The Not-So-Peaceful Pacific: Le Franc Tireur 16 (LFT) Released

Fresh from French shores comes Le Franc Tireur 16, the latest issue of the well-appointed magazine and scenario combination by the company of the same name for use with Advanced Squad Leader. Focused entirely on the Pacific Theater of Operations during (and shortly after) World War II, the publication, which can be broadly compared in content and approach to Multi-Man Publishing’s ASL Journal, comes as an A4-sized magazine of seventy-eight pages of glossy stock with a thick stock cover. The fifteen scenarios arrive on ten A4-sized glossy stock sheets without much thickness, separate from the magazine, with several scenarios running longer than a single card.

Component overview for LFT 16

Third-party producers have been creating products to be used with the Advanced Squad Leader tactical combat game system for just about as long as the original Squad Leader itself has been around; early issues of TSR’s The Dragon contained new SL scenarios as early as 1980. These days, third-party products—which is to say, any game materials published by other than the holders of the ASL license, Multi-Man Publishing—run the gamut from scenario packs to full-blown modules with maps and counters. LFT 16 also comes with maps and overlays, after a fashion.

Initially, LFT intended to provide twelve double-sided geomorphic maps with LFT 16, as well as seven sheets of overlays, and apparently copies sold outside the USA will contain the components, which are redrawn versions of the original Avalon Hill/MMP PTO maps and overlays, with bespoke terrain graphics. Though details remain thin on the ground, one might assume that the redrawn maps run afoul, at the least, of the tacit agreement that MMP has cordially maintained with the various third-party producers in terms of respecting MMP’s intellectual property rights. Given that images of the maps look busy and cluttered beyond belief, and that LFT itself acknowledges in the magazine’s “Editor’s Foreward” that the new maps’ lines-of-sight differ from those on the real maps, I personally find their omission to be no significant loss (and indeed, the lower price for LFT 16 without them makes for a more palatable purchase).

Article detail from LFT 16

What is here looks quite promising, at least as far as the scenarios are concerned. The magazine itself contains a variety of articles, including several tournament recaps, a player interview, and some potted history pieces. More useful are primers on playing PTO scenarios, arranging defenses as the Japanese side, and on conducting seaborne assaults, all of which come in quite handy with the actions on the included scenario cards. (If it isn’t obvious, I purchase LFT products almost exclusively for the scenarios; the accompanying articles are an occasional bonus.)

Article detail from LFT 16

Indeed, the scenarios remain the star of the show here, and on a brief perusal of the fifteen encounters on offer, numbered LFT327-341, I see several that jump right to the top of the play queue. Each scenario is set notionally in the PTO, though not all invoke PTO terrain, and other than one scenario, FT338 RJ177, which is termed a “micro-campaign game,” none should take more than a decently-long game day to finish. Four scenarios use the amphibious landing rules—with one, FT336 Fourteen Paddles, giving water transport to both sides!—and two scenarios are set at night, including one of the seaborne assault actions, FT327 Thai Beaches, representing the same landing as in AP83 Thai Hot! from MMP’s Action Pack #9.

Scenario detail from LFT 16

My picks from the scenarios on offer here include the aforementioned FT336 Fourteen Paddles, with New Zealander infantry landing against Japanese forces trying to conduct a seaborne evacuation; a armor-on-armor confrontation between the Japanese and Americans in the Philippines in FT329 Gaining Time at Baliuag; and FT340 Spring Cleaning, a cat-and-mouse affair pitting the French against the Viet Minh in early 1946.

Article detail from LFT 16

It should be noted that three third-party geomorphic maps are required to play all the scenarios in LFT 16: Hz1 from Hazardous Movement and LFT’s own LFT1 and 2. Otherwise, just the regular gamut of MMP maps are required, as is ownership of just about every official MMP module, given the inclusion of Italian, French, British, American, Japanese, Chinese, Axis Minor, and Partisan counters in the scenario set. It’s truly one of those ASL products where to play it all, you have to own it all, and then some.

