Advancing Fire (2020)
Country of Origin:
32" x 23" historical map, two 31" x 27" historical maps, one 13" x 10" operational map, 2 pages charts, 24 rules pages, 48 campaign game pages, 6 overlays, 7 scenarios, 3 campaign games, 290 diecut 1/2" and 5/8" counters
Brevity Assault is an unusual and ambitious ASL historical module released in 2020 as one of the two inaugural efforts (along with Biazza Ridge) of new Italian third party publisher Advancing Fire.
It is also the first product in the history of ASL, official or unofficial, to link tactical-level ASL actions with an operational-level subsystem (for some time, publisher Heat of Battle worked on a very different card-based operational-level subsystem it dubbed Kampfgruppen Commander, but nothing ever came of it). For that alone, Brevity Assault stands among the most innovative products in ASL (admittedly, truly innovative developments in ASL are far and few between).
Brevity Assault (hereinafter just Brevity) portrays a May 1941 desert action along the Libyan-Egyptian border, depicting Operation Brevity, a small-scale British counterattack against an equally small German covering position. The British were still recovering from the strong losses inflicted upon them by Rommel’s unexpected Italo-German offensive in February 1941, which had chased them out of Libya–except for their garrison at Tobruk. The Germans, on the other hand, at the end of a long and tenuous supply line, still retained most of their forces back at Tobruk and had only pushed a small force east to the Egyptian border. In a sense, then, Operation Brevity was a battle between two sides stretched to their very limits.
Brevity can be played in two ways. First, any of its seven scenarios can be played as regular ASL scenarios. Two of these scenarios use ASL desert geoboards; the other five scenarios use the various historical maps included with Brevity.
Alternatively, players can instead choose to play one of three provided campaign games. These campaign games are not “grand tactical” campaign games, like Red Barricades/Red Factories, nor are they linked campaign games like the one found in Corregidor. In Brevity, players maneuver “operational” forces on a special point-to-point campaign map, which generates scenarios if players come into contact with each other. There is thus a “game within a game” element in Brevity.
Operational forces are basically platoons and companies (thus really simply a higher tactical level, not a true operational level, but that doesn’t really matter), represented by special operational level counters for both sides. They have a “moving” mode or a “setup” mode, as well as a morale level equal to their nationality’s best unbroken elite infantry MMC. They use these to take Operational Task Checks to perform certain tasks. Unlike units in other wargames, they have no combat factors or other abilities–players keep track of the actual ASL-scale contents of each operational unit they control. These ASL components can be reduced through combat–and if they suffer enough casualties, the operational unit they belong to may itself be marked with a Reduced counter, which puts it in danger of possible elimination at the end of a scenario.
The operational map–essentially a regular sized piece of paper–contains 19 different locations, each linked to certain other locations. There are one or more “secondary locations” that exist between any two linked locations. There are also six “staging areas” from which forces may enter the operation map locations.
Brevity divides the battle into up to 18 Operational Game Turns, each representing about an hour and a half of battle. During a game turn, players may (subject to certain rules) change the Mode of a unit (Moving to Setup or vice versa), move a unit or stack of up to four units, use Air Support, or Refuel a unit. Essentially a unit only gets to do one of these and only once. Units, based on their type, have Operation Movement Points that allow them to move on the map. Under certain circumstances they can enter enemy-occupied areas and, under more circumstances, possibly engage in combat. Because many units can be cloaked, players may not necessarily know the nature of the enemy they are approaching until they are in the mix with it.
When opposing forces are present, generally combat will take place. However, multiple combats may occur in a turn but only one will actually generate a scenario; the others are resolved with Alternative Combat Resolution (your humble author thinks this is how it is done, but the language may possibly read that all combats are scenarios unless both players agree to alternative resolution). Combats that take place in a main location will be fought out on the relevant historical map; for the others, there is a procedure to determine victory and casualties. Units meeting in a secondary location fight on a randomly generated three-geoboard area. Combats can result in the withdrawal of one side or another, or a sort of operational level “melee” that keeps combat going for the future. At the end of each day of battle, there are various refit-like chores for each side to do.
