31 March 2017

From Start to Finnish: Part 5

ASLSK BP1 - Beyond the Beaches (2009) 
You may recall that the ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK) Dependencies flowchart1 indicated that ownership of ASLSK1 is required to play the scenarios in the ASL Starter Kit Bonus Pack 1 (ASLSK BP1). However, the Bonus Pack itself is not a prerequisite for any other Starter Kit publication. Just one ASLSK scenario published elsewhere by Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) uses the board included with Beyond the Beaches.2 In other words, you can safely skip this ASLSK digression (and this post), and your ASLSK development will not be impeded in the least. 
To be blunt, you are probably better off not playing two of the three scenarios in the pack, because the rules overhead is not worth the effort of unlearning. I say this because the rule section included with the pack is not part of the ASLSK rule set proper. And in my view, the rule section differs enough from its ASL counterpart that mastering the ASLSK version may only lead to unnecessary confusion and frustration later should you decide to take up ASL. For the curious and determined among you, I will endeavour to explain what all the fuss is about.3
Still here? Very well. Here is what lies in store for the intrepid reader. The first part of the post consists of a lengthy and detailed explanation of the terrain type unique to this Starter Kit publication. One segment in particular may be of interest to new or returning ASL players, even if they have no intention of playing Starter Kit. The second part of the post concerns the scenarios in the pack. My intent is less to sell you on the merits of the scenarios themselves than acquaint you with the innovativeness of their designs. With that out of the way, I will begin with a subjective assessment, and proceed from there.
Beyond the Beaches is part pet project, and part experiment. As pet projects go, ASLSK BP1 fails to impress. But I hesitate to characterize the pack as a failed experiment. Two of the three scenarios in Beyond the Beaches are ground-breaking, literally earth shattering. And board p, the only board in the pack, is in my view the most attractive of the Starter-Kit boards. Admittedly, board p gets more love in ASL than ASLSK, which is understandable given the inclusion of a type of terrain unique among ASLSK boards. But the very thing that makes the Bonus Pack stand out from the ASLSK crowd is also the very thing that makes it an outcast.
Board p has hedges. Hedges are common in ASL. For the historians among you, they have bordered hexes since the days of Squad Leader
Discovering what lies beyond the hedges
The landscape in Beyond the Beaches is bucolic: a village of sturdy stone houses, framed on two sides by farmland. The cultivated areas are a mix of grain fields and orchards bounded, in part, by hedges. The scenario pack includes four paragraphs of rules that explain how these hedges work in ASLSK, complete with a colour example. Unfortunately, the explanation is hit-and-miss. It skips such hexside curiosities as hedges sandwiched between grain,4 and yet includes references to situations that players will never encounter while playing the scenarios in the pack.5
Beyond the Beaches - board p
To be fair, the ASL rules for these man-made boundaries have been the subject of ongoing disputes for decades. As recently as 2008, the rules for walls and hedges received an overhaul, followed by additional corrections twelve months later, coincidentally around the same time MMP released the ASLSK “Beyond the Hedges” pack. Underscoring my point about the fickle nature of the rules associated with this hexside terrain, MMP released an amended version of the ASLSK hedge rules in 2015. Trimming hedges down to ASLSK proportions was never going to be easy. It required a talented rules arborist.
Here is what the tree surgeon came up with. The green “inch-worms” that overlap many hexsides of board p are hedges, and represent vegetation one to two meters high. Infantry expend one Movement Factor (MF), plus the Cost of Terrain (COT) entered, to hop a hedge. For example, it costs a squad 2.5 MF (1 MF + 1.5 MF) to cross a hedge hexside and enter a grain hex. Most vehicles can negotiate a hedge too.6 The costs for doing so vary, as does the propensity for various types of vehicles to bog in the process. However, no ASLSK scenarios published to date by MMP put vehicles and hedges on the same board. With that in mind, I will concentrate on the interaction of Infantry and hedges. There are two important concepts to get your head around. One concerns Lines of Sight (LOS), the other, when and how to apply the protective benefits of a hedge.
Sight lines
A hedge hexside always includes its vertices, even if the actual artwork does not touch a vertex.7 The hedge artwork—along with the hexside and its vertices—is an obstacle to same-level LOS, and will affect any LOS drawn through it, and in certain cases along its length. Provided the viewer and/or the target is in the hex bordered by a hedge, the hedge will not block LOS to the centre dot of that hex. The hedge does, however, tend to modify any fire directed at this point. In this respect, a hedge is similar to a woods hex. Fire can be traced to the centre of a woods hex, but not beyond it. 
