Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 is the first game in a series intended to introduce players to the more complex, in-depth, and expensive Advanced Squad Leader system. Using components fully compatible with later titles in the series and with the "full game" of ASL itself, this initial entry focuses on basic infantry and heavy weapons tactics using a series of quick-playing scenarios involving the Germans, Russians, and Americans. Players take on the role of company and/or battalion commanders, maneuvering individual squads and key leaders to achieve their objectives. Gameplay focuses on improvising tactical solutions on the fly as initial plans usually go awry; nevertheless, ensuring the right leaders, weapons, and infantry are in the right places and doing the right things at the right times are what it takes to win. There are plethoras of dilemmas to contend with--both those posed by the game system as well as from the opponent. Should I keep my leaders back to rally demoralized troops streaming to the rear? Or should I put them on the front line with key troop concentrations to stiffen their resolve when under fire? Or should I have them directing the fire of my automatic weapons? Some of my better leaders are perhaps necessary to lead assaults, possibly setting personal examples by emplacing demolition charges and operating flamethrowers...but what's the best employment for them right this minute?
Additional titles in the series introduce on-board ordnance, such as mortars, infantry guns, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, vehicles (to include tanks and personnel carriers), with additional rules for them. All the rules are drawn from the larger system; those players intending to move into that have nothing to unlearn. The Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit system, while simplified from the full game, provides a remarkably similar play experience with much of the same suspense and uncertainty at a fraction of the cost in complexity. Because of this, many players have expressed a preference to stick with this series and not "graduate" to Advanced Squad Leader itself. The publisher, Multi-Man Publishing (MMP), is catering to this particular group of wargamers, producing game modules beyond the basic set as well as additional scenarios in their Special Operations magazine. Significantly, MMP has announced the upcoming release of a Historical ASLSK game, Decision At Elst, which will provide ASLSK players with a campaign game of linked scenarios and representative formations participating in the Battle of Elst in September 1944 Holland, played on a map replicating the actual terrain.
The game can be played over the computer, using the MS Windows (only) Cyberboard application and the unofficial Cyberboard Gamebox available to ASLSK#1 (only) . VASSAL players use theASL Module available for VASSAL (MS Windows and iMac OS X) . Nothing is so far available for the Zun Tzu online boardgame application. As with all online gaming/game assist applications, you need a hardcopy of the game to play for rules, charts, and scenarios.
Other games in the series include:
Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #2
Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #3
Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit Expansion Pack #1
Basic setup and factionsEdit
This is scenario dependent and differ widely from the "meeting engagement" between American airborne and German occupation troops in Scenario S1, "Retaking Vierville," to set-piece assaults between Russian and German infantry in Scenario S2, "War of the Rats."
Players alternative turns, but the phasing sequence in each allows for integration of some operations and asymmetrical interactivity in others. The turn sequence works like this:
Rally Phase: Both players rally demoralized ("broken") troops, repair malfunctioning weapons, and transfer weapons between units.
Prep Fire Phase: The "phasing player" then decides which of his units will fire to soften up the opposition for his upcoming maneuver and which units will not fire so they can move.. All prep fire is resolved so the phasing player can judge the effects before moving his units that did not fire.
Movement Phase: The phasing player moves his units, one unit (or a stack of units) at a time, giving his opponent the chance to execute Defensive First Fire, Subsequent First Fire, and possibly even Final Protective Fire against them. Friendly units can attempt to employ smoke to shroud their moves under enemy fire. Units with satchel/demo charges attempt to emplace them.
Defensive Fire Phase: Any units of the non-phasing player that did not get to use all their defensive fire capabilities during the phasing player's movement phase can finish up with "Final Fire" in this phase. If phasing player units emplacing demo charges survive, the demo charge is emplaced.
Advancing Fire Phase: Phasing player units that moved can fire at half firepower. Some units have assault fire bonuses, reflecting a higher degree of automatic weapons, to mitigate this. Emplaced demo charges explode against their targets.
Rout Phase: Units of both sides failing morale checks, becoming "broken," rout to closest cover if they can. Some may be eliminated for failure to rout, usually through effective enemy maneuver to cut off rout paths.
