Monday, February 2, 2009

Just some musings about full ASL...

HOT DAMN I'M BIG!!!Things are kind of in a lull right now with my ASLSK games. The Prawn and I are stuck starting up a new semester at school (we are the teachers though...) and my VASLeague game is still stalled at the start of turn 3 (I see now why it takes 2 months to play a game!).

So, what am I thinking about?

Full ASL.

There's a bit of chatter on the ASL forum on ConsimWorld about the utility of ASLSK and the possibilities of an ASLSK 4-type product that takes the final leap between full and SK-level. There are some old timers who can't make the cognitive leap back to SK-level and to be honest, why should they? If they are good with full ASL they should teach it. If you have to go about it on your own, you grab ASLSKs.

Regardless, my own thinking is that I've always had full ASL as my eventual goal. ASLSK is awesome, edge-of-the-seat excitment levels of awesome. But part of the interest I have in ASL is in grokking the whole shebang. Is this ego? Is this just the need to say, "Hey you there, playing Agricola! Play a real game -- Advanced Squad Leader!"? Do I just feel the urge to wear an imaginary badge of smugness on my chest that says I play the world's most complicated game?

The funny thing is, once you get a few games under your belt, ASL doesn't seem that hard. Granted I could plop the ASLRB in front of my Eurobuddies and they'd cringe in horror, crossing themselves but I personally don't see it as an obstacle -- it's just an interesting challenge.

A question I sometimes see posted on BGG or CSW or GS is whether a newb could ever comprehend the full rules or should they buy the full rulebook or where's the next step after ASLSK3? My opinion is simply this: if you are satisfied with ASLSK as a full and complete wargame unto itself and don't want to climb the ladder, don't. However, having personally bought the full rulebook and starting to read parts of it I can see that the "gap" between ASLSK and full ASL really isn't that big. At least the divide is no bigger than that between "real" ASL players and us SK newbs.

Let me give you an example. There are holes in ASLSK-level rules. Sorry, I said it. The Tiger tank counter in ASLSK3 has a red movement allowance number. In the ASLSK rules and vehicle notes I found nothing that elaborated on this except that Russian T-34s with the red number required a start-up check and on a DR of 11-12 had to stall for DR MPs before restarting again. [Aside: if you can understand what I just wrote you're ready for full ASL.] Well the Tiger had no notes on this, or at least I couldn't easily locate them. Nor were they in the full ASL Chapter H notes. Instead I had to consult the ASLRB2's section in chapter D (I think NRBH) on mechanical reliability and lo and behold there it was in plain language - mechanical reliability was the same as the T-34s but the DR check was 12 (not 11-12).

This is not an exclusive example. If you have a problem or gray area in the rules in ASLSK, the ASLRB2 pretty much answers it -- fast! The rules are clear, organized and the glossary is terrific. I read a great comment on the rulebook on BGG (I'll try to find the author but BGG is down right now); the writer made the analogy of learning English as compared to learning ASL. You'd use the dictionary as a reference, not a course of study. Just so with the ASLRB2. Learning ASL by reading the rulebook starting with Chapter A, section 1.0 onwards to Chapter D/H's last section is ridiculous. The ASLRB2 is your reference when it comes to learning the language known as Advanced Squad Leader.

So, read the ASLSK rules, richfam's tutorials, get the cardboard down on the maps and just shoot a couple of squads against each other in some terrain following the great SOP playaids out there. Play a scenario. Take it slow, do it solo. Teach it to a good friend. Re-read the rules. Pick up the ASLRB2 if you want to upgrade to full ASL and use it as a reference, not a bloody novel. Enjoy. Challenge yourself.

Off the top of my head, here are some other reasons to get the ASLRB2 if you're just a SK newb:

1. Chapter K. The original training notes that came with the original starter kit (module 2: Paratrooper) is included now with the ASLRB2. It's great. I'd argue that it's a great companion to the SKs.

2. If you have the ASLRB2 this programmed instruction method to get to "full" ASL becomes applicable. Some people taught themselves ASL with this programmed instruction set before the luxury of SKs.

3. Chapter H notes are cool. I find this chapter as fascinating as everyone else. The level of detail boggles the mind here. As a wargamer who loves historical and designer notes Chapter H is like pure gold.

4. The ASLRB2 is basically the result of almost 2 decades of refinement in Squad Leader. It is the "Bible" and its word is law. And you can pretty well depend on it where in certain situations in SK you'd be kind of on your own.

5. This is ironic but it should be obvious that having the ASLRB2 should make you fully aware that you don't always need every part of the rulebook for every scenario. You don't need the majority of edge cases when you play any given scenario. No one, not even the mighty gods of ASL (whoever they may be), memorize the whole book, but use it as the reference it was supposed to be. Dictionary::English - ASLRB2::ASL. It's super well organized with some great illustrations and examples, well worth the $80 or so.

I'll shut up now. Let me know what you think if you're out there.

[EDIT: some interesting posts already. It's nice to hear from readers about their thoughts. Though I don't want to splinter the discussion I also posted a request for comments here on Gamesquad and feel free to post there too if you want. I think it's an interesting question as to whether there needs to be any more SK-level support.]


Mark Buetow said...

Argh! Your arguments are compelling! Stop...must wishlist...

Thanks for the blog. I appreciate the work you're putting into it and the helpful organization and tips.

