What would life be without…

asl pocketYou may have guessed right the latest acquisition. Or not. ASL pocket edition is book for people with very large pockets and long journeys. Unfortunately my own three ring binder is separated from my current location by more than thousand miles, along with rest of the ASL stuff. Some of which is remarkably rare these days.

Talking of which, since recovery flight would be much cheaper than replacing them, I should probably embark to the journey to save my ASL. Anyway. Since I have not heard the place being drowned underwater, nor burned to ground I could assume with some margin that it is safe. Only spiders may have kept company to the counters – I hope.

So, since ASL has sneaked it’s way to my table after over decade of slumber, I found it necessary to refresh my memory. Admittedly I do remember more than I thought that I do, but still there are few things here and there that require refreshing. Not really into buying another three ring binder, I thought to be sneaky and have just the lightest rulebook available and sit on someone else’s table. Good news are that there are always lack of opponents for ASL. Proportionally more people have the system and no opponents in vicinity than those that do not have the system that would like to play.

So, while waiting to get my own copies back, I can hone my skills and have some reading along the way. I think that not bad deal. That said, I could have the book only as a statement of the power of the Index.

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Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games XV – Bomb Alley

bomb-alleySecond World War at Sea: Bomb Alley is a game that had interesting mechanics and even more interesting subject, but unfortunately fell into victim to unthinkably bad execution. Perhaps the odd square based map instead of hexes should have ring a warning bell in my head but it did not (regardless of what people say, there is no benefit in the chosen way map reference grid is made, it is just visually odd). Map art was dull, while counters were actually quite nice.

System relies on plotted secret movement, much like Flat Top, and include search, chase, and aviation. So the elements are there. Additionally rules were quite simple, and scenario book comprehensive.

Several attempts were made to play the game, and while most of them ended up in proper conclusion, there seemed to be more beef in the scenarios than in the game itself. Situations that scenarios represent were interesting, but somehow the execution of scenario did not meet the reality when pieces were put on table. We pondered for a moment that maybe we played something wrong, or we were just so inept on the secretly plotted movements, but that was not the case. The system is just broken – at least partially.

What we figured out was that the system is flawed by design and it tries to add complexity where there should be none. First is the whole circumstances. Mediterranean is filled with potential bases for aircraft and surface ships such as Battleships really did not contribute much besides of standing AA batteries in harbours. So, why is it that the game has incredibly record keeping heavy surface battle system that is neither realistic, not fast enough to have satisfactory results?

Then, there is the question of air operations – good, or borderline fantastic ideas there, but then the air operations are so inefficient that there are too many occasions (if your german air ops even get off the ground) that the whole air operation has no power to punch enemy even theoretically. So all the effort and time spent in plotting most undetectable course over the Mediterranean just turned into action of pointless futility because there were at the end no realistic ground of fear from the opposition.

Might have as well sailed through the ‘gauntlet’ with all lights lit in perfect daylight without any fear of harm coming to the ships.

Bomb Alley would need to figure out what it actually attempts to accomplish. Currently there are good and interesting mechanics that are bogged down by ill design choices that add nothing else but bookkeeping. Air strike management, limited fuel, day/night, pre-plotted movement, search, submarine, minefield and all those are very good things.

Surface battle is way too cumbersome and hard to manage and does not produce accurate nor realistic results and air strike procedure is so impotent that title does not live up to it’s name.

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ASL Day – Under the Noel Trees

One of the classic scenarios, Under the Noel Trees features hidden, emplaced US tank destroyers facing German Stug III and Pz IV tanks that are attempting to cross open terrain. To make matters worse (or better as it turned out), the last line of defense was US paratroopers armed with Bazookas.

My opponent decided to place the TD:s in the half hex forest bits on the edges for maximum coverage. Clever and very much unanticipated move. Infantry stood back close the exit, occupying the forest and giving pretty good last stand Bazooka screen. Ordinarily the scenario becomes dice fest where the US RoF luck declares the result once the Panzers are neatly in the open. Hidden initial placement, emplaced and capable of keeping the concealment, they are incredibly tough to hit and kill (even though they are OT, and would be subject to infantry fire as well as ordnance). However, as German (and known all too well how fast the attacking tanks can be destroyed), I attempted to probe to find out where the emplaced enemy tank destroyers were before general advance.

under-the-noel-trees-1

Three tanks down, one dashing to the exit. Three others milling around to avoid US TD fire. Found infantry on both sides rather useless (because the US cowardice?).

Operation to find them cost me two tanks. Third one was lost in gun duel just before one of the enemy TD:s had it’s MA out of action. A bit of feinting moves to keep the remaining four tanks alive, my opponent then decided to fire nearby infantry with a result of the second TD gun getting malfunction as well. That itself was a relief, but in rally phases, both guns were gone for good. This event then opened interesting opportunity, given that the Bazookas were all packed in the other side of the board.

