Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Study of my Insanity: how I fell in love with the Advanced Squad Leader system

Back in 1983, my friend Gary Olson came over to my place and brought with him a game.  That game?  Squad Leader.  "Welcome to Stalingrad!" was the cry as he and I took on the roles of the Soviets and the Germans in a little scenario called "The Guards Counterattack".  I think I was German and I don't know who won.  It doesn't matter.  That game was all it took for me to be hooked on war gaming in general and Squad Leader in particular.
How we saw ourselves as we rolled the dice!
Gary had Squad Leader and its follow-on components, known as "gamettes".  All were necessary for the full experience, and Gary had them all: Cross of Iron, Crescendo of Doom and GI: Anvil of Victory.  Each one of the gamettes added rules progressively.  In fact, Squad Leader as a system was known for its so-called "Programmed Instruction" approach. So, you would get a set of rules, then you would go play a scenario, get more rules, another scenario and so on.  The system worked!

Well, it did work, but stopped working once you got to the next gamette.  Invariably, each new gamette would add new rules that made previous rules obsolete.  As an example, Squad Leader had rules for tanks and ordnance.  The very first rules in Cross of Iron gave completely new rules.  But all through Crescendo of Doom, the index, page numbering and all else was in sequence. 
GI: End of the Line
This all changed with GI: Anvil of Victory.  The game designers had by the time Crescendo of Doom was released in 1981 realized that the system was growing in leaps and bounds and was spurred on by its popularity.  They decided to go back to the drawing board and remake the system from ground up, incorporating all the elements developed thus far.  As such, the effort into GI: Anvil of Victory, though extensive, was not comprehensive.  Its index failed to refer back to Squad Leader and led to all sorts of confusion.  The new system, Advanced Squad Leader, would fix all that anyway, or so the designers had hoped.


By 1985, the rules and initial module for Advanced Squad Leader was ready to go.  Almost.  The first module was released in the autumn of that year, but the rules went back for some refining and then were finally issued in early 1986.  The initial module was set on the Eastern Front and contained maps, scenario cards and the game counters for the system, as well as the entire order of battle for the Germans and the Russians, as well as some for the Finns. "Beyond Valor" became the first of many modules. 
The first of it all
Gary bought Beyond Valor and the Rule book and I think we both just gasped.  Here was a monster of a game and neither of us really had the impetus to crack the code, as it were.  Besides, we were of legal drinking age and girls were really interesting, so we both sort of drifted away from such nonsense.  Well, sort of.  We kept gaming, but we stuck to other games, such as Assault by Game Designers Work Shop and of course the original Squad Leader.

Passing through time now
Flash forward from 1986 or so to 2013 or so.  I was in at work one day and my pal Quentin noted that I had some literature on Squad Leader.  He noted that he had a friend who played, so he was going to put us together.  Alas, turned out he played Advanced Squad Leader.  I related that I had never gotten into it, nobody to mentor me, etc.  "Well, he plays the Starter Kit".  The what?  I had no idea!  I went online and quickly found that there were not one, not two, but THREE starter kits.  ASL Starter Kit 3 was available for purchase for around 30 bucks or so, so I made the leap and bought it.  I tried it, and I liked it!
Where have you been all my life?
I got a hold of Gary and asked if he had the ASL still.  He did, and I bought what he had (Rule Book, Beyond Valor and Paratrooper).  I joined a Facebook community and on the suggestion of the masses purchased For King and Country, a module containing the UK and Commonwealth forces.  But my real luck came a few weeks later.  I met a fellow online who told me of a tournament in "nearby" Portland Maine (6 hours by car...).  I took the leap and went.  And wow!  What a weekend!  Chuck ran a low-key tournament and the players were all great and especially patient with me.  I actually won one game out of 4!

Two or three weeks later, I ran into a fellow who was selling his gear.  And by "gear" I mean the entire collection that was available up to that time.  I bought it, which included both official and third party gear. 

So, I've since played in tournaments and local.  I've played online and I've played solo.  And the best part is the fun I have playing people *and* the relationships I've made over the past few years.  I log my games and I have played over 200 matches in my 3 or so years of serious play.  I realize that this game is not for all, but I do find it both engaging *and* time consuming.  But in a good way. 

So, if you see me with some dice and a happy look in my eyes, fear not!  I am probably just on my way to play some ASL.  See you at the tournament!

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