What is Advanced Squad Leader?

Unfamiliar With Advanced Squad Leader? Let Us Bring You Up To Speed!

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ASL Soldier

Fair Warning and Disclaimer … This is a long and winding road that profiles the Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) tactical game system. It’s meant for new and curious gamers to be a one-stop shop to learn about the details of ASL before, hopefully, joining us on this epic historical adventure. So pass this link on to anyone you think might find it useful!

Have no fear! The game is not as frightening and intimidating as it appears. But before I get started I want to make an important public service announcement for new players concerning ASL:

If you’re thinking about purchasing any ASL product, DO IT if it’s currently in stock, interests you, and/or if your wallet allows it. ASL is a low-volume game. Various official and third-party ASL products often go out of print to never be printed again … or you’ll have to wait months or years for it to be reprinted and back in stock.

Okay, onward!

This article covers in detail every aspect of the game other than diving in and teaching you how to play (I have a long list of videos for this). This article is ~13,000 words long, with many images and a few embedded videos. That being said, here’s an outline of the profile that allows you to skip around to the various topics of interest to save you some time:

Okay, let’s get started!!

1. INTRODUCTION:

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) is more than just a game. It’s a teacher of history … World War 2 history. The events of that calamity are still resounding today, all over the world, 80 years later. The Cold War, the eventual fall of the Soviet Union and the fragmenting of nations, all the ensuing wars caused by that fall. The Ukraine War today, the Middle East, the creation of Israel and everything that followed, China’s rise to power after the defeat of Japan and the rise of Communism in Southeast Asia, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. Nuclear weapons, world destruction, and neo-political despots that will not let go of their fascist leanings. Much of the world is still feeling the effects of a war that happened 80 years ago. But more of its history is being forgotten with each passing generation, and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Even though ASL is a “game” it’s also a reminder to those of us who play it, through the lessons of historically accurate combat … that war, of any kind, IS hell on Earth.

ASL has existed for almost 40 years, even longer if you include its roots back to the original Squad Leader. It was originally developed by Avalon Hill as Squad Leader and released in 1977. After three expansions it was decided that the rules were becoming too disorganized and contradictory, so Avalon Hill threw more resources into the fray and the system was redesigned from the ground up and released as ASL in 1985. In 1998 Avalon Hill went belly up and was sold to Hasbro. Then in 1999, Hasbro licensed ASL to Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) to continue to create and release ASL products. In 2004 MMP introduced ASL Starter Kits in hopes of pulling new players into the system by streamlining and simplifying the rules. That brings us to today …

ASL Collection
Just a portion of the ASL world …

Nearly every wargamer knows of ASL, many love it, just as many hate it, and maybe even the same amount are apathetic, but nearly everyone is irrationally intimidated by it … even those of us who play it! Despite its age, it’s still one of the most popular and played hex-and-counter wargames on the market, even in this twilight age of the hobby. But what is ASL, what does one need to know about it, and how does one go about approaching this near-mythological gaming system?

ASL is a detailed tactical wargaming system that can simulate any company-level (and larger) ground action from any theater of World War 2 … and that’s not an exaggeration. The system has even been adapted to simulate battles during: the American Civil War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, and more. It’s widely accepted (and at the same time debated) to be the most complex game to ever exist. Are you intimidated yet?! Don’t be, it’s really not as bad as it sounds, keep reading and you’ll understand why (hint: many of the rules are optional).

ASL In Progress, German & Soviet Forces in Lithuania, 1941

The ruleset is decidedly miniature-inspired, but the system itself uses far less expensive paper and cardboard components to represent its playing area and units. These playing pieces represent squads, half-squads, leaders, crews, guns, and vehicles from every major and minor combatant of World War 2. Battlefields can be created from geomorphic boards that are overlayed with a hexagon grid that represents 40 meters of scale per hex. Due to the fact that there are well over 100 geomorphic boards available (official and third-party), the boards can be arranged in near-limitless combinations, orientations, and sizes to reflect different terrains and situations that occurred during World War 2.

The rules are divided into chapters that cover different aspects of the game, such as infantry, ordnance, vehicles, terrain, and special situations (more details below!). The rules are also modular, meaning that players can, in some situations, choose which chapters to use depending on the complexity and realism they desire for a given scenario … or how far along they are on their personal ASL learning curve.

Historical ASL (HASL), Kolm, Russia, February 1942

The game system offers 7000 scenarios (yes, you read that right) official, third-party, and fan-made that depict nearly every company-level (give or take) action in World War 2 and beyond. Because of the variety, it’s a hex-and-counter tactical system that you can play for a lifetime, and for many ASL players, it’s the only wargame system they play. 7000 scenarios. That’s insane. I can’t think of any gaming system that offers such an expansive library of options to play.

Now that I’ve given you the appetizer, let’s turn to the entrée, the 3-star Michelin rated main course … let’s start digging into the system in detail.

2. RULEBOOK:

This section will be the largest and most in-depth of this article. Why? Because the rulebook is the heart and soul of the ASL system. It’s the engine that makes everything run. It’s the primary aspect that gives prospective players pause, anxiety, brain cramps, and sleepless nights! I’m going to break the whole thing down for you in detail.

The core rules of ASL are contained in the ASL Rule Rook (ASLRB), which is a comprehensive and illustrated set of rules that incorporates all the errata and fine-tuning accumulated over the past 40 years and is available in both print and electronic formats. The ASLRB was cleaned up and revised to the 2nd Edition in 2001. An electronic (pdf) version of the rulebook was finally introduced in 2021 (highly recommended!).

Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook
Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook

Despite the size of its contents, it’s one of the most obsessively organized and indexed wargaming rulebooks on the market. It uses a “legalese” (versus “conversational”) style of rule organization, was modeled after the Star Fleet Battles rulebook, and was inspired by real-life military field manuals that often used a 3-ring binder system for ease of updating. Topics and rules are incredibly easy to find and are even easier to find in the fully searchable, fully hyperlinked electronic version (pdf). The ASLRB also includes the complete Chapter H, which contains thoroughly researched historical notes and technical data of all the weapons and vehicles used in the game, for every nationality that fought in World War 2 (again, not an exaggeration).

Example Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook Page
Chapter B (Terrain) Example Page

The rulebook is organized into chapters, each with a letter designation. Each chapter contains rules that are numbered with a cardinal number, followed by one or more decimal points. For example, rule A1.1 refers to the first rule in chapter A. Each rule may also have sub-rules that are numbered with a second (or even third) decimal. For example, rule A1.1.1 refers to the first sub-rule of rule A1.1. The rules are written in concise and precise language (“legalese”), using abbreviations and symbols to represent various game terms and concepts. A comprehensive Index section of the ASLRB provides a helpful reference for these terms and symbols.

The vast majority of the ASL system is contained in Chapters A through D, with many optional rules contained in the following chapters. Below is a brief summary of the main chapters (but not all of them) of the ASLRB and their contents:

CHAPTER A Emphasis: Infantry Rules
Required: Yes, some situational
Pages: 62

This chapter is the foundation of the entire ASL system and covers the rules for infantry units, such as squads, half-squads, leaders, and support weapons. It also introduces the basic game mechanics, such as hexes, stacking, line of sight, movement, fire principles, morale and routing, unit quality, close combat, concealment, and securing victory points. Some of the rules are situational and only need to be read if a scenario includes them, such as: cavalry, various nationality distinctions, special SWs such as demo charges, flamethrowers, Molotov cocktails, etc. This chapter is essential for playing any ASL scenario and is required for beginners to learn the fundamentals of the game. There is no ASL scenario that does not use the majority of rules in Chapter A.

CHAPTER B Emphasis: Terrain Rules
Required: Yes, highly situational
Pages: 46

Chapter B covers the rules for all the various terrain located primarily in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), such as buildings, woods, roads, bridges, hills, streams, marsh, orchards, grain, rubble, and more. Many fortifications are also covered like entrenchments, pillboxes, minefields, wire, and roadblocks. This section adds more realism and challenge to the game, as terrain can affect the movement, combat, and visibility of units. Terrain can also vary depending on the scenario and the season. The entirety of this chapter doesn’t need to be read, as many of the rules are situational. The player is only required to read those terrain rules that are present in a given scenario, or that he/she is comfortable with at their current state of learning ASL. Aren’t comfortable with the pillbox rules yet? Don’t play a scenario with pillboxes … you have 7000 scenarios to choose from!