Hedges differ from other types of vegetation in that it is not only possible to see along the length of a hedge hexspine to another hex, but it is also possible to do so free of any LOS Hindrance. Granted, an LOS Hindrance may apply to such a sight line, but not due to the hedge itself. There are, however, two requirements to be met before LOS can be said to exist. 
First, the hedge hexspine must share a vertex with that of the viewing and/or the target hex. In the example below, the hedge on the D4-E4 hexspine blocks LOS between C2 and F6, because this segment of hedge adjoins neither C2 nor F6. In contrast, reciprocal LOS exists between B7 (viewing hex) and D4 (target hex), because the B6-C7 hexspine shares a vertex with the viewing hex (where squad J is located). 
Hedge Huggers - right click to open in new window
Second, the hedge hexspine that shares a vertex with the viewing and/or the target hex cannot have a “three-pronged” hedge on the opposite vertex, unless this vertex also forms part of the viewing and/or target hex. The actual wording of the ASLSK rule is less clear. It states that a hedge is an LOS obstacle “if touching one of the viewing/target hexes and the vertex opposite of the viewing/target hex has walls/hedges on all of its three hexspines.” In the ASL version, the words “one” (as in only one) and “all” are italicized. I believe that emphasis on the word “one” is important for understanding the rule the way it is written. Indeed, it was only after I had reread the ASL version that the ASLSK wording began to make sense.

Let’s begin by looking at an example where LOS is blocked due to the three-hexspine rule. In the Hedge Hugger diagram above, the 7-4-7 in B1 (the viewing hex) has no LOS to the 5-4-8 in D4 (the target hex) because the B2-C2-C3 vertex opposite the viewing hex has three hedges stemming from it. 
Now have a look at the 4-4-7 in D2. Like the 7-4-7 in B1, the German squad is in a hex that is connected to a hedge hexspine with a three-pronged vertex at the opposite end. However, in this case, the C2-C3 hedge hexspine adjoins both the viewing hex (D2) and the target hex (B2). Therefore, LOS exists. (The dashed yellow line in the diagram simply indicates that the LOS is hindered by the orchard in C3.) 
Jay Richardson did an admirable job of describing the three-hexspine rule on BoardGameGeek. His illustrated description was so well done that it bears repeating. Until I read Jay’s post, I was unaware of the back story. Suffice it to say that the three-hexspine clause is designed to forestall a rules conflict, or as Jay remarked, “The three hexspine rule simply covers a case where the other rules conflict with each other.” The diagrams below are my graphic attempts to explain the rationale behind this rule.
Three's a crowd
Tempted by TEM
So much for LOS. What can a hedge do for you? 
Like woods, hedges provide a +1 Terrain Effects Modifier (TEM) to most fire attacks. The two exceptions listed in the ASLSK rule set are for mortars and Demo Charges (DC).8 Hedge TEM is not applicable (NA) to either form of attack. A hedge nevertheless provides a modicum of protection from mortar fire by negating the -1 Dice Roll Modifier (DRM) for movement in the open (FFMO), and sparing broken units from unwelcome Interdiction (Section 3.6). The ASLSK rules are vague with regard to when a unit can claim these benefits. But I think it safe to conclude that FFMO and Interdiction are negated only if the Line of Fire of a mortar crosses a hedge hexside/hexspine of the target hex.9 

As interesting as the effects of hedges on mortar fire may be, they are not something that you need worry about in ASLSK BP1. The effects of hedges on other forms of fire are another matter.10 The more convoluted part of the Starter Kit hedge rules beckons.
Taking advantage
Fig leaves are no match for bullets. Any protection derived from a hedge is largely due to the cover that it provides from view. If, like the soldiers in the photograph at the start of this post, the enemy is peering over the hedge at your men, your soldiers are at a disadvantage. Opposing forces cannot lay claim to the same hedge hexside. Any right to, or advantage over, a hedge hexside is on a first-come, first-served basis. 
“Wall Advantage” (WA) is the ASL term for this transitory state, and it applies to walls and hedges. There are no counters in ASLSK to mark WA status; you need to keep track of it on your own. There are no walls in ASLSK either—at least not yet. Confusingly, the explanatory text that accompanies the illustrated examples for ASLSK hedges—although not the rules themselves—uses the term “wall advantage” in quotation marks. Forgive me while I use the term “hedge advantage” instead. 
To recap, a unit with hedge advantage has “dibs” or “bagsies” on the hedge TEM, because it got there first. Having arrived first, a unit not only gains hedge advantage over all hedge hexsides of its hex, but also bequeaths this advantage to any friendly (including broken) unit that cohabits the hex. (In lieu of a dedicated counter to denote this advantageous status, I recommend using a ⅛” tile spacer or another small object as a memory aid.)   
