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Subject: ASL: A completely Biased review on ASL and why you should like this game rss

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First, call me a fanboy - let's get it out of the way - of Advanced Squad Leader. I got indoctrinated back in the day with Squad Leader, followed by Crescendo of Doom, Cross of Iron, and G.I. Anvil of Victory. I suffered immensely through those expansions to SL, got bogged down like nearly everyone else, and finally tossed in the towel.

Circa 1985. Advanced Squad Leader makes it's appearance on the scene. Now, for those of you who played wargames 'back in the day' (I personally hate that phrase but I'm gonna use it here because, well, just because...), or were brave enough to take on the latest SPI publication, a complex and deep ruleset is to your liking, and is much like ordering a Prime Rib with a soupcon of brandy at it's side at a high-end restaurant. You're hungry. And not for cheesburgers.

(That's right - I used the Dictionary word of the day - soupcon - probably incorrectly. Flame away, peons)

So what does one do with such a hefty, delicate tasting, satisfying meal? Well, before that plate hit the table I was cutting up that badboy and shoveling it down my throat. Again, call me a fanboy. Dare ya. Soupcon. Used it again.

ASL at it's core is a small scale, tactical infantry combat game that has the cajones to 'game' (not simulate - NEVER get that wrong) WW2 infantry combat. The basics of it all is you are assigned a task as attacker to achieve certain victory conditions or as defender to defend certain terrain (or, like in many scenarios, to avoid the attackers victory conditions), to claim victory. You do this using Squads/half squads, Leaders, and Support weapons. In more advanced scenarios, you are given Vehicles and Ordnance, but that complicates the basic infantry game greatly. For me, I could play pure infantry scenarios the rest of my life and be a happy go lucky ASL fanboy. But, I digress.

Your basic unit has 3 numbers on the front side ('Good Order'): 4-6-7
Firepower: 4
Normal Range: 6
Morale: 7

Flip him over and he'll have a single number on the flip side ('broken'): 7, in this case. "7" the number of the beast is 7...this is the starting basic rally attempt the unit must roll (in addition to other modifiers like leadership, Desperation Morale, etc.) that he must roll to "Rally" - flip him back over to his 'Good Order'/ready to kick ass side during the Rally Phase.

Your basic leader has 2 numbers on the front: 9-1

That's a "9", and a "-1". The "9" is the leader's morale. The "-1" is used during the game to modify leader-directed fire against the enemy and to modify the rally attempts in the same location as said leader.

In short, Leader are great. Don't get them killed. A dead leader is...dead.

ASL has this vast swath of third-party support from fanboys and companies that create new scenario packs at frequent intervals. The basic ASL scenario conveys the troops involved, where they start, some pre-battle background, and the victory conditions and 'Historic' Aftermath.

The game plays out in Phases.

First, is the Rally Phase. There are several things you can do in this phase, but the most important thing you do is "Rally The Troops" via your leaders. As your troops and leaders engage in combat, they will suffer losses and/or suffer 'survival instinct'. or 'break', in game terms. These are your guys ducking for cover or breaking and running for cover. The Rally Phase is when you get to give those guys a chance to recover their manhood and step up and fight the good fight. Rally The Troops. [inject many off-color sayings from Sargeant Hulka (Stripes) or that guy from Full Metal Jacket/Geico Commercial...you get the picture, Jackwagon?].

Next is the Prep Fire Phase.

Remember this saying: "If you're Prep Firing, You're already losing". Especially true if you're the attacker. Why? Well, if you're prep firing all your guys, ain't nobody, nohow, movin' nowhere. Remember that. Sage advice.

Prep Fire is exactly that - preparatory fire. You are having units fire to 'soften up' the defense so other units can move close during the movement phase without being shredded to ribbons my enemy fire/Support weapons. Prep Fire is where combat first comes into play in ASL, but not the only place.

Movement Phase: "Take that goddamn building, soldier!"

This is where ASL differs from just about every wargame out there. This is where ASL differs from just about every wargame out there. I said it twice to be sure you heard me, jackwagon!

Movement isn't your classic hex-and-counter movement where you boldly move up your troops into Zones of Control without any repercussions, no. If you're moving units in ASL, you' learn right off that moving STACKS is a bad idea, and running across open ground in sight of an enemy unit is not good for morale.

