Starter Kit

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!

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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.