18 January 2013

Crossfire: MMP’s ASL Hat Trick

I have wanted to attend the Winter Offensive event hosted by Multi-Man Publishing for some time. I regret not going last year when the weather was unseasonably mild for January. MMP puts on a terrific gaming festival—ASL is not the only game on the table in Bowie, Maryland. But playing ASL is only one of many good reasons to attend. Getting your mittens on the latest gaming goodies is another.

This is where the swellest guy on the GameSquad ASL Forums comes in. Winter Offensive had barely begun. But that did not stop me from asking Spencer Armstrong why he was not already in Bowie. His new addition to the family notwithstanding, he lives close enough to the venue to hear Larry Zoet scream “Critical Hit!” So why was he still at home? Turns out he was headed to the tourney the next morning.
Excellent, I thought, as I proceeded to tell him about my plans to preview MMP’s latest releases. I moaned that I would not be able to post anything for some time. (It can take a month for an order to reach Ottawa—barely nine hours drive north of MMP headquarters.) Taking pity on me, he asked if he could help. Silly question. I accepted. Then I posed my own silly question. I asked him what his impressions of the new packs were. His reply was blunt, concise, and informative. It was a great read, and I wanted to share it with my readers on Sitrep. Spencer kindly consented.
What follows is a cross-border look at three ASL publications that MMP pulled from its hat last weekend. Nice trick.1 I will let Spencer fire the first shots.  
Rivers to the Reich—First Fire
Components: 15 scenarios (updated versions of Squad Leader scenarios), 2 sheets of overlays (reprints from GI: Anvil of Victory)
MMP assures us that Rivers to the Reich (RttR) completes what I think of as the “Nostalgia Pack” series. This is the one I’ve looked at the least, because I’m unlikely to play anything from it. Scenarios range from the absurdly tiny (one features a side with two squads, another a side with three squads) to the absolutely monstrous (U38 “Clearing the Breskens Pocket,” a 34-turn beast, actually combines two already quite large scenarios). I was curious about the conversions, so I compared some of these scenarios with their original versions. Many are unit-for-unit translations of their Squad Leader predecessors, but some have more significant changes. U34 “The Dornot Watermark” actually uses board 40 in place of boards 8 and 15 in a river crossing. As closely as many track their original versions, I find it difficult to believe that these are really well tested and balanced for ASL. However, I don’t know any competitive players who play these, so it’s probably not a big deal. 
The overlays are of the same style and prettiness as the Map Bundle maps, but are just new productions of the old GI: Anvil of Victory (GI) overlays. They have been renumbered in the style of ASL overlays (hexes 1 and 2) but they still aren’t really ASL overlays. Some have hexside terrain that need to be included, but most are cut inside the hexsides. One is rectangular. All are simply lifted parts of other boards. Consequently, they’re fairly restrictive and don’t seem likely to see much additional use. Thankfully, overlays appear to be cheap these days, so this inclusion likely doesn’t affect the price much (more on this below).
If you get misty about the good old beer and pretzel days, these may be right up your alley. I’ll file them and take a pass, as I did with Turning the Tide. Not all change is progress, but scenario design has progressed significantly since the days of these dinosaurs.
The scenarios of Rivers to the Reich
Rivers to the Reich—Final Fire
It is hard to disagree with Spencer. Most of the scenarios in this pack are museum pieces. Dusting off Squad Leader scenarios and giving them a coat of ASL paint cannot disguise the fact that the scenarios in RttR are from another era. I played some of them when I was in my teens and early 20s. Fine wine they are not. They are, however, a reflection of a time when the hobby was still young. 
Back in the day, we found time to play mega scenarios. We were less fussed about using overlays. We had 15 boards, not 80. We drank more beer than wine. Few of us of were connoisseurs of anything. Squad Leader, like our taste in beer, was not particularly refined.
Thirty years on, the scenarios in RttR have lost their lustre for me. Some appear ridiculously small, even by today’s standards. For example, I played “Stand Fast” at least twice when it was first released. It would be an understatement to say that the scenario plays quick. The defender has only two squads! Because the scenario required the placement of five, sizeable overlays, we resolved to play it a second time.2 Other scenarios in RttR are gargantuan. But then so is the “First Bid” from Valor of the Guards (VotG), published only five years ago. 