There are a few caveats. The most important is that only Good Order units may gain hedge advantage. A Good Order unit is one that is neither broken nor locked in Melee. Although it is possible for a broken unit to retain the benefits of hedge TEM under certain circumstances, it cannot retain hedge advantage of its own accord, which brings me to the second caveat. Hedge advantage is lost the moment a hex no longer contains a Good Order unit, and an opposing Good Order unit gains hedge advantage over a shared hexside. A “changing of the hedge” can occur as a result of fire, or movement. In the former case, this can occur the moment a lone unit with hedge advantage breaks. Advantage is transferred immediately to any Good Order, enemy unit that shares a hedge hexside with the now broken unit. 
There is little one can do to prevent a unit from breaking and losing hedge advantage, but a “voluntary” loss of hedge advantage can be avoided by ensuring that at least one friendly Good Order unit is always present in the hex. For instance, moving another unit into the hex before the original unit leaves ensures that advantage is retained. Even a Good Order Leader will suffice. Before I get to the last of the caveats, have another look at our Jerry in a jam below.
Jerry Jam
Had these slow-poke soldiers been in D2 before the 6-6-7 entered E3, the German squad would have had dominion over all of D2’s hedge hexsides. Furthermore, the 4-4-7 would have retained hedge advantage over these hexsides even if American units had subsequently occupied C2, D1, and E2. The German unit would have continued to benefit from hedge advantage in D2 as long as it remained Good Order. The moment the 4-4-7 was no longer Good Order (or exited D2), hedge advantage would pass immediately to any Good Order American unit that shared a hedge hexside with D2. However, were another German unit to enter D2 while the 4-4-7 was Good Order, the German player would retain hedge advantage on the basis of this second Good Order unit regardless of what might befall the original 4-4-7. 
Hedge Advantage
The less obvious takeaway from the ASLSK hedge rules (see excerpt above, emphasis added) is that it does not prohibit a unit from gaining hedge advantage over uncontested hexsides.11 In other words, hedge advantage is not an all-or-nothing proposition. The rules in Beyond the Beaches allow units of opposing sides to gain and maintain advantage over different hedge hexsides of the same hex simultaneously. Keeping track of who’s on the first hexside, and what’s on the second, and so on, is a recipe for Abbott and Costello confusion—hence my tip regarding tile spacers. In order to explain how this works in practice, I have created a set of graphics below that illustrate the dynamic nature of hedge advantage.
Taking advantage of your surroundings
Garden (de)tour
The groundskeeper of board p is an odd fellow. It could be that he was simply following orders, the whims of an eccentric, absentee landowner. Hedges help keep livestock in, and predators out. But not a single hedge separates wooded areas from pasture, or cultivated land. Hedges are also effective windbreaks and privacy screens. Yet, not one hedge borders a dwelling in this picture-postcard hamlet. This curious state is no accident. Hedges have been kept clear of woods and buildings in order to avoid the added rules foliage associated with these terrain configurations. Prudent planting also has avoided the need for a (WA) counter to distinguish between units claiming the TEM of a hexside, such as a hedge, and those claiming the positive TEM inside a hex, such as a building. 

Due to the contrived nature of board p, a unit adjacent to an enemy unit with hedge advantage will almost always be at a disadvantage. As already discussed, hugging a hedge can be advantageous even without hedge advantage. For example, the 4-4-7 in the diagrams above remained eligible for hedge TEM when taking fire from non-adjacent units such as the 7-4-7 in C1. However, it also possible for a unit without hedge advantage to benefit from the terrain inside a hex.
The rules provided with Beyond the Beaches are unclear on this point, as they only address a potential conflict between in-hex TEM and hedge TEM. The ASLSK hedge rules inform us that: “Hedge TEM is not cumulative with positive TEM of other terrain in that hex,” and that “airbursts [sic] can apply,” presumably in a woods hex with one or more hedge hexsides.12 The reference to Air Bursts, while intriguing, hardly matters on board p. Not a single hedge borders a woods hex—the only terrain prone to this nasty -1 DRM. How about a building enclosed within a neat row of hedges? Afraid not.
Woods and buildings, you may recall, are the only types of ASLSK terrain that provide a positive TEM. So why did the authors of the ASLSK hedge rules bother to include the extra rules verbiage if there is not a single hex on board p where these rules could come into play? After all, no other ASLSK board has hedges. Well, because there is a need for these rules. It’s just not obvious. This may explain why the authors included some seemingly extraneous rules while omitting others. Or maybe they were in a hurry, and forgot. Either way, the (incomplete) tidbit about “positive TEM” is worthy of some elaboration. 
