Do not be fooled by the cover. There is nothing wintry about the latest Winter Offensive Bonus Pack (WOBP) from Multi-Man Publishing. Granted one scenario in the pack does qualify as a winter-break destination, replete with palm trees and a raucous night life. Were this not bonus enough, the date of WO14 “For Pride’s Sake” happened to coincide with the start of the second largest ASL tourney anywhere.
From 16 to 19 January 2014, over 135 gamers converged on Bowie, Maryland for MMP’s annual tournament. Winter Offensive (WO) is not entirely devoted to ASL. A few heretics play other wargames from the company’s growing catalogue.1 But most come to play The Game. They also come to buy. The MMP obliges.
The folks at MMP also know a thing or two about captive markets captivated by anything with ASL on the cover. Last year three ASL publications debuted at WO 2013.2 This year MMP dangled three more before the undiscriminating crowd in Bowie.3 What was arguably the most anticipated January release came in its own box. Decision at Elst is a self-contained, historical module for fans of ASL Starter Kit. Kenn Dunn’s module is the first of its kind. It focuses on one of the battles for “The Island” during Operation Market Garden, in September 1944. More modest, but no less impressive, was To the Bridge! Gary Fortenberry’s newest Action Pack takes us to Burma. It follows the early progress of the Japanese invasion, from December 1941 until February 1942. The most affordable ASL publication to appear at WO this year was the scenario pack that I mentioned at the beginning of my post.4
|MC P and the WO T|
Over the years, MMP has donated thousands of dollars to charity. Proceeds from entrance fees and sales of T-shirts have been a big part of this. Since 2010, however, donations have been supplemented by the profits garnered from the sale of a small scenario pack. Sales of the fifth installment of the WOBP go toward supporting the World War Two Foundation. The pack contains three scenarios, and a new map board. The scenarios are the work of one veteran designer.
For Pete’s sake
Peter Shelling has been designing scenarios since the mid 90s. He entered the hobby, like many of us, by way of Squad Leader in 1977. Fourteen years later, he was recast as an ASL player. Pete has close to a hundred designs to his credit, more than half of which have been published by MMP.5 His early designs tended toward larger and longer encounters. At 8.5 turns long, his first three publications for Avalon Hill were typical for the period. Those in WOBP5 are two turns shorter.
|Pete Shelling - ASL's reigning hemp king|
The 2014 release is the second WO pack to spotlight Pete’s work. The first, WOBP3 (2012), also featured three of his designs. An MMP Bonus Pack usually comprises a map board, and two or three scenarios. This format gave Pete the freedom to tailor new boards to his specific needs. In WOBP3, for example, he recreated the town of Marvie, Belgium by means of two adjoining map boards (64 and 65), a first for MMP.6 Pete’s second kick at the swamp cat is less ambitious.7 While the map boards in WOBP3 broke new ground at MMP, they are less flexible than standard, geomorphic boards. The map board included in WOBP5 not only has wider applicability, it also may prove to have wider appeal.
Alan Findlay has had a fascination with atlases since childhood. Growing up, his bedroom was “wallpapered” with maps taken from National Geographic magazine.8 A high-school friend introduced him to wargaming. He claims that he was never any good at it, but enjoyed the history and the maps of PanzerBlitz, and Panzer Leader. Christmas brought him Squad Leader, and the rest, as they say, is history and maps, lots of maps. The advent of Advanced Squad Leader brought still more maps to his game table. However, Alan could not resist the urge to create his own cardboard battlegrounds.
Alan has come a long way from the rudimentary map art that once adorned the walls of his man cave. Advancements in computer technology—Virtual ASL (VASL) and HexDraw9 in particular—have allowed him to share his topographical visions with the wider ASL community. Alan began with board-specific overlays (BSO) that transformed boards 2, 15, and 50 into a homogeneous area of high ground. Eager to break new ground, he created larger overlays, and then tried his hand at terra forming entire boards. Some of his work has appeared in products released by Critical Hit!, a third-party publisher of ASL material.10
|Board-specific overlays were the genesis of board 67|
Board 67 was Alan’s first made-to-order design. It was spawned from a BSO. (Hint: compare villages.) Alan posts many of his prospective designs on GameSquad ASL Forums. One project got Pete Shelling’s attention. Alan was toying with creating a double-wide board based on boards 61 and 62 from Action Pack 7. Pete contacted Alan. Would Alan be interested in crafting an “east-front wilderness” board? Silly question.
