16 October 2015

New BattleDice!

Please have a look at some of the new pages we created for our new Stalingrad BattleDice, BattleBones, and ColdCubes. Check out the latest dice in our Arnhem series here, and our new Starshell die below. And do not forget to have a peek at our 30th anniversary set.

See our KitShop catalogue on Dropbox for a complete list of new releases and pricing. 

You may also email to order some items separately.

23 July 2015

Of Apples and Oranges

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

Hakkaa Päälle! Rotten to the core?

There has been some grumbling among the grumblers about the value of Hakkaa Päälle! (HP) as a core module. After all, some grognards opine, the Finnish border wars were a sideshow at best, having little to do with the outcome of World War II. Besides, we already have plenty of Finns in Beyond Valor (BV). Did we really need more?
Comparing HP to other core modules is like comparing, well, you know. Apples have a core; oranges do not. In their natural state at least, both have seeds, and the promise of something grand. I will take this as my starting point for a brief explanation of why I think that you should own ASL Module 14. Hakkaa Päälle! benefits the system on several levels. Foremost among these is that HP contains a more historically sensible, Finnish order of battle (OB). The new module also adds some modest yet significant new rule sections, including a new class of vehicle. Were this not enough, HP provides players with an expanded Russian OB, a quarter-sheet of German vehicles, and searchlights! 
Ahistoric OB: "Fighting Withdrawal" not the first
Rivers to the Reich (RttR) is a collection of Squad Leader scenarios adapted for ASL play. Although a few scenarios have noteworthy modifications, most retain their original OB. For instance, U47 “A Small Town in Germany,”1 has three versions of the Cromwell tank in the Canadian OB, a legacy of the Crescendo of Doom counter mix, which did not include Sherman tanks. Between 1985—when Beyond Valor (BV) debuted, and 2015—when HP appeared, AH and MMP published less than ten “Finnish” scenarios. The small number of “official” scenarios starring Finns is likely related to a general unfamiliarity with Finland’s wars, and perhaps more important, to a (previous) paucity of source material in English. Another contributing factor may well have been the lack of a Finnish OB in the counter mix. 
Mere flesh and blood - meet the new Finns
True, BV includes three classes of Finnish squads, as well as a unique set of leaders. However, with the exception of a homegrown anti-tank rifle (ATR)—the 2cm Lahti M39, all “Finnish” support weapons (SW) and Guns in BV were made in Germany. The problem is that the Finnish military was equipped with neither German machine guns (MG), nor German mortars (MTR). Admittedly, Finland also received a small number of Raketenpanzerbüchse, or Panzerschreck (PSK), beginning in July 1944. But with the possible exception of weapons captured from the Germans during the Lapland War (15 September 1944 – 25 April 1945), the Finnish army was supplied primarily with MG and MTR manufactured domestically, or captured from the Soviet Union.
47 Krh/41 mortar
That said, Finnish defence forces took delivery of some 200 3.7cm PaK 35/36, 27 50mm PaK 38, 46 75mm PaK 97/38, and 110 75mm PaK 40, anti-tank (AT) guns from Germany. Germany also sold Finland 53 105mm leFH 18, and 48 15cm sFH 18 howitzers, 50 2cm FlaK 30 AA, and 93 2cm FlaK 38 AA. Yet, the BV counter mix contains just two ⅝” ordnance counters in Finnish grey: a single 3.7cm PaK 35/36 out of 200 purchased by Finland, and a lone 8cm GrW 34, which Germany apparently did not supply. One might argue that players can easily substitute a German Gun, as required. Indeed, this partly explains why Finnish counters were “German blue” in the first edition of BV. (At the time, there were no scenarios covering the “blue-on-blue” battles of the Lapland War, when Finland was compelled—by the terms of a treaty with the USSR—to drive its former ally out of Finland by force.) 
This workaround would make sense were it not for the fact that 75 percent of Finnish ordnance was either purchased elsewhere, captured, or manufactured at home. For this reason, the Finnish Ordnance Listing in HP contains 39 entries, a quarter of which are new to the ASL counter mix, including half a dozen or so of the made-in-Finland variety. The Finnish artillery park is a motley collection of British, Czech, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Swedish designs. The Finnish motor pool is much the same. 
