Hedgerows and Heifers: Drop Zone Sainte-Mère-Église (MMP) Released

After a soft launch at Winter Offensive 2023, Multi-Man Publishing‘s latest Historical Module for Advanced Squad Leader, Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église, has begun making its way to eager pre-order customers.

Detail of cover art by Ken Smith from Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église by MMP

Focusing on the 82nd Airborne Division’s efforts to secure a vital crossroads town to facilitate the breakout from Utah Beach after D-Day, Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église, by designer Ken Dunn, takes gamers deep into the hedgerows of Normandy as the Americans confront the ramshackle defenses of the various German forces available to stem the inevitable tide. Coming in a thin 1.5″ deep box with cover art by Ken Smith, DZ: SME packs one countersheet, three 22″ x 30.5″ maps on nice semi-gloss paper (with combined dimensions of 22″ x 91.5″), eleven scenarios on cardstock, two chapter dividers on thick stock, and twenty-eight pages covering special rules and three campaign games.

Component overview of Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église by MMP

A long paved road commands all three maps, tying them together north to south. The road pushes straight down the middle of all three maps lengthwise, cutting through open spaces lined with bocage and various small villages. With art by the inestimable Charlie Kibler and input from Sharon Boyd, the maps just scream, “Normandy,” giving a very clear example of the endless hedgerow-enclosed fields stacked one upon the next, each a potential strongpoint to be overcome. Should the map dimensions also seem too much to overcome, only one of the campaign games uses all three maps at once; another CG uses two maps, and one CG and one of the eleven scenarios pulls most of two maps into play. The remaining ten scenarios require only portions of a single map—though, at first glance, most of those defy easy map folding, so consider a 22″ x 30.5″ play area the minimum needed for use of DZ: SME.

Map detail from Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église by MMP

A cursory glance through the scenarios and campaigns suggests that only the ASL Rulebook, Beyond Valor, and Yanks! are required to play all of the scenarios and campaigns in DZ:SME, but one will still need to confront that most confounding of foes: bocage. Not quite a wall, more than a hedge, and as tall as a building, this fearsome terrain type that takes up over two pages in the ASLRB dominates proceedings here.

Map detail from Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église by MMP

Suffice it to say that the Ken Dunn scenarios on offer in DZ: SME make it worth your while to untangle the rules thicket and finally learn how to play bocage. Though notionally all fairly simple actions depicting elite American infantry, predominantly from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd, against mostly second-line (and lower) German defenders with a handful of guns and tanks, the special scenario rules elevate these scenario cards to rather intriguing affairs, including the option for “grenade barrages” in one and command confusion rules in another, to say nothing of the obligatory glider landing scenario. And, of course, the cows.

Rules detail from Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église by MMP

It’s likely that DZ: SME will become known as the “cow module” because of the included rules for nudging Normande as moving cover and, alas, as minefield clearance tools, the latter use not in play in the sole scenario here that utilzes them, but included for the same reason that the panji rules in Chapter G are four pages long, for completeness sake. The rules feature my new favorite sentence in ASL, “A MMC possessing a Cow receives an additional +1 Ambush drm (A11.4).” Three cow counters are on the included countersheet, and one can imagine the cow rules will feature in many future scenarios, given, as Ken points out in his designer’s notes, that animal casualties are a frequent, regrettable, and often overlooked, component of war.

Scenario overview from Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église by MMP

The major new addition to the ASL countermix in DZ: SME is a new German squad type, a boxed second line unit with smoke grenade capability, both spray and assault fire underscores, and a short range, provided in squad and half-squad form representing well-trained but brittle late-war troops. Extra squads and vehicles for both sides pad out the existing counter supply for purposes of the Campaign Games, while Waco gliders adorned with black-and-white invasion stripes receive bespoke counters as well, a nice bit of visual chrome. Custom 82nd Airborne and German division control markers and a counter for the new “dual roadblock” round out the single countersheet. My copy shows razor sharp color registration and no bleed whatsoever, as has been typical of MMP products for a very long time now.

My tastes in ASL tend towards the esoteric, and I’d probably be happy playing nothing but Chinese vs. Japanese or Italian vs. Greek scenarios for the remainder of my gaming life, but there’s an undeniable appeal to Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église. Ken Dunn has provided a focused look at a very specific moment of the invasion of Normandy, adding his usual, and quite welcome, flair, all put together with the standard Multi-Man Publishing polish and high quality Charlie Kibler maps. It is a worthwhile purchase and a solid addition to the ranks of Historical ASL modules. It’s easy to feel a bit sated and to take a publication like this for granted, given the amount of high quality Advanced Squad Leader content coming out these days, but had Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église been published in the Avalon Hill days, it’s all gamers would have been talking about for a very long time.

(Cover detail artwork above by Ken Smith.)