It is extremely difficult to evaluate this system based just on reading the rules, because the devil is in the details, and there are a lot of details here. The coronavirus rendered playing any campaign games impossible (although even if the virus had not appeared on the scene, your humble author might not have had the substantial time available for such a campaign that Brevity seems to require).
So, to be explicit, Desperation Morale is not at this time making any pronouncements as to whether the operational system in Brevity is good or bad or somewhere in-between. In general, it is difficult to get a system like this correct the first time around, because of all the different variables that can come into play. Thus your humble author suspects players may encounter ambiguities or errors when attempting it. But Desperation Morale will have to wait until people have had a chance to really shake this system out to know how well put together Brevity’s operational system truly is. Even if it were to have problems that required later fixing, that is not necessarily a bad thing, simply because it often takes this sort of thing time to get it right. If Advancing Fire does get it right, either right out of the gate or after some fixes, ASLers will have a whole new way to play ASL and other designers will probably come up with similar products of their own.
Having discussed the operational system, let’s look a little bit more closely at Brevity in general.
Not surprisingly, it take a lot of ink to come up with both HASL and Operational Rules for Brevity. The Brevity rules are themselves 24 pages long, almost all of which are dedicated to the operational system. The rest are a few unit and terrain rules, basically, quite easy to master. There are also a couple of (quite minor) optional rules about MG and Gun malfunctions and a small number of Chapter H-type notes.
Brevity includes about the same number of pages of charts and materials for the campaign games, most of which detail the contents of operational level units and their locations. For example, the 7th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Italian 62nd Infantry Regiment consists (at the beginning) of 3 x 4-4-7 squads, 7 x 3-4-6 squads, 2 x 2-2-7 crews, an 8-1, 2 x 7-0, 2 x MMG, 3 x LMG, 1 x ATR, 3 x 45mm MTR, and 2 x 81mm MTR.
There are also sheets detailing geoboard configurations for all main operational locations that are not attached to a historical map. For example, “Gabr el Chadem,” one of the locations on the map, uses geoboards 29, 30, and 31, along with various overlays, roads, and tracks.
All of these rules, charts, etc., are in color, which is nice, but all are printed on very thin looseleaf paper, which is not so nice, being fairly fragile and in need of protection. Even the so-called “chapter divider” is not printed on cardstock but just on paper.
The same is true for the seven included scenarios: they are printed in color, but on thin paper rather than on cardstock. This is a shame. As mentioned above, two scenarios use geoboards while the others use the various historical maps included. Most scenarios take up two pages. The scenarios include:
- BA1 (Good Morning at Halfaya). Halfaya South map. 7.5. turns. British (attacking) vs. Germans & Italians. Large. British have the vehicles, Axis have the guns (which is perhaps what one would expect for a Halfaya Pass scenario).
- BA2 (Capuzzo). Geoboards. 8 turns. British (attacking) vs. Germans & Italians. Large. Italians have a lot of artillery, Germans have a large armored counterattack.
- BA3 (Halfaya to the Sea). Halfaya North map. 7 turns. British (attacking) vs. Italians. Large.
- BA4 (The Taking of Sallum [sic]). Sollum map. 8 turns. British (attacking) vs. Italians. Medium.
- BA5 (The Tail of the Scorpion). Halfaya South map. 8 turns. British vs. Germans (attacking). Medium. OBA.
- BA6 (Pastor’s Surprise). Halfaya South map. 9.5 turns. British (attacking) vs. Germans & Italians. Large. OBA. Not really a monster-sized scenario, this scenario is still the largest and meatiest offering.
- BA7 (Hafid Ridge Ride). Geoboards. 8 turns. British (attacking) vs. Germans. Large. British force is all AFV (25 tanks!).