CHAPTER C Emphasis: Ordnance Rules
Required: Yes, some situational
Pages: 26

This section covers the rules for ordnance units, such as guns, mortars, and rockets, as well as infantry weapons that need to secure a hit to be effective like bazookas, panzerschreks, panzerfausts, and piats. It also covers the rules for Offboard Artillery (OBA), which is a form of indirect fire that can be called by certain units on the map possessing a functioning radio or field phone. This section adds more complexity and realism to the game, as ordnance units have to deal with factors such as securing a hit, ammunition type, accuracy, penetration, and malfunction. Also within are detailed rules on how to engage different types of targets with different types of ordnance/ammunition. OBA adds another dimension of tactics and uncertainty, as it can be affected by weather, spotting, and communication. The rules in Chapter C can be directly leveraged in the next chapter that deals with tanks, which are essentially moving ordnance, thus new players cannot jump to Chapter D without understanding most of the fundamental mechanics in this chapter.

CHAPTER D Emphasis: Vehicle Rules
Required: Yes, some situational
Pages: 27

Vehicles, specifically Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) add another level of complexity and variability to the ASL system. This chapter covers the rules for all vehicles used in the game, such as tanks, half-tracks, armored cars, self-propelled guns, trucks, even motorcycles and bicycles. It also covers the rules for vehicle movement, combat, and damage and destruction. This section adds more depth and variety to the game, as AFVs have different capabilities and limitations depending on their type, model, and crew. AFVs can also interact with infantry and ordnance units in various ways, such as transporting, overruns, supporting, or towing. Vehicles in the ASL system represent individual units with varying capabilities. Most of a vehicle’s capability is depicted directly on its counter.

CHAPTER E Emphasis: Miscellaneous Rules
Required: No, optional
Pages: 30

This section covers the rules for miscellaneous situations, such as night rules, weather, ski troops, swimming, gliders, paratroop landings, gliders, air support, dog fights, and others. This section adds more flavor and diversity to the game, as it introduces situations that are not common but can have a significant impact on the outcome of a scenario. It also details the rules for weather, such as wind, rain, mud, snow, and fog. All the rules in this chapter are only used when invoked by a Scenario Special Rule (SSR) listed on the scenario card, thus 100% of the rules in Chapter E are optional. There’s no need to read any section in this chapter unless you choose to play a scenario that invokes one of the rules within, and even then you only need to read the section that pertains to the SSR.

CHAPTER F Emphasis: North Africa Rules
Required: No, optional
Pages: 19

Chapter F is only needed if you decide to dip your toes into the Desert Theater of Operations (DTO), specifically North Africa. It covers various types of new terrain such as, scrub, hammada, wadis, sand, and deirs. It also adds new line of sight mechanics to take into account dust trails, HEAT haze, sun blindness, and general arid weather conditions. This chapter is also 100% optional and only needs to be read if you play DTO scenarios.

CHAPTER G Emphasis: Pacific Theater Rules
Required: No, optional
Pages: 50

Like Chapter F this section adds another geographical set of rules to the system focusing on the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO). Its most important contribution is the addition of the Japanese nationality and their specific set of abilities such as step reduction, banzai charges, tank-hunter and demolition charge heroes, and special leadership abilities. The PTO also introduces new terrain: light/dense jungle, bamboo, palm trees, huts, kunai, swamps, rice paddies, panjis, cave complexes, and beaches. With the addition of beaches come landing craft and seaborne assault rules. To complement the addition of the Japanese the U.S.M.C. and Chinese are also included. Again, like Chapter G the PTO section need only be read if you plan to play scenarios that take place on the many islands of the South Pacific. The chapter is 100% optional.

CHAPTER H Emphasis: Design Your Own Rules
Required: Sort of, hyper situational
Pages: 226

Chapter H is quite large, but there’s no need to sit down and read the entire 226 pages! This is why I say it’s “hyper situational” while at the same time being “sort of” required. This chapter contains the historical and technical data of all the vehicles and ordnance used by every nationality in World War 2 (see the Chapter H example page just below these summaries). Each entry is about a paragraph long, with length depending on the vehicle/ordnance being covered, and is invaluable to learn if it has any special capabilities or limitations. You only need to read a particular entry when that vehicle/ordnance is included in a scenario. Thus Chapter H is more of a “reference” chapter and not a set of rules that need to be digested and memorized.

CHAPTER J Emphasis: Deluxe ASL Rules
Required: No, optional
Pages: 2

Deluxe ASL (DASL) was meant to promote ASL as a game that could use miniatures, which makes sense since the rules have a very miniature gameplay tone to them. This chapter is very short, and tweaks a few rules to allow ASL to be played using miniatures. The DASL boards have very large hexes that can accommodate 1/285th vehicle miniatures, but normal cardboard counters can also be used on DASL boards. To promote the system Avalon Hill licensed ASL to GHQ allowing them to create a line of ASL specific World War 2 miniatures to be used specifically with DASL. Unfortunately, this idea never took off and after releasing two DASL modules (Streets of Fire and Hedgerow Hell) the idea quickly died. Scenarios are still released for DASL once in a while in an ASL Journal or scenario expansion pack. See this Desperation Morale page for a little more info on DASL miniatures.

CHAPTER K Emphasis: Training Manual
Required: No, optional
Pages: 50

The “Squad Leader Training Manual” is a dense and verbose tutorial section that steps you through learning the rules by setting up boards/units and then reading through the narrative (written in the tone of a drill sergeant). The tutorial has you move pieces to act out ASL movement/combat and explains how the rules are used and interpreted. Unfortunately, in the age of the internet and videos, the tutorial is a bit long in the tooth as well as incomplete, ending somewhere in Chapter C (Ordnance). This chapter is 100% optional and is a learning resource only.

CHAPTER W Emphasis: Korean War Rules
Required: No, optional
Pages: 18

In 2017 MMP released the module Forgotten War which allows ASL players to simulate actions that took place during the Korean War (1950-1953), which isn’t that far removed from World War 2. The tactics used in Korea were not that different from WW2, so the theater lent itself well to the ASL system. This chapter includes all the information needed to play in the Korean theater. It covers Korean War terrain, weather, ordnance, and vehicles. New units and nationalities are included, United Nations forces, North Korean (trained by the Soviets), South Korean, and Communist Chinese forces. These rules are optional and only required if you choose to play Korean War scenarios.


As mentioned previously there are three different formats for the ASLRB, only available from MMP:

    • Traditional 3-Ring Binder ASLRB
      • Large, cumbersome 3-ring binder format
      • Includes all the combat charts
      • Some ASL game modules include 3-hole punched rule & historical notes (Chapter H) that get inserted into the binder
    • Pocket ASLRB
      • Compact book format, traditional binding
      • Does not include the combat charts
      • Includes all extra rules
      • Chapter H historical notes sold as a separate book
    • Electronic ASLRB
      • pdf format
      • Fully searchable, hyperlinked, and printable
      • 714 pages, full color, 81 meg file size (kind of incredible)
      • Includes all the charts
      • Includes all extra rules (Chapters F, G, J, K, W)
      • Includes all 226 pages of Chapter H historical notes

I personally find the Pocket ASLRB and the Electronic ASLRB the most useful. The traditional 3-ring binder version has sat on my shelf collecting dust for many years. It’s just too cumbersome (large!) to effectively reference while playing a game at a table or online using VASL. The electronic version is the best bang for the buck. It includes everything you need to play everything in the ASL system except specialized historical ASL modules (which include separate sections of rules specific to that action, more on that later). If you’re keeping math that’s 714 pages of ASL reference material for $60!! The choice of which ASLRB is right for you is a personal one, but at least you have options!

Chapter H Example

The ASLRB is the foundation of the system and provides the rules and data for playing any ASL scenario. Because it’s sold separately (not tied to any module) the ASLRB is not a complete game by itself, as it does not include any scenarios, boards, or counters. To play ASL, players also need to acquire at least one module (the first must be Beyond Valor), which contains a set of scenarios, geomorphic boards, and counters needed to get the dice rolling. You also need a set of combat charts (depending on which ASLRB you purchase).

3. CHARTS:

Speaking of charts, if the ASLRB is the heart of the mechanics of the system, then the ASL Charts are the heart of the action. All results in the game are determined by rolling 1d6 or 2d6 (one of which must be colored). The colored die roll for a 2d6 result is used to determine special outcomes used in the mechanics (such as Rate of Fire for machine guns, ordnance, and AFVs). ASL is not a dice-heavy game, you may be rolling quite often, but you’ll never have to roll a handful of dice and spend time sorting and gazing at them to determine a result.