Some might take exception to this comparison. After all the VotG scenario is played on a historical map, whereas the biggest scenario in RttR sprawls across eight geomorphic boards.3 The massive U38 “Clearing the Breskens Pocket” actually links two other big scenarios in the pack. What’s more, U38 actually uses four fewer boards than the original. In doing so, however, the ASL adaptation requires the use of two ASL boards. Boards 23 and 40 are not exactly rare. But if you are missing one, you can purchase it separately from MMP. 
The big three in the pack are concerned with operations carried out by the First Canadian Army in the Scheldt Estuary of the Netherlands, beginning in October 1944. The scenarios are remarkable for being among the first published by Avalon Hill to feature Canadian troops. 
Do not adjust your monitor; the colours are correct!
The Canadians debuted in The Rogue Series 200 Scenarios, a pad of 13 scenarios released in the early 80s. The series got its name from the so-called rogue boards (9, 10, and 11) that were needed to play the scenarios.4 Joe Suchar, John Kenower, and Jon Mishcon are credited with designing the scenarios. Jim Stahler, the man responsible for adapting the scenarios to ASL, was a prominent play tester. Charlie Kibler, who would later design the first historical ASL (HASL) module Red Barricades, created the illustrations. Michael Dorosh has noted that “Clearing the Breskens Pocket” presaged the development of the HASL. It is certainly possible. Perhaps a more important thing to take away from this observation is that 30 years later some people still enjoy a really big game. Whether or not this will entice ASL players to clear the table for  “Breskens Pocket” is anyone’s guess. But thanks to the efforts of Jim Stahler and his helpers, they can.5
Series 300 Scenarios
More than half of the scenarios in RttR date from 1983. They were either released with GI, or later that year in the Series 300 Scenarios. Most were designed by the trio who brought us the rogue scenarios above.6 I am not in any great hurry to play them. I have played a couple of the scenarios from RttR’s predecessor Turning the Tide, released in 2008. I mention this because I was surprised to see how many people were playing scenarios from this “retro” pack in the latter half of 2012. Admittedly, this is anecdotal evidence based on scenarios played on the global ASL ladder. However, this might suggest that some people still enjoy playing scenarios adapted from Squad Leader. A lot of the scenarios in RttR are ten-turn beasts. Given the current appetite for tourney-style scenarios, they may be a bit of a mouthful for today’s diet-conscious ASL players. For those who revel in big is beautiful, your all-you-can-eat buffet is open for business. 
Before I return the soapbox to Spencer, I want to touch on the overlays that come with RttR. GI: Anvil of Victory came with two sheets of overlays. The overlays were used to replace entire features of a particular board: the airfield on board 14, the chateau on board 6, or one or more of the hills on board 3, for example. This made a lot of sense when the system had only 15 boards. When the first Squad Leader scenarios were adapted to ASL, the overlays from GI were replaced with ASL overlays. A75 “Medal of Honor,” a GI scenario adapted to ASL and published in ASL Annual 95, is a prime example. Scenario A75 used five overlays in place of one (overlay A) used in the original design. Rivers to the Reich includes a table that allows players to substitute the original GI overlay(s) included with RttR for the ASL overlays used in many subsequent adaptations. Sticklers for detail and antiquarians alike will appreciate the table and the “original” overlays from GI.
Over-the-top overlays
The average ASL player may appreciate the revamped overlays too. The artwork is consistent with current ASL graphics. A close inspection reveals that the hex coordinates present on the original overlays have been removed. No longer are the overlays restricted to a particular board, or position, for that matter. It remains to be seen if today’s scenario designers will use these “rogue” overlays in their next designs. Few have been able to resist the ASL Starter Kit series of boards. Can they resist the temptation to obliterate the out-of-scale chateau on board 6? Overlay E beckons.  
Best of Friends—First Fire
Components: 12 scenarios (reprints, some with balance adjustments, from Friendly Fire packs 1-4)
If you doubt that scenario design has improved, look no further than Friendly Fire, the gold standard in third-party scenario packs. I asked Mattias Ronnblom a few years ago which Friendly Fire pack was the best. Without a second’s hesitation he said: “Three. We really got it right with three.” Clearly, Mattias truly believes this, since five of the twelve scenarios in Best of Friends come from that pack. Along with the previously republished “Elephants Unleashed,” six of the eight scenarios from that pack have now been reprinted by MMP. And if “Wunderwaffe didn’t call for a couple of unique counters, maybe it would have been seven? Five of the twelve scenarios included have also had some balance adjustments made to them. This approach seems very likely to have produced an excellent pack of scenarios, especially as contrasted with the “loving all your kids equally” nonsense that often plagues these sorts of projects. If you’ve never played any Friendly Fire scenarios, this should be a must-buy. Even if you have, Friendly Fire’s scenarios bear replay well.
