Saturday, February 21, 2009

AAR - VASLeague Game 1 - S4 Welcome Back! Part 3

I'm going to make this post short and just some small thoughts about my first VASLeague -- read that: first competitive game. No offense intended to Prawn but a game between friends, no matter how competitive, for me, is a slightly different beast.

1. COMPETITION. If you're new to the whole ASL hobby and are not adverse to it, nothing beats competitive stress to help you learn and learn FAST. It really magnifies even very small play sequences into titanic struggles. For example, the S4 SSRs have a simple DR at the start of every turn to determine environmental conditions (I think I've got the real ASL term for it) as to whether it's snowing or not. This die roll was crucial in the middle turns as firefights erupted over longer distances and the +1 hindrance involved became a factor.

Another example I can give is when I first started playing Magic: The Gathering competitively in tournaments for "real". It was a far cry from casual play with buddies. I remember my hands shaking in nervousness as I laid my first land down as if it was the end of times... I wasn't that good but darn if I wasn't a much tighter (better) player afterwards, quickly outstripping my local play group and friends.

What is more, I've read countless posts by players of ASL who became, for lack of a better term, "inbred" in their rules knowledge and gameplay. That is, when you play with only a small circle of friends, or with only a single f2f opponent or solo exclusively, you're bound to be getting something wrong and/or are getting into a rut with your tactics and strategy. It's hard to surprise yourself in solitaire play or if your only opponent always preps and never skulks or whatever. Mixing it up in something like a VASLeague seems a great way to beat this "inbreeding" problem.

2. COUNTER DISCIPLINE. This is sort of linked to the first point. Playing with the Prawn, we get very very lazy about counter placement, especially the Residual Fire counters and occasionally the Defensive Fire ones. Play amongst friends leads to this lack of discipline which is clearly not OK in a competitive situation. Reminder/informational counters in VASL are a click away and seeing as some games could take extended breaks in the middle of a scenario you have to clearly mark everything. Does this make you a better player? You bet.

3. NEVER GIVE UP. I was positive I was going to lose on the first half player turn when gwaedin went waaaay left. To be honest, I joined the league to learn first, win second. But you can't help but be a bit crestfallen when it appears your opponent is going to smoke you on the first turn. I've been reading some stuff on the GameSquad forums recently about the "Personal Morale Check" PMC. Failing the PMC basically gives your opponent the game. Luckily I passed -- mainly because I remembered I was there to have fun and learn and making the best of a seemingly bad situation was the best learning to be had. Stay positive and have fun. You'd be surprised what happens sometimes.

4. THE DICE. I'm not really going to complain about the dice because, as I have said before on this blog, I long ago made peace with the Gods of Dice in boardgames and the Random Number Generator in electronic games. Never complain about the dice. You'll lose sleep over something that you cannot control. If it bothers you that much play a diceless wargame like Napoleon's Triumph (amazing btw) or *gasp* Euros! Part of the fun of ASL is in the extremes of dice results anyways. Nothing makes for a better story than those times only two boxcars would save your opponent -- and you roll 12 then... 11! Whew!

5. SKULKING. Long before I started playing ASL I had heard about "skulking" -- the act of Assault Moving your stacks in defense back out of sight in the MPh then Advancing them later back to where they started. If you try and justify this in real-life terms you'll just go crazy. It's definitely a "gamey" tactic -- something that implies unsporting behaviour. I have news for you. If you want realism in a game you're asking for something that will never exist. By its very nature games are an abstraction of "reality" and blah blah blah. It's a stupid argument. I've now embraced skulking as part of my ASL toolkit. So should you.

6. HMGs. Holy crap. Wow. Here's the counter that really helped me win my game:

Let's do a little in-depth counter talk shall we? I think it represents the M2 Browning or something very similar. 8FP all by it's lonesome. On a simple DR of 7 it's already resulting in a 1MC. On snakes it's a KIA/1. It's (unseen) B# is 12 so it's normal, no more brittle than the typical MG. The range is 16 (underscored here is not used in SK-level but I think it means it can spray fire, ie. area fire on two adjacent hexes in one burst) which is pretty well any LOS on the SK maps, especially the "urban" settings. Crossing a field in front of it must be absolute murder. (DR of 7 -1 FFNAM, -1 FFMO = 2MC).

