Aussie Annual: ASL Journal #14 (MMP) Released

In what promises to be a banner year for Advanced Squad Leader products, Multi-Man Publishing has just released their latest installment in the ASL Journal range, ASL Journal #14. It’s a good thing that MMP long since stopped calling the ASL support periodical the Annual, as the last one, Journal #13, came out a scant five months back—and the one before it five years prior….

Detail of ASL Journal #14 title logo by Multi-Man Publishing

Subtitled the “Aussie Special Edition,” this magazine’s contents focus not just on actions conducted by troops from Australia and New Zealand but also collects articles and scenarios written by contributors from the same regions. It’s an interesting and salutary approach to the publication, which often feels like a grab-bag of whatever has come over the transom in Millersville. While I’m not typically an avid consumer of historical articles in gaming magazines, the focus on the Oceanic experience, frequently underrepresented in accounts of World War II presented through a British and American lens, comes across as an agreeable corrective to the typical fare.

Overview of ASL Journal #14 contents by Multi-Man Publishing

Articles in support of Hatten in Flames and the included Sparrow Force mini-CG, plus scenario analysis of AP161 ANZAC Boys and AP163 Dingos at Damour from the Australian-themed Action Pack #16, round out the bound magazine content, which comes in at 56 pages (including front and back covers) with a satin matte finish. The cover artwork by James Flett, Crossing Daoe River, Morotai, evocatively depicts slouch-hatted Australian soldiers crossing a river.

As ever, the stars of every issue of the ASL Journal are the scenarios, printed separately as usual on thick cardstock. Twenty-four scenarios appear in this installment, and while a good number do center on forces from Australia and New Zealand against various foes, the full gamut of participants appears on these cards, including a French vs. Italian affair at the very start of hostilities between those two adversaries and five actions set after D-Day pitting American and Canadian forces against German troops. Of note, there are very few scenario cards with much in the way of armor support, the late war scenarios seeing the bulk of the actions that will require digging into Chapter D.

Scenario Details from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

As for the scenarios featuring troops from Australia and New Zealand, many of the actions focus on battles against Japanese forces in the Pacific theater—which certainly explains the relative lack of armor-heavy scenarios—and several take fresh looks at the fighting over Crete against German paratroopers.

Article detail from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

Three of the scenarios, all by Andy Rogers, form the basis for the included mini-CG, Sparrow Force, set in late February 1942 on West Timor. The Australians of 2/40th Battalion, part of the Sparrow Force of Australian and Dutch troops, attempt to hold against elements of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force tasked with taking the island. Rather than a traditional campaign game structure, the scenarios are designed to be played chronologically, with an interesting in-scenario force purchase system and a highly modified Refit phase between the scenarios. (In effect, VPs carry over, and wrecks/fortifications remain on map, but otherwise the map is cleared after each scenario.) The scenarios can also be played independently as stand-alone actions.

Detail of Sparrow Force Campaign Game Rules from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

Two rules pages, with American-standard hole-punches and, most notably, a 22.25″ x 32″ map on glossy paper accompany the Sparrow Force mini-CG. The map comes with slightly over-sized hexes, measuring roughly 1″ across, hexside-to-hexside, as opposed to the standard .75″ width. At 26 hexes wide by 30 hexes long, it’s a reasonable solution to a map that would be awkwardly sized at the smaller dimensions, just in terms of folding, and should fit most gaming tables (and plexiglass) with no fuss. It’s good to see MMP’s willingness to tinker with sizing like this in service of a good product, especially since historical maps do not need to match up with existing maps at the usual standard size.

Scenario Details from ASL Journal #14 by Multi-Man Publishing

As ever, ownership of pretty much the entire Advanced Squad Leader system is required for play of all of the scenarios in Journal #14, mostly due to the maps and overlays used by the scenarios, quite a few of which draw on maps released outside the core modules.

Those ASL players looking for an East Front armor fix might be disappointed in the offerings here, but there’s more than plenty of product out there to fill that need. Players interested in the breadth and depth of experiences across the entirety of the Second World War will find much to appreciate here, and the bespoke attention paid to the Australian and New Zealand effort in particular makes ASL Journal #14 an eminently worthwhile purchase.