Advance Phase: Phasing player units can move one hex, even if they Prep Fired or moved in the Movement Phase. This is the only phase where units can move into hexes occupied by enemy units, with the intent to engage them in Close Combat.
Close Combat Phase: If phasing player units advance into enemy hexes in buildings or woods, there is a chance one side has ambushed the other--a successful ambusher gets to fire before his enemy can return fire. Otherwise, close combat fire is resolved simultaneously. If there are units from both sides still in the hex, they are considered "locked in Melee" until the next Close Combat Phase when they will fight each other again.
The following only provides the briefest of descriptions for these mechanics; however, the below simply does not do justice to them. But it should be enough to give you a general idea of how the game works within each general category of game functioning. Morale and Leadership. Each unit has a morale level value. Typical morale numbers range from 6 (American First Line infantry) to 8 (elite German and Soviet infantry). American airborne units are 7, as are German and Soviet First Line infantry. When fired upon, infantry often suffer Morale Checks: these mean the unit must roll the morale number (if rolled exactly, the unit Pins in place) or less. Heavier fire modifies the Morale Check level, adding Die Roll Modifiers, so they become harder to pass). Leaders must check first--if they pass, they can use their leadership modifiers to help units pass their Morale Checks. If they fail and have a morale level greater than the infantry they are stacked with, they not only aren't able to help the infantry they are with, they might cause them to Pin in place. Leaders of higher morale that are KIA'ed in front of their troops are likely to break their morale. When leaders are stacked with broken units, they are able to rally them in the Rally Phase and use their leadership modifiers in getting the infantry units back into Good Order with a higher probability of success.
Movement and Leadership. Leaders help units they are stacked with move faster than normal. Units typically have a movement factor of 4; movement on a road makes this a bit easier, and Double-Timing can make movement even faster. But having a Leader increases movement even more. Of course, units are often hindered by impedimentia such as heavy weapons, so having a leader with them is often essential to get them to quckly move around the battlefield. Even the weakest leaders in the game are very useful in this role, if for nothing else.
Firepower and Leadership. There are so many different choices regarding how to apply firepower, especially if heavy weapons--particularly machine guns--are involved. The dilemmas, particularly for the defender resisting an assault in his sector, usually boil down to whether it's better to make fewer, stronger fire attacks or many, weaker fire attacks. Much depends on the situation and the morale of the defender, so there are few ironclad rules. Defenders can use high Rate Of Fire (ROF) machineguns to blast critical hexes, they can sequence their infantry fire so that multiple fire opportunities are maximized (infantry typically gets to fire more than once between the opponent Movement Phase and Defensive Fire Phase), and "Residual Fire" can be left to cause following units to "run the gauntlet." Cover state will mitigate the firepower of all but the mighty flamethrower; attacking over open ground without creeping forward is the most vulnerable state infantry units can be in. Leaders with leadership modifiers can help direct fire for units they are stacked with and are often placed with high ROF machine guns in this role.
Close Combat and Leadership. Leaders can apply leadership modifiers to make ambush more likely and win close combat battles they are involved in.
ASLSK#1 "Sleaze" Tactics. There are a few tricks that appear somewhat "gamey;" what can be said--it is indeed a game, not real life. Here are the tricks one must master to become somewhat competent at the game:
- "Skulking." This is typically used when running a defense/economy of force. The goal is to use the minimum amount of units to guard an area. When it's the player's turn, units are moved just one hex from the position with terrific lines of sight/line of fire to someplace out of sight from the enemy. This prevents the enemy units from firing on friendly ones during the Movement Phase and Defensive Fire phase. During the Advance phase, these units are advanced one hex back to their original positions.
- "Routing Forward." It takes some real practice to get good at this, but it's a way of moving units during an assault so that--if they break--they can actually rout FORWARD, not backward, towards "closest cover." Of course, this works best when there's a leader that can accompany them.
It is possible to play these scenarios using the full ASL Rulebook, but they should not be considered as play-balanced. It's typical for wargamers to ask what the differences are between the Starter Kits and the "full system;" here's a basic rundown of what ASL covers that doesn't exist in the Starter Kit series:
Infantry Bypass. In ASL it's possible to "skirt" buildings and woods by using the "open ground" portion of the terrain at a reduced movement point cost (but greater vulnerability to fire).