2d6 is all you need for this complex system. The results produced can be wide and ranging depending on the circumstances. Some people bemoan the randomness of the system, but I posit that nobody truly wants to play a game if all the outcomes are predictable. War is utter chaos and the charts/dice are the way the system introduces this chaos. How you, as the player, react to this chaos is what makes ASL fun and challenging.

Advanced Squad Leader Charts
Infantry Fire Table

The charts represent the outcomes of all the actions your units take during the course of play … the die rolls referenced above. They are also summaries and reminders of often-used rules like movement costs, terrain effects, and various flow charts that step you through OBA attacks or tank overruns. There’s absolutely no requirement to memorize anything on the charts, but every player should familiarize themselves with the tables in the charts, and their locations, because you’ll be referencing them extensively during gameplay, far more than looking up rules in the rulebook. The charts are organized into different sections, such as Infantry Fire Table, To Hit Table, To Kill Tables for various types of munitions, Concealment Table, etc. All told there are perhaps ~200 tables of varying complexity across the entire system, but again not all of them need to be used during a particular scenario. For example, if you choose to play a PTO or DTO scenario, then, and only then, will the charts applicable to those theaters come into play. If your scenario contains no vehicles, then no vehicle-related tables would ever be used.

Advanced Squad Leader Charts
To Kill Tables

The charts you’ll be referencing the most are the Infantry Fire Table, the To Hit Table, the To Kill Table, and probably the Terrain/Concealment Tables. I’d say 80% of the time you’ll be using the Infantry Fire Table, and after a while, you’ll have most 8 Firepower (and less) results memorized.

Where can you get the ASL Charts?

    • The 3-ring binder version of the ASLRB (currently out of print)
    • The electronic version of the ASLRB (you’ll have to print the charts)
    • The official MMP Pocket Charts (this is your best bet!)
    • LFT Rat Pocket Charts (often out of print)

As you can see there’s really only one reasonable option to secure the charts (MMP  Pocket Charts), but once you have them you’re one step closer to leading those squads!

4. CORE MODULES:

The next piece of ASL “equipment” you need is a core “module”. Modules are simply expansions to the ASL system, adding various nationalities. Each core module contains nationality counters, several geomorphic boards, scenarios, and usually specific nationality rules to include in the 3-ring binder of the ASLRB. Some modules also include other content like historical campaign games (Rising Sun).

To see an example of the contents of an ASL module, check out the following unboxing of the American core module Yanks:

How many core modules are there, should all of them be bought, and in what order should they be bought? There’s no need to buy every ASL core module, but you have to buy at least one to get started, and there is a recommended order of purchase. The following image shows all the core modules in the ASL system, their dependency on modules shown before them, and the nationalities included. Note that Beyond Valor is shown first (just to the right of the ASLRB), and that module should be your first purchase as it includes all the utility counters you need to play the game. These utility counters are universal to every game of ASL you play regardless of nationalities used or theater of operation.

ASL Module Dependencies

There are different types of modules in the ASL system, as highlighted below.

    • Core Modules: These contain the essential components for a complete order of battle of all major (and minor) nationalities that participated in the war. Some core modules included multiple nationalities (Rising Sun) or variants of the same nationality (Croix de Guerre). There are 10 official core modules, each covering one or more countries and/or theatres of operation. For example, the current edition (3rd) of Beyond Valor is the first core module and it includes the German & Russian nationalities, as well as 10 geomorphic boards, 14 sheets of counters, and 24 scenarios. Here is the list of official MMP core modules. Core modules are usually in print.

Red indicates no longer in print
Green indicates a module in development (titles not final)

Note that even modules not listed in red may have limited availability or are in the re-print queue.

      • Module 1 – Beyond Valor – Germans/Russians/Information Counters
      • Module 2 – Paratrooper – U.S. Army
      • Module 3a – Yanks – U.S. Army
      • Module 4 – Partisan! – All Resistance Fighters
      • Module 5 – West of Alamein – British/Commonwealth
      • Module 5a – For King and Country – British/Commonwealth
      • Module 6 – The Last Hurrah – Limited Allied Minor
      • Module 7 – Hollow Legions – Limited Italians
      • Module 7a – Hollow Legions – Italians/Eritreans
      • Module 8 – Code of Bushido – Japanese
      • Module 9 – Gung Ho! – U.S. Marine Corp/Chinese
      • Module 10 – Croix de Guerre – Limited French
      • Module 10a – Croix de Guerre – French/Free French/French Vichy
      • Module 11 – Doomed Battalions – All Allied Minor
      • Module 12 – Armies of Oblivion – All Axis Minor
      • Module 13 – Rising Sun – U.S. Marine Corp/Japanese/Chinese
      • Module 14 – Hakkaa Päälle – Finnish
      • Module 15 – Forgotten War – Korean War
      • Module 16 – Twilight of the Reich – Late war ETO (adds specialized units)
      • Module ?? – Guerra en Espana –  Spanish Civil war module (coming soon)
      • Module ?? – Contested Lands – ’48 Arab-Israeli War (delayed)
    • Historical Modules: These add the flavor of a historically accurate (non-geomorphic) map and campaign game rules to the ASL mix. They focus on specific, larger-scale battles or operations and provide detailed maps, counters, and special rules for recreating the historical action. For example, Red Factories is a historical module that depicts the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 on a massive tactical level. Lower in this article I go into more detail on Historical ASL (HASL). Here is the list of official MMP historical modules. My recommendation is even if you aren’t particularly interested in HASL, buy the modules when they are released because they are never reprinted.
      • Red Barricades – Siege of Stalingrad, Russia
      • Kampfgruppe Peiper I – Battle of the Bulge, Belgium
      • Kampfgruppe Peiper II – Battle of the Bulge, Belgium
      • Pegasus Bridge – D-Day Normandy, France
      • A Bridge Too Far – Operation: Market Garden, Holland
      • Blood Reef: Tarawa – Invasion of Betio Atoll
      • Operation Watchtower – Guadalcanal
      • Operation Veritable – Belgium/Germany
      • Valor of the Guards – Siege of Stalingrad
      • Festung Budapest – Siege of Budapest
      • Hatten in Flames – France
      • Red Factories – Red October + Red Barricades reprint
      • Sword and Fire: Manila – Battle for Manila, Philippines
      • Drop Zone: Sainte-Mère-Église – D-Day Normandy, France
      • Drop Zone: Chef-du-Pont – D-Day Normandy, France (in development)
      • The Marco Polo Bridge – Japanese vs. Chinese clashes (in development)
      • Slaughter at Ponyri – Battles around Ponyri Station (in development)
      • Karkov in Flames – Battles around Karkov (in development)
      • Dawn of Eagles – Rotterdamn HASL (in development)
      • Polish Eagles – Early war blitzkrieg battles in Poland (in development)
      • The Fox and the Rats – Battle for Alem el Halfa (in development)
      • Lisyanka (unknown title) – Battle of Korsun–Cherkassy (?) (in development)
      • Unnamed Stalingrad HASL for Starter Kit (in development)

Miscellaneous: There are various other less structured ASL products that add scenarios and/or maps and/or counters to the system. These include Action Packs, Bonus Packs, magazines (Annuals and Journals), as well as other themed scenario packs. The Annuals and Journals included ASL articles covering rules and tactics written by enthusiasts. For example, ASL Action Pack #15 adds 16 new scenarios and one new geomorphic map. ASL Journal #10 is 48 pages and includes 10 articles and 16 new scenarios.

Even 40 years later ASL is still an ever-expanding system that continues to build on its World War 2 library. Most of the content released is designed by dedicated ASL players and submitted to MMP, or published on their own. It’s generally accepted that the ASL content published by MMP is of the highest quality as extensive playtesting is undertaken. While some third-party content is held in high regard for the quality of production, many players are leery of the quality of testing behind these products. Inadequate testing can lead to unbalanced scenarios or campaigns, which can be detrimental to enjoyment.

I’ll write more about third party products below.

5. COUNTERS:

The cardboard “counter” components (sometimes referred to as “chits” by extremely seasoned wargaming grognards) used in ASL are pieces that represent various units, weapons, and vehicles involved in World War 2 combat. The counters are divided into two sizes: 1/2″ and 5/8″. Each module, especially core modules, will have at least one sheet (sometimes as high as 14 sheets!) of counters. These sheets must be punched out and organized before the counters are useable for play. All told there are many thousands of counters in the system.

