Every year over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, droves of gamers (well, about a hundred or so) descend upon Bowie, Maryland, for Winter Offensive, the premier East Coast Advanced Squad Leader tournament, sponsored by Multi-Man Publishing, publishers of ASL and other fine games. After a hiatus of several years, I made the pilgrimage to the palatial Comfort Inn Conference Center, home of nineteen of the twenty Winter Offensives, determined not to play any ASL at all.
My relationship with the One True Game™ stretches back to 1996, and my first Winter Offensive was 1997. But ASL is a Lifestyle Game: if you play ASL, you don’t tend to play other games. So many scenarios to play, so many counters to clip, so many rules to internalize—there’s little time to play ASL competently (which is not to say well) and play other games also. In the mid-Aughts, I set the Planos aside to focus on the other, growing piles of games on my shelves, and stopped going to Winter Offensive.
But I hadn’t seen the gang in ages, and this year I decided to get back to Bowie to catch up with everyone. My plan was to start with a scenario from OCS Case Blue. Being a MMP product, Case Blue would allow me to occupy a table at this ASL fest without too many undue stares. Doug Bush, a frequent PBeM opponent of mine, plays a mean game of OCS and took me on in the first scenario, Edge of the World. It was, perhaps, an ambitious idea, and we put in roughly twelve hours of play over the weekend before calling it, with Doug’s Germans a decent percentage of the way to a win over my Russians in Grozny.
And why did we call it? To play nine hours of Advanced Civilization, of course, roping in some fellow crazies (and former Washington, DC gamers).
From left, you have John Slotwinski (Italy), Chris Chapman (Illyria), Scott “Muzzlehead” Calkins (Babylonia) taking in the span of the world, Doug Bush (Egypt), and yours truly (Crete), rocking a new Giroux Flyers jersey. This shot was taken early in the game, before the fatigue had set in, before the stress of trying to trade away a terrible Calamity Card had taken its toll, before the endless recriminations and broken alliances and fractured treaties had dropped a veil of enmity upon the table. Damn, that was a lot of fun . . .
Doug’s Egyptians wound up taking top spot by running to the end of the Archaeological Succession Table with a heady mix of Achievements, followed very closely by Scott’s Babylonians. My Cretans (that joke was funny for the first hour at the table) came in a distant third as we avoided most conflict but also failed to stunt the leaders’ growth, and Chris C.’s Illyrians were just behind me. John had to step out mid-game owing to another obligation.
Chris C. and I also managed to get in a game of Twilight Struggle, with my Soviets taking advantage of a hand full of Scoring Cards in mid-game to gain an advantage I was able to ride to the end.
And, yes, I sort of failed in my determination to play no ASL, as Joe Jackson, an opponent and all around good guy from way back, enticed me into playing a quick scenario in Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit, which utilizes a trimmed version of the full ASL rules. It’s not quite ASL, but it’s close enough, and I was almost tempted to start buying up all the plentiful ASL product on offer at WO. I managed to keep the wallet closed, but it was a close run thing.
In theory, Winter Offensive is a tournament. There’s a winner at the end, records are kept, prizes are handed out. But even when I was deep into the ASL scene, WO was never about the tournament, never about the win-loss record at the end of the weekend. It was always, and remains, about the camaraderie. This is not to say that winning and socializing are incompatible—every gamer wants to win, it’s the one immutable thread in our sub-cultural DNA—but winning is a temporary goal, wins come and go, and there’s always another match around the corner. It’s about the people you game with, the experience you create via dice and counters and choices. If you win a game and can’t tell a good story about it afterwards, you lost. And I had some good stories this past weekend . . .