First Team in Action: ASL Action Pack #17 (MMP) Released

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ASL Oktoberfest, or ASLOK, is the centerpiece of the Advanced Squad Leader convention calendar, despite taking place in Cleveland. It’s the Masters Tournament of ASL, if you will, and while I’ll always prefer the more casual confines of Winter Offensive, in bucolic Bowie, Maryland, the cachet of ASLOK cannot be denied. It’s just pure ASL, morning to night.

Every few years, Multi-Man Publishing, caretakers and publishers of the venerable ASL tactical wargame system, release an Action Pack in conjunction with ASLOK, and they have just unveiled ASL Action Pack #17: Oktoberfest XXXV to go along with this year’s edition of the tournament. This new expansion for ASL contains two new geomorphic maps (87 and 88) and sixteen scenarios (AP175-AP190) by Kevin Meyer and Pete Shelling centering on the US 1st Cavalry Division, known as The First Team.

ASL Action Pack #17 Overview

The actions depicted take place in the Pacific theater during World War II, with three scenarios against the Japanese in 1944, and then in the Korean War, host to a whopping thirteen scenarios pitting the 1st Cavalry against North Korean and Communist Chinese forces in 1950 and 1951. Despite the singular focus on a particular division, the scenarios manage to cover a varied set of actions, from assault boat landings in a reservoir against Chinese forces hunkered in bunkers (AP189 Bona Fide Effort) and a joint American/Greek assault on a minefield complex (AP190 We Are Sparta) through to an armor slugfest against North Korean T-34s (AP183 Patton’s Ghost) and a river crossing under fire (AP181 No Dunkirk).

The situations tend towards the fulsome, with none that, at first glance, fall into the quick-playing tournament scenario mold; these cards are, broadly, six to eight turns with a dozen or more squads per side, plus interesting special rules and counters that don’t often get fished out of the Plano.

Crags Everywhere

As for the two new maps, designed by Tom Repetti and Don Petros, with art by the inestimable Charlie Kibler, they both feature a multi-level hill running along one long map edge, which, if set together, form one large hill mass. Board 87 hosts a small village abutting the hill, while board 88 has gullies leading down off the hill into a valley, with more crags than you’ve probably ever seen on an ASL map.

Ford Counters

Because most of the scenarios are set in the Korean War, which for some reason has not been overly popular in ASL circles since the release of the Forgotten War Korean War ASL module some years back, this Action Pack might not get as much interest as usual for an official ASL product. That would be a shame, as the pack as a whole stretches the ASL rulebook—how often do you use river Ford counters?—and features interesting actions by some of the best scenario designers working today. These might not be scenarios to knock out in a quick sitting at a club meeting on a Saturday, but they’ll reward extended play.

Inor Out: The Green Hell of Inor (Le Franc Tireur) Released

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Fresh from the fervid Francophones at Le Franc Tireur comes The Green Hell of Inor, an unofficial expansion for Multi-Man Publishing’s Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) that adds new counters, sixteen scenarios, a large map, and three campaign games to the venerable tactical wargame system. Focusing on the early war battles between the French and Germans in 1940 around Inor, a town situated on a canal off the Meuse, the module’s thesis, as laid out in the handsome seventy-page historical booklet, suggests that even a nondescript French second line division such as the 3eme DINA (Third North African Division) showed a determination to fight that was at odds with the lack of preparation and will exhibited by higher French military and political authorities during 1940, holding up a German advance for three weeks under increasingly untenable conditions.

Overview of The Green Hell of Inor

At their best, wargames, and conflict simulations more generally, make assertions about history and provide gamers with the ability to test them, driving a heightened understanding through the process of play. The designers of The Green Hell of Inor—Lionel Colin and Xavier Vitry, assisted by a number of scenario designers—seek to provide an opportunity to examine French conduct under fire, in situations approximate to those actually faced, not at a higher operational level but at the squad level that ASL depicts, where fighting spirit, training, and tenacity matter more than grand strategic concerns.

Map detail from The Green Hell of Inor

Perhaps ASL is not the best device for a serious study of war; it has been described, fairly, as an exceedingly accurate simulation of war movies rather than the chaos and uncertainty of any real battlefield. But various tweaks, as the designers have provided using different French squad types, all represented on the two die-cut countersheets, change the basic experience of playing “the French” enough that long-time ASL players feel the difference in deploying these mostly colonial soldiers, hailing from Algeria, as opposed to the usual French soldiers seen in the game. The actions represented in the sixteen scenarios are not broad armored thrusts with impregnable tanks or dire city fights between grizzled veterans; they represent meeting engagements, surprise encounters, haphazard offensives, nighttime escapes, and foolhardy charges in tanks that move scarcely faster than men. The scenarios attempt to depict the slog of every-day fighting by unblooded soldiers learning their trade the hard way, rather than set piece battles whose names live on in history.

