Learning ASL

Having eventually piled up a fair chunk of ASL and found someone else willing to have a go I have recently kick started my ASL collection. I originally bought ASL when I lived on Anglesey by post and on the odd trip to Chester. This was a while ago and I got through a few games by reading all the rules for scenario 1, playing it then went on to 2 and so on. I think that I got up to 6, my problem was that I had played quite a bit but hardly dented the rules. This time I brainstormed the thing and after the obligatory scenario 1 tried to learn all the common rules as quickly as possible. Briefly I moved on to mortars, played a scenario, then AFVs played a couple more games again and finally went for the Off Board Artillery and another game. There are still wads of desert and jungle pages that have yet to be turned but the basic concepts have probably been covered.

This is a good point to reflect on ASL before I become overconfident and cite those dreadful acronyms that fill up the rules or more likely I give up and find another game. ASL is basically pretty straightforward but suffers badly from being so long. It is also easily forgettable requiring a proportion of all gaming time to be devoted to it to keep those rules concepts in upper memory. There are plenty of other big and expensive games but these are simpler and longer. World in Flames for example is shorter and easier to learn, it takes weeks to play after which it can be put away in the satisfaction that the game has been tried and tested. The cash outlay has been repaid. The time involved in learning ASL can result in a 3 or 4 hour game and then it is over. This is good on space and time but requires ASL to be constantly got out and played again rather than leaving set up for a long slow game. Even with many of those games a great number of the copious counters will remain unused and scenarios unplayed.

The Internet has been of some help in starting out with ASL. It is no surprise to find a large number of sites. Alas many are home pages with the same old intros; the key sites are accessed from multiple home pages. Some of the articles on the net are potentially interesting but set up with hot-links rather than as a single file to copy and print. This requires jumping through more than 1 page to read the article and the high chance of key links being broken so the end is never reached. Add to this the time spent surfing rather than reading print outs and the eyestrain courtesy of the monitor screen. There are a few handy introductory bits plus an index and question and answer file. The index is not that different from the one in the back of the rules but because it is going to be heavily used will save the official version from wear and tear. The Q and As are copious, over 100 pages in A4. I have scanned these on screen but not printed them due to the serious ink and paper requirements. I tried shrinking the font and printed area of the page but there is not a lot of whitespace to play with here. The last file can be confused with the official ASL FAQs that tells you about ASL but does not help you play it. The FAQ file is basically some answers to the question "what is ASL?" The other obvious aid to starting up are back issues of The General. At last count I only have 7 of these and 1 ASL annual, still the clinics and playthroughs show what can be done. It is easy to miss the potential of rules; you know what they say do not notice some significant side effects on play. There must be dozens of these handy interpretations to play that I am not aware of. Some may seriously affect the way the game is played. I am not bothered with this sort of competitive aspect and find struggling with the rulebook to make the game work quite enough of a challenge. My most serious omission so far was in forgetting that 1945 Germans have panzerfaust thingies to shoot at tanks. Still I got to try infantry close combat against tanks. Like many ASL events you read a lot of rules for something concerning a single hex and then find that nothing happens when the dice are rolled.

I have ASL GAP and gave it a run on my 1st 1998 game to see if it helped. To some extent it did but the frequent turning from game to keyboard was less desirable. Laptop users will be at an advantage here. ASL GAP has been around for a while presenting an old fashioned blue screen interface accessed by hot keys. Luckily it is quite happy with Windows í95 unlike many old DOS programs. To its credit the GAP is handy for rolling dice to check morale and for infantry fire. It automatically checks and reminds for all those extra events that the dice can turn up. Snipers, unit substitution and such are all pretty hard to remember as well as having to consider what the dice was originally rolled for. This was a big help for a 1st game, as I would have forgotten to check for most of these events. Balanced against this is the inability of GAP to take care of modifiers. It will call up a list of all die modifiers for firing but it is easier to check these from the original playsheets. Some die modifiers are not on hand so you will have to remember at least when a unit is under desperation morale or gets a morale Ė1 for the right sort of cover. Infantry fire is a case of adding up and pressing a button but ordinance requires more details to be input allowing the GAP to know the gun type and range. If the gun fires again in the same situation it can remember these details but it is quite likely that at least some modifier will have changed. From my limited experience many 1st shots from AFVs in ASL have no chance to hit but are used to acquire the target. The vehicle then stops and has a better chance of a hit. The dice are only rolled for the initial shot on the odd chance of the gun breaking or a lucky low roll making it worth searching the charts. In other cases it can be assumed that the shot will miss. In this sort of situation it is not worth the trouble in punching in data for a GAP shot. There are of course situations with a good chance of a hit and others with AFVs chasing each other where even a vague chance of a hit now is better than waiting and being shot 1st. Even so from limited experience the GAP becomes harder to use when more variables are in play which is unfortunately when it might be found most useful.