Out of the Bunker was a great product from MMP. If anything, Best of Friends improves on it. With any luck, additional issues of Dispatches from the Bunker and Friendly Fire will be officially anthologized in the coming years. Additionally, I certainly hope that other publishers will accept the invitation on the back of Best of Friends to contact MMP about adding more to this line. 
The scenarios of Best of Friends
Best of Friends—Final Fire
I must confess that I am a big fan of Friendly Fire scenarios. I have played four of the scenarios in Friendly Fire Pack 3. Coincidentally, all of these scenarios have now been republished by MMP. Does this make me a fine judge of exemplary scenarios? Not really. Were that the case, I would have played the rest of the scenarios in the pack before now. Although “Adolf’s Amateurs” has never appealed to me, “Forging Spetsnaz” has been on my radar for years. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen “Through Fire and Ice,” or “Wunderwaffe” published in Best of Friends (BoF). Perhaps the Winter War scenario will be “officialized” following the release of Hakkaa Päälle. “Wunderwaffe,” meanwhile, is a perfect candidate for inclusion in a future Special Ops magazine. The celebrities in this scenario—a pair tapered-bore 75mm anti-tank guns—could be added to the counter sheet that appears to be a regular component of the magazine. 
Wunderbar, wundervoll, Wunderwaffe!
Friendly Fire is based in Sweden. The publisher has been producing top-notch scenarios for a tournament of the same name since 2005. Martin Svärd’s excellent “Maczek Fire Brigade” appeared in Friendly Fire Pack 1, and subsequently in ASL Journal 8 as scenario J113, four years later. Martin is the creator of the Swedish Volunteers scenario pack, and BoF includes four of his designs. Fellow Swede Erik Leander contributed his popular “About His Shadowy Sides.”7  The design house of Mazzei and Struijf is responsible for “Sting of the Italian Hornet.” You may be more familiar with Chris and Peter’s smash hit “Rage Against the Machine,” which appeared in Journal 10. Chris Mazzei is Swiss. Peter Struijf is Dutch, but recently immigrated to Canada. Together, the foregoing designers account for half of the scenarios in BoF.
The other half is the work of the “Swedish Terminator” Mattias Rönnblom. Friendly Fire is his baby. At least it was until he and his wife replaced the surrogate with the real deal last year. Mattias is a details guy. He runs the Friendly Fire tourney, and is de facto editor in chief of the scenario packs. He is also a prolific and successful designer. His “Second Thoughts” was one of the first Friendly Fire scenarios that I played. I cannot comment on his other scenarios in BoF because I have yet to play them. Of these, two have been tweaked by adding a Russian squad to each of the respective orders of battle (OB). I am fast running out of excuses not to play them now. 
Having said that, I must take exception with what Mattias told Spencer several years ago. The scenarios in the third Friendly Fire pack certainly have stood the test of time. But in my view, Friendly Fire Pack 6 eclipsed the earlier pack. Mattias created an instant classic with his unassuming “Totensonntag.” I am not suggesting that you pass on BoF, and purchase Friendly Fire Pack 6 instead. No, no, no. What I am suggesting is that your exposure to Friendly Fire should not end with MMP’s “official versions.” There is plenty in BoF to whet your appetite. But why stop there?
