23 July 2015

Of Apples and Oranges


The results of our Canada Day raffle are in. Sitrep turned four at the beginning of July. Two Squad Leaders have something to celebrate too. 
I used four dice for the contest. I rolled more than 300 times, once for each person following Sitrep as of midnight on the last day of June. Although one fellow did manage four twos—the only Yahtzee of the lot—no one had four ones. The lowest roll was five. Only one Squad Leader scored this low. Before I announce his name, I would like to take a short detour down an Orchard Road.
How do you like them apples?
Red Delicious
Back in the ‘80s, the popular “Red Delicious” apple accounted for 75 percent of the apple harvest in Washington state. I confess that I never cared much for this rather bland apple, preferring instead a tart, just-picked McIntosh, or “Mac.”1 While I still enjoy tart apples at harvest time, I have come appreciate several other varieties, especially the Royal Gala. I had my first Royal Gala in New Zealand, where, as it turns out, this variety originated in 1977.2
Royal Gala
The Red Delicious still reigns supreme in Washington, but it now comprises only a third of the total apple harvest. The heir apparent is none other than the Royal Gala, which in second place, accounts for almost a fifth of the state’s apple bounty. Times and tastes invariably change. How much, is open to speculation.
Wargames, Greg Costikyan contended, had their heyday in the 60s and 70s. Costikyan appeared to know what he was talking about. He worked at Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), The Avalon Hill Game Company’s (AH) biggest competitor in the wargames market until SPI went bust in 1982.3 In his 1996 eulogy of wargaming, Costikyan opined that the hobby’s decline began in 1977, with SPI’s decline in sales. This, you may recall, was the same year that the AH released Squad Leader. John Hill’s game sold more than 200,000 copies, a milestone that remains unsurpassed to this day. At the time, however, SPI was the leading publisher of wargames, not AH.
Strategy & Tactics No. 68
Avalon Hill’s days were numbered though. Only a couple of years after Costikyan penned his “A Farewell to Hexes,” AH was no more. Costikyan believed that the demise of SPI was the most important factor in the decline of wargaming. But he also pointed his finger at the allure of computer games, and board games that had become far too complex. Early wargames published by SPI and AH were pretty basic affairs, easy for new players to grasp. By the 1980s, however, many wargames had grown increasingly detailed and complex. Costikyan singled out the Squad Leader system as the most striking embodiment of this phenomenon. 
[T]he original John Hill game was simple enough to be accessible... Over time, Avalon Hill published expansion upon expansion, turning it into a game of rococo complexity, culminating with the release of ADVANCED SQUAD LEADER, a game so complex than one could teach college-level courses in its play, so convoluted that its developer, Don Greenwood, felt compelled to include such minutiae as the Kindling Availability Table [sic] and the Sewer Emergence Chart. It is hard to believe that even the most macho of ‘I-know-the-rules-so-I’m-better-than-you-you-poor-pathetic twit’ complexity enthusiasts play this thing much.
From one ‘I-know-the-rules-so-I’m-better-than-you-you-poor-pathetic twit’ to another, I think that we can agree that Costikyan was no fan of ASL. I think that we also can agree with Costikyan’s conclusion that games like ASL were never intended to have mass-market appeal. But Costikyan apparently misunderstood the underlying attraction of ASL. For someone who has since written extensively on the subject of uncertainty in games, Costikyan is surprisingly dismissive of what he subsequently described as the performative uncertainty, analytic complexity, and narrative anticipation of games. Advanced Squad Leader epitomizes these and other attributes, and in doing so, offers a rich, wargaming experience. But do not take my word for it. 
Bryan Martin—our “Yahtzee” winner—had this to say, when I asked him to reflect upon what drew him to ASL.4 
I stumbled upon ASL in the late 2000’s when I was getting back into war games. I was immediately drawn to its reputation for being a highly detailed and granular game. I found in playing that the level of detail in the game gave me enough options to try and pull off whatever ridiculous plan I can dream up. I also really like the collaborative storytelling aspect of the game. I enjoy looking back after playing a scenario, and seeing the story we created. 
And my wife likes to play [ASL Starter Kit], so bonus.
Is Bryan, a resident of Redmond, Washington, representative of ASL’s target market? Is his wife? Both are gamers. As the photo below attests, they have no shortage of options. The hugely popular Twilight Struggle, for instance, has held top spot among board games on BoardGameGeek (BGG) since 2010. This geopolitical game also ranks first among wargames on BGG, thirteen places ahead of ASL.
The future of ASL is in our hands!
Why play ASL then? Well, I suppose because ASL offers something different. Sure, it is an acquired taste. So is the soft, aromatic Cox’s orange pippin, Britain’s most prized apple. In the 1980s, these nutty apples, with hints of anise and cherry, made up a third of apple production worldwide. “That the Cox’s orange pippin is the tastier, more complex and superior apple is widely agreed,” reported the Independent in 2011, “But the Gala—a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Kidd’s Orange Red, itself a cross of the Cox’s orange pippin and the Red Delicious—is easier to store, has a higher yield and is available all year round.”