Solitaire ASL

Either you play ASL or you donít or like me you dabble and try to learn the game faster than you forget it without spending all gaming time devoted to playing ASL. This particular extension requires Beyond Valour, Yanks would also be handy if you want to use any American units. The other modules are very useful but can be got away without. The system generates mapboards randomly from a slightly flawed table using 2D6 and labelled 1-12. So the more mapboards the more variety, a D12 is handy or the mathematical ability to double up D6s. Modules mean mapboards so this offering is designed for the ASL heavy buyer.

Having frightened off just about all the readership I will say a few words on the methods used for solitaire simulation without going into ASL game details. There is nothing stunning in the game system which relies on hidden counters and tables to generate the enemy. The player picks either Germans, Americans or Russians and can face any of the other three or Partisans if playing Germans. There are no other nationalities involved and as each nationality has a table to decide what units arrive when adding any new nations will require some heavy duty fudging or even research. As far as I know the missing nationalities have yet to turn up in an ASL annual and there are no immediate plans to do a 2nd volume of solitaire rules.

There is (or was) a Group SASL site on the net that contains must-have downloads. Unlike many sites it is still being updated but at present there are some more missions, night rules and some of the missing nationality charts. French, Belgians, US Marines and Japanese charts are in html ready to print off. The Group ASL concept is to have a number of players independently playing SASL as part of a fictional German unit. Scenarios are set from above requiring one or two games a month. The group appears to be closed to new members but the resources are well worth getting.

The best way to play is to pick a single nation and run a campaign starting with a pre-set company of infantry with limited anti-tank rifles and mortars but no vehicles and fight a single enemy every month or so of the war. The game will decide the scenario to be played and the forces of the enemy either side can gain additional forces during the scenario so anything can turn up. Working knowledge of the vehicle and gun rules are thus required although they may not be needed. Some procedures such as off board artillery and paratroops use different rules to the standard ASL set that are thankfully a lot simpler.

Winning is based on some combination of capturing victory hexes and killing the enemy. The victory hexes are chosen from among a few selected hexes for each of the boards in use so tend to be likely spots such as isolated buildings. The enemy appearance is weighted to make it more likely that enemy units will appear in these victory hexes making taking them just a bit harder. With a campaign the original friendly force must be preserved although there is some scope for replacements between scenarios. The Russians can waste any new troops that come on during the game but other nations are penalised for using troops that arrive on their side during a game as cannon fodder to preserve the campaign company.

Solitaire ASL relies on S? counters to represent enemy units that have not been seen. The enemy has a move or hold order that will make these units stand and fire or move towards and objective. The S? counters are tested when in a position to fire and turn out to be blanks or one or more units, usually infantry although a single S? can generate a good size stack. Both sides have a chance of generating random events at the beginning of their own turns. These are the most likely cause of armour turning up. The enemy counters do pretty well on firing, die rolls decide what they fire at and they usually go for the best target. The dice do turn up some pretty dome shots and they can always be trusted to blast at the 1st friendly stack to stroll by in movement. They score less well in movement as they can plough into fire lanes when heading for an objective. They will eventually sort themselves out and hold or go for the friendly guys but can take losses first. They also suffer from overstocking if a very limited number of hexes are available for them to move through. The rules take some plowing through and if there is no rule on enemy overstacking I suggest that a non-routing enemy unit will not enter a hex that would cause it to overstack.

Enemy units make up for a certain clumsiness and lack of finesse by a shear wad of numbers. They can even come on behind friendly lines during a game. As S? counters are revealed according to a die roll some lucky dice can see an easy game. The chance of revealing is increased when adjacent to other revealed units and in buildings and victory hexes. Usually just the sort of places that the home team have to head towards to win. The enemy is also aided by command control rules that require units to stay within range of a leader or have to roll to do anything. Those within a leaderís range will activate if the leader passes his roll; else they must roll individually. The enemy units also have a chance of freezing and refusing to move or fire, worse troops do this more often but on average it is your own guys who will be refusing to budge. The Russians have the fewest leaders so suffer worst from this problem. Check out the camapign to see how I am doing.