20 ItK/40 VKT AA Gun
Regardless of edition, Beyond Valor never included Finnish vehicles. Again, the thinking may have been that it was easier to borrow a vehicle from the German counter mix than reproduce a StuG IIIG, for example, in Finnish grey. However, in Finnish service, the Sturmi, as the Finns dubbed the StuG IIIG, does not have any smoke dispensers. The Sturmi also has a different ammo load. Moreover, aside from this self-propelled assault gun, there are only two other German vehicles that the Finns used in any appreciable quantity: the Tempo G1200, a 4x4 light utility vehicle, and the Raupenschlepper Ost (literally, “Caterpillar Tractor East”), or RSO, an artillery tractor used to tow the leFH 18 howitzers that were also purchased from Germany. 
Vikkersi - Vickers 6-ton tank and T26E(b)
Instead, two thirds of the 31 vehicles (27 entries) in the Finnish Vehicle Listing are war booty, captured from the Soviet Union, and in many cases upgraded and/or modified by the Finns. There are also two versions of the British Vickers tank, and two armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) from Sweden. Finland purchased a solitary Landsverk armoured car in 1939, and three years later, bought six Luftvärnskanonvagn L-62 Anti II anti-aircraft tanks from the same manufacturer. Therefore, while using German vehicles to represent those in Finnish service  may work most of the time, using Russian vehicles for the same purpose is problematic. 
BT-42(r) assault gun
The problem is compounded by Finnish conversions of Russian AFV that have no direct Russian equivalent. For example, when Finnish armourers converted Russian T-26 M31 to carry the 45mm 20K tank gun, they made room for a fourth crew member, and a bow-mounted machine gun (BMG). These vehicles are represented in the HP counter mix by BMG-equipped T26B(r). Similarly, when the Finns converted captured OT-130  and OT-133, they likewise re-configured the fighting compartment to accommodate another crewman and a BMG. At the same time, they removed the rear-mounted, turret machine gun (RMG). These conversions are represented by BMG-equipped T26B(r) and T26C(r), respectively. Suffice it to say that having dedicated Finnish counters not only makes playing the Finns easier, but also gives scenario designers more scope when recreating specific actions. I will return to this second point later, when I discuss some of the new rules that HP adds to the system. For now, it is worth noting that the new core module also expands the Russian OB. 
Russian 37mm "spade" mortar
Although BV remains the primary source of Russian SW, Guns and vehicles, HP is your go-to source for some of the more esoteric Soviet equipment, and the source for the newest class of vehicle, the propeller-driven sled, or Aerosan (D17.). Aerosans are motorized vehicles mounted on skis. They have a white bar behind their Movement Point (MP) numbers that symbolizes a ski (as shown in the poster at the end of this article). On top of these new counters, MMP has thoughtfully added a dozen examples of American and British Lend-Lease vehicles and accompanying SW, in Russian brown, to the HP counter mix. 
LANO for your Plano - Leningrad 1941-44
Frankly, some vehicles, such as the ST-26 Bridgelayer, are bound to get as much use as a Nimbus Tank-Destroyer (Allied Minor Vehicle Note 24)!2 Having said that, there are some new Russian AFV that should find their way into scenarios soon. The OT-26 flamethrower tank is a prime candidate. Over 550 were built (or converted from T-26 M31). Even the ad hoc armoured (LANO) trucks, fabricated in Leningrad’s factories and used in the city’s defence, have their place in the system. I am looking forward to seeing what scenario designers come up with in the next couple of years.
Hammer time - Soviet early-war clunkers
Those of you with no interest in gaming any of Finland’s wars can easily dismiss the need for an expanded Finnish OB. You also may see no need for Russian AFV that the Germans did not encounter during their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. You might even get by—as most of us have until now—with using American or British counters to represent Russian Lend-Lease materiel. But then you would be short vehicles that are required for other theatres. The BT-2A, for instance, made its debut in Armies of Oblivion (AoO), which has been out of print for more than five years. This light tank saw combat in Spain, Mongolia, Poland, and Finland, as well as before the gates of Moscow in 1941, and on the Leningrad Front in 1942-43. The Romanians likewise encountered this fast mover, as recounted in the popular scenario “Liberating Bessarabia,” which I have enjoyed playing several times.