Because infantry had just finished their long walk to catch my third feint (or factually indecision where to go, but let’s call it feint because it sounds better), the opposing end was rather thin on suitable defense and my opponent conceded. On that note, It was to take me full available turns to perform the daring escape. All in all it turned out to be interesting scenario where both sides appeared in various times to be winning and then suddenly losing again.

I admit that I would have been surely toast would my opponent have a bit better luck (and if he would have set up Bazooka guys a bit differently from the start). What I should have done, is to screen the tank advance with infantry, and clear the suspect locations before entering under fire. In hindsight, especially when the US TD:s were factually without infantry screen.

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Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games XIV – Flat Top

Flat Top.pngAvalon Hill’s Flat Top was a game I always wanted to like. So unique, so incredibly realistic design. As close to Carrier operations I ever envisioned. I checked every detail of the game in advance, read about it and got into the system in great depth.

Throughly appreciated the double blind design philosophy and that most of the information was secret. Game was essentially weather assisted hide and seek, hour by hour. Just what I expected.

I saved up a bit and got my hands on the game, a hefty package of maps, counters, and sheets of paper. Read the rules, checked inventory and was quite satisfied with what I got. And then, as soon as first play was several hours in – it all fell flat.

I went out to think for a bit, thought that I must have gotten some rules wrong because it did not feel right. Then, I read them again and found nothing wrong with my rules reading and was left perplexed for years. Then, we tried few more times with same results. Nothing changed, it was still the same, and then I just gave up. My dream of ultimate Carrier operations game died.

First, the system feels genuinely interesting when you read the rules. All the elements that very good operational level WWII naval game should have are there, and more. Hunting the hidden enemy fleets in variable weather is more enticing than anything one has ever experienced in other games. The thrill of finding the long lost contact, and then scrambling the planes up and organizing deck operations in nick of time to repel the enemy strike appearing from nowhere.

But the cost for all that? Administrative overhead was overwhelming and game was long but that did not explain it at all. Pacific War campaign is a tremendously long game, and has it’s share of administration but we got through it in very playable manner. Flat Top counter and map art were borderline depressing, but the same was true to many others during the time so that does not explain why it faltered.

I have long thought about why the game I so much waited for eventually came crashing down. Maybe it was the bias that overwhelmed me, and the To Hit tables that were not really realistic. Or, simply the fact that at the time I played Flat Top, VASSAL was not really functional option as it is today. If any game, Flat Top is the one that really needed it.vFlat Top was already somewhat outdated when I got my copy, but it would benefit complete and proper overhaul. modern game developments could remedy some of the issues that plagued the design. Many of the mechanisms and innovations can be found alive and well today – in fact games such as Burning Blue come to mind with far better execution (different, but in some respects similar).

If there is boardgame that would greatly benefit from computer assistance, Flat Top would be the prime sample. It is hard to think why anyone would play Flat Top without assistance from VASSAL, umpired or not.

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ASL day – Revenge at Kastelli

Revenge at Kastelli is an excellent learning scenario because it has very little out of ordinary, but both sides have rather difficult task. German paratroopers try to survive, and Greeks try to kill or capture vast majority of the opposing forces. Area is large, and battles are fought in two fronts and it requires a lot of movement. This is the second time I play the scenario, and this time I had the opportunity to try out the Germans.

My plan was somewhat ill conceived as I took the Hill 621 on board 2 as my strongpoint, and on board 11, low hill with house in the road crossing. Intent was to buy more time. Afterthought it would have been much better to build defense in the other hill on board 11 and have realistic option to a) link up with forces destined to evacuate Hill 621, and b) have better evacuation options.

As expected, (because the paratroopers have to deploy to hexes numbered 6 or greater), it was difficult to build strong defensive presence on the Hill 621 at start. When Germans were in position, the Greeks were already long way up the hill. With some delay tactics, and somewhat ordered retreat, the forces managed to fight slowly out of the hill and half of the forces dug in to the shell holes on board 3. other half, including rear guard was cut off and overwhelmed. I had a firm intention to pull Greeks into a city fight where they would have to expend every movement point under fire to clear the buildings and where the numbers would not count.

Meanwhile, the forces on board 11 were fighting for their very survival, and put up very stiff resistance. Some Greek squads became berserk under fire and cleared few of the foxholes Germans managed to dig at the beginning. Others attacked the German positions head on with terrible, terrible casualties. It was a slaughter with Greeks moving in open under -3 DRM infantry fire. And at the end German defenders were still standing when remaining Greeks withdrew to regroup.

Being late in the game, the morale of my opponent started to crumble somewhat and after Greeks lost three squads in melee against one German paratrooper, he conceded the game. Technically he could have had time to recover (with a dose of luck) and make yet another attack but it was not likely.

