27 June 2012

East Meets West: Nationality Series

Our newest line of precision BattleDice have arrived. There are five dice in the basic set. The set includes American, Chinese, German, Japanese, and Russian dice. The dice are not much bigger than those that came with ASL Starter Kit 1, or Beyond Valor. However, our BattleDice are prettier. Helen told me so. 

We were not sure what to call this first set. It is something of a cross between stars and suns. We finally settled on East meets West. 
Quite a few people have asked us why we have not produced a ½” (12.5mm) series of dice. When I designed the first set of BattleSchool dice, my thinking was that a larger die was easier for grey-haired folks like me to eyeball. I also reasoned that a larger die allowed for more elaborate and interesting designs.
The wee red die came with Beyond Valor. See my post Sniper! for details of the 14mm Sniper! Effects die. The large Soviet die is part of the BudaPack. It is paired with a dark-red die.
Well it turns out that a lot ASL players can see just fine. Moreover, many players prefer smaller dice for some very sensible reasons. If you use a dice cup, or a compact dicetower, smaller dice make sense. Smaller dice provide more “action” in a cup than larger dice do. Smaller dice are also less prone to getting stuck inside a dicetower than larger dice—less prone, because even small dice occasionally become hung up in a tower.   
Back to the drawing board
I really want our dice to be attractive, not just functional. The smaller canvas of a ½” die invariably puts limits on what I can do from a design perspective. From the start I decided to keep things as simple as possible. Unfortunately, this can lead to uninspiring designs such as the Japanese “meatball,” or sun disc. But this very simplicity has its own benefit. The red orb looks like an enlarged pip. Doing sums should be a snap with this die. In fact, several of the designs mimic the shape of a pip. So in one respect these simplistic designs improve functionality. Nevertheless, the American and Chinese dice demonstrate that even a simple design can be striking. 
Nationalist Chinese Dice
I also wanted to design an economical line of BattleDice. In order to keep costs down, I decided to dispense with a matching coloured die. That is not exactly true. You still need a coloured die. But what you do not need is a custom, coloured die designed to match each white die in the series. Because there is a substantial set-up fee associated with each new design, I opted for a generic approach. Let me explain. 
The nationality series of dice are all white except for one black die. I will come back to the black die in a moment. The “matching” die for a white die is whatever you want it to be. There are limits. This is not Baskin Robbins. We carry eight colours of transparent precision dice. (Note that amber is no longer available.) You can use the same coloured die for each white die, or use specific colours for specific nationalities. 
There are some obvious advantages to this system. If you already own some ½” precision dice, you are set. Just pair them up with our white BattleDice and you are in business. Another advantage is that you can use the same coloured die for any number of different white dice. In a pinch, one coloured die is all you need to make our nationality series work for you. 
You can go with our recommended colours above or DYO
The choice is yours. Buy one coloured die, or buy a “matching” set of five. We have discounted the price of our coloured dice to make this more attractive. However, there is no requirement for more than one coloured die. In truth, you may decide that a single black die is all that you will ever need. 
Black goes with everything
There are more than 35 (white) "nationality" dice in our 12.5mm series. However, there is only one black die.

These are the schematics for the Baby ROF. The green foil is the same colour of foil used for the American die in the East meets West Pack.
The black die is essentially a "color" die with rate-of-fire reminders on three faces. Moreover, it retains pips on all faces. Although this die can also be used as a third, rate-of-fire only die—in conjunction with another coloured die, we now have a dedicated white die with colour pips, dubbed The Heretic, for this purpose. (See our 12.5mm page for details.) The biggest advantage of the Mini ROF is that you can own any number of white dice in the nationality series, but need only the Mini ROF (or another coloured die) to make the set work for you. The black die is available with lavender, light-green, teal, or pink foil ROF reminders.

Use one of these Baby Tears as your "colored die."
How to order
You may order direct by emailing us at battleschool at rogers dot com.