Betka BT-2A World Tour
Another (small) incentive to own HP is that it gives you access to eight models of Beute-Panzerkampfwagen (literally, “booty armored fighting vehicles”) from the out-of-print historical ASL module (HASL) Pegasus Bridge (PB). Included, ostensibly, to permit players to game the actions of Panzer-Abteilung 211—a German tank battalion that fought in northern Finland in 1941, only two models of these Beute-Panzer actually saw action in Finland. The remainder of these ex-French AFV are mainly required for scenarios set in Normandy during 1944, which MMP may be working on as I write. An added bonus is that the counters in HP are of better quality than those provided with PB.3
Pz. Abt. 211 in Operation Polar Fox
The last major reason why I think that you ought to consider owning HP has less to do with new counters, although there are certainly plenty more in the box, than with a few, relatively simple rules that have wide applicability across the system. On initial inspection, the introduction of a Russian Early War Doctrine (REWD, A25.212) appears to have little relevance beyond the early stages of the Winter War (i.e. prior to February 1940). The rule is designed to handicap the Russian player, to replicate some of the feel of the period when the Red Army suffered from especially poor organization, and command and control.4 Much of this can be attributed to spotty training, but lacklustre leadership also played a role. The lingering effects of Stalin’s Great Purge partly explains why some Russian commanders were out of their depth. However, unrefined tactical doctrine, overconfidence, and a general lack of professionalism share the blame. Having a Commissar by your side hardly could have helped. 
In game terms, REWD (or REWinD) really messes with a player’s ability to coordinate armour, artillery, and air assets with the poor bloody infantry. The “treadheads” want to do their own thing, and cannot be bothered to wait for the foot soldiers. “Arty” is rarely on target. Pilots have a tough time spotting ground targets, or maybe ground attack is beneath them. And Conscripts, well Conscripts are an even bigger liability in Close Combat. What’s a poor Russian player to do? Adapt, of course. 
A25.212 Russian Early War Doctrine
But here’s the thing. Russian Early War Doctrine has the potential for much wider use. Those familiar with scenario AP31 “First Cristot,” from Action Pack 4, will recall that a Scenario Special Rule (SSR) prohibits the British player from moving infantry and tanks on the same turn. The SSR is designed to simulate poor infantry-tank cooperation during the early stages of Operation Overlord. American forces experienced similar problems in Normandy. Rather than compose a lengthy SSR, a scenario designer could instead state that the British are under the effects of REWD. Given that the British have no Off-Board Artillery (OBA; C1.), or Air Support (E7.), there would be no need for any exceptions—should the designer desire an exception. Players could ignore the irrelevant bits (e.g. Russian conscripts), and concentrate on the fact that each Movement Phase (MPh), the British must move their AFV before any friendly non-Berserk Infantry unit may move [EXC: if (un)loading] during that MPh], and that Armored Assault (D9.31) is not allowed (NA). 
What I am driving at here is that HP provides designers with some useful copy-and-paste rules that can alleviate the need for long and cumbersome SSR. Light Woods (B35.) is another case where a standard rule makes short work of an SSR. The idea is not new. However, the “official” rule codifies portions of previous  SSR, and at the same time, weaves the concept into the wider system. Have a look at the spread below to see what I mean. Before you do, I would ask that you contemplate some of the tactical implications of Light Woods when reading the description. For instance, when I helped play test one particular scenario for HP, I found that routing and losing Desperation Morale (DM) status was a challenge in a Light-Woods environment.5
B35. Light Woods - board 5 will never be the same
Perhaps the best example—a long overdue one at that—of a truly transformative rule is the Prepared Fire Zone (PFZ). A PFZ is not a fortification per se. But it is probably best to think of it as one when you are preparing a defensive position. Fortifications generally serve two purposes in ASL. On the one hand, they channel and/or restrict enemy movement, and possibly inflict casualties directly, as in the case of mines. On the other hand, they increase the physical protection of the defenders themselves. Both kinds of fortifications bolster a defence. A PFZ is somewhat like the former type of fortification. However, a PFZ does more than influence enemy movement. Its key benefit is that it allows a defender to bring fire to bear on areas normally hindered or blocked by intervening vegetation. In other words, PFZ give defenders an opportunity to “terra-form” a portion of the battlefield to suit their devious plans.