Multi-level Buildings. In ASL, buildings can have more than one level, to include Cellars and Rooftops. These rules do a marvelous job in replicating room-by-room combats such as seen in Stalingrad and other urban battles.
Greater Terrain Differentiation. ASL has a far richer pallette of terrain types included in the game than what is in the Starter Kits.
Infantry Concealment. In ASL there is a whole sub-game involving concealing units under counters with "?" on them; they halve firepower against them and one can create stacks of "dummies" comprising nothing but "?" counters. This greatly increases the "fog of war" factor in the game.
Hidden Units. In ASL, one can even "hide" units in hexes--they are not placed on the map but tracked using a side record until they are revealed (usually when shooting at an unwary attacker, but also when moved through inadvertently or Searched). Also greatly contributes to the "fog of war" factor.
Searching and Mopping Up. Because of concealment and hidden units, these rules allow units to search areas (typically buildings) and Mop Up captured buildings instead of going through them level-by-level, hex-by-hex.
Fires. In ASL, you can start fires to deny your enemy certain avenues of approach or defensive areas. Fires also happen inadvertently as a result of artillery fire, etc. The smoke from these fires can very much limit visibility and cause all kinds of problems, especially when the wind changes direction!
Weather. In ASL, there are a great many rules for weather--night, snow, deep snow, rain, mud, etc. These do a marvelous job in showing weather effects on terrain and tactics.
Snipers. This abstraction adds a whole new dimension to the game. Snipers are triggered during combat-related die rolls and have a nasty propensity to whack leaders. It is intended as a balancing game mechanic so that lucky combat die-rolls might just trigger a counter-balancing sniper attack but nevertheless adds a richness to the game all its own.
Surrender and Prisoners. In ASL, units can surrender when they cannot rout, players can try to take prisoners during Close Combat, prisoners can be interrogated to learn about the other side (particularly regarding fortifications and hidden/concealed units).
Fortifications and Obstacles. ASL has the full panoply of these--minefields, pillboxes, foxholes, trenches, roadblocks, and more. Many are hidden at the start of play.
Encirclement. In ASL, you can surround your enemy and cause him to lose a morale level by firing at him from opposite sides.
Dashes and Snap Shots. ASL has rules for making quick dashes across streets and other gaps, as well as "snap shots" against fleeting targets (such as units moving from house to adjacent house by shooting at the open space between them!).
Nationality Distinctions. ASL has a wide variety of rules to cover nationality distinctions beyond the values on the counters. Russians can mount Human Waves to overwhelm a thin line of defenders and has commisar Leaders that are better at rallying troops (or shooting them when they refuse to rally) as one example.
Six scenarios come with the game in the box. Two more were published within the pages of MMP's Operations Magazine: Scenario S7: "Prelude to Festung Brest" (Operations Issue #46) and Scenario S19 "Purple Heart Lane" (Operations Issue #47).
Overall Strategy Notes:Edit
Given the huge variety of tactical choices coupled with the high degree of variability and replayability of the scenarios, it's difficult to provide a concise list of overall strategy notes that applies to all of them. Prospective players are advised to consult the links below to access tutorials and general advice. Scenario-specific advice links are provided with the scenario discussions.
Scenario S1: Retaking Vierville Edit
This short scenario is tense, exciting introduction to the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit system, featuring only infantry units and leaders--no machine guns, no flamethrowers, no demo charges. This is a simple as it gets. It's the day after D-Day and the 1st Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment finds itself in a mad, scrambling, swirling meeting engagment to control the town of Vierville with a polyglot-quality German force arriving piecemeal. Right away, you realize that any chess-like, set-piece plan is going to come apart at the seams. That's the nature of this game and it's good you are bludgeoned with this fact right at the start.
There aren't pat strategies for this situation as both players are given choices where to bring their reinforcements on the board in the first few turns Every option for both players is fraught with opportunity but also risk. Strongly recommend studying the following articles and Series Replays which will unlock some of this particular tactical puzzle for both sides.
