Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #103 Mar 2005 0
From what I've heard about it, Advanced Squad Leader (ASL), for most of its fans, is more religion than game -- a completely engrossing experience that demands serious commitment and belief but rewards the faithful with what they regard as the most realistic board game simulation of World War II tactical combat. It was the late Avalon Hill's most popular game series, one that has been continued, since the Hill's demise in the late 1990s, by Multiman Publishing, the company Curt Schilling heads when he's not busy chucking fastballs for the Red Sox. It's a series that's inspired similar designs, like the Advanced Tobruk combat series put out by Critical Hit, as well as the publication ASL Journal, which is filled with series replays, strategy articles, and new scenarios. A few years ago, I bought a Battle of the Bulge game from a guy who told me he'd been steadily selling off his game collection ever since becoming interested in ASL; he found the latter so absorbing he no longer played anything else.
A few years ago as well, I read an online replay of some ASL scenario and found it pretty intriguing. But after discovering that the ASL rulebook came in a three-ring binder and weighed in at something like 200 pages, I decided I would pass on the series. I like a certain amount of complexity in games, but ASL seemed way over the top. Besides, I'd enjoyed the Panzer Grenadier series from Avalanche Press, and every now and again I'd get out my old copy of Panzer Leader and push the counters around; both games seemed good enough to meet my tactical gaming needs. Still, I've often wondered how a little more detail and realism could be introduced to those games, like distingushing between tanks and self-propelled guns, or developing better spotting rules. So when I heard that Multiman Publishing planned to release an ASL "Starter Kit" with just basic rules, I thought it was worth a look.
The ASL Starter Kit # 1 comes with a 12-page rulebook, two 8" x 22" cardstock geomorphic maps, one sheet of 1/2 inch counters, two six-sided dice, three double-sided scenario cards, and what's billed as a QRDC, or "Quick Reference Data Card," which contains various charts needed for play, like a terrain effects chart and an infantry fire table. The two map boards show a portion of the terrain features that appear in ASL, including woods, fields, orchards, roads, and individual buildings (I found it hard to distinguish between stone and wood-framed buildings). Scale in the game is about 40 meters to the hex, and turns represent about two minutes.
The Starter Kit focuses exclusively on infantry combat, and most of the counters represent squads and half-squads of from 15 to 9 men, all of them rated for firepower, morale, and experience level; they're called MMCs, or Multi-Man Counters. Leaders, or SMCs (Single-Man Counters) are represented by individual pieces. Just like the military itself, ASL is full of acronyms, so players had better get used to them.
Support weapons -- light, medium, and heavy machine guns, flamethrowers, and demoltion charges - are also represented by individual counters and must be transported by the squads, half-squads or individual leaders. The counter mix also includes various markers.
I've heard some complaints about the fact that Multiman Publishing, in producing new ASL material, didn't use the opportunity to come up with some spiffier counters and maps, but to me the components seem perfectly functional. In fact the infantry counters seem less cartoonish-looking than some of ones in Panzer Grenadier. I also appreciate that the 1/2 inch counters fit comfortably inside the map board hexes. My only complaint is that some of the support weapon counters contain multiple numbers and figures in such tiny print that I fear I may eventually go blind trying to read them under the glare of indoor lighting.
The counters included in the game represent American, German, and Russian forces; the scenarios depict small-unit actions on the Eastern and Western fronts, including combat at Stalingrad, D-Day and the Bulge. The scenarios are all between 5 and 7 turns and have anywhere between 15 and 23 units per side, so despite the complexity of the rules, the scenarios are designed to be relatively short and sweet.