Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Year in the Making

A year ago, my brother recalled having tried to play Advanced Squad Leader with me back in 1993. He remembered the game fondly. At the time, my knowledge was insufficient to play even the simplest scenario.

I wasn't so much taught the game by a co-worker as I was led through it choice by choice. Ok, you can shoot now if you want. Can I move? Only if you are done shooting. Can I rout this way? Yes, but then I get to sort of shoot at you. You are better off moving just one hex. The simplest of concepts was never internalized. I was fascinated and undaunted by the magnitude and the rules, and although I bought my own copy, was never motivated enough to try to figure things out by myself.

In July of 2006, I was motivated by my brother's interest to find a wargame for us to play--hopefully one that we would spend more time playing than learning. I knew of the existence of the ASL Starter Kits (at the time, only 1 and 2), but I wanted to do a proper search and see if something other than the ASL line was available.

I looked at a whole gamut of possibilities including Fire in the Sky, Ardennes '44, Bonaparte at Marengo, Lock & Load, Hammer of the Scots, and Empire of the Sun. I even won a copy of one of them (EotS I think) from The Dice Tower, but decided I probably would never play it, so I asked Tom to find it a better home.

I needed something that appealed to both of us, and my brother was partial to World War II tactical squad-level games. I was unimpressed with Lock & Load's graphics and posted rules snippets.

I decided to give the ASL Starter Kits a try. By this point, #2 was available, but #1 was sold out. At the time, I think it was due for reprint in August. So I waited. It was pushed to September, then November, then January, then March. Somewhere in there I found a BGG'er who was willing to teach me. I decided that by the time #1 was available, #2 would be out of print, so I bought it. At least I'd have my own copy of the rules to digest in the meantime. #2 has all the rules from #1 with fixed errata. The changes between the versions are clearly marked.

Starter Kit #1 finally came out, but was unavailable at retailers where I bought other games. I figured at least Boulder Games would have it eventually, so I waited. It wasn't happening, so I broke down and ordered it, along with A Victory Lost, from Bunker Hill Games. I got my copy, carefully cut out and clipped the counters, bought a great storage case and organized everything, and waited for the opportunity.

Tonight was that opportunity. My brother came over. We setup the board for scenario 1: Retaking Vierville. I taught him everything he needed to know--from scratch--in order to play. Thankfully, I didn't have to teach any support weapon stuff, since I don't know it too well. As I expected, Defensive Fire was the most difficult thing to explain and to understand.

My brother took the Germans, who are trying to retake the French city which the Americans occupy. Both sides get reinforcements over the first 3 turns. He played a fairly conservative game, as expected for a beginner. This keeps your units safe, but puts the pressure on during the final 2 turns. You really need to push a bit.

Once he got all his units on the board and into place around the central area, he started to work on the buildings required by the victory conditions. Any one would do. All my units were in place as well, reaching the city without much interference. This usually bodes ill for the Germans.

Following a nice Prep Fire attack, I had to rout 2 units, leaving a front-line building with just a leader. I know, bad idea. Send the leader with the routing units, right? He concentrated some effort on this lone leader, and threatened to advance into the hex. I suggested--this being a teaching game--that he first deal with my one stack that could fire as he crossed the road. He started to do this, but not quite. We are alike, he and I, so I let him experiment to see what happened.

Before I realized what was going on, his attempts to "deal with" my western stack became an outright onslaught. We was no longer going for the eastern building! Even so, he managed to get a unit unscathed into the building with the lone leader, ambush him, and take him out before I fired a shot.

This is what I love about ASL. I've played this extremely simple scenario at least 6 times before and it's never been the same twice. Even a beginner was able to surprise me, and disrupt my plans.

We had to put the game on hold in the middle of turn 4. The entire session took about 5 hours. This included teaching the game, playing it, various chit-chat, and pizza. I was very happy with this session, and I think we've found what we were looking for. I can't wait to flip sides and Retake Vierville myself.


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