Wargaming

ASL: The 90-Minute Game

Today’s ASL match went really fast. Really, really, really fast. As usual, that means I got my ass handed.

We played Shin 5 “Sparks Fly”, from a free scenario pack published by View from the Trenches and downloadable here. As the name implies, it’s about Operation Shingle, the US landing at Anzio. Some of the scenarios in there are really weird in a very interesting way. Ever wanted to see three Shermans brawling with two Tigers and six PzKpfw IV Ausf. H? This set got you covered. Unfortunately, according to the almighty scenario database, it sees very little play. Our chosen scenario, for example, got zero entries – which is sad, because it’s a blast. It has a Tiger in it. If that doesn’t convince you to play it, I don’t know what else will.

Map-turn2a

The US player gets three Shermans, two Bazookas and a MMG, and the German player (me) has to fight back with a Tiger and four Pz IV Ausf. H. The VCs mean the whole game is just a no-holds-barred beatdown. And, as you can see, within the first three player turns, three of mine and two of my opponent’s tanks had already been destroyed. It’s that kind of scenario. There’s a lot of open ground, barely any hard cover, and no room for evasion.  Unfortunately, the US Infantry with their friggin’ laser rifles and Bazookas were still unharmed, except for those guys in H1 who took a hit by my sniper.

My tanks at B4 and C4 were utterly incapable at doing anything to the infantry in E6 and F5, only pinning them with a NMC by 8,8cm HE shell and a 1MC thanks to the MGs. The Pz IV met his end when it got hit by a Bazooka. These things should be banned. Seriously. They’re dangerous.

Meanwhile, the loader on the Tiger thought that maybe, if he loaded a 88mm shell into the CMG, he could fire two 88mm shells per game turn! Obviously, that didn’t work and the CMG broke. Also, my opponent decided to run away with his last remaining Sherman to deny me some CVPs.

Map-turn2b-ambush

Obviously, my Tiger couldn’t just rush down there to kill the Sherman, because those two Bazookas are still a bit of an annoyance. So instead he tried to take out the infantry in E6 and F5. Of course, my streak of bad luck kept up and I didn’t hit anything, but my opponent decided to move his stack at E6 out of the battle and let it join the Sherman.

My last turn began, and Cpt Jenkins on the Tiger decided to take the battle to the Sherman. At this point, I had to take out the Sherman and at least two squads if I even wanted to get a draw. Also, note how the sniper hit the MMG squad again. That guy sure knows how to hold a grudge. (And, without him, I had already lost the game at that point because the squad would have been worth 4VP if they had left the board.)

Map-turn4a-leeroyjenkins

Of course, the Bazooka squad in F6 didn’t let my Tiger through. Hit, Kill, game lost.

Map-turn4a-leeroyjenkins-fail

Over all, it’s a highly entertaining, small and fast scenario that has a unique vibe – it almost feels like a BattleTech scenario with the generic VCs and highly dominant tanks. I most certainly can recommend giving this a try.

Our next game will be BoF 11 “Second Thoughts” – Waffen-SS with a captured M8 vs a lot of surprised Americans.

My year in ASL

I haven’t written an AAR for a while, because my opponent kept beating me to the punch. So here are my remaining games from this year in a condensed format, for the sake of completeness.

After “Gavin Take”, we played “The Guards Counterattack“. I believe I lost, and I don’t really like the scenario. It feels very static and inflexible to me, due to the way the OB is prearranged on the board. It is not really the masterpiece it’s made out to be by the veterans.

Next up was “Land Leviathans“, twice with reversed roles. I lost as the German player and won on the Russian side – even though this happened to me:

MA MALF

It is an interesting scenario, but somewhat weird from the German perspective. With dice rolls that are shitty enough, the Russian player can win the game in their second turn, and when I played the German side, Pyro came really close to that. The game requires the Russian player to get three of his ten or so tanks off-board, and he had one platoon of three tanks close to an exit hex in his first turn. I managed to blow up one of them, but couldn’t prevent him from bringing another tank off-board somewhere else a bit later.

The Russians have shitty mobility thanks to their platoon movement, but still I feel like the scenario is slightly pro-Russian. The Scenario Archive disagrees.

