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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
After a fortnight of arctic cold along the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, the sun made a stunning, if temporary, return, punching temperatures up to the sixty degree mark in the middle of January. And what did I, and 149 other dedicated board wargamers do? We huddled inside a large conference room at the Comfort Inn in Bowie, Maryland, for the 2018 edition of Winter Offensive, sheltered away from the brief spell of warmth. Rain and snow and sunny skies will come and go, but a chance to game with friends new and old? That’s worth spurning the sun for a few days.
Hosts Multi-Man Publishing put on another well-run show, with their venerable Advanced Squad Leader tournament seeing games of all stripes being played. Attendance of 150 was near the all-time high of 165, spurred no doubt by the release of the long-awaited Korean War module for ASL. The new module adds counters and rules for the North and South Korean armies as well as United Nations and Communist Chinese forces, and copies were flying off the sales table as quickly as, well, as a several pound box could fly.
My first game of the weekend came against Doug Bush, great gaming buddy and designer of Next War: India-Pakistan and the forthcoming Red Storm, both from GMT Games. We sampled a scenario from the recently released Saipan: The Bloody Rock, the first entry in Compass Games’ Company Scale System. This game sits between the tactical and operational (and, indeed, has rules roots from the Grand Tactical Series put out by MMP as well as the earlier Panzer Command), with random chit draws determining which formations are able to act. The key to the game is doing what you can with the chits you get, because they seldom come out of the draw cup in the most efficient order, and you’re not guaranteed to be able to receive every formation’s chit every turn.
The scenario we played covered the initial US Marine landings on Saipan; Doug had the leathernecks and I took the Japanese forces tasked with keeping the Americans confined to the beaches. The system, through the chit draw mechanic, really tries to simulate the command and control confusion inherent in any military operation. The problem of the omniscient player sitting above the map with perfect knowledge can sometimes be offset by stripping the player of omnipotence, and this game does a nice job of frustrating any plans that the player may have—and that’s before your opponent has a chance to have his or her say.
In the end, my forces were able to inflict sufficient casualties on Doug’s to eke out a very narrow win. Had the Marine landings not been pushed into a confined area due to surf drifts, I think they would have been able to break out of the beachhead much sooner to secure a solid victory. A good match in a very promising system with one of my favorite opponents.
On Saturday, I cracked open the Korean War module for my traditional ASL match against another of my good gaming buddies, Mike Vogt. Always on the lookout for interesting situations with funky, seldom used game pieces, we picked a scenario (215 “Red Devils”) featuring a US Army artillery park, with six self-propelled artillery pieces, being overrun by a swarm of Communist Chinese squads.
My American Redlegs had only a few squads with which to defend the valuable guns, but they were amply supplied with firepower, and Mike’s Chinese had a lot of open ground to cover. He did his best to balance the scenario’s time limit with the need to keep enough squads in good order to destroy the guns, but between my frighteningly hot dice rolling and all the weapons at my disposal, including a blast from one of the monster guns, he fell just short. Once the Chinese got in close, they couldn’t be stopped, but the getting-there was the problem.
The scenario didn’t offer many interesting tactical puzzles for either of us—I pretty much just fired my weapons and he pretty much just moved to try to cover the space. I think we both would have preferred a more nuanced scenario, with each side having to move and shoot and outthink the other. A fascinating action, and a cool premise, but it didn’t check all the boxes we would have liked. Regardless, I had a blast playing with Mike, as always, and I do appreciate his forbearance over my extra-lucky dice rolling. We’ve got a standing date for another scenario on Saturday next year.
Keen eyes will have noticed that the Communist Chinese (two-tone brown) in the picture have already been counter-corner-rounded. Yes, I did indeed bring an X-Acto knife, self-healing cutting board, and, of course, a handy dandy counter corner rounder with me to Winter Offensive, and I actually wasn’t alone. I probably saw ten of these miracle instruments on tables throughout the course of the weekend. Playing with un-rounded counters strikes me as simply uncivilized…
What the inevitable side gaming lacked in quantity this year, it made up for in quality (not to mention duration). On Friday night, Mike, Doug, long-time buddy John Slotwinski, and I took to the heavens once again in High Frontier, by Sierra Madre Games. Every time this behemoth of a game hits the table (with, yes, a thud), it takes at least an hour of play to get our heads around the rules required to put a functioning spacecraft into orbit around various bodies in the solar system, to say nothing of the requirements to put one on another planet (and possibly even bring it back to Earth). But once it’s all clicking, the satisfaction in actually putting that solar-sail powered exploration probe into Mercury’s magnetosphere (on purpose, that is!) can barely be beat.
Where, usually, Saturday night features a raucous game of Battlestar Galactica, replete with all the backstabbing and treachery that a group of determined friends can muster, we opted instead for a no-less treacherous game on the politics of the age of religious transformation, Virgin Queen from GMT.
A card-driven point-to-point game in the long tradition of We the People, Virgin Queen simulates the struggles surrounding the spread of Protestantism in the era of the game’s titular ruler, Elizabeth I. Joined by Doug’s friend Will, we fought through several years of intrigue that culminated in Spain being at war with the nascent Netherlands, France, and the Ottoman Empire—and doing well at it, too! Mike’s England took advantage of the turmoil and garnered enough points via less militaristic means to take a win when we called the game. It took us a good six hours to get through three turns (with breaks for pizza and such), but given growing familiarity with the rules, we started moving along much more quickly towards the end.
So, though the sun may have shone brightly (and then just as promptly disappeared), I consider myself to have had the better experience indoors over the duration of Winter Offensive 2018. My thanks, as always, to Perry Cocke, Brian Youse, and the rest of the crew at Multi-Man Publishing for yet another wonderful long weekend of gaming, and of course to my good gaming buddies, who, with only the slightest of grumbles, put up with my dice and derring-do every year.