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Short Introduction: ASL – what’s that?!?

Posted by Denny Koch on March 24, 2010

ASL (“Advanced Squad Leader”) is a tactical level, hex- and counter based consim which allows you to play almost all fronts of WWII battlefields. It is probably the most realistic and detailed game system out there and was originally developed by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC). Later on, the licenses were taken over by Hasbro and they decided that from now on the game system should be published by Multi Man Publishing (MMP).

ASL is the successor of Squad Leader (published 1977), a successful classic, and is – generally speaking – an improved and plainer version of the former SL system, incorporating all four original modules named “Gamettes” (which caused so much problems over the time because the new rules introduced by the gamettes didn’t fit well with the standard rules of the SL core game).

ASL is not a single game but a highly detailed and complex  game system, consisting of a three-ring-binder rulebook with the basic rules chapters A (Infantry), B (Terrain), C (Ordnance), D (Vehicles), E (Misc) and several modules which contain the scenarios, boards, counters, and OOB (“Order of Battle”) of all participating factions. Each module adds more specific rules or even new chapters (desert warfare, Pacific theater) to the rulebook.

Germans facing US forces

ASL portrays the battles of WWII on every scene and setting you can imagine and offers over 3000 scenarios which are very detailed and based on historical events and often with background information.

These scenarios describe the initial starting situation of every battle regarding manpower and leadership qualities, hours of the day, season, weapons, tanks and other vehicles, as well as the goal of the scenario, called “Victory Condition.”

A game is played through several game turns and these are divided into two player turns in which the players are taking actions one after another, although there are some phases where the non-phasing player can react to the actions of the moving player. This makes the game very interactive and downtime is reduced to a minimum for those participating in this game.

Men (single men, squads, half squads etc..) and machines (tanks, jeeps, trucks, weapons etc..) are portrayed on so called “counters” (if you take all MMP products together with the 3rd party stuff, the system contains about 20.000 counters) which contain different information and numbers printed upon them.

It is this information on which the interaction of the simulated battles is based on: Morale, Line of Sight, firepower, portage costs, terrain, malfunction, ammunition shortage, MG salves, etc.. and additional charts, diagrams and odds tables allow to simulate historical events on the gaming table pretty accurately.

Essential: A pair of tweezers

Movement is executed on geomorphic boards which are used to portray the terrain where the battles and maneuvers actually did take place. There are more than 50 boards available which can be combined in every way to fit any historical circumstances. The boards are printed upon with a hexagonal grid structure, each hex portraying 40 meters in reality. ASL tries to simulate battles and maneuvers with as much realism and detail as possible and it’s very successful in doing this. This is not Axis & Allies, but a true consim that is as close to reality as possible! But it is still very playable despite of this accuracy and its complexity, and it’s a rather fast going game, providing the players with great fun and enormous tension.

The rulebook of course is quite heavy because it contains rules for any situation you can think of, but all rules are well explained with many examples to help you jumping into the ASL game experience. Yet, it remains a book with some hundreds of pages of rules printed in small letters and a very technical English with tons of acronyms, which have to be mastered to get full satisfaction out of this game. A daunting task at first, but after overcoming this, one will realize that there’s no game experience comparable with ASL.

What do I need to start playing ASL?

In order to play ASL, players are required to buy the rulebook. The rulebook adds no counters and no boards and is sold separately at about 80$.

The gaming table with maps and charts

In addition, at least one of the core modules is required; later modules require ownership of the former modules. Module #1 “Beyond Valor” is required for all later modules because it adds the entire German army, vehicles, and ordnance weapons as well as the Russian OOB. If you want to test the game system first because you don’t know whether to delve into this very expensive game system with its rare and hard to find modules, you can alternatively start with module #2 “Paratroopers” which serves as a small introductory standalone module with all necessary counters included (US and German). Its scenarios are smaller and offer a step-by-step introduction to the more complex aspects of the game (starting with basic infantry fights before learning to use ordnance and vehicles). If you start with Paratrooper and decide that you like the game system, you have to buy and play Beyond Valor nevertheless, but the Paratrooper scenarios are nice for play on short game meetings because they are smaller and faster than the scenarios in the core modules.

Since ASL was originally meant to attract SL players, ownership of the old SL geomorphic game boards is required to play many modules. Newer editions and reprints come with new cardboard maps and many modules add new SL style maps to the collection, but ownership of the basic SL maps is a prerequisite if you want to play all scenarios available. Fortunately, the old SL games are not too hard to come by, the gamettes are still sold on eBay and the maps can often be bought separately.

