Advanced Squad Leader

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.