Advanced Squad Leader’s greatest strength lies in its extensibility, but it’s safe to say that Don Greenwood, John Hill, and the rest of the ludic luminaries present at its creation couldn’t have anticipated just how varied and wide-ranging the additions to their game system would become. Case in point, the brand new offering from Le Franc Tireur, the self-titled Le Franc Tireur 15. While technically a “magazine,” LFT 15, much like MMP‘s ASL Journal, is a multi-media affair, featuring twenty-two scenarios printed separately from the eighty-two page magazine and, most impressively, a whopping eight new maps in the traditional single-fold, thick cardstock style of the official boards.
The magazine itself, in A4 format with a thick cardstock cover, comes with a ton of articles covering a little bit of everything concerning ASL, from tournament overviews, product reviews, and designer interviews through to rules primers (in this case, for the surrender rules, desert rules, and the interactions between night and desert), historical articles, and new rules for the included map terrain and for scenarios set in Russian Civil War-era Manchuria and Mongolia. It’s all in color and profusely illustrated; there’s even a two page comic on speeding up play.
As pleasant and varied as the articles may be, however, the real attraction of LFT 15 has to be the eight new arid/desert maps, printed for the most part in standard DTO colors and adding some much needed variety and spice to the existing collection of AH/MMP desert and arid boards. There’s actual terrain here, with canyons, villages, depressions, and hills dotting the otherwise open expanses. As Steve Swann notes in his overview of the maps, which he designed along with Tom Repetti, there’s something to fight over instead of just something to drive over. The new arid terrain types mostly tweak existing terrain, like Thick Grain (with +2 hindrance and 2MF infantry entry instead of the +1 and 1.5MF values of regular grain) and combination terrain (crag-brush, crag-hammada), but desert and arid villages receive new details and features as well.
Physically, the maps come excruciatingly close to being perfect matches with the existing “Starter Kit” style maps that are the current standard in ASL. They share a similar sturdiness and thickness—I don’t own the calipers required to tell if there’s a difference, but to my untrained eye they’re the same. In terms of dimensions, the LFT maps seem a scant millimeter longer and less than a millimeter wider, measuring against the newest MMP boards (89 and 90), just barely sufficient to throw off precise hex alignment over a long stretch but, frankly, not enough to worry about in actual play. They’re the nicest third party maps I’ve seen to date (and I’ve seen a few).
The twenty-two scenarios included with LFT 15 are printed in color and come on glossy A4 paper of reasonable thickness; though not cardstock, they should hold up well regardless. Many of the scenarios make use of the new maps, taking the ASL system to some out-of-the-way places indeed. Most striking are the scenarios set before the 1930s; one, FT274 Bear Valley by Steve Swann, takes place in 1918 Arizona during the American Indian Wars, pitting warriors from the Yaqui tribe against mounted soldiers from the US 10th Cavalry. Another, FT276 Genghis Khan Lives! by Robert Hammond, occurs in 1921 Mongolia using the new Russian Civil War rules, with Chinese troops defending against a White Russian mass cavalry assault. I’m not really sure the ASL system works effectively to depict conflicts that far back—not that ASL is renowned for its verisimilitude—but it’s interesting to see the attempt nonetheless.
The other scenarios range a wide gamut of forces and actions, with several in North Africa and the Levant to take advantage of the arid maps and an interesting emphasis, throughout, on horses, a rules section of ASL that has long been underutilized. You’ll learn how to conduct a cavalry charge for sure with these scenarios.
Le Franc Tireur 15 is, unquestionably, a specialist product, focusing as it does on some quite obscure corners of the Advanced Squad Leader game system. Newer players might not be well served by picking it up. For those who appreciate something a bit out of the ordinary in their ASL, though, it’s a gem of a publication, taking some chances and stretching the bounds of what the game can become. Besides, you can never have too many maps…