Le Franc Tireur (2019)
Country of Origin:
2 historical maps each composed of two 23" x 32" mapsheets, 1 die-cut countersheet with 130 1/2" counters and 80 5/8" counters (for 210 counters total), 21 scenarios on cardstock, 2 campaign games, 3 rules booklets (with 28 pages, 36 pages, and 28 pages, respectively), 13 player aid sheets, 2 quick reference cards
The Fight for Seoul (FfS) is a Korean War historical module published by Le Franc Tireur and designed by Andrew Hershey. It is not the first Korean War ASL historical module–Critical Hit has published several–but it is the first to be published using the “official” Korea rules and components from MMP’s Forgotten War: Korea, 1950-1953 module.
FfS, crammed into a tiny, thin box, is arguably Le Franc Tireur’s most substantial (in terms of size and components) product to date and certainly on a par with LFT’s Kampfgruppe Scherer (designed by the same person). Of course, at around $135, it isn’t cheap, costing more than Forgotten War itself does (though it should be noted this module has to be imported from overseas, which adds a cost that domestically published ASL products don’t have).
The module actually consists of two separate but related modules, somewhat similar to the separate but related actions in Avalon Hill’s old Kampfgruppe Peiper modules. Each module–one is dubbed “Seoul” and the other is dubbed “Smith’s Ridge”–features fighting that took place in the vicinity of Seoul following the Inchon landing in September 1950. Smith’s Ridge depicts fighting in the hills outside of Seoul, while Seoul, of course, covers combat within the city itself. Taking place before the Chinese intervention, the module features only North Koreans, on the Communist side, and U.S. Marines on the United Nations side, with South Korean Marines making an occasional guest appearance. Given how over-covered the USMC already is in ASL, it is somewhat unfortunate that, of all the myriad units that fought in Korea, the first Korean War HASL using official rules would choose the single USMC unit in the entire theater to focus on. Those who consider the USMC overpowered in ASL may not be too keen on all the 7-6-8 squads roaming around this module. Of course, by the same token, USMC aficionados will no doubt be delighted.
The heart of any ASL historical module is its historical map–or, in this case, its two historical maps. Both appear to have been designed by Andrew Hershey and drawn by Tom Repetti, an ASL mapmaker of long standing. Each map is composed of two overlapping 23″ by 32″ mapsheets and is printed on thick matte paper. This is in contrast to the maps of Kampfgruppe Scherer, which were printed on thin, glossy paper that was a bit too delicate for ASL wear and tear. The paper here is more sturdy, while the colors, though they do not “pop” as much as map artwork printed on gloss or semi-gloss paper sometimes does, are still crisp and clear. The Seoul map artwork is a bit more drab than the Smith’s Ridge artwork, but this is basically a function of the terrain, as the Seoul map consists mostly of hill terrain, necessitating a great deal of brown. Both maps are quite large.
The Seoul map is a squarish map large enough that players will have a bit of an issue dealing with units in the center hexes (if both map halves are in play). It depicts the southern areas of Seoul (from whence the Marines enter) up through the city center to the north (where Marines must exit after fighting their way across the map). The terrain is bisected by two unnamed waterways (both of which run underground at times), by the major north-south highway, and by rail lines, but it is hills (often, but not always, building-covered) that are the major terrain feature of the Seoul map. Up to 5 levels in height, they provide five “peaks” in the southern section of the map and two more on the less hilly northern half of the map.
Most of the terrain on the Seoul map is festooned with buildings–typically hexes full of small wooden buildings, with stone buildings making occasional appearances among them. The buildings on the southern half of the map are almost all small, no more than two hexes in size (except for a rare three-hex rowhouse or two), while a few three- or four-hex buildings show up on the northern half of the map. Building depictions often cross hexsides, rendering bypass impossible along those hexsides. Most of these small wooden buildings are rendered with a strong sameness; there is little variety here. Only a few of the larger buildings are distinctive; these include the Seoul Railroad Station and the Standard Oil Company building. City gate buildings are also distinctive. However, all of the buildings are well-rendered and crisp. There are many named features on the map, such as the Powder Magazine and The Normal School, and considerable detail. The Normal School, for example, has an adjacent soccer field.