B36. Prepared Fire Zones level the playing field
I have avoided discussing Aerosans, as you will not encounter these specialized vehicles very often.6 Do not fret; HP alters ASL winter warfare in other subtle ways. Aside from the addition of “questionable” Ski counters to represent stacks of concealed and/or Dummy Skiers, the amended rules for Ski Troops (E4.) reverse the convention with regard to how Skiers are denoted during play. Furthermore, this rule section has been expanded to accommodate a new, quasi Support Weapon (SW), referred to by its Finnish name “Ahkio.”
E4.8 Ahkio - Laplander sled
For fun, and as promised at the beginning of my sales pitch, I wrap up this post with a spotlight on vehicle searchlights. A searchlight is the term that Russian Multi-Applicable Vehicle Note P uses when referring to the spotlights that were fitted to some AFV, and to T-26 light tanks in particular. It is hard to say how applicable this piece of rule chrome is to other theatres of operation. However, I have seen photographs of T-26 tanks sporting spotlights in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, in Tabriz, when the Soviets invaded Persia in September 1941, and on Chinese T-26 command tanks in Hunan province, as late as November 1944.
Another bright idea brought to you by MMP
To recap, HP provides core material that expands the system beyond the central focus of the module to make ownership worthwhile, even for those interested only in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO). Players can now game actions involving a variety of Soviet weapons that are not available in BV, until now the repository for Russian equipment. In place of more maps (i.e., other than board 52, which is included) and overlays, HP provides scenario designers and players with new rules that enable the transformation of virtually any board in the system.7 Hakkaa Päälle! also adds new flavours to the system with the addition of an Early-War Doctrine template, Aerosans, Ahkios, and new rules for Skiers, all of which have application well beyond Finland’s borders. 
T-37 amphibious tank and Rider with 5 PP
Granted these additions to the core system are modest, unless one remembers that HP also does a stellar job of (re)integrating the Finnish into ASL. Advanced Squad Leader’s treatment of the Finnish soldier is now far more realistic than the superficial portrayal of three decades ago. Moreover, the extensive, historically-grounded Finnish OB in HP almost certainly will lead to the publication of more, and better, Finnish scenarios in the future. In the interim, HP serves up 17 scenarios that challenge previous perceptions of Finnish invincibility in ASL—almost tripling the number of Finnish scenarios in the Avalon Hill/MMP catalogue.
So even if you did not win a copy of HP in our raffle earlier this month, you still may want to consider picking up a copy of the module before it goes out of print. I was shocked to see how fast FB sold out. Don’t dilly dally. It’s time to self-rally. Gain possession of Hakkaa Päälle! today!
Hakkaa Päälle! - compliments of the Self-Rally crowd and a Swedish volunteer
1. The scenario title is a play on the title of a 1968 espionage novel by British author David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré. The small town of the title refers to the former West German capital of Bonn, where the novel is set. If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to read the author’s breakout novel: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
SU-76 Leningrad 1941-44
2. Apparently 71 ST-26 bridgelayers were built. Although only a dozen or so SU-26 saw combat, I think that, for ASL purposes, they would have been a better pick for inclusion in HP. It appears that 14 vehicles were fabricated in Leningrad, and served with the 220th Independent Tank Brigade on the Leningrad Front as late as the winter of 1943. The majority had a 76mm gun mounted behind a riveted gun shield over top of a T-26 chassis. Apart from an extra-large gunshield, the crew was unprotected. Apparently two of these vehicles were equipped with  obsolete 37mm PP obr. 15R guns (Russian Ordnance Note 11). 
3. Also included are more reprints of the Sturmtiger from the out-of-print Operation Veritable Historical Study (OVHS). The Sturmtiger was also included in the Axis-Minor core module AoO. The SdKfz 10/5 halftrack, which debuted in AoO, and made another appearance in the out-of-print Valor of the Guards (VotG), returns in HP. Likewise, the SPW 251/21 halftrack that first appeared in the long out-of-print Kampfgruppe Peiper I (KGP I), and the more recently out-of-print Festung Budapest (FB), is part of the HP counter mix. 
At the time of this writing, the BattleSchool KitShop still has some OVHS counter sheets (and maps) left. Our remaining stocks of VotG and FB have been selling quickly, however.
