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) 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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Table for One: Alert Force (Close Simulations) Review

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Most wargames slot the player into a particular job, a particular role: supreme commander, divisional general, platoon leader, even quartermaster. Alert Force, a 1983 “microgame” offering from Wayne Close and his publishing company, Close Simulations, provides gamers the quite unique opportunity to play as a member of the United States Air Force’s Security Police, the alert force guarding the flight line and the nuclear-armed alert bombers parked in readiness thereupon. Opposing the Security Police on this fictionalized depiction of a Strategic Air Command base, the other player takes the role of undifferentiated Terrorists, seeking to destroy the bombers, hamper operations, and even purloin a nuclear device if possible.

On the surface, Alert Force comes in as a simple man-to-man tactical combat game, with a tiny footprint, a thin sheaf of rules, and a quick play time, but some nuances in both scenario design and rules chrome make for a deeper presentation than the meager box might suggest. While not a groundbreaking game in any particular way, Alert Force nevertheless repays its brief time on the table with streamlined gameplay and an interesting, if obscure, premise. Indeed, you might just have to own a game company in order to get a game on this topic published.

Overview

Alert Force
Close Simulations, 1983
Designed by Wayne Close

Alert Force Cover Detail

Alert Force comes in a small cardboard tuck box, measuring slightly more than 4″ x 7″, fitting it squarely in the Microgame size range that was quite popular in the late-1970s and early-1980s. Two sheets of half-inch die cut counters are included, totaling 112 counters. A matte-printed tri-fold map (12″ x 14″), plastic storage bag, and thin saddle-stapled rulebook round out the package.

The counters represent armed individuals not with figures but with icons of the weapon type they carry: machine pistol, assault rifle, or machine gun; additional weapons, such as satchel charges and light anti-tank weapons, have their own counters, as do vehicles and the unarmed aircraft crews. Numbers on the counters indicate defense value and movement points; attack strengths are a function of the weapon type and range, and are listed on a side table.

The artwork is serviceable, clearly conveying needed information though without much in the way of flourish. Informational counters likewise show either unadorned words (damaged, incapacitated) or drawings of effects (craters, flames). Only a few colors are used (two shades of red and green), but again, while not fancy, they get the job done. The game comes entirely from the hand of Wayne Close, who, in addition to design, is credited with cover art, rulebook art, and map and counter graphics.

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Table for One: Murmansk 1941 (Decision Games/S&T) Review

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When it comes to wargaming topics, I have a definite soft spot for the obscure and undergamed. Sure, I own a few Bulge and D-Day treatments, and more than my share of games on the Western Front of World War One, but I have a hard time passing up conflict simulations covering battles that have been mostly overlooked by the hobby. Games on these subjects often benefit from being terra incognita for designers, freeing them from worrying about how some other designer has worked out the orders of battle or the terrain problems, and frequently one sees innovative mechanics as a result.

Sometimes, though, battles go underrepresented in the gaming sphere for a reason—there’s just not a lot of game there. At first glance, such is the case for Mike Benninghof’s Forgotten Axis: Murmansk 1941, from Decision Games. The German attempt to seize the vital Soviet port of Murmansk stands as a potentially war-changing offensive; cutting off that crucial supply lifeline in 1941 would have had significant repercussions for the long war to follow. And yet, the battle itself, at least on the evidence presented in this design, offers up no such momentous cataclysm. The Germans came, the Germans couldn’t conquer, the Germans left, in life as in the game.

Overview

Forgotten Axis: Murmansk 1941
Decision Games, 1999
Strategy & Tactics 194
Designed by Mike Benninghof

Murmansk 1941, Cover Detail

Murmansk 1941 appeared as the issue game in Strategy & Tactics 194 (November/December 1998; published in 1999), with a sheet of 140 die-cut half-inch counters and a single 22″ x 34″ map on matte paper. The first in designer Mike Benninghof’s three-part Forgotten Axis series, this game covers the attempts by the German 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions to take the Arctic port of Murmansk, defended by the Soviet 14th and 52nd Rifle Divisions. The later games in the series cover actions in Finland and Romania.
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