Greek and Yugoslav dice
Currently, some nationalities” are available for purchase as singles. Just want a British die? Or how about a French one? See KitShop page for details.

Commonwealth Pack includes the following combatants: British, Australian, New Zealand, Gurkha, and Canadian
Axis and Allies Pack includes four "switch-hitters" that fought on both sides: Finland, France, Italy, and Sweden. Cross of Lorraine represents French French (and maquis)
Axis Minors are available in our Axes to Grind Pack. Each belligerent in the pack had an axe to grind, and sought to regain lost territories. Most switched sides during the war, and in several cases fought each other.

The Axes to Grind Pack includes dice for the five nationalities found in chapter H of the ASL Rule Book: Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia
The Allied Minors are available in two packs. The First to Fight Pack includes five nationalites found in chapter H of the ASL Rule Book. Two additional nations are included in our Balkan Blues Pack, coming Easter 2013.

First to Fight Pack includes the first five of the Allied Minors: Poland, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and Belgium
More nationalities” are in the works, including dice for the Korean War

Most Chinese communists regard the Nanchang Uprising of 1 August 1927 as the founding point of the PLA.
The first die in the Partizan Pack represents Josip Tito's Partizan Army in Yugoslavia. (The Russian-coloured vehicles found in the Yugoslav chapter H notes, for example, are for use with Tito's Partizans.) The second die is a symbol of the Armia Krajowa (AK), the Polish underground army. This set gives players flexibility to represent communist, and non-communist partisans during play. The Free French (Cross of Lorraine) die can also serve as a generic Western” partisan die, in addition to the French Forces of the Interieur (FFI), a.k.a. the French Resistance.

The "Eastern" Partizans
Collect them all, or only what you need. Just be sure to find time to use them. Except for our forthcoming Dust Devils, BattleDice are not meant to collect dust. Roll more, and play more! Roll 'em often.

Shooting stars

20 June 2012

Gone Fishin'

Seven people joined Sitrep in May. Three Americans from west of the Mississippi became Squad Leaders. They were joined by one American and two Canadians from eastern North America, and another player from the United Kingdom. One of these gents led from the front in our May raffle.
How it worked
Each Squad Leader following Sitrep on 31 May was potentially eligible for our special May raffle. To qualify, a Squad Leader had to be following under his or her first and last name. He or she also was required to have a non-generic avatar. In other words, a default grey silhouette, or a generic “exclamation mark,” would not qualify for a ballot.
What made this round particularly special was that all Squad Leaders, regardless of when they joined, would receive only one ballot. A ballot is equivalent to one roll of the dice. The lowest roll after any tiebreakers would win the May prize. We did this in order to give newer Squad Leaders a fighting chance to score some ASL goodness.
We used four, half-inch precision dice for the contest. As I explained in my previous post, there would be only one winner for the month of May.
There is also only one “loser” for May. Pablo Garcia-Silva had the dubious distinction of scoring 24 with a pair of “boxcars.” Pablo lives and works in the Washington, DC area. I happen to know that he likes our BattleDice, which is just as well. For his trainwreck, Pablo wins one our new ⅝" (16mm) Panzerfaust dice.1 

