ASL in Israel

[This guest post is by Ran.]

No gamers were hurt in the making of this picture

No gamers were hurt in the making of this picture

During last weekend, Israel had the first ASL event in its history. For the very first time 5 gamers gathered in a guesthouse in Tel Aviv, and played ASL for 3 whole days.

Attending the event were Daniel and Josh, brothers and veteran ASL players from Rehovot, Ellis fron Ra’anana, a veteran wargamer but a newbie ASLer who was a guest for a day, Jon from Canada, a born again ASL player, and myself, a veteran ASLer from Jerusalem.

The scenarios played reflected the wide scope of ASL, including a jungle battle between British Ghurkas and Japanese, an early war pre Dunkirk battle between British and German forces in Belgium, a battle for the railway station in central Stalingrad, late war battles involving heavy armor, lend-lease Sherman tanks and more.

From early morning on Thursday until Saturday night, boards were laid, counters moved, and dice rolled for 18 hours a day, barely leaving time to sleep. The atmosphere was friendly, the games were intense and exiting, and the friendly beer and snack breaks refreshing.

We see this event as a successful pilot for future events, and we hope to recreate it with more participants, both veteran and newbies.

Final records (W-L):

Ellis 1-0
Josh 2-3
Daniel 2-3
Jonny 2-3
Ran 3-1

[My session report is here. A big thank you to all the guys for making this event possible.]

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Sherman Marches West

The title is of ASLSK scenario S24 which I played at last week’s ASL Israel event. [See here.]

This scenario is set in 1944 in Beylorussia, with elements of the Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Corps tasked with taking a village held by elements of the German Army Group Center Security Forces, with reinforcements due from 5th Panzer Division’s Pioneer battalion, a Tiger tank, and a Panzer III.

I was the Soviets and Josh was the Germans.

Planning

Josh set up first. This was the first shock: he didn’t just collect his forces and plop them down anywhere on the map. No, he took his time. And then some more time. And he asked for time with me away from the board so he could work his magic without me watching. This was a revelation to me. It dawned on me that this was another reason I had lost my games against Ran: I was not taking enough care about setup. OK. Another lesson learned.

For my attacks, I would like to think I had learned something from my earlier games, and put the experience into practice. I decided on a narrow point of attack. I didn’t fuss unduly about where his hidden anti-tank gun might be, but tried to have infantry up in support, and avoid the more obvious danger spots.

Here’s a picture from around the end of turn 1.

asl3

The red circle shows where the victory point buildings are. On the left of the picture are my two swarms of Sherman tanks, keeping one another company.  The left hand swarm is about to face the Tiger.

Just outside the circle on the right is a troublesome machine gun post. More than once it interfered with my assault.

Josh suffered a bad stroke of luck on turn 2. His Tiger, facing off one of my Sherman swarms, got clobbered by a critical hit. Bye bye Tiger! That freed up one half of my task force which promptly went into an infantry support role, shooting up the village.

My other Sherman swarm got hit by Josh’s anti-tank gun. (It had been hidden in the woods above the troublesome machine gun.) But it only immobilized one Sherman and that plucky chappie retaliated by knocking out the anti-tank crew, and being a permanent pain in the tonsils to the defending force.

Things are heating up

Things are heating up

Josh’s remaining tank was proving problematic. For example, at the start of turn 3 or 4, I had set things up nicely for a coordinated run into the village. That blasted tank hit me with smoke of all things, and – if you’ll pardon the pun – bang went some of my best shots.

Worse than that was the German machine gun. It was slowing down my assault. I did not handle that aspect well and need to work on it.

Action aside

One of the (many) new experiences for me was feeling the pressure of so much decision making. For example, at one point I had a tank fire on a new infantry threat. But I promptly lost an acquired target marker on a more enduring threat. I had simply forgotten in the heat of battle. Another time, after overrunning an enemy position and having the opportunity to recover a machine gun, I forgot to do so.

I was too used to – in other games – flying by the seat of my pants. I needed to take more care and thought before acting.

Tank free

After my first lucky break against the Tiger, I got another when I finally managed to outflank the remaining German tank and kill it off. That meant my tanks were OK so long as they kept out of Panzerfaust range. Later on, Ran told me I had been too cautious with my tanks. I thought they did a good job shooting up the village in support, but he says I could have done more.

Hex by hex

Josh was not giving up terrain lightly, and I was made to fight for all of it. Suddenly, I was racing against the clock.

Slowly, but surely, and just in time, I winkled out the defenders from all the victory hexes. But Josh had a turn to try and take one back and deny me the win. In the end it came down to me pinning his last active squad and denying him the chance for a glorious close assault and shot at victory. I had won, but by the narrowest of margins.

