Sunday, October 26, 2008

Links Updated

Just a quick post to let people know that the richfam (Jay Richardson) Tutorials in the list of links in the upper right hand corner of the blog have been updated to the original threads on BGG where Jay has now included illustrations.

Way to go Jay and thanks!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Starting Up - Web Resources Part Two


So here is part two of Web Resources... I'd like to thank the Wiggles for coming to Toronto and delaying this post! I've tried to put the links up in a nice progression so that the further down you go from number one, the more complicated the content will be to newbs:

8. ASLOK - This is the official website of the ASL Oktoberfest "convention". It's basically considered the World Championship of ASL and hosts a week-long series of ASL events and tournaments. Though I haven't had the pleasure of attending (yet!) the tournament organizers run a mini-workshop/tournament for newbies called "Maneuvers" that is Starter Kit friendly. I suppose that learning ASL from the experts at ASLOK would be the best option around. More likely though us newbies will get a bigger benefit from their fairly up-to-date links page. The page has links to clubs, third-party publishers and miscellaneous resources.

9. Desperation Morale - Early on in my research on ASL before picking up the Starter Kits I ran across Desperation Morale which is a website dedicated to the wargame by one of the hobby's well-known scenario designers Mark Pitcavage. The actual first attraction to me was the ASL Museum that hosts a wide variety of photos of ASL-related objects -- things like dice towers, 3D-maps, miniatures, storage methods etc. It's nothing short of fascinating. The website has an attached forum, downloadable (FREE!) scenarios, play-aids and an advertisement to buy Mr. Pitcavage's ASL scenario design guide. What is probably most useful to the newbie however, is the "World of ASL" pages which are a virtually comprehensive guide to every ASL product ever published (by Avalon Hill, MMP or third parties). Practically every publication gets a rundown by Mr. Pitcavage of its contents and a small evaluation as to its usefulness. There is no question that a newbie without any idea of what to buy (or even figure out what is what) to get into the hobby would find the website invaluable.

10. Miscellaneous blogs/club websites: TPBF is not the first blog to focus on the experiences of an ASL player or the hobby. There are quite a few club and individual websites out there that are current and "living". Check out the links page on the ASLOK site (above) and the clubs listed. Here are a highlighted few:
  • - Right here on blogspot there is at least one other ASL player blogging his experiences. "Josh" runs which also doubles as the Spokane ASL club's website. Josh was kind enough to comment on TPBF's first post and we'll see if we can't all make a concerted effort to sell others on this fine wargame and hobby.
  • - Ostensibly the most current form of the Texas ASL club whose Banzai magazine has run for years and years. The Banzai Pipeline is updated quite frequently with AARs (after action reports -- short comprehensize debriefings of playings of ASL scenarios). Some of the Banzai back issues contain interesting strategy articles. The Pipeline AARs are great for newbies to see what full rule ASL is like.
  • - (not to be confused with ASLOK above) Another ASL blog run by Todd Wiley from Michigan. His tournament AARs are great for newbies who are curious about the more competitive world of tournament ASL.
  • - The Tri-State ASL Club's website which is not on the ASLOK links page probably due to the fact that it doesn't seem to be very active anymore, has a few interesting links for newbies, especially on their ASL Basics web pages.
Those are only a small sampling of the clubs and blogs out there or even aware of.

11. - The VASSAL Engine is an open-sourced Java-based software application designed by one Rodney McKinney that allows users to import boards and game pieces into its format and play boardgames over the Internet remotely. It leverages the advantages of the computer like easy set-up, takedown, saving games, chat capability, match-making etc. VASL is the module that allows VASSAL to simulate the boards and pieces of ASL. It has, reputably, led to a major upswing in the ASL hobby as being "face-to-face" is no longer a requirement to play. Most major boardgame publishers, especially the wargaming ones, see VASSAL as an extension and competitive advantage to their products. Best of all VASSAL and VASL are free. How is this possible? As mentioned, the project is open-sourced and Mr. McKinney derives no commercial benefit outside of the donations he receives and the engine itself does not have an Artificial Intelligence or programmed opponent. It merely hosts a method of display of boards in a virtual manner for opponents to manipulate via mouse and keyboard -- in other words, you still have to buy the rulebooks and know how to play, VASSAL just let's you do it with someone across the world at the same time. VASL is worthy of a series of posts all by itself so I'll leave it there. Newbies can find the best use of it immediately by finding players who are willing to teach them in the game lobbies and saving board set-ups while learning.