The Greek attack went in very well considering the scarce cover available. Hill 621 was extraordinary deal but it was not enough to push the defenders out. To win, he would have needed to either kill, or capture German paratroopers. To achieve that, Greeks needed to engage in close combat, or break and force surrender.

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ASLSK Day – Scenario S3

Time to play another SK1 scenario, Simple Equation. Like in previous game, this time it was Germans who did not remember to set up their fortified buildings. Something that would almost definitely make difference. Regardless of that little mishap, it was very close game and at the opening moves of turn 6, it was all but clear who was about to win.

So, I had the Americans. have I ever told that I really do not like 6-6-6 troops? They have splendid firepower – if they stay alive long enough to use it. Not knowing better, I decided to concentrate on the middle and on the right, but give also impression that my attack would come along the whole front.

Defenders were not set in depth (how unusual), but most of the firepower was at the front facing the advancing Americans. Middle and left were pretty strong, including MG that stared down the forested road. And heavy MG that kept the edge of the forrest unwelcoming. Right flank had large building but it was relatively weakly defended, with single MG post at the stone building at the edge of the open.

So, in my attack went with heavy cover of smoke, first clearing the MG station at the right, then progressing through the large building while the Germans put up a fierce resistance with the conscripts in the middle. Attack stalled momentarily due to critical smoke grenade failures, but then the flamethrower got into action – with first shot minor damage and on second time around from perfect point blank position, pin check  – and that was it for the FT. I hate when that happens.

Anyway, progress on the right was good and got hold of the row of buildings in the right. German now scattered opposition that build up around the orchard was mowed down by substantial enemy fire and after a bit of pushback the American troopers overrun the last defenders in close combat in the middle.

At the same time some of the remaining German troops attempted to recover already gained buildings from the rear, but did not succeed very well. Idea was good because they also interfered with established rally point but it was too little too late.

Americans won but just barely. If Germans would have remembered to put their fortifications in place, it would have been extremely tough. Along with it better positioning of Heavy MG would have made huge difference – now the best German weapon only got in few shots – albeit almost all of them with good effect.


Lessons learned, German troops have little chance in direct firefight with Americans if they swarm the opposition. Smoke and movement are the best friend of Americans, just keep pressing as fast as possible and swarm the enemy.

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Reviews of Obscure but Interesting Games XIII – Squad Leader

squad-leaderWhat started it all for squad level infantry combat was not ASL, but Squad Leader instead. Squad Leader was later expanded by several supplements such as Cross of Iron, GI Anvil of Victory and Crescendo of Doom. Each expansion took the system further away from the basic principles and pushed the system towards ASL in complexity. When ASL expanded towards Starter Kits, it was reverse development to what Squad Leader experienced.

The reason for acquiring Squad Leader was two-fold. Friend had ASL, which I did play before SL, and some of the basic maps are essential for ASL. I was so new to the whole ASL thing that I actually liked Squad Leader, and very soon played through every scenario in the game. Cost of ASL was then just beyond me.

However, it did not last. I did soon (about the time I got Cross of Iron and Crescendo of Doom) found that the system was about to outlive it’s own principles for fluency and simplicity. Every expansion added layer upon layer to the base system. Additionally to new revised counters that reminded me more and more about ASL, there were many, many rules exceptions that created hydra which was becoming more of a monster than ASL would ever be.

Cross of Iron.pngSad, but SL design principle failed miserably. It moved ceaselessly towards unmanageable complications. Only realistic way out was to rewrite the whole and incorporate the brilliant ideas in unified system. That would then be ASL – system where everything was in order, and standard. For SL it was a huge leap in two ways. First it pushed the idea of SL into oblivion (manageable, easy to learn and fluent squad level system), and added barrier of seemingly overwhelming complexity (illusion really, if thinking the extensions of SL at this point). However, it is not fair to say that ASL is the root of all evil, because SL was the start of the transformation leading to the only logical conclusion.

Dresendo of Doom.pngSo, I have strong opinion about SL. It was excellent game as long as it was kept without the expansions. SL was playable, almost like the ASL starter kit. Fun and fluent. After first expansion was published ,the downhill started. By the second it was already so steep that it pulled the good parts of the base game with it. I ended up keeping the maps but sold out everything else in favor of ASL and have never regretted.

That said, extensions were not ill conceived. Cross of Iron was probably the only one that was acceptable as far as rules changes were concerned. It introduced many new aspects to the game, but at least there was attempt to keep the whole together. Later ones started to rewrite the very basics of the system, such as the counters. All the expansions had solid footing if considering the modularity aspect. It is just the execution that did not live up to the standard. SL scenarios are worth converting to ASL because it is the best way to experience the SL content.

GI.pngStill, after all the years, SL alone is excellent game, even today. It can compete quite fair and square against other squad level games and provide hours of entertainment. Some of the ideas that SL introduced at the time were revolutionary, and some of the best concepts are still alive and well today. That stands a witness to the quality of thinking around the base system.

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