The following scenarios have had adjustments to their orders of battle:
  • The Abbeville Bridgehead
  • The Fields of Black Gold
  • Cavalry Brigade Model
  • Pursuing Frank
  • A Polish Requiem
Winter Offensive Bonus Pack 4—First Fire
Components: 3 scenarios (new), Board 66, Overlay 7
Another year, another Winter Offensive Bonus Pack. Yay! Another Winter Offensive Bonus Pack (WOBP), another village board. Sigh. Over the past four years, each of these packs has provided us with... another village! Boards 59, 63, 64/65 and 66 have all been village boards of some description, and they comprise over half the “normal” geomorphic boards released in that time frame. I love geo boards and the more the merrier. However, there are real needs in the official geomorphic system (wilderness, open terrain, and additional PTO-friendly boards being the biggest). Villages we have. Sure, each is different and has potential uses (board 66 has a stream and a small hill), but the needle seems badly stuck. And village boards aren’t the only aspect of these packs that is getting to be repetitive. With the exception of last year’s pack, each WOBP has included a Normandy scenario from Brian Youse and Ken Dunn (or Youse). This certainly may be related to the boards being villages and it may be an intentional theme, but it feels increasingly tired. Unless you’re totally living in an MMP bubble, Normandy is probably more over-covered in ASL than Stalingrad and that is really saying something (especially coming from me). It would be a nice change if next year’s WOBP included a true wilderness board, or a double-wide tank country board, or a deep jungle double-wide to complement Rising Sun. I’m pretty sure scenario designers would line up for any of those and we could get a year off from bocage
That said, this year’s Youse and Dunn Normandy scenario (WO10 “All Along the Merderet”) clearly looks to be the most original of the pack. Definitely bigger than tournament sized, the Americans have a conventional OB, but the Germans get to purchase virtually their entire OB. Also, the board configuration is highly unusual in that one of the three boards is staggered from the others and uses Overlay 7. 
Overlay 7
About Overlay 7: This seems to be a new thing for MMP. I can only describe it as a “board specific overlay.” It’s 10 by 10 hexes and it’s pretty much entirely marsh at Level -1, crossed by a single road at Level 0. It’s clearly only intended to be used in one place, since it doesn’t have standard ASL overlay hex numbers. Rather the overlay reproduces the hex numbers of the hexes that it covers. It also includes the corner bend of the board 66 stream, which will make it almost impossible to use anywhere else. My initial reaction to this overlay was to think it was silly and a bit of a vanity project to print for one scenario. But then I realized that this pack wasn’t noticeably more expensive than previous WOBPs. If there’s little associated cost, it hardly matters if the overlay only exists for one scenario. With any luck, this will be a tool other designers will be able to use. Imagine what situations might open up for Pete Shelling, Gary Fortenberry, or the design team of Peter Struijf and Chris Mazzei with this added tool. (Chas Smith has already pretty much used this trick for a ruined-city overlay in Into the Rubble, published by Bounding Fire Productions.)
The other scenarios don’t stand out quite as much. Both are tournament-sized affairs. WO9 “Sting ‘em at Zingem” by Chas Argent appears pretty straightforward. It has a neat reinforcement rule and features Allied Minors (always welcome to this tin can fan). WO11 “Across the Issel” by Michael Koch features an entirely hidden (HIP) defense for the Germans in 1945 against a bunch of British armor. Fireworks seem likely to ensue. 
At least there’s no Stalingrad.
WO11 "Crossing the Issel" by Michael Koch
The fate of board-specific overlays will be the litmus test on this product from my point of view. If a new tool is opened up to designers, this will be a triumph along the lines of Action Pack 6 or Winter Offensive Bonus Pack 3. If this stays a one-time thing, it’ll be just “another year, another village board.” Still, it has a new board, so it’s pretty much a must-buy. 
Three scenario packs is not a bad Winter Offensive release slate, especially since Journal 10 was released not that long ago. Not quite on par with last year’s Festung Budapest-WOBP3 duo, but enough to warm your gaming table this winter. Who knows what next year will bring? Myself, I’m hoping for a more inventive WOBP5, Journal 11, and “Fort’s” next Action Pack.
Roll low and never underestimate a StuG.
The scenarios of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack 4 (2013)
Winter Offensive Bonus Pack 4—Final Fire
I like new boards. Provided they are not uninspired knockoffs of board 7 or 27, I am happy to add more to my collection. Some readers will invariably disagree. Enough is enough, you say. I could not agree more. I have had quite enough of board 3, thank you. Board 17 is not far behind. Board 66 is not just new and shiny; it is actually quite useful. There are two distinct settlements on each half of the board. That makes the board more flexible when it comes to marrying it with other boards. I also really like the juxtaposition of the bridge and the immediately surrounding terrain. The hill looks a bit odd at first, tucked in the corner, as it is. But I imagine that it will come into its own when more boards are in play alongside it. 
Faites un voyage dans Route 66...
