Fighting Withdrawal is the first scenario in the ASL base game Beyond Valor, and I have wanted to play it ever since the original version came out back in 1985 or thereabouts. I particularly remember reading a replay of the scenario in Avalon Hill‘s The General magazine and being struck by the disclosure that these top players had gotten some of the rules wrong. Wow. That should have spurned me on to make the effort to learn how to play the damn thing, but I never seriously got round to it until this year, almost thirty years later. Better late than never. This was the second full ASL scenario I played, on my continuing progression through this amazing system.
The scenario has a band of Russians (14 squads, three leaders, a MMG, a couple of LMGs, and eight concealment counters) trying to escape off the map in greater number than their Finnish foes (16 squads, three leaders, a MMG, and three LMGs).
The Russians set up in the area shown by a red edged box on the map above. The Finns set up (second) in the area shown by the black edged box.
There are two places on the board which start ablaze. These blazes can – and do – spread – thus potentially channelling the movement of units as they head for the exit edge. (That’s the board edge to the right of the map.)
Ran took the Finns and I was the Russians.
I read the historical notes and decided to split my forces into a defensive front line and a fall back position. I was allowed to hide two squads anywhere on the map, and decided to put them near the exit edge, as shown by the red circles. Their mission was twofold: to stop any Finns who broke through my defense, and to exit off the map and, ahem, win the game.
Before we started play and did the setup, Ran – my ever patient opponent and ASL guru – chatted through with me some aspects of the scenario. I made sure I understood all the terrain on the map, and what I could and couldn’t do with my initial stock of concealment counters. I was fairly comfortable with the rules about fire and its capacity for spreading. What I completely missed from my reading of the rules was the smoke cover that fire provides, so it was good to have that in my tiny brain before we began the scenario.
Ran said he thought the Finns in ASL were powerful; possible too powerful. For example, their self-rally ability is a big advantage. They also use weapons of equivalent quality to the Germans, and their first line troops (6-4-8 with assault and spraying fire capability) are much higher quality than their Russian counterparts (4-4-7).
To partly offset this, my Sniper Activation Number (SAN) was 7, and Ran’s was 2. My sniper managed to break one squad in the whole game and that was about it for sniper activity. So, not much of an offset!
Unfortunately, my setup made it relatively easy for the Finns to get up close and personal. At that point, their superior firepower (and ability to recover) was telling. There were two consequences.
First, I was losing units – and even at a 1:1 ratio, that would still be to the Finns’ advantage. But I wasn’t even able to manage a 1:1 ratio of losses. The Finn’s assault fire, especially, was too much. Of course, Ran was playing it well so as to get the best out of his troops and I dare say a more skillful player might have managed a better defense.
Second, my defensive line had big holes in it. This allowed the Finns to eventually break through and, eventually, head for the exit edge. This scenario is all about exiting troops.
Even though Ran had cracked the defensive line, the combination of terrain, fire, and distance with the limited number of game turns available, all meant he could not hang about. I just could not do enough to delay him any more. However, in trying I did learn some more of the subtleties of the game. For example, I huffed and I puffed until I managed to put my MMG in a tall building so it could fire down on the Finnish forces. But its defensive fire was limited by Ran’s tactic of sending in a sole squad to close with it and keep it occupied. Damn!
My hidden units did cause something of a halt in the Finn’s march to victory. However, it was not enough to avoid Ran securing the win.
Predictably enough, a loss for me. But it’s all part of the learning curve – realistically, one I am still firmly only at the start of!
It’s important to record that this was an involving and rewarding a gaming experience which served to whet my appetite for more. I know it’s going to be a while before I can even threaten a win, but the game play is the thing. (Thankfully!) Great stuff.