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ASL Primer I

In this post--and probably the next--I will be giving a very light overview
of ASL for those of you with little or no exposure to it. I am not trying to get everyone to try this
game; it is clearly not for everyone. But for those of you on the edge--like I was--it might help you
decide if this game is for you. Note that I am only learning Starter Kit #1, so my knowledge is
limited to the simplified rules therein.

ASL is a tactical squad-level wargame representing the events, terrain, units, and weapons of
WWII. Each turn represents 2 minutes. Each hex is 40 meters across.

I described ASL once to someone, and they said, "Oh, it's just a more complex form of Risk."
Well...no and no. The first issue is that, in ASL, soldiers act like soldiers. In Risk, you can have 3
units attack 10 with the hopes of taking a unit or 2 with you. In ASL, you can't order a unit to run
across open ground against 3 machine guns. Well, you can, but they will likely break and run back,
if they survive at all. The second issue is about goals. The goal of Risk is to Wipe every other
player off the map. The goals of each ASL scenario are different, perhaps even different for each
player. You may have to get unit(s) off the edge of the map, or occupy specific locations, etc...all
within some turn limit. In effect, you have been given orders, and you must carry them out.

Let's start with the counters. These represent the leaders, squads, and other game conditions on
the map.
This is a basic full-squad counter (3 soldiers pictured). ASL takes
all of the real-world attributes of a squad (weapon types, weapon strength, weapon range,
training, experience, willingness to fight) and abstracts them into 3 primary values. This is a 5-3-6
squad. These 3 values stand for firepower-range-morale. I'll ignore the other information pictured
since it's not relevant to this overview.

Firepower: This squad attacks with a base firepower of 5. If there are 3 of these squads attacking
together, the base FP is 15.

Range: This squad can attack a target at normal range up to 3 hexes away. Targets from 4 to 6
hexes away are considered long range.

Morale: This squad has a morale of 6. This represents the likelihood of a bad result when the
squad is fired upon, and the ability of the squad to get back into the fight if it breaks. The higher
the morale the better. When a unit fails a Morale Check (rolls greater than its morale number), it
is Broken. This indicates a complete breakdown in its effectiveness due to the overwhelming
attack it suffered and the training level of its soldiers. Broken units will run for cover and hide.
Broken units must be rallied, usually by a leader. When a unit makes a Morale Check and rolls its
morale number exactly, it is Pinned. It may no longer move, and its effectiveness is hindered for
the rest of the turn.

Note: Almost everywhere in ASL where a roll is required, 2d6 are used. In all cases, lower is
better.
This is a basic half-squad counter (2 soldiers pictured). These may
be given as part of a scenario setup, or created when the abilities of a full-squad are reduced in
battle (Casualty Reduction). In this case, the 2-2-6 unit has a firepower of 2, a range of 2, and a
morale of 6.

The change in firepower and range is a measure of the loss of effectiveness of the men and the
weapons in the half-state. In this case, the morale is the same as the full squad, but it is not
always true.

This is a basic leader counter (1 soldier pictured). Leaders do not


have firepower, and hence no range. This 9-2 leader has a morale of 9 (very tough). For leaders,
the dash between the numbers is not a simple separator. It is a minus sign. This leader has a -2
bonus (remember that lower is better?). This bonus is applied when units in the leader's hex fire,
when units in the leader's hex must check results when fired upon, and when units in the leader's
hex are trying to Rally (ie get back into the fight).

Each scenario defines a board (or set of boards) upon which to setup the starting positions for
each side.
Here's a close-up of some common terrain for Starter Kit #1. E7 is
a woods hex. D8 is a wooden building hex. F7 is a stone building hex. G8 is an orchard hex. All
hexes with no feature in them, including those with a road, are open hexes.

Movement is from hex to adjacent hex. A normal squad has 4 movement points (MP) each turn.
Open ground and orchards cost 1 MP to enter. Woods and buildings cost 2 MP. There are other
types of terrain with different movement costs (eg grain in-season costs 1.5 MP). Each time you
expend 1 MP, you may be fired upon. I'll get more into movement and combat sequence in the
next post.