Overlay 7 looks like a cut-and-paste from a HASL. Could be it a foretaste of MMP’s newest project? I cannot say. It is, as Spencer pointed out, rather limited in its utility. Despite this limitation, I suspect that we have not seen the last use of this overlay. Apart from the region in Normandy it is designed to reflect, the overlay can be used to model other terrain. Stay tuned for a scenario set in the Netherlands. All marsh is polder.
Before I wrap up, I would like to say a few words about the scenarios in the latest WOBP. In order to avoid disappointment, I want underline the fact that WO10 “All Along the Meredet” requires board p. This board was originally released in Beyond the Beaches, an out-of-print ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK) scenario pack. The board is available separately from MMP. New players should also ensure that they have access to a copy of board 54, one of the three “bocage” boards included in Action Pack 4. The same goes for board 40. This Croix de Guerre river board is a prerequisite for WO9 “Sting ‘em at Zingem.” Fortunately this board is still available from MMP in ASLSK-style—not so board 41. 
You will need these boards to play the scenarios in WOBP4
As for the scenarios themselves, all are new to me. Players who enjoy the Western Front will probably find something to like in the pack. My first choice would be WO9 “Sting ‘em at Zingem.” I am a sucker for early-war scenarios. The Belgian tank destroyers in this smallish scenario add a little zing, to the ping, ping of machinegun fire on thin German armour. This scenario, and “Across the Issel,” are perfect candidates for evening play during the week. It will take me an evening just to get my head around WO10. But I am curious to see how this novel design works out.
Tiny it may be, but this tyke deserves some respect in WO9
For the fourth year running, there is nothing for fans of the Pacific Theatre. And unlike last year, there is nothing east of the Elbe. Did I mention the cool, new board?
I would like to thank Spencer for sharing the burden of the work involved with preparing this post. Not only did he provide the central narrative, but he also helped with sundry requests for additional information and graphics. The post is better for his assistance. Any errors are mine. Kitshop stocks all of the scenario packs in this post.
1. Rising Sun was too big for the hat. 
2. Mercifully, the ASL version has dispensed with two of the overlays.
3. The original version used 16 boards.
4. Scenarios R211 to R223 were designed to be played with only the rules up to and including the Crescendo of Doom “gamette.” Notwithstanding this, Spencer directed me toward an official pronouncement he found on the cover of the Fourth Edition Rule Book of Cross of Iron. The good book states that: “There is no official version for any scenario and the rules to be used are a matter of personal choice between you and your opponent.” As Spencer so eloquently put it, “It was horseshit, but it was official horseshit.”
5. Wayne Hadady, Jeff Leonard, Jim Mehl, Bill Stoppel, and Lee Tankersly play tested many of the scenarios in RttR. I recognize most of these names. I do not think that they would have been involved with the project if they had not seen some value in adapting Squad Leader scenarios to ASL. Or maybe they just came for the beer and pretzels.
6. Steve Myrberg was also credited as a designer.
7. I have played “Maczek Fire Brigade” at least twice, once against the august Tom Repetti. The scenario gets two thumbs up from me. Erik Leander also designed several of the scenarios in Swedish Volunteers, including my favourite: “Lions and Tin Men.”

06 January 2013

A Wealth of ASL in Common

Oh, how time flies. When I stood on MacQuarie Point1 and took the photograph above, I had yet to see Advanced Squad Leader. I was aware of ASL, having learned of its release some four months earlier. However, in February 1986, I was on leave in Australia.2 The new game had yet to make an impression upon me. Indeed, ASL was the last thing on my mind as I quaffed a welcome pint at eight o’clock on a sunny, weekday morning. 
Breakfast of ASL champions?
The beer was refreshing, in part, because it helped wash down the aftertaste of the Vegemite toastie I had force-fed myself for breakfast. The pub was in that part of Sydney known as The Rocks. My fellow traveller and I agreed that the name suited the area. In our youthful exuberance we declared that any place serving beer before coffee break absolutely rocks. As cabbies and other shift workers sipped their brews, we made plans to visit a few shops in the city.3 And here memory fails me. 
I know we dropped by a game shop. It was one of those classic shops, not unlike the game store we are fortunate to still have in Ottawa.4 The place was crammed with board games, miniatures, and books on military history. Keeping in mind that ASL had been released only the year before, and more important, my poor memory, I cannot recall seeing a copy of Beyond Valor on the shelves. But something else caught my eye. I had played a bit of Third Reich as a teen, and I was familiar with games of grand strategy.5 On impulse, I purchased a copy of the now classic World in Flames. Published by Australian Design Group (ADG) in 1985, the game won the Charles S. Roberts Best 20th Century Game award that same year. I was excited to own an Australian game, and I was eager to show it off when I got home. 