Counter Sheet from Drop Zone: Sainte Mere Eglise

The 1/2″ counters depict infantry squads, crews, and single-man counters (SMCs), as well as infantry support weapons such as machine guns, mortars, flamethrowers, etc. The 5/8″ counters depict vehicles and ordnance such as tanks, armored cars, anti-tank guns, artillery, as well as terrain fortifications. The counters have different colors and symbols to indicate the nationality, type, and characteristics of the units and weapons, or their function within the game. For example, a German infantry squad counter has a bluish feldgrau (“field-grey”) background, with black numbers indicating its capabilities and American units have a green background (see image above). A British tank counter has a light tan background, with black alphanumerics indicating its gun size, armor factors, movement, machinegun capability, etc.

Example ASL Counters
Example ASL Counters And Information

Utility counters (mostly contained in the module Beyond Valor) also have various information to mark a unit’s status, such as pinned, fired, exhausted, disrupted, malfunctioned, out of ammo, etc. The counters are used to simulate the actions and interactions of the units and weapons on the boards, which depict different types of terrain. The game rules provide detailed instructions on how to use the counters to conduct fire, movement, close combat, and other aspects of warfare.

Example ASL Counters
Example ASL Counters and Information

Here is a summary of the types of cardboard counters used in ASL:

    • Infantry Units: These 1/2″ counters represent infantry squads, individual soldiers, leaders, heroes, and other personnel. They are typically labeled with information about the unit’s nationality, type, firepower, range, and other combat attributes. Unit counters are placed on the game board to show unit positions and are moved to simulate movement and combat.
    • Support Weapons: These 1/2″ counters represent weapons like machine guns, mortars, flamethrowers, bazookas, etc. They include information on firepower, range, and other relevant statistics. Support weapon counters are used to show the presence and location of these weapons on the board. A weapon represented on a 1/2″ counter means it can be portaged by an infantry unit.
    • Vehicles: These 5/8″ counters represent tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, and other mechanized units. Like infantry unit counters, they feature information about the vehicle’s type, armor, armament, and movement capabilities. Vehicle counters are used to indicate the presence, position, and facing direction of these units on the game board.
    • Ordnance: These 5/8″ counters represent various non-mobile guns (AT guns, artillery pieces, heavy mortars, etc) in the ASL system that aren’t considered support weapons (able to be portaged by infantry units).
    • Fortification Counters: These 5/8″ counters represent various types of man-made fortifications, including foxholes, trenches, pillboxes, and bunkers. They affect the game’s tactical dynamics by providing cover and concealment to units.
    • Utility Counters: These 1/2″ and 5/8″ counters are used to keep track of game-specific information, such as unit special status and condition, victory points, turn record, and scenario-specific details. See the image below.
Most of the Utility Counters in the entire system

ASL’s counters are a crucial part of the game’s system, providing a visual representation of the units, weapons, and terrain features on the battlefield. Players use these counters to plan movements, conduct combat, and track the status of units and equipment. The combination of geomorphic boards and cardboard counters makes ASL a highly detailed and immersive tactical wargame, offering a comprehensive simulation of World War 2 battles without breaking the bank from using miniatures.

6. BOARDS:

You have the rules, you have the charts, you have some squads to lead … now you need a battlefield to order them around on. That comes in the form of the ASL geomorphic boards, an innovative idea that makes the system incredibly dynamic and replayable.

Most wargames (and games in general) come with one static map depicting the battlefield … and it never changes, it’s the same every time you play the game, which can be a recipe for boredom, stagnation, and limited replayability. Not so with ASL! In a system adopted from PanzerBlitz (1970) the designers of the original Squad Leader leveraged the concept of 8″ x 22″ geomorphic boards, where the boards could be aligned in any configuration and orientation to build the terrain of a battlefield suitable for the scenario to be played. This system was retained with the move to full ASL, except it was given a healthy dose of steroids with the addition of more terrain features and the ability to add various overlays to any board to further customize and add variation to the battlefield.

Board 6 – For King and Country

Geomorphic boards are modular game boards used to depict various types of terrain during World War 2. These boards are typically made of thick paper or mounted on cardboard and feature different types of terrain, such as buildings, roads, woods, and open ground. ASL also introduces the concept of “Locations” within a single hex, creating a three-dimensional battlefield. For example, a building can have multiple levels, and units on different levels of a building in the same hex are considered in different Locations and must be targeted separately in most situations. Other terrain features that help create a three-dimensional playing experience include hills, cellars, gullies, and tunnels, among others.

Board 2 – Beyond Valor

Each geomorphic board in ASL represents a specific type of terrain or a combination of terrains. For example, one board might depict a dense urban area with buildings and streets, while another board might represent open countryside with fields and hills, and another might show a series of hills overlooking a small village. The boards are marked with hexagonal grids to regulate movement and combat in the game.

To check Line of Sight (LOS) the player stretches a thread between the dot in the firer’s hex to the dot in the target’s hex. Rules for obstructions, hindrances, and height differences dictate whether a LOS is blocked or hindered. This mechanic gives the battlefield a three-dimensional aspect that isn’t present in many non-miniature wargame systems.

Various Line of Sight Examples

In the above image:

    • Green Line = clear LOS
      • When a LOS is clear there is no penalty for firing. Units in both locations can see each other.
      • The green LOS in the center is clear because the line doesn’t clip any obstacle or hindrance between either hex. The line in the upper right is also clear because one hex is on a level 1 hill depiction which allows the LOS to clear the hedge on the Y3/Z2 hexside.
    • Yellow Line = hindered LOS
      • When a LOS is hindered units in both locations can still see one another, but not as well if the LOS were clear. There’s a penalty to the appropriate attack die roll depending on the severity of the hindrance(s)
      • In both yellow examples, the LOSs are hindered by grain fields. In the central example, the LOS travels through one grain hex, adding a +1 hindrance penalty to any attack roll. The far right example travels through two grain hexes, imposing a +2 penalty to the firer.
    • Red Line = obstructed LOS
      • When a LOS is obstructed units in either location cannot see the other, and thus cannot make attacks.
      • Starting on the left, LOS is: 1) obstructed by the edge of a hill crest, 2) obstructed by a building and wall depiction, 3) obstructed by the edge of the woods depiction (barely).

Another aspect of ASL geomorphic boards is that they are designed to be interchangeable, allowing players to arrange them in different configurations and numbers to create diverse and realistic battlefield scenarios. The terrain features on the long and short edges of every board match up, allowing players to align any number of boards, along any edge, in any orthogonal orientation to create a battlefield that represents the scenario they want to play.

In the image below three boards (2, 4, and 10z) are assembled together along their long edges to create a playing area with a large hill overlooking farmland leading into the edge of a small city/town. Notice how all the terrain and roads match up between the edges of the three boards creating a seamless playing area. Rotate any of the boards 180 degrees, or mate them along the short edges, and the terrain still matches up. This applies to all 100+ geomorphic boards!

The Power of Geomorphic Boards (3 Shown Here)

To further increase the variability of this geomorphic system, ASL added the idea of Overlays which can be added to nearly any board, in any orientation, to add additional customization to standard geomorphic boards. Overlays are included in various ASL products but are only used when called for in a Scenario Special Rule (SSR) which will detail the placement and orientation of the overlay(s) on the playing area. Below is an example of several overlays. To use them they must be cut out of the sheet they were printed on, and gently affixed to the geomorphic board specified in the Scenario Card.

ASL Overlays
Example ASL Overlays

Here’s an example showing two Overlays attached to board 6. As you can see, just by adding Overlays B and F, board 6 is significantly transformed from its default configuration. The large building in the center is completely replaced by a small hill, and the area in front of that building is replaced by a large stand of woods.

Board 6 – No Overlays
Board 6 – Overlays B and F placed

Geomorphic boards and overlays were imagined by the ASL designers to create a fully customizable terrain system that’s both ingenious and easy to understand. On one hand, it allows a two-dimensional playing surface to effectively model a three-dimensional setting, and on the other hand, it gives a strong nod of the head to the miniature ruleset that bubbles just underneath the surface of the ASL ruleset.

7. SCENARIOS:

Okay, now that you have a rulebook, a module with some boards and counters, you’re almost ready to play! But first, you’ll need a situation … a battle. Scenario cards provide that situation! They’re found in every ASL product: modules, scenario packs, Journals, etc, or you can create one yourself. As someone who has dabbled in scenario design … this is easier said than done. Creating compelling scenarios that are fun to play, historically influenced/accurate, while also being balanced and fair to both players is not a simple task. Playtesting and balancing even a single scenario takes significant time!