4. For what it’s worth, I think that HP would have benefited from the inclusion of two more Russian squad types: a Second Line unit, a 4-3-7 or 3-4-7, and an early-war Conscript 3-2-6. The lack of a Second Line unit [EXC: NKVD; VotG22.] is at odds with the massive size of the Red Army. Admittedly, the Buda Volunteer Regiment units (i.e., 4-4-7, 3-4-7, and 3-3-6) in FB could serve the same purpose by SSR, but this HASL module went out of print only three years after it was published.
5. This scenario was not included with HP. Designed by Matts Dagerhäll and Eric Henyeythe scenario is set in the dying days of the Winter War. A group of battle-weary Swedish Volunteers must try to slip through a tightening net of Russian pursuers on skis. It is a fluid action, atypical of most ASL actions occurring in heavily wooded areas. I suspect that the design will be reworked, and released with a compilation of other scenarios featuring Swedish Volunteers. I hope it does, because the “Grafström Raid” is a good candidate for evening play, and tournaments.
6. I highly recommend that those not afraid of the dark give Thuring’s “Night Fans” a spin. The scenario is remarkable for its use of desert boards and overlays to create islands in the midst of a frozen lake. Aerosans attack across the ice in an effort to dislodge the Finnish garrison on the main island. I played the scenario a couple of times in play test. Needless to say that manoeuvring fan-propelled sleighs onto land at night is an uphill battle in more ways than the patently obvious.
7. Although not stated explicitly in the rules, I see no reason why, for example, that one could not use a PFZ factor to transform scrub on a desert board into Open Ground, particularly when Broken Terrain (F13.1) or Steppe Terrain (F13.2) is in play.
Hakkaa Päälle! - Take the road less traveled!

17 April 2015

CASLO returns to the Nation’s Capital

Last autumn, I offered to take the lead in compiling the scenario lists for the Canadian ASL Open (CASLO). I had done this before, for previous CASLO, and I had an appreciation for the task at hand. Now that the work is done, I clearly underestimated the enormity of the task. Or more truthfully, I once again underestimated my penchant for “perfection,” as my longtime ASL buddy opined. 
Rather than explain why it took so long to prepare the scenario lists, I prefer to let the end product speak for itself. Aside from the show-and-tell aspects of this post, I hope to encourage a few more ASL players to attend what is shaping up to be the biggest CASLO on record. 
The where, the why, and the when
Ottawa, Ontario will host the CASLO for the third time in five years.1 Each year, the Canadian ASL Association (CASLA) deliberates on where the event will be held. A syndicate of players in my local ASL group made a successful bid to host the nineteenth CASLO. What makes CASLO XIX extra special is that—for the first time—it occurs in Ottawa during the spring, and on a long weekend. 
The Victoria Day (or May two-four) weekend is a good time to visit the Nation’s Capital. Aside from celebrating the (current) sovereign’s birthday with festivals and fireworks, the weekend marks the (unofficial) beginning of summer. As with past Opens, the CASLO kicks off at noon on Friday, and runs for three days: 15-17 May. However, in a departure from previous tournaments, some players will have an opportunity to roll dice as early as 10:00 on Friday. This is but one of several innovations to the CASLO Program.  
The what
Arguably the biggest change to the CASLO Program is the decision to run two, parallel tournaments. The CASLO, or main tournament, remains a five-round, three-day event. The winner of the CASLO is the player with the most points at the conclusion of Round 5 on Sunday—more on the CASLO in due course. 
The Novice Tourney is a three-round, two-day event. This shorter tourney differs from the “mini” tourneys of the past in a couple of respects, the most important of which is that it is not a single-elimination, or sudden-death competition. Instead, participants play all three rounds, with the winner determined by points in the same manner as the CASLO.2 Let’s look at the Novice Tourney in a bit more detail.
Novel approach
The Novice Tourney is now a tournament in its own right, with its own discrete set of scenarios. It caters not only to novice, or less experienced, players, but also to players who are unable to attend a three-day event. I tailored the scenario choices with these factors in mind. 
Scenarios in the Novice are arranged by theme, with one overarching theme per round. In keeping with the vision of the co-Tournament Directors (TDs) Doug Rimmer and Reg Plummer, each subsequent round requires knowledge of a broader rule set, and tactics. In most cases, players will select a scenario from among the first three listed for each round. The theme of the first round is infantry (Guts). The second round introduces ⅝” ordnance in the form of anti-aircraft artillery (AA), and medium mortars (Guns). The third and final round is a combined-arms test that adds tanks to the mix (Glory).