Truth is, some positive DRM within a hex are cumulative with hedge TEM, while others are not. 
Tanks for the TEM
In the Tanks for the TEM example above, a panzer has joined our beleaguered Landsers. I should point out that there is no immediate need to concern yourself with the interaction of Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV) and hedges. None of the scenarios in Beyond the Beaches have vehicles, or ordnance weapons for that matter. Nor do the scenarios require any knowledge of, or access to, rules found in Starter Kits 2 and 3. I am simply using an AFV to illustrate a point. A vehicle wreck could serve the same purpose, but a Tiger is sexier. 
Whenever Infantry share a hex with a friendly AFV (or vehicle wreck), the foot soldiers may be entitled to a +1 TEM DRM, an acknowledgment of the protective value of a hunk of steel, mobile, or not (Section 7.4). This commonly occurs when infantrymen find themselves in a hex with no positive TEM—grain, for example, and where the only meaningful cover is provided by a friendly AFV. Welcome though it may be, the TEM of an AFV (or wreck) is not cumulative with any positive TEM of the natural, or printed, terrain on the board. This includes the TEM of a hedge. Returning to the example above, the 4-4-7 is entitled to hedge TEM when fired upon by the 7-4-7. The 4-4-7 is also entitled to the AFV TEM. Although the German player can only claim one of these TEM, he is free to claim either.13
Smoke and hedges
Smoke is special. In ASLSK, it is defined as an “inherent LOS hindrance” (Section 1.2.5). Smoke is special because it is the only positive in-hex DRM that is cumulative with in-hex, or hexside, TEM. For the sake of argument, imagine that the tank in our example had used its smoke dispenser to place Dispersed Smoke in D2 the previous turn. Now American Prep Fire would be modified by the Smoke, in addition to the TEM of the tank, or the hedge. Admittedly, you will not encounter ⅝” Smoke in any of the scenarios in ASLSK BP1, but you may encounter its diminutive and short-lived sibling. 
Smoke generated from smoke grenades is represented by a ½” counter. The colour of the text on the counter is a reminder that, like Residual Firepower, “green” Smoke does not survive the end of the MPh. While on board, “green” smoke is nonetheless just as effective as “white” Smoke dispensed by a vehicle. The bottom line is that regardless of how the Smoke got there, the Smoke DRM is always cumulative with any applicable in-hex, or hexside TEM. The same goes for the strictly “hindrance” value of Smoke, as shown in the Smoke and Hedges example above, where LOS is traced through Smoke. As you have seen, there are plenty of ways to use a hedge to your advantage.
Hedging your bets
Land deal
The main issue with the ASLSK hedge rules is not that they are stunted. Nor is the unnatural distribution of hedges on the made-for-Starter-Kit board a land deal breaker. I would wager that most ASLSK players can live with the fact that hedges work differently in ASLSK than they do in ASL. The real problem is that hedges, and the ASLSK board that they first took root on, are outcasts. They are outcasts for some very good reasons. But ASLSK hedges need not remain so.
For years the ASLSK rules for hedges were available only in an out-of-print scenario pack. MMP has offered board p for purchase separately since 2013. But ownership of this board remains of limited value to ASLSK players, including those who actually own Beyond the Beaches
To say that board p has been underutilized by scenario designers would be an understatement. As a matter of fact, none of the scenarios in Beyond the Beaches uses board p in its entirety. And only three ASLSK scenarios published to date by MMP feature hedges (or hedgerows, which I will get to shortly). The most recent scenario was released in 2015, six years after the debut of board p. The scenario was included in Special Ops 6, and coincided with the release of updated rules for hedges—available for free download on the company’s website.14 This is a welcome development for those eager to dust off their copies of board p. Moreover, in making the ASLSK hedge rules more accessible, MMP has encouraged scenario designers to incorporate this attractive board into their latest Starter Kit designs. 
Still, it could be a while before MMP’s initiative bears fruit. Almost two years have passed since the last issue of Special Ops hit the virtual store shelves. No new ASLSK scenarios have been released in the interim. It is therefore too early to tell if hedges will become a staple of ASLSK play, or remain a topographical oddity. 
In my view, the ASLSK hedge rules are incomplete, but not horribly so.15 As I have attempted to outline above, they fail to provide clear guidance with regard to certain situations that can conceivably arise during play. There may well be other shortcomings that will only come to light in future scenario designs. 
