Review: Advanced Squad Leader Starter #3

ASL Starter #3 Box Years ago, in the late 80’s I remember playing Advanced Squad Leader with a friend a couple of times. I recall being somewhat overwhelmed with details, but still having several enjoyable games getting my German squads mercilessly machine gunned while simply trying to cross a city road.

I suspect a lot of my initial ASL confusion came from my lack of knowledge about the forces and armaments involved in WWII. Playing Flames of War and a lot of non-fiction reading has helped me fill in those gaps in the last couple of years.

I’ve also been keeping an eye on MultiMan Publishing since they licensed ASL from Hasbro, after they acquired Avalon Hill. In particular their ASL Starter Kits have attracted me in the past, but as Starter Kits #1 and #2 lacked any AFV’s I’ve never taken the plunge.

ASL Starter #3 Books However MMP have just released ASL Starter Kit #3 which expands the earlier Starter Kits by adding tanks and armored cars! Forthwith I ordered a copy from Warchest in Aussie, thanks to Panzerschreck’s recommendation. It was just as well I got in quickly too because I noticed it only took a single day before Warchest were out of stock on SK#3! Either they received almost no stock, or the game is selling like hot-cakes.

ASL Starter Box #3 Maps and Counters The well packed box arrived around a week later and after cracking it open feel it represents good value for money at $37.95AUD, excluding shipping. The box contained two dice, several loose pieces of paper: an intro from MMP, a single errata and a list of box contents (always handy for a new game) along with three hex maps, three colour die cut counter sheets, two game reference cards, four scenario cards (with a scenario on each side), a 28 rule book and a final booklet of “historical notes”. Warchest were easy to deal with and delivered the goods promptly and throughly packed so I can see why Panzerschreck recommended them.

ASL Starter Box #3 Player Aids ASL has a reputation for being a complex game to play, and initially glancing at the rules book did make me wonder what I was getting myself into, particularly when you consider these MMP Starter Kits represent streamlined versions of the main ASL rules! I consoled myself by reading the “Vehicle and Ordnance Historical Notes” booklet first which was surpisingly interesting considering it simply describes the various vehicles and guns represented in ASL SK #3.

However I knuckled down and after spending a couple of quiet evenings carefully reading the rules and examples MMP have added I begin to see method in the madness that initially confronts you. Probably the best way to describe the ASL rules included in SK#3 is “dense but logical”. The ASL rules are dense because they attempt to convey the maximum amount of information in the minimal amount of column space. This explains the plethora of acronyms that are used in the game. However they’re also a logical set of rules in that they apply some simple principles repeatedly and seem relatively free of oddball cases and exceptions. For example the firing and morale rules are covered once, but used in several separate phases of the game turn with minor variations.

The alphabet soup starts to clear too once you get further into the rules as you’re repeatedly exposed to particular acronyms and can also glean their meaning largely from the context they appear in. There’s a handy two page decoder sheet around the middle of the rulebook that lists them all with their relevant rules paragraphs. I do wish this glossary was a separate reference sheet however because that would have saved me a lot of flicking back and forth to it.

After reading through the entire rule set once and splitting the glossy counters into several resealable baggies, I tried a dry run of the “S20: Joseph 351” scenario which requires only SMC (single men counters aka leaders), MMC (multi-men counters aka squads) LMG and MMG SWs (support weapons) by myself and the rules started to fall into place. I’m sure I’ll be screwing up a few of the finer details for quite a while yet but it shouldn’t be too hard to get a mostly correct game played. I also becomes abundantly clear that ASL is a very tactical game and the reckless squad leader will quickly get himself and his squads pinned, routed or killed outright.

Now I just need to get a few games under my belt so I’m confident enough with the basic rules to try some of the other scenarios that include Ordnance and AFV’s. I did notice one of them was a stand up tank battle (“S21: Clash at Borisovka”) so that may be a good one to try later. I also noticed that good old NZ gets a mention in “S27: Stand for New Zealand”.

Overall I’m happy with my ASL Starter Kit #3 purchase. For around $40AUD you get an introduction to ASL that quite happily stands on it’s own. The production quality of the maps, counters and rulebooks is high and the boxed set with it’s eight included scenarios represents a fair amount of quality gaming I suspect, particularly given the rich tactical choices players get to make even in a single scenario.

My only real concern with the Starter Kits is how expandable they are. If you enjoy your introduction to ASL and want more scenarios I suspect the first thing you’ll have to do is purchase the full 2nd Edition ASL rulebook from MMP at $80us. This is because most of the scenarios I can find on the web seem to rely on features and rules (foxholes for example) that aren’t covered in the Starter Kits.

Oh and by the way, Shaun Dorrington, if you’re still in NZ and still play ASL get in touch man!

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