Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #3 (ASLSK #3) is the third release in MMP's three part series of introductory games designed to help players learn Advanced Squad Leader's (ASL) basic rules. This final release in the Starter Kit series adds the Armor rules to the ASLSK system, allowing players to use tanks and armored cars in their battles. The first Starter Kit (ASLSK #1) focused on the basic Infantry rules, and the second Starter Kit (ASLSK #2) introduced the Gun rules.
Just like the previous releases, ASLSK #3 is a complete game; everything you need to play is included in the box. One of the included scenarios requires only infantry, so that those players who skip both ASLSK #1 and ASLSK #2 can use it to get started with the basic Infantry rules, before they add in the complexity of Guns and Armor.
ASLSK #3 maintains the same standard of physical quality that was found in the earlier releases, but there are many more components included in ASLSK #3 than in either of the first two Starter Kits. These components include two dice, three sheets of cardboard counters, three cardstock mapboards, eight scenarios, the Quick-Reference Data Card, the To Hit Chart folder, a 12 page Historical Notes booklet, and a 28 page rulebook with full color examples of play.
Counters are provided for the American, British, German, and Russian armies, along with a handful of Italian tanks and guns. One new terrain type is introduced: Brush (a thinly wooded area with dense undergrowth).
The rulebook adds to the rules that were first introduced in ASLSK #1 and ASLSK #2, with the new rules highlighted with a colored background for easy identification. Any changes or additions that were made to the older rules are also highlighted. There is one notable exception to this new-is-highlighted policy: rules section 7.0 (Vehicles) is six pages long and is all new, so a highlighted note at the start of this section simply informs players that the section is all new. (Highlighting six entire pages would be a bit excessive.)
In preparing the rulebook for ASLSK #3, MMP made a determined effort to correct all of the known errors and ambiguities from the first two rulebooks. The ASLSK #3 rulebook is thus the most complete and precise rulebook available for ASLSK, and veteran ASLSK players should retire the earlier rulebooks and use this one for all of their games. Beginners just learning ASLSK, however, will still find the shorter rulebooks in ASLSK #1 and ASLSK #2 less intimidating, and should probably continue to use them until they are ready to move up to ASLSK #3.
The new parts of the ASLSK #3 rules do have their own share of errors and ambiguities which will have to be addressed by errata at a later date. Such problems are pretty much unavoidable in the first publication of any complicated set of rules. But one unfortunate aspect of the ASLSK #3 rules is that many of the new examples of play also contain errors, which, in some cases, makes them difficult for new players to understand.
More detailed information about the errors in the ASLSK #3 rules can be found here:
Unofficial ASLSK #3 Errata
The first two ASLSK rulebooks generated a wide range of opinions among the players, with some thinking that they were poorly written while others found them to be fine. The ASLSK #3 rulebook follows the exact same writing and presentation style as the previous ones, so whatever opinion you might have of the first two rulebooks will not be changed by the ASLSK #3 rulebook.
The main "problem" with the ASLSK rules is that they try to do two things at once: they try to present the game rules in an informal, non-intimidating, conversational style... but they also have to serve as a reference for quickly looking up rules during a game. These two purposes conflict with each other, and in trying to do both, the ASLSK rules do neither one perfectly. It would have been preferable (but more expensive) to have had a "learning guide" and a "reference rulebook with full index" as two separate documents. But, given that the ASLSK rules are trying to do both things at once, many players will still find them to be adequate. Players who have problems with the rulebook will find many online resources available to assist them in areas where the rules may be weak, whether it be learning the game or actually playing the game.
The Historical Notes, which in the first two Starter Kits were incorporated directly into the rulebook, have been moved into a separate booklet for ASLSK #3. These Historical Notes provide background information and special usage rules for every vehicle and gun included in the game... and ASLSK #3 has quite a selection of vehicles and guns.
The Americans have seven different tank models, two types of mortars, and two types of anti-tank guns. The British have five tanks, one armored car, and one model each of mortar, anti-tank gun, and artillery. The Italians have two tanks and one gun; the Germans have an impressive 19 different tanks, two armored cars, two mortars, and three anti-tank guns; and the Russians have 10 tank models, two mortars, one anti-tank gun, one infantry gun, and two artillery pieces. Each of these tank and gun models are represented in the game by one to six actual counters. There are a total of 124 vehicle and gun counters included in ASLSK #3.