Line-of-sight (LOS) is a vital component of ASL. If you can see an enemy unit, you may fire upon it,
and it may fire upon you. LOS is measured by drawing a line (using string) from the center of the
shooter's hex to the center of the target's hex. Do not count the terrain of the hex the shooter is
in. If the line touches the image of a building (not simply the hex) or the image of woods, then
there is no LOS. However, you cannot check for LOS unless you are actually taking the shot. If LOS
is blocked, then you are considered to have shot and missed. Note that by checking LOS, you are
also informing the opponent about this information.

The 3 lines in the image show 3 different LOS checks, each with a
range of 3 hexes. The RED line has LOS. The GREEN line is blocked by the building. The BLUE line
has LOS, but the orchard hex acts as a hindrance (see below).

To make an attack, you need to know 2 values: the total firepower, and the modifiers.
The total firepower is the sum of the firepower of all the units firing. Any unit firing at an
adjacent hex gets its firepower doubled. Any unit firing at a target at long range gets its firepower
halved (keep all fractions, and add them). There are many other adjustments to all this in the
complete rules.

The total firepower is then converted to a column on the Infantry


Firepower Table (see image), rounding down to the nearest FP value.

The second value to calculate is the modifier. The basic modifiers are: leader, target movement,
hindrances, and terrain.

Leader: The 9-2 leader above would provide a -2 bonus to any attacks that he directed.

Target Movement: If the target unit is moving in open ground (in an open hex with no intervening
hindrances) when fired upon, there's a -1 bonus (to the shooter). If the target unit is not using
Assault Movement (a slow and careful single-hex move), there's an additional -1 bonus.

Hindrance: Any hindrance crossed by the LOS (but not in the shooter's or target's hex) creates a
penalty. Any LOS crossing an orchard hex (anywhere in the hex, not just a tree dot) adds +1.
There are other penalties for other types of hindrances (eg smoke).

Terrain: If the target is in Woods, there's a +1 penalty. If the target is in a Wooden Building,
there's a +2 penalty. If the target is in a Stone Building, there's a +3 penalty.

Add all the above bonuses and penalties. That is the total modifier. Roll 2d6, add the modifier,
and consult the proper IFT column. If you roll doubles (and there is no leader directing the fire),
the firing unit(s) Cower. This means you shift one column to the left. Units without a leader are
not as reliable.

Here's a complex example covering all of the above. The shooting units are firing along
the BLUE LOS line in the image above.

A 9-2 leader, two 5-3-6 squads, and a 2-2-6 half squad are in the wooden building in D8. An
enemy 4-6-7 moves (using normal movement) into the open hex G9. The stack of 4 counters
decides to fire. The range is 3 hexes. There is LOS, but it does go through a hindrance.

The two full squad's firepower is normal (5+5) since the enemy is within normal range. The half-
squad's is halved (1) since the enemy is at long range for him. The total firepower is 11, which
translates to 8 on the IFT. Too bad the half-squad is long range, huh? Otherwise it would have
been on the 12 column.

What are the modifiers? The leader provides -2. The target is using Non-Assault Movement, which
provides -1. The target is also moving in open ground, but from the point of view of the shooter,
it is not open ground because of the hindrance. So no modifier there. The hindrance itself
provides +1. The terrain (open ground) provides nothing.
So the shot will take place on the 8 column, with a -2 modifier to the roll. You roll 2d6 and get a
9. The final result is a 7, which on the 8 column is a 1MC. This means the target unit has to make
a Morale Check with a +1 modifier. The unit has a morale of 7. He rolls 2d6 and gets a 7,
modified to an 8. The unit breaks. The counter is flipped over (showing the broken state) and a
DM+4 (Desperation Morale) counter is placed on top. This unit no longer has the will to fight, and
will run for cover at the first opportunity. It may take some effort to get them back into the
battle.

If G9 had been a Stone Building, then the total modifiers would have been +1 (-2 leader, -1 non-
assault movement, +1 hindrance, +3 stone building). The roll of 9 would have been modified to a
10, resulting in no effect. The building would have made a huge difference!

The next post will be all about the sequence of play. You see, you don't just take turns moving
and shooting each other...not quite.