During your movement phase, you move units from location to location. But, the rub here is that as you move, your 'buddy' across the table there, sucking on his Cosmos and smokin' his fancy french cigarettes, gets to tell you "Excuse moi, pardner, right there. I thinks I'm gonna shoot that guy". Yep, that's right. As the 'non-mover', you get to take shots at the guy as he approaches your positions! (tip: This is why you don't travel in stacks) And, not just 1 shot, either! Within the rules of Defensive Fire, you could fire as "First Fire", "Subsequent First Fire", and "Final Protective Fire". The rulesets for all these conditions is anything but basic, but not incomprehensible (regardless what the Memoir '44 crowd will tell you...). Besides, if you want your little carboard Hulkas to survive you'd best become proficient at this part of the game, cuz it's the meat and potatoes of ASL. And, man oh man, the TENSION is PALPABLE with a soupcon of saltpeter! (he he he). AS you fire, if you score a hit on the Infantry Fire Table, he has to use his third (as a squad, or first as a leader) number on the front of his counter (along with certain modifiers) as a "Morale Check". Roll them dice, baby! Basically, roll low, you're good to go. Roll High, say Bye bye. Moral Checks in ASL are frequent and all too often for your guys, and few and far between for your opponents. Moral Checks tell you if your cardboard baddies got the sack to stay in the fight or if they break and run, needing to be rallied in the subsequent Rally Phase. There will be many prayers you will say during Morale Checks, believer or not. Trust me. It brings with it a soupcon of faith in the dice gods. Did it again!

Ok, so you've now managed to do a little prep fire, moved your squads/leaders into position, taken a few hits, but survived. Ah, now it's the defense's turn to have some fun.

Next Up: Defensive Fire: This is where you, the non-mover, get to fire all those guys that can fire who didn't fire during the movement phase, with certain restrictions. In ASL, you generally place information counters on units as they perform certain tasks (fire) or have certain things happen to them (break, exhaust themselves, get pinned, etc.). These informational counters make the board cluttered at times, but are crucial to the game and make gameflow fairly seamless. During Defensive Fire, the non-mover gets to fire his guys that are unmarked or have a First Fire counter on them. ASL is really cool in that your defensive capabilities are extensive during the movement and defensive fire phases as to being able to fire your guys at the baddies trying to take your stuff. Give it to them full! Even the smallest pot-shot can yield good results. Snake-Eyes!

Next Up: Advancing Fire Phase
Ok, remember those guys that eschewed firing and wanted to gain a foothold in a forward position by moving? Yes, 'Those' Guys? You get to fire those guys now, with restrictions, of course. But, nonetheless, they get to 'get some' during this phase. You also get to fire anyone that did not move and did not Prep Fire.

Ok, so we're done with combat. Bits of broken cardboard (squads/leaders flipped to their broken side because of morale check failures) are strewn across the battlefront. Now what?

Run Like Hell!

The Rout Phase

The Rout Phase is considered by many to be one of the most important in ASL because you have to think ahead before you move your baddies into combat that, should they break, they will have a valid rout path. The ASL Rulebook in it's completeness, has an extensive examination of valid and invalid routing examples. You could spend a weekend on that section alone. Nevertheless, your broken guys, depending on where they are terrain-wise, may have to rout away from Known Enemy Units (KEU's). In general, as you advance, you'll want your good leaders (the guys that have -1 or -2 on them) to direct fire and be 'up there' to help the troops. You'll want your mediocre/bad leaders (9-0, 8-0, 7-0, 6+1 - what a stiff that guy is...) to be 'rally points' behind the scenes. Rout your brokies there and try and get them back into the fight.

Advance Phase:
This is where your guys get to move up one location towards the enemy or *into* the enemy's location! Bonsai! Here, you create close-combat situations by advancing your Good Order units into enemy locations. Oh baby, CC is fun stuff!

Close Combat: Hand to hand, grenade-throwing, pistol-whippin' fun! This is the phase you get to take on the 'evil' nazi's or those Crazy 'Yanks' in full melee mode. It's a fairly bloody situation you got here.

Rinse and Repeat!

Ok, thats the basic outline of an ASL turn from a completely Biased ASL player. Bar none, this is easily the best wargame out there when it comes to small unit tactical WW2 combat. And the great thing is, you can play ASL with practically any subset of rules you want! If you want to ignore Heat of Battle, Beserk, Leader Creation, Snipers, etc., feel free. Call it a 'variant' if you please, JACKWAGON!
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Andy Beaton
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Ok, you're a fanboy!
Good review!
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John Di Ponio
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Fine job!!! this is that kind of stuff I like to read!
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Rob Miller
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I'm impressed!