Cox's Orange Pippin Apple
I have no idea how many copies of ASL Starter Kit Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) has sold in the past decade. However, given time, this figure may well surpass that of Squad Leader some day. Accustomed to gourmet coffee and international cuisine, younger gamers are looking for a more nuanced gaming experience, something less certain than a computer algorithm, and more challenging than the average tile or card game.
Carcassonne rewards players who plan for the endgame.
My wife is no game connoisseur. Having played Carcassonne and ASL Starter Kit, she nevertheless understands the difference between the two. Each game has its appeal. Which one you play on a particular day depends on your appetite. Tastes change, but I suspect that our appetite for new and challenging games will not. 
I think that as long as ASL continues to provide a challenge, scenario designers can continue to satisfy our desire for new flavours. Granted some grognards will have sampled much of ASL’s fare over the past 30 years. But for others, ASL remains an exotic fruit.
Orange is the new black
Orange Crush
In the early 70s, when sliced bread was still delivered to our doorstep, the milkman occasionally included a carton of Valencia orange juice with our order.5 It was a special treat. The “OJ” was sweeter than the frozen concentrate from Florida that was fast becoming a household staple, and leagues ahead of the sour solution served in petite glasses in countless, forgettable diners across North America. Alas, my childhood refreshment was not hand-pressed from the fruit of orange groves that envelop a distant Iberian city. More likely, it was a pasteurized concoction of juice harvested in Florida.6 So much for the discerning taste of a ten-year-old. 
Produce of Valencia, Spain
The Valencia is a sweet orange (Citrus sinensis). The cultivar, or cultivated variety, is named after the Spanish city of the same name, which is renowned for its citrus trees.7 The parentage of the Valencia remains uncertain. The trees appear to arrived in the Americas via England, the Azores, and perhaps Portugal before that. Oranges are not native to Europe, however. They originated in southeast Asia. In the fifteenth century, the sweet orange was brought to Europe from India. Until then, only bitter oranges, such as the Seville orange,8 grew in the Mediterranean basin. 
Back in the day, citrus was seasonal. Mandarins—where the Valencia gets its sweetness—were something that Canadians looked forward to as Christmas approached. Due to a globalization process that began centuries ago, many of us are now able to sample the fruits of far of lands year round. Of course, a lot more than produce has been transplanted over the centuries. 
Following the release of ASL, an international brigade of squad leaders began to form in Spain. In 1987, a curious Spaniard witnessed a match of “The Guards Counterattack.” Hooked, the young man eagerly purchased every ASL module available. However, no amount of cajoling could convince the role-playing crowd in his town to try a tactical-level board game that focussed on ground combat in World War II. In 2009, an older and wiser man began a new life in Valencia. 
Sangria has nothing on "the water of Valencia."
The region that produces the most oranges in Spain, also boasts the third largest city in the country. With a million-and-a-half souls, and possibly as many oranges, metropolitan Valencia is big enough to support an ASL club. It was here that Jose Tomás Balaguer Monferrer met a group of ASL Starter Kit players. 
Don’t be a guiri and pick these naranjas.
Jose Tomás credits David Galan with bringing him back into the fold. Another person who Jose Tomás feels deserving of special mention is Ramón Real Bernal. Ramón lives on the opposite coast of Spain, in Jerez, just inland from Cádiz. His Advanced Squad Leader blog has nevertheless been a life saver for many Spanish speakers regardless of where they live.9 Jose Tomás tells me that Ramón’s video tutorials and after-action reports (AAR) have taught him much, improving his play immensely.
Fanatic XV Tournament, Barcelona 2013
His performance at recent ASL events notwithstanding, Jose Tomás does not consider himself to be a good player. Some of his ASL compadres may disagree. Jose Tomás is a good supporter of the hobby nonetheless. Aside from attending tournaments on a regular basis, he has helped playtest Lone Canuck’s Ozerekya Breakout, and proofread MMP’s Decision at Elst, Rising Sun, and Hakkaa Päälle!.
Mad for ASL!
Lately, Jose Tomás has been preoccupied with his business. Laws related to his firm’s core activities have recently changed, requiring him study the new regulations, and sit an exam. He hopes to return to assisting Chas Argent with proofreading some of MMP’s upcoming publications. In the meantime, if you are interested in lending MMP a hand, either with playtesting or proofreading, email Chas today! The more hands on deck, the sooner we will see more ASL goodness flow from MMP HQ.
Fanatic XVI, Barcelona 2014
Jose Tomás is one of thousands of players drawn to our hobby from beyond the traditional Anglophone market. In spite of the expense, the complexity, and not least the difficulties associated with learning a foreign-language game, non-native English speakers increasingly are attracted to ASL. Perhaps no where is this trend more evident than in the former communist bloc. 
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the orange “bible” has become something of a globetrotter. There are ASL players in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Indeed, the Russian online magazine стратегема (Stratagema) features numerous ASL articles. Not convinced? Have a look at the video below. Bruce Probst, an Australian ASL player, recently stumbled upon this gem. The Czech production describes the hows and whys of getting started with ASL. I was surprised to learn that a game store in the Czech Republic stocks ASL. I should not have been. I know of several ASL players in the country.
