Manila Enveloped: Sword and Fire: Manila (MMP) Released

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One of the strengths of the Advanced Squad Leader tactical combat game series, produced by Multi-Man Publishing, is its extensibility. From the near infinite combinations of its geomorphic mapboards to the comprehensive rule system capable of encompassing almost all armed conflict from the 1930s to the 1950s, ASL has, over its nearly forty year lifetime, taken players on a tour of all manner of battlefields, from the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War through to the Korean War. Designers continue to find new corners of history to explore through this game system, building on and extending the range of possible conflict simulations. While often these new battles require little more than special scenario rules to translate the actions into standard ASL format, occasionally a more substantial expansion is required to encompass the magnitude of the conflict portrayed.

MMP’s most recent release, Sword and Fire: Manila, an historical module by designer David Roth covering the battle for Manila in early 1945, is just such a grand production, arriving in a thick box with four countersheets, twenty-five scenarios, five campaign games, copious rules and charts, and a whopping six standard sized maps.

Sword and Fire: Manila by MMP. Component Overview.

The combined map setup size is such that if you have to ask how big it is, you probably don’t have the room for it. (Roughly six feet square, if you must know!) The map covers much of downtown Manila in 1945 in exacting detail, with several rules sections devoted to the peculiarities of this urban environment, including wrought-iron fencing, cattle pens, stone monuments, steel-walled buildings (with a inherent TEM of +5, possibly the highest terrain defense value in the game system), and buildings made of multiple materials on different levels (stone/wood/adobe). The six paper maps themselves come in a glossy finish, the standard for new historical ASL maps since at least Hatten in Flames in 2018, though these seem slightly glossier to me than older maps. A scaled-down overview map of the six maps put together helps give a sense of the scale.

Sword and Fire: Manila by MMP. Map detail.

While one can admire the sheer scope of the full map layout, with art by Tom Repetti, it’s frankly overwhelming in size, at least in terms of ergonomics. A three-foot reach to the center of the map to manipulate a stack of ten counters in close proximity to other such stacks requires steady nerves and eagle eyes, neither attribute being quite rampant in the game’s target demographic. One suspects that the module was tested, as most wargames are, on a computer using VASSAL, and I wager that nearly all playings requiring the full map spread will be completed using VASSAL as well. The creation of games that are unwieldy to engage with physically but easy to manipulate digitally is not confined to ASL, of course, but it’s to MMP’s credit that they have a sensible approach to the virtualization of ASL. As such, the size of the full map spread should not be an impediment to picking up this module.

Sword and Fire: Manila by MMP. Rules detail.

Indeed, the majority of the twenty-five scenarios use a portion of a single mapsheet, and none use more than two maps put together, making for a much more manageable table presence. And these are scenarios that just beg to be played, ranging from rather meaty assaults on fortified locations requiring armored bulldozers to clear and river crossings under fire to tense cat-and-mouse affairs in giant cemeteries and urban block clearings. Both the US Army and the Japanese Army forces come equipped with significant ordnance and armor, the use of which is constrained by the built-up city terrain, creating interesting tactical puzzles for each side. Comparisons to the Battle of Stalingrad are perhaps inevitable, but these scenarios feel somewhat more mobile and fluid, at least at first glance.

Sword and Fire: Manila by MMP. Scenario detail.

As for the five campaign games, only one uses the entire six map setup, one uses parts of four maps, and the remaining three call for portions of two maps each. All the CGs seems to follow the standard ASL campaign game rule structure, and with most coming in at only a handful of campaign dates, they represent a reasonable project for two or more gamers to tackle.

In a relief to those whose counter storage systems are already maxed out, not many new counter types are introduced. Both the Americans and Japanese get a full complement of dedicated elite assault engineer/commando squads and half-squads, and a new terrain type counter in the Bomb Crater is added to the system. The majority of the countersheets just add additional vehicles, squads, half-squads, concealment markers, and the like to supplement those from Yanks! and Rising Sun (or Code of Bushido/Gung Ho!), plus location control markers and plenty of rubble, smoke, and debris counters, giving you a good feel for the kinds of actions to follow. A handful of errata counters for Forgotten War and some variant British vehicle and support weapon counters are also included.

Sword and Fire: Manila by MMP. Countersheet detail.

As ever with Advanced Squad Leader, to play it all you have to own it all, but broadly speaking, only the rules, Beyond Valor, Yanks!, and Rising Sun (or Code of Bushido/Gung Ho!) are probably needed to play the scenarios and campaign games.