Alan attacked the project with the fervour of a fanatic. His enthusiasm waned momentarily after MMP became involved with the layout of the final product. Chas Argent is MMP’s go-to-guy for ASL development. The map was all but done, when Chas asked Alan to shift the village from the geomorphic fault line to one side of the Q-Row. The struggling artist was a bit taken aback by the request to alter his “place de résistance.” On reflection, it occurred to Alan that designing boards was not about him. His job was to provide ASL players with a new map board, not bend players to his own designs. And a fine job he has made of it.
I am grateful for Chas’s intervention. The division of board 67 into distinct sides not only makes the map more flexible, but it also increases the amount of “untamed” real estate available to scenario designers. Ignoring the desert boards (26-31), only boards 36, 52, and 61 are devoid of buildings. Of the remaining maps in the MMP catalogue, only six, including board 67, have a “wild side.”
|Alan Findlay's wild side - a close up of board 67|
Overall, I am pleased with the wilder half of board 67. If pressed, I would have made a case for the inclusion of a few brush-road hexes, conspicuous by their absence. Alan admitted to me that he had not given much thought to how the board would look when transformed into a tropical rain-forest environment. I think that hexes R7, V3, and AA4 would have been good candidates for brush-roads. When PTO Terrain (G.1) is in effect, the brush-roads would become paths, or disappear altogether in the presence of Deep Snow (E3.73), which would also transform the brush into Open Ground (B12.6). Having said that, the board lends itself well to transformations. Our budding, landscape architect appears to have spared no expense in planting ground cover with wild abandon. Therefore, I was disappointed to find that no saplings (orchard), or weeds (grain) had crept into the gullies. Perhaps Alan is saving these untidy bits for a truly wild design.
The hamlet half of board 67 is a wonder all its own. The compact settlement is nestled amid a convincing mix of greenery. No one element dominates, and there are no formidable strongpoints. I also like the distribution of the buildings. With PTO Terrain in effect, many will become huts (G5.) around a core of more permanent structures. This is in keeping with the implied remoteness of the hamlet. While Dense Jungle (G2.2) will amplify the claustrophobic character of the “human” side of board 67, winter will have an opposite effect. Light Woods and Prepared Fire Zones (PFZ) will open up the playing area further.11 Expect to see this board in heaps of new scenarios this year, and next.
Alan is not one to rest on his shrubbery. He is collaborating with MMP on new board, and remains open to other “commissions.”12 No doubt, Pete Shelling will call upon his services again. Time to look at the first scenarios to be fought on board 67.
WO12 Heart of Wilderness
The Siniavino Offensive opened on 27 August 1942. The aim was to break the year-long siege of Leningrad. East of the city, the Soviet attack made good progress. Penetrations as deep as seven kilometres were recorded. However, German strongpoints bypassed in the process refused to yield despite being isolated far behind enemy lines. One of these forward positions lay roughly 20 kilometres southeast of Schlisselburg (on Lake Ladoga), at a place that the Soviets would remember as the round (Круглая) grove. Located at the foot of the Sinyavino heights—an elevated area some 150 metres above the surrounding wetlands and forest—the circular defensive position lay astride the only track leading to the village of Siniavino. The blocking position had remained impervious to Soviet assaults since the previous autumn. On 28 August, two battalions of Lieutenant-Colonel Maximilian Wengler’s Grenadier-Regiment 366 found themselves cut off and encircled inside a pocket approximately six kilometres square. “Heart of Wilderness” revisits a thrust by the 19th Guards Rifle Division against the southeast corner of this pocket.
Elements of Battalion I, Grenadier-Regiment 366 are represented by a reinforced rifle company, a quarter of which are elite. The Germans are equipped with weapons common to a Wehrmacht infantry division at this time of the war, including an anti-tank rifle. Attached to the rifle company is a 75mm mountain gun, and a 37mm “door knocker.” Do not laugh. The anti-tank gun is the most powerful AT asset available. It is more than capable of dealing with the Soviet light tanks able to traverse the soft ground of the Volkhov Front.
|37mm Pak 35/36 Stielgranate 41|
The Grenadier’s are very well led at Wenglernase—Wengler’s nose being the defender’s affectionate nickname for the strongpoint. Five leaders may seem generous, but the Germans have a lot of ground to cover. The leader of the pack is a 10-2. Again, this is not as generous as it might seem. There is no heavy machine gun (HMG) in the German order of battle (OB). And there are no long lines of sight (LOS) over which to reign death and disruption.13 Granted the Germans are well dug in, and benefit from a pair of pillboxes.14 But given the terrain, the influence of the 10-2 on the battle will be quite localized. Hidden pillboxes and Dummy units will help keep his whereabouts a mystery. However, once he pokes his nose out, the Russians are unlikely to lose track of “Wengler.”