And so it is that ASL continues to capture the imagination of young and old, wherever they may be. The spread of our niche hobby may not qualify as a full-on orange crush. But it should give naysayers pause for thought. Advanced Squad Leader lives! 
Gift basket
Having read this far, you deserve to know what awaits the winners of our fourth anniversary raffle. Let me begin with Bryan Martin, the man who lucked in with two pairs of twos. Bryan was the sixth person to join Sitrep as a Squad Leader, just days after we launched the blog in July 2011. Given that he and his wife play ASL Starter Kit together, they might appreciate sharing the Operation Market-Garden BattleDice that we released last year. If nothing else, it may encourage them to play the campaign game in Decision at Elst. Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Martin!
Op Market-Garden BattleDice are perfect for Decision at Elst
Jose Tomás Balaguer became a Sitrep Squad Leader in August 2011, only two years after cutting his teeth on his first scenario. With the lowest roll overall—a five with four dice—Jose Tomás has won his choice of the prizes shown below. The first of the three prizes will be known to most of you. Nevertheless, some ASL players have expressed reservations about the value, indeed the need, for a Finnish module. For those of you who still require convincing, please see my next post. It is not a product review, but rather a set of reasons why I think that you should own Hakkaa Päälle!.
The second prize is for those who like to “accessorize”—a die for every occasion, if you will. One of our fans sent a photograph of his ASL BattleDice storage system below.10
Ashton has created this storage system for his BattleDice.
The last prize is designed so that Jose Tomás may share the wealth with his fellow ASL compadres in España. It consists of four, identical ten-packs of 12.5mm BattleDice, some of which Jose Tomás may wish to gift to his compañeros de armas. Felicidades Sr. Balaguer!
Sitrep Canada Raffle 2015 First Place Prize Options
How to claim your prize
  • leave a comment at the end of this post
  • email us at: battleschool at rogers dot com
Good luck to all in our next contest. And thanks for reading.
Notes
1. The quintessential Ontario apple, the Mac dates from 1811. Like many of today’s popular apples, the fruit tree was the product of a chance seedling on John McIntosh’s farm in Dundela, Upper Canada (Ontario)—less than 60km from where I now live. The apple is mildly tart when first picked, but sweetens as it ripens. Jef Raskin apparently named Apple’s line of personal computers after this historic variety. 
2. According to Wikipedea, “the first Gala apple tree was one of many seedlings resulting from a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Kidd’s Orange Red planted in New Zealand in the 1930s by orchardist J.H. Kidd.” In 1977, Hendrik Willem and Ten Hove discovered a new variety in an orchard in Matamata, NZ.  Coincidentally, Dale Drake—whom I have had the pleasure to play ASL with several times via VASL—now makes his home in Matamata.
3. In the late 80s, the oldest game store in Ottawa still had bins stuffed full of out-of-print copies of Strategy & Tactics, SPI’s flagship publication.
4.  Bryan also won a prize in our December 2012 raffle.
5. Cochrane’s Dairy Ltd., a family operation in Russell, Ontario (about 30km east of my place), still delivers milk to your door, in glass bottles, no less. Helen occasionally picks up a bottle at our local butcher.
6. It is possible that this early “eau-de-J” came to us by way of Orange County, California. However, the majority of California’s Valencia crop was usually sold for eating rather than drinking. 
7. In the 1860s, an English nursery imported citrus trees from the Azores Islands. Some of the trees exported to the United States found their way to California in 1876, and Florida in 1877. At the suggestion of a Spanish visitor, who noticed a resemblance to a late-maturing variety in the region of Valencia, the trees in California came to be called Valencia Late. Not until the early twentieth century did it become clear to growers in Florida that they were cultivating the same variety. The Valencia would become the most important juicing orange in the USA. The variety is also important in Algeria, Australia, Brazil (where a good deal of orange juice sold in Canada and the States comes to us via supertankers), Israel, Mexico, Morocco, and South Africa. The “Azores” Valencia should not be confused with the Valencia Temprana grown in the Valencia region of Spain. Robert Willard Hodgson, “Horticultural Varieties of Citrus” Division of Agricultural Sciences, 1967.
8. Aside from making excellent marmalade, the juice of Seville oranges makes a zesty base for a salad dressing. We have tried this a couple of times. It takes practice to find the right balance, but can be worth the effort. My wife also likes to add blood oranges to our salads, and carbonated pomelo soda is a summer favourite. And, at the moment, there is a jug of freshly squeezed Valencia oranges in the fridge, alongside a bag of limes that Helen ostensibly bought to make Iranian stew. I suspect that there is a link between the limes and the bottle of Patrón Añejo that she put on the counter yesterday.
9. Technically, many Valencians speak Valencian, which is almost indistinguishable from Catalan, at least to most non-native speakers.
10. For the ultimate—Guiness World Book of Records—dice collection, check out Kevin Cook’s site. It is crammed with over 50,000 dice from around the world.