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Thread: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

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    Forum Veteran Gen. Sosabowski's Avatar
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    Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    A common bit of advice I hear from the ASL crowd is, “Don’t waste your time and money on basic Squad Leader.” I find this advice troubling for several reasons.

    Which Squad Leader?

    First, it’s hard to know which game or games are even meant by this advice. Like ASL, Squad Leader was a game system: Squad Leader, Cross of Iron, Crescendo of Doom, and G.I.: Anvil of Victory. In the final analysis, the Squad Leader system rightfully earned its reputation for poor organization. ASL players often claim that one has to “unlearn” SL in order to play ASL. Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that Squad Leader consists of four truly separate games. In other words, this criticism simply isn’t true of Squad Leader itself, and probably isn’t true of Cross of Iron or even Crescendo of Doom. Prior to G.I.: Anvil of Victory, the expansions added rules, rather than replacing them.

    How Complicated is Squad Leader in Comparison to ASL?

    Second, gamers today have forgotten what an incredibly elegant game the original Squad Leader truly was. Out of all of the SL/ASL products released, the original game from 1977 ranks as the best overall game, but the worst simulation, in my opinion. Squad Leader originally focused on the “design for effect” philosophy. ASL shares many of the basic concepts of its parent; however, ASL dedicates considerably more detail towards “realism.”

    Whether or not a game is “realistic” is somewhat dependent on our preconceptions of what the rules ought to be. Examining one of the “unrealistic” features of the original Squad Leader is helpful. In my mind, the failure to model casualties is a glaring fault in the original game, as compared to later SL gamettes and ASL. However, it does make sense when we consider the “design for effect” philosophy, time scale, and the level of detail in the original game.

    As Squad Leader developed, the designers began to sacrifice playability for more detail, assuming this equated to greater “realism.” This is the basic problem inherent to both systems (SL and ASL). Since ASL is still a “living” game, at some point moving on to ASL is more practical and desirable than continuing to invest time and money in the SL series. Since ownership of all four SL sets isn’t necessary, the real question to me is, “when does SL become complex enough to justify the move to ASL?”

    Cross of Iron is generally considered the pinnacle of the SL system, or the perfect balance of game and simulation. Cross of Iron adds much more realistic rules for AFVs. Assuming the use of the latest rules for both Squad Leader and Cross of Iron (4th ed.), this roughly doubles the length and complexity of the rules. Still, Cross of Iron is a true expansion, and it resembles the original much more than what followed.

    Crescendo of Doom marks the turning point of the SL system. The sheer number of new rules introduced meant that something like an ASLRB would eventually become necessary, if only for tournament play. Crescendo adds many important concepts found in ASL: half-squad casualties, cowering, pinning, inherent terrain, etc. At this point, the criticism that you will have to “unlearn” Squad Leader to play ASL may be somewhat valid.

    G.I.: Anvil of Victory is best left to true “collectors” and people with no interest in ASL. G.I. was never as popular as its predecessors, and it was not printed in the same quantities. The fact that G.I. introduced wholesale changes to the rules gave many people, including myself, an excuse to avoid it. I mention this because I personally wouldn’t spend the $100 or more that a LNIB copy of G.I. commands. By that point, you are forced to learn an unwieldy “system” that seems more complex than full ASL rules, if only due to the lack of proper organization and presentation. Both sets of rules are similar in that they cover the same issues, but the actual text and effects can be very different between G.I. and ASL. G.I.’s modeling of U.S. infantry is infamous, and even worse, it makes virtually all of the previous infantry counters obsolete. Even if you are buying G.I. for use with ASL, that’s a lot of money to spend on five mapboards.

    I don’t see how the original Squad Leader and Cross of Iron could possibly impede someone from learning ASL. This is fairly basic stuff, and I would compare Squad Leader to Panzer Leader as much as ASL. Despite the inherent similarities between Squad Leader and ASL, it’s sort of like saying playing Panzer Leader on a regular basis is an impediment to learning ASL. I don’t think you’d find many gamers willing to claim that. On the other hand, I would also admit that the time, trouble, and expense of acquiring, learning, and playing G.I. is better spent on a copy of the ASL 2nd ed. Rules.

    Availability and Support Problems?

    Third, there are some purely practical considerations. Everything else aside, the original SL series is out of print, and most copies of the games are at least twenty years old. Since Avalon Hill went out of business, neither Hasbro nor MMP have supported pre-ASL. Instead, MMP developed the ASLSK products to introduce players to ASL. All that said, used copies of Squad Leader, Cross of Iron, and Crescendo of Doom are fairly reasonable, due to the huge Avalon Hill print runs from the 1970s-1990s.