But of course, the most "fun" thing about the .50 HMG in the American arsenal is the 3 ROF. Fully HALF the time you fire, you'll be firing AGAIN, hit or miss. Given that the coloured die at 3 results in a DR of 9 at worst, that's still a PTC on the IFT! So if you do hit and keep ROF it's terribly effective. No wonder I was vapourizing Germans in that last MPh. (Remember, the HMG was stacked with a 10-2 leader so... 8FP, -2 leader, -1 FFNAM, -1 FFMO = average DRs of 7 are now 3s and K/2 results on the IFT. That's "average".)

Drawbacks? It's 5PP to haul around so make sure you put it somewhere you want to keep in place. And as gwaedin mentions, the covered arc of the thing when it's in a building in full-ASL is limited. No crazy Star Wars laser turret shenanigans.

The HMG definitely made me look smart!

7. FTs AND SET-UP. Did I make a mistake putting my FT on a non-elite unit? I know it goes against convention but I knew that out of all my SWs, the FT would have drawn the most attention to start (HMG too). I certainly didn't think they would last long but I don't think I truly appreciated just how bad it is in the hands of the 2nd liners who wielded one. They had a very good chance of breaking it but to be fair, I intended them solely as major threats to try and funnel gwaedin's advance. Or maybe I'm just stupid. It bears a bit more study.

S4, as I mentioned previously, is really the first time you have to get very very careful with set-up in SK1 (provided you play them in order). Not only do you have to put the right pieces in the right places with the obvious consideration of the Victory Conditions but you have to put the right squads with the right SWs and leaders. I have no doubt that I could have easily blown this scenario even before the first turn with a more sub-optimal set-up. There's a lot of replay value in this scenario alone.

Did I say this was "short"? Man, I'm chatty. Anyways, hope this series of AARs on my first VASLeague was informative. I'm adding another couple of LEARNING TIPS:




Thanks for reading!

Heck, one more:



Luca Andena said...

On skulking... I never really felt it is so gamey. Basically you are giving up any chance oh harming the enemy (during Prep Fire Phase) so as to stay well in cover. Or you may want to have a try at hurting your opponent, running the risk of drawing Defensive Fire as a consequence. That looks perfectly fair to me.
During the last turns scrub had to choose between these two alternatives with his 747 squad near the exit point on the map... On one of those instances he chose to prep fire me (after the attack I blundered with an 11) instead of skulking and I immediately thought of that as a mistake, because he gave me a chance of breaking the door open. Unfortunately for the Germans I could not take advantage of it. But as a defender, when facing an opponent with a lot more FP, I can't see anything wrong in staying well under cover. Especially when HE has to move in order to win. Basically you are trying to balance how much harm he can do to you and you to him, all weighted by the potential tactical consequences. In those cases it looks to me as: if I'm lucky, it's game over but if I'm not I may get into trouble; while if I skulk, I can be quite sure that my unit will be there in defense next turn and my opponent will have to choose between losing another turn (in the hope of breaking my units) or moving and facing wild defensive fire. The power of skulking lies in the word "sure" and "hope"... I like the fact the dice in ASL always give some kind of uncertainty. This allows for taking risks, which is much more fun than a deterministic approach in which you can exactly evaluate what the consequences of your actions are going to be. It also allows recoverying from mistakes: sometimes you move a unit in the open because you missed a LOS but they are spared. In this context, skulking is VERY important because as opposed to most events in the game, if you take your units out of LOS you are SURE that they are not going to be harmed. Such a level of certainty is surely a plus when playing ASL, something I hardly can ignore.
On the other hand, there are situations in which you know that at some point you will have to inflict casualties on your opponent in order to stop him from running over you. Or, simply, cross-LOS from different units does not give you any chance of safely skulking. Which makes sense.

scrub said...

Great points on skulking Luca.

The initial problems I had with skulking were the ideas that ASL as a simulation conflicts with the ASL as a game. For the most part, most of your actions and rules that govern them make logical sense from a simulation aspect (best example: the defensive fire process). But it breaks down a bit and sticks out like a sore thumb when you skulk.

Good analysis of its applicability to our game.

Josh said...


Just a thought...

You are well on your way to Full ASL. There are going to be many opponents who will be grateful for the game you give them because you take the approach you are taking. Keep up the good work!

scrub said...

Thanks Josh,

I think I could take the plunge soon but I'm really enjoying the journey right now.

There's a lot of game in ASLSK (due probably to the fact it's a major chunk of what you'll do in full ASL) so I think I'll make my goal of hitting a full ASL game by December. I'm already chatting with Talloaf about playing a PBEM with concealment and such.

Fun all around!

Luca Andena said...

Concealment IS the single part of the rules not included in ASL SK that really makes it different - and takes a lot of time until you get it right.

scrub said...

Concealment... hmmm, where did I put my ASLRB...