Next up was “Ranger Territory” from Paratrooper. It’s an interesting scenario about German infantry with two tanks overrunning an American stronghold on a hill, and even though I hate American Elite infantry with their friggin’ laser rifles, I won with a classic flanking attack I’m rather proud of.

game-end

After that, we continued with “Infantry Brigade Model” by Friendly Fire. Again, I’m the German player who gets a whole bunch of cavalry. The game is still in progress, and the only thing I can say so far is that I hate HATE HATE Cavalry. It can’t attack, it can’t stand enemy attacks and it can’t even move in woods with decent speed. I hate Cavalry. It’s useless.

Really.

Thanks to a forced break of several months and my inability to keep PBeM games going, this year was rather lackluster ASL-wise. But it’s been an interesting year, with my first Full ASL AFV game, my first cavalry game, my first Overrun, my first Human Wave… I guess that’s not so impressive for a grognard, but for me, it’s sort of an achievement.

Why I love VASSAL

There’s been a bit of discussion about VASSAL in the ASL community, started by this blog post (warning: auto-play music). The central hypothesis of this is that ASL is a social game (to which I agree) and that VASSAL gets in the way of that (to which I disagree very strongly).

I am a digital native. I have been on the internet for about ten years now, I used Twitter before it was cool and IRC greatly helped me overcome my social anxieties.  Some of the people I consider my best friends are people I only know from the Internet.

As my blog might tell you, I don’t only play wargames. I am also a video game afficionado, and I play a lot of World of Tanks, an online game. Back when I still spent more time with that game, I often played with other people I mostly knew from a forum. Whoever claims there is no social interaction, no “having fun with friends”, in such games is clearly playing them wrong or simply ignoring them.

It’s the same with VASSAL/VASL. Playing a game of Advanced Squad Leader online is a social activity to exactly the same extent playing ASL at the table is a social activity. I have gotten to know people I would never have met otherwise through playing VASL with them. If meeting new people via VASL does not make VASL a “gioco di società”, I do not know how any game could possibly qualify.

The social bounds formed on VASL might be less strong than those formed in face-to-face play. I don’t blame anybody for preferring F2F if they have the option. But claiming VASL is simply an alternative to F2F play for loners is just silly. And not everybody even has the possibiltiy to play F2F on a regular basis.

ASL is not the only board game I have played via computer, I’ve played BattleTech (via MegaMek), Dominion, Battlestar Galactica and several other board games online. And never once have I missed social interaction. There was always enough of that, in every single of these games.

The internet is, first and foremost, a tool to facilitate communication between people. To bring people together who would never have met without it. If it makes you feel alone, you’re probably not using it the right way.

You know what’s annoying?

This is.

viele-kaputte-mgs.png

My regular opponent and me sat down to play S13 Priority Target, and then we played it again with reversed sides. I lost twice, which confirms the ASL Scenario Archive’s claim of perfect balance. My opponent wrote AARs for both games, which are pretty good and are really detailed in their analysis of how I managed to screw up so much.

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S28 Out of Ideas!

I just finished playing S28 Out of Luck, which you can get for free at MMP’s wobsite. I lost so badly that not even blaming it on the dice makes it any better. Was it the scenario’s fault? Probably not.

As most of the times, I completely screwed up my setup, leaving a large blind spot on the hard-to-defend hills in the northwest corner and concentrating on the open ground in the northeast and the city in the southwest, near the exits. My opponent, of course, used this weak spot to utterly destroy me. I didn’t even need bad luck to lose.

Of course, I still had a metric ton of that. First turn, the crew of my 122mm ART gets a NMC during Advancing Fire and, of course, rolls boxcarts. They were the keystone of the way too weak defense in the hills, too. Then, one of my three IS-2s rolls boxcarts for an attack. A bit later, it gets shocked and UK’d, but recovers, fortunately. While trying to outflank a Hetzer in the city with its MA still malf’d, it gets shocked and UK’d again. This time, it has no luck. Meanwhile, my MG crews try to take out some of the Hetzers in the city – with their 3 points of side armor, that’s actually a viable strategy. Of course, my first two TH MG attacks ever both malf the respective MGs, and one of these gets taken out of the equation by a 6 on the repair roll. The other one recovers and even gets to destroy a Hetzer!