Beware, many ASL modules are out of print and prices on ebay or other marketplaces can be astronomous. Fortunately, MMP has started reprinting the core modules but if you are a dedicated ASL collector, you have to be on the watch constantly if you want to purchase one of the extremely rare modules (for example the Pacific modules) or scenario collections. Check out module availability at the MMP website; sometimes, you can find a special bargain here.

So if you decide to jump into ASL, you can choose between these options:

  • Buy the rulebook (80$) and module #2 Paratrooper. If you like the game system, you will have to buy the other core modules; Paratrooper is a standalone and no other modules are based on ownership of this game. You could even search for an older 1st edition rulebook on eBay; it is much cheaper than the 2nd edition which contains some clarifications and additional rules chapters from the start which originally came with later modules. The 1st edition rulebook is perfect for getting into the game without taking financial risks; if you decide you like ASL, you will buy the 2nd edition sooner or later.
  • Buy the rulebook and module #1 Beyond Valor (about 100$), avoiding Paratrooper for the moment. Beyond Valor will be the foundation of your collection and is an absolute prerequisite to play the other modules.

Consulting the rulebook

(To be fair, there’s a third option: MMP published a spin-off series called “ASL Starter Kit” with a light version of the rules and a lower complexity. The starter kits should offer an easier (and cheaper) introduction into the game system, but they are NOT full ASL and jumping over to the full ruleset afterwards can be quite challenging. Many people decide that they are satisfied with what the Starter Kits have to offer and don’t switch over to full ASL at all. In our opinion, the “Rulebook & Paratrooper” or “Rulebook & Beyond Valor” (for more experienced consim players or even SL veterans) are the better options because you learn handling and navigating the monstrous rulebook from day 1. We started with an older (cheaper) 1st edition rulebook and Paratrooper and switched over to Beyond Valor and the updated and clarified 2nd edition rulebook afterwards.)

Paratrooper won’t be reprinted by MMP because in their opinion it became obsolete by the ASL Starter Kits, so keep your eyes open if you are interested in the Normandy invasion / Band of Brothers style scenarios included in this module.

How many modules exist?

Core Modules:

#1 Beyond Valor: Russian and German OOB
#2 Paratrooper: Germans and US paratroopers, Normandy invasion standalone introductory module
#3 Yanks: US OOB
#4 Partisan: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
#5 West of Alamein: British OOB, desert rules, out of print
#5a For King and Country: British OOB, replacement for West of Alamein without the desert rules
#6 The Last Hurrah: Allied Minors OOB
#7 Hollow Legion: Italian OOB
#8 Code of Bushido: Japanese OOB, PTO rules, extremely rare, out of print
#9 Gung Ho: US Marines and Chinese OOB, PTO
#10 Croix de Guerre: French OOB, reprint planned for 2011
#11 Doomed Batallions: Allied Minors and Guns extensions
#12 Armies of Oblivion: Axis Minors OOB

Historical Modules (containing large accurate game maps based on aerial images and additional rules)

#1 Red Barricades: Stalingrad
#2 Kampfgruppe Peiper 1: Ardennes offensive
#3 Kampfgruppe Peiper 2: Ardennes
#4 Pegasus Bridge

Deluxe Modules (containing larger boards):

#1 Streets of Fire: Street fighting of the Eastern Front
#2 Hedgerow Hell: Normandy

Solitaire ASL: A complete solitaire system for playing ASL with a good ‘paper AI’

The Paratrooper module

Since the game can be played online or via PbEM (Play by Email) with VASL, you will surely find opponents even if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, VASL is only a virtual representation of the maps and counters without AI, ownership of the ASL rulebook and the scenarios contained in the modules are still required. The same is true for rules knowledge; without that, you can’t play neither Face to Face nor with VASL.

If you want more information, check out our ASL microsite with many useful links! And don’t worry, ASL is extremely complex and getting into the game is a challenging task, but the ASL community is very supportive and friendly :).

2 Responses to “Short Introduction: ASL – what’s that?!?”

  1. Perry said

    ASL is the pinnacle of Board wargaming, Nothing I have ever played comes close to ASL’s detail, and enjoyment, Yes the Rule Book is huge, and to start it will frag the old brain box, but once you have the basics down, the rest comes easy. Then all you have to do is enjoy a wealth of scenarios, HASL and just plain old ww2 combat.

  2. Great and wonderful system!!!

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