MMP has shown a refreshing willingness to produce Advanced Squad Leader modules and scenarios that go beyond the more typical Western or Eastern Front slugfests that sell so well—did anyone ever go broke selling a game on the Bulge? From including rules and counters for the Ethiopians and Eritreans in Hollow Legions (3e), expanding the system to the Korean War in Forgotten War, and tackling a tricky yet fascinating river crossing in the Dinant historical module included with Croix de Guerre (2e), and now exploring, in great detail, a little-known episode of the Pacific war in Sword and Fire: Manila, MMP is consistently putting its faith in gamers to appreciate the breadth and complexity of the conflicts that indelibly stained the twentieth century. Designer David Roth and his team of testers and researchers obviously put years of labor and care into Sword and Fire: Manila, and while it may, at times, feel like too much of a good thing, there’s plenty of play value in the box no matter how big your table, as well as a window into a battle that deserves attention.

(Cover detail artwork pictured above by Keith Rocco.)

Deluxe Delivery: Winter Offensive 2022 Bonus Pack #13 (MMP) Released

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Though Winter Offensive, the East Coast’s premier Advanced Squad Leader tournament, was cancelled for the second year running, that didn’t stop hosts Multi-Man Publishing from releasing Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #13, the latest installment in their annual small bagged scenario-and-map series issued in conjunction with the tournament. As with the tournament proper the last several years, proceeds from the Bonus Pack go towards the WWII Foundation, a charitable organization dear to MMP, one which produces films and educational resources supporting their mission of keeping the history and lessons of World War II alive for a new generation.

Closeup of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #13 Cover Sheet with art by Nicolás Eskubi

The Bonus Pack this year retails at US$28 and contains a cover sheet with art by Nicolás Eskubi; three Deluxe maps in the now-standard “Starter Kit” thickness, maps m, n, and o, designed by Don Petros and Tom Repetti, with art by the inestimable Charlie Kibler; and four scenarios on cardstock by Pete Shelling.

Map m provides an unpaved road running through an extensive orchard and alongside grain fields, while maps n and o abut to form a large hill mass with crags and a multi-level stream. The latter maps call to mind those in Action Pack #17, which likewise form a substantial, craggy hill when placed together lengthwise.

Contents of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #13 by Multi-Man Publishing

Massive hill structures such as those are a hallmark of Korean War scenarios, and designer Pete Shelling brings us two scenarios set in Korea in Bonus Pack #13. WO41 7-10 Split pits North and South Korean forces against each other, using the map n and o hills to form a valley, with another map between them; and WO42 Spartan Style sees Greek UN forces defending the combined hill mass against nearly thirty Communist Chinese squads.

Detail of WO42 Spartan Style scenario card

The other two scenarios in the pack feature US Marines and Japanese forces slugging it out on Saipan (WO39 Shotgun Shuffle) and Iwo Jima (WO40 One Smart Bastard). Notably, both scenarios are full of squads in a very small space, as most of the best Deluxe scenarios tend to feature. WO40 in particular stuffs twenty Marine and fifteen Japanese squads, plus tanks and caves and guns, into fewer hexes than a single standard map.

Detail of WO40 One Smart Bastard scenario card

Subtle, these scenarios are not, but that’s not to say they are big and dumb; working with such densely packed forces adds a new dimension to Advanced Squad Leader, and I can see one or two of the scenarios here cutting in line in my play queue in the near future.

Other than Forgotten War, Rising Sun (or Call of Bushido/Gung Ho), Yanks, and Beyond Valor, Deluxe maps h, k, and l, plus Deluxe overlays dx6, dx7, and dx9 are required to play all four scenarios.

Some players may be turned off by the Deluxe maps, which never quite seem to be very popular, and the inclusion of two Korean War scenarios likewise feels a bit daring on MMP’s part, but all four actions depicted in the scenarios are fresh and fascinating. There are plenty of scenarios out there set in Europe with familiar foes on standard maps, many of which do little to distinguish themselves from each other; you’d be hard pressed to forget assaulting a cave complex on a Deluxe map with a flamethrower tank…

From Rome to Russia: Hollow Legions Second Edition (MMP) Released

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Ever since Multi-Man Publishing took over from Avalon Hill as caretakers and publishers of Advanced Squad Leader, they have been steadily updating and reprinting the core modules that form the heart of the World War II tactical wargame system, polishing the scenarios and counter art to more contemporary standards. Finally, the last of the original modules has been refreshed with the recent release of Hollow Legions (Second Edition), returning the Italians to print after their initial appearance some thirty years prior. In fairness to MMP, it’s not like the original printing sold out all that quickly, but it’s good to have these dark grey combatants back in the fold all the same.