The production itself meets LFT’s usual high standards; they and Bounding Fire Productions consistently produce the finest in third-party ASL content. The scenarios come on double-sided, glossy but thin stock A4-size pages, and the rules and historical background books are saddle-stapled with glossy pages and a thick stock cover. The two countersheets, with color figures and vehicle depictions, show sharp registration and clean die cuts, and add new French squad types as well as additional counters for the scenarios and campaign games. The two map sheets, on thick stock paper—together roughly 33″ x 47″, or A0—are printed well, depicting the hilly, wooded area around Inor, including a canal with river barges (and, of course, rules for them). Three campaign games, with accompanying charts on the same paper as the scenarios, round out the impressive package. I might have preferred a thicker, matte stock for the scenarios, but there’s no denying that the colors pop on the pages as provided.

River Barges!

Ownership of tons of other ASL product is expected for full use of this module, which should come as no surprise to anyone who contemplates a purchase.

On the whole, this pricey but pretty presentation is worthy of study—and acquisition—by any ASL player with even a passing interest in the early war period, and frankly that should be all of them. It may be that the story of the 3eme DINA is not well known, even inside of France, but that’s not due to their efforts in The Green Hell of Inor.

Table for One: James Bond 007 Assault! Game (Victory Games) Review

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Though best known for their complex, incisive wargames, some of which remain the best simulations of their subjects to date, Victory Games also needed to pay the bills. This assemblage of ex-SPI staffers, working as an imprint under Avalon Hill, produced far more than just wargames during its nine-year existence, and they were by no means averse to license work. Whether a a “couples” trivia game featuring Dr. Ruth or a cooking-based roll-and-move made in conjunction with spice merchants McCormick-Schilling, the Victory Games catalog features a wide range of topics and game types that one might not expect from the same company responsible for conflict simulations with thousands of counters and dense rulebooks.

Their most famous licensed game came in the form of a role-playing game, the James Bond 007 RPG, arguably the finest spy RPG of all time. But Victory Games’ James Bond license wasn’t restricted to role-playing games; they produced a range of board games using the license as well. Most of these were children’s games, fairly simple point-to-point races loosely incorporating moments from the movies, but one marks a valiant attempt to create a wargame in the world of 007: the James Bond 007 Assault! Game.

Overview

James Bond 007 Assault! Game
Victory Games (VG), 1986
Designed by Gerard Christopher Klug

James Bond Assault! Game, Cover Detail

The James Bond 007 Assault! Game comes in a cardboard slipcase box with the same dimensions as Avalon Hill and Victory Games’ boxed wargames, which, at 8 and 3/8″ wide and 11 and 1/2″ long, annoyingly do not fit a standard Letter-size sheet of paper. The game includes one and a half die-cut countersheets with 264 5/8″ counters, plus a small third sheet with three specialized die-cut markers. The single map, of standard 22″ x 34″ dimensions, is matte printed on thick paper. A lidded plastic counter tray, much like those in other VG offerings, two d10, a single black-and-white saddle stapled rulebook, and a folded paper range stick round out the package.

Units portray individuals, either Soldiers or Leaders. Soldier units are numbered and have icons indicating their weapon type, while Leader units are all depicted with a central star icon; the named Leaders, heroes and villains alike, carry the character’s initials, while unnamed Leaders have a generic identifier. As a result, there’s nothing really distinguishing James Bond or Tiger Tanaka from other MI6 leaders beyond a “JB” or “TT” on the counter, something of a disappointment.

James Bond Assault! Game, Counter Details

Indeed, the counters lean heavily into the functional, acceptable in a more traditional wargame but less forgivable in a man-to-man tactical combat game based on a license noted for its strong visual iconography, from the gun-filigree on “007” to the Walther PPK. Perhaps space issues played a role, as even with the larger 5/8″ counter to work with, the numbers tend to the tiny, the legibility not helped by some of the color combinations.

The counter graphics are immediately identifiable as being from Victory Games; the unit counters, featuring numbers around the perimeter, with a central icon, could come straight from the Fleet series, if there were spies and ninjas in those games. Ted Koller, in charge of art here, helmed the graphics direction for many of the Fleet games as well, so the similarity makes sense. Counter quality in my copy was acceptable, with several counters coming close to losing text off the side due to a lack of printing margin and/or poor die cutting. (Monarch Avalon strikes again.) Side nibs do make a regrettable appearance, but only on a few counters per row, the majority of counters held to the tree by their corners alone.

