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?