Well, should have seen that coming. Or rather, has been around for a long, long while but there has been a gap of many years due to reasons revolving around lacking opponents and other stuff. ASL is such a package in wargaming that it is hard to say where to start really but somehow it seems to be having a new life again – especially after the starter kits came along and leveled the unseeingly high barrier called The Binder.
ASL has always divided opinions, not only because of the feared Binder, but also because counter and map art are something that today’s standards may look dull or even horrible – depending how super realistic terrain one wishes to see on game boards. Nevertheless, at least in my opinion, they serve their purpose perfectly and in time one starts to appreciate their somewhat ascetic look and information filled beauty. Then at the end one has to admit that deluxe ASL boards are something that are as functional as boards ever can be.
ASL is odd beast. It is interesting game but not because of the reasons that people usually get tangled with. It hardly serves purpose as simulation of conflict in my opinion. There are all too important things missing in that regard. While I played ASL actively quite few years and most of the time I preferred situations that were borderline suicidal, and always preferred minor nations over others I came to appreciate ASL from different angle. Besides of the strangely satisfying feeling that one gets by trying clog the unstoppable advance with troops that are clearly not up to the task, there is more depth that is probably more a kin to model building than wargaming.
After all the years of ASL, came break and I went off to play monster war-games for a while, then card driven games, then miniatures, and other stuff. And now I am longing back to the old friend that was acquired many years ago. It is easy to form an opinion about ASL – probably everyone has one, regardless of having played it or not. It is said to be monster, detail oriented game system for nitpicks and rule binder that is unmanageable etc. It would be easy to agree and dismiss the game but then again after thinking it over the years I have come into conclusion that ASL is after all quite simple, tested and eloquent system that does have lots of options, but most of them are not in use all the time.
That said, ASL is not a system that tries to model command structure, logistics, or aspects of combat that are fundamental to the outcome of battle. What ASL does is something entirely different. In fact, it guides you through evolution of weapons systems through WWII. ASL really concentrates on the interaction of various weapons systems, use and their development. And for that, every reference, rule and counter provides massive amount of details. Almost every conceivable weapon that was used in the war can be found, tried, and learned about.
To achieve that learning experience, scenario is laid out with situation, and then there is some, usually limited weapon system, or combination that can be tried to be used to break the opposition. It can be anti-tank rifle, demolition charge, single tank, flamethrower, AA-gun, some weird armored car, jeep, etc but the speciality is highlighted by the limited quantity and specific way of use.
What that produces, is not simulation, but rather situation analysis. Sounds perhaps dull, but far from it. I have seldom seen in any game such epic situations rising from the fact that one particular weapon is placed in one particular position, or heroic deeds by single individuals in desperate situations. All of it just click in most intricate way.
Perhaps one downside in ASL is that it has vast amount of modules, additional scenarios, historical modules and other material and acquiring all would need a really deep pockets and event the basics required to play the game are far from cheap (starter kits excluded). However, what the game system offers in replay value is immense. I barely scratched the surface and we did play almost every weekend for many years. Some scenarios were just so brilliant that they saw table time over and over again.
That said, I am not very good in ASL – especially if I have to attack. I am much better in desperate defensive positioning, but even my rather abysmal performance and frequent losses, I enjoyed ASL immensely – also when losing. It is one of the game systems where journey is far more enticing and interesting that the outcome – and that is not a bad thing but apparently alien to many who play to win. Also, best scenarios were done for until you were down to the last bits of time.
So, if one has an opportunity to ever give ASL a try, it is something that one should do. Not because of the system is famous, complex, or anything like that, but because of the incredible journey that one can embark even with the most simple of scenarios.