I'm several steps behind you in organization, but we've played the first two scenarios of SK#1 and are slowly getting the hang of it. I will say that the first time we played, it really wasn't bad at all. Very fun and the three of us (our usual crew) decided it's definitely worth pursuing.

Shane Woyak said...

You make some very good points. I, too, am learning ASLSK1, but have bought ASLRB2, BV3, Yanks, Paratrooper, etc., but the rulebook is FULL of great info.

blob said...

Yep, I agree that the ASLRB is very clear, really it is much clearer and more readable than the SK rulebook. the SK rules read as though someone took the full RB and cut out a sentence here, a sentence there and stitched together a ruleset. I will ever maintain that the aslsk rules are poorly composed.

What do you teach? I teach Latin.

scrub said...

Mal, I love enabling everyone's bad behaviour. It makes my day. MWAHAHAHA!

Shane, I've passed on Yanks (I think I can wait til the reprint probably in 2 years haha!) as once I hit full ASL I can stay immersed in Red Barricades!

Luke, I think that what Ken Dunn did was nothing short of a miracle to make the cuts he had to do to make ASLSK from ASL proper. Prawn and I teach English!

Anonymous said...

It is great having a teacher such as Scrub. I would like to say that it is my brillaince that has made ASL so smooth to learn, but I did just spell brillaince wrong, so I guess it is not all me.

Actually, Scubber here has brought me along by the hand into the world of games very well. I don't know that I have ever read any single rule out of any single book and I could now place several games pretty solidly due to him.

However without such a teacher I am pretty sure the full rules would be beyond myself. This time last year I would of looked at a game such as ASL and my eyes would of glassed over and I would of given the person playing a giant wedgie! No more!


Anonymous said...

I have just made the move from SK to full, or "Big Boy" ASL. My motivation was simple. If I didn't move up, I was afraid my opponents, all ASL players, would get bored of playing SK scenarios and I'd have to learn the solitaire rules, too.

I enjoyed your article and would only emphasize that having a 'mentor' is a great help. I AM reading the ASLRB2 - but I enjoy that sort of thing and I might be a couple fries short of a happy meal at times. It's slow but it sparks the tactical imagination. (E.g. When is Spraying Fire good? Is Encirclement worth attempting?) Reading random rules and following references is also a good method. (Huh...does sound like the Bible...)

Thanks again for writing.

scrub said...

The Mentor is an excellent resource -- I would argue the absolute best.

I should also mention that VASL usually has a few people on at all hours who would probably, if prodded help out the newb.

Talloaf said...

For anyone without a face-to-face mentor, I am willing to teach you any SK level, using VASL. Here's why:

I had to teach myself the three SKs by pouring over the horrendous rulebook for a summer. I then had to read all kinds of rules question forum boards. And then do the whole thing over again. Then I had to play a few games solo. I screwed all kinds of things up badly.

Then I played a PBeM game against an actual person, and that's when it all clicked.

Shortly after that, I played Scrub here, and he was my first actual finished scenario, ever. (Thanks Scrub!)

(He kicked my butt soundly.)

scrub said...

Guys (and gals?),

This is why I love the hobby. Lots of helpful, fun, and mature people like Talloaf willing to give time to grow the game.

And you know what? Who cares who wins? I have to say it again, I love the games of ASL I get to play because it is gripping practically every second I play. I don't think I can say that about anything else I've ever played.

Andy Beaton said...

I agree about the gripping nature of ASL. I think the game works best for people who are seeing the game happen in their minds - it's not a cardboard square moving into a hex, it's a tank crashing through a stone wall with guns blazing and victims scattering in fear.

scrub said...

Yes Andy! I think that a big draw for me from wargaming is the narrative created from the games you play. There's always a great story that you don't necessarily get out of other genres.

For example, Eurogames don't always lend themselves to a good post-session narrative. I love Princes of Florence but I don't chat about how your awesome Organ Maker swooped in to create some work of art. Compare this to tanks crashing through bocage and your panicky infantry scattering before a heroic sergeant took it out on his own.

Josh said...

"Mighty Gods of ASL"?!?!?!

Most if not all of them would laugh.

Seriously, though. Run, don't walk, to buy the ASLRB, log onto VASL and ask someone for help. You won't regret it. Welcome to our obsession.....

scrub said...

Josh speaks words of wisdom padawans!

Martin Mayers said...

Hi there.
Just stumbled across your blog.
Nice to see fresh players showing interest in converting to VASL.
I have played VASL for some 25 years now....learnt it the good old fashioned way...with a pal reading rules...playing....reading....struggling...losing hair etc.
I still only label myself as a medium level ASL'er as a) there are lots of far FAR better players than I out there and b) I took a while out between losing my gaming pal(s) and discovering VASL
If there were two pieces of advice I would give they would be :-
(i) get on VASL and get yourself a game against a fairly relaxed but half decent player. I go on there as Martin P Mayers and am always happy to entertain a game. Often, despite my time spent playing, the games I play are educational on a two-way basis.
(ii) never, ever, forget the importance of the personal morale check. Never give up on a game until the final di is cast. I have been victim of, and benefitted from, some amazing twists of fate to turn games around in my time and there is nothing better than sticking with the fight and coming through in the end. And, at the end of the day, even if you end up losing, it's only a damn game anyway and you'll have had a lot of edge of your pants fun losing

scrub said...

Thanks for the great comments Martin! Glad you enjoy the site.

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