Greg Pinder and Harry Rowlands designed World in Flames
It never occurred to me at the time that this “Aussie” upstart had upstaged ASL. Both were released in 1985. But World in Flames stole the show, and the awards. Upon my return to Canada, I marvelled at the contents of the ADG publication. I even played it a couple of times. However, it was no contest. ASL stole my attention the moment that I set eyes upon the magnificent rule book. I was an instant convert.
I was not alone. Thousands the world over took up ASL. The Antipodes was no exception. I have met and played ASL with several Australians (and the odd New Zealander). All are fine players. But it was not until this year that I learned of an Australian gamer by the name of Jesper Peterson. 
Jesper quietly joined Board Game Geek in 2011. He also joined Sitrep. On New Year’s Day Jesper tied for first place in our raffle with five aces! He lost the roll off. Normally, that might be the end of it. However, I am feeling a tad guilty for shunting World in Flames aside. Or maybe, I feel bad about the Vegemite. I really wanted to like it.6 Whatever the case, I have decided to give something back to the land down under. It is not much, mind you. I do not know if Jesper even plays ASL. He may well be a hard-core World in Flames player. If so, he will get style points for using our Commonwealth BattleDice while commanding the British Empire. But here is hoping that he will instead spring these crown jewels on his next ASL opponent. Congratulations Jesper!  

Conflicts of interest
Straight aces were only part of the story in our New Year’s contest. One person rolled straight sixes. The trouble is that this particular Squad Leader is directly related to the bonnie lass who rolled the dice. I smell a rat. 
John McMahon is my brother-in-law. He dabbled with Squad Leader in the 90s, and took up the ASL torch in 2007. He co-hosted our Battle at Beau’s event in June 2010. But aside from a few games in the VASLeague tournament one year, his play has been infrequent. 
Time to come out swinging
I have an unfounded suspicion that this is a conspiracy to get John playing more ASL. It may also be a jab at John for ducking the “champ” since she returned victorious from Cleveland last autumn. 
In fairness, John is a busy fellow. When not on a sales trip, he struggles to find a free moment between his all-consuming business, his family, and his precocious daughter. As Helen continually reminds me, her niece is remarkably mature for her age. But at six, I think that she is a little young to take up ASL. For the time being, I recommend ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK). Now where was I? Ah yes, Helen challenges to her brother to an ASL match. The prize is a pair of Baby BattleDice and a $10.00 gift certificate. Winner takes all!
Beaucoup fun
The Brats: tiny trouble makers
I first met the winner of our New Year’s raffle on a sweltering June day in 2010. He had travelled 600 kilometres from Waterloo, Ontario to attend a one-day ASL event—at a micro-brewery halfway between Ottawa and Montreal.7 To put this in perspective, another attendee drove over 500 kilometres from Maine. 
Lee Kennedy has been a wargamer for more than two decades. ASL is a recent addition. He was drawn to The Game because of its reputation. If you browse any of the major board-game forums online, you will invariably run into some discussion related to ASL. These discussions are often heated and divisive. What can possibly get people so fired up? Why do so many people care? Lee had to find out.8  
Russ Gifford
Initial searches of the Internet led Lee to the excellent ASL tutorials created by Russ Gifford of Sioux City, Nebraska. Lee compared these tutorials with those written by Jay Richardson of Lindsborg, Kansas. You can find Jay's popular tutorials for ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK) on BGG. Lee had one answer, although the question in this case had been whether to begin with ASLSK, or dive right into the big orange book. The answers to his other questions were as complex and varied as the game that he had adopted.
Lee then turned his attention to finding a local player who could help coach and mentor him. He found two. The Internet had again proven its worth. A largely outdated player registry of the Canadian ASL Association nevertheless provided him with the current contact details of two local players. Lee had unearthed a pair of grognards who had been playing each other regularly since the heady days of Squad Leader. Confusingly, both were named John.9 They invited him over. Lee came as a spectator, but quickly found himself in the heat of battle. His tutors had selected a scenario from The Long March. It was a good choice. Most of the scenarios in this pack are infantry-only clashes between Communist and Nationalist Chinese forces during the 1930s. It was just as well, because Lee had yet to get his hands on the ASL Rule Book, let alone read it. That was quickly remedied by a loaner. Lee returned home with a first edition copy of the ASL bible. He read it within a couple of days, and boldly purchased a copy of the second edition rules. 