    Squad Leader vs. ASLSK #1 as an Introduction to ASL

    To my knowledge, there are five ways to start playing ASL: (1) Buy ASLSK # 1; (2) Buy ASLSK #2; (3) Buy ASLSK # 3; (4) Buy an ASLRB and a copy of Beyond Valor; or (5) Buy an ASLRB and a copy of Paratrooper. Prior to the starter kits, the SL series was the most common path to ASL, if only because ASL presumed ownership of maps 1-15. The only definite, concrete advantage to starting with SL is having mounted versions of maps 1-15.

    In my mind, ASLSK #1 has a lot of advantages over the original Squad Leader as an introduction to ASL. Although you are miles away from full ASL Rules, the SK rules are like the Cliff Notes version of ASL. In contrast, the Squad Leader rules are more like an early outline. Similarly, the Starter Kits do not provide many counters, but at least they are actual ASL counters. There is some official product support for the ASLSK environment in Operations and on the MMP website. It appears that future official MMP full ASL scenarios may also use the SK maps.

    Even with all this in mind, the original Squad Leader game still has some advantages to recommend it. For one thing, it is a complete game. The counter mix is adequate to simulate ETO scenarios on both fronts. There are counters and rules for squads, leaders, support weapons, artillery, and AFVs for all three nations: Germany, Russia, and the U.S. Squad Leader also includes the mounted versions of the four original maps (1-4), which are critical for playing many published ASL scenarios.

    Most importantly, the pre-ASL system features “programmed instruction.” That is, the rules directly apply to the scenarios in published order. The player reads a section of the rules, and then plays the corresponding scenario that illustrates those rules. The player then reads the following rules section, plays the next scenario, etc. ASL has never used this approach.

    Currently, there is more aftermarket support for the original Squad Leader game than there is MMP and aftermarket support for the Starter Kit environment. One might argue that this is not a fair comparison, since the original game has been around for over twenty-five years longer. However, its longevity speaks for itself, and it seems unlikely ASLSK support will catch up anytime soon.


    Some Conclusions

    I would argue that the claim: “Don’t waste your time and money on basic Squad Leader” is not very good advice. I have played Squad Leader for several years, and I recently finished my last Cross of Iron scenario. Last year, I finally bought Crescendo of Doom. In other words, about $50 worth of wargames kept me busy for over a decade. Squad Leader was the “first step” to learning ASL for an entire generation of gamers. It still has a lot to recommend it as a game in its own right, and even today, it is among the ten best-supported war games on the internet.

    Links

    Virtual Squad Leader: VSQL is the Squad Leader version of VASL. http://www.wargameacademy.org/sqla/Vsql/

    Squad Leader Academy: Pre-ASL news and databases, including scenarios, articles, etc.
    http://www.wargameacademy.org/SQLA/

    Board Game Geek Entry: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1035
    Maj. General Stanislaw Sosabowski: Doesn't matter what it was. When one man says to another, "I know what let's do today, let's play the war game"...everybody dies.

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    Forum Veteran regularjoe's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    It's sad that the classic SL series is out of print.
    I find the original rule books much easier to digest than the new SK series and the SK series I think would have been better executed as a staggered reprint of SL/COI rules following a similar format. Loved playing SL circa COI, my main SL playing partner and I would play almost nothing other than insanely huge non historical DYO scenarios.
    COI is the pinnacle of the early days. COD was basically Allied Minors with a rulebook that was mostly terrain and chrome. The less said of GIAoV the better. Bought it but never played it much in the day - liked the system as it was and GIAoV just took it further than I wanted to see it go. Even the maps seemed vanilla to me.

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    Forum Veteran Gen. Sosabowski's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    Quote Originally Posted by regularjoe View Post
    It's sad that the classic SL series is out of print.
    I find the original rule books much easier to digest than the new SK series and the SK series I think would have been better executed as a staggered reprint of SL/COI rules following a similar format. Loved playing SL circa COI, my main SL playing partner and I would play almost nothing other than insanely huge non historical DYO scenarios.
    COI is the pinnacle of the early days. COD was basically Allied Minors with a rulebook that was mostly terrain and chrome. The less said of GIAoV the better. Bought it but never played it much in the day - liked the system as it was and GIAoV just took it further than I wanted to see it go. Even the maps seemed vanilla to me.

    May I have your permission to borrow that description? Crescendo of Doom really is "Allied Minors plus chrome," the more I think about it.
    Maj. General Stanislaw Sosabowski: Doesn't matter what it was. When one man says to another, "I know what let's do today, let's play the war game"...everybody dies.

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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    Gen,

    Recently, I my self have desired to get back into playing SL/ASL myself, after to many years of not playing. I have not seen the Starter Kits myself, but I do find that reading thru the old SL was a lot easier to digest then trying to read thru the ASLRB. To Bad they (MMP) reissue at least SL, and maybe COI reformatted in ASL form. Maybe not as big of a counter mix as the originals, jut enough to play.

    John
    Last edited by caddmann; 24 Aug 12 at 12:20.