Starting with the south edge, we see the western part of the south edge dips down into a valley; at the base of the valley is an area surrounded by tall thick walls and partially bounded by a waterway; it could be a hard nut to crack. To the east the terrain rises to Hill 103, largely denuded of buildings, and to the east of Hill 103 is dense urban terrain. Moving north, hills rise in the west, while they decline in the east, where another waterway and Seoul’s large rail yards rest. Except for a bald hill to the west and the railroads to the east, most of this terrain is also covered in small buildings.
Moving to the northern half of the map, we see that the western area of the map is hilly, while the eastern area is low and flat; both areas are densely covered with buildings. The railroad and several large boulevards create gaps in this conglomeration of buildings. Here we see Seoul’s few large buildings, too. Much of the western half of the map is also bisected by a waterway. On the eastern half of the map is the Denksur Palace, bounded by high walls; nearby, near a girl’s school, are the remnants of old fortress walls as well.
Overall, the terrain is highly interesting and presents many different tactical challenges. With the high density of small buildings, as well as a total lack of shellholes, debris, and rubble, it will present a very different sort of city fight than many other urban HASL settings do.
The Smith’s Ridge map is very different in nature, starting with the fact that it is largely a rural map. Aside from a couple of hamlets, most of the terrain is farmland–either rice paddies or grain. There are also rivers and railways. One can think of the map as a squarish rectangle with the northern and southern edges of the map being the longer sides. The UN forces enter on the west and southern edges of the map, while they have to exit to the north and to the east.
The western half of the map is dominated by a low river valley covered in rice paddies. Fight for Seoul is one of the very few ASL historical modules to present rice paddies as they actually were (Critical Hit’s Mabatang is another), as opposed to the inaccurate way ASL is usually forced to depict rice paddy terrain, based on a few small overlays. Here one sees large swaths of rice paddies of different sizes, only occasionally interrupted by a road or building. The lime green hue of the rice paddies also lends the Smith’s Ridge map a visual feel very different from the Seoul map. Unfortunately, the bisection of the rice paddy terrain by two big railroads makes it very hard for other ASL designers to use this map to represent generic rice paddy terrain elsewhere (like China, Burma, or the Philippines).
In the middle of the Smith’s Ridge map, more or less bisecting the eastern and western map halves, is Smith’s Ridge itself, a long set of hills used as a defense line by the North Koreans before Seoul. East of the ridge is another river valley, featuring more grain than rice, and dotted by several villages and hamlets.
Just because there is more color and variety, the Smith’s Ridge map is more visually attractive than the Seoul map, but they are both visually and tactically interesting maps. The artwork is very good, as is the attention to detail. The terrain doesn’t feel like generic terrain, it feels like a specific battlefield. The maps provide a good foundation for the rest of the module.
The Fight for Seoul comes with three separate rulebooks, which is a bit odd. One rulebook is just for Smith’s Ridge, a second is just for Seoul, and a third contains the campaign game rules for both. ASLers who like to put their rules in 3-ring binders will be disappointed here; each of the rulebook is a separate, staple-bound entity, with nary a hole in sight. The rules are full-color rules on thin glossy paper, but at least each set of rules is bound by an outer cardstock cover that can protect the fragile rules. With rulebooks of 28 pages, 36 pages, and 28 pages, FfS can be a little daunting, but there are several things to keep in mind. First, the two non-campaign rulebooks duplicate some of their rules, so there is a little redundancy. Second, all the rulebooks are printed with a font that is significantly larger than standard ASL rulebook font size, so there are really quite fewer rules here than an “official” set of ASL rules of the same number of pages would contain. Your Humble Author probably would have preferred that there had just been one rulebook, or at least one basic rulebook and one campaign game rulebook. All of the rulebooks have the exact same cover (only the title is different), so players are likely to accidentally reach for the wrong rulebook fairly often.
