Of all the games cluttering my study, this is one of my favourites: maybe my absolute favourite. Actually it's less a game, more of a game system. For a start it is made up of no less than 11 or 12 separate modules (excluding the ASL Rulebook, which runs to well over 100 pages), and the total game pieces so far comprise over 50 mapboards and probably 2-3,000 counters. (I should qualify that by saying that you only ever use a few of these in one game (or "scenario")).
Put baldly, ASL is a game of squad-level combat in World War II and the years immediately before and after. The counters represent groups of 2-10 men or individual guns or vehicles, while the mapboards show representative terrain at a scale of one hexagon to about 40 metres. The mapboards are geomorphic, ie they can be placed abutting one another in any order and still fit coherently. Part of the pleasure in ASL, in fact, is the aesthetic beauty of the mapboards, which portray European terrain, North African desert or Pacific jungle. Virtually all the nationalities taking part in conflicts of the '30s and '40s are represented in detail: not only the major powers, but also such countries as the Finns, the Poles and the Chinese.
The game strives for realism and comes probably as close as any board game can to the mechanics of combat (not that I would know, having never fired a rifle in anger). This is reflected in the rules, which simulate not only the effect of raw firepower but also morale, leadership and in some cases the uncertainty of a hidden enemy. Although there is a degree of abstraction, this is used to give the game some of its feel, and the whole system hangs together nicely. The vehicle rules seem highly realistic, covering not only the differences in firepower and armour between different tanks but also mechanical reliability and the drawbacks of poor crew layout. Weather, Prisoners, Narrow Streets, Japanese Banzai Charges, Opposed Beach Landings... it's all there.
I suppose for that reason the very strength of ASL - its complexity - becomes a weakness when you actually want to play it against a human opponent. Assuming both of you work, maybe have partners, have other interests and the normal human needs of eating and sleeping, it can be difficult to play through a scenario in one sitting. As you settle down you find your house gets more cluttered, you have less space to leave out a large engagement (and the cat would probably jump on it anyway), and in the end instead of a huge conflict on a table-sized map of Stalingrad you settle for a meeting clash between a few armoured cars in the desert, because it's the only way you'll finish the game without staying up all night.
The future of further ASL development looked in doubt at the end of 1998 when ASL's founders, Avalon Hill, were bought out by Hasbro, the games industry giant. To be fair, Avalon Hill had been struggling for a couple of years, and had already shed a fair number of the ASL veterans, while having trouble bringing out new games on schedule. However, the Multi-Man Publishing company (MMP) linked up with Hasbro to pick up the baton, and have since kept the ball rolling by bringing out products that had previously been promised, such as the Historical Modules for Arnhem and Tarawa. There are also third-party companies of enthusiasts producing ASL add-ons and extras, so there is still plenty of support for the game out there. Having said that, MMP guard the copyright very carefully, perhaps understandably so.
Realising that a lot of ASL aficionados found it hard to find opponents (or time to play opponents), Avalon Hill realised a very fine solitaire module for the game, SASL. Check the Solitaire ASL page for more details.
Click here for a guide to the ASL Nationalities
ASL modules - what do you need to play the game?
Guide to the many ASL boards currently available
Guide to the many ASL board overlays currently available
An incomplete list of ASL scenarios published in The General
UK-based ASL site View From The Trenches
Jacques Cuneo's ASL Crossroads - contains a host of material, plus many links.
Albert van Poppel's Cardboard Warriors has recently come to my attention. It has ongoing ASL news on it.
Tom Repetti's Tuomioland - Finnish-American ASL page full of useful bits that doesn't take itself too seriously.
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