These scenarios take the form of a scenario card that always has the same general format as shown below. The purpose of the card is to define the specific conditions, objectives, forces, and special rules for each scenario that players will undertake. Scenario cards provide narrative context and parameters for a particular game, shaping the historical (and sometimes fictional) battle being simulated. I say fictional because there are even some fan-made scenarios based on topics like TV shows (Hogan’s Heroes) and movies (Where Eagles Dare, Band of Brothers, etc) … and believe it or not zombies and Godzilla! These types of scenarios are obviously meant purely for fun.

Example ASL Scenario Card
Example ASL Scenario Card

Here’s a summary of how scenario cards are arranged and used in ASL (also refer to the image above):

Historical Context: historical background information or descriptions that provide players with context about the battle being simulated. This information can enhance players’ immersion in the scenario and help them understand the significance and objective of their mission.

Map Setup: this shows a graphical representation of the playing area, how to set up the geomorphic board(s) specified, the hexes that are legally playable by both sides, approximate overlay locations, and the direction of north which is important for unit setup which often uses the cardinal directions to indicate where units should be placed.

Turn Record Track: used to keep track of the progress of the game. It lists the number of turns and provides a reminder of when certain events occur, such as reinforcements, changing weather conditions, or other game-specific events. It also indicates which player sets up first and which moves first.

Orders of Battle: outlines the initial setup conditions for both players, including the nationality and placement of units, leaders, vehicles, support weapons, and their overall numbers. Sniper activity and troop esprit de corps levels are also listed. This setup information is essential for creating the starting positions and conditions for the game.

Victory Conditions: defines the conditions that one player must achieve to win the scenario. By preventing these conditions the opposing player is the victor. These conditions can include capturing specific objectives, eliminating a certain number of enemy units, holding ground, or other objectives that vary from scenario to scenario.

Special Rules: cards often contain special rules that apply uniquely to that particular scenario. These rules can introduce specific conditions or events, such as weather, terrain conditions, historical events, and other factors that affect gameplay. Special rules add complexity and historical accuracy to the scenario.

Overlay Placement: if the scenario includes map overlays, the scenario card specifies where and how these overlays should be placed on the game boards. Map overlays add additional terrain features or details to the scenario, adding a level of customization to existing geomorphic boards.

Aftermath: provides a historical narrative detailing what happened during the actual battle and how each side faired. Players can compare this narrative to the one that played out during the scenario to see how closely it played out compared to reality.

ASL includes a WIDE range of scenario cards, each offering a unique and diverse gaming experience. The beauty of the cards, and the vast quantity available, is you can choose a scenario that’s as easy as you want (an ETO meeting of patrols on flat terrain with a handful of squads on each side during a sunny day) or as complicated as you want (a PTO seaborne assault at night in the rain and fog). There’s no limit to your imagination. Players can choose scenarios that reflect different historical battles, theaters of war, and time periods, allowing for a rich and varied gaming experience. Scenario cards are a critical component in ASL, providing structure, historical context, and variability to the game’s simulations. There are approximately 7000 ASL scenarios (official and third party), ensuring you’ll never run out of interesting actions to play in an entire lifetime.

8. HISTORICAL MODULES:

While most ASL scenarios have a basis in history (except fictional scenarios!), there’s still a fair amount of abstraction that takes place, usually regarding the exact size and composition of the forces which are often scaled down to make the battle a bit more feasible to play in a tactical system. Another huge abstraction is the interpretation of the battlefield. Geomorphic boards, no matter how you arrange them, are only estimations of what terrain in a particular theater might have looked like in the 1940s.

La Gleize, Belgium Historical Map from KGP II

Historical Advanced Squad Leader (HASL), on the other hand, is a subset of ASL that focuses on historical accuracy in all aspects, from the units to the special campaign game ruleset, to the map where the action will take place. HASL modules are also called “campaign games” (CG) as they encompass a much larger scale and timeframe. The main differences between a standard ASL scenario and an ASL historical campaign game are the following:

        • Rules: The rules used in CGs always use the core ruleset, but are supplemented by several pages of special rules that cover aspects of the historical battle, such as units, vehicles, unique terrain types, weather at the time, and even cows! (Normandy HASL) Therefore, not only must you know almost the entire core ruleset, but you also have to read another set of additive rules just to play each different HASL CG.
        • Scale: HASL CGs are significantly larger in scale than even the largest regular scenarios. Some can have upwards of 100 units on both sides and play on a map that can be the equivalent of 3-15 geomorphic boards, depending on the scope of the CG.
      A portion of Red Barricades CG in progress
      • Time: Most normal ASL scenarios are 6-12 turns long. HASL modules usually contain several CGs, and each is comprised of 4-8 campaign game “dates”, and each date can typically last for 5-8 turns. This equates to 20-64 game turns for a given CG, depending on the scale of a particular module. Couple that with the large number of units involved, and the large map CG map scales, and you can see that playing a CG is a long, dedicated process.
      • Map: As mentioned previously, every attempt is made to make HASL maps as accurate as possible given the 40-meter scale of the game. Typical geomorphic board abstraction is thrown out the window for historical accuracy. Some HASL CG maps are quite massive, to the point that they are difficult to fit on even the largest of tables. Some are even unplayably large (mostly products from Critical Hit). Below is an example showing a historical Wake Island planning map (left) and the HASL map superimposed on the lower side of the island involving the Japanese invasion (right).

    ASL Map Spotlight: The Battle of Wake Island
    Wake Island vs. Superimposed HASL Map (Critical Hit)

To date, there are 13 official (MMP) HASL CGs covering battles from the islands of the south Pacific, to the ruins of Stalingrad, to the villages of Normandy. In addition, there are many more third-party modules released by a handful of publishers.

As you can see, HASL is not for the faint of heart and is only recommended for the very experienced ASL player, those who have a good grasp on most of the core ruleset. It’s not recommended that new players attempt a HASL until they’re comfortable with the system as a whole. BUT, it’s just another compelling argument as to why ASL is a tactical system that can satisfy a gamer for decades.

9. SYSTEM COST:

Wargaming has become an expensive hobby, despite the fact that most of the components are just … paper. The reason is volume. The print runs on most wargames are very small, in the hundreds or perhaps thousands depending on the game. This drives prices way up. It’s expensive to set up a printing process, and to amortize that cost across a print run of 1000 units adds up!

ASL is no exception. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can expect to spend on particular ASL products (these are official MMP estimates, and don’t include the used market or third-party published products).

    • Rulebook: $60-$100 depending on the version you buy.
    • Core Modules: $100-$225 depending on the module. Beyond Valor (the only required module) is $132.
    • HASL Modules: $90-$170 depending on the module.
    • Scenario Packs: $12-$30 depending on the pack.
    • ASL Journals: $40-$70 depending on magazine. The latest ASL Journal cost $68, and included a mini-HASL CG.
    • Accessories: Charts, dice, dice towers, etc. The cost is up to you.

Depending on your level of dedication to the system you could spend anywhere from $300 to get your foot in the ASL door, to easily $10,000+ if you enter the third-party publisher completionist collector phase (including perusing eBay for rare items long out of print). Either way, spend your money wisely and only purchase those products that interest you from either a gaming or historical point of view. When in question you can ask the community their opinions on specific ASL products, MMP or third-party.

10. THIRD-PARTY PUBLISHERS:

If you thought that there just couldn’t be enough official ASL in your life from Multi-Man Publishing, the third-party market has you covered, and then some. Over the last 30 years many enthusiast-driven efforts have sprung up to fill in the historical gaps in the ASL system. Many have gone by the wayside and you might be able to find some of their older products at exorbitant prices on eBay.

There are currently five active TPPs putting out major releases. Here’s the list, including links to their websites.

