Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Your Squad's Starting Step

When it comes to wargaming World War II at the squad-based level, Avalon Hill’s Advanced Squad Leader game system is without peer. It allows opponents to control squads, half-squads, individual support weapons, leaders, and vehicles in a clash of arms over a variety of terrain types and across the conflict’s many theaters of operation. Yet the detail of the game system and its steep learning curve can be both a daunting and expensive prospect. Fortunately, the game’s current publisher, Multi-Man Publishing, has countered this with the release of the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1.

This is designed not only to introduce the prospective player to the core concepts of the game system, but to also act as a taster for the whole of the Advanced Squad Leader line. In that, it is relatively inexpensive compared to the full game ($80 versus $24), and further it concentrates entirely on infantry combat between US, German, and Russian troops using only their support weapons (machine guns, flamethrowers, and demolition charges), with vehicles saved for the full game and further Starter Kits, of which there are now a further two.

Starter Kit #1 is pleasingly appointed. The rules include full color examples and the double-sided counters are clear and easy-to-use. While the full color mapboards, representing a variety of urban, rural, and wooded terrain at a scale of 40 meters per 2cm hex, are not fully mounted, they do come on sturdy card. The box is missing one component, the turner counter, and another Quick-Reference Data Chart for the second player would make the game easier to play.

As opponents maneuver their squads to bring enough firepower to bear on the enemy, the heart of the system is the squad leader. Enough firepower can both inflict casualties and break the enemy’s morale, thus restricting a squad’s ability to fight. Squad leaders are capable of both coordinating the firepower of multiple squads, and more importantly, of rallying broken squads so that they can take up the fight once again. Turns consist of eight phases: Rally, Prep Fire, Movement, Defensive Fire, Advancing Fire, Rout, and Close Combat. The rules for each are well explained and illustrated with clear examples. Though not overly complex, the rules do require the memorizing of a lengthy list of abbreviations.

The longest of the six scenarios is seven turns. Predominately set in post-D-Day Western Europe; the historically based encounters take place in Normandy, the Ardennes, and Germany as well as Stalingrad. None uses a larger area than one mapboard or more than thirty counters, which increases the Starter Kit #1’s suitability for solitaire play. Beyond the six scenarios, the Starter kit is a little limited, and it is a pity that no capacity for designing scenarios was included.

Minor quibbles aside, the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1, with its good quality components, represents a solid, reasonably priced package. It is also an excellent means of entering what is an engrossing hobby that is already well supported, including further Starter Kits to help ease the learning curve.