As promised, this is the second post about ASL. Here I will take the information laid out in the first post,
and discuss it in terms of the phases of play.
While, in a sense, ASL is about moving and shooting, it is also about timing, control, and opportunity.
Some of the realities of combat are included "as-is", and some are abstracted. For example, ASL includes
some of the "fun" parts of combat tactics like drawing the enemy's fire in order to advance elsewhere,
but does not include wounds and other ill effects on squad individuals.

In ASL, one full game turn represents a full turn--of 8 phases--for each side. The scenario will specify
which side goes first. Although each side takes a turn being the active player, both sides participate in
almost every phase and every action. One side will be the active player for a full turn, then the other
side will do the same. Remember: a turn represents 2 minutes of real time.

The image above was captured from VASL (Virtual Advanced Squad Leader, which is a separate program
from the more generic Vassal). It is a marker that can be placed next to the board on the screen to help
players keep track of the current phase. I use the mnemonic RPM-DARAC to remember the 8 phases:
Rally, Prep Fire, Movement, Defensive Fire, Advancing Fire, Rout, Advance, Close Combat.

Note that the phase acronyms on the marker each have a different color. This color matches the color of
the informational counters used on the board. The phase color shows when the counters are removed.
DM+4 counters are blue; they are removed at the end of the Rally Phase. Residual Fire counters are
green; they are removed at the end of the Movement Phase. First Fire and Final Fire counters are
purple; they are removed at the end of the Defensive Fire Phase.

Since 7 of the 8 phases involve moving and/or shooting, it can be cumbersome for a beginner to put it all
together. Trust me; I am one. It all comes down to what your units are doing (or planning to do) on a
turn.

Rally Phase: The active player takes any new units that will enter the board this turn (defined by
the scenario), and places them at any allowed location on the board edge.

The active player then rallies his broken units. First, he may attempt to rally one broken unit where no
leader present. Then, he rallies any broken leaders, followed by any broken units where unbroken
leaders are present.

The inactive player may then do the same thing, except he does not get the free non-leader rally
attempt.

Rallying is simply a 2d6 roll less than or equal to the unit's morale level. If the rally is in a building, the
unit gets a -1 bonus. If a leader is performing the rally on a unit, you can add the leader bonus. If the unit
was just broken in the previous turn (and from other factors) it will have a DM+4 (Desperation Morale)
counter on it. This represents the temporarily disorganized state when a unit falls apart due to
overwhelming fire. The counter is removed whether the unit rallies or not.
Prep Fire Phase: The active player may fire any/all units that have an enemy in range (normal or
long) and LOS. Units that fire get PREP FIRE counters which means they cannot fire or move again during
that turn (all units can move during the Advance Phase).

Movement Phase: The active player may now move any/all units that did not Prep Fire. Each unit that is
going to move must make all the movements it is going to before moving another unit; once another
unit is moved, you cannot move a previously moved unit again during the Movement Phase.

A basic unit gets 4 movement points (MP). A units moving its entire movement (starting and ending)
along a road gets an additional 2 MP. A leader (and any units moving with it) gets 6 MP (7 along a road).

Expending MP represents a normally cautious military advance. Assault Movement is when units use
extra caution. In this case they can move only a single hex. Units using normal movement are said to be
using Non-Assault Movement and give a -1 bonus to any shots fired upon them while moving.

Defensive Fire Phase: This is the most complicated part of ASL (at least for me). This phase can
be pictured as overlapping the Movement Phase as well as occurring after it. This is when the inactive
player can fire at the active player's units that are moving (or otherwise expending MP). After the
Movement Phase, defensive firing can continue, but without certain benefits.

Each MP expended by a unit provides an opportunity for it to be fired upon. For example, if a unit
expended 2 MP to enter a building hex, it could be fired on twice by an enemy unit. This is an attempt to
convey the time it takes to stop and open a door, etc.

The inactive player's units can fire an unlimited number of times (per turn, still only once per MP) but
with less and less effect as well as increased requirements. The first time a unit fires it has no
restrictions, but receives a FIRST FIRE counter. The second time a unit fires it must be within normal
range, and no farther than the closest known enemy unit. This is called Subsequent First Fire and the
firepower is halved. If you wait until after the Movement Phase, you can only fire a second time at an
adjacent hex. After the second shot, a unit receives a FINAL FIRE counter. From this point on, the unit
may only fire when an enemy unit enters an adjacent hex. This is called Final Protective Fire, and can
only occur during the Movement Phase. Firepower is halved since the unit has already fired, but
doubled because the enemy is in an adjacent hex. Units using this form of attack are desperate and have
a chance to break. [This paragraph, for me, is the meat of ASL. I may even have some details wrong.]