    • Advancing Fire (AF): A new, up-and-coming publisher from Italy that primarily focuses on HASL modules, often featuring battles taking place in Italy (or Sicily) and/or involving Italian units. Their first two historical modules suffered from production quality problems (were printed at the height of the Covid pandemic), but their third module, Prokhorovka!, was top-notch. http://advancingfire.com
Prokhorovka!
Prokhorovka by AF
    • Critical Hit (CH): An old-guard publisher that has been around since the 1990s. Their catalog is prolific, but many question their quality, specifically with respect to playtesting and balance. One thing people seem to agree on is that their historical maps are quite nice, even though there’s a massive abuse (overuse) of slopes, in my opinion anyway. They also have the annoying habit of re-publishing (re-printing) modules under different names hoping people will buy again. I’ve found their quality control to be quite lax. A module listing will make certain promises as to contents, like including a certain number of counter sheets, but fail to deliver. CH publishes historical modules, scenario packs, map packs, and a magazine (fairly infrequently). My recommendation is to research carefully before purchasing anything from CH. http://criticalhit.com
Objective Schmidt by CH
    • Bounding Fire Productions (BFP): Started in 1999, BFP’s main focus is historical modules, though they also have released some scenario packs and custom boards. BFP’s quality is quite good, and they have a reputation for releasing properly researched and playtested modules. Click here to see an unboxing of the Operation Neptune module. http://boundingfire.com
Operation Neptune Unboxing
Operation Neptune by BFP
    • Le Franc Tireur (LFT): LFT is based in France and was started in 1996 as a fan magazine only. They eventually branched out into many products. The magazine is still published to this day, as well as scenario packs, custom geomorphic boards, historical campaign games, and the popular LFT Rat Charts (ASL combat tables). LFT is considered by many to be at the top when it comes to ASL third-party publishers due to production quality and research/playtest. I unboxed a copy of The Green Hell of Inor awhile back. Take a look at it to see an example of one of LFT’s modules. http://lefranctireur.org
The Green Hell of Inor Cover
Green Hell of Inor by LFT
    • Lone Canuck Publishing (LCP): LCP is based in Canada, and as the name implies is the work of one man … at least the publishing part. Many of the ASL products published have been submitted by players. LCP’s primary focus is scenario packs and smaller-scale and more digestible “tactical missions”, their name for campaign games. This focus helps keep their historical modules reasonably priced, usually in the $30-$40. I’ve unboxed and played the largest scenario from The Steelworks. Click on each link to see what LCP’s products look like. http://lonecanuckpublishing.CA
The Steelworks

In addition to this list, there are a handful of minor publishers putting out an occasional scenario pack (maybe with a custom board included). I won’t be listing them here as their offerings are sometimes sporadic, but they are easily found via internet search.

11. ASL STARTER KIT:

At one time Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader were incredibly popular, the most popular hex-and-counter wargames ever published. Combined they reportedly sold over 1 million copies by 1997 (according to Computer Gaming World magazine). But over the years as the player base aged, as video gaming became more popular, and as career & family became a priority for many young players, popularity waned. Anecdotally it’s interesting to note that there seems to be a resurgence in ASL popularity as previous players return to the game as more and more of them become empty nesters and find their careers winding down into retirement. More time = more ASL!

Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1
Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #1

But what is ASL Starter Kit (ASLSK)? Some players argue that it’s a different game than full ASL. It is not. Others pontificate that you have to forget a bunch of ASLSK rules if you want to play full ASL. You do not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Furthermore, there are a few who say ASLSK teaches players “bad habits” for when they want to switch over to full ASL. Absolute bullshit … pardon my colorful vernacular. And finally, there’s even a small crowd who says ASLSK should never exist and they want nothing to do with it, as if it’s below their station. That’s just ridiculous. ALL these takes are ridiculous. Any player, steward, or fan of the game should want to support something that might increase the popularity of their dwindling hobby.

Let’s just address the elephant in the room:

ASLSK is ASL. Playing ASLSK is playing ASL. Full stop.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’ve played both extensively. ASLSK is simply a lean version of ASL. Every rule in ASLSK exists in ASL … every … one … of … them. They may be worded differently (conversational verbiage vs. “legalese” verbiage rules), but they’re all there. There’s no need to forget anything to transition from ASLSK to ASL, and no “bad habits” to unlearn, you simply add rules on top of existing rules. If you learn the rules from the first four Starter Kits, you’ve probably learned 80% of the core ASL rules, and could easily migrate to that game.

The Starter Kit Series of Modules

The purpose of introducing the ASL Starter Kits (ASLSK) was, I believe, three-fold:

    • Increase Popularity: With waning ASL popularity, and the stigma among many gamers that the ASL system was far too complicated, introducing an “ASL Lite” seemed like a natural progression of the system following the release of the 2nd Edition of the ASL Rulebook.
    • Simplify the Ruleset: Trim down the rules to only the most important core concepts and re-write those rules to have a more “conversational” tone instead of the “legalese” of ASL … and they will (hopefully) come. I’m on record, many times, stating that I’m not a fan of the ASLSK rulebook. It’s often vague and always difficult to find a specific rule I’m looking for. But I generally think the idea works. You can get started playing ASLSK by reading only ~12 pages of rules. By any hex-and-counter wargame metric, that’s incredibly reasonable.
    • Cost of Entry: As mentioned above, low-volume printing can be expensive, and those costs get passed on to us, the gamers. By simplifying what’s in the box, hoping for increased sales, and the price to us is less. The cost of entry into the ASLSK system is about $30 … about 10% (!!!) of the cost of full ASL system entry (~$300).

So what are the main differences between full ASL and ASLSK?

    • Rules: ASLSK contains a subset of the rules found in the full ASL rulebook. These rules are streamlined and simplified to make it easier for new players to grasp the basic concepts of ASL.
    • Limited Components: ASLSK includes a smaller set of counters and maps compared to the full ASL. The reduced components allow new players to focus on learning the basics without being overwhelmed by the extensive variety of units and terrain found in the complete ASL system. Conversely, this significantly limits scenario design options because not all nationalities are available, and those that are have limited orders of battle represented.
    • Historical: For players interested in more historically accurate battles, ASLSK only offers one HASL module, Decision at Elst, which is currently out of print.
    • Stand-Alone Gameplay: ASLSK uses a module-based programmed instruction method to introduce players to the game. Infantry (SK1) -> Guns (SK2) -> Vehicles (SK3) -> Pacific Theater (SK4). Full ASL has no formal programmed instruction method.

In summary, ASL Starter Kit provides a simplified and manageable entry point for new players to learn the basics of the ASL system. It offers a structured learning experience through introductory scenarios and simplified rules, making it an excellent choice for those interested in exploring the world of ASL without diving into the complexities and costs of the full game right away.

12. STORAGE:

I should preface this section by saying while finding a storage solution for your ASL system is sort of a right of passage for new players, there is no “correct” storage system. So don’t stress out about it. Everyone has their own method based on how they want to organize and how much they want to spend. Don’t obsess about it, it’s just paper and cardboard. Do a little research, pick the system that fits your need, then move on to learning and playing the game!

There are many schools of thought on the topic from “Hrmph! I store all my counters in the cheapest, flimsiest baggies I can find!” to “I have a fully custom designed and 3D printed storage system … including a dedicated travel kit!” Most rational-thinking players will gravitate to something in between that’s not too costly, but also allows for logical organization.

But what needs to be “stored” in ASL? Well, pretty much everything except the empty boxes:

      • Module Boxes: Many ASL players throw their module boxes away (blasphemy!) once they’ve pulled the contents out. I personally save them all and keep the scenarios (which I scan to pdf) and rule additions (which are always updated in the eASLRB) in the boxes. If you keep your boxes or never unbox/unwrap them, there’s a certain etiquette to their storage. In my experience, ASL module boxes should always be stored vertically … always.
        ASL Collection
        Store Your Modules Like This …

        Also in my experience, ASL boxes should never be stacked horizontally on top of one another. This promotes sag, corner rupture, and extra wear and tear.

        … Please, NOT Like This!

        Crimes Against Humanity

Ultimately some people may not really care that much, but I would be remiss in not reminding ASL players and collectors that the re-sell aftermarket for any ASL module is very robust. So at a minimum treat them with a little respect in case you ever want to sell anything down the road.