Meanwhile, my second IS gets stuck on the meadow by a SSR requiring a DR < 11 to be taken on every vehicular movement in Open Ground to avoid getting immobilized. My third one was dug in by SSR in the most inconvenient of all places.

My opponent tries to rush his tanks through the city to quickly achieve his victory conditions, but my experienced tank-punchers move into Close Combat against a Hetzer and a Panther. The Panther survives, the Hetzer does not.

At this point, my opponent had two thirds of the necessary victory points after just half the game and I resigned because the result of the game was becoming so obvious it wasn’t worth sacrificing another session of playtime for.

Lessons learned: Vehicular Close Combat is a viable strategy, even more so against tank destroyers. I need to think more about my setups (well, Captain Obvious is obvious). And the IS-2 only gets 2 out of 5 stars in my personal rating, because when it hits it’s devastating, but most of the time it does not.

The game was still fun, because it was the first time I saw the Nahverteidigungswaffe, ATRs and MGs in an AT role in action. I’d say I like the scenario.

Next up is S13 Priority Target.

Where to start?

This question gets asked a lot on the various ASL-related fora: “I want to get into ASL, where do I start?”. Let me offer my personal viewpoint, speaking as a guy who is just starting to play real ASL.

So you think this ASL thing could be interesting for you. But there are so many ASL products out there, where is the right place to start? Well, with the Starter Kits, obviously! But by now, even the product range of these things can be a bit confusing.

There are, as of now, five games in the Starter Kit series, and every one of them is a standalone product you can simply buy and play without worrying about dependencies. These five products are the Starter Kit 1 (Infantry only), Starter Kit 2 (Infantry + Guns), Starter Kit 3 (Infantry + Guns + Tanks), the Starter Kit Expansion Pack (scenarios of all three levels), and Decision at Elst, a campaign game which I can’t tell you anything about as of now, unfortunately 😦

So, which of these things should an aspiring newbie buy? It doesn’t matter too much, actually. I would recommend the Starter Kit Expansion Pack, because it has some really neat scenarios and covers all levels of play, but every Starter Kit product has at least one infantry-only scenario that allows to get into the rules step by step. Note that some of the aforementioned products are pretty hard to find because they’re temporarily out of print, but if you can get your hand on any of these, you’re covered.

An opponent with some experience is invaluable to actually learn the rules, because the Starter Kit rulebook (about 30 pages in its latest incarnation) can be really confusing at times. If you haven’t got one, Jay Richardson created some excellent tutorials.

Keep in mind you’re not buying a very expensive tutorial, but a full game that will give you months to years of fun. Maybe you’ll just continue to play Starter Kit instead of switching to Full ASL because Starter Kit has everything you want but is cheaper and simpler – and that’s fine.

If you decide to switch to Full ASL eventually, you’ll find it’s a lot simpler than without the Starter Kit preparation. You probably can play Full ASL from the very beginning, but I personally think that is not a good idea and will likely be very frustrating. YMMV of course.

Some other things to mention:

* You can play ASL (full or Starter Kit) online, via a platform called VASL. You’ll still need the game and an opponent, but it’s a viable option if you haven’t got an experienced player who could mentor you in your local area.

* A small but interesting forum for ASL exists at BoardGameGeek, where you can also find lots of play aids, et cetera. There’s also a Facebook group.

You are not convinced ASL is the right game for you and just want to get some impressions? Then best have a look at some After Action Reports in one of the aforementioned forum.

I hope this helps some people to get into the game, roll low and have fun!

S48 Confusing Renaults (or something like that)

So my regular Starter Kit opponent and me sat down to play our first match of 2014, “Converging Assaults” (Starter Kit Expansion Pack #1, S48), which was probably the weirdest match I’ve ever played.

What’s it about? US troops advance into a city in Sicily from the West and meet Italian troops advancing from the West. A firefight ensues. For added fun, some Italian tanks are added into the mix and fall into the back of the US infantry.