Village Victories: Winter Offensive 2023 Bonus Pack #14 (MMP) Released

Wargamers have once again flocked to Bowie, Maryland, for the East Coast’s finest Advanced Squad Leader tournament, Winter Offensive 2023, where hosts Multi-Man Publishing released yet another of their annual bagged scenario-and-map Bonus Packs. This edition, the fourteenth, comes with three scenarios and two maps in the now-standard cardstock “Starter Kit” style, with proceeds from the sale of the pack—and the tournament generally—going to MMP’s long-time charitable partner, the WWII Foundation.

Detail of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #14 Cover by Multi-Man Publishing

The Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #14 retails for US$20 and features a glossy cover sheet with art showing smock-clad riders atop a tankette in a snowy scene by an uncredited artist, three scenarios (one backprinted on the cover sheet, the other on standard scenario cardstock) from Pete Shelling and Don Petros, and two maps, 89 and 90.

Overview of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #14 Contents by Multi-Man Publishing

The maps share a similar road-grain-village theme and look quite sharp put together. Map 89 in particular stands out as a much needed addition to the cartographic canon, with a narrow two-to-three hex wide village of single story buildings running much of the length of the board, connected by dirt roads and surrounded by shellholes, grain, orchards, and a handy gully that will make for intriguing defensive possibilities. The other map, 90, provides a bit more open space but shares a similar rhythm of grain and roads as 89, making them a pleasant pairing.

All three scenarios, WO43-45, use the new boards, and given that they are all German vs. Russian affairs, this Bonus Pack marks the rare ASL product that can be played using only the ASL Rule Book and a copy of Beyond Valor. My relative indifference to German/Russian scenarios is well known, but I’m capable of appreciating fine scenario design, and there are some well considered situations and special scenario rules here.

Detail of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #14 Scenarios by Multi-Man Publishing

The pick of the crop looks to be Don Petros’ WO44 Little Village, pitting Russian defenders (using a trademark Pete Shelling fortification purchase chart) with a stout gun line and dug-in tanks against elite Germans with plenty of heavy metal of their own. At seven and a half turns and 16-20 squads per side, a reasonable diversion for a long game day, which is all any of us can ask.

Detail of Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #14 Scenario WO44 by Multi-Man Publishing

On the whole, the 2023 Winter Offensive Bonus Pack more than earns its price, and the fact that the sales benefit a worthwhile charity makes it an easy purchase indeed.

Lucky Thirteen: ASL Journal #13 (MMP) Released

Absolutely fresh off the printing press from those military-minded mavens of Millersville, Maryland, Multi-Man Publishing, comes the much awaited ASL Journal #13, a magazine dedicated to Advanced Squad Leader.

No longer just a plain periodical, the Journal has long since turned into a multi-media affair, and in addition to the usual assortment of articles devoted to everyone’s favorite tactical level World War II conflict simulation, the fifty-two page Journal #13 features Board 77, a whopping thirty-three scenarios (including four in the new “pocket” format) separately printed on cardstock, and a replacement for the long rowhouse overlay, X20, that was misprinted in the ASL Overlay Bundle. The cover art, by Terence Cueno, depicts minefield clearing at El Alamein in 1942.

Overview of ASL Journal #13 contents by Multi-Man Publishing

The articles in this issue of the Journal hearken back to some of the earliest ASL Annuals put out by Avalon Hill, with extensive tactical and statistical analyses of scenarios and rules sub-systems, with a particular focus in this issue on off-board artillery (OBA). Two of my old gaming buddies, Jim Bishop and John Slotwinski, have articles in this one, Jim on alternative OBA systems and John with a look at changes in a scenario updated by MMP when they re-released Yanks! several years back. It’s an in-depth set of articles this time, perhaps more for the seasoned player looking to wring a slight edge out of the counters and dice than the newcomer just getting to grips with the game, but decent reading all the same.

Article close-up from ASL Journal #13 by Multi-Man Publishing

Board 77, in the now-standard “Starter Kit” style, finally makes an “official” appearance after years of being available only in the Supplemental Map Bundle (and with no official scenarios that used it). To put it kindly, it is a board only a mother could love, as they say, a long, multi-level grain-festooned hill with crags and buildings scattered around haphazardly. That it comes from the imaginative mind of Ken Dunn explains much! Care has certainly been taken to make it playable, with contour lines popped out clearly via artistic openings in the hilltop grain fields. One seldom sees grain covering multiple levels, or indeed in that much profusion, and it’s a striking board that will take some getting used to, but it’s a worthy addition to the lineup all the same.

