Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Buying ASL for the Newbie

So you wanna get into the hobby or at least get a taste of the "greatest" tactical WWII game out there? The problem, of course, is that Advanced Squad Leader is a niche within a niche within a niche and you aren't likely to find the game conveniently sitting at your local convenience store.

If you are lucky, your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS!) has a boardgaming section nestled between the Magic cards and the RPG/Dungeons and Dragons stuff. If you're even luckier the boardgaming section has some wargames in it. Of course the final piece of luck is that the store has ordered and has in stock ASL (probably Starter Kits) within that wargaming section. That's a lotta "ifs".

Let's assume that you want to start small first of all. MMP and the powers that be that control the ASL brand realized that an introductory product for those who wanted to play the game was the best way to proceed and a few years ago produced the ASL Starter Kits. The three kits were released a few years apart (I think, I wasn't active in ASL at the time) and today form the basis for quite a few new people joining the hobby -- like yours truly.

What the Starter Kits enabled was a neophyte to sample the core and basic ruleset for a fraction of the price of buying into full ASL. A Starter Kit runs from about $25 to $35 (Kits 1 to 3) which is a pittance compared to the outlay for the full Second Edition ASL Rulebook (new!) and the first module Beyond Valor (that contains the system/informational counters, and the almost full orders of battle for the Russians and Germans) -- these two cost about $65 and $95 respectively. The Starter Kits' contents are all compatible with full ASL so the investment is practically a no-brainer.

If you are interested in ASL GET THE STARTER KITS!

The subset of rules in the kits reputably contains the vast majority of the rules you'll need most of the time in full ASL. Some have even remarked that this subset of SK rules is a full-fledged game system unto itself and I'm not inclined to disagree with them. For those who want a more thorough breakdown of the SK contents I point you to Desperation Morale's World of ASL page on the kits and to MMP itself.

I would only advise a new player to pick up full ASL in lieu of the Starter Kits if, and only if, they were very sure they'd be playing it full on with an experienced player.

Of course if it was this easy I don't think I'd be making a post about it...

The problem is that MMP's Starter Kit #1 is no longer widely available, even through online resellers. Your best bet these days are FLGS websites or the stores themselves or ASL on eBay. For those not well versed in the advanced search on eBay try this link.

["Wait a second scrub," you say, "how can MMP possibly not have Starter Kit #1 in stock?!" -- ah, that's a rant for another time my friend...]

Due to the fact that the production lead times and various other logistical issues are compounded with the relatively small print runs that MMP uses to keep ASL in print and in stock, it has basically become an unspoken rule amongst ASL players that you should ALWAYS buy ASL stuff while you can because the next window of opportunity to acquire that product without facing the exorbitant mark-ups on eBay may be YEARS away. Let's put it this way, though I have yet to pick up full ASL, I am still buying the Valor of the Guards Historical module and the Normandy Action Pack in the full expectation that by the time I want to sit down and play them in the next year or so I may be SOL due to their being OOS!

Time for some good news though. You really only need one of the Starter Kits. All of them are basically standalone. If you could only pick up one I'd choose #3 since that has the full Starter Kit ruleset for infantry, guns, and armoured fighting vehicles. However, completists and anal ones at that, like me, will want all three for the maps and counters and scenarios.

So where can you get this stuff?

If you aren't willing to wait for MMP to reprint and restock, Starter Kit #1 is basically eBay-only or other after-market territory like Boardgamegeek's Marketplace forum or Consimworld's or Gamesquad's. As long as you're patient you should be able to get it for a reasonable, near-retail price.

Starter Kit #2 and #3 are all still available from MMP itself or online resellers like Wargame Depot or Gamer's Armory. I have purchased ASL and non-ASL stuff from both of these sites and can vouch for their speedy and reliable service. Being Canadian I've had the Sentry Box recommended to me and may try it next to get around the silly customs I've had to occasionally pay.

The only other newbie purchase of ASL-related product I would recommend (I'm saving chatting about counter storage and gaming paraphenalia for the next post) is picking up Operations magazines from MMP that have ASLSK scenarios in them (around $8 a pop for single scenarios -- I recommend this only if you are dying for more official SK-level product or are a wargamer with other MMP/Gamers product). Here is a link to the almost complete list of official ASLSK scenarios and where to find them on BGG.

Finally there is also a little scenario pack called Rally Point #2 by Schwerpunkt -- a so-called "Third Party Publisher" (TPP). Here is the Desperation Morale write-up on it and the here is the website for the Schwerpunkt guys. I actually picked this scenario pack up because of the reputation of the Schwerpunkt group who publish a yearly eponymously-named scenario pack. I'm itching to try it out soon by mixing them in with the official scenarios. Rally Point #2 is the pack you'd want as it is not only made for ASLSK but upwards-compatible to full ASL should you graduate there one day.

Whew, another massive post! So here's the summary:

  1. Check out Desperation Morale's World of ASL pages to see what is what. This is the "get edumacated" step.
  2. Check MMP to see what they have in stock. Cross your fingers.
  3. Order from MMP or a reputable online retailer or support your FLGS by ordering through them!
  4. Post "wanted-to-buy" messages on forums like Gamesquad, BGG or Consimworld. Sometimes fellow gamers have good quality product they'd happily sell at great prices to their peers to grow the hobby.
  5. Check eBay (use the linky on the upper right). Cross your toes.

Hope this helps you out. As for paying off your credit card, that's your problem!

Next up, what to buy/find/steal to help you maximize your enjoyment of ASL...


Brad said...

Hello from downunder Australia! I've thought about getting into ASL on and off for a while now. A wargame mate loaned me the ASL rules binders a few years back but it looked so daunting! The ASL starter kits look like the way to go for a newbie. It would be easy to dismiss this system as too complex but the amount of rescources and player support online surpasses almost anything else. I'll keep you updated with my ASL'ing and come back to your blog.


scrub said...

Thanks for the kind words brad! As a lifelong gamer I can attest to the fun in the system just from my relatively brief exposure to ASL. Please do keep visiting and sharing your experiences!

Todd Reed said...

Thank you for this blog. Reading about your entry into this system is fun and educational.

scrub said...

Hope you got yourself some deals on some ASL Todd. Thanks for the comments.

Todd Reed said...

I notice you made a comment on the Consim World Combat Commander page. Right now this is the game I am obsessed with. I enjoy very much it's level of difficulty & detail.

However, there is something very intriguing about the fan base and level of involvement among ASL players. I'm not sure there will ever be that level of interest in Combat Commander.

But while I enjoy reading some of the ASL pages, when I read those tremendous richfam tutorials (especially #5 AFV) I'm reminded why I should just stay away. I'm not sure at this stage of life I'm ready for something this involved.

All that said, I'll keep checking out your blog because I enjoy your writing style, living vicariously, & I await the day Prawn lays down his first beating of The Scrub!

scrub said...

Hehe, don't tell anyone I play games other than ASL(SK) -- I might lose all of my hard earned "street cred".

As for the Prawn, he has requested a rematch tomorrow and I'm happy to take him out behind the shed and kidney punch him AGAIN...