Scenario S2: War of the Rats Edit
It's late September 1942 in the smoking ruins of Stalingrad; the Germans are making a big push against the Russian defenders to win this bloody urban fight once and for all. But things are not so easy. The Germans have powerful forces, to include a lot of very capable leaders, a reinforced platoon of elite squads with extra smoke grenades, a flamethrower and two demo charges. But they have to cross a street to grapple with the Russians, consisting of a mixed force of first line squads and conscripts and not a lot of automatic weapons and relatively few and junior leaders. But reinforcements will be entering at some point in the battle--a platoon of submachine gunners superbly led. Can the Germans grab their victory buildings and defend them before the Russians can turn the tide?
Typically this scenario goes right down to the wire with a lot of casualties along the way. The situation shows how a lower quality force can expertly use terrain to inflict losses and buy time until a high-quality reserve can arrive to save the day. Neither side can afford to make mistakes; the scenario is quite unforgiving of them. Great introduction to smoke, heavy weapons, and the "toys" (flamethrowers and demo charges). Marvelous microcosm of urban warfare. The links provide more advice/information on this brutal contest of a scenario.
S2 Replay and Tutorial by Eddy del RIo on Board Game Geek , unfortunately requiring this errata .
Scenario S3: Simple Equation Edit
And this would be a simple equation for both the American and German, except for some complicating factors. It's mid-October 1944 and the U.S. is attacking into the German city of Aachen. The American has 14 first line squads--great firepower, great range, relatively low morale (Morale Level "6"). Two medium machine guns, one elite half-squad, and a flamethrower round out the weaponry. One really good leader, a decent leader, and two junior leaders round out the U.S. OOB. The Germans have seven second-line squads (but still better morale than the Americans!), five conscript squads, one good leader and three junior ones. One heavy machine gun and three light machine guns are going to prove problematic to the U.S. advance. On top of that, the German gets to secretly pre-designate two buildings as "fortified" -- these have the highest positive effect on the German defenders located in them. The victory conditions are somewhat stiff for the U.S.--they have to take 25 building hexes on the German mapboard in seven turns. At least they move first and get the last move.
The way the terrain is laid out, the Americans are faced with a dilemma--attack on a narrow front to take advantage of terrain (and liberally use smoke) or make mad dashes over open ground. With a Morale Level of "6," it's not surprising that the U.S. player typically opts for the former. But it's slow going, at least at first. The flamethrower, carried either by the elite half-squad or one of the 8-0 leaders, should be saved for the fortified building hexes lest they run out of fuel beforehand. Once the American gets past the terrain bottleneck, he'll be able to spread out and make mad dashes to seize the building hexes needed for victory. And therein lies the dilemma for the German player; should he beef up defenses at the bottleneck to slow the U.S. advance, risking losing most of his force by the mid- and endgame but hoping that the delay will have been worth it? Or should he save a small reserve to complicate an American free-for-all once things open up...but possibly allow the U.S. to blow through the terrain bottleneck early?
Scenario S4: Welcome Back Edit
One of the most challenging scenarios in the set, particularly for the American. It's the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, and the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment is desperately trying to hold back the second-line troops of the 77th Regiment, 26th Volksgrenadier Division. There's precious little depth to the defense--the U.S. has only eight squads of mixed quality to defend the length of the board. A heavy machine gun and two mediums help, as does a powerful leader and two flamethrowers. But the Germans set up second and can mass their 14 second-line squads and two half squads against any perceived weakness. On top of that, they have three good leaders and two junior ones, plus two medium machine guns and three light machine guns. They get the first move. Their goal is to break through the American defenses to exit infantry off the west edge in six turns.