The included tanks run the gamut from the tiny machinegun tankettes of the early war years to the monstrous heavy tanks of 1944-45. Almost all of the famous tanks of WWII are represented in the counter mix: the Sherman, the T-34, the Panther, the Tiger, etc. It is a bit disappointing to see the British limited to using mostly American-built tanks, but they do at least get the Firefly, in which a British high-velocity 76mm gun was mounted onto an American Sherman body, creating one of the most potent tanks in the Allied arsenal.
The images below show all of the counters that are included in the game.
The counter graphics have not changed since ASL was introduced in 1986, and many elements of the counter graphics date back to the original Squad Leader game of 1977. This sometimes leads to complaints that the counter graphics are outdated or boring, especially when the ASL counter designs are compared to those of the many new WWII tactical combat games that have been published in recent years.
However, there are good reasons for continuing to use the traditional ASL counter graphics. One is simply to maintain full compatibility with existing ASL products. I doubt that many ASL players would be interested in mixing any new-style counters with the traditional ones... and the ASL system is so extensive that reprinting and replacing all of the older counters simply isn't feasible.
Another reason is that the traditional counter designs are also quite functional and legible. Few players ever complain that the counter graphics interfere with the playing of the game. Thus ASLSK has inherited time-tested counters that give it a distinctive look that instantly identifies it as "ASL."
ASLSK #3 comes with three new mapboards, all of which are fully compatible with the previous ASLSK mapboards and all of the full ASL regular mapboards.
Board t, pictured below, has fairly open terrain with several large grain fields. (Note that the colors on these map images appears somewhat washed out; the actual maps are more colorful than they appear here.)
Board u has a small village on one half of the map, and some scattered woods and brush on the other half.
Board v has mixed terrain, with woods, brush, hills, grain, and orchards all present.
Game Play and Scenarios
The Starter Kits are promoted as being a simpler and easier to learn version of ASL. Although this is certainly true, the Armor rules as presented in ASLSK #3 are very close to the full ASL Armor rules. Indeed, when playing a vehicle-only scenario like S21 "Clash at Borisovka" it's easy to forget that one is playing ASLSK and not full ASL. There just aren't a lot of commonly used features that can be left out of the ASL Armor rules without breaking the system.
Some of the things that have been left out in ASLSK #3 include vehicular bypass movement, hull down positions, armor leaders, deliberate immobilization attempts, excessive speed breakdown, gun duels, etc. Not all of these items would be considered minor aspects of the ASL Armor system, but it is certainly possible for a full ASL scenario involving vehicles to have none of these items come into play, so leaving them out of the Starter Kit rules was a reasonable decision.
One of the consequences of the ASLSK #3 Armor rules being so similar to the full ASL Armor rules is that ASLSK scenarios featuring vehicles will not play noticeably faster than a similar ASL scenario. ASLSK scenarios that only use Infantry will usually play much faster than an equivalent ASL scenario, which makes ASLSK a good game to play when the available time is limited. But when you add vehicles to a scenario, ASLSK's advantage of playing faster than ASL mostly disappears.
The introduction of tanks changes the feel of a ASLSK scenario to a considerable extent. Tanks use a different movement and combat system. The ebb and flow of the infantry game, where a squad can undergo a morale check, break, rout, rally, and eventually return to the battle, is almost completely absent in tank-vs-tank combat. A shot that hits a tank will, with only an occasional exception, either kill the tank outright or have no effect at all. Tank battles tend to be unforgiving, as wrecked tanks can quickly litter the battlefield... and once a tank is knocked out, it is gone for good.
ASLSK players, just like ASL players, will each arrive at their own personal tolerance level for tanks and the increased complexity and playing time that their presence adds to a scenario. Some will play any combined arms (tanks + infantry) scenario, even if 10 or more tanks are involved... while others will prefer to have no more than five or six tanks in a scenario, and some will find that just a couple of tanks is their limit.