Cover detail from LFT 16

Given my eclectic tastes in scenarios, LFT 16 is an easy product for me to recommend; putting Thai or Punjabi forces in a scenario makes it a personal must-buy, though I would have been far happier if the scenarios were simply sold as a pack on their own. Your value proposition might be altered by the extra expense of a magazine that is the epitome of a hobbyist publication, for good and for ill. The tactics articles do seem worth their cost this time out, given that they work through some of the wrinkles in the PTO rules, which are not exactly the pinnacle of clean rules writing themselves. For PTO enthusiasts, as well as aficionados of obscure forces and rule sections, it’s worth a look, assuming you own the needed counters and maps.

Bowie Bundle: Two New ASL Products from MMP Released

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.

Detail of Twilight of the Reich and WO Bonus Pack 15 by MMP

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 Nicol├ís 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.)

Component overview of WO Bonus Pack 15 by MMP

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…

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Ohiofest: ASL Action Pack #18 (MMP) Released

To most people, Oktoberfest conjures up notions of Bavaria, beer halls, and bratwurst, and all fine contributions to human culture they are. To aficionados of Advanced Squad Leader, however, Oktoberfest means a week-long celebration of wargaming in some nondescript hotel in and around Cleveland, Ohio, the longest running (and arguably finest) ASL tournament going. In celebration of this carnival of camaraderie and competition, Multi-Man Publishing, stewards of ASL, just released their fifth scenario-and-map Action Pack in conjunction with ASL Oktoberfest.

Cover Detail of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

ASL Action Pack #18: Oktoberfest XXXVII features two geomorphic mapboards (91 and 92) in the now-standard “Starter Kit” style of thick cardstock plus fourteen ASL scenarios, AP191-204, all on traditional cardstock, sandwiched between front and end sheets on glossy stock with cover art depicting a Crocodile blazing away by Nicolas Eskubi. In keeping with the general “tournament” nature of this Action Pack, the scenarios tend towards the compact, with only two clocking in at seven or more turns and three at a mere four-and-a-half turns. Unit density likewise reflects an emphasis on the manageable, and all should be playable within a six hour span, assuming reasonably punctual players.

Contents Overview of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

The new maps, 91 and 92, hail from the talented Charlie Kibler. Board 91 is a riot of greens, with woods and brush everywhere and a long Level -1 Valley that runs the length of the map. It’s a striking board, one of the strongest in recent years. Board 92 depicts a more normal crossroads village, though curiously dominated by stone row houses more often seen in purely urban settings. Two roadside hills offer intriguing defensive opportunities.

Map Detail of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

All fourteen scenarios were designed Pete Shelling and the late Bill Sisler, both hailing from the Buckeye State, making this an all-Ohio affair. The Germans appear on quite a few of the cards, against American, Russian, Partisan, and British opposition, with a single scenario set in the Pacific and, pleasingly, four actions taking place during the Korean War with the North Koreans facing American troops from the 1st Cavalry. The latter quartet might be considered a continuation of sorts from Action Pack #17, the entirety of which covered the actions of the First Team in World War II and the Korean War. It’s good to see MMP continuing to support the Korean War module with additional scenarios. That conflict represents the furthest extent the ASL system can really cover, chronologically, being so close to World War II as it was in terms of weapons and tactics. Hopefully more gamers will give those scenarios a try.

List of Contents of ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

My personal picks from the scenarios include AP191 East Wind by Bill Sisler, with its rarely seen Extreme Winter conditions making life miserable for Russian and German alike; Pete Shelling’s AP194 Not Fade Away, pitting a German defense on the two new boards against American infantry backed up by some Shermans; and AP204 Southside Seesaw, also by Shelling, with a thin force of North Korean defenders holding against a mass of US 1st Cavalry infantry lugging a recoilless rifle up Alpine Hills on Deluxe maps, not something you see every day. Honorable mention goes to Sisler’s AP197 Killer Cats & Easy Eights, an all-AFV affair in the snow that gives 11th Armored’s CCB a total of sixteen up-gunned Sherman variants against half as many German tanks and tank destroyers.