Strategies "He who defends everything defends nothing," said Frederick the Great, and that is an adage the Americans do well to consider. The terrain is such that the Germans have a number of possible avenues of approach to take, some better than others. The only hope for the defenders is to make a virtue out of necessity; leave holes for the Germans to advance into that actually are traps for a counterattacking force comprised of two Elite airborne squads liberally provisioned with smoke grenades and MMGs. The Elite infantry squad can man the Heavy Machine Gun with the 10-2 leader. Where to put the flamethrowers is a real dilemma; some argue for the Elite airborne, some say the other two U.S. leaders should have them if the airborne soldiers are toting the machine guns. Putting a strong force in the center of the board means the German can pick one of two extreme board edges to push alongside, only having to worry about one flank. Some players say that leaving the center open means the Germans have both flanks to be concerned with as they press ahead, but that means they can also press against one side or the other, whatever appears weakest. On top of that, the U.S. forces can be more easily split. Complicating matters is the possibility of falling snow which can limit visibility for long-range shooting. For the German player, all that matters is getting off the board--attacks are designed to suppress Americans, not eliminate them. The same might be said for the U.S. player and keeping broken Germans from rallying can be iffy indeed.
Good scenario for players of uneven ability--the better should play the American. Between two players of equal ability, consider giving the American the balance provisions in the scenario, increasing the requirements for the Germans on exiting units.
Scenario S5: Clearing Colleville Edit
It's D-Day and 16th Regimental Combat Team is attempting to take and hold Colleville Omaha Beach. A one board scenario, it's first line American squads versus first line German ones. The Americans have to ensure there are no Good Order German squads or half-squads in stone buildings thre hexes or less from M5. On the very first turn, they've got a "fixing" force of four and half squads, a good leader, and a medium machine gun staring across a band of open ground against six German squads, a good leader, a really BAD leader (yes, they do exist in the game), a heavy machine gun and a light machine gun. Not to worry--the U.S. has a flanking force of three squads, a medium machine gun, an excellent leader, a good leader, and a variable number (determined by a die roll) of half-squads descending from the north. On the second turn, they get another batch of units--this time two squads, a variable number of half squads, a good leader, and a medium machine gun) right behind them, even deeper into the German north flank. The Germans get a reinforcement of four squads, a medium machine gun, and a junior leader on the second turn from the south. There's not a lot of time for the American--he's got to win by Turn 5 and the German has the last move of the scenario.
The difficulty for German player lies in his dilemma of how to arrange his opening defense against both the threats from the west and from the north. Balancing his initial allocation of defenders is going to be tricky--put too much against the American to force Prep FIre instead of a smoke-covered move across the open is great, but not if the northern U.S. flanking force Double Times and gets into the center of town too fast. Focusing on the northern flanking force might allow the onboard Americans across the open too easily and into town. Trying to spread Germans across the whole vulnerable area once again leads to the problem of "he who defends everything defends nothing." Working in the German's favor is the relatively low U.S. Morale Level--they break easily but also rally quite fast with their broken side Morale Level of 8 and good leadership. Working against the Germans is the plentiful stone building cover the Americans will enjoy once they get into town and the ferocious American firepower and plentiful smoke grenade availability. The Germans have to be prepared to mount an organized retrograde under fierce pressure, avoiding Close Combat against such fire-power heavy American squads until possibly the very end, hoping that they can preserve enough force in a good enough position to make a winning final lunge at the end of the scenario.
Scenario S6: Released From the East Edit
It's several days into the Soviet December 1941 counteroffensive against the remnants of Army Group Center, staggering in the extreme winter weather after failing to take Moscow. Here we see 14 hardy Elite Russian Guardsmen, well-armed with a medium machine gun, two light machine guns, and a demolition charge, attack nine German elite SS squads of the 2nd SS Division on a city board. Both sides are relatively well led but the Soviets have some interesting advantages. Since they wear winter camouflage, creeping Russians using Assault Movement in the Movement Phase (one hex move maximum) don't suffer the usual Open Ground vulnerabilities. They also can hold back up to 5 squads as a tactical reserve, attacking from the north against one part of the board to draw off German defenders, then attacking with their reserve in another part of the board on Turn 3 against another. To win they must capture 2 out of 3 widely separated stone buildings. The one German advantage is that the SS have a broken Morale Level of 9, so they are easier to rally.