The Seoul rulebook is 36 pages long. Much of the rules deal with the terrain on the map, including explaining the wide city boulevards, Seoul’s bridges, roadblocks (there are a lot of roadblock rules here), Spider Holes, the streams of Seoul (particularly Steep Embankment Streams, for which there are literally pages of rules), railroad and tramcar terrain, Seoul’s medieval walls and buildings, and Seoul’s (few) significant modern buildings. Other rules explain the USMC and their steroid-enhanced 7-6-8 squads (which can deploy into 3 x 2-4-8 “fire teams”), as well as Aircraft Rockets and other Air Rules. Other rules flesh out the North Korean forces. The Seoul rules also list all the (10) Seoul scenarios in order of increasing complexity, presumably so players who want to can get their feet wet with simpler and more straightforward scenarios before advancing on to more complex Seoul actions. Finally, about a third of the rulebook consists of endnotes, which are essentially designer’s notes, as well as photographs of various terrain features depicted on the Seoul map.
The Smith’s Ridge rules are 28 pages long. Some are dedicated to explaining “Hilltop Defensive Perimeters,” of which there are seven on the Smith’s Ridge map, each delineated by colored hexsides. Control of these HDP are key to actions that take place on the Smith’s Ridge map. Other rules clarify the rice paddy terrain, the Korean village terrain (including wooden buildings with flammable thatch roofs), and “water”-related terrain such as Streams and Steep Embankment Streams, Dry Sandy Riverbeds, Berm hexsides, railroad terrain (including overpasses and tunnels). The Steep Embankment Stream rules seem to be only partial here; it seems that players have to refer to the Seoul rulebook for the rest of them (?). As in the Seoul rulebook, there are rules for USMC and North Korean troops here as well.
The Campaign Games Rules rulebook is also 28 pages long. It features the rules required to play the two included campaign games; each map has one campaign game associated with it. The campaign games of FfS are based on the Red Barricades campaign game rules; however, LFT has thoughtfully underlined all text in this rulebook that deviates from standard Red Barricades campaign game rules–a nice touch. Oddly, many of the rules for both campaign games do not appear in the actual campaign game rulebook (which is almost entirely devoted to the Refit Phase). Rather, they appear on separate sets of cardstock play aids (7 for each CG; 14 total). At least the cards are colorful and attractive.
The Smith’s Ridge campaign game is CG I (Smith’s Ridge); it is 10 campaign dates long (2-3 per day for the period September 22-25). To win, the UN must not lose more than 200 CVP, which will result in an immediate North Korean win, while capturing at least 5 of the 7 Hilltop Defensive Perimeters and achieving 3 of 4 other conditions, which are all based on EVP. The campaign game uses the entire Smith’s Ridge map. Air Rules play a significant role here. The UN force is mostly USMC steroid squads assisted (for a time, anyway) by Korean Marine Corps forces. The North Koreans have forces that vary wildly in quality, from elite to conscript. The UN forces get a fair amount of reinforcement options to choose from, though many are Air or Artillery related. The North Koreans get somewhat less, but still a lot to choose from, including some armor.
The Seoul campaign game is CG II (Battle of the Barricades); it is 11 dates long, taking place from September 25-27. It uses the entire Seoul map. The attacking UN win if they control two key clusters of hexes and control or eliminate a roadblock. Here the UN forces are all almost USMC (a few platoons of Korean Marines are purchaseable), with essentially the same purchase options as Smith’s Ridge. The North Korean options are very similar as well.
Fight for Seoul comes with a single sheet of counters–a mix of 1/2″ and 5/8″ counters. Like many LFT countersheets, the sheet in FfS is deeply die-cut, so players will need to be careful that counters don’t fall of their trees and get lost. Most of the counters are just extra USMC MMC, but there are also markers for KPA Fanatic Roadblocks, Spider Holes, Embankment Streams, Culverts, Air Defense, and other items, as well as VBM markers, Sniper Markers, Airplane counters, and a WTF counter.