Brevity also comes with die-cut counters, both 5/8″ and 1/2″. The counters for Advancing Fire’s first two ASL products have been a little controversial. Some ASLers do not like them. First, the counters are glossy, which some ASLers simply don’t like, presumably because official ASL counters are not glossy. Second, the diecutting is not normal compared to most ASL counters, whether official or unofficial. Such counters have clear imprints on them that make it obvious what side of the counter is “front” and what side is “back.” The Brevity counters have ambiguous imprints that don’t clearly indicate a front or back, but can give the impression that the fronts of the counters were printed on the wrong side. This is actually of practical limited effect, as most of the Brevity counters are for the Operational Game and thus do not mix with “standard” ASL counters, but Advancing Fire has suggested they will reprint the counters in the future.
The “regular” ASL counters include 4 x 4-4-7 British “pioneer” squads with ‘4’ smoke exponents and 3 oddly-colored 4-6-8 squads with ‘4’ smoke exponents and 3 x 2-4-8 HS, as well as 17 oddly-colored vehicles and guns. These oddly-colored counters appear to be German but it is not clear why they have a greenish hue. This may be a printing error, as they don’t appear that way on the rules pages. There are also 10 Italian leader counters. In addition, there are 10 oddly-colored 2-7 and 3-10 MMG counters dubbed Brens and 14 similarly-colored guns and truck-mounted guns. These appear to be Italian guns in Australian service, but it is not clear why they don’t have a British hue.
The counters don’t actually seem bad–ASLers have certainly seen worse third-party counters–but some ASLers are very particular about their counters.
Other ASLers are particular about their maps, which takes us to the “good news/bad news” portion of this write-up. The good news is that Brevity comes with not one but three historical maps and they happen to be attractive as well. The bad news is that the maps are printed on extremely thin (and folded) paper that render them too delicate for ASL use. They need to be treated with kid gloves, handled gingerly (because even folding or unfolding them can risk a tear) and only used under plexiglass or some similar form of protection. Unfortunately, the physical quality of the maps is just not up to normal production standards for ASL products–even third party products. The explanation given for the poor paper quality is that Advancing Fire was told that thicker paper could not be folded by the printing company they used. Whatever the reason, the result is definitely a problem.
This could be more palatable if the maps themselves were bad but actually the artwork on them is quite good and the maps are better than those in Advancing Fire’s sister product released at the same time, Biazza Ridge, primarily because the darker colors in that other product make some of the maps a bit hard to read, while most of the terrain in the Brevity maps is lighter colored and easily distinguished.
The Sollum map depicts the seaside village of Sollum and the higher ground that surrounded it. One can almost smell the bracing salt air mixing with the date trees and camel dung. Except for the blue of the ocean, most of the map is a pleasing array of yellows and tans. Only the highest, darkest level is hard to read–because the hex numbers are printed black on dark brown, they are not easy to see at all. Advancing Fire printed slope depictions in white on these hexes; they should have done the same with hex numbers. The only other gripe is that some of the terrain levels have color shades not sufficiently distinguished from one another. The map is best played in a well-lit room. The hexes, unfortunately, are standard ASL geoboard-sized rather than the larger size used in many HASLs.
The second map is the Halfaya North map; it has the same yellows and browns as the Sollum map. The third map, the Halfaya South map, is played in several scenarios as well as in the campaign game. Unlike the North map, which mostly portrays the escarpment, the southern map portrays the level-ground approaches to Halfaya Pass and is mostly on the same level, which makes distinguishing between height levels mostly a non-issue.
The physical production issues of Brevity Assault–the thin rules pages and scenario pages, the odd counters, the way-too-thin maps–unfortunately detract from the novelties that the module has to offer. It is worth noting that not only does Brevity Assault contain three operational-level campaign games, which offers substantial play value, it is also (at the time of this writing) the ONLY desert-themed HASL not published by Critical Hit. That alone ought to make it noteworthy.
Brevity Assault offers players the unique experience of the operational campaign game (which hopefully is good!), substantial desert play (including non-awful Italian troops), multiple historical maps, and more. The desert theme may turn off some ASLers, as it is not nearly as popular as most other ASL theaters, but this product may also be the perfect excuse to learn the desert rules (especially as they are due to be reprinted, for the first time in decades, later in 2021).
One hopes that Advancing Fire will continue to put out ASL products, but perhaps also keep in mind what ASLers expect, in terms of physical quality and also ease of use (with regard to map graphics).