Fortunately, the scenarios included in ASLSK #3 offer something for everyone, regardless of their personal preferences. Here's a quick overview of the included scenarios.
S20 – Joseph 351
This is the only scenario here that does not use either tanks or guns, but it makes up for this with an unusual set of combatants and an Allied force composition that changes each time you play it. Set in France in 1944, a German unit comprised mainly of 2nd line troops is attacked by two separate forces: one force is made up of elite American Rangers cooperating with poorly-trained and poorly-equipped Free French irregulars; the second force is a group of escaped Russian POWs who have rearmed themselves in order to fight the Germans!
S21 – Clash at Borisovka
In the only scenario to feature just vehicles (no infantry participates at all), Russian T-34s take on the fearsome Tiger tanks. The action takes place in Russia in 1943.
S22 – Another Summer's Day
An innovative scenario that takes place during the 1943 invasion of Sicily. The Americans form two groups of paratroopers that "land" on the map prior to the start of the scenario via a simple Scenario Special Rule (SSR) that scatters them in random directions. The defending Germans can have up to six groups of reaction forces enter the map at various times and from various directions. The available German forces include one Tiger tank and two armored cars.
S23 – Monty's Gamble
Taking place during the Market-Garden offensive of 1944, a small group of British infantry, with two anti-tank guns, must hold off a German force supported by three armored assault guns. All of the British units may use hidden setup, so the German player will see nothing but a empty map as he begins his attack.
S24 – Sherman Marches West
A strong Russian force, supported by six American-built lend-lease Sherman tanks, attacks a weak German force in Russia in 1944. The Germans have one anti-tank gun available, but reinforcements will arrive in the form of two tanks (one being a Tiger) and a group of elite infantry.
S25 – Early Battles
In a fairly large battle from the opening days of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, 10 Russian squads must defend a village from an attack by 12 German squads. The Germans are supported by six tanks of various types, while the Russians have an infantry gun and two tanks, one of which is a nearly invincible KV-2.
S26 – Last Ally, Last Victory
The largest scenario in the game, and the only one to use all three mapboards at once, takes place in Hungary in 1944. A large German force counterattacks an equally large Russian force. The Russians have 16 squads and 9 tanks; the Germans have 15 squads and 8 tanks, including two of the super-heavy King Tigers.
S27 – Stand for New Zealand
A large force of elite German infantry engages New Zealand (British) defenders on Crete in 1941. The New Zealanders are supported by two captured Italian guns and two machinegun-equipped tankettes.
But, Is It Realistic?
Despite its reputation as being ultra-realistic, ASL (and, by extension, ASLSK) is much more of a game than a simulation. The ASL system does include a tremendous amount of historical detail, and playing the game has a great historical feel, but the system also includes many abstractions for the sake of playability.
The Armor rules offer a good level of technical realism: gun performance, armor protection, and the equipment and features of the various vehicles are all well-modelled. But the Armor system does suffer a bit because ASL and ASLSK are Infantry games first and foremost. The time and distance scales are more suited to infantry actions than tank actions, and the cluttered nature of the mapboards force opposing tanks to engage each other at unusually short ranges. Some post-war studies suggest that the majority of tank-vs-tank battles in WWII occurred at ranges in excess of 24 hexes, but the ASLSK #3 To Hit Chart does not support shots beyond a range of 24 hexes. Most shots against tanks during a scenario will occur at a range of 10-15 hexes or less.
Thus ASLSK #3 may disappoint someone who is looking for the ultimate simulation of WWII armored combat. But for everyone else ASLSK #3 offers a fine balance between playability, historical detail, and realism, in scenarios that are both exciting and challenging.
As the third child of ASL, ASLSK #3 and its two siblings form a basic, affordable WWII tactical gaming system with much of the appeal of ASL, while also serving as a fine introduction to the parent game.
Who Should Buy It?
Perhaps the most fundamental and perplexing question concerning ASLSK #3 is: Who is it for? Here are my thoughts and recommendations concerning potential purchasers of ASLSK #3 and their different circumstances.