Novice Tourney Handbook
Along with the main scenarios, I added a pair of “pool” scenarios to each round. These scenarios can only be chosen by mutual agreement. I included them so as to provide more experienced players with an option to play a more complex scenario. Having said that, a closer inspection of the nine, core scenarios in the Novice reveals that each is more nuanced than it may appear initially.
Pool scenarios share the general theme of their respective rounds, but add a secondary theme. For example, the secondary theme for the pool scenarios in Round 1 is the Japanese, whereas offboard artillery (OBA) is a secondary component of Round 2. Below is a break down of each round.
Round 1: GUTS Saturday 09:00 - 15:00
All of the scenarios in the first round involve only Infantry. Light Anti-Tank Weapons (LATW) and Light Mortars are also in play, but no ⅝” ordnance. The table below supplies an overview of the round. Neither of the pool scenarios requires knowledge of PTO Terrain (G.1).
GUTS: Round 1 Scenarios in the Novice Tourney
Round 2: GUNS Saturday 16:30 - 23:00
Each scenario in the second round of the Novice includes ⅝” ordnance. Medium mortars are the most common type of Gun across all five scenarios in Table 2 below. A couple of scenarios have AA Guns, but only FT188 has a large-calibre AA Gun. 
One of the scenarios in this round is set in Tunisia (WCW2). However, no Chapter F rules are in effect. The scenarios in the pool involve fortifications, and OBA. Neither scenario is recommended for inexperienced players.
GUNS: Round 2 Scenarios in the Novice Tourney
Round 3: GLORY Sunday 09:00 - 15:30
Each scenario in the final round of the Novice includes some form of Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV). Although a self-propelled assault gun makes a guest appearance in one of the main scenarios, tanks are the stars of the show. In my view, players will enjoy playing any of the scenarios in the table below. 
GLORY: Round 3 Scenarios in the Novice Tourney
Players who register for the Novice receive a copy of the 25-page Novice Tourney Handbook (NTH). The NTH includes 15 scenario cards. Some cards have been amended. I included statistics from the Remote On-line Automated Record (ROAR) as a guide to aid in scenario selection. It goes without saying that players need to analyze each scenario on its own merits, keeping in mind that some scenarios have small, but important amendments. For example, I gave the Germans in “Scotch on the Rocks” an extra, medium machinegun.
The main event
Preparing the documentation for the CASLO was a huge undertaking. I could not have done it without the help and input of numerous people. The nine-page Tournament Information Package, or TIP, is the central document. Doug Rimmer drafted the original, and along with his co-TD Reg Plummer, proofread my reworked version.
The TIP provides a general overview of the CASLO. In addition to the Tournament Schedule, the TIP includes specific guidance on the scenario-selection process, including examples of how to bid for scenarios and sides, and the tournament rules. The TIP is designed to be consulted in conjunction with the detailed information found in the scenario packages specific to each round of the CASLO.
The "TIP"
Because the scenario packages for the CASLO include annotated maps of the playing areas, I felt it best to create separate documents for each round. Although the packages for most rounds are only eleven pages long, some are much longer. Together, the scenario packages run to 77 pages! 
Each scenario package begins with a preamble that describes the theme of the round. The preamble is accompanied by a table that lists the scenarios, and any associated special notes. Scenario cards appear on later pages, as do maps that illustrate the setup areas. Doug prepared over 90 percent of the maps, saving me heaps of work and headache. Rob MacDonald and Reg proofread each package. Given the length of these documents, we encourage attendees to make full use of the electronic versions provided. 
Before we examine the rounds in more detail, I would like to thank the legion of players who helped me narrow down the scenarios for the CASLO. There are 25 scenarios on the CASLO scenario list. All were played at least once before we chose them. Other scenarios never made the cut, but were played nonetheless. 
Doug hosted monthly “play test” sessions at his place. These tests helped us identify balance issues, as well as areas that might lead to confusion, or disagreement. I think that we have a better list because of this testing. I also feel that the TDs are more prepared for questions that may arise during the tournament. I would like to thank the following gentlemen for their assistance: Adrian Earle, Brian McLeod, Doug Rimmer, Jamie Rimmer, Martin Hicks, Reg Plummer, Rob MacDonald, and Ken Young.
