Solitaire ASL first came out in the mid nineties, having been some considerable time in gestation with original Avalon Hill ASL guru Charlie Kibler. It was welcomed by a large contingent of the ASL-playing community, although by then the growth of the Internet meant that many of those who might formerly have used it were playing VASL online. Nevertheless the solitaire module gained a considerable following, with some clamouring for a follow up to include the rest of the nationalities in the game system other than the Germans, Americans and Russians. Websites naturally appeared with suggestions for the other nationalities, night rules and so forth.
In the interim, Avalon Hill slowly ground to a halt and were bought out in 1998 by Hasbro, who gave Multi-Man Publishing the job of overseeing and running the ASL games. In fact MMP have risen to the challenge quite well (notwithstanding some grumbling about their relationship with "third parties") and have produced a number of historical modules, journals and "Action Packs". Now, finally in 2001, they have given us Solitaire ASL 2nd edition.
My first impression as I opened the brown delivery parcel was that the box inside was virtually identical with the 1st edition, the front carrying the same picture but with some slight changes and additions to the writing on the front and back. The counters inside are also identical with those of the first edition, although I am not sure whether in the same quantities. The rules have been reprinted in a larger font, which makes reading easier but takes up a little more room in an already crowded rulebook. There are seven new scenarios and a raft of extra tables to cover the extra nationalities.
As we noted above, the first edition covered just the Germans, Russians and US, plus the Partisan-ENEMY. The 2nd edition adds all the existing nationalities apart from the Finns and the Axis Minors, who will be covered in "Haakke paalle" and "Armies of Oblivion" respectively. Thus you get the possibility of playing with or against the French (1940, Vichy or Free), the British (including their various Commonwealth contingents), the Italians, the Allied Minors, the Japanese and the Chinese, in addition to those included in the 1st edition. Those who like playing with US troops can also use the US Army in the PTO or the US Marines, as tables are provided for both: similarly there is a separate table for the British in the PTO. The Pacific theatre itself has some rules included, most notably to cover the actions of Japanese and Chinese (especially the Japanese-ENEMY) and to lengthen the game somewhat to compensate for the density of most PTO terrain. Some may be slightly disappointed that there are no official desert rules as yet, which covers after all much of the British and Italian fighting in the war. Allied Minor OBA has also been added by allowing these countries to utilise the Vichy French OBA.
Other interesting and welcome developments are the addition of extra historically accurate companies to those available to the nationalities. Thus Germans can use Fallschirmjäger companies of 5-4-8s or Waffen SS, while Russians can try SMG companies (who have a -1 DRM to their board selection DR to give them a better chance of being used in more appropriate built-up areas) and the Italians can select Bersaglieri or Grenadiers. In this smorgasbord of possibilities, the Allied powers actually seem to get the short end of the stick: there is basically only one British infantry company of 4-5-7s, which seems a little ungenerous given the role of the Commandos, the Royal Marines and the Paras during the war, not to mention ANZACs (who would be 4-5-8s) or even the Home Guard as 4-3-6s. The US only has the possibility of Marines or regular US Army, but then again historically did not field many diverse units other than such groups as the Galahad force in Burma, which could be a company made up of 6-6-7s. The Chinese can use the 5-3-7s of the X/Y force as well as regular GMD troops.
One interesting development is the upgrading of the Italians, albeit for SASL purposes only. Now a 3-4-7 is considered the standard Italian 1st line squad, while the 3-4-6 is considered a 2nd line unit. One supposes that this was done in the interests of play balance. Having played one scenario with 26 3-4-6s as an experiment, I can see the point. Looking at the Italian tables, one senses that some of the minor historical rough edges have been smoothed over, allowing a somewhat more generic table.
The new scenarios heavily bear the imprint of those which appeared on Rick Lubben's GSASL page not so long ago (indeed, Rick gets a mention in the credits). "River Assault", "Amphibious Assault", "Pursuit", "Escape" and "Bridgehead" are virtually unchanged from this previous incarnation, as are Scenarios 1-14 from the 1st edition. The two novelties are "Beach Defence" and "Airlanding", which offer interesting possibilities for play although players should not anticipate their companies being regularly dropped behind enemy lines.
At first reading the rules themselves appear to have changed little if at all, having been augmented instead by additional material to cover night fighting, PTO and Japanese, seaborne assaults and the other nationalities. This adherence to the original system is probably a good thing, since I for one never found much problem with the solitaire system once the basics were grasped. A nice thing about SASL is that contrary to what one might expect, a game can actually be played more quickly than a standard ASL one.
One hates to pick at things in a good product, especially when MMP have been responsive enough to bring it out at a quicker timescale than we might have expected. Nevertheless, in the interests of fairness, there are a few things I would like to raise.
The most important, and in a few cases serious, is the historical accuracy of some items on the nationality tables, mainly relating to ordnance and AFVs. The most glaring of these that I have spotted so far is the British TD table (B6c), which only allows the use of the British 2pdr portee from 10/42 onwards. Unless I have missed something in the revised rules, this is completely wrong: the British were using this vehicle against the Italians virtually from the start (see, for example, ASL 58, "Ci Arrendiamo"). Similarly, after the fall of France all surviving Matilda Is were used only in England, for training purposes, whereas they can be rolled up in a Western Desert scenario against the Italians. Likewise, after France it was mainly the Free French who used the 25LL AT, but on B5a it is presented as a possible British weapon until 7/42. On the same table, the 17/25pdr (76LL AT) suddenly becomes available in 7/42, whereas in ASL and history it is not available until early 1943. History aside, these anomalies fly against the standard availability of the weapons in ASL. Similar idiosyncracies abound on other nationality tables: thus the Lancia IZM, which was only available in ASL to Italians in East Africa, becomes available in any theatre within its timeframe, while the poor old Lorraine APC and Laffly 47L AT are not available at all to the French. And if the Italians can have access to the rare Semovente M41M 90/53 (only 36 ever built), why can't the Germans have access to the Jagdtiger VI (48 built) in 1945?
This is by far my major grumble. Other things which would have been nice and which one hopes might one day be included are some rules for overlays, especially PTO ones, cavalry, engineering tanks such as the AVRE, and bulldozers. On this site we hope in the near future to be able to offer some optional rules to cover some of these unwanted AFV or quirky situations, and would be delighted if MMP found our efforts worthy of incorporation into any future update. In the meantime I'm going to settle down with some dice and a box of cardboard counters....
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