; one of these also has OBA. 

As mentioned, three of the scenarios previously appeared as geo-board scenarios in Operation Watchtower.  HC1 (First Matanikau) has essentially the same SSR (taking into account the map differences).  The VC are very slightly changed, and the OBs of both sides are changed (the Japanese get two extra squads, an extra LMG, and two additional concealment counters; the USMC get two extra squads, a leader demotion, and have some MMG undismantled).  HC2 (Bailey's Demise) has slightly changed VC and the OBs of both sides are changed (the Japanese have two squads promoted to elite, get their SAN raised from 3 to 4, and get some foxholes; the USMC get an extra 8-0 leader).  In addition, there are some noteworthy SSR changes.  In the new version, only American leaders are Stealthy (as opposed to all Americans), Kindling is allowed, Boresighting is allowed, and the Japanese may use the bridge on Turn 1.   HC5 (The Sand Spit) essentially keeps its predecessor's VC, and also maintains the earlier Japanese OB.  However, the USMC OB is reduced by a half squad, by a halving of its minefield factors, and by a reduction of Wire counters from 5 to 3.  An SSR change, though, bumps the Marines' Majority Squad Type from Normal to Stealthy. 

Of the two included ASLSK scenarios, one of them is noteworthy as an attempt to bring Valor of the Guards to ASLSK.  This large, meaty scenario (and very counter dense considering it takes place on one half-mapboad), designed by VotG designer Tom Morin, may be the most complex ASLSK scenario released to date.    It features 17 German squads, 2 AFVs, and tons of leaders and SW attacking 20 Soviet squads, with one gun, two AFVs, and its own array of leaders and weapons.  SSRs attempt to simulate Soviet NKVD roops, rubble, shellholes, dug-in AFVs, commissars, snipers, and Stukas!

Overall, the ASL/ASLSK content of the magazine seems quite good and certainly an improvement over the previous issue.

 

 

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Operations Special Issue #3

 

   

 

 

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Title:  Blood Reef: Tarawa Gamers  Guide
Publisher/Date: MMP (2010 ) Product Type: Magazine
Contents:  Articles
Commentary:   The Blood Reef: Tarawa Gamers Guide (BRTGG) is one of the more unusual ASL products around, essentially a loving valentine to a niche ASL item.  It was developed by a group of Blood Reef: Tarawa fans, mostly from the northeast (Tom Lavan, Paul Sidhu, Jim Torkelson, Oliver Giancola, and Carl  Nogueira), who wanted to make the game more accessible and enjoyable to other ASL players.  As they put it, "BRT is a rarely played gem that deserves a much better fate than being an out of print niche product.   It is our hope and belief that the resources presented here will allow more players to give the scenarios and CGs a try."

Why would BRT amass a group of followers so dedicated to the game that they would want to put together a Gamers Guide?  After all, even the far more popular Red Barricades was never honored in this way.  There are several reasons why BRT, even if it may not be for everybody, can definitely create an intense loyalty in some people.  First, it is one of the only official HASLs that features the Japanese (its only real competition is Operation Watchtower, though there is Kakazu Ridge).  Second, it features the U.S. Marine Corps, a subject of interest to some people.  Third, it is almost the only full-sized official HASL to actually feature island fighting in the central Pacific (the only conceivable alternatives are the Kakazu Ridge mini-HASL that appeared in ASL Journal #2 or the Gavatu-Tanambogo mini-HASL of ASL Annual '93b).   Fourth, it is the only amphibious action available as a full-sized official HASL, which is no small matter to ASLers who want to hit the beaches.   Finally, but hardly least in importance, it is the only HASL, period, that features an entire military campaign, soup to nuts.  Players actually invade or defend the entire island--not some small segment of a front line or some small section of Stalingrad.   They control the entire battle--an incredibly rare experience for a tactical wargame like ASL.  Put all these things together and it is perhaps no wonder that BRT would amass a group of fans dedicated enough to put together a guide for their fellow gamers.

Of course, creating a guide is one thing.  Getting it published is quite another.  The BRTGG team submitted their guide to MMP sometime in late 2005.  In January 2006, MMP announced its likely appearance in print later that year.  In reality, though, the manuscript presented MMP with a bit of a quandary.  With impeccable timing, the BRTGG arrived just as the last 200 copies of BRT were in the process of being sold.  The game itself was out of print by early fall 2006, ne'er to be reprinted.  One could easily ask what the point would be of printing a guide  to an out of print game?  All it would do would be to drive up the price of  used copies on E-bay.  On the other hand, the manuscript seemed like a "quick and easy" finish and would deliver a product in what had essentially been an ASL drought. 

In spring 2006, MMP announced that BRTGG was up for pre-order.  The price was sweet:  $16 list price, only $12 for a pre-order.  The number of pre-orders required before the item would be printed, however, was not so sweet:  it required 1,000 pre-orders, quite a high number for MMP at the time.  Was MMP hedging bets?  It certainly was.  "We have plenty of doubts as to the viability of this as a product," MMP honcho Brian Youse admitted in April 2006.   As a result, though ASL products listed for pre-orders usually make their required minimum number of pre-orders in a matter of weeks (sometimes less), the high pre-order requirement combined with the niche nature of the product itself meant that it took a year (May 2007) before BRTGG made its pre-order number.