* Players who are seeking to learn to play ASL
People who want to learn to play ASL should not start with ASLSK #3. Yes, it is a complete game... but there are a lot of rules, a lot of counters, and, most significantly, the ASLSK #3 scenarios are more complex than those in the earlier Starter Kits. Most players who are new to ASL will be much happier starting off with ASLSK #1 or ASLSK #2. The only exception to this might be the next group:
* Experienced wargamers who are curious about ASL
If you are an experienced wargamer who is used to working with complex rules, and especially if you've played other complex tactical wargames, then you can probably skip the first two Starter Kits and go right to ASLSK #3. ASLSK #3 is an easy and inexpensive way to try out ASL for anyone who is willing to learn the complex rules set all at once. The list price of $34 is an exceptional price for a complete version of basic ASL, when compared to the $185 that is the entry cost for full ASL (ASL Rulebook & Beyond Valor).
* ASLSK #1 & ASLSK #2 owners who have no interest in moving to ASL
If you are an ASLSK player who does not plan to step up to full ASL, then ASLSK #3 is practically a must-buy item... even if you are not particularly interested in tanks. Not only do you get more mapboards, more counters, and the most complete and accurate ASLSK rulebook available, but having a complete set of all three Starter Kits means you can play any ASLSK scenario. You'll avoid the frustration of, for example, getting a great-looking infantry scenario from a magazine or an add-on scenario pack, only to discover that you can't play it because it uses a mapboard from ASLSK #3.
* ASLSK #1 & ASLSK #2 owners who are planning to move to ASL
It's difficult to give a definite recommendation to this group. Learning the full ASL Armor rules is only slightly more difficult than learning the ASLSK #3 Armor rules; they are that similar. If you've already made the decision to move to ASL at some point, why waste time and money on ASLSK #3? Why not just go right on to ASL?
On the other hand, moving up to ASL doesn't just involve learning the ASL Armor rules. You will also have to learn all of the Infantry and Gun rules that were left out of the first two Starter Kits, as well as all of the special ASL rules that the Starter Kits don't even hint at (Snipers, Heat of Battle, etc.) So maybe it's better to get ASLSK #3 and learn the Armor rules now, without the added burden of learning all of the other full ASL rules at the same time, and then move to ASL later. When you have mastered all three Starter Kits, the move to ASL will be relatively easy.
I think either path will work, so it comes down to one's personal preference. If you skip ASLSK #3, you'll get to ASL faster and with less expense, but the transition might be a bit harder. If you get ASLSK #3 first, the journey to ASL will be a little slower and a little more expensive, but somewhat easier overall. It's your choice.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I played a small role in the preparation of this game. I was one of the volunteers who helped to proofread the rulebook, and received credit for this in the Historical Notes booklet.
Davide Banchini c/o SELED
Very interesting and well written, thanks.
Combat Commander Archivist
Move! Advance! Fire! Rout! Recover! Artillery Denied! Artillery Request! Command Confusion...say what?!
Thanks, Jay! I've got this final of the three high on my wishlist. It's really not expensive for what you get and although it's slow going, my gaming group of three has a strong interest in learning the Starter Kits well. (We're big Combat Commander fans and we enjoy the detail of Close Action). I appreciate your detailed review and overview of the components and scenarios. Thanks also for the comparison to ASL and the other starter kits for a point of comparison! You've done a LOT of work on these starter kits and an ASL noob like me is very grateful.
S20 was my first ever SK scenario, and it reslly set the hook for my addiction, err hobby of ASL since
S21 is a cracker of a scenario too, I think I have played it 4 or 5 times, and it seems a lot more *pure* than the infantry ones , as the AFVs try to outmanouver each other ( oh and ROF is lethal with the Tigers)
S25 is a lot of fun for a combined arms exercise, Jay is right aboutthe KV2 , it was more like an old Microgame Ogre, cruising around shrugging off hits left and right, until it was swarmed by 2 or 3 squads of infantry.
I find the SKs are really good value for money, but the brevity of the rules in SK3 can lead to some ambiguities that are easily cleared up with an experienced opponent
Well written Jay!
Great review Jay!
