Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back to the Hellish Hedgerows

It's very seldom I get to obtain two recent ASL products in a timely fashion. Admittedly Valor of the Guards was a tad late in arriving (heh) but Action Pack 4: Normandy 1944 is very much going to see my tabletop within a few days of it's official retail release by MMP. Milsims again to the fore - less than AU$40 landed as opposed to something like US$45.

As I mentioned on VASL last night in a discussion with Commissar Piotr, I've not been overly impressed by MMP's more recent offerings (AoO and VotG excepted because they're modules and I've nothing but praise for the physical components) as I do think that their production holdups and necessary and justified focus on ASLSK have influenced the usual hands-on aspect of ASL production.

It seemed to me that the recent Journals and the last AP (Few Returned) have lacked that imprimateur, and in some cases have been more codifications of TPP designs (Le Franc Tireur and On Top in Journal 7 for instance). Because my personal take on ASL play and indeed  focus of ASL design philosophy differs diametrically from some of the principals of MMP, I've always felt that MMP have done some designers a disservice in the way they run roughshod over the original design in their subsequent revisions.

It's now at the point where I tend to look at the original provenance of a scenario and prefer to play it as originally designed: again Le Franc Tireur comes to mind. Sometimes I feel that there is a definite shift in play style paradigms outside of the North American continent which doesn't always translate well when undergoing MMP transformations.

But back to Action Pack 4. Normandy is one of my major interest areas in both miniatures and boardgames. It's an area of history that I'm reasonably well read in at the small unit level, and so I'm very appreciative of the focus of the new action pack.

Now when I initially heard of AP4, I admit that I was dubious, not wishing to see an action pack that consisted only of an American perspective. This proved to be unfounded thankfully as Chas Argent has taken the role of AP development to a new level of efficiency and I'm going to be seeing a selection of actions and terrain configurations that should keep me going for some time.

The new boards just look very nice indeed:

Board 53

Board 54

Board 55
There's nothing really to criticise on these boards in terms of the ASL depiction of Bocage, although I'd have preferred perhaps a couple more boards along the lines of board 54 without the village or hills of the other boards. I also would have liked to see perhaps a more naturalistic depiction of the Normandy farm holdings which should  really be multihex stone buildings with possibly rowhouse bars separating the individual buildings rather than actual separate constructions. All minor quibbles really though and something to ponder creating an overlay sheet for or SSRing anyway.

The scenarios are the gravy on this pack though with the boards a sine qua non and the revised Bocage rules a serious step forward in clarity. The preliminary reports I've read from ASLers whose views on play balance and excitement level have all been very upbeat and positive which is a good sign.

As for the breakdown in subject matter, well here's a brief look at the featured actions:

  •     A Lesson for Lehr: US vs Germans
  •     Raff’s Dilemma: US vs Germans
  •     The Head of the Mace: Poles vs Germans
  •     Old Hickory: US versus Germans
  •     Infiltrators: British vs Germans
  •     Bocage Blockage: US vs Germans
  •     First Cristot: British vs Germans
  •     Second Cristot: British vs Germans
  •     Second Crack at Caumont: US vs Germans

I've missed one scenario I think. However it's still a little mystifying to see no Canadian actions featured, but at least we're spared an over-representation of US paras this time around.

The new bocage rules may well get me to look at getting out the old Hedgerow Hell scenarios again (but using the McGrath/Chaney modifications as a starting point) and it'll certainly mean revisiting some of the classic tourney/VASL scenarios that originally kept me going with the Bocage rules as they once were (Hornet of Cloville comes to mind for some reason).

Really though, AP4 is going to satisfy my requirement for geo-map scenarios for the foreseeable future, with VotG and more RB taking care of the HASL map side of things. With a return to regular face to face play via the Paddington Bears, a resurgent PbeM schedule and now a willingness to play live on VASL (as soon as I can get Skype up and running in a manner condusive to resources on the PC), I shouldn't have many problems getting a lot more games under my belt in the next couple of months.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Valor of the Guards is finally here!