Our winner for May was trying to land a salmon, when he learned of his good fortune. It was just as well. The biggest fish in living memory eluded him. Oregon is not New Brunswick my friend. 
My father-in-law grew up on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. He was never much of a fisherman. But then, this probably spared a few Atlantic Salmon for today’s anglers. Fly fishermen flock to the Miramichi for a chance to hook the only salmon native to the Atlantic Ocean. A local guide caught the salmon below on 31 May, as our winner was casting his line in the Pacific watershed. The smaller photograph is of a grilse—a salmon that has returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea—netted on the Miramichi a week earlier. 
“Spring” Chinook Salmon enter the rivers of the Pacific Northwest in April-May, where they remain until autumn, when they spawn. Our winner was fishing with his father and brother. They had hoped to put some of these tasty salmon on their table. But they “got skunked fishing,” and went home empty-handed. Home, in this case, is not Oregon, but Big Sky Country.
When I first saw the military training area at Suffield, Alberta, I was struck by how much sky there was. It was spellbinding. The sky was endless. Standing on the gently rolling landscape I felt very small. My first, unexpected sighting of “pronghorn” etched this moment and place in my memory. I was delighted to learn that Canada had a native “antelope.” (I learned later that it was not a true antelope.) The fleet-footed animals were everywhere. They could outrun our wheeled armoured vehicles. Some bucks have been clocked doing 100 klicks. No other animal in the Americas can run faster. 
It was 1986. At the time, Suffield had the appearance of an African savanna. Not that I had been to Africa yet, but I had imagined that the Alberta grasslands resembled the vastness of the Serengeti plain. There were virtually no trees in any direction. We joked at the time that, because the area had so few trees, each individual tree was shown as a tiny green dot on our topographical maps. And perhaps they were. There are more trees where our May winner resides, however.
Our winner lives 500 kilometres south of Suffield, in “Magic City.” Billings is the largest city in what is the fourth largest US state. Nevertheless, there are not many people, let alone ASL players, in Montana. Metropolitan Billings is home to roughly 150,000 people, large enough to support a local ASL club. But it was not another ASL player who introduced our winner to the hobby. It was a book.
Matt Caudill was reading an Osprey title about the Battle of the Bulge when he came upon a section entitled “Wargaming Ardennes 1944.” In his book, James Arnold identified a number of tactical games that provide players with opportunities to recreate some of the drama of the Ardennes offensive. Among these were Ambush, Patton’s Best, Squad Leader, and “the tremendously popular Advanced Squad Leader.”2 So began Matt’s ASL odyssey.

Matt unearthed a copy of Squad Leader in a game store in California, and played it solo several times. He later purchased ASL, and compiled a respectable library of modules and scenario packs. Due to a lack of local opponents, he only played online via Virtual ASL (VASL). Being a responsible dad—albeit a short-sighted ASL player—he sold his collection when his daughter was born. 