FfS also comes with 21 scenarios, a generous amount for a historical module. Eleven scenarios are for Smith’s Ridge; 10 for Seoul. All 21 scenarios take place on the historical maps; thankfully, there are no geoboard scenarios here. None of the scenarios here use an entire historical map; indeed, none even use all of a mapsheet. The scenarios all take place on part of one of the two mapsheets for each map, although a couple straddle the center of a historical map and require both mapsheets for that map. Most of the scenarios only use a small portion of a historical map; even the largest scenarios (in map area) don’t use more than a quarter of a map. Obviously, there are no monster historical scenarios in this product. It’s a shame that there aren’t more opportunities (other than the campaign games) to utilize more of the maps.
Overall, the 21 scenarios tend towards the small (even very small), which is somewhat surprising for a historical module. Just over half of the scenarios in FfS are small in size, while four more are medium-sized. A half-dozen scenarios can be considered large.
Three scenarios use Night rules, 6 scenarios use Air Support rules, and fully 8 scenarios use OBA. Even some of the small scenarios have OBA and/or Air Support, which can make them very gamey (as one good–or bad–outcome can have an outsized impact on a small scenario). One scenario has Caves. About a quarter of the scenarios have numerous and/or complex SSRs. Almost half of the scenarios have complex–or very complex–victory conditions, including some with multi-part victory conditions. The problem with such complex victory conditions is that it is not that hard for a player to fail to realize (or to keep in mind) every contingency on which victory relies, which can mean a player loses a scenario just because they couldn’t keep the victory conditions in their head. Few things are more frustrating than losing a scenario that way. Easily comprehensible victory conditions just tend to allow scenarios to play more smoothly.
Because of the requirement that players master the Forgotten War rules in addition to standard ASL, and master as well all the specific FfS rules, plus often deal with complex rules features (OBA, Night, Air), not to mention complex SSRs and/or Victory Conditions, Fight for Seoul gets an “advanced” tag and is probably not well-suited for novice players.
Irritatingly, the great majority of FfS scenarios do not fit on a single scenario card but use two cards, instead.
The Fight for Seoul is an interesting experiment. It is a complex and expensive historical module dependent upon Forgotten War, itself a complex product that is not connected to World War II, fans of which constitute the main ASL player base. As of this writing, it is still not clear how popular Forgotten War has or will become among ASLers, while not all ASLers will purchase third part modules. FfS then, is a real test of the degree to which Forgotten War and its Korean War subject can sustain third party products.
What Fight for Seoul does have going for it are two very attractive and detailed historical maps that present interesting tactical situations. They also offer Korean War ASLers an option other than geoboard scenarios (and something a lot more attractive than the specific geoboards that came with Forgotten War). Moreover, because the module focuses on combat against the North Koreans rather than the Chinese, it is more user friendly than a Chinese-related Korean War ASL module would be (as the Chinese rules in Forgotten War are complicated). The USMC connection may put off some ASLers but will definitely be attractive to ASL fans of the USMC. That might be enough to convince them to take the plunge. Finally, FfS simply is an attractive physical package–and with 21 scenarios and two very different campaign games, it certainly offers potential purchasers a lot of play value for their buck.
If Fight for Seoul sells well and becomes popular, it may set the stage for future official and third party Korean War modules. If, however, players have a less enthusiastic reaction, it may deter others from trying their hand at Korean War historical modules.
Chris Farrell says
I have to say, I *hated* the rules for breaking 7-6-8s into 3 fire teams. The rules load on this, and the number of way it breaks the existing system, is just madness. And for what? “Modeling” 4-soldier fire teams in a game about *companies*? It makes no sense. The original Gung Ho design of the USMC generally was a set of wise if inelegant compromises given the difficult situation they were in, being bound by choices made in 1977 about how to portray US forces. The Forgotten War was itself already incredibly overchromed and even they didn’t consider revisiting those decisions. LFT does wonderful historical maps but their willingness to pile grudge rules and gratuitous complexity on top of one of the most complex games ever made drives me to distraction.