Even then, MMP was not exactly itching to get the product out the door (especially with that low price) and it became one of several ASL items at that time languishing in pre-printing purgatory.  Reportedly, rules interpretations issues that appeared during the editing process also caused delays.  In any case, it took over three years from the time it made its preorder number for the magazine to actually appear in print in June 2010.  In all likelihood, its creators never thought the odyssey would be so long. 

At 68 pages in length, the magazine has a lot of content.  Most of it can be divided into two broad categories:  1) helping people learn BRT, and 2) the tactics and strategies of BRT, especially the big campaign game, CG III.  

One article designed to ease people into BRT is Tom Lavan's "Learning the Ropes:  A BRT Rules Method," which attempts to provide a sort of programmed instruction curricula using the different BRT scenarios to introduce certain rules with each scenario.  The idea is for would-be players to read limited sections of the rules, then play a BRT scenario that uses them, and builds on previous scenarios.  It is not clear, though, that a substantial number of people would actually attempt this method.  Perhaps more useful is that the article also lays out the specific Chapter E/F/G/H/T rules sections that players will need to familiarize themselves with in order to play the Campaign Games.   The article also helpfully explains how particular ASL concepts (hindrances, immobilization, bog, etc.) work with regard to the BRT-specific terrain and rules. 

Also quite useful for people attempting the BRT CG experience is an illustrated example of play composed by Jim Torkelson that takes a section of the initial CG scenario for CG III and takes them through an entire USMC turn (this includes LVTs).   Every bit of the turn is described, so it is a very useful example of play (though more illustrations might have made it even more helpful). 

For ASLers who do not need to be taught the ropes, BRTGG offers more advanced fare, centering around the largest campaign game, CG III (the holy grail for BRT fans).  In one of the longest and meatiest articles in the entire magazine, "Heavier than a Mountain," Jim Torkelson provides an analysis of the campaign game from the Japanese perspective, in particular analyzing each potential landing area, as well as troops and weaponry.  Paul Sidhu's "Prepare to Disembark" looks at USMC strategy for the same campaign game, though in far less detail.  Carl Nogueira takes up the cudgel, to a certain extent, with "A Day at the Beach," which is basically a detailed AAR of a CG III day one campaign date from the USMC perspective.

Narrowly focused articles include Paul Sidhu's "Sticks and Stones," which examines naval bombardments (from a tactical rather than pedagogical perspective, though it does include an example); Oliver Giancola's "Sandy Breaches?", which looks at the tactical puzzles that seawalls pose for the USMC; and Jim Torkelson's "USMC Tank Tactics," the nature of which is probably self-explanatory.  In a separate article, Jim also provides advice on LVTs.

Oddly, the first two CG in BRT are ignored by the magazine, as are most of the scenarios.  One exception, though, is BRT4 (Rikusentai), to which an article by Tom Lavan, "Building a Porcupine:  Constructing a Japanese defense for BRT4 Rikusentai," is dedicated.  The magazine also includes a couple of (thankfully brief) historical items, and additional play aids and charts.  Lastly, it includes a BRT-dedicated set of official Q&A rules clarifications. 

The magazine is in full-color, including illustrations, though several of the articles would have benefited from additional illustrations.  A more serious issue, perhaps, is the physical nature of the magazine, which was printed on light glossy paper, even the cover.  As a result, the magazine itself is somewhat fragile, and the cover itself provides no protection to the magazine.  Even the dampness of a slightly sweaty hand can cause the ink to smear.  As a result, owners will have to take care to protect this magazine from wear and tear and will probably want to purchase some sort of plastic holder for it.  This is rather unfortunate, in that this magazine, by its very nature, is likely to get more use than a typical magazine.  It would be referred to often and perhaps even kept by the gaming table during sessions.  A sturdier construction would have been very welcome (ASL Journals, for example, tend to hold up well to wear and tear).   More broadly, the magazine is an example of MMP's growing use of glossy paper, which is something that at least some ASLers definitely don't care for. 

With its low price and intellectually weighty contents, obtaining the BRTGG should be a no-brainer for all owners of BRT.  It adds considerable value to that product and, if BRT has been languishing on the shelf, ought to make people think about giving it another go.  This is a labor of love and it is nice that MMP was able to find a place for it. 

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Title:  Special Ops
Publisher/Date: MMP (2011-  ) Product Type: Magazine (published 2 times a year)
Contents:  ASL contents include the occasional article, scenario or "goodie" for ASL and/or ASL Starter Kit.
Commentary:   Special Ops is the confusingly named successor to MMP's former house magazines Operations and Operations Special Issues, which ended in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  The new Special Ops basically resembles a slightly down-sized Operations Special Issue.  MMP announced its plan to make them twice-yearly, but in wargaming,  most such plans tend to falter.  Its content typically includes a small wargame or mini-game, articles about various MMP games, and perhaps some ASL content.

