Friday, May 12, 2006

ASL Primer I

In this post--and probably the next--I will be giving a very light overview of ASL for those of you with little or no exposure to it. I am not trying to get everyone to try this game; it is clearly not for everyone. But for those of you on the edge--like I was--it might help you decide if this game is for you. Note that I am only learning Starter Kit #1, so my knowledge is limited to the simplified rules therein.

ASL is a tactical squad-level wargame representing the events, terrain, units, and weapons of WWII. Each turn represents 2 minutes. Each hex is 40 meters across.

I described ASL once to someone, and they said, "Oh, it's just a more complex form of Risk." and no. The first issue is that, in ASL, soldiers act like soldiers. In Risk, you can have 3 units attack 10 with the hopes of taking a unit or 2 with you. In ASL, you can't order a unit to run across open ground against 3 machine guns. Well, you can, but they will likely break and run back, if they survive at all. The second issue is about goals. The goal of Risk is to Wipe every other player off the map. The goals of each ASL scenario are different, perhaps even different for each player. You may have to get unit(s) off the edge of the map, or occupy specific locations, etc...all within some turn limit. In effect, you have been given orders, and you must carry them out.

Let's start with the counters. These represent the leaders, squads, and other game conditions on the map.

This is a basic full-squad counter (3 soldiers pictured). ASL takes all of the real-world attributes of a squad (weapon types, weapon strength, weapon range, training, experience, willingness to fight) and abstracts them into 3 primary values. This is a 5-3-6 squad. These 3 values stand for firepower-range-morale. I'll ignore the other information pictured since it's not relevant to this overview.

Firepower: This squad attacks with a base firepower of 5. If there are 3 of these squads attacking together, the base FP is 15.

Range: This squad can attack a target at normal range up to 3 hexes away. Targets from 4 to 6 hexes away are considered long range.

Morale: This squad has a morale of 6. This represents the likelihood of a bad result when the squad is fired upon, and the ability of the squad to get back into the fight if it breaks. The higher the morale the better. When a unit fails a Morale Check (rolls greater than its morale number), it is Broken. This indicates a complete breakdown in its effectiveness due to the overwhelming attack it suffered and the training level of its soldiers. Broken units will run for cover and hide. Broken units must be rallied, usually by a leader. When a unit makes a Morale Check and rolls its morale number exactly, it is Pinned. It may no longer move, and its effectiveness is hindered for the rest of the turn.

Note: Almost everywhere in ASL where a roll is required, 2d6 are used. In all cases, lower is better.

This is a basic half-squad counter (2 soldiers pictured). These may be given as part of a scenario setup, or created when the abilities of a full-squad are reduced in battle (Casualty Reduction). In this case, the 2-2-6 unit has a firepower of 2, a range of 2, and a morale of 6.

The change in firepower and range is a measure of the loss of effectiveness of the men and the weapons in the half-state. In this case, the morale is the same as the full squad, but it is not always true.

This is a basic leader counter (1 soldier pictured). Leaders do not have firepower, and hence no range. This 9-2 leader has a morale of 9 (very tough). For leaders, the dash between the numbers is not a simple separator. It is a minus sign. This leader has a -2 bonus (remember that lower is better?). This bonus is applied when units in the leader's hex fire, when units in the leader's hex must check results when fired upon, and when units in the leader's hex are trying to Rally (ie get back into the fight).

Each scenario defines a board (or set of boards) upon which to setup the starting positions for each side.

Here's a close-up of some common terrain for Starter Kit #1. E7 is a woods hex. D8 is a wooden building hex. F7 is a stone building hex. G8 is an orchard hex. All hexes with no feature in them, including those with a road, are open hexes.

Movement is from hex to adjacent hex. A normal squad has 4 movement points (MP) each turn. Open ground and orchards cost 1 MP to enter. Woods and buildings cost 2 MP. There are other types of terrain with different movement costs (eg grain in-season costs 1.5 MP). Each time you expend 1 MP, you may be fired upon. I'll get more into movement and combat sequence in the next post.

Line-of-sight (LOS) is a vital component of ASL. If you can see an enemy unit, you may fire upon it, and it may fire upon you. LOS is measured by drawing a line (using string) from the center of the shooter's hex to the center of the target's hex. Do not count the terrain of the hex the shooter is in. If the line touches the image of a building (not simply the hex) or the image of woods, then there is no LOS. However, you cannot check for LOS unless you are actually taking the shot. If LOS is blocked, then you are considered to have shot and missed. Note that by checking LOS, you are also informing the opponent about this information.

The 3 lines in the image show 3 different LOS checks, each with a range of 3 hexes. The RED line has LOS. The GREEN line is blocked by the building. The BLUE line has LOS, but the orchard hex acts as a hindrance (see below).

To make an attack, you need to know 2 values: the total firepower, and the modifiers.

The total firepower is the sum of the firepower of all the units firing. Any unit firing at an adjacent hex gets its firepower doubled. Any unit firing at a target at long range gets its firepower halved (keep all fractions, and add them). There are many other adjustments to all this in the complete rules.

The total firepower is then converted to a column on the Infantry Firepower Table (see image), rounding down to the nearest FP value.

The second value to calculate is the modifier. The basic modifiers are: leader, target movement, hindrances, and terrain.

Leader: The 9-2 leader above would provide a -2 bonus to any attacks that he directed.

Target Movement: If the target unit is moving in open ground (in an open hex with no intervening hindrances) when fired upon, there's a -1 bonus (to the shooter). If the target unit is not using Assault Movement (a slow and careful single-hex move), there's an additional -1 bonus.