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    Hoarding ASL items....... Kevin Kenneally's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    Quote Originally Posted by caddmann View Post
    Gen,

    Recently, I my self have desired to get back into playing SL/ASL myself, after to many years of not playing. I have not seen the Starter Kits myself, but I do find that reading thru the old SL was a lot easier to digest then trying to read thru the ASLRB. To Bad they (MMP) reissue at least SL, and maybe COI reformatted in ASL form. Maybe not as big of a counter mix as the originals, jut enough to play.

    John
    John,

    That is what the Starter Kits are meant to do.

    Slowly introduce new players into the ASL rules, before jumping head first into full ASL.

    SK #1 deals with Infantry

    SK#2 deals with Infantry and Guns (Ordnance)

    SK#3 deals with Infantry, Guns and AFVs (Tanks, SPs and Assualt Guns).

    There is an expansion pack that has all three (Inf, Guns, AFVs) inside as well.

    Each starter kit comes with rules with charts to resolve fire, enough counters to play the scenarios in the packs and dice; they are all "stand alone".

    Once you think you have mastered SK stuff, then you can begin to understand the ASL rules better.

    I jumped in cold from SL 12 years ago; it is still a learning process. I still have my SL stuff and I use some counters to play ASL/SL.
    Kevin Kenneally
    Charter member of the "OFF Squad"
    Visiting your local Army Reserve & National Guard units to play ASL.

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    Forum Commando prymus's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    Gen, very well said and can't agree more with your comments. I too learned SL and followed on to all the expansions. By the time I bought GI, when it was first issued, I paid very little attention to the rulebook. I just played the GI scenarios with the rules from SL,COI, and some from COD. The rules system from SL and COI were so good,imo, that I used them as the basis for my homebrew 15mm minis games. They work very well, that is in giving me the type of game that represents WW2 battle to my mind. And I've been using my rules for over 25 years now with almost no modification.
    You lend an agreeable sense of macabre to any dillusion

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    Noob Recruit Abrickwo's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    I am new to the forum and have all the original SL games. I have purchased the ASL Rules and Beyond Valor. Also now awaiting the SK #3. I agree the problem I had trying to first learn the ASL rules was the missing step-by-step instructions offered in SL. Can you play original SL scenarios with ASL rules ?
    Thanks and keep playing.

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    Forum Veteran Stewart's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kenneally View Post
    John,

    That is what the Starter Kits are meant to do.

    Slowly introduce new players into the ASL rules, before jumping head first into full ASL.

    Once you think you have mastered SK stuff, then you can begin to understand the ASL rules better.

    I jumped in cold from SL 12 years ago; it is still a learning process. I still have my SL stuff and I use some counters to play ASL/SL.
    Even ASL players are still learning, players new to the system and those that have played for 15+ years.

    Those SK players thinking they've mastered the SK rules will find mastering the ASL rules more like Looking for the Holy Grail. The level of entwined complexity and variation is exponentially different.

    You might actually be doing a disservice to the SK players.

    I see no reason why, given a helpful teacher, that you can't learn the ASL rules directly. Many scenarios are ONLY infantry, Snipers are simple enough as well as other things. Of course, you can ignore those facets you don't want in the game. You don't have to play with ?ment or bypass if you want or snipers, upper levels, etc.

    "Balance"? did I hear the term? Well, beginners will lose and lose OFTEN. That's not a balanced game. It's called learning.

    You can play the most confusing and challenging scenarios, or some of the most simple and basic games... "pick your Poison"

    Personally, I avoid heavy density armor engagements, I want Squads not tanks, that's a different game...
    A Black chit, My Kingdom for a Black chit

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    Hoarding ASL items....... Kevin Kenneally's Avatar
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    Re: Revisiting Squad Leader from an ASL Viewpoint

    Quote Originally Posted by Stewart View Post
    Even ASL players are still learning, players new to the system and those that have played for 15+ years.

    Those SK players thinking they've mastered the SK rules will find mastering the ASL rules more like Looking for the Holy Grail. The level of entwined complexity and variation is exponentially different.

    You might actually be doing a disservice to the SK players.

    I see no reason why, given a helpful teacher, that you can't learn the ASL rules directly. Many scenarios are ONLY infantry, Snipers are simple enough as well as other things. Of course, you can ignore those facets you don't want in the game. You don't have to play with ?ment or bypass if you want or snipers, upper levels, etc.

    "Balance"? did I hear the term? Well, beginners will lose and lose OFTEN. That's not a balanced game. It's called learning.

    You can play the most confusing and challenging scenarios, or some of the most simple and basic games... "pick your Poison"

    Personally, I avoid heavy density armor engagements, I want Squads not tanks, that's a different game...
    Thanks for posting.
    Kevin Kenneally
    Charter member of the "OFF Squad"
    Visiting your local Army Reserve & National Guard units to play ASL.

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