James Bond Assault! Game, Partial Map Overview

The color map, covered not with a hex grid but with center-dotted 5/8″ squares, depicts the volcano lair from You Only Live Twice, where Blofeld and SPECTRE—er, make that Karl Skorpios and TAROT—have been launching rockets to steal American and Soviet spaceships. Due to the long-running dispute regarding the ownership of SPECTRE at the time, Victory Games was unable to use the nefarious organization or its members in any of their licensed products, so they dropped in Skorpios and TAROT as one-for-one replacements. (Karl Skorpios is not, of course, to be confused with Hank Scorpio…)
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Table for One: The China War (SPI/S&T) After-Action Report

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The China War (SPI/Strategy & Tactics 76, 1979)
Scenario Two: Objective: Hanoi! After-Action Report

Overview

The second of three scenarios in SPI’s The China War, Objective: Hanoi! covers a hypothetical Chinese attack on Vietnam and Laos in the 1980s, designed to preemptively prevent potential Vietnamese intervention in a wider Sino-Soviet conflict. The scenario lasts for ten turns, each of a week, with both players receiving Victory Points for eliminating enemy units and controlling six hexes, mostly large cities. The Vietnamese side controls all six victory hexes at game start, giving them an initial 57 VP advantage.

No optional rules are used, and the rules-as-written guide play, meaning that the barest sliver of mountain in a hex turns the entire hex into a mountain hex, with commensurate penalties for movement, combat, and stacking. In effect, the entire Sino-Vietnamese and Sino-Laotian border becomes ringed with mountains. Suggested house rules—basically boiling down to appeals to common sense—would use predominant terrain, or crossed-hexside terrain, as determinant, but the rules-as-written hold sway in this playing.

Initial Thoughts

Objective: Hanoi! features fewer than twenty units on the Chinese side and a scant eight on the combined Vietnamese/Laotian side. Almost all of these units are corps/army in size. While the Chinese player can break down armies into three divisions each, the Vietnamese player cannot do so, almost certainly due to countermix limitations rather than any real-world tactical inability. As a result, the initial Vietnamese setup cannot cover all possible avenues of approach. Combined with the game system’s lack of zones of control, the Chinese will make headway somewhere right from the start.

The China War, Objective Hanoi!, Vietnamese/Laotian Setup

Vietnamese/Laotian Setup

I opt to place the strongest Vietnamese unit, a Mechanized corps, in Hanoi as a mobile reserve, with three Infantry corps lining the eastern border, from Haiphong through Cao Bang. The mountainous northern approach remains open. On the Laotian front, a Vietnamese Infantry corps sits in Dien Bien Phu, with the three weak Laotian Infantry divisions screening Vientiane.

The China War, Objective Hanoi!, PLA Setup

PLA Setup

Stacking limits in mountain hexes, three divisions or one army/corps, severely restrict the Chinese ability to mass firepower, so the main invasion thrust, some eleven first- and second-line PLA Infantry armies, will be directly towards Hanoi from the open region near Nanning. A “flying squadron” of two third-line PLA Infantry armies, backed by a lone Armored division and an Airborne division that can’t actually airdrop, will attempt to race in from Kunming in the north, hoping to encircle Hanoi from the west. The remainder of the Chinese forces set up to attack Laos, but the strong Vietnamese unit in Dien Bien Phu poses a threat to an already precarious supply line on that front. They may need to initiate another siege in that famous village.
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Table for One: The China War (SPI/S&T) Review

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Forty years on, it’s easy to forget that the Cold War trended hot in China in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The beginning of 1979 saw the Sino-Vietnamese War, a Chinese invasion of Vietnam ostensibly in response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Though relatively brief in terms of actual fighting, the political ramifications of the conflict lasted for years and raised the specter of a clash between the Soviet Union—Vietnam’s erstwhile benefactor—and China.

Having already published one game on a potential Sino-Soviet conflict in 1974’s The East is Red, the fervid design and development team at SPI revisited the concept in 1979 in light of contemporary developments, coming out with The China War. Far more than a remake of the earlier game, The China War attempts to model the state of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after the end of the Cultural Revolution and with regard to its performance in the Sino-Vietnamese War, with the aim of envisioning what a war between the Soviet Union and China might look like. The resulting game is not quite subtle, but then neither would the conflict have been.

Overview

The China War: Sino-Soviet Conflict in the 1980s
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1979
Strategy & Tactics 76
Designed by Brad Hessel

The China War, Cover Detail

The China War saw publication in two forms, as an issue game in Strategy & Tactics 76 (September/October 1979) and in a boxed format, a not-unusual publication approach for SPI’s magazine games at the time. The game comes with a single die-cut countersheet of 200 back printed half-inch counters with a matte finish and a single matte map that, in the magazine version at least, comes in slightly smaller than standard at 21.75 by 32.5 inches. The boxed version includes the rules and accompanying magazine article from S&T as separately staple-bound booklets.

Units are either Armies or Divisions, with the Chinese Armies equal in size to Corps in Western military parlance. The counters display particular unit types using standard NATO symbology. Surprisingly, none of the units have any formation designations; perhaps sufficient order of battle information was not available, as the earlier game The East is Red also lacks specific unit designations.