How did you manage to write this giant review without attacking any other game or the community surrounding it? devil
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Well, I did take a passing shot at Memoir '44...
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Nevin Ball
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That tickles!
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Full disclosure in the review's title - love it!
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Rob Miller
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markgravitygood wrote:
Well, I did take a passing shot at Memoir '44...


It's alright. Collateral damage happens.
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Kristian Madsen
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Love the (canon) colour coding!

/kgm
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Robert Wilson
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Great use of colours!
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Brian Scott
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Nice review - I'm just starting to get back into ASL after many years away from it. Reading this makes me even more anxious to get playing again - I guess I better get to reading...

By the way, I think you meant Banzai! here:

Quote:
Advance Phase:
This is where your guys get to move up one location towards the enemy or *into* the enemy's location! Bonsai!


Unless your troops are inspired by small ornamental trees, that is
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Intentional!

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Andrew C
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Great review JACKWAGON!
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Graham Smallwood
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"This is where ASL differs from just about every wargame out there."

This may very well be true at the time the game was released. And I'm sure that being written during the war itself helped greatly with its innovation. But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases? This game still has "my turn" and "your turn". Defensive reaction fire is good, but full interlacing is better. (Well, simo is best of course, but this is still a discussion under the constraints of a boardgame.)
 
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Jim Cote
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Dorque wrote:
But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases?

Name one.
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Rob Miller
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ekted wrote:
Dorque wrote:
But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases?

Name one.


In before someone says Conflict of Heroes!
 
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Dorque wrote:
"This is where ASL differs from just about every wargame out there."

This may very well be true at the time the game was released. And I'm sure that being written during the war itself helped greatly with its innovation. But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases? This game still has "my turn" and "your turn". Defensive reaction fire is good, but full interlacing is better. (Well, simo is best of course, but this is still a discussion under the constraints of a boardgame.)
I actually don't. I think the strongest thing about ASL still is its interlaced turns. I like plenty of other tactical games, many are quite clever, but I find when push comes to shove I'd rather play ASL than the rest of the squad based games. The fact is I can't think of a game with better phasing. The defensive fire is what makes ASL. For the record CoH, while a fine game isn't a competitor with ASL, they are different beasts to be honest, really the only games that even try to vaguely compete with ASL are ATS and maybe LnL. I like both games a lot, but I still feel the phasing in ASL is better at least for me. Its a wonder we haven't seen a game use the same phasing, but simplify/refine the rest of the system, I guess thats what the SKs are for.
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I loved the ideas in CoH, the elegance of the system, the open back-and-forth single-action system (with interruption). It works great from a game design point of view, but not from a wargame point of view. This wasn't apparent to me until I actually played it. The AP and CP systems do not scale well, and the defensive fire system gives the attacker an unreasonable advantage. In ASL, every unit in a scenario could potentially rally, move, fire, and defensive fire in the same full turn. In CoH, if you rally, you are pretty much done. If you defensive fire, you are done. So you tend to avoid DF and just wait until you can fire as the active unit. This brings it down to the level of M44.
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Quote:
But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases?

Name one.


ATS. Yes it's derivative, but its alternating impulse thing just hums along like a machine from the future that has traveled to the present for our enjoyment. It's really, really good. I played ASL and liked it fine, except for two things; the "I shoot all my guys and then move all my guys and then you shoot all your guys"...etc way the phases are laid out, and I always hated the way Defensive Fire "works". It's awkward. A kluge at best.

Don't wanna get into a battle over this but, as a player who has played pretty much all of the tacsims out there, I really like the alternating impulses in ATS the best.

(Good review, BTW, but it took me three tries to read it. As Foghorn Leghorn used to say "Get to tha point, boy!")
 
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Dorque wrote:
"This is where ASL differs from just about every wargame out there."

This may very well be true at the time the game was released. And I'm sure that being written during the war itself helped greatly with its innovation. But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases? This game still has "my turn" and "your turn". Defensive reaction fire is good, but full interlacing is better. (Well, simo is best of course, but this is still a discussion under the constraints of a boardgame.)


I have tried WAW, ATS, and Panzer Grenadier, none have duplicated, let alone improved upon the ASL experience for me. Even after I "quit" playing ASL for a couple of years.

