As inevitable as snow in winter (well, most years), January means Winter Offensive, the East Coast’s premier Advanced Squad Leader tournament, held annually by Multi-Man Publishing in bucolic Bowie, Maryland. This year’s tourney saw the release of two new ASL products, the fifteenth edition of the Winter Offensive Bonus Pack and the somewhat uncategorizable Twilight of the Reich. Is it a core module, a sort-of-historical module, an Action Pack gone mad? It’s big, that’s for sure.
Taking the simpler, but by no means unremarkable, Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #15 first, this scenario-and-map bundle comes, as ever, in a loose cellophane bag with a cover sheet depicting flame-lit street fighting in Stalingrad by Nicolás Eskubi, a tantalizing hint of the actions on offer within. Two of the four scenarios feature rather large engagements set in that ruined city, with each side cramming upwards of thirty squads each onto three deluxe boards. For yes, Bonus Pack #15 follows in the footsteps of Bonus Packs #9 and #13 by including deluxe sized maps, all on the now-standard “Starter Kit” cardstock, likely accounting for much of the $32 retail price. (All of MMP’s proceeds from this, and all the WO Bonus Packs, go to the WWII Foundation, so it’s a reasonable price by any standard.)
The new scenarios number WO46-WO49, with Pete Shelling supplying two of them (one of the Stalingrad actions and another US vs German tiff set in April ’45 with a trademark Shelling force purchase matrix). Tom Morin contributes the other Stalingrad scenario and Kevin Meyer brings us an action featuring the Canadians in Operation Goodwood. The back of the cover sheet provides a nice overview of the factory rules to accompany the three factory-festooned new maps (Dp/Dq/Dr). Dq and Dr are essentially a matched pair, as they split two giant factories across one of their long sides, making these some of the first “non-geomorphic” Deluxe maps, if not the first, in terms of not matching to other boards along those edges. (No, I’m not digging my Deluxe maps out to check.) It makes for a quite striking factory complex. As the kids today say, you can fit so many squads in these bad boys…
One hardly knows where to start with Twilight of the Reich, the brainchild of Bill Cirillo and Sean Deller focusing on the “Endgame in the European Theater, 1944-45,” which weighs in at $164 retail and comes in the same three-inch deep box as the rest of MMP’s core ASL module releases. Given that MMP calls this product “ASL Module 16” on the side, it pretty much can be considered “core,” especially as the nine (!) sheets of overlays included here will likely get a thorough workout in future ASL releases.
TotR’s main additions to the ASL canon come mostly in the new squad types introduced for the late-war German army and Soviet NKVD forces, plus bespoke assault engineer counters for the Germans, Americans, Russians, and British, all contained on the module’s two countersheets. Additional counters to support the seventeen scenarios herein (290-306) round out the sheets, adding a ton of debris counters, Axis Minor-colored vehicles and support weapons, and rather more counters denoting Rail Cars than one would imagine needed—until one looks at the overlays and sees the miles of rail track just waiting to be added to the the four new dual-sided maps (16a/b-19a/b). Other overlays add buildings, parks, rail yards, and additional urban locales to the system.
The new squad types, plus the terrain rules to account for fighting in built-up areas, require new rules pages, and TotR includes replacements for pages A51-63 and B41-46 in the ASLRB. Other than the new unit substitution breakdowns in Chapter A, the changes consist mostly of the addition of rail cars, extensive debris rules, and variable height rowhouses to the core ASL rulebook, the former two terrain types previously introduced in other historical ASL products. The new rowhouse type appears on one of the new maps, 16a/b, which is fairly dominated by them. Indeed, the four new maps present amazingly dense, built-up urban environments, in keeping with the module’s focus on urban fighting at the end of the war. It’s frankly amazing how many buildings are on some of these maps—given that most of the buildings have multiple floors, the sheer number of possible locations for troops is astronomical. Don’t ask me to count possible building CVP possibilities! The maps and overlays are designed by Bill Cirillo and drawn by the inestimable Charlie Kibler.
Just how meaty the actions in TotR are can be gleaned from the fact that for seventeen scenarios, the module includes eighteen cardstock scenario cards; every single scenario save one runs longer than a page, with one hefty engagement—the much-heralded three-player 205 No Brothers, No Friends pitting two competing Soviet forces against each other and the Germans in a race for bloody glory in Berlin—spanning four pages. The bulk of the scenarios aren’t huge per se, but they all feature Weapon and Fortification Purchase tables, which take up a fair bit of space in the OoB boxes. This variable purchase process, detailed in Special Scenario Rules applicable to all TotR scenarios, allows for a nice bit of variability and uncertainty in crafting an offensive or defensive approach.
Bill Cirillo and Sean Deller provide the lion’s share of the scenarios here, with some Leningrad and Stalingrad actions added by Tom Morin. As one would expect given the overlay cornucopia on offer in TotR, there are few scenarios that won’t require a bit of work with an X-Acto and some rubber cement prior to play, but just from a brief perusal of the cards, they promise to be worth the arts & crafts efforts. One scenario in particular, 299 Rails to Perdition, pitting German and Hungarian defenders against Russian and Romanian attackers in Budapest, with fighting in and around a rail station, looks quite promising.
As always, to use it all you have to own it all when it comes to new Advanced Squad Leader products, and these two fresh entries on MMP’s site are no different, though it’s safe to say the strictly European focus should preclude the requirement to own Rising Sun.
Indeed, both Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #15 and Twilight of the Reich are somewhat unusual of late for MMP, given that they focus almost exclusively on the Eastern Front and by and large from ’42 forward; more recent ASL products have spanned the breadth of experiences from the late ’30s into the ’50s. Still, there’s no denying that ASL captures the intensity of the East Front very, very well, and the built-up fighting presented in these two products will provide breathtaking, if occasionally cinematic, approximations of the hell on Earth that was the urban battlefield in World War II.