Fine work as usual Jay.
I jumped to ASL right after ASLSK1 although I have all 3. I also had a great teacher to play F2F with.
I am teaching my son now and will go through ALL 3 Starter Kits and thanks to this review actually look forward to playing this one with my son!
Very good and very thorough review. I have read most of Jay's tutorials. He is obviously a devoted ASLer, to the benefit of others.
The Starter Kits served their purpose well for me. I avoided ASL for over 20 years until I discovered SK1. I was so impressed I quickly moved on to SK2 and SK3. I've spent the last eighteen months working through the scenarios with my gaming group. I have played all but about three published in the kits, five of the seven published in Journals (can anyone send me copies of S28 and S29? :-)), and three of the ten Rally Point SK scenarios. I've also played full ASL about five times now. While I haven't read the full rulebook, I know the SK rules so well I've corrected my full ASL buddies several times when they got a rule wrong, and when I've played them at an SK scenario they tell me I obviously know what I'm doing and I should just play full ASL now.
I actually like where I am - I can play the SKs or full ASL, depending on my opponent. I'd like to post reviews of all three SKs if I can find the time. Perhaps others would appreciate my comments about all the scenarios.
Thanks Jay, great article!
Tim K wrote:
I'd like to post reviews of all three SKs if I can find the time. Perhaps others would appreciate my comments about all the scenarios.
I would certainly like to see more reviews posted for the Starter Kits, especially for ASLSK #2 and ASLSK #3, each of which have only a single review. A more detailed discussion of the scenarios by someone who has actually played most of them would be a great idea to build a review around. I'd like to encourage any player who has a strong interest in the Starter Kits to try writing a review... it can be a lot of fun.
Also, thanks to everyone who has responded to this review. I appreciate your comments.
Excellent review, Mr. Richardson. Your writing again displays your depth of understanding of the rules and your ability to quickly discern the differences between full ASL and the Starter Kits continues to leave me in awe. As an ASL player from way back when, I often find myself drifting into the full ASL rules when I play a starter kit scenario, and not even realizing it until after the scenario is over.
For ASLSK players who haven't made the jump to the big rulebook, those tidbits the "Third Child" doesn't include really add the spice to the stew. There's nothing like waiting for the outcome of a die roll to know if your squad just generated a hero, is going to battle harden, go berserk, or surrender. We ALWAYS play with Heat of Battle rules when gaming starter kit scenarios just because it's so fun, AND so easy!
Sniper rules are a snap as well, and must be included as an essential flavoring ingredient to any ASL starter kit scenario. Of course, the guys I play with really don't care if a scenario is all that balanced or not, and we also really don't care who wins or loses any given gaming session.
Sure, there's lots to learn, and the starter kits are a hoot, but the full rulebook offers the tastiest of gourmet gaming experiences. As Jay will tell you, if I can learn it, ANYBODY can.
As an original SL player that went thru all of the modules , made the move to ASL and had all of the AH ASL modules , until a flood drowned all my troops , I appreciate the SK's as a fun way to re enter and relearn the ASL world , after many a yr MIA with family , gradually , instead of buying the complete set on ebay for $800.00 +
The way it feels to me ... the SK's are a great replacement games to replace the original SL game/gamettes and the full blown ASLRB is all of the optionals/chrome/meat/flavor that can be added ...
One question ....
Is the RB in the ASLSK Historic module the same as SK#3 , or are the Elst rules "updated" SK3 rules ?
Johnny Yuma wrote:
Is the RB in the ASLSK Historic module the same as SK#3 , or are the Elst rules "updated" SK3 rules ?
In terms of content, the Elst rules are identical to the SK#3 rules... there are no "new" rules in the Elst rulebook (the special rules for Elst, covering new terrain types, OBA, and the Campaign Game, are in a second separate rulebook and only apply to Elst).
However, the standard rulebook in Elst does contain a number of errata updates, corrections, and clarifications, so it is a better, more accurate rulebook. But the SK#3 rulebook is still quite usable, and anyone experienced with SK#3 will have no problem in moving to Elst (other than learning all of the special rules that apply only to Elst).