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Advance Squad Leader Starter Kit #1

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Time Scale: 2 minutes per Game Turn
Unit Scale: 5 to 10 men, plus individual leaders, vehicles, guns
Map Scale: 40 meters per hex
Players: 2 (also suitable for solitaire or team play)
Complexity: Medium
ReviewerDavid W. Nicholas

Advanced Squad Leader is probably (in the entirety of itself) the largest war game ever produced. If you have all of the components released by Avalon Hill since its inception, there are over 50 boards, tens of thousands of counters, and several hundred pages of rules, along with seemingly thousands of scenarios and player aid cards. The game covers infantry combat at a tactical level in the Second World War (though the full time-line of the scenarios ranges from the early 20s to after the Korean War), with each counter representing a squad, single man, heavy weapon, artillery piece, or vehicle. The map is covered with hexes which are 40 meters across; each turn represents 2 minutes of real time. This is a big game, if you take into consideration all that’s involved.

Fortunately, it’s not as big as it sounds. For one thing, you don’t use all of the counters at any one time, by any stretch of the imagination, and for another, you don’t use all the maps or rules, either. This has always looked like the way to get people interested in the game without trying to get them to drain their bank accounts and clean out a closet or two to store the components. Back two decades ago, the then-design staff of the game came up with Paratrooper, which included the “Training Manual,” a humorous attempt to teach the game to novices, complete with examples. The difficulty was that you still needed the rulebook in addition, and given that it weighed in at $45.00, the whole package still wasn’t cheap, by any means.

The second try, released this year, is something called the ASL Starter Kit. You get a pair of 8x22” unmounted maps, one sheet of 280 counters, three scenario cards, a rule book, and a couple of player aid cards, along with a pair of dice. The rules are considerably shaved down, so that the novice player can play quickly, after having read the 12-page rulebook once or twice. Since this game is complete by itself, and is $24.00, it’s a considerably better introduction to the game. Players can get their feet wet, see if they’re interested in playing ASL itself, and learn the basics of the system, without putting their checkbook on life support and endangering their love life by filling closet space. For those who play ASL, or have in the past, a list of things that were omitted from the Starter Kit include snipers, weather, much terrain (notably hills), vehicles and guns, off-board artillery, and airpower. The nationalities involved in the game are the same as in the original Squad Leader, from back just after I was out of High School: Germans, Russians, and Americans.

The scenarios are a good cross-section of type and format, and utilize the two maps about as fully as they can be used. One has Americans, with no support weapons (Paratroopers just after D-Day) clearing a village of Germans; another has the Soviets trying to fend off a German assault in Stalingrad. One of the scenarios introduces a simple form of weather (it can start to snow, hampering visibility), another has assault engineers with their enhanced smoke capability, and yet another has building fortifications. One has the attacker trying to get across the width of one map (ten hexes) while another has one side entering on either side of the defender. Since all of the scenarios are on the small side, they’re suitable for an evening’s entertainment, as opposed to an all-day thing that occupies your time and energy. If you’re interested in ASL but daunted by its size, this could be a good introduction, or if you’ve never heard of the game, but it sounds interesting, this is a good and relatively painless way to test the waters and see if you’re interested.


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