ASL is a time-consuming game. If you are lucky enough to find a human opponent (well, I've never persuaded any of our pets to play), then you've got maybe one evening once a week to have a game, assuming you don't have a lot of other commitments. Of that evening, you spend maybe an hour choosing a scenario, picking the right counters out of the literally thousands and setting them up while trying to think of a game-winning strategy. You then may have two hours play, slowed down by references to the copious rulebook, measurements for LOS, and agonising over whether to push a squad into the line of fire of a stack of defenders. As a result, you'll be lucky to finish the scenario by midnight. It's also impractical to ask a friend just to pop around for an hour to play the odd turn in between other events, like dinner and going out. Come to think of it, a lot of ASL players don't know anybody who would be interested in playing, so they try to play both sides themselves. The scenarios are still entertaining and exciting, but somehow that ultimate dimension of guesswork isn't there. With the best will in the world you know that there is an HMG and 10-3 leader under that "?" counter, and so you subconsciously or self-consciously move the other side's troops accordingly.
This game, in other words, was crying out for a solitaire variant. The possibility was discussed with the first release of the ASL Rulebook, but it took Charlie Kibler about ten years to finally get to the point of release of the first solitaire module (and possibly the last, due to Avalon Hill's sellout to Hasbro). Was it worth the wait?
For the £30 or so that it costs in the UK, you certainly get a huge amount of material - system counters galore, several pages of SASL rules, and two or three stiff cards of charts for the Germans, Russians and US forces, plus one for generic player events and dice rolls. There are also fourteen scenarios, which I'll come back to later. Some people may be disappointed that there are no new boards or overlays, but as most of us already have forty or so boards and a whole load of cardboard to stick onto them, this is a minor quibble.
The rules actually require less verbiage than one might imagine for a games system this complex. It should first of all be stressed that these rules were not designed for use with existing, non-SASL scenarios, but require the use of the fourteen scenarios in the box. A scenario (or "Mission") is selected (randomly, if desired, and possibly as part of a Campaign) and your forces set up accordingly. Your forces comprise 130 BPV of infantry or a historically-based company of about 9-12 squads and leaders, minus any losses if the Campaign game is being played. Extra troops may be randomly allocated depending on the mission. Victory or defeat in the Mission depends on achieving the Victory Conditions, as in an ordinary ASL scenario. The enemy forces are represented at first by Suspect counters, different-coloured "?" that may represent 1-3 enemy squads with or without support weapons and leaders, or a gun or AFV. These either hold their position (if on the defensive) or advance randomly. Within a certain range or if affected by friendly fire they are Activated, a process which either turns the counter into enemy units or shows it to be a Dummy. To add considerably to the Fog of War, a Random Event may take place in the Rally Phase. If one is rolled for your own side you may be fortunate enough to receive decent reinforcements or to have the enemy suffer adversely in some way. If the enemy gets a RE, you may find something unpleasant and unexpected happening to you, eg his AFV charging from offboard into your flank.
The trickiest and most detailed part of the solitaire game, as you might imagine, is the mechanics of moving and firing the enemy troops. This does require a certain amount of dice rolling but is in fact not as bad as you might expect. Furthermore, there are a good deal of Automatic Actions which enemy units must carry out, eg firing on an adjacent unit (except unarmed vehicles! - the designer spotted that hoary old dodge). It must be said that the enemy units do move sometimes rather automaton-like into your friendly fire. To balance this, your own troops are subject to Panic (as are the enemy's). This process means it pays to keep leaders close to the squads, and also that you can't always count on punishing even the most inept enemy movement. In a way I found this highly realistic, since it removes the infallible control of a board commander even further. You can dictate the strategy, but it's down to your men (as represented by the dice).
Perhaps the trickiest part of this game is enemy movement, where sometimes no clear single way exists to move an enemy unit in accordance with its orders. In this case the normal rule is to move the unit according to its best interests, but a measure of strict self-discipline and fair play is still necessary here. Similarly, routing is done in the broken unit's best interest, ie usually towards a leader and certainly not to an exposed position that would leave it open to capture or elimination. You will often find a lot of DM counters are needed when enemy infantry are in an advance attitude, as they do tend to move across Open Ground where a human opponent might find discretion the better part of valour.