Round 1: Early Action
All of the scenarios in the first round take place before 1941. The round serves two purposes. It acquaints players with lesser known actions, and it presents tactical situations and forces that, for the most part, are intended to push the comfort level of average players, and compel them to think and play in a less conventional manner. 
The scenarios in this round are relatively new. The oldest, “Stairway to Heaven,” was published in 2010. “Death Throes” appears courtesy of Bounding Fire Productions, and the designer Chas Smith. The scenario is one of more than 40 in BFP’s forthcoming Poland in Flames Battlepack.3 As the banner above hints, I also included a scenario from Hakkaa Päälle! in Round 1.
Round 2: Jungle Gym
All of the scenarios in this round occur in the Pacific Theatre of Operations (PTO). In all cases, PTO Terrain (G.1) is in effect. However, in some cases, there are important exceptions to the terrain transformations that normally take place when rule G.1 is in play. Brush, for instance, is not always transformed into bamboo.
The scenarios in this round are new. None were published before 2014. In fact, one is due to be released in Journal 11 later this year. “Maximum Aggression” appears here courtesy of Multi-Man Publishing, and the designer, Michael Koch.
I selected the scenarios with a view to providing players an approachable introduction to the Pacific Theatre, and the Japanese in particular. Several of the scenarios are straightforward, and none feature any of the more complex rules found in Chapter G. Dense Jungle, for example, is not in effect in any of the scenarios, while esoteric rules dealing with caves, panjis, and so on are also absent. And with one exception, players do not have to concern themselves with the rules for Demo Charge Heroes (G1.424), or Tank-Hunter (T-H) Heroes (G1.421) for that matter. The Jungle Gym is nonetheless designed to give players a mental workout. 
Round 3: Minor League
This round is similar to Round 1. It is designed to test a player’s ability to use the armed forces of lesser powers effectively. Each scenario includes an Allied Minor or Axis Minor component that forms the bulk, if not all, of one side’s order of battle (OB). Players also should be prepared to handle Inexperienced Personnel (A19.3). 
Round 3 is unique in that players are required to bid for sides using one of three, very different methods. Standard bidding is the most common. However, in “The Bet,” players bid for the same side. Each player places a wager, betting on the minimum number of building/rubble hexes that the Germans must control at game end. The classic “Morire in Belleza” uses instead the Australian Bidding System (ABS). In this Paddington Bears scenario, players select one of eight bids. An explanation of how ABS works is found in the TIP. 
Round 4: History Lesson
All the scenarios in this round are played on maps that have terrain unique to the historical situation. Round 4 is designed to test a player’s ability to grasp a number of historical and terrain rules, and adjust play accordingly. 
This round required the most work on my part. In an effort to make the Historical ASL (HASL) round more accessible (and palatable), I created an abridged rule set for each scenario. In spite of much culling, condensing, and copyediting, the rules overhead still may appear daunting to some would-be participants. However, bear in mind that all of the HASL rules are in one place. There is no need to consult the original HASL rule set. Nor is there any need to skim through pages of HASL rules to determine if a particular rule applies. If a HASL rule is present in the scenario package, then it applies to the associated scenario. If a HASL rule is absent, then the rule is not applicable.
HASL rules for CM04
In some cases, I deleted rules that would have little or no impact on play. I also modified, or extensively rewrote certain rule sections. I did this either for clarity, or to bring a particular rule in line with core ASL rules. This is most noticeable in the HASL rules for the scenarios produced by Lone Canuck Publishing. Where possible, I also included colour illustrations, and player aids. 
Rob MacDonald was responsible for prodding me to create the Valor of the Guards Terrain Table, which was based on a similar table supplied by Michael Rodgers—the Treasurer of the CASLA, and an unflagging supporter of the CASLO. Doug Rimmer provided feedback on my edits to the rules, while Reg Plummer and Rob proofread my handiwork. I can say with confidence that we have done our utmost to make the historical scenarios in this round accessible to all participants. Granted not everyone will own the HASL modules from which these scenarios were chosen. Rest assured, however, that the tournament organizers are doing their best to ensure that players have what they need (maps included) to partake of the CASLO history lesson.
Round 5: Oh Canada!
All scenarios in this round feature Canadians. And all have been published within the past five years. I wanted to end the CASLO on a theme that incorporated only the latest scenario designs featuring Canadian troops. This proved more difficult than I expected. There are few scenarios to choose from, and many of these are played on a historical map. But I was okay with this. 