    • Counters: If you play ASL with physical components you can’t avoid this topic. ASL counter storage is almost a game (or hobby) within the game (hobby). In the entire system there are tens of thousands of them to keep track of … pretty much the entire order of battle for all forces in all of World War 2! The choice of how you store your counters is up to you. I could devote an entire article (or video) to the subject and not even scratch the surface. The counter storage system you pick is determined by your needs and bank account balance. So instead of diving down that rabbit hole here’s a gallery of ASL counter-storage ideas to peruse.
    • Boards: ASL boards are a much easier storage problem to overcome. They’re flat, they’re paper, and there are only ~150 of them instead of tens of thousands. There are really only two common solution methods (this assumes you have Starter Kit style boards). 1) Store them in their original module boxes. 2) Place them in inserts organized numerically in notebooks, readily available on Amazon for relatively cheap. This is my method of board storage and you can see some pictures of it below:
      • If you’re an old-school ASL player and own a lot of the original hard-mounted boards the box storage system works fine, or you can just stack them up and put them on a shelf in numerical order.
      • Overlays: Assuming you’ve actually taken the time to cut out all your overlays, you’ll definitely need some sort of storage solution, as there are close to a couple hundred of them including historical modules and Twilight of the Reich (which has 45 by itself!). Many people just throw them back in their respective boxes (or a single box) and call it a day. My solution is similar to the board storage above. I place them in flap-locking inserts in a notebook organized by overlay type. So every single ASL overlay is accessible from a single notebook. Images below:

     

        • Scenarios: Lastly, we have scenarios. Definitely do not overthink this one! They’re just thick pieces of paper. Again, some people keep them in the box, while others meticulously protect them by placing them in sleeves and displaying them on their shelves. But this is 2024!! My preferred method is to just scan them to a .pdf file (assuming you have access to a scanner) and store them on my computer, giving them filenames such as “J223 – Latecomers” so they can easily be searched by either their scenario number or name. If you play on VASL they are easy to pop up on another screen (or window) for reference, or if you are ready to play a scenario with physical components just print out a copy and recycle it when done. The originals are tucked away in their module boxes for safekeeping. Again, don’t overthink this, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time or money coming up with an elaborate system to store and/or display the scenarios.

       

13. VIRTUAL ASL:

Whew, we’re almost done! Your exploration of the Advanced Squad Leader world is nearly complete. But you’re asking yourself “This is the 21st century, we have self-driving cars! Why can’t I just play ASL online?” Well … you can! The caveat being is that you have to play against another person. ASL is far too complex to wrap a computer engine (and game A.I.) around it to play effectively against. Developers have been making attempts at computerizing ASL for decades with little success.

Second Front does an admirable job, but if ASLSK is “ASL Lite” then the Second Front computer game is “ASL Extreme Diet Lite” … but it does have a game A.I. that can challenge you from time to time using a very simplified ruleset.

Example VASL Game In Progress

So how do you play online? With Virtual ASL (VASL). VASL is simply a virtual gaming environment that allows you to play the game on a computer screen instead of at your kitchen table. You still need a rulebook, all the combat charts (some are built-in), scenarios, and an opponent on the other end of the line via VOIP (voice over IP) like Discord or Skype to make communication easier.

To play Virtual ASL, you need two things (besides a computer of some kind that can run Java):

    • Vassal Engine: This is your virtual gaming table where you can play any game that has a Vassal Engine module created for it. You can play any game on Vassal, from Monopoly to ASL, as long as a module for that game is available. Vassal Engine is like your “gaming table”, just waiting for you to set a game down on it and start playing. http://vassalengine.org
    • VASL Module: VASL = Virtual Advanced Squad Leader. This is the module that plugs into the Vassal Engine “table” (environment). There are hundreds of (war)game modules available. The VASL module has its own website where you can download and find out more information. If the Vassal Engine is the “gaming table”, then the VASL Module is the “game box” with all the contents. When you open the module using Vassal it’s like you’re opening up that box on your kitchen table and pulling out all the components to play. http://vasl.info/download.htm

Install these two and you’ll be ready to play Advanced Squad Leader (or Starter Kit) against anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time of day. There’s no need to leave maps and counters set up so the cats can pounce on them, you just reload the save game next time you plan and you’re ready to roll.

Not sure how to install and use Vassal/VASL? I have you covered!

Here’s a 22-part series covering how to install, run, customize, and use Vassal/VASL.

Vassal/VASL is incredibly popular, with upwards of 6000 game sessions logged every month. In this day and age where ASL players are few and far between and spread out all over the world, for many it’s their only option to continue enjoying the hobby they’ve been passionate about for decades.

14. COMMUNITIES:

The online ASL community is an interesting beast. There’s no centralized community adopted and used by all. There are various groups/cabals/echo chambers where players with similar personalities/histories/play styles congregate. Most of these communities are old (or downright ancient) and each one offers its own upsides and downsides. I’ll attempt to summarize and give my personal opinions (yours may vary) on each one, listed in the order of how frequently I use them:

    • ASL-Players.net: You’re on it. There’s no one site (or forum) that’s 100% dedicated to ASL. My attempt was (is) to do that here.
        • Upside: The forum here is 100% ASL, it’s not buried in a sub-forum, community, subsection, or dependent on any service that isn’t dedicated to the game. There’s no heavy-handed moderation, no selling of personal information, no advertising, no spam popups, and no need to install a separate application (Discord).
        • Downside: The discussion traffic here is pretty low, unfortunately.
        • Frequency: Daily, because I’m the admin.
        • https://asl-players.net/forum/
    • ASL Facebook Group: Facebook groups have grown quite popular and useful for a lot of people. I get it, a lot of people (especially in the ASL demographic) hate Facebook. I mostly dislike Facebook as a whole, but I find the group somewhat useful. I should note that there are quite a few ASL-specific groups on FB, the one listed below is the oldest/largest.
        • Upside: The ASL Facebook Group is good for posting photos, discussions of counter clipping/storage, memes, and the occasional game question. It’s pretty active and a good place to find opponents. It’s a much more casual ASL hangout than most of them.
        • Downside: It’s Facebook. It’s harvesting and selling your personal information. It’s inundating you with ads and trackers. The interface is still terrible despite the company swimming in billions of dollars. The discussion is much more casual. Don’t expect incredibly deep, detailed game and/or tactical analysis in this group. It’s fairly casual. More entertaining than informative.
        • Frequency: Daily, including the SK Facebook Group. I often engage in discussion.
        • https://www.facebook.com/groups/advancedsquadleader
    • Gamesquad: I don’t know the origin story of this site. It’s been around a while and hosts random gaming communities ranging from chess to World of Warcraft to ASL.
        • Upside: This has a similar demographic as Boardgamegeek, with more serious ASL players congregating there, but is significantly more active. It has a very nice archive of searchable Q&A, and you can get VASL help directly from some of those gentlemen who work on it.
        • Downside: Aggressive moderation has been a problem over the years, causing some well-respected players to move to other communities. The admin has some pretty draconic rules. The future of the site also seems a bit nebulous. Not too long ago the owner/admin was trying to sell it. My anti-virus software also flags the site as malicious from time to time. I don’t know why, but it’s a little concerning. Lastly, the admin doesn’t allow forum searches using words that are 3 letters or fewer. This is infuriating because nearly every ASL acronym is … 3 letters or fewer! So if you want to search for rule discussions about, say, “CVP” (Casualty Victory Points), your search will just get rejected.
        • Frequency: Every other day. I occasionally partake in discussions.
        • http://www.gamesquad.com/forums/index.php?forums/advanced-squad-leader.30/
    • ASL Discord Server: Discord is a new service, and the ASL group there has only been around for a couple of years. But it’s grown quite fast. I think the link below might be a link to an invite to the server (?). Not sure, there are so many links floating around.
        • Upside: Lots of information is contained in a service that allows for VOIP chat, video sharing, and sharing of your computer desktop. Discord also uses real-time chat in its channels so you can get an instant exchange of information
        • Downside: Almost too much information. There are currently 86 sub-communities, channels and/or chat forums haphazardly “organized”. It’s just too much and a bit overwhelming. When I visit I go to the “general-asl” channel skim the discussion, then usually close Discord. Even though the ASL Discord must have 2000+ members, it seems that 95% of them are silent even though the service uses a dynamic live chat type mechanic. The vast majority of discussion is carried out by the same handful of people (at least in the main “general-asl” channel). Requires you to install another application on your device.
        • Frequency: Depends on how much I’m playing ASL. When I’m playing a lot I use Discord for VOIP when playing on VASL, so I check the channel quite often. If I’m not playing frequently I might scan the main channel once a week. I partake in discussions pretty infrequently.
        • https://discord.gg/advanced-squad-leader-central-415876852419395586 (??)
    • Boardgamegeek: This gaming site has existed since 2000. It’s dedicated to all forms of table gaming (boards, cards, casual, whatever).
        • Upside: The sub-forum has existed for many years, and is a hangout for more serious players. It has a good archive of Q&A that you can search.
        • Downside: It’s not an ASL site. Boardgamegeek doesn’t care about ASL, or care that it even exists. The ASL forum is buried in a database of thousands of games. Just look at the intuitive, easy-to-remember URL below.
        • Frequency: Visit maybe once a week for a quick scan, but I can’t remember the last time I engaged in the forum there. Lurker mode only.
        • https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/243/advanced-squad-leader/forums/0
    • Consimworld: Started in 1996 this community is one of the oldest wargaming hangouts on the internet, and it shows. Apparently, really old-school ASL Grognardstm frequent the subforum there. I think. I don’t know. I wander in and usually get hopelessly lost in about 20 seconds … then I back out slowly like Homer Simpson disappearing into a hedge.
Homer!
DOH!
        • Upside: It supposedly has an extensive database of Q&A, ASL design history, design discussions, etc. But good luck finding it. Bring your digital archeology tools to unearth what you’re looking for. Their wargame video feed is quite nifty though!
        • Downside: I won’t mince words. Consimworld might be the worst gaming community site I’ve ever tried to use. They’ve tried to change the front end (portal) of the site, but the back end (the forums) looks like they are a slight improvement from 1990s usenet groups (which I used a lot back in the day). Utterly frustrating to try and use today … and I’m pretty computer savvy, but I have limits to my patience. Click on the link below and prepare to be transported back to 1993.
        • I’m mostly kidding and being hyperbolic in the first two bullets. Maybe. Sort of. Not really.
        • Frequency: I visit with about the same frequency as I can levitate inanimate objects with my mind.
        • http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX/?14@@.1dd0cf9c (easy to remember URL)