12. ConsimWorld - This website is famous for its hosting of very old school chat forums dedicated to wargames (CONflict SIMulations). More web savvy users may find that ConsimWorld's unusual conventions of having a continuous discussion per topic rather than threaded posts archaic and user-unfriendly. For example, contrast ConsimWorld's forums to BoardgameGeek's -- it seems that the "divide" between new Euro-gamers and wargamers of the past is alive and well in this communication methodology. That being said, newbies who are unafraid (or just want to lurk like me) should check out the MMP folder, the ASLSK folder and the ASL-proper folder. It takes a bit of effort over a few days and then you'll be able to follow the conversations a little more easily. Be aware of course that in-jokes, personal familiarity and occasional snobbery make for an intimidating community to break into for some. I've found however, that CSW's greatest strength is its unparalleled involvement of wargame designers in the various discussion folders. If you want to get closer to the people who make wargames and ASL, go to CSW.

Well there you have it. Some of the most useful websites out there for aspiring ASL players. I hope it was useful.

Starting Up - Web Resources Part One

So, you're curious about ASL and, like me, found the idea of learning and playing the game a daunting task without anyone to tutor you in its finer points -- or even how to get started... Perhaps you've even picked up an ASL Starter Kit (#1-#3) or the ASLRB itself, but it's still not clicking.

For me, I found that the Internet has been a godsend in terms of aggregating information on how to start playing this wargame. Here is an annotated web bibliography for total newbies (and people who found the search term ASL on google to be a little less than expected):

1. "Richfam"'s ASL Tutorials #1-3 - (And #4 here with graphics even!) As mentioned in my last post, Boardgamegeek user "richfam" (Jay Richardson) has created the obsolutely best introduction to ASL that I've seen. If not for his tutorials I doubt I would have ever picked up the Starter Kits or even understood how to begin playing. Mr. Richardson has used a very easygoing, narrative style, to explain and break down the reasons for the rules. After reading his tutorials you can easily visualize the action. For example, his explanation for residual fire left by defensive first fire totally makes the system comprehensible. The Starter Kits just give you the rules and not the whys and wherefores. If you've picked up the official ASL Rulebook or perused the Starter Kits you'll understand the difference between legalese and narrative rule writing style immediately.

I'm not putting down the "ASL-ese" of the official stuff, since an experienced player would find that much more useful, but being introduced to the game with the richfam Tutorials has been basically akin to having an expert player around to show me the ropes. Kudos to Mr. Richardson! Many on BGG eagerly await the final installment of the tutorials (#5) which will address Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) aka TANKS!!!

(In my last post I wondered why richfam wasn't hired by MMP but I understand now that he has been employed in some capacity by them in their periodicals -- way to go!)

1.a. Boardgamegeek Files - Proceed immediately to these files and print them!

2. An Introductory Guide to ASL - I found this .pdf file hosted on the "View from the Trenches" website (VFTT being the long running British ASL newsletter) though it is also on BGG. It's not the easiest thing to absorb in order to learn the game but it's "official" in that it was ostensibly written by MMP, the publishers of ASL itself. Unless you have mucho experience in wargaming and/or have had at least some exposure to the game I don't see total newbs as gaining much other than having a very short but somewhat comprehensive summary of the game as a whole. The best reason to check out this guide is the FREE print and play stuff incorporated into it. A little bit of printer ink, glue and elbow grease will get you a small functional introductory scenario to start. As for View from the Trenches itself, all of its issues from the very very beginning are available on their website and fearless newbs should check them out.

3. EIGHT STEPS TO ASL: A Programmed Instruction Approach By Jim Stahler - Found on the MMP website itself, the document/article appears follow the standard wargame-style learning convention of "programmed instruction". That means that you are slowly given short chunks of rules to absorb and learn in increasingly more complicated scenarios. Hopefully, by instructions' end you'll have the full ruleset (or at least most of it) under your belt. Now, to be honest, this method isn't best given that the Starter Kits have superceded it and that this eight-step approach requires the financial commitment of at least the official Rulebook (~US$65 versus the Starter Kits' ~US$20-35 each) and the first module Beyond Valor (~US$90). I've included the link here though because I find it interesting how learning the game in the past without an experienced player would have been tediously and almost impossibly obtuse for the total newbie.