 

Issue ASL/ASLSK Contents
#1 (Summer 2011) The inaugural issue of Special Ops included two ASL scenarios, two ASLSK scenarios, an "ASLSK Corner" column, and an article on the Singling mini-CG.  In associational content, it includes a non-ASL mini-game on Stalingrad, Savage Streets, designed by Tom Morin (designer of Valor of the Guards) that uses the Valor of the Guards map artwork, miniaturized, as the basis for its map.
 
O1 Go Big or Go Home.  France 1940, French vs. Germans.
O2 Breaking the Ishun Line.  Soviet Union 1941.  Soviets vs. Germans.
S37 Breaking the Panzers.  France 1944.  British vs. Germans.
S38 Raiders along the Wall.  Germany 1944.  Americans vs. Germans.

 

#2 (Winter 2012) Issue #2 of Special Ops includes an ASLSK Sequence of Play (which ASLSK players will probably appreciate very much), two ASL scenarios (03, O4), and two ASLSK scenarios (S39, S40)

Special Ops #2 also includes a rare treat for SASL players:  Soldiers of Orange (SO), a Netherlands 1940 SASL campaign designed by David Meyler and Stephen Jackson.  SO contains four Initial Missions:  Hold the Line, Scouring the Polders, Streets of Rotterdam, and Burning Bridges.   The novel aspect of the campaign is that a campaign uses only one of these initial missions.  Following that mission, which in the campaign will represent the 1940 campaign, the player must then select one of four future paths to follow (each of which has its own missions):  the player can "join the resistance," "become a Marine commando," "flee to Great Britain and end up on the Western Front," or defect to the Nazis and fight with the Waffen SS.   Each mission (24 total) is a variation on one of the existing SASL missions.  SO provides a wealth of SASL play value.

 

O3  A Frosty Morning.  Tunisia 1942, British vs. Italians/Germans.
O4  Ain't Running Away.  France 1944, Americans vs. Waffen SS.
S39  Use Your Tanks and Shove.  Tunisia 1943, Americans vs. Germans.
S40  Island Retreat.  Italy 1944, Americans vs. Germans.


 

#3 (Summer 2012) Issue #3 of Special Ops includes a preview of the ASLSK HASL on Elst, an article on ASL etiquette by Dave Ramsey, and two much-needed play-aids on halftracks.  These play aids are incredibly useful because they finally make clear the removable MGs (and who can remove them) for all of the American and German halftracks (a subject on which the rulebook is quite confusing).  There is also an article on halftracks by John Slotwinski and Phil Palmer.

It also includes the more or less standard two ASL scenarios (O5, O6), and two ASLSK scenarios (S52 and S53).

O5  The Tsar's Infernal Machines.  Russia 1914, Russians vs. Germans.  
O6  Third Time's the Charm.  Soviet Union 1942, Soviets vs. Germans.
S52  Extraordinary Bravery.  Poland, 1939, Poles vs. Germans.
S53  Workers Unite!  Soviet Union 1941, Soviets vs. Germans.

Also included are 14 1/2" counters and 10 5/8" counters.   The 1/2" counters, and 2 of the 5/8" counters, are existing ASL counters that did not previously exist in the ASLSK countersets (and are used for one of the ASLSK scenarios).  The other 5/8" counters are armored car counters for scenario 05.

That scenario, O5 (The Tsar's Infernal Machines), warrants a bit more discussion, as it has the potential to be controversial.  This is because O5 is not a World War II scenario; it is set 25 years before World War II even began.  O5 is set in 1914, in the first year of the First World War.  It thus comes from an era in which fighting tactics were totally different from the tactics used in the World War II era.  For most nationalities for most of World War I, the squad was not even the basic tactical unit employed.  Instead, it was the company or platoon (depending on nationality and year).  ASL was most definitely NOT designed to represent World War I era tactics.

Over the 25+ years of ASL, a few third party designers have released the odd ASL scenario set in or around World War I.  By their very nature, they were extremely ahistorical.  But for that quarter century, no official ASL scenario had ever tried to transgress the "tactical barricade" between the two eras.  Until now.  Moreover, the scenario was not even an outside submission, but rather was designed by two key MMP figures:  Brian Youse and Ken Dunn. 

Needless to say, the scenario resembles World War I not at all.  They did not even mandate a form of platoon movement for the infantry; instead, they gave infantry the ability to do optional banzai charges--in other words, giving them more tactical flexibility rather than less!

This was an unfortunate decision, representing a lapse in MMP's otherwise solid stewardship of ASL.  It is one thing for some person out there in Lalaland to design a World War I scenario using the ASL rules (or, for that matter, a Hundred Years War scenario using ASL rules).  It is quite another for the stewards of ASL themselves to so casually break the bounds of the World War II era and force ASL into the World War I era.   What is next, a Gulf War ASL scenario?

 

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