Late last year, Matt returned to the hobby, after a four-year hiatus. He rapidly acquired a modest ASL collection that is surprisingly eclectic. For instance, he picked up ASL Starter Kit 3 (ASLSK3) and the Expansion Pack (ASLSK EP1)—a pair of standalone introductory publications designed to hook new people on ASL, and perhaps allow former players to reenter the hobby without breaking the bank. In stark contrast to his “beginner” materials are his copies of Red Barricades, and Valor of the Guards. These historical modules (HASL) are must-haves for fans of Stalingrad. Apart from the ASL Rule Book, Matt also has an early edition of Beyond Valor—more on this later, a copy of the American module Yanks, Solitaire ASL (SASL), while the Commonwealth module For King and Country is on its way to him. 
SASL makes sense given the dearth of local opponents in Billings.3 There is a practical explanation for the Starter Kit material too. Matt recently ran into an old gaming buddy. They agreed to hook up later for a game. And so it was that, less than a month ago, Matt finally played his first face-to-face game. His friend had never played ASL before, so Matt set up S20 “Joseph 351” from ASLSK3. This all-infantry action is a good primer. His friend was impressed. He also had an interesting insight. 
During play Matt’s friend commented that the game seemed fairly solid and straightforward. Matt remarked that there had been two editions of the rule book since the game’s release in 1985. This got his friend’s attention. “That tells a lot about how good this game is right there,” his friend asserted. During the game, Matt’s friend remained attentive, and asked a lot of questions. Matt felt that these were good signs. He gave his friend a copy of the ASLSK3 rules, and the first edition ASL Rule Book to browse.    
Less than a week later, Matt and his newfound ASL pal were at it again. They played S46 “Where the Winter Lingers” (from ASLSK EP1) at a local game store in Billings. Matt admitted that they missed “a bunch of rules.” These oversights notwithstanding, the pair thoroughly enjoyed the game. The day was memorable for another reason. During the scenario the more curious passersby would ask Matt and his friend what they were playing. A few “older guys” recognized ASL. One of these gentlemen confided in Matt. “I hated ASL. I think it haunted my house,” he opined. It turns out that the old hand still had a copy of Kampfgruppe Peiper (KGP) at home. Would Matt like to have it? Silly question. Matt was over the moon.4
Matt's budding ASL collection
Matt enjoys the tactical aspect of ASL, and finding solutions to the tactical problems that each new scenario presents. Reading ASL-related articles is almost as much fun. Matt is particularly interested in combat actions involving American armoured fighting vehicles, which has put the “Singling” Campaign Game (CG) high on his must-play list.5 That said, he increasingly finds himself drawn to operations conducted by Commonwealth armoured forces in northwest Europe. Not surprisingly, Matt is looking forward to the first ASLSK historical game Decision at Elst. The forthcoming ASLSK CG takes place just south of Arnhem, the Netherlands, during Operation Market Garden (September 1944).
Ortona map (draft)
Matt is also eagerly awaiting the Ortona HASL, designed by the late Jim McLeod. This will be the second historical module to feature Canadian troops; Operation Veritable was the first. More importantly, it will be the first HASL to focus on operations in Italy. The Italian Campaign is an underrepresented area in ASL, even at the level of individual scenarios.
Map of Suicide Creek
With so much catching up to do, and so much on the ASL horizon, Matt is easily distracted. In March, he played his first scenario starring US Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army. Not only was it his first romp in the jungle, but it was also his first experience calling in mortar fire from off-board. Needless to say the aptly titled J131 “First Love” presented a steep, but enjoyable, learning curve.6 The objective: cross “Suicide Creek” and eliminate the majority of Japanese units on the far side. Sounds like a suicide mission for a green “Gyrene.” But Matt and his hapless marines had a hoot. 
When not playing, Matt has been reading anything and everything ASL related. This has to lead to purchases of several ASL Journals and magazines. Now if Matt, like me, suffers from collectivitis, he is going to have a hard time staying focussed. It is easy to rationalize the purchase of a magazine that improves your game, or a core module that is necessary to play hundreds of scenarios. But it is a slippery slope7 once you convince yourself that there is no point in owning KGPI if you do not also own KGPII. So far, I have resisted the urge. Will Matt? I am not so certain. I am sure, however, that he can justify the purchase of Schwerpunkt’s Rally Point 6, as a teaching aid for his new face-to-face opponent. But as much as he loves the publications of Le Franc Tireur, he is going to have a tough time justifying the purchase of LFT Magazine No. 10 on the grounds that he has no counters to represent the Spanish infantrymen of the Blue Division.