Close-up of Board 77 from ASL Journal #13 by Multi-Man Publishing

The scenarios, of course, are the star of the show, and new with Journal #13 are the “pocket” scenarios, PK1-4, featuring a full-color map printed on the card itself, measuring between six to eight standard map hexes tall and roughly ten to eleven hexes wide. I lack an encyclopedic knowledge of the map boards by sight, but they appear to be cut-down versions of existing maps with overlays, if any, pre-printed. It’s a brilliant concept, ideal for a club meeting or quick match. Even though the forces deployed by each side are surprisingly hefty in each of the four scenarios, they have short turn lengths; the constrained scope for maneuver will see sharp actions from the off. There’s no map or overlay info printed, making reproducing these scenarios via VASL more complicated, but that’s not a major concern. I can only hope that we see far more of these self-contained cards, encouraging as they do in-person play.

Scenario Card and Overlay X20 Overview from ASL Journal #13 by Multi-Man Publishing

The remaining twenty-nine scenarios cover a wide range of actions and fronts, from a dense action between the Japanese and Nationalist Chinese in 1937 Shanghai, a waterfront fracas pitting Albanians against Italians in 1939, Partisan action in Yugoslavia on Deluxe boards, and a full seven cards depicting Korean War confrontations to go along with the two KWASL articles in the Journal. Even the standard, near-mandatory German vs. Russian slugfest scenarios, the bane of many an ASL product and seldom proving interesting, look rather sharp this time out, including one set in far Northern Norway. I’ve already had to reorganize my scenario play list to fit several of these scenarios into the top of the queue.

As ever, to play it all you have to own it all, but even people just starting out with Advanced Squad Leader will find material of value here, and while it’s true of most MMP ASL products, this one is a necessary purchase. There’s really something for everyone in ASL Journal #13, and the scenarios, both “pocket” and regular, will undoubtedly be seeing heavy rotation on 2023’s convention schedule.

Lays of the Land: ASL Overlay Bundle (MMP) Released

No matter how many maps are produced for Advanced Squad Leader, some enterprising scenario designer is going to come up with an action that needs slightly different terrain—a building here, a grain field hindering a line of sight there, a whole river running down the board just because. As far back as original Squad Leader, terrain overlays have solved this problem, providing an easy means of altering the look and feel of a map to better suit the situation being portrayed. Long-time ASL players have accumulated scores of these cardstock contrivances, all lovingly (or less so) cut from sheets accompanying many ASL modules.

Cover Sheet detail of Advanced Squad Leader Overlay Bundle by Multi-Man Publishing

In order to replenish those stocks of cardstock cut-outs, Multi-Man Publishing has released the Advanced Squad Leader Overlay Bundle. The Overlay Bundle does not come in a ziplock bag or box; it’s literally a shrink-wrapped package of thirty-seven sheets of overlays, on the same glossy stock as prior overlay sheets. The overlays represent all official published ASL overlays except those that have been replaced by actual maps in subsequent products (the Board 25 Escarpment and Gavutu-Tanambogo islands) and the overlays from Red Factories and Deluxe ASL.

Overlay sheet detail of Advanced Squad Leader Overlay Bundle by Multi-Man Publishing

Some of the overlay sheets are straight reprints from recent module releases, like Hollow Legions 3rd Edition, but the majority have been laid out specifically for this product, collecting the various sheets from the past three decades. Curiously, one of the overlays, X20, a long rowhouse, has a fold running through it, on the single double-fold sheet in the bundle that contains the long river overlay. I can only imagine that’s an oversight, as there’s ample room on the rest of that sheet to lay out X20 without a crease straight through the length.

Overlay sheet detail of Advanced Squad Leader Overlay Bundle by Multi-Man Publishing

Players like myself, who have picked up ASL products faithfully over the years, probably don’t need the Overlay Bundle, but I’m betting they’ll want it. Overlays tend to live a rough life, at least in the gaming circles I run in. Smeared with plastic cement, tossed haphazardly in envelopes, left behind at conventions and game days, I imagine pretty much every ASL player has lost or otherwise mistreated an overlay or two, making this product a nice replenishment of the closest thing ASL has to consumables. If nothing else, it’s a chance to cut them out a little better than we might have all those years ago.

Overlay sheet detail of Advanced Squad Leader Overlay Bundle by Multi-Man Publishing

Owners of Croix de Guerre 2nd Edition who lack the original edition also will want to pick this up, as MMP made the decision not to include the original CdG overlays in the new edition of the French module. The decision was explained at the time by the fact that the Overlay Bundle was going to be coming out, but it took several years from CdG 2e being printed for the overlay bundle to arrive.

Overlay sheet detail of Advanced Squad Leader Overlay Bundle by Multi-Man Publishing

I’m glad to have the spare overlays, and this kind of product is well received for people who use their kit often. It will fill several holes in my overlay collection from dice well rolled over the years. Perhaps more could have been done—there was scuttlebutt on various forums in the past that the fabled Overlay Bundle would be printed on some sort of clear acetate, or pre-scored to enable ease of removal—but this sort of maintenance release is needed for the long term health of the hobby, and I appreciate the effort put into its production.

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

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

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…