And I use the words “fun” and “tanks” quite wrongly. We are talking about the Renault 35, this tin can:

(Image courtesy of Bukvoed on Wikipedia, CC-by 2.5)

(Image courtesy of Bukvoed on Wikipedia, CC-by 2.5)

In game terms, they have a 37* main gun in a one-man turret, a 2FP sort-of-coax-but-sort-of-AAMG thing and [4][4] armor. We’re talking late-war here, with the US fielding a 57mm gun (normally useless against anything, able to kill the Renault 35 with anything but boxcarts) and bazookas! But at least there are many of them – eight, to be precise, in a single-board scenario.

So, what happened when we played is this: My opponent (playing the Italian side because tanks) parked four of his tanks and most of his infantry around a stone building in the north, while the other four tanks tried to encircle my units. That plan was quickly prevented by my HIP 57 AT gun, which took out two tanks in short order, moved a bit and took out a third one, and some infantry which decided to go punch some metal in Close Combat. A fifth tank got recalled because the MA broke down, but the commander of that one had already taken a bullet. Tank Number 6 tried to move in a more offensive position, came into the line of sight of the AT gun, which fired with a TH of 4, penetrated the hull, retained RoF and proceeded to harass some Infantry just for shit and giggles. The two remaining tanks remained undamaged, partly because they were parked in a stone building and partly because I had stopped giving a damn about them.

Meanwhile, my Infantry tried their hand at this “fulfilling victory conditions” business. The scenario demands that no Italian Good Order squad (or two Good Order Half-Squads) are in any single building hex. Well, turns out this isn’t half as unfair as it sounded at first. The Italian squads break really fast, and once they’re broken, they stay broken thanks to their reduced broken side morale. In my last turn, there were two unbroken Italian squads left on-board, one of which broke during Prep Fire. I put down as much firepower as I could on the last stack, but only got a 8+2 attack, unfortunately, because of some quite effective Defensive Fire. On the last roll of the match, I rolled… boxkarts, and lost.

All in all, I would say this scenario is pretty balanced despite looking really unfair on first glance, but it is also really really frustrating to play for both sides. The US player is confronted with a victory condition that’ demands of him to be everywhere at once, and that can be prevented by a single bad die roll on the last turn. On the other hand, the Italian player can’t do much except hoping for some good morale rolls buying him time, because of his low firepower and lack of leadership on the infantry side and the completely useless tanks that broke one squad and pinned another one in the course of our game. I’d say the whole thing lacks lot of structure, and, say, N-463 or Cooks Clerks And Bazookas are all more interesting AFV scenarios, with more interesting things happening and more options for both sides. But YMMV, of course.

Next up: Out of Luck (S28, available on the MMP website). IS-2s and 122mm artillery against Panthers and Hetzers – looks like loads and loads of fun.

Favourite Scenarios – 2013

Stating their favourite scenarios of the year is a thing people are doing, which is why I do it now as well.

As mentioned before, I only played Starter Kit so far, so the list will obviously only contain Starter Kit scenarios.

  • S1 “Retaking Vierville”: My first scenario played ever, with Patrick Ireland, who showed me the ropes when I started. I have since played it once or twice with other players, and even though it is as simple as ASL will ever get, it still manages to be just a bit different every time you play it. Also, nostalgia. YMMV, of course.
  • S49 “Cooks, Clerks and Bazookas”: Played that one two times on different sides. I’m not really sure why I like it, but… well, I like it. It covers everything there is in the Starter Kits, is neither too big nor too claustrophobic and can be played really quickly. By the way, you can read an AAR I wrote over at BoardGameGeek.
Cooks, Clerks and Bazookas, with exploding stuff.

Cooks, Clerks and Bazookas, with exploding stuff.

  • S50 “N-463”: Actually, we did not finish that one for time reasons. But I’d love to have another go at it, due to the interesting Victory Conditions (basically, the German player has to set up a roadblock to win), the Jagdpanthers and the 105mm Sherman (a vehicle I love in World of Tanks, though my experience in ASL so far suggests it is worse than useless here). Again, it’s a single-board scenario. I like single-board scenarios!

On the opposite side, the worst scenario I played was S51 “Enter the Young”. Its premise is interesting, I’ll give you that. But unfortunately, some printing errors make it pretty much unplayable (as a friend and I found out the hard way in the middle of a match) and as far as I know, there are no errata…