Board p is fertile ground for new scenarios. The presence of hedges should not deter designers, but rather challenge them to create novel tactical problems for fans of the ASLSK format. Rules questions generated in the course of playing these new scenarios may well persuade MMP to revisit the ASLSK hedge rules. While I do not anticipate many, if any, changes to the ASLSK rules for hedges, MMP would almost certainly provide answers to questions raised, and could be open to publishing additional examples of play in a future issue of Special Ops. Having said that, I doubt that hedges are destined to be integrated into the ASLSK family of rules proper. Then again, with a Pacific Theatre Kit in the works, I suppose that anything is possible. 
Lest my overview of Beyond the Beaches be dismissed as a laundry list of the pack’s shortcomings, I now turn my attention to the scenarios themselves, and in one case, the shape of things to come. But first a look at hedgerows.
Hedgerow help
Hedgerows have been around since the days of Squad Leader too. With the time invested so far explaining the vagaries of Starter Kit-style hedges, you will be relieved to hear that modelling hedgerows in ASLSK has been quite straightforward. Moreover, the rules for hedgerows only appear as Scenario Special Rules (SSR), and then only in one scenario in the pack. 
During the summer of 1944, much blood was spilled in an area of France crisscrossed by hedgerows, or bocage. Hedgerows are earthen mounds topped with vegetation. These enclosures demarcated property lines, and protected crops and livestock from stiff sea breezes. As the name suggests, hedges (occasionally trees) are planted along the crest of the mound. The mound itself could be a metre or more across, with the vegetation almost as thick. Overall height varied, but might rise as high as three or four metres. 
For the purposes of scenario S42, hedgerows differ from hedges in only two respects. Hedgerow TEM is +2, in recognition of the substantial protection that an earthen berm can provide. As one might expect, traversing a hedgerow takes added effort. Infantry therefore pays 2 MF plus the Cost of Terrain (COT) entered to cross a hedgerow hexside. The photograph below, while exceptional, shows why hedgerows favoured the defender and impeded the attacker.
Tunnel vision
Germans are on the defence in each of the three scenarios in the pack. The second scenario, aptly titled “One More Hedgerow,” is the one with hedgerows. An SSR transforms the hedges on board p into the thicker and higher hedgerows of the Norman countryside along the Vire River. The hide-and-seek SSR that debuted in ASLSK3 two years earlier grants the Germans permission to set up all, or part, of their forces hidden. The GIs of the US 29th Infantry Division have their work cut out for them. Below is what the playing area (and the German set up) looks like on the Virtual ASL interface, better known as VASL.
S42 One More Hedgerow
In spite of the hedgerow SSR, S42 is a good place to start for those who want to experience the impact of ASLSK hedges on play. The only other scenario in the pack to make use of these rules, and thus board p, adds a layer of complexity best explored after you get some hands on with the über hedges of S42. I think it’s fair to say that the remaining scenarios in ASLSK BP1 begin with a bang.
Big bang theory
Some observers have speculated that the architect of Starter Kit set in motion a new and continually expanding game universe. The Starter Kit Expansion Pack 1 (ASLSK EP1)—the subject of the next post in this series—appears to bolster this contention. But conspiracy theorists need not look beyond the scenarios in Beyond the Beaches. Kenn Dunn’s fingerprints are plain to see, as are those of his confederate Brian Youse, and henchman Chas Argent. 
Not content to lure ASLSK players into hedgerow hell, the three cannoneers added hellfire to the mix. In S41 “Sink’s Encouragement,” “hellfire” takes the form of an opening barrage. Historically, the fire plan was intended to encourage the weary American paratroopers under Colonel Robert Sink’s command. Ordered to take St. Come du Mont, Colonel Sink was counting on the artillery to weaken the resolve of the Germans in the town. 
To simulate this preparatory bombardment, an SSR allows the US player to pre-plot three artillery strikes before the German player sets up. Registering artillery, as the process is also referred to, does not guarantee accuracy, but preregistration does lessen the margins of error. Because the objective is known to both sides, the American player has some inclination of where the Germans might set up. Even if the Americans guess correctly, the artillery may fail to strike its intended target. The SSR nonetheless encourages the Germans to disperse at start, and seek the cover of stone buildings. 
As intimidating as the artillery may be, it is rarely a game winner. And if the win-loss statistics are anything to go by, Sink’s “encouragement” rarely proves sufficient. Last I checked, S41 was 21-4 in favour of the Germans on the remote on-line automated record (ROAR). The Americans, it would seem, need more encouragement. It is debatable whether the extra squad and machine gun in the balance provisions are enough. Have a look at the playing area below, and judge for yourself. Can seven American squads dislodge an equal number of Germans squads from the vicinity of P6 in five turns? 