There's too much for the German to defend with too little force. If he spreads himself thinly, the Russians will likely elect to bring on his entire OOB on Turn 1, massed against a weakness, to punch through and take the center building and one other one before the other portion of the SS can arrive in time to bolster the defense. In other words, it becomes too easy for the Russian to defeat the German piecemeal. If the German holds back his force near the center, waiting for the Soviet to tip his hand, the Soviet will hold back some forces to lure the Germans towards one end of the board on Turn 1 and attack on Turn 3 with his tactical reserve against the other end. This latter course of action is fraught with danger for both sides as neither element for either side will be well positioned to directly support the other. For the Soviet, it might be what works given that it stretches the German defense to perhaps its snapping point and keeps the game quite fluid, where greater Russian numbers can prevail. This scenario is usually a tense contest to the very last turn.
Evaluation as Warfighting ModelEdit
Fog of War: Low. As is typical with most wargames, players can see each other's units and have a perfect "bird's eye" view of the battlefield. That said, players can't check whether a line of sight/line of fire is unobstructed until they commit to a shot. In the full ASL system, there are provisions for concealment, dummies, and hidden units. If players have two sets of the game and an umpire, playing "double-blind" with a separating screen between the players/boards (think of the game Battleship) will be enough to boost this element at a small cost in playing time.
Friction: Moderate. One of the attractions of this system is how often things go awry. Machine guns jam or run out of ammo--trying to fix this sometimes malfunctions the weapon for good. Infantry trying to rally sometimes quit the field; at other times they go "berserk" and mindlessly charge the closest enemy unit Squads dramatically failing morale checks go down in quality. Players are never sure how many shots their high rate of fire weapons will get off at any one time. The game system layers on weapons and capabilities, each with a small probability of succeeding in spectacular ways (and in failing in equally dramatic fashion). What this means is that while any one thing has a small chance of going wrong, the combinations and permutations typically result in something amiss each and every turn. There are also instances of amazing coincidence and luck that hearten players beaten down by the friction in the game. This design approach contributes to the strong narrative elements in the game.
Fluidity: Moderate. While players do move in an "I-Go/U-Go" manner, a number of the phases within a player turn are integrated or otherwise interactive, so the fluidity factor is something to consider.
- •Physical: Moderate. There is a reasonable differentiation between technical quality of weapons between nationalities, as well as squad firepower capabilities.
- •Mental: Moderate. This is done very abstractly through leadership modifiers and squad Experience Level Rating to indicate tactical proficiency. OODA Loop/Decision Cycle modeling shows how better led forces will execute slightly faster, gaining growing advantages in combat over time.
- •Moral: Moderate. The design primarily relies on Morale Levels for both leaders and squads; leadership modifiers affect morale when receiving fire and when trying to rally.
Disorder: Moderate. Friction is the biggest contributor to this--battles become quite messy very quickly.
Complexity: Moderate. The game is not as easy to learn as other WW2 ground tactical game systems, but the narrative power and excitement makes it worth it. Mastery is seemingly always elusive, but players feel like they can always do better in their next game; complexity of play does not put them off.
Where to get itEdit
This module goes in and out of print frequently, though it's worth hunting for. Once in print, do not hesitate to pick up a copy--it goes out of print extremely quickly and stays that way for a while. E-Bay prices are perhaps too steep, but it depends on your timing and luck.
These books provide good primers for the basics of small unit infantry tactics, many that players can replicate in the game system with great success. Many wargamers, even those with some substantial small unit experience in the real world, can become disoriented due to the widely varying mission sets and types of tactical problems posed in the game scenarios. These books, along with the game primers, tutorials, and replay analyses available below in "Related Links," will help steepen the learning curve.
- •Multi-Man Publishing Support Page for additional scenarios, errata, and Q&A.
- •Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 Board Game Geek Entry -- check Videos for Joe Steadman's Primer series on the game, Files for detailed tutorials, Forums for discussions of the game, and much, much more.
- •ASL Starter Kit Explained by Daniel F. Savarese -- marvelous introduction to the game, the rules, and scenario analysis of S2: "War of the Rats."
- •Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit Series Gamesquad Forum Discussion Board -- more discussions on all the games in the ASLSK series.
- •Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1 Bonus Pack--"Beyond the Beaches" Board Game Geek Entry -- hard-to-find/long Out Of Print (OOP) additional board and three more scenarios for ASLSK#1, highlighting actions in the Normandy campaign.