Happy VotG day to me!
Happy VotG day to me!

Exquisite timing from Milsims sees Valor of the Guards arrive at my door on my birthday. Even though I was Pre-order #22 or so back in 2005 and knew then what VotG would contain, seeing the contents in reality still managed to impress me. There's a lot included in the box: 17 scenarios, 4 campaign games, 780 1/2" and 352 5/8" counters, two mapsheets and 36 pages of rules. When I showed Kirsty what the box included, even she was impressed! It helped that I trotted out the old saw, "ASL. It's not just a game, it's a lifestyle!" which brought a laugh. At $77 plus P&H, VotG is very much a bargain.

What strikes me after just a brief look at the package is how much more play value I'll be getting compared to Red Barricades. Don't get me wrong, I loved RB, but I've pretty much run the gamut of playing all four Campaign Games and all 11 or 12 scenarios that I know of that use the RB map and to be honest, RB can become a chore at times to get through.

Of the 17 scenarios in VotG, I'd hazard that I'll be able to get through 14 of them before the end of the year in Face to Face play without overdoing it, and the three remaining are the larger scenarios that will reward taking the extra time to get familiar with all the new rules and the various aspects of the terrain. Once I've finished playing through all the scenarios as both sides then I'll definitely be looking to play the various CGs and the extra scenarios that have been published already in Dispatches From the Bunker. This should take me right up until the end of 2009 and yet still leave me time for more casual ASL play.

Thankfully with regular attendance and availability of other ASL players at the Paddington Bears in Sydney, my days of solely playing ASL via VASL/ PBeM are history.

Not only is this a stellar day for me ASL wise, but it's kickstarted my interest in other things Kessel Stalingrad. I've picked up a few more books on Stalingrad from Jason Marks et al, and some generalist Eastern Front histories that piqued my interest.

Last but not really least, a quick perusal of the VotG chapter has allowed me to revisit the much-maligned Critical Hit Dzerhezinsky Tractor Works/Grain Elevator HASL modules. Just from this, I'm pretty sure I can come up with a much more workable version of the DTW and GE campaign games as well as sorting out the various scenarios. This is not something designed for the rigours of competitive play but is more along the lines of a historical study game - purely for the interest in seeing how the history plays out on the tabletop or the mapsheet.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

ASL: Stalingrad once again

I originally pre-ordered Valor of the Guards back in 2005 as about #21 on the order list. The game wasn't finally published until 2008 and so I expected that my order would be processed, sent and delivered well before I left New Zealand for good in May.

Unfortunately it seems there was a problem with my credit card (probably not enough credit left - an issue that occurs when there's little or no notice given of charging starting) and so my order was put to the back of the queue. Unfortunately the first i knew about my new position was when I saw the charge for VotG on a recent statement after I'd  left NZ. So now there's a parcel from MMP that is at my previous residence and hasn't been collected. Arrgh! No Valor of the Guards!

The Situation Now
Thanks to my birthday gifts, I now am able to order a replacement copy via Milsims . With the asssistance of Kirsty, my copy of VOTG should reach me on my birthday rather nicely. This will also give me a chance to really look at getting back into ASL PBeM/Live VASL & Skype. The best thing about all of this is that VOTG really does look to be a superb module with so many scenarios to choose from outside of the campaign games. I've been squirrelling away as many AARs and assorted VOTG clarifications and answers in the meantime as well as getting some valuable input on exactly how to approach a playing/learning schedule.

This becomes very important as John Knowles is due to arrive for our annual ASL-fest in August which means we'll be very much in VOTG mode. Hopefully the ASL-fest will also see our first look at the new Normandy Bocage Action pack complete with the new pages.

The other big news is all my stuff from NZ is due to be delivered tomorrow after some 10 weeks in transit. This however means some real downtime again while I get things sorted once and for all.