S41 Sink's Encouragement
The “Screaming Eagles” have an encore performance. Unfortunately, S43 “Clearing Carentan” is a something of a let down because it is played on board z (from ASLSK1) not board p. The scenario makes up for this, however, by being much better balanced than S41 is. It also takes the artillery SSR introduced in “Sink’s Encouragement” a step further. 
The SSR in S43 shares the preregistration aspect of S41, albeit with one less prerecorded hex. Where S43 differs significantly is in the flexibility its “arty” SSR affords the German paratroopers, or Fallschirmjäger. Whereas Colonel Sink’s artillery fire plan in S41 is a one-off cascade of fire at the outset of the assault, the “indirect” fire support in “Clearing Carentan” is “on call.” During the course of the game, the German commander may call in a maximum of three “fire missions.” Each mission takes the form of a 16-Firepower attack on a seven-hex blast area. The location of each strike is determined in the same manner as in S41. However, only one fire mission can occur in any one fire phase. 
As the first action of their Prep Fire, the Germans may call in a fire mission. Artillery fire also may be called down during what the SSR refers to as the first action of the “Final Fire phase.” By “Final Fire,” the SSR means after all American units have moved, and before German Infantry fires. In other words, the artillery falls at the start of the Defensive Fire Phase (DFPh).16 
Another hide-and-seek SSR allows the Germans—almost all of whom are elite—to begin play with up to 40% of their force hidden. With near force parity, and indirect fire support added to the mix, one might expect a slaughter to ensue. Happily for the Americans, their small contingent of 7-4-7 squads is bolstered by the presence of three leaders, including a powerful 10-2, as well as a DC.17 The American paratroopers benefit from good cover too, starting as they do in stout stone buildings. What’s more, they have six turns to clear a city block dominated by the prominent zD2 building.
It is ironic that the most compelling and entertaining scenario in Beyond the Beaches capitalizes on neither board p, nor the hedge rules included in the pack. Nor do the scenarios that use the ASLSK hedge rules necessarily make the most of board p. Granted there are only three scenarios in the pack, a summary of which can be found in the table below.
Scenarios of Starter Kit Bonus Pack 1 - Beyond the Beaches
Concluding remarks
All of the scenarios in the pack are small Infantry engagements. None, however, are what I would characterize as introductory in nature given the combination of hedges and SSR. Having said that, I think it important to stress that Beyond the Beaches is a bonus pack. One board and three scenarios are in keeping with a pack of this kind—the quarter-page of rules arguably less so given their level of complexity. There is, moreover, a difference between introducing “specialized terrain” in a quasi-historical pack like Beyond the Beaches, and adding new terrain to the ASLSK rule set as ASLSK2 did with hills, and ASLSK3 with brush. The hedge rules (and their tailor-made board) were deemed necessary in order to recreate a battle in bocage country (scenario S42). 
As I remarked at the beginning of this post, the pack is a pet project. It satisfies an interest the creator of ASL Starter Kit and one of the MMP’s owners had in portraying certain actions in an ASLSK format. Kenn Dunn and Brian Youse have made no secret of their interest in the Battle of Normandy, and the American sectors in particular. Beyond the Beaches should not be judged on the general merits of the ASLSK hedge rules for hedges remain apart from the ASLSK “system” some eight years after the release of the pack. Instead, the pack ought to be critiqued on the basis of its scenarios. Do hedges provide a unique flavour that warrants the added rules overhead? Are the scenarios balanced? Are they fun to play?
The answers to the first and last questions are subjective. The answer to the second is mixed. I will leave others to assess the fun factor, and hedge my bets—pun absolutely intended—on the first question. Assessing the bang-for-buck value of the hedge rules is problematic. Only two scenarios use these rules, and neither provides a rigorous test. And yet, this may be why they work well together. The absence of ordnance and vehicles in these scenarios ensures that a host of potential interactions with hedges never occurs. Furthermore, each scenario featuring hedges (or hedgerows) has received as much play as the one that avoids hedges altogether by using a different map. While hardly definitive, it would seem that players have not been deterred by the ASLSK rules for hedges. Make of it what you like, but it is worth pointing out that the most hedge-intensive scenario in the pack also appears to be the most finely balanced.
Each scenario has approximately 25 recorded playings on ROAR (as of March 2017). Too small to draw any definitive conclusions, the win-loss records do suggest that two of the scenarios are off to a good start. The track record of “Sink’s Encouragement,” as previously noted, is not promising. 