Scenario Detail from ASL Action Pack 18 by Multi-Man Publishing

As ever, to play it all you need to own it all when it comes to Advanced Squad Leader, and Action Pack #18 proves no exception. For the player with everything, though, or at least close enough thereunto, Action Pack #18 is yet another automatic purchase. The two new maps, particularly 91, give scenario designers even more options, and the scenarios avoid being big, tedious slugfests, the time, space, and force constraints that are inherent to “tournament” scenarios forcing players to use what they have to the best of their abilities, while still having room for a beer and another scenario right afterwards—which, if we’re honest, is the whole point of a tournament anyway…

Taking a Gander: TCS Goose Green (MMP) Released

Though best known for their prodigious output as the current benevolent custodians of Advanced Squad Leader, Multi-Man Publishing also shepherds various other wargame series, including the Tactical Combat Series (TCS) pioneered by Dean Essig (and previously released under the aegis of The Gamers, now folded into MMP). The most recent TCS title is Goose Green, designed by Carl Fung, focusing on the initial ground combat between British and Argentinian forces in and around Goose Green and Darwin on the Falkland Islands in May 1982.

Cover sheet detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

As with the last TCS entry, Ariete, Goose Green comes as a ziplocked, rather than boxed, presentation, with a single standard 22″ x 34″ map on glossy paper; half a countersheet of die cut 1/2″ counters; series and special rules on glossy paper; some charts on relatively thin, glossy stock; and thick front and back cover sheets. It’s a tidy package at an agreeable price. TCS has never seemed to be as big a seller for MMP (or The Gamers previously) as the other series in their stables, so it’s good to see the series continuing in a format that gets the games out to players at a price that is as close to “impulse buy” as wargames tend to get.

Component overview for MMP's TCS Goose Green

Goodness knows I’ve bounced off of TCS more than once in the past, having owned (and sold and owned and sold) several titles in the series over the past two decades. What has thrown me off—and others, I would wager—is the innovation at the heart of TCS: written orders. Like ASL, TCS focuses on tactical battles, highlighting small unit engagements, typically at the platoon level as opposed to ASL’s focus on the squad. TCS, however, requires written instructions for units to act, orders that must pass through the chain of command. No telepathic, instantaneous communication between units here—orders are orders, and just because the player wants to react to an opportunity (or mishap) in one area, the written orders take precedence until new orders can be cut.

Rules detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

For gamers used to pushing counters at will, it’s a difficult, or at the very least different, mindset to adopt, particularly at the tactical level, and while most TCS series games have small scenarios, the thought of orchestrating a major offensive in writing can be daunting. The relatively small focus of Goose Green feels like an ideal setting to try to come to grips with TCS; even the full campaign for Goose Green should be within the realm of the possible, given that there are a grand total of 140 counters in the game, fewer than half of which are actual units. The game contains a total of five scenarios, ranging from five to forty turns, each turn representing between twenty minutes to an hour duration, depending on light conditions.

Map detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

Too, with the fortieth anniversary of the conflict in the Falklands just past, Goose Green feels a somewhat timely addition to the relatively thin conflict simulation corpus surrounding that clash in the South Atlantic. Designer Carl Fung goes to significant lengths via the special rules and scenarios to portray the difficulties facing the British as they attempt to conduct a rapid assault against numerically superior Argentine defenders, themselves well dug-in but on the receiving end of an advanced combined arms fusillade. Both sides need to make tough decisions about when to press and when to yield, decisions compounded and complicated by the TCS orders process. Besides, any game with counters for that lovely homegrown Argentinian close air support aircraft, the Pucara, deserves a place in my collection.

Counter detail from MMP's TCS Goose Green

The components themselves are up to the usual handsome MMP standards, the maps hewing broadly to the standard Gamers style, with graphics work by Nicolas Eskubi. Love them or (more likely) hate them, the trademark Gamers’ “every five hexes” printed map coordinate system rears its head here, as does TCS’ legendarily finicky line-of-sight process, but those are small quibbles to bear for a fairly unique take on one of the most important, and overlooked, land battles of the late 20th century. Goose Green promises to be worth the effort involved in finally coming to terms with TCS, in order to examine this signal moment in military history.

Aussie Annual: ASL Journal #14 (MMP) Released

In what promises to be a banner year for Advanced Squad Leader products, Multi-Man Publishing has just released their latest installment in the ASL Journal range, ASL Journal #14. It’s a good thing that MMP long since stopped calling the ASL support periodical the Annual, as the last one, Journal #13, came out a scant five months back—and the one before it five years prior….