So far Matt appears to be sticking to his plan. He has promised to resist buying anything else until he has the ASL map bundle in hand. This will probably come as a relief to his wife. In fact, she was a bit puzzled as to why he started playing ASL in the first place. “Wargames? Isn’t that for old guys?” she asked. Well, no, not really, he may have said, at least until the day his used copy of Beyond Valor arrived. Inside the box lid was a note. It read “Miracle Ear,” with a telephone number for the hearing-aid retailer. Matt’s wife got a lot of mileage out of the incident.
Funnily enough, my wife has a theory about ASL and ageing. She believes that playing ASL helps strengthen and maintain brain function. In her view, ASL is aerobics for the sedentary lump between my ears. She argues that as we age the importance of remaining mentally activate cannot be overstated. She therefore encourages me (and others) to play ASL regularly. Now the skeptics among you might suggest that this is just a clever ruse on her part. While it is possible that she is just trying to keep me safely penned in a game room for the day, I truly believe that her intentions are sincere.  
American turret counters by Countersmith Workshop
Now where was I? Ah yes, the fellow in “Miracle City.” Sorry, I could not help myself. It is no miracle that Matt won our May raffle, although magic may have had something to do with it. Matt only joined Sitrep on 21 May.8 Considering that he recently scored a copy of KGP, there would appear to be some magic at work in Billings. Matt wins a copy of Action Pack 8, a set of American and Commonwealth BattleDice, and a sample sheet of American and Commonwealth turrets. Congratulations Matt!
MMP's Action Pack 8
US and Commonwealth BattleDice
American and Commonwealth turret counters
Oh, and before I forget, Matt is keen to attend his first tournament. Perhaps you will run into him at ASLOK sometime. He should be easy to spot. He will be the guy without bifocals, grey hair, or a hearing aid.
How to claim a prize
To claim your prize, simply leave a comment at the end of this post and email us your mailing address. All prizes are provided courtesy of the BattleSchool KitShop. (You may request a pdf of our KitShop catalogue at the same time.) Our email address is: battleschool at rogers dot com
Future contests
Canada Day will mark the first anniversary of Sitrep. To celebrate, we are giving away a copy of Festung Budapest. Shipping is also on us.
Each Squad Leader following Sitrep on 30 June 2012 will be eligible. You need to “follow,” not just subscribe. Contestants will receive one ballot—equivalent to one roll of the dice—for each month that they have been following the blog. The lowest roll after any tie-breakers will win.
Some Sitrep Squad Leaders (i.e. followers) will have a chance to win a set of precision, Festung Budapest BattleDice on Canada Day. To qualify for this special raffle, Squad Leaders must follow under their full names (first and last). Each qualifying Squad Leader will receive one ballot for the raffle. Those who also use a custom avatar, will receive a second ballot. Those who use a portrait of themselves will receive a third ballot.
The Canada Day raffle will be the last where those who joined in July 2011 will have the best odds of winning. Henceforth, Squad Leaders will receive one ballot for being a follower. Those who joined Sitrep before 1 July 2012 will receive one bonus ballot. And finally, any Squad Leader following under his or her first and last name will receive an additional ballot, provided he or she is also using a non-generic avatar, and preferably a personal portrait.9 Good luck to everyone in future contests.
Still special at 70
Before you go, I wanted to share something special with you. In July 1942, a joint American-Canadian force was activated and began training in the United States a month later. This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the First Special Service Force (FSSF). The Force is worth commemorating for a host of reasons. Allow me to offer two.
Pvt Norman E. Brown 5-3, and Pvt Alva R. Thompson 5-3 near Cervaro, Italy 14 Jan 1944
Two men went to war. Private Norman “Duke” Brown was from Oshawa, Ontario, just east of Toronto. Private Alva R. Thompson hailed from Waverly, Iowa, some 1300 kilometres east of Toronto, in America’s heartland. Both signed up for a mysterious unit. Neither knew what to expect that fateful summer when they arrived in Helena, Montana. Training was tough, and lasted almost a year. Brown and Thompson were among 1800 Americans and Canadians who had made the grade. They served in the 5th Company (2nd Battalion) of the 3rd Regiment, abbreviated as “5-3.” Together they fought the enemy atop Monte Majo, near Cassino, Italy. They fought until their ammunition ran out. They picked up abandoned German weapons and fought some more. They fought until, in mid January 1944, they had thrown the Germans out of the Bernhardt Line. Their individual motives for joining the fight are irrelevant. Brown and Thompson fought the good fight, because it was the right thing to do. It was that simple. 