ROAR stats (March 2017)
It could be that those playing the Allied side have failed to “grok,” or decipher how the American force should deal with the tactical problem in S41. In some of the after-action reports (AAR) that I have read, American players have attacked over a broad frontage. With only five turns to take and hold the objectives, Sink’s men do not have the time to execute wide flanking moves. Another possible explanation for the poor performance of the Americans may have something to do with the preparatory artillery fire. I suspect that many players are spreading this fire over a wide area in the hopes of breaking more defenders. Sixteen firepower is nothing to scoff at. But the +3 TEM of stone buildings effectively means that on an average DR of seven, the Germans are going to face a Normal Morale Check. With a Morale of seven, and another average DR, a German unit will pin, but still pass the Morale Check. Concentrating all three artillery strikes on one area in order to hit some targets more than once may be a better tactic.
The scenarios in the Bonus Pack have received a similar amount of play. In spite of additional rules overhead, and one striking anomaly, they appear balanced. Although the jury remains out with regard to the hedge rules introduced in the pack, Beyond the Beaches does break ground in other areas. The pack debuted special rules for artillery fire, and refined the hide-and-seek SSR for units that begin play hidden. As a product, the pack underwhelms. Notwithstanding, it has played a role in the evolution of what has begun to look like a parallel game system predicated on an abridged rule set.18  
If you purchased ASLSK as a stepping stone to ASL, I recommend taking a pass on Beyond the Beaches. There are plenty of hedges to hop in ASL without worrying about them in a few Starter Kit scenarios. If, on the other hand, you harbour no aspirations beyond ASLSK, adding more scenarios to your ASLSK catalogue may not be a bad idea. Whatever the case, ownership of this out-of-print pack should be considered a bonus, not a must have. At north of $50.00 USD on the secondary market, the risk of disappointment is not worth any potential reward. UPDATE (29 June 2017): MMP has reprinted this pack. The reprint of the Starter Kit Expansion Pack is another story, and the subject of the next post in this series.
Notes
1. The chart can be found at the end of my first post of this series.
2. The other exception is an ASLSK (and ASL-compatible) scenario published by Sherry Enterprises—better known by its flagship publication Schwerpunkt—in Rally Point No. 6. When RPT56 “Failure to Assimilate” was published in 2011, the green hexside artwork on board p would have been unintelligible to an ASLSK player without access to the hedge rules contained in ASLSK BP1. (See also note 10 below.)
3. See also, Mark Pitcavage’s perspective.
4. For consistency, the authors also could have explained brush in the same context—in the event that the grain was treated as brush by Scenario Special Rule (SSR), or a hedge appeared alongside brush on a future ASLSK board.
5. For instance, the rules tell us that a fully-tracked vehicle pays one Movement Point (MP) plus COT to cross a hedge, while an Armored Car (AC) pays 3 MP plus COT, and must undergo a Bog Check. I suspect that vehicles are a big reason why MMP did not introduce walls to ASLSK. Unlike walls, hedges do not provide the protection that allows vehicles to gain Hull Down status. Nor do hedges prohibit the firing of bow weapons, as walls usually do. Suffice it to say that adding walls to ASLSK would only add more barriers to the learning process. After all, ASLSK is supposed to be for beginners.
6. Hedges are impassable to trucks, motorcycles, and horse-drawn transport.
7. Occasionally, a vertex of a hedge hexside will be devoid of the green hedge artwork—a result of an error in the production process. However, the ASL rules are unequivocal in such cases. The hedge is said to extend the entire length of a hexside, inclusive of both vertices. The exception is an intentional gap. These gaps typically lie midway along a hedge hexside, and frequently appear in conjunction with a road hexside. Board p has no such gaps.
8. A Demolition Charges (DC) may not be thrown in ASLSK, only placed (Section 4.3). Therefore, hexside TEM cannot apply as it can in ASL when a DC is Thrown (A23.6, and B9.3).
9. This is an understandable simplification of the ASL rule (A9.34). Mortar fire actually lowers the hexside TEM by one, which effectively makes the hedge TEM 0. But this does not mean that the hedge TEM is necessarily NA, as it may still negate FFMO/Interdiction.
10. None of the scenarios in the pack involve mortars (introduced in Starter Kit 2). Perhaps, MMP had something in the works. However, to date, scenarios featuring board p and mortars have appeared only in third-party publications. The reference to DC in the hedge example—namely that hedge TEM is not applicable to DC attacks—was also included with an eye to the future. “Clearing Carentan,” the only scenario in ASLSK BP1 with a DC in the order of battle (OB), uses board z (which lacks hedges), not board p. It would be six years before MMP released an ASLSK scenario that again made use of board p. This time DC are in play. But still no mortars. The order of battle of a third-party scenario (see note 2 above) that uses board p not only has DC and mortars, but also a pair of self-propelled assault guns.
