Some of you may–just maybe–have heard about Advanced Squad Leader (ASL for short) before. You might not have heard what it is about (World War 2 squad-level tactical combat on a hex grid). Most likely the thing you would have heard is how complicated the game is. For those not in the know, just how complicated is Advanced Squad Leader? In short, it’s an Everest.
There is a site that serves as a board game database called BoardGameGeek. On BGG you can rate the ‘weight’ of a game, a stat that is essentially the inherent complexity of a game. The stat ranges from 1 to 5. As of this writing, Advanced Squad Leader is one of only two games out of over 60,000 in BGG’s database with a weight rating of over 4.5 (the other being World in Flames) with at least 100 ratings, and of those two ASL is rated higher. There may be more obscure titles out there with more inherent complexity, but none quite so infamously complicated as ASL.
There is another thing one can learn from the stats of ASL. As of this writing, ASL is ranked 72nd out of over 60,000 games on BGG, meaning that many people consider this one of the best board games of all time.
This complicated masterpiece, ASL, is the latest step in my continual exploration of the world of board games. It took years, but it has finally gotten to the point where I crave the depth that I have heard that ASL provides (or at leas crave the chance to learn such an intricate game).
This will be a series of posts chronicling my experiences with ASL.
A week ago I acquired the Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook 2nd Edition and the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #3. The Rulebook is simply too much right now. It’s a monster, a three-ring binder with over a hundred pages of tiny font. I have been working my way through the Starter Kit with its only-28-page manual. I’m waiting for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to end before I try to put this smaller game on the table.
There are a few things I have noticed with the little I’ve come to understand of the game. With the Starter Kit rules, things seem rather…old-school. That makes sense, considering ASL was first published in 1985 (and based off an even older game). What I mean by old-school is that there is very little in the way of flashy components, even by war game standards. I have been used to GMT-line games like Combat Commander and Fighting Formations, games with excellent production quality and elegant, clever rules. Most of the Starter Kit is just…standard. There’s no layer of mechanisms ruling over the core principles of the moving-and-shooting rules. Sure, there’s a lot of rules for moving-and-shooting, but the core game is based on…well…core game design. No cards, no gimmicks, just dice-counters, and simulation.
Don’t take this as a sign that the game isn’t complex. There’s a ton of intricacies in the basic designs that are there. And this is just the Starter Kit. The full game looks to be nothing short of simulation while still lying within the boundaries of board game.
The biggest gripe I have with the game so far is less with the game and more that the rules could have been written better. ASL is obsessed with acronyms. Combine the obtuse terminology with legalese writing (e.g. “section 1.3.2”) and you have a recipe for confusion. I’m somewhat disappointed that the best learning aid I have found on the game has been from the generous ASL fans who have decided to explain the game through tutorial videos.
All that being said, I think, just maybe, I have a hold on the rules to possibly push through a Starter Kit game (infantry only). I’ll write more as I go further into this ASL experience.
Wish me luck