ASL Starter Kit 2 : Guns!
The 'ASL Starter Kit' is part of the 'Advanced Squad Leader' or 'ASL' line of products featuring World War Two small unit combat from Multiman Publishing. By now, there are two releases in this series. The first, which focuses on "infantry only" engagements, and just released: the second module 'Guns' , about ehm... Well, you guessed it.. Guns!
Off course we had some guns in Starter Kit #1 (ASLSK1), it featured machineguns and flamethrowers but that was pretty much it. Now we get some of the really cool stuff. In Starter Kit #2 you get to play with the famous American 'Bazooka' and its German counterpart the 'Panzerschreck' , you get all sorts of mortars, and perhaps best of all: the big guns themselves.
Among these we find a number that will ring a bell even with people who are not into military history or wargaming. Guns like the infamous German '88' and the American 'Long Tom' artillery piece feature in almost every Hollywood movie about WO2, and a company like 'Bofors' made guns in WO2 that are still used today in some armies. So the good news here is that you get to play with all of these in Starter Kit #2, so you can experience first hand why and how exactly these guns made such an impression.
But is the added fun of shooting up the other guy with big guns instead of small ones the only reason to go off and buy what looks like more of the same in Starter Kit #2? No... It is not. Let's take a closer look at what the second Starter Kit module really holds in store.
Rulebook and playaids
First, there is the rulebook. The new rulebook replaces the one from Starter Kit #1 , adding all the rules for ordnance and correcting small errors in the previous version of the rulebook. Suprisingly , this adds only 4 pages to the rulebook. In some respects fixing the rules was really a necessity. The Starter Kit #1 rules were rather vague about some concepts like CX status (Counter eXhaustion), ROF (Rate Of Fire) , DM status (Desperation Morale) and 'Residual Firepower', this has all been cleared up now.
On a side note, I really like the concept of giving any text with additions and/or rewording in the manual a different colour. This way, you can see at a glance what's new so you won't miss out because you chose not te re-read the entire rulebook again.
I also have to compliment the guy who designed the 'To Hit Chart'. Getting to understand how the 'To Hit' rules work in the full ASL game is a very complex affair. Here, everything is compacted on one sheet of paper, including the "infantry to hit" , "area to hit" , "critical hit" and firepower numbers. Excellent job.
The new maps are what we're used to by now; thin cardboard with reasonable artwork. There are hills on one of the new maps, and it pleases me that even someone as colourblind as myself can actually see where the hill is. This used to be quite a problem with many of the older 'mounted' ASL maps , and some of the 'historical maps' released by Multiman Publishing in the past.
I like the new map 'W'. It has some original stuff not found on a lot of other maps in the ASL(SK) universe like the village-in-the-hills, orchard-roads and the large square in the village centre. Map 'X' however could have been left out as far as I am concerned, half of it it looks suspiciously like mapboard "Y". To see what I mean you can take the mapboard and fold it in the middle (same way as it is stored in the box) and you get;
...the lower half of ASLSK #1 mapboard Y
...and the lower half of our new ASLSK #2 mapboard X.
...so not much new stuff here. Grain, some orchards, big long string of woods and a building here and there. The shape of the woods even looks alike. No hills at all, and with the new hill rules that seems a bit of a missed opportunity.
The scenarios are what I believe to be the backbone of any ASL(SK) module. No matter how nice the maps are, how many counters you get, if there are no good and balanced scenarios to go with it then you won't play the game. It's really the scenarios that make the ASL(SK) game system so good, as every scenario is really a miniature standalone game. If you have 100 scenarios, you have 100 different wargames, simply because each and every one is so different to the others.
In ASLSK #2 we get 8 new scenarios: S9-S16 to complement those from the previous Starter Kit : S1-S6.
What happened to S7 and S8 one might wonder? Actually these went into Multiman Publishings magazine "Operations" so you'll have to buy the magazine to get those.
The scenarios look really good. I can recommend playing them in the order in which they are numbered, this way you will introduce the new concepts in the game gradually. For instance S9 'Ambitious Assault' introduces hills, S10 'Paper Army' introduces Italian & Minor Allies nations, S11 'A long way to go' introduces mortars etc etc.
Only time will tell if these scenarios are balanced, but by the looks of it the balance won't be a big problem here, and don't let those puny 1-3-6 italian halfsquads in the order of battle of some scenarios put you off :-)
To nitpick a little; I find it a shame that some existing ASL scenarios are used to inspire new ASLSK scenarios. This was done before ('S8 Ad hoc at Chef du Pont' is a copy of 'T1 Gavin take') and now again, for example with with 'S14 88's at Zon' which is really a modified version of 'A32 Zon with the wind'.
Now I know these originals were good scenarios, but if I buy a new product I want new stuff and not recycled older material, no matter how good it is/was.
The countersheets are quite something , they actually managed to squeeze in all the needed counters for three new nationalities, AND all the American and German counters needed to play all of the ASLSK #2 scenarios and still wind up with only one-and-a-half countersheet. Quite impressive, especially considering that all types of general utility counter have been included in this countermix as well.
Now don't get too excited about all this, it sure does help if you have the counters that were provided in ASLSK #1 to go with this lot. Unless you don't find it a problem to make infantry smoke with no more then just a few squads at a time or go CX with no more the five squads at the same time (I counted just five CX counters).
The quality of the artwork is reasonable, I had a few counters with edges that were coloured with the colour of the counter printed next to it but 95% was fine. The artwork is a bit sober off course, but the ASL series has never been about fancy graphics. Considering the counter design is over 20 years old it's still pretty decent. If you want the pretty pictures, buying "Fire in the sky" also on sale with Multiman Publishing is the better choice.
So, would I recommend putting down 28$ for this game? Absolutely. There is no need at all to own the first Starter Kit if you want to take the plunge and go for infantry and gunnery rules at the same time in ASLSK2. There is no scenario that uses maps or counters that are only published in ASLSK1, so there is no catch here.
You do get a much improved rulebook with ASLSK2, more nationalities, eight good scenarios, more types of hardware to play with and if you find you want more than the 8 scenarios ASLSK2 provides then you can always backtrack and order ASLSK1.
In ASL Starter Kit #2 Multiman Publishing has succeeded in keeping 90% of the elegant infantry- & gunnery mechanics intact that made its parent game (full ASL) so popular the last couple of decades, in such a way that it is still compatible with its predecessor while still relatively easy to learn.
Already looking forward to the third Starter Kit : Tanks!
Scenarios in ASLSK #2:
S9 Ambitious Assault Avola, Sicily, 10 July 1943. British/American vs. Italian
S10 Paper Army Sarandoporo River Valley, Greece, 3 Nov 1940. Greek vs. Italian
S11 A Long Way to Go Biscari Station, Sicily, 10 July 1943. American vs. German
S12 Over Open Sights Skyline Drive, Luxembourg, 17 December 1944. American vs. German
S13 Priority Target Korinthos, Greece, 26 April 1941. British/Greek vs. German
S14 88s at Zon Zon, Holland, 17 September 1944. American vs. German
S15 Hammer to the Teeth Bleialf, Germany, 16 December 1944. American vs. German
S16 Legio Patria Nostra Radicofani, Italy, 18 June 1944. Free French vs. German
Game fatures in ASLSK 1&2 :