Detail of ASL Journal #14 title logo by Multi-Man Publishing

Subtitled the “Aussie Special Edition,” this magazine’s contents focus not just on actions conducted by troops from Australia and New Zealand but also collects articles and scenarios written by contributors from the same regions. It’s an interesting and salutary approach to the publication, which often feels like a grab-bag of whatever has come over the transom in Millersville. While I’m not typically an avid consumer of historical articles in gaming magazines, the focus on the Oceanic experience, frequently underrepresented in accounts of World War II presented through a British and American lens, comes across as an agreeable corrective to the typical fare.

Overview of ASL Journal #14 contents by Multi-Man Publishing

Articles in support of Hatten in Flames and the included Sparrow Force mini-CG, plus scenario analysis of AP161 ANZAC Boys and AP163 Dingos at Damour from the Australian-themed Action Pack #16, round out the bound magazine content, which comes in at 56 pages (including front and back covers) with a satin matte finish. The cover artwork by James Flett, Crossing Daoe River, Morotai, evocatively depicts slouch-hatted Australian soldiers crossing a river.

As ever, the stars of every issue of the ASL Journal are the scenarios, printed separately as usual on thick cardstock. Twenty-four scenarios appear in this installment, and while a good number do center on forces from Australia and New Zealand against various foes, the full gamut of participants appears on these cards, including a French vs. Italian affair at the very start of hostilities between those two adversaries and five actions set after D-Day pitting American and Canadian forces against German troops. Of note, there are very few scenario cards with much in the way of armor support, the late war scenarios seeing the bulk of the actions that will require digging into Chapter D.

Scenario Details from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

As for the scenarios featuring troops from Australia and New Zealand, many of the actions focus on battles against Japanese forces in the Pacific theater—which certainly explains the relative lack of armor-heavy scenarios—and several take fresh looks at the fighting over Crete against German paratroopers.

Article detail from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

Three of the scenarios, all by Andy Rogers, form the basis for the included mini-CG, Sparrow Force, set in late February 1942 on West Timor. The Australians of 2/40th Battalion, part of the Sparrow Force of Australian and Dutch troops, attempt to hold against elements of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force tasked with taking the island. Rather than a traditional campaign game structure, the scenarios are designed to be played chronologically, with an interesting in-scenario force purchase system and a highly modified Refit phase between the scenarios. (In effect, VPs carry over, and wrecks/fortifications remain on map, but otherwise the map is cleared after each scenario.) The scenarios can also be played independently as stand-alone actions.

Detail of Sparrow Force Campaign Game Rules from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

Two rules pages, with American-standard hole-punches and, most notably, a 22.25″ x 32″ map on glossy paper accompany the Sparrow Force mini-CG. The map comes with slightly over-sized hexes, measuring roughly 1″ across, hexside-to-hexside, as opposed to the standard .75″ width. At 26 hexes wide by 30 hexes long, it’s a reasonable solution to a map that would be awkwardly sized at the smaller dimensions, just in terms of folding, and should fit most gaming tables (and plexiglass) with no fuss. It’s good to see MMP’s willingness to tinker with sizing like this in service of a good product, especially since historical maps do not need to match up with existing maps at the usual standard size.

Scenario Details from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

As ever, ownership of pretty much the entire Advanced Squad Leader system is required for play of all of the scenarios in Journal #14, mostly due to the maps and overlays used by the scenarios, quite a few of which draw on maps released outside the core modules.

Those ASL players looking for an East Front armor fix might be disappointed in the offerings here, but there’s more than plenty of product out there to fill that need. Players interested in the breadth and depth of experiences across the entirety of the Second World War will find much to appreciate here, and the bespoke attention paid to the Australian and New Zealand effort in particular makes ASL Journal #14 an eminently worthwhile purchase.

Desert Delights: Le Franc Tireur 15 (LFT) Released

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.

Cover detail from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

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.

Article detail from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

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.

Map overview from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

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).

Map detail from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

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.

Scenario overview from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

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…