After the war, Alva Thompson settled in Seligman, Arizona. Like the rest of his generation, he got on with life. There had been a job to do. He had done it. Now it was time to move on. Norman Brown never returned. He was killed at Anzio on 29 February 1944. Both men paid a price that few today are willing to pay.10
The FSSF welded men of different nations into a community of comrades that transcends borders. In two short years, the shared hardships and loss created bonds that have persisted for 70 years. If anything, these bonds have grown stronger, as the roll call of the Force has grown shorter.
FSSF veterans salute their fallen comrades at the 2006 reunion in Helena, MT
In 2006, the First Special Service Force Association held its last reunion in Helena, Montana. Or at least it was supposed to be the last. Most veterans are in their 80s or 90s. Organizing and running a reunion is now more than these old soldiers can manage. Happily, the families and friends of FSSF veterans took up the torch in 2007, and have continued to run annual reunions. The next reunion is scheduled for August this year, in Washington DC. You can find out more about the FSSF in my post Special Delivery, which I hope to publish before the weekend. (I had initially planned to publish the FSSF story as part of this post, hence the delay.)
Thanks for reading.
1. The Panzerfaust (PF) die is actually a dual-purpose die. It is designed to be used whenever a player is required to make a Check die roll (dr) for an Anti-Tank Magnetic Mine, or ATTM (C13.7), or a PF (C13.3), including a Panzerfaust Klein (PFk). This speciality die will be available in July. I spoke to the manufacturer this morning, and had a peek at the dice. They are shipping this week. See our June catalogue for more details.
2. James R. Arnold, Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble in the West, (Osprey Publishing: Oxford, 1990): 93.
3. See Robert Delwood, “SASL is NOT ASL,” in ASL Journal 2 (Multi-Man Publishing: Gambrills, MD, 2000): 22-25, for a good overview of how the SASL solitaire system differs from ASL. The article, less graphics, is also available online.
4. KGP I was published in 1993, and KGP II in 1996. Matt hopes to one day play all of the campaigns in these modules, if for no other reason than the fact that one of the things that drew him to ASL was Robert Delwood’s after-action reports of the KGP campaigns carried out by Robert and his fellow players in Houston, Texas. http://www.delwood.org/squadleader.html
5. The “Singling” CG rules, two scenarios, and colour map were enclosed in Operations Special Issue 1, published by MMP in 2008. With only two and a half pages of rules, “Singling” is a good combined-arms introduction to campaign gaming. The game recreates the battle for Singling, France on 6 December 1944. It pits Abteilung I, Panzergrenadier Regiment 111, 11. Panzer-Division against elements of Team B, Task Force Abrams, US 4th Armored Division. 
6. “Suicide Creek” is a series of scenarios designed by Darrell Anderson, and played on a historical map depicting a portion of Cape Gloucester, New Britain. The six scenarios take place during three days in January 1944. Japanese forces consist largely of the 141st Infantry Regiment, with elements of the 53rd Infantry Regiment appearing in two scenarios. The US Marine Corps is represented by the 7th Marine Regiment, with guest appearances by 5th Marine Regiment, the 1st Tank Regiment, and the 1st Pioneer Battalion. The map and scenarios can be found in ASL Journal 9.
7. KGP introduced slope hexsides [P2.] to the ASL rule set.
8. I realize that becoming a follower on Blogger can be something of a struggle. I do not understand why it is so complicated. Fortunately Matt is not as technically challenged as I am. He persevered and succeeded. 
9. For instance, the default grey silhouette provided by blogger is a “generic” avatar. Similarly, an exclamation mark, regardless of colour, is too generic to be considered a personal avatar. We encourage Squad Leaders to use a personal avatar, especially one with an ASL theme. (We may even run a contest in the future where readers vote on the best ASL avatar.) We also encourage followers to use their first and last names because it makes it much easier for us to identify and contact the winner of a contest.
10. Some have suggested that the Canadian in the photograph is Private Howard A. Brown, of Owen Sound, Ontario, a town roughly 250 kilometres northwest of Toronto. It is true that Howard Brown served in 2-3, the same Regiment as Private Thompson. However, Howard Brown was with the 1st Battalion. But even if I have got the names wrong, it changes little. Howard Brown died on 24 May 1944, of wounds sustained during the break out from Anzio. He too paid a price that should never be taken for granted.