My original intent was to integrate the themes of the CASLO vertically. Put another way, rather than assign all of the HASL or PTO scenarios to one round, I planned to spread them across all five rounds—with no more than two HASL or PTO scenarios per round. I envisioned a competition within a competition. While some players vied for top spot in the CASLO, others could attempt to win a theme. For example, a player might receive one point for playing a HASL scenario, or three points for winning one. The player with the most points in a given theme would win a prize. To make it more interesting, I incorporated scenarios that qualified for more than one theme. 
In the end, I was overruled. We went with the “horizontal” approach in which all scenarios in a round share the same theme. Scenarios with more than one theme are not immediately obvious, however. The last round of the CASLO has obvious vestiges of my intended thematic approach. For example, “The Police Station” is set in Hong Kong. The scenario qualifies for the Canadian theme, but could just as easily qualify for the Pacific Theatre theme (if we ignore the lack of PTO Terrain). “Zoot Suit Boys” is from Bloody Buron, a scenario pack that uses a historical map and rules to portray the to-and-fro fight for the Norman village of Buron, in June 1944. The historical rules required to play the scenario are manageable—little more than a page, including an explanatory illustration that I created.4 So while technically a HASL scenario, some players may enjoy giving the “Baddies” a bloody nose as the Canucks hum Oh Canada!

Scenario list of the CASLO for 15-17 May 2015
I had planned to expand upon some other unique aspects of the tournament. However, until all of these are confirmed in the next week or so, I will refrain from making any promises that the TDs cannot deliver on. If you would like additional information on CASLO XIX, I recommend that you visit the CASLO site that Jamie Rimmer created. Among other things, the site includes a list of sponsors, and the prizes that they have donated. As of today, 29 people have registered for CASLO XIX. You can help us reach 40. Pass it on!
CASLO XIX Prizes donated by BattleSchool KitShop
A final word, if I may. I can confirm that the BattleSchool KitShop will be onsite during CASLO XIX. Helen expects to have the shop open from roughly 09:00 to 15:00 each day. She will have copies of most publications containing scenarios found on the play lists of both tournaments. The main exceptions are the older HASL modules: A Bridge Too Far, and Kampfgruppe Pieper II. Provided we do not sell out of an item before 15 May, almost everything else will be available for purchase on the day. 
If you are joining us from out of town and would like something special—an ASL map bundle, or an out-of-print item, for example—I recommend that you reserve a copy with Helen ahead of time. She will try to have most publications on hand, but she does not intend to bring many copies of larger items. If you prefer to plan your purchases in advance, feel free to request a link to a PDF copy of our catalogue. Email: battleschool at rogers dot com. 
1. The venue for CASLO XIX is located in Bells Corners, a former village in the former city of Nepean. Both municipalities now form part of the western suburbs of Ottawa. The Nation’s Capital has a population just shy of one million. The international airport is about a 25-minute drive east of the hotel. The nearest train station (Fallowfield, which serves the Montreal-Toronto Via Rail corridor) is about 15/30 minutes away by car/connecting bus. 
2. It took me a while to understand why Doug Rimmer did not want to refer to the Novice Tourney as a “mini” tourney. I assumed that it was mere semantics. However, once we agreed to run it as a Swiss-style tournament, dropping the term “mini” made perfect sense. Our hope is that future CASLO TDs will adopt this format. In our view, the smaller tourney offers a meaningful alternative for players who cannot attend on Friday. The smaller tourney also gives TDs the flexibility to create two, thematically different tournaments.
3. Bounding Fire Productions’ Poland in Flames is a new Battlepack stuffed with more than 40 scenarios, new counters, illustrated rules pages, and eight mapboards—including two pairs of double-wide boards. The pack will likely include a magazine that recounts the Polish Campaign of September 1939 too. 
4. To give you an idea of the time required to prepare the HASL rules, I spent a day or so rewriting and condensing the historical rules for “Zoot Suit Boys.” I also created a diagram that explains how the Partial Orchards found on only a small portion of the map work. The rules, diagram included, take up less than a page and a quarter.
On a related note, I forgot to add that a couple of players in Toronto (GTA) are interested in forming an ASL club. If you would like to be part of this, please send me an email and I will put you in touch.