Finally

Josh was new to ASLSK, so I had to act as gatekeeper and prevent him from doing his no doubt usual magic involving bypass movement, machine gun lanes, crispy crews, and so on. [To me, it was impressive restraint; after all, Josh and the other guys playing here knew the combat results table by heart, without looking at it!] But he was a perfect gent about it, was patient and helpful. Once more, I had a great gaming experience and learned a lot.

I am certainly looking forward to the next time. And I’m now sure I’ll be having a crack at ASL sometime. I have started reading the big rulebook!

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The agony of defeat

Around 2010, MMP published issue 8 of their ASL Journal. It included an article by the experienced ASL player (and host of the Desperation Morale website)  Mark Pitcavage,  called The Agony of Defeat: Why Bad things Happen to New Players.

The article included a pretty decent analysis of the type of mistakes novice players make in ASL. For example, “problems with recognizing approach paths” and “poor support weapon and gun positioning.” I expect most, if not all, of the analysis applies equally to players of ASLSK.

Well, I may have read it, but judging by my last performance at the table, I did not retain it. You see, this week I played scenario 4 (Leave..or Elst) from  the ASLSK game Decision at Elst, and my opponent Ran completely wiped the floor with me. O me miserum! If only I had reread Mark’s article…

The thin - and getting thinner by the moment - blue line

The thin – and getting thinner by the moment – blue line

The scenario is an attack by British forces – 14 infantry squads, 4 decent leaders, 4 LMGs, a PIAT, and 3 Sherman tanks – against a rag-tag force of Germans holed up in the village of Elst. The Germans start with 8 squads of varying quality (some SS), 3 leaders, and 1 each of a HMG, MMG, LMG, and 75L anti-tank gun. The area to be taken includes a steeple. This is a good firing position for one of the German MGs. It is also a good target for the British artillery. The British objective is to clear the designated area inside the village within 7 turns.

I was the defending Germans. My setup was poor.

First, I tried to defend across the width of the board, instead of focusing on the target area. I anticipated several attack thrusts, but Ran chose one narrow path and off he went. That left me to scramble my guys back into semi-decent positions.

Second, I was too scared of the artillery. I had my main line of defense out of line of sight of the Offboard Observer. I should have defended further forward.

Third, although it was probably OK to start with a leader and the HMG in the church steeple, so as to hinder the British advance somewhat., I should have ducked out of there as soon as the artillery showed up.

Fourth, I set up the anti-tank gun for a late scenario ambush. However, Ran pointed out that it was pretty useful against infantry as well, and so I should have worried less about getting in a flank shot, and more about an up front position that could have done some damage to the enemy infantry.

So far as the actual play was concerned, as mentioned above, Ran kept to a narrow line of attack. He overpowered my two defense positions, brushed off the modest casualties my forces inflicted, and wrested control of the area with time to spare. We called it, early.

During play, I made many of the other mistakes highlighted in that article. For example, “failure to take advantage of defensive opportunities,” “poor fire discipline,” and “failure to avoid defensive fire.”  I could go on, but I won’t…

I have seen ASL reports talking about “dicing” an opponent to death. Ran did seem to get the best of the die rolls, but his was no lucky victory. At best, had some of my defensive fire rolls been better, I might have delayed the inevitable.

Before the action started, I had tried to read, digest, and understand the OBA (offboard artillery) rules. I failed. I understand why the ASLSK rules use the language they do – it is very dry – but I am not that keen on it. For the OBA, I would have liked a flowchart (I think there is one in ASL) to help me with these rules. This was another situation where Ran’s knowledge completely overcame the challenge. He led me through the OBA rules as we played, and I might just about be beginning to understand them!

Despite it all – maybe because? – I had a great time. I learned a lot. (I just need to remember it, and put it into action. Ha!) Not only did I get to see some good play and bad play and spot the difference, Ran was kind enough to offer me a commentary on the impact that full ASL might have. This is because he is expecting me to graduate to the full version. And while I am trying to get up to a respectable level at ASLSK, it’s helpful to know just what kind of differences there are.

As with our first FTF encounter, I found this very intense. I was completely drawn in to the game. It remains a very special gaming experience. I bet the winners of ASL tournaments need a lot of mental stamina, because I doubt there are too many games played on auto-pilot.

Inspired by my newly found ASLSK opponent, I have been dipping into the ASL rulebook. I’m not trying to learn the full version, just get the flavor of the incredible detail available. I well understand why some people only play ASL. It still looks a lot to take on, but I have the advantage of Ran as a willing teacher. He’ll need to have some tzavlanut (patience) though. But I am looking forward to our next encounter. Now, where did I put that ASL Journal?