|Kruglaya (Round) Grove aka Wengler's nose Monument|
The entire Soviet force enters from off board, in three, successively smaller waves. Befitting their status as a Guards formation, roughly 45 per cent of the infantrymen are Elite (A1.25). The first wave is composed of two rifle companies headed by a 10-0 Commissar. Although this wave has three other leaders, none may be exchanged for an additional Commissar. The largest group also has the heaviest support weapons (SW): a pair each of Maxims and light mortars. On the second turn, the Soviets receive another rifle company led this time by a 9-0 Commissar and a 9-1 leader. With the exception of a satchel charge, these reinforcements are lightly armed. The last group, built around four, fast tanks of the 124th Tank Brigade, enters on Turn 4. Four submachine-gun squads and a 7-0 leader are along for the ride. All told, the Russian player has 30 squads, and four radioless (D14.) tanks, at his (or her) disposal. That is a two-to-one force ratio in favour of the attacker. The ratio of Russian 4-5-8 squads to German 4-6-8 squads is better than three to one. So what gives? Why so many Guardsmen?
|BT-7 M1937 Cavalry Tank|
The Soviets have seven turns to secure the bridge over the “Chernaya River,” and establish a foothold in the heart of the wilderness strongpoint. Controlling the bridge Location in Hex 67T6 appears to be a straightforward, if bloody, proposition. With regard to the second condition, the Russian player needs to gain control of building 67J4 and/or 67L6. These are not the strongest defensive positions on the map; the pillboxes are. Perhaps the “church” and the second “stone” building represent regimental or battalion headquarters. Es macht nichts. All buildings are wooden, and neither building objective provides any added protection for its occupants. More important, these objectives are difficult to defend, which brings me back to the bridge.
|WO12 Heart of Wilderness|
The bridge is key. The Russians have to take it to win. The best protective terrain with LOS to this objective is woods. However, German light mortars can make the treeline uninviting. In contrast, the defenders can dig in around the bridge. Entrenchments also reduce the effectiveness of Russian light mortars. The pillboxes are harder to crack.15 Forget about trying to penetrate the Non-Covered Arc (NCA) of a pillbox with the Main Armament of a BT-7 tank. The Basic To Kill number is too low (B30.35). And the Russians have no means of smoking off enemy positions without sacrificing tanks in the process. Suffice it to say that taking the bridge will be a costly affair. A well-timed Human Wave (A25.23) may help. But there is no avoiding the fact that the Russians are going to take casualties, lots of casualties.16
The clock is ticking. A wily defender will make the Soviets pay dearly as they approach from the east. Meanwhile, a skilful fallback defence on board 32 will delay a link up between Soviet groups. The built-up area is the weak point in the German defence. But I doubt that the reds on treads will catch the Germans garrisoned there napping.17 I also have my doubts that this small, albeit fast-moving, force can take and hold a building objective without the support of another Soviet group. In the race against the clock, the Russian player may need to trade troops for time.
This is no tourney scenario that you can finish in an evening. Book a day to set up and play WO12. Bone up on the rules for Human Wave (HW) while you are at it. And take notes. There are bound to be some wild tales to tell when it is over.
Yet another work in progress...
Rather than make you wait any longer, I thought I would post what I have ready for this pack. Check back later for a look at the other two scenarios.
Rather than make you wait any longer, I thought I would post what I have ready for this pack. Check back later for a look at the other two scenarios.
1. Bill Cirillo, designer of Festung Budapest, momentarily spurned ASL. He opted to play Great Campaigns of the American Civil War instead. Fans of FB are sure to agree that his time would have been better spent play testing the new, monster campaign game covering all four FB map sheets. But I will forgive Bill his trespasses. He won the GCACW Mini Tournament.
2. Of these, only one was truly new. Read my impressions, and decide for yourself.
3. Also released at WO was a Gamers’s title. Last Chance for Victory takes a fresh look at the Battle of Gettysburg (1-3 July 1863), a turning point of the American Civil War.
4. In addition to placing second overall at WO, Gary also won one of the ASL Mini Tournaments. In a surprise upset, the first-place cup was taken by David Lamb, a prolific scenario designer in his own right. Dave recently joined the Bounding Fire Productions team.