Next time, consider taking the long way home
Three years have passed since Lee’s first foray into the world of ASL. He is a fortunate fellow. Thanks to his newfound ASL buddies, Lee has been able to get a face-to-face game in most Thursday evenings. It has been decades since I enjoyed that frequency of play. Most of my play these days is “virtual.” Although Lee occasionally plays online using VASL, he usually reserves this medium for the odd solitaire game. With three small children—the oldest is six—Lee is hard-pressed to keep to his weekly face-to-face schedule. So imagine my surprise when he expressed interest in attending Battle at Beau’s in 2010. He had only a few months of ASL under his belt. Moreover, Lee had to drive up from Waterloo with three infants in tow because his wife had to work. 
Leaving his young charges with their grandparents in Ottawa, Lee was able to get in a full day of gaming at Beau’s Brewery, an hour east of the nation’s capital. He brought a friend with him too. Brad had never played ASL before, but had agreed to come along for the ride. Lee’s first opponent was Ken Young, my ASL nemesis and friend since the 70s. According to Lee, Ken “schooled” him in the finer points of upper-level encirclement (A7.72), the rules for which Lee has never forgotten. Lee recalled having a blast and meeting a lot of great people. I recall him convincing Brad to play his first ASL game. It was a memorable day for all of us, but likely more memorable for Lee and Brad.
Brad Mazurek, Ken Young, and Lee Kennedy, 19 June 2010
Lee is grateful to have found an experienced, yet patient, opponent and teacher so close to home. Another perk of knowing an ASL veteran is having access to multiple copies of all “official” ASL material, and stacks of third-party publications. Lee has been expanding his ASL collection steadily, but he is realistic about what can acquired in three years versus almost thirty. This is particularly true of out-of-print material. Without access to Red Barricades, for example, Lee may not have had an opportunity to play a slew of scenarios from the granddaddy of all historical modules. “Storming fortified factories with flamethrowers and lobbing demo charges everywhere is lots of fun,” Lee enthused. “Hanging on by the skin-of-your-teeth as the Russians, hoping the Germans attack the fortified building with the full squad, and not the one with that concealed crew you had to sneak into the front line,” makes for intense play.
More recently, Lee and his friends have been slogging their way through Crucible of Steel. This hefty Battlepack by Bounding Fire Productions contains 32 scenarios on the Battle of Kursk. I have enjoyed every scenario that I have played from this pack. So has Lee. The appropriately titled “Panzer Spirit” was Lee’s armoured baptism, the first real scenario that he got a chance to use an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) in. His German tank destroyers—four Marder III H, to be exact—laid waste to a squadron of Soviet T-34 tanks. “These AFV things are easy!,” he thought to himself.
Tollwütigen Marder
I asked Lee what he liked about ASL. His first comment is telling:
It’s a huge amount of fun. Scenarios are tense, with lots of meaningful decisions, and at the same time there’s a constant anything-can-happen feeling with HOB [Heat of Battle], Snipers, Critical Hits, and so on. The rules are (mostly) not nearly as complex as they seem and give lots of interesting options. And then the huge variety of scenarios, theatres, boards, and units feels like a different game every time. It really does feel like a whole world to explore instead of just a single game.
Lee has enjoyed learning and playing ASL. Not everyone does. There will always be people who view ASL as an unfathomable beast. In spite of this, I believe that some would-be players become discouraged prematurely. For them ASL is just too big, too complex, and too varied to learn, let alone master. It is insightful to hear how a new player has overcome these challenges. Like me, Lee is a long way from mastering ASL. Few have. However, he has adopted a sensible approach to the game. I will let him do the talking: 
Find someone experienced to play against and don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed. The players I’ve met have all been happy to help bring new blood into the fold. You’ll make dumb mistakes, mess up rules, and learn a lot. And you’ll have a lot of fun. Also take advantage of the great online communities available (EX: BGG, GameSquad, ConsimWorld). There are always people willing to help out with rules questions and advice no matter what level you are at.