 

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N-463

And here come the enemy!

And here come the enemy!

This is an Advanced Squad leader Starter kit (ASLSK) scenario set in France, in November 1944. It features an attack by part of the German SS Grenadier Division (actually conscripted Russians, in the main) on the area of the Allied line held by elements of the Free French 1st Infantry Division and supporting tanks. In ASLSK terms, the German player has to attack longways down board s, and wins by, at the end of the game,  projecting sufficient firepower on a road line. The Free French have to prevent this happening.

I was the defending French. Ran played the part of the attacking Germans.

Although this was my first FTF ASLSK experience, I had done enough reading about the game to have some understanding of key challenges.

For example, I had a 57mm anti-tank gun at the start; it uses hidden placement – meaning I secretly chose a hex and write it down, but the unit is not on the board. So,  Ran had to guess where it was or flush it out. My reading suggested the attacker in this type of scenario would lead with his infantry to try and stumble across (or rather, crush!) the gun before it could cause any damage. That meant I spent some time trying to pick a setup location that was not obvious, and still gave me a chance of a kill shot.

As another example, I understood that the attacker does not want to stack his forces, because of the lethality of defensive fire. What I failed to understand, until seeing Ran’s forces in action, was that there’s no need to disperse until ‘up close and personal,’ so the Germans came into contact much quicker than I expected. They did this by stacking with leaders and getting the leader movement bonus.

As a final example, while I had looked at the situations of tanks firing in the respective fire phases – whether moving or not – and tried to appreciate the value of panzerfausts, the dry theory could not compare to the real action (as it were). In consequence, I got my tank tactics wrong and was too aggressive with mine. (I had 3 Shermans with a 76mm gunm, and one with a 105mm howitzer. I was up against two Jagdpanzer V.)  I lost all of the tanks, some to that bloody panzerfaust capability, and some to the Jagdpanzers. Ran did say to me – afterwards! – that it’s generally good practice to keep your tanks well away from German infantry with panzerfausts.

In the six turns available, Ran’s forces made steady but slow progress for the first four. Even though my tank force was no more, I was doing OK, as I had delayed his progress. But he broke through in turn five, and I could not stem the tide.

Highlights included:

  • My anti-tank gun killing a Jagdpanzer.
  • Ran’s infantry retaliating by entering close combat with, and destroying the gun crew.
  • Ran’s remaining Jagdpanzer suffering from a malfunctioning main gun.
  • Ran’s malfunctioning main gun turning into a broken main gun, meaning the tank was recalled. (Hooray!)
  • Me losing all four of my tanks to enemy action.
  • Some bloody close combats where Ran’s forces quite simply outperformed mine.

Bottom line: an intense and enjoyable gaming experience. I cannot wait for the next time.

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Decision at Elst

datelst

I love tactical combat games set in WW2. But even though I think Jim Krohn’s Band of Brothers system (see here) is my new favorite, it hasn’t stopped me from indulging other flavors of the genre, like Decision at Elst. This is a new release in the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit (ASLSK) series, designed by Ken Dunn, and produced by Multiman Publishing. It’s the first of the ASLSK historical campaign games, featuring the British and German units fighting at Elst, Holland, in September 1944, as part of Operation Market Garden.

In the box you get a map of the actual battlefield (no geomorphic abstractions, here) done in the usual style. I like it. It’s clear, easy on the eye, and easy to play on. There are three countersheets (1/2″ counters) with infantry, weapons, tanks, guns, and markers. (ASLSK and its big brother ASL are marker intensive games.) As well as the rules booklet, there is a separate campaign rules booklet, player aid cards, and scenario cards. Although there are only four scenarios, the real focus is on the campaign game; a big, meaty, challenge. I suppose I should confirm that the game is self contained, so you only have to buy this to get a good taste of the world of ASLSK.

Currently I am mucking around with the scenarios to remind myself how the rules work. I think Ken Dunn did a terrific job with the rulebook in cutting the full version of ASL down to a much more digestible size. I do not like the style of writing for the rules, but that’s a personal preference, and hasn’t stopped me getting to grips with the game. My pet hate remains the fiddly tank turret rules, but I will probably use my own house rule and just ignore that for the nonsense it is.

ASLSK is an accessible system, and Multiman do a good job of supporting it (and the hobby). Although I have yet to get to the stage where I can tackle the full version (ASL) – and who knows if I ever will – games like Decision at Elst maintain my interest, and keep me at least thinking about the possibility.

If you are a novice gamer, you might be better off with ASLSK #3, as there are more scenarios in that package. But if you want to try out tactical gaming in a more historical setting – certainly as far as the map is concerned – this is a great place to start.

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