4. The 2 Half-Squads Podcast - Podcasting has finally come to the world of ASL. Of particular note is the sixth episode where they do a more concentrated job of focusing on how total newbs can learn the game. However, the 2 Half-Squads always make an effort to explain things in their broadcasts. Spontaneous and entertaining, Jeff and Dave's podcast is an easy listen -- I've burned the first ten episodes to MP3 to listen to on the daily commute and have enjoyed them immensely. For newbies, Jeff and Dave do a good job making ASL fun. The only caveat I have is that the first two episodes (possible three) have some serious technical issues (ironed out by the later episodes).

5. The ASL Webdex - The Webdex is a great, albeit slightly dated, compilation of web resources for ASL. It certainly shares a bit of the roughness of some of the early hamhanded efforts of ASLers on the Internet in its presentation. However, there is a LOT of good stuff there that is sub-divided into areas corresponding to the ASL full Rulebook. For newbies there is a dedicated page here.

6. ASL Forums on - Of course, no list of links would be complete without the obligatory site for forum goers. It seems that has garnered the most traffic in terms of sheer numbers of people (players and designers) who frequent its pages. There are a couple of other forums (such as on BGG) that are useful but Gamesquad is the most familiar in its usage and conventions and thus the most newbie friendly. Check out the Starter Kit-dedicated forum for best support.

7. Daniel Savarese's ASLSK #1 Programmed Instruction - I discovered this site after I had bought and played SK1 with the richfam Tutorials (here is the whole of the Savarese document in .pdf format). It is an excellent resource that complements the Tutorials. I highly recommend it with all the resources from BGG above as you start the SKs.

Well, when I started this post I didn't think it would get so big so I'm splitting it up into two! The second post will deal with stuff for the "less" total newbie (does that make any sense?!) ...

As an ASL neophyte I found that simply skimming the stuff on ASL available on the web was a valuable experience. Sometimes I imagine learning ASL on my own pre-Internet or pre-BBS days and I cringe in horror -- no wonder there are so many posts by people who talk about buying ASL when it was first published but never actually playing it due to its practically insurmountable learning "cliff". All hail Al Gore's creation! Part Two up soon...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who am I?

I thought that I'd talk a little bit about myself to try to provide a little context to what this blog will be about and how ASL fits into this new player's recreation time.

I am a life-long game fanatic. I've played boardgames, computer and console video games, role playing games and collectible (and non-collectible) card games of all shapes, sizes, complexities and themes. I'm not sure where it started really; it's not like my parents pushed me into this hobby. Certainly I was always interested in games as a test of skill and intellect but I think the "fun factor" and vicariousness of gaming in a certain "role" was a huge draw. For example, playing chess evoked the image of a mighty general-king at war with an opponent. It was "fun" to picture yourself in that position and "fun" to win. Later, chess turned into Risk and Monopoly, then to Axis and Allies and Dungeons and Dragons, and then Magic: The Gathering, and so on.

Fast forward past getting married, having two kids and playing A LOT OF GAMES... In the past couple of years I have been playing a lot of computer games and games on my XBox 360 along with the "Euro" boardgames that had been garnering a massive North American presence since The Settlers of Catan burst into the hobby in the mid-90's. Burnt out a bit on MMORPGs on the PC, the non-stop shooter parade on the 360 and the feeling that I had played every conceivable Euro-mechanic in existence, I started to look for a new gaming outlet.

As a history buff, especially of the Second World War (and being a high school teacher of it), I started to combine my interest of games with this fascination. I had always had a soft spot for wargames, be it Risk or Supremacy on a table, or Combat Mission or Call of Duty on the computer, so I went looking for the latest and greatest. I visited developers and publishers like Matrix Games and the like. I actually picked up a bunch of titles like Steel Panthers: World at War, The Operational Art of War III, and War in the Pacific. Through it all was the looming presence of grognards who passed judgement on "realism", complexity and whatnot. They'd complain like it was the worst of times (yet still the best of times).