The beauty of the Missions is that none of them ever plays the same. Not only do they give you variable terrain (from random dice rolling to select the board(s) used) but the setup of Suspect counters varies. The Mission can take place in any month between 9/39 and 8/45, so the composition of your forces and their ELR and SWs will also vary (though the SASL Module 1 only allows German, Russian and US charts, hence in reality you are restricted to the time frame 6/41-5/45). The Random Events normally turn up a lot of hardware in the form of Ordnance or vehicles, so you also get to play with various tanks and guns, including the rarer types. Finally, there is a Campaign Game which allows you to take a historically-based company through a series of games, a month or week at a time. I played one with a US company from 6/44 to 3/45 and was lucky to finish with a draw, as I got badly hammered on the first few games. If the game has two basic premises, the first is never understimate those Suspect counters as they can Activate and dish out some nasty punishment, especially to "6" morale troops. The second is be prepared for the unexpected. I was once in a winning situation in Mission 4 ("Bunker Busting") when the German defender rolled up a Panther tank that eliminated two of my Sherman 105s and placed me in a negative VP state that lost me the game. Similar things could and did happen in the real war: be thankful that this is just a game.
For a while the continuation of SASL was in doubt following the demise of Avalon Hill and its subsequent demise. I did formerly state my belief that the game's future lay in the hands of third-party gamers rather than Hasbro, simply because the latter didn't have the experience of ASL that the former had had. For a while the SASL flame was indeed kept burning by pages such as Rick Lubben's Group Solitaire ASL (GSASL) site. I am happy however to say that I was wrong: Multi-Man Publishing, who pay a license fee to Hasbro to produce ASL products, picked up the baton with the SASL 2nd edition module a couple of years after their takeover, and did on the whole pretty good job of it.
Not sure which nationality you'd like to play? Click here for a guide to the ASL Nationalities
SASL Tips - some suggestions for tactics based on experience of the game system.
Svante Nagy's Random Event Tables - interesting contribution from a European player!
Some optional SASL rules to cover unusual situations.
SASL North Africa - some suggestions for playing SASL in the North African theatre, 1940-43.
The following pages to a certain degree have been overtaken by the SASL 2nd edition module, which covers the rest of the nationalities with the exception of Finland and the Axis Minors. However, I believe the Polish OB Tables created here have some validity, as they include a greater possibility of generating any of the weapons in the Polish inventory. Similarly the Italian OB Table, although riddled with footnotes, could be considered more historically accurate than the official one. These are not intended to be a challenge to Hasbro/MMP's ownership of the ASL logo, and if the latter companies wish to incorporate any of these suggestions into the official version then they are welcome to do so (although a credit would be nice!). Try them out and see whether you like them.
Polish SASL Listings - An introduction
Polish Generation Tables
Polish Random Event Table
SASL British Tables - not yet complete apart from ordnance, but ongoing.
SASL Italian Tables - not yet complete apart from AFVs, but ongoing.
Chinese RE Table
Japanese RE Table
French RE Table
Finnish RE Table
German Gebirgsjäger in SASL
Soviet Cossacks in SASL
Pete Wenman's GBSASL page has some interesting thoughts and ideas, plus some embryonic OBs and comments on an ongoing GSASL campaign.
1st GSASL Ranger Battalion is an ongoing Group SASL game with some very fine graphics and organisation. Well worth a visit, even if you don't intend to join up.
Andy's SASL page contains the OB for a Russian paratroop company.
This Norwegian page features several ASL and SASL links. Luckily the text is in English!
Apart from these pages, I have not found any other links for Solitaire ASL. If anyone knows of any others, please E-mail me.
"Alone and Confused: Solitaire ASL and the Novice Player", Matthew Ellison, The General Vol 31:3
"Series Replay: Solitaire ASL", Neil Clark with Richard Eichenlaub, ibid.
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