Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ASL - The Game

First fallout from the new Hebrew board gaming contacts is Ran, a wargamer who was "surprised to see that there was a board gaming group in Jerusalem, and do any of us play ASL?"

Now, ASL, or Advanced Squad Leader, as some of you may know, is a lifestyle, not a game. Many people are content to play ASL only, for their entire life. Why? The thing is freakin' huge, man.

Ran brought over the game just so he could experience the joy of explaining it to me and my son - the one who doesn't play boardgames with us but is thrilled about the idea of wargames. His only experience so far is ... Warhammer.

Ran brought a duffel bag stuffed with boxes and boxes of counters, more boxes, and a large three ring binder with the original ASL rule set - about 2-300 pages of finely typed rules. Every weapon, vehicle, and soldier type of WWII is covered, each one has a different rate of fire, movement, penetration. There are dozens of different types of roads. Vehicles can be "overloaded", equipment can be poorly maintained, there are three or four separate fire chances each round of play, etc...

And this was about 1/4 to 1/3 of his ASL equipment, and he doesn't own a lot of it.

The actual game is not so bad, except having to remember the thousand different possible pluses and minuses (and several different types of these - such as "before pluses" and "after pluses") you might have to use to adjust your roll. Basically, each game consists of a realistic scenario on one of a dozen or more boards. Each player gets assigned their resources for this scenario - guns, vehicles, etc... and their objective. One guy's objective is usually to prevent the other guy from fulfilling theirs. All resources are little cardboard squares which stack on top of each other in a hex if they are part of a unit.

In some instances of combat, you roll one die for the unit; in others, you lift each square one by one, rolling for each. Other squares get placed on top of, or in the middle of, stacks, such as: already fired once, pinned, exhausted, routed, etc...

Small scenarios last a maximum of nine rounds - about 2 - 3 hours play for experienced players. Longer ones last several days.

By a startling coincidence, I had ordered Battle Cry a while ago, and yadda yadda yadda, it arrived tonight, an hour before Ran showed up. BC has four types of soldiers/guns, and a twenty page rulebook, of which fifteen are just describing scenarios - different ways to set up the board.

Ran left his rulebook for my son to read, since real playing in ASL can't really start until you've read the rulebook and watched someone else play a few times. For BC, I'm ready to roll. I wonder which one we'll pay first. I wonder which one my son will eventually gravitate towards playing more often.

Wargamers - is it all wargamers, or just ASL players who "only play the one game"? I know it's true of Bridge, Go, Scrabble, Chess, etc... players, as one can see in my own city.

Eurogamers play lots of games. Is that because the games themselves don't hold enough interest? Or is it because the "game" we really play is "Keep looking for better and more interesting things to do with mechanics"?


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