I jumped straight into full ASL, but still followed the basic Starter Kit approach of adding things piece-by-piece. I did infantry-only scenarios for awhile and then added in guns. You can play for years this way and still have huge variety. I wanted to feel like I had a firm grasp not just on the rules but also infantry tactics before moving on to AFV. I followed the same approach with things like fortifications, terrain types, and offboard artillery (OBA). Play a bunch of scenarios in a row all using the same new thing you want to learn.
I know that many of you have heard this before, but it bears repeating. Try not to bite off more than you can chew. ASL is not a steeple chase. Slow and steady are the by words. There is no prize for learning the rule book by rote. Nor is there an award for the player who plays every ASL scenario at least once—although I am beginning to wonder if there should be. On second thought, no. A martyr’s reward is not of this earth. So take your time to learn and appreciate ASL for all it has to offer. There is no rush. 
High rollers are always welcome at Lee's table
Okay, that is not entirely true. There are times when it pays to make haste, as Lee reminded me. First, on the attack, you are probably not moving enough. Prep Fire less, and pick up the pace. Second, when you are on defence, if you think that it is time to fall back, you are probably a turn too late. And third, buy everything ASL that you can afford, especially while the getting is good.
For following Sitrep, and not least his good advice, Lee wins one of the following prize packages. Congratulations, and Happy New Year Lee!

Be a winner! 
Our next raffle will take place on 1 February. To qualify, you need to be following Sitrep as a Squad Leader as of 31 January. We recommend that you also subscribe to Sitrep. A subscription will ensure that you are notified when we publish a new post.
A Squad Leader receives one ballot for each raffle. In addition, all Squad Leaders who joined before 1 July 2012 receive a bonus ballot—a thank you for joining early. Finally, all Squad Leaders displaying their full names (first and last), and a non-generic avatar receive a bonus ballot. 
Good luck in the next raffle!
To claim a prize, add a comment at the bottom of the appropriate post and email your contact details to us at: battleschool at rogers dot com

1. Technically this spit of land is called “Mrs MacQuarie Point,” after the wife of a former Governor General of New South Wales in the early 19th century.
2. At the time, a Canadian reservist (from Moncton, New Brunswick) and I were serving with the United Nations in the Golan Heights (between Israel and Syria). I had convinced him that the land down under was worth a look. We had but three weeks leave. It proved to be a quick look. It would be another 20 years before I returned for a second look.
3. We also stopped by a record shop. I snapped up all the Midnight Oil vinyl that I could find. The Oils, as fans refer to them, have always been controversial. Funnily enough, the first time that I saw Peter Garrett’s unbridled power and passion was at a performance in Ottawa some five or six years later. I must have shot two or three rolls of film that evening.
4. Fandom II is located on Laurier Avenue in downtown Ottawa, just steps from new City Hall and the Parliament Buildings. I have purchased many books and games from this store over the years. It is one of only a couple of stores in the city that stock ASL publications.
Don Greenwood
5. Avalon Hill published Rise and Decline of the Third Reich in 1974. The game won the Charles S. Roberts Best Professional Game that same year. Now here is the interesting bit. Along with John Prados, Don Greenwood was the principle designer of this popular game. In 1980, Don would win the Charles S. Roberts award for the Best Twentieth Century Game that year: Crescendo of Doom—the third installment in the Squad Leader series. Those who like to read the fine print already know the rest of the story. Don was the lead designer of ASL.
6. According to Wikipedea, “Vegemite is made from used brewers’ yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing, various vegetables, wheat and spice additives. It is salty, slightly bitter and malty, and rich in umami – similar to beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and the product is a paste. It is not as intensely flavoured as British Marmite and it is less sweet than the New Zealand version of Marmite.” Some of my wife’s cousins in New Zealand were especially fond of “Marmite and chippie” sandwiches. However, as the English ASL player Nigel Blair would be quick to point out, “Kiwi” Marmite is not the real deal. True, the recipes are different. But in both cases, the taste remains quite salty. Why one would want to combine this brown paste with salted potato chips is beyond me. 
7. It helped that Lee’s in-laws lived in Ottawa. It was nevertheless an incredible act of faith for a new player.
8. Lee was drawn to Magic Realm for similar reasons.
9. I believe that one of these gentlemen was John Fedoriw of Kitchener, Ontario.
Get a fresh perspective. Aussie rappel (abseil)!