Squad Leader, a fast-flowing game of infantry (and some tank) combat in World War Two. In 1985, they took the game, which had been massively and untidily expanded over the ensuing years, revised and redesigned it, and republished it as Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). Since then it's been a behemoth of a game: rules that need a massive three-ring binder to carry (most players separate them into several binders so as to keep the individual pages in plastic protectors to minimize wear), so many boards and playing pieces that a whole separate section of the game's hobby is devoted to different methods of storing and transporting them, and an arcane, complicated set of procedures that practically require an advanced degree to learn, let alone master.
Despite some elegant design-for-effect simplifications, a game that tries to differentiate between the troops of nearly a dozen different countries (each with several levels of troop quality) and their hundreds of different armoured and unarmoured vehicles, artillery pieces, machineguns, and various pieces of equipment; that includes a wide range of environments (temperate, tropical, desert, steppe, and arctic); a huge array of military missions (paratrooping, glider landing, beach assaults, river crossings, cavalry charges, house-to-house fighting in urban areas, including rules for sewer movement, factories, rubble, and rowhouses)--a game like this is going to be so complex as to have a limited appeal for the weekend cardboard warrior.
But despite all these challenges, I've found it's a very rewarding game. Some of the pleasure, for me
at least, lies in the collecting aspect; I've always been a sucker for modular projects. Some of it has to do with the diversity: thought the game had its origins in portraying the Western and Eastern Front fighting of the Second World War, inventive designers and researchers have added pieces that expand to cover all the war's conflicts (from the Aleutian Islands to Madagascar, from the Philippines to Iraq, and from Norway to North Africa to Manchuria). Anything that involves maps and history will have a huge appeal for me. And, most of all, once one has invested the time in learning even the basics of the game, there's an irresistible urge to put that to use in playing the game.
I can go into detail on my theories of gameplaying--both its intrinsic value and the way I approach it and what I get from that, but at the moment I should content myself with saying that much of the pleasure I get from gaming is social--enjoying time spent and common interests shared with friends. I have a number of friends who share my love of historical gaming, but few of them have been bitten as I have by the ASL bug.
In particular, I have one friend who I think would adapt well to the mental framework of the game, who I know is interested in World War Two history, with whom I have fought over many actions using our collections of military miniatures. I'd love to get him to try out ASL. But he's got a hectic schedule, which makes it hard for us to carve out time to play, and so far he's remained untempted. So in hopes of inveigling him into trying out ASL, I'm going to walk through a scenario, one portraying a battle we've fought before, so he can see how it works out in ASL.
Several different choices presented themselves, but to start with I've decided to pick an engagement from the fighting right after D-Day, a battle where American paratroopers ran head into a force of German fallschirmjäger as the US 101st Airborne tried to consolidate and expand the area it had captured on landing in Normandy. The was the battle for Carentan.
Specifically, Lt Col Robert Cole of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, led an assault on a farm on the outskirts of the two of Carentan called the Ingouff Farm. This action is portrayed in a scenario for the game Battlefront: World War Two that my buddy and I have played before--an exciting, spirited action for which Cole was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
This same action, more or less, is portrayed in ASL by the scenario "Death at Carentan". So that's the scenario I'll be replaying here. I have a couple of other ideas as well (the December 1944 battle for Parker's Crossroads is another), but that's what I'm going to start with.
Well, that's the raison d'etre. The next post will explain a bit more about how I plan on going about this and, with any luck, get us underway.