Desert Delights: Le Franc Tireur 15 (LFT) Released

Advanced Squad Leader’s greatest strength lies in its extensibility, but it’s safe to say that Don Greenwood, John Hill, and the rest of the ludic luminaries present at its creation couldn’t have anticipated just how varied and wide-ranging the additions to their game system would become. Case in point, the brand new offering from Le Franc Tireur, the self-titled Le Franc Tireur 15. While technically a “magazine,” LFT 15, much like MMP‘s ASL Journal, is a multi-media affair, featuring twenty-two scenarios printed separately from the eighty-two page magazine and, most impressively, a whopping eight new maps in the traditional single-fold, thick cardstock style of the official boards.

Cover detail from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

The magazine itself, in A4 format with a thick cardstock cover, comes with a ton of articles covering a little bit of everything concerning ASL, from tournament overviews, product reviews, and designer interviews through to rules primers (in this case, for the surrender rules, desert rules, and the interactions between night and desert), historical articles, and new rules for the included map terrain and for scenarios set in Russian Civil War-era Manchuria and Mongolia. It’s all in color and profusely illustrated; there’s even a two page comic on speeding up play.

Article detail from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

As pleasant and varied as the articles may be, however, the real attraction of LFT 15 has to be the eight new arid/desert maps, printed for the most part in standard DTO colors and adding some much needed variety and spice to the existing collection of AH/MMP desert and arid boards. There’s actual terrain here, with canyons, villages, depressions, and hills dotting the otherwise open expanses. As Steve Swann notes in his overview of the maps, which he designed along with Tom Repetti, there’s something to fight over instead of just something to drive over. The new arid terrain types mostly tweak existing terrain, like Thick Grain (with +2 hindrance and 2MF infantry entry instead of the +1 and 1.5MF values of regular grain) and combination terrain (crag-brush, crag-hammada), but desert and arid villages receive new details and features as well.

Map overview from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

Physically, the maps come excruciatingly close to being perfect matches with the existing “Starter Kit” style maps that are the current standard in ASL. They share a similar sturdiness and thickness—I don’t own the calipers required to tell if there’s a difference, but to my untrained eye they’re the same. In terms of dimensions, the LFT maps seem a scant millimeter longer and less than a millimeter wider, measuring against the newest MMP boards (89 and 90), just barely sufficient to throw off precise hex alignment over a long stretch but, frankly, not enough to worry about in actual play. They’re the nicest third party maps I’ve seen to date (and I’ve seen a few).

Map detail from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

The twenty-two scenarios included with LFT 15 are printed in color and come on glossy A4 paper of reasonable thickness; though not cardstock, they should hold up well regardless. Many of the scenarios make use of the new maps, taking the ASL system to some out-of-the-way places indeed. Most striking are the scenarios set before the 1930s; one, FT274 Bear Valley by Steve Swann, takes place in 1918 Arizona during the American Indian Wars, pitting warriors from the Yaqui tribe against mounted soldiers from the US 10th Cavalry. Another, FT276 Genghis Khan Lives! by Robert Hammond, occurs in 1921 Mongolia using the new Russian Civil War rules, with Chinese troops defending against a White Russian mass cavalry assault. I’m not really sure the ASL system works effectively to depict conflicts that far back—not that ASL is renowned for its verisimilitude—but it’s interesting to see the attempt nonetheless.

Scenario overview from Le Franc Tireur 15 by LFT

The other scenarios range a wide gamut of forces and actions, with several in North Africa and the Levant to take advantage of the arid maps and an interesting emphasis, throughout, on horses, a rules section of ASL that has long been underutilized. You’ll learn how to conduct a cavalry charge for sure with these scenarios.

Le Franc Tireur 15 is, unquestionably, a specialist product, focusing as it does on some quite obscure corners of the Advanced Squad Leader game system. Newer players might not be well served by picking it up. For those who appreciate something a bit out of the ordinary in their ASL, though, it’s a gem of a publication, taking some chances and stretching the bounds of what the game can become. Besides, you can never have too many maps…

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.