The China War, Counter Details

The counters themselves keep to the standard, pleasingly yeoman-like Simonsen-era SPI style, though the presence of cadre notations on the left side of the Soviet and Chinese counters results in an off-centered presentation for the unit symbol and combat factors, making those counters all seem slightly askew, with a fair bit of wasted space in the middle. The typical SPI counter color bleed on the countersheet at color transitions remains in effect here, as does the occasional counter that is a bit more or less than half an inch wide due to some wobble in the likely overworked cutting die.

Of note, the rules actually specify that these “variances” are acceptable and to be expected, such that “SPI cannot replace counters displaying these minor manufacturing innacuracies.” If it’s in the rules, I suppose one can’t complain…
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Winter Offensive 2020 After Action Report

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The essence of Winter Offensive, the premier Advanced Squad Leader tournament on the East Coast, resides in the well-worn flip chart at the entrance to the convention rooms. A similar giant pad of paper has welcomed attendees for as long as I can remember. The sign is both casual and matter of fact, just like the tourney itself. There’s no pretension on display at this annual assemblage of wargamers in Bowie, Maryland; if you show up, you’re welcome, part of the gang, a member of the club. Fancy printed banners and elaborate registration procedures have no place here. There’s not an attendance lanyard or wrist band in sight, unlike just about every other gaming convention around these days. You’re on your honor to pay the registration fee, as hosts Multi-Man Publishing would rather be gaming themselves than babysitting would-be scofflaws.

Winter Offensive 2020 on Thursday

Attendance came in at 214, a record number by far, though the room didn’t seem quite so crowded on Saturday this year as last year, when table space was at an all-time premium. The threat of inclement weather on Saturday might have driven away some of those who attended on Thursday and Friday. Having all four sections of the big convention hall open from the get-go helped greatly in spreading people out, leaving the atmosphere cozy but not cramped.

Croix de Guerre counter closeup

Two ASL products made their debuts this year, the Deluxe ASL Module and the new edition of Croix de Guerre, the French extension to the game system that now includes dedicated counters for Vichy and Free French troops and Dan Dolan’s long-awaited Dinant Campaign Game. The large-format Deluxe ASL maps were much in evidence this weekend, as the new module reprints all existing DASL maps in the “new” thin-format style and includes revised editions of practically every official DASL scenario ever published.

Croix de Guerre, by contrast, didn’t seem to garner much table space, at least on my peregrinations through the room, though they were flying past the cash register. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the fact that CdG comes with eleven countersheets, all needing to be punched, corner-rounded (for those with discriminating tastes), and integrated into existing counter storage systems. It’s a monumental task, one that I, personally, decided would be better tackled at a later date. The package looks superb, with a bevy of updated scenarios, a crisp look for the French, and a meaty campaign game in the large box. There’s lot of play in that box.

My own game tally for the weekend came in at six plays: two Advanced Squad Leader scenarios and one playing each of Greenland, Pax Porfiriana, Pax Pamir (2e), and Brass: Birmingham.

Staring the festivities, I squared off against one of my oldest gaming buddies (in terms of years known, though none of us are getting any younger!), John Slotwinski. Continuing our Korean War theme from the last WO, we trotted out 210 This Is Where We Stand from Forgotten War, pitting forty-five (seriously) Chinese squads against a mere sixteen USMC squads, at night, in extreme winter, with steep hills. My troops needed to completely clear the hills of John’s Marines, and while I pushed him back a bit, he and his copious firepower outlasted my onslaught for the win. The rules overhead involved ranks as perhaps my most daunting Advanced Squad Leader experience in at least a decade, with ordinary actions, like simply schlepping from one hex to another, taking on new dimensions because of the weather, the darkness, and the special traits for Chinese infantry movement. An exhausting, but thoroughly enjoyable, scenario against a one-time Winter Offensive winner.

ASL 210 at Winter Offensive 2020

Long time gaming buddy Doug Bush and I then tried out a scenario from Bounding Fire’s Blood and Jungle pack, BFP 35 Mai Phu, set in Tonkin in 1940, with Japanese troops supported by six tanks assaulting the French forces holding a garrison in French Indochina. Though not a huge scenario, we spent some time with this one, as many tactical puzzles presented themselves. Doug’s IJA troops ground steadily forward, attempting to take buildings, and one banzai assault in particular resulted in a massive counter stack, topped, as though by a cherry, with a large residual counter that almost never leaves the Plano.

BFP 35 at Winter Offensive 2020

This scenario came down to the final die rolls, with Doug needing to win four Hand-to-Hand Close Combats to secure the victory. I managed to hold two of them for a very narrow escape. Of eleven total vehicles in the game, only one was still standing at the end, pretty much par for the course in our playings. Lots of interesting moments in this one; games against Doug are never dull!
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