11. Adjacent units of opposing sides cannot gain advantage (WA) over a shared hedge hexside at the same time. On this much the ASL and ASLSK rule sets agree. In ASL, however, a unit with WA over a shared hexside also prevents an opposing unit from gaining WA over any hexside whatsoever. The ASLSK rule differs. It allows units to gain, retain, and lose WA by hexside, not hex. 
There is a precedent for the ASLSK rule in Deluxe ASL (DASL). DASL is an adaptation that permits the use of 6mm miniatures on mapboards roughly three times larger than the norm. Only a handful of rules are unique to DASL, and most of these are a consequence of its bigger format. The 55mm hexes of DASL boards are big enough to accommodate extra information counters. The extra real estate allows the placement of multiple WA markers within a single hex. This in turn allows players to indicate which hexsides a particular unit has WA over. 
For the curious among you, have a look at the illustrated DASL example at the bottom of page 10B in the ASLRB2. This page was one of several replacement pages included with ASL Action Pack 4 (2008). By the way, you will search in vain for any reference to WA in Chapter J. The rule is not found in the one-page chapter dedicated to DASL; it lies buried as an exception in Chapter B—in section B9.321 to be specific.
12. The use of the word “airbursts” is yet another unfortunate inconsistency, as both the ASLRB2 and the ASLSK rule set proper use the term “Air Bursts.” The discrepancy was not corrected in the 2015 version of the hedge rules. 
13. In some cases, it will not matter which TEM is chosen. However, if attacked by indirect fire, or a DC, an AFV or wreck would provide better protection than a hedge would. 
14. In order to play S59 “Mopping Up,” you need to wrap your head around the rules for hedges, and the SSR for steeples, naval artillery, and tunnels. The scenario also includes a bazooka, the rules for which are not found in Starter Kit 1. More important, you will find all of the counters necessary to play the scenario in only one place—in ASLSK EP1 (discussed in Part 6 of this series). When the scenario was released in the summer of 2015, the Expansion Pack had been out of print for some time, and remained so until early 2017.
15. The effects of hedges on the placement of Residual FP is another area where the ASLSK rules depart from ASL proper. In Section 3.3.5 of the most current (2014) ASLSK rule set, players will find that hedges, i.e. hexside terrain—a term not found in the ASLSK rules, do not factor into the calculation for how much Residual FP is placed following an attack. Indeed, part of the rule is italicized in an effort to drive home the point that the amount of Residual FP left “is reduced by one IFT column for each positive IFT or To Hit DRM caused solely by conditions outside the target hex (including TH DRM).” The ASLSK rule goes on to say that these conditions could also include positive leadership modifiers, CX status, and LOS hindrances,” but not the hexside TEM of the target hex, such as a hedge. 
This is understandable. Hedges appear in no other ASLSK publication. One has to wonder why MMP bothered to mention airbursts [sic], when there is no possibility of them occurring on board p. In my view, it would have made more sense to have skipped Air Bursts altogether. Instead, MMP could have kept things more consistent with the ASLRB2 by explaining how hedges can effect the placement of Residual FP. In ASL, the amount of Residual FP left is reduced by one column if the hedge TEM of the target Location modified (or could have modified, for example, versus a target claiming vehicle TEM rather than hedge TEM) the IFT/To-Hit DR.
16. The SSR is a little ambiguous. It is conceivable that a person could argue that the Germans are allowed to make these attacks at the beginning of American Prep Fire and Defensive Fire Phases. But I am certain that the intent is that such fire can occur only during a friendly (that is, German) fire phase.
17. A third SSR permits the US player to substitute any available DC for the American one in the order of battle. You will recall that the only prerequisite for Beyond the Beaches is ASLSK1. However, this Kit does not contain an American DC. For obvious reasons, a Russian DC is the best substitute.
18. Two scenarios in ASLSK EP1 (next in this series) incorporated the refined versions of these special rules for hidden units. A heavily modified form of pre-game bombardment, as it is known in ASL, debuted in the same pack. Later, off-board artillery would become a fully-fledged rule in its own right, part of a historical module (Part 7 in this series) designed around the ASL Starter Kit rule set. Although I cannot confirm this, Beyond the Beaches may have been a testing ground of sorts for the inclusion of hedges in future Starter Kit publications, perhaps failing to make the cut in the first ASLSK historical module. 

2 comments:

Grumble Jones said...

Great, informative post Chris.

Chris Doary said...

Thanks for dropping by Scott. Thanks too for the kind words of support.

-Chris