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…

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

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.