A lot of wargamers mentioned something called ASL. I found out that their hushed whispers were due to the game's lengthy history and legendary complexity. Not one to shy away from a challenge I researched this thing called Advanced Squad Leader and recognized it from my days of collecting and playing a lot of Eurogames. I remembered hobby shops carrying the massive bookcase games of Avalon Hill and the lengthy shelf space reserved for ASL's huge rulebook and seemingly unending copies of modules. I remember thinking how anyone could possibly spend so much time and money on such a hobby. Ridiculous!

On one of my favourite websites, BoardgameGeek, I'd read comments on games and wargames about how ASL wasn't so much a hobby as an obssession. Many said that once they had played it, they didn't need to play anything else. It's funny how things come full circle. My interest in history had pushed my interest in games to WWII and to the one game many said was the game, the best in the field. ASL was not my first wargame purchase in this revival period for me and it certainly won't be my last. However, a few learning games in, I think ASL is definitely here to stay on my gaming table.

I've already written too much about me. But I think it's instructive to know the profile of the person who is attracted to ASL these days and picks it up and marvels at it and takes the plunge to play. I'm certainly not a lapsed original Squad Leader player from the "old days" -- not that that's a bad thing! Reading about other players and trying to suss out who the "typical" ASLer is interesting, I think. Gamers, history buffs, competitors, whatever -- we're all just trying to have fun!

With this post and the previous mission statement I think I've established a firm context from which to approach this game called Advanced Squad Leader. So, let's see if I can post some of the initial experiences with the game out next...

Links: - Publishers of computer wargames like War in the Pacific, TOAW3, and Steel Panthers which some argue is a direct electronic descendent of ASL. - In my eyes the best boardgame-centric website on the Internet. It's where I found the majority of the information when I started looking for ASL stuff. ASL newbies, check out the ASLSK page where a lot of help can be found including this file that is "richfam's" ASL tutorial document in pdf. Hands down it's the "bestest" thing for a new player ever. How MMP hasn't given this man a fricking job yet I'll never know.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Here we go...

Well I've been thinking about this for a while. I've decided to blog my experiences learning and playing AH/MMP's Advanced Squad Leader both as a record and as a tool for others who are in the same boat.

Here are some guidelines I'm setting for myself:

1. I must blog every scenario I play (starting now!). That means at bare minimum a mention in the blog and a general idea of what happened and what the results were. Best case scenario? A full turn-by-turn AAR with nice photos and/or VASL map pics. I'll probably end up in the middle though -- but that's ok.

2. I will take my time and assume that my audience is similar to me in that I want to learn this amazingly complex and intricate system while having fun and constantly improving. I'll try not to lose the perspective of the new ASL player. Fun uber alles.

3. I will scour the Internet and share resources I find that help newbies to the world of ASL. That includes website URLs with discussion of their relevance to the ASL newbie, product commentaries from a newb's perspective, and anything else I feel will be of benefit.

4. Some posts may focus on nothing but rules and discussions of them. Some posts may be about scenarios. Some posts may be about wargaming in general. Some posts may be about my related interests in other gaming domains like consoles and PC gaming. But in every post I must write about ASL in some way, shape or form.

5. I will not go on extended time offs while I'm learning this game! Nobody wants to find and read a great blog and watch its slow descent into mediocrity and eventual sad demise. That being said, as in #4 above, no posts that say nothing about ASL, i.e. like non-sequitor rants about foot powder.

6. I want to expand the hobby and be a good ambassador for ASL. That means getting out there and playing ASL face to face (f2f) and on VASL rather than soloing everything. My initial assessment of the game system makes me want to evangelize its merits! This blog must be part of that.

7. I will leverage the amazing power of the Internet. I will link like crazy. I will use pictures and words. We are all very visual learners. And it's a hell of a lot more entertaining.

8. If anyone ever reads this thing and comments or emails -- I will acknowledge them! See #7. The Internet is interactive! I want to help others learn this crazy thing called Advanced Squad Leader.

9. Humour never killed anyone. I'd like to think I'm a funny guy in real life and I hope that shows in this blog. ASL can be serious but mostly ASL is fun. If you can't laugh at yourself picture a bunch of grown men pushing cardboard chits around and chucking dice into "towers". That's YOU!

10. I will add to this silly ten point mission statement and evolve and change and grow and learn and have fun.

That's it for the first post of Triple Point Blank Fire. Hope it works out!