Hindrance: Any hindrance crossed by the LOS (but not in the shooter's or target's hex) creates a penalty. Any LOS crossing an orchard hex (anywhere in the hex, not just a tree dot) adds +1. There are other penalties for other types of hindrances (eg smoke).

Terrain: If the target is in Woods, there's a +1 penalty. If the target is in a Wooden Building, there's a +2 penalty. If the target is in a Stone Building, there's a +3 penalty.

Add all the above bonuses and penalties. That is the total modifier. Roll 2d6, add the modifier, and consult the proper IFT column. If you roll doubles (and there is no leader directing the fire), the firing unit(s) Cower. This means you shift one column to the left. Units without a leader are not as reliable.

Here's a complex example covering all of the above. The shooting units are firing along the BLUE LOS line in the image above.

A 9-2 leader, two 5-3-6 squads, and a 2-2-6 half squad are in the wooden building in D8. An enemy 4-6-7 moves (using normal movement) into the open hex G9. The stack of 4 counters decides to fire. The range is 3 hexes. There is LOS, but it does go through a hindrance.

The two full squad's firepower is normal (5+5) since the enemy is within normal range. The half-squad's is halved (1) since the enemy is at long range for him. The total firepower is 11, which translates to 8 on the IFT. Too bad the half-squad is long range, huh? Otherwise it would have been on the 12 column.

What are the modifiers? The leader provides -2. The target is using Non-Assault Movement, which provides -1. The target is also moving in open ground, but from the point of view of the shooter, it is not open ground because of the hindrance. So no modifier there. The hindrance itself provides +1. The terrain (open ground) provides nothing.
So the shot will take place on the 8 column, with a -2 modifier to the roll. You roll 2d6 and get a 9. The final result is a 7, which on the 8 column is a 1MC. This means the target unit has to make a Morale Check with a +1 modifier. The unit has a morale of 7. He rolls 2d6 and gets a 7, modified to an 8. The unit breaks. The counter is flipped over (showing the broken state) and a DM+4 (Desperation Morale) counter is placed on top. This unit no longer has the will to fight, and will run for cover at the first opportunity. It may take some effort to get them back into the battle.

If G9 had been a Stone Building, then the total modifiers would have been +1 (-2 leader, -1 non-assault movement, +1 hindrance, +3 stone building). The roll of 9 would have been modified to a 10, resulting in no effect. The building would have made a huge difference!

The next post will be all about the sequence of play. You see, you don't just take turns moving and shooting each other...not quite.


At 2:41 AM, Blogger Yehuda Berlinger said...

Very nice. Too bad I can't stand playing it, because I think it's a great game.


At 11:09 AM, Blogger Lance Roberts said...

A good intro for a great game.

No game gives such a combination of realism, playability and fun. It's like playing a character in a WWII movie.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Ken Mixon said...

I got a copy of this when it was first released, and gave up trying to learn it solo, trading it away on BGG. Now that I have a potential gaming partner who would appreciate this, I'm thinking about getting another copy and giving it another whirl. Your articles are nudging me closer....

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great into/summary, Jim.

I think this wargame is a bit unusual in that BGGers who love complex games with lots of decisions, and games that reward experience (some guys have been playing ASL for a decade and claim they're still learning tactics), can enjoy it without really being much into history. Most wargames require a fairly keen interest in the history being depicted in order to attract a wargamer's attention. But ASL really only requires you to enjoy WWII movies and/or playing with plastic army men :) For those who master the game and want good history (and an intense gaming experience perhaps like no other), there are the Historical ASL modules (HASLs).

Keep up the good work, and I'll see you on VASL...

Kevin Moody

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Steve Janecek said...

Three questions -

1 - Was the hindrancefor the orchard because the LOS went right through the actual bush - if it did not go through the bush itself, woudl there have been a hindrance modifier applied?

2 - Can you see your opponents units even if they are not in LOS of any of your units? It would seem unfair to be able to move knowing where your enemies units are, when in reality you do not.

3 - Can this be played online in any reasonable fashion? If so I would be inetrested in learning more.

I played a game on the computer called "close Combat" by Microsoft where it had similar goals to the ones you expressed. Sometimes it was just getting a unit across some terrain, it was to win a stronghold. The game, as it worked, seemed to have similar mechincs to the ones you describe.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger ekted said...

1 - Orchards are considered to fill the hex. Any LOS traced though the hex or even just along the edge of a hex is considered hindrance. This is different from the way buildings and woods work.

2 - You are right. This is one of the aspects of the game that does not translate well. Both players "know everything". Full ASL does have the notion of concealment in some cases.

3 - VASL provides the boards/maps and all the counters. Like Vassal, it doesn't enforece the rules; it simply provides a virtual tabletop. Combine that with Skype and you have a very decent alternative to face-to-face.

I played Close Combat 1, and had a pretty good time. According to Wiki though, the game was not well-received by ASL players as a reasonable real-time alternative.

At 3:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A question: when a squad is casualty reduced to a half squad, what exactly is the effect? The Prep Fire phase seems to indicate that there is an actual change in the strength as it becomes a HS, but this is not described anywhere in the SK1 rules.

At 6:54 AM, Blogger ekted said...

There's a chart in the rules showing the progression from various full squads to half squads, and all MMC's to reduced MMC's due to ELR. I'm also pretty sure casualty reduction always breaks the unit as well.

At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve, do you know that Close Combat was initially developed as a computer game version of ASL. See this link for details:

At 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And more importantly, VASSAL/VASL is free...


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