5. Pete’s scenarios have appeared in The General magazine, ASL Annual 96, ASL Action Packs 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7, ASL Journals 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, and 10, Armies of Oblivion, Rising Sun, Out of the Attic 2, Special Ops 2 and 4, and WO Bonus Pack 3. More of his designs can be found in the ASL Starter Kits, and in scenario packs produced by third-party publishers such as Schwerpunkt (about 20 titles), and most recently Friendly Fire.
Among these, a personal favourite of his is J21 “Scobie Preserves,” published in ASL Journal 2. The action unfolds over three Deluxe ASL boards. Communist revolutionaries—Pete is partial to Partisans (A 25.24)—face off against Indian troops sent to Greece to quell a festering insurrection. I never played this scenario, primarily because it called for two deluxe overlays (dx3 and dx4) included with ASL Annual 95. The overlays were misprinted. Although corrected overlays were included with The General magazine (Vol. 30, No. 3) later that year, I never obtained a copy.
The Two Half-Squads interviewed him on one their early podcasts. See episode 40.
6. Boards 64 and 65 adjoin along one length. The other sides are geomorphic, and may be matched normally with other ASL boards. Pete used boards 64 and 65 for his WO7 “Hell for the Holidays,” which takes place under conditions of Ground Snow (E3.72) on 20 December 1944. Last October, Friendly Fire, a popular publisher based in Sweden, released FrF66 “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” Mattias Rönnblom’s scenario also uses boards 64 and 65 without resorting to any terrain transformations. Ground Snow is likewise in effect during this east-front engagement set in East Prussia on 27 January 1945.
7. If big cats spur you to break out the cardboard, check out Pete’s AP11 “Swamp Cats” from ASL Action Pack 2. A Panther, a pair of Tigers, and elite Landsers must hold a tiny bridge on board 13. Facing them is a powerful combined-arms force from the 3rd Guards Tank Corps.
8. To this day, Alan is annoyed with Delaware. The political borders contradict geographic sensibilities. In his view, the entire Delmarva Peninsula should be ceded to Delaware. Evidently, no one has thought to consult him on the matter. I have no such geographic hang ups. Geographic boundaries are temporary, political ones even more so. But I must confess to an interest in maps. I have collected hundreds of them over the years, and refuse to part with them, despite my wife’s semi-annual protestations.
9. HexDraw is a graphic editor that enables users to design board game maps based on a hexagon grid. Vienna-based Joachim Bader developed the software.
10. Examples of Alan’s half-board overlays can be found in several scenario packs including the Upham Pack, and the Ostfront Pack 1. Critical Hit! also published his restyled versions of Squad Leader boards 1-6, and 9-15. Alan was disappointed with the results of the latter project, partly due to low-quality imagery used for the final proofs.
11. Light Woods and PFZ will debut in the forthcoming Finnish module. Light Woods do not block same-level LOS. Instead, they are a +2 Hindrance. A PFZ represents an area cleared, or partially cleared, of vegetation in order to create a kill zone. Woods, for instance, may be converted to brush, or Open Ground, by expending PFZ points allocated at the beginning of the scenario.
|Broken Ground 2a|
12. Alan plans to launch a Kickstarter project shortly. He wants to channel his energies toward the creation of map boards (and counters) for ASL under his Broken Ground label. His short-term goal is to bring a dozen of his map designs to market. The boards will be same format as those found in Gary Fortenberry’s Action Pack 9. My current favourite is board BG-2a. At the moment, Alan is in the process of obtaining the support of veteran designers. Several have signed on already. Each designer has pledged to provide one or more scenarios to the project. The only requirement is that a scenario includes at least one of Alan’s new boards. Otherwise, designers are free to choose their own subject matter. Scenario designers interested in learning more about the project may contact Alan on GameSquad, or email battleschool at rogers dot com.
13. Admittedly, the Steeple Location in 67J4 has LOS to the 67Z6 hill. However, the range is 15-17 hexes.
14. I would have liked to have seen some wire and mines in the German OB. The historical record suggests that they were abundant. However, the dense nature of the terrain partly makes up for the absence of these fortifications.
15. Bunkers are tougher still. Trenches may be used to create bunkers (B30.8) that will allow the Germans to reinforce or withdraw from a pillbox. Keep in mind too that all fortifications begin play Hidden, including the contents of pillboxes (B30.7).
16. The Russian Sniper Activation Number (SAN) is two. The combination of poor protective terrain, and a low SAN is bound to embolden the German player. Expect the Germans to take low-odd shots as a matter of routine.
17. Do not be caught napping as the Germans. The Russians may use Riders (D6.2).