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Recommendation for Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1

There are those who lament the passing of Avalon Hill's old Squad Leader game (1977) and it's follow on gamettes.  Those nationalities and even all the scenarios from this old series has been rolled up under Advanced Squad Leader, so it's no suprise all these favorites have been left to go Out Of Print (OOP) forever.  The problem is, how do new players get into the ASL system?
To do this, MMP continued with the original Avalon Hill Paratrooper module for a while; while the module itself was inexpensive, it still demanded prospective players purchase the very expensive ASL Rulebook.  While a lot of us ASL die-hards enjoyed that module and used it to recruit new players, it didn't seem like a lot of new ASL players took the plunge with it.  So MMP hit on a new marketing idea to get people into the ASL genre by publishing a series of "Starter Kits" to slowly introduce players into ASL.  
It worked, but possibly not for the reasons MMP originally had for the series.  It was so good in and of itself, offering low-cost stand-alone games that nevertheless had the tension, excitement, and a great deal of the tactical color of the bigger game, that many wargamers just decided to stick with it and not go further into the full ASL game.  I certainly can see why; once players get to master the tank rules and get hold of all the scenarios available for the system, there's plenty of tactical lessons to be learned and great stories of victories and defeats to be told.
There are a great many squad-level World War II tactical board game systems out there, but I confess this one is my favorite.  The others have their strengths and often contain features that ASL Starter Kit does not possess.  Some of them are far more graphically gorgeous.  But the ASL Starter Kit has two major things going for it: (1) a great deal of support for the series from both the company and the players, and (2) a very large opponent base within which to find someone to play the game with.  
The game is very much in the "design for effect" school; that is, while the individual discrete processes may not precisely replicate or simulate what happens in the real world, the overall effect seems realistic in most cases.  While tactics learned on the ASLSK gameboard won't necessarily work in real life (and, given the huge amount of knowledge and control players have in the game compared to reality, this is no surprise), tactics that work in real life usually translate quite effectively into the game and are essential to winning.
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When this game was first published in 1973 (nearly forty years ago as I write this), it got a lot of attention.  Its only real rival was the venerable Avalon Hill game, AFRIKA KORPS (1964).  But that game was not able to recreate the sweeping maneuvers of the Western Desert campaign; while it was innovative in its day (supply units, overrun, the "Rommel Counter," etc.), it felt very much like a plodding march from El Agheila to Alexandria--and that's if the Axis could win the frequent (and infamous) 2-1 odds attach against Tobruch.  PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA changed all that.  It showed what else was possible.  The features it had truly seemed novel at the time and those of us who subscribed to S&T rated the game very highly.  SPI published a boxed version and the game remained quite popular.
Among the novelties that resonated was the combat system--no longer would odds be the determining factor. No, now it was the strength of the unit counter that mattered--"4" combat factor units were hardier than "2" factor ones in the differential combat least until counterattacked.  The counterattack mechanic was an interesting one and made intuitive sense.  Once the lunge was made by the attacker, he was vulnerable to an immediate riposte by surviving defenders.  Surviving defenders were often the stronger units in the hex (but not always), and these were either doubled (Allied and Italian) or quadrupled (German) in strength, ripping apart the attacker's forces which could not take any terrain advantages since they came out of cover.  We were fascinated by the implications of this; statistial studies soon were the rage as we tried to figure the optimum attacking stack compositions versust the optimum defending ones.  
As good as the game was for its time, particularly in its depiction of maneuver warfare and the superiority of Axis forces (particularly the Germans) against the Allies, some effects in the game just didn't seem to conform to our readings. Some discovered that a defensive minded Axis player could focus on attrition of British units and forego geographic objectives, thus being able to eke out marginal victories through the correlation of forces alone.  The last few turns of the game turned into combat factor counting contests that governed battlefield tactics to ensure a win on points.  For Axis players seeking to exceed the accomplishments of Rommel, such approaches seemed to do an injustice to the aims and ambitions of the Desert Fox.
It wasn't until other, newer, games on the topic were published that this title was eclipsed as an interesting but slightly flawed benchmark in the development of African Campaign wargames.  It still plays quite well despite its age and, if one if forgiving of its flaws, offers an exciting play experience filled with lessons on the operational level of war.
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Recommendation for ROMMEL IN THE DESERT

There are a great many hex-and-counter wargames on the North African Campaign in WW II; it's a favorite topic of game designers.  I've played the majority of them since I first got into wargaming in 1974.  Each type of game has its virtues and disadvantages.  ROMMEL IN THE DESERT is no exception.  That said, it has my highest recommendation out of all the games I've played for the following reasons:
-- The Psychology of Command.  This is the strongest reason of them all; this game more than any others does such an exemplary job of casting the players into the roles of army commanders in this contest.  Given the nature of armored warfare in this particular theater where open desert provides for sweeping maneuver, the ability to pull off deceptions, bluffs, and not lose one's nerve when all seems lost is best captured in this title.  
-- Proper scale presentation.  Players are not lost in the details; they quite properly stay at the level of command the game provides for.  Honestly, many other games do this well too, but here we think in terms of major operations (the Turn-Option) as the main effort each and every turn.  All else is secondary to this and forces players to decide what the most important thing to do is at the cost of all else.
-- Plethora of scenarios.  Not only are these essential to learning the subtleties of the game system, but they are thrilling and balanced contests in their own right.
-- Accessibility.  The game system is easy to learn and get into quickly.
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