I am certain COH is a great game. I picked-up the Kursk module, looks cool as hell! But as a replacement or superior to ASL, I seriously doubt it.

ASL is a bad ass game. IF you have the moxie to grok it.

Jeff
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moly19 wrote:
I played ASL and liked it fine, except for two things; the "I shoot all my guys and then move all my guys and then you shoot all your guys"...etc way the phases are laid out, and I always hated the way Defensive Fire "works". It's awkward. A kluge at best.


Well if you shoot all your guys, you're certainly not moving them (or playing well if you're attacking). If you're moving, the non-phasing player is on the defense, looking for defensive fire shots while you move. That's not kluge and it's also not how you describe. The beauty of the system to me is the decisions not just who to fire and who to move, but the order to do both and also the breakdowns within those two decisions.

For instance, in prep fire: One attack of 8 FP or two at 4 FP? Attack 12 first, then fire again if they are still not broken or move them if they break.

In movement: Move the half-squad first, then the armored car or bring out the squad with the Piat to draw fire, then move in with the half-squad and demo charge?

The order you fire, the order you move make the decisions constant and sometimes result in one change in the order causing havoc or winning the game. All the time I'm deciding on these moves, my opponent is deciding when to fire, how much, spraying fire for dual residual? Snap-shot? Or just hold his fire waiting for that 9-2 leader to move? That's hardly I go / You go and nowhere near the kluge that was Squad Leaders "move them back" defensive fire phase.
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Okay, I oversimplified my description of ASL phases, which may have been unfair, but I expected my meaning would shine through. Apparently not, or you're being deliberately obtuse. More to the point, though; your examples of the array of decisions available are all true and truly what make any tacsim a beautiful thing. Please also understand that I'm not attempting to tear down ASL, as it does a brilliant job of modeling combat at this scale -- I just happen to think that the ATS impulses makes decision-making less bound to the phases and tied more to the immediate situation. I find that in ATS I am making the same sort of decisions you describe but am less concerned with how these choices fall into (fit into?) particular phases. That's all. I should have elaborated more in my first post but I'm terribly lazy.

Defensive Fire in ASL, I think, suffers from having to exist within a series of phases. Maybe that's why it feels awkward to me, and I wonder if it's needlessly complicated because of having to fit within the other phases. I find it's a difficult to thing to nail down, so I can only say that this is how it "feels" to me.

It is, as you say, superior to the old SL defensive fire, though, but I'm prepared to cut SL a fair amount of slack for having laid down the basis of so much greatness to come.

(edited because I am a crap typist)

 
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Quote:
If you want to ignore Heat of Battle, Beserk, Leader Creation, Snipers, etc., feel free. Call it a 'variant' if you please, JACKWAGON!


Absolutely, the BEST point you could make...

You don't like Snipers??? DON"T USE THEM

HOB....etc leave em out...

It's akin to playing scenarios which don't feature armor. (I'm an infantry guy)


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great way of making ASL understood!
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moly19 wrote:
Okay, I oversimplified my description of ASL phases, which may have been unfair, but I expected my meaning would shine through. Apparently not, or you're being deliberately obtuse. More to the point, though; your examples of the array of decisions available are all true and truly what make any tacsim a beautiful thing. Please also understand that I'm not attempting to tear down ASL, as it does a brilliant job of modeling combat at this scale -- I just happen to think that the ATS impulses makes decision-making less bound to the phases and tied more to the immediate situation. I find that in ATS I am making the same sort of decisions you describe but am less concerned with how these choices fall into (fit into?) particular phases. That's all. I should have elaborated more in my first post but I'm terribly lazy.

Defensive Fire in ASL, I think, suffers from having to exist within a series of phases. Maybe that's why it feels awkward to me, and I wonder if it's needlessly complicated because of having to fit within the other phases. I find it's a difficult to thing to nail down, so I can only say that this is how it "feels" to me.

It is, as you say, superior to the old SL defensive fire, though, but I'm prepared to cut SL a fair amount of slack for having laid down the basis of so much greatness to come.

(edited because I am a crap typist)


That's all awesome, but then again, this thread was not in any way a comparison between ASL and ATS. Perhaps light that lamp somewhere else?
 
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Fair enough. I was merely responding to these queries:

Quote:
Dorque wrote:
But don't you think more recent games have improved on ASL's interlaced phases?

Name one.


Is that ok?
 
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