All defensive fire shots during the Movement Phase leave half their firepower as Residual Fire in the
target hex. This amount is further reduced by one column on the IFT for every hex of hindrance. For
example, if a shot is made in the 12 column on the IFT, then a Residual Fire 6 counter is placed. Units
moving into that hex later in the Movement Phase undergo an attack of 6. Remember that everything is
happening [sort of] simultaneously.

Advancing Fire Phase: The active player may now fire with any unit that did not Prep Fire (even those
that moved) at half FP. Some units are better at this than others, possessing what is called Assault Fire
capability. This is indicated on the counter by an underlined FP value. When units of this type fire during
this phase, you halve their FP, round up, and add 1. These are the kinds of units you want to use when
moving and shooting at the same time.

Rout Phase: The active player must now Rout all units with a DM+4 counter. Units in a building may stay
where they are unless adjacent to an enemy unit. Routing units have 6 MP to spend. This represents a
general lack of discipline. They are not moving with any caution, just running away. They must move no
closer to any known enemy (that they can see), and must enter the nearest building or woods if they
can.

Each hex the unit moves into that has an open LOS to an enemy unit can cause Interdiction. The enemy
unit doesn't have to fire. Just the fact that it could fire is enough. The routing unit must make a Morale
Check and follow all normal results. If it is able, it may then continue its rout, subject to further
Interdiction.

A routing unit may also use Low Crawl. I would compare this to Assault Movement. They can move only
1 hex, but are immune from Interdiction, even if in the open.

Morale and Routing are key components of ASL. In many games with conflict, you can leave a unit in a
hopeless situation until it is obliterated. In ASL, units will break and rout when subject to overwhelming
attacks. You can do nothing to force them. You must manage your leaders and your unit's morale
effectively.

Advance Phase: The active player may move all of his unbroken units 1 hex regardless of previous fire
or movement. This is the only time a unit may enter a hex with an enemy unit. If so, a Close Combat (CC)
counter is placed on the hex.

Close Combat Phase: Any hexes where there are units of both sides now perform a round of
Close Combat. The active player decides the order. The process is different from normal combat. First is
a check for Ambush. Each side rolls a d6 and adds in any of several modifiers based on leaders, broken
units, etc. If one side is less than the other by 3 or more, they have ambushed them. In an ambush, the
attacks occur sequentially, applying the effects of the first before resolving the counter-attack. If there is
no ambush, the attacks are resolved simultaneously.
The strengths of the opposing units are turned into a ratio (eg 1-4, 1-2, 1-1, 3-2, 2-1), which a chart
resolves to a Kill#. Rolling lower than this number eliminates the enemy units. Matching the number
causes a Casualty Reduction (full squad becomes half squad, half squad is eliminated). In a non-ambush
situation, it is possible that both sides eliminate each other.

If, after the Close Combat round, there are still opposing units in the hex, it is marked with
a MELEE counter, indicating that the Close Combat will continue into the next turn.

In summary, the active player fires his units during the Prep Fire and Advancing Fire Phases, and moves
his units during the Movement, Advance, and Rout Phases. The inactive player fires his units during the
Movement and Defensive Fire Phases, and only moves his units during the Rout Phase.

The above 8 phases are repeated for each player until a victory condition has been met, or until the
prescribed number of turns has elapsed.

These 2 posts were probably over 50% of the rules in Starter Kit #1, but just the tiniest speck of the full
ASL rules. There are many many more types of terrain, support weapons, ordnance, tanks and other
vehicles, snipers, demolition, smoke, on and on.

The beauty of the Starter Kits is that you can learn the concepts one step at a time, and stop when you
reach your comfort level. At this point, the concepts in Starter Kit #1 are more than enough for me. I was
able to write these 2 posts mostly from memory, but there's a lot of details that I left out--partly
because they would be too much, and partly because I don't know them.

"Keep your powder dry."