Hollow Legions Second Edition (MMP) Overview

Where the original Hollow Legions came as a simple, thin slipcase box with two geomorphic desert mapboards (30 and 31), eight Italian-themed scenarios, and the Italian order of battle on three countersheets, the revised Hollow Legions comes in a massive box, in line with the other recent core module releases. Inside the box, one finds the entire array of desert maps, in the “new” thin mapboard style (25-31, plus 25e), a whopping fifty-three scenarios on cardstock, five countersheets, all the desert map overlays, an updated Chapter F containing the desert rules for ASL, the Italian Chapter H vehicle/ordnance notes, and new Chapter A rulebook pages to account for the official addition of the Ethiopians and Eritreans to the system. It is a handsome and heavy addition to the shelf.

Vehicle Dust Counters from Hollow Legions Second Edition (MMP)

Previously, the desert rules and overlays, and the majority of the desert maps, came in West of Alamein, the British/Commonwealth module, but they were stripped out of For King and Country, the revised version of WoA. But while the new Hollow Legions certainly has a strong desert focus, most of the scenarios feature more standard actions. Following recent practice, MMP has gathered together the majority of official scenarios involving the Italians into this module, drawing from out-of-print sources. The scenarios show the breadth of Italian involvement in World War II from Rome to Russia and, thanks to the inclusion of the scenarios and counters from Soldiers of the Negus, the Italian invasion and conquest of Ethiopia in the mid-1930s.

Rulebook detail from Hollow Legions Second Edition (MMP)

It’s the official version of Soldiers of the Negus, originally a third-party expansion from 1994 featuring the Ethiopians variously in combat with the Eritreans and the Italians, that really stands out in this new edition of Hollow Legions. Just a few special rules give the Ethiopians a very different feel in play from other nationalities, and the scenarios provide a real sense of the desperate fighting as the Italians overran their empire. The Ethiopians and Eritreans both get counters for their orders of battle, the Ethiopians in Allied Minor green and the Eritreans in Italian grey to facilitate use with the corresponding concealment counters.

Eritrean and Ethiopian Counters from Hollow Legions Second Edition (MMP)

The other standout addition to the new Hollow Legions is the additional version of Board 25 with the board-length escarpment overlay already printed on it, designated Board 25e. Though not many scenarios actually bring the massive escarpment, with its confusing welter of cliffs and gullies and crags, into play, it’s a welcome addition all the same.

While the module’s title plays off of sadly widespread beliefs about the efficacy of Italian troops in World War II, the module’s contents demonstrate that while they may have poorly led and equipped, they were no less capable of bravery and honorable feats of arms than soldiers of any other nationality. The scenarios in Hollow Legions (Second Edition) cover the experience of the Italian Army from their vicious conquest of Ethiopia, the wide-open fighting in North Africa, the horrendous sacrifices on the East Front, the steady retreat up the Italian peninsula, and the eventual resistance to German occupation near the war’s end. Ownership of, essentially, every other Advanced Squad Leader module is required for full use of the new Hollow Legions, but there’s enough in the box to recommend it to anyone who plays.

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.

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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Winter Offensive 2019 After Action Report

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Whatever fickle spirits guide the weather must have it out for Advanced Squad Leader, because it scarcely fails to threaten snow and rain whenever Winter Offensive, the East Coast’s premier ASL tournament, sets up shop in Bowie, Maryland, and this year proved no different. Perhaps the decision to hold this gaming gathering in January has something to do with the invariability of inclement weather, but no matter, for a brave (and record) crowd of 190 people attended this year’s Winter Offensive.

Hosts Multi-Man Publishing unveiled Red Factories, the long-awaited companion campaign module to Red Barricades, at the tourney, and the very large boxes were much in evidence all weekend long. The smaller scenarios from the module likewise saw a fair amount of play; even with the extra tables MMP brought to the enlarged convention space this year, there would have been scarcely enough room to set up the larger scenarios, for the combined Red Barricades/Red Factories maps take up a substantial amount of table real estate.

Winter Offensive 2019 in full swing

The tournament, the 28th running, also played host to a celebration of MMP’s twenty year anniversary as custodians of the Advanced Squad Leader series, complete with a cake replicating an ASL board. It’s remarkable to think that they have shepherded ASL for longer than Avalon Hill did at this point, and I for one consider the game series to be in exceptional hands. While core modules may occasionally go out of print, MMP faces a delicate balancing act between keeping the large and expensive core modules in print to satisfy new players while still producing new products for the players who already own two copies of everything. By and large, I think two decades of success shows they strike the balance appropriately.

My own WO 2019 experience included far more ASL than I normally play at these events, with two ASL scenarios and one Starter Kit session with a player relatively new to the game. Plus copious amounts of Euro gaming to boot. And maybe a little beer.
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