Pending a miracle and ASL players congregating in one dedicated place (when elephants fly!) you’ll need to just navigate the ones available and find the best fit for your needs. And of course, feel free to join the forum here. Maybe we can eventually reach a critical mass to get some activity going!

14. WHAT DO I NEED TO BUY?!:

You made it! You found this page because you’re curious about ASL, and your interest is piqued (Since you made it this far! Or did you cheat and skip ahead?!). So, you ask: “What do I do? Where do I start? My brain’s about to melt from all this information!”

Okay, roll your 2d6 and pass your task check! Here are your options. Read through all of them in order to see your next step to join the ranks of squad leaders:

    1. I’m a Newbie! You are new to this whole tactical wargaming thing and/or are a very frugal gamer. Well, start with the ASL Starter Kits, it’s right in the name! It’s both ASL and a good way to start. Buy ASL Starter Kit #1. Don’t let people convince you it’s not ASL. It is. It will set you back ~$30. Read the 12 pages of rules and either play the game solo or reach out to an experienced ASL player and/or read or watch some tutorials online. If you eventually go to full ASL you can sell ASLSK #1 for almost what you bought it for. You’ll be out very little money. If you decide to stick with ASLSK then pick up some of the other modules and have fun!
    2. I’m Experienced! You played the original Squad Leader back in the day, you have a good handle on what’s going on …
        1. Go back to 1. if you just want to start slow and keep costs low
        2. Go to 3. if you’re confident and don’t mind spending money
    3. I’m a Grognard! You have the intestinal fortitude and are up for a challenge, this system looks awesome! You laugh in the face of monster wargames! You read technical manuals and lawyer briefs for fun! I can respect that … so jump whole hog into full ASL! Buy a rulebook, the charts, and the module Beyond Valor (total ~$300). Start reading the rulebook, but follow this method of learning the game. Find another experienced player to play your first few games with, either face-to-face or on VASL. Also, read or watch some tutorials online, and find an ASL community that clicks with your personality so you can ask questions.
    4. I’m Old School! You’re thinking of just playing old-school Squad Leader. I don’t recommend it. Listen, I love the original, but it had its day in the sun and shined ever so brightly. But the player base is very inactive. The system is no longer supported or in print, forcing you to resort to the used market (eBay et al.), and the rules become more and more muddled and contradictory as you progress into the system. Starter Kit is what you want if you still love Squad Leader but want access to a large player base. Go back to 1.
    5. I’m Out! I get it, the game can be a bit much, and it’s not for everyone. There’s always UNO and Minesweeper, I won’t judge … 😁

Those are my recommendations. Don’t feel the need to immediately jump into the system and guzzle from the fire hose. You’ll drown and get a bad impression of the system. Approach ASL logically, methodically, and slowly, in bite-sized reasonable chunks. Don’t take your next bite until you’ve chewed and digested the previous course!

16. WHERE TO BUY ASL:

You’re ready to take the plunge but have no idea where to get ASL. The bad news is that most local gaming shops are unlikely to carry the game, or at best they might have the rulebook and Beyond Valor shoehorned between stacks of Magic: The Gathering cards and Dungeons & Dragons books. But we live in the 21st century… let your fingers do the shopping!

Below is a list of online retailers where you can order all your Advanced Squad Leader goodies in various corners of the world. As I’m located in the U.S. I recommend the source (MMP Gamers). Availability of third-party ASL from these sites will be hit and miss, but they should have the basic items you need to get going.

Where To Buy ASL
North America/U.S. http://www.mmpgamers.com
North America/U.S. http://www.gamersarmory.com
North America/U.S. https://keysgameemporium.com/
North America/U.S. http://www.nobleknight.com
Australia http://www.milsims.com.au
Belgium http://www.boardgamegeneral.eu
Canada http://asl-battleschool.blogspot.com
Canada http://www.levalet.com
Canada http://www.sentrybox.com
France http://www.hexasim.com/en/panier.html
France http://www.agorajeux.com/en
France http://www.philibertnet.com/en
Germany http://www.gamers-hq.de
Germany http://www.ugg.de
Italy http://www.igiochideigrandi.it
Italy http://www.whiteshipgames.it
Spain http://www.masqueoca.es/edicionesmasqueoca
Spain http://www.snafustore.com
Spain http://www.dracotienda.com
Spain http://www.atlanticajuegos.com/es
Spain http://www.planetongames.com/es
Spain http://www.nymeriacomics.com
Sweden http://www.trojangames.se
United Kingdom http://www.secondchancegames.com
United Kingdom http://www.gameslore.com
United Kingdom http://www.boardgameguru.co.uk
United Kingdom http://leisuregames.com
Note: these stores may or may not currently have ASL products in stock, but worth a check.

Please report any broken links using the contact form.

17. CONCLUSION:

ASL SoldierAdvanced Squad Leader is a complex and comprehensive tactical wargaming system, but it’s not one that should scare off potential players. I honestly believe it’s no more complex than many of the other large wargaming systems on the market that have page counts also numbering in the hundreds (across their entire systems). But you have to ask yourself, do you like playing games against opponents or solo? Many hex-and-counter systems don’t have many players, let alone active players, so you’re often forced to play solo. That’s just the reality of wargaming today.

I’m not much of a fan of solo wargaming, but I understand some are and that works for them. ASL has a very active player base, especially online. If you choose to play the game via VASL you could find an online opponent in a matter of hours. I believe one of the keys to learning ASL is to play against other people, it helps reinforce rules, helps you learn rules, the scenarios have better action narratives, and in general, are just more fun. But can ASL be played solo? Absolutely! Nothing is preventing solo players from doing so.

There are many avenues to approach the game, the community is incredibly active, resources and play-aids abound, and there’s always help available for any aspect of the game system.

Good luck in your Advanced Squad Leader journey!

18. ASL FAQ (Work In Progress):

Q: How long does it take to play a game of ASL?
A: This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on scenario length, unit density, extra rules that might be needed, and the experience level of the players. But, in general, based on my experiences it takes approximately 1 hour per game turn for average-skill-level players playing an average-sized scenario.

Q: How different is ASL from the original SL?
A: The overall mechanics of the system (the phases system) are fundamentally the same: fire, move, defensive fire, rout, morale, etc. However, the ASL system adds significantly more detail (often called ‘chrome’) to the old SL system. As the article above details, many of these details are optional.

Q: Can I use my old Squad Leader components in ASL?
A: ASL unit counters display much more information than the old SL counters, so typically you cannot use them in ASL. But, you can use all the original SL boards.

Q: After picking a version to play, what’s the best way to learn ASL?
A: The best way to learn ASL is to play ASL. Just reading the rulebook will only get you so far. Play against a patient and helpful experienced opponent! There are also helpful Youtube channels and communities that can help you out. For full ASL I recommend the 8 Steps to ASL approach. I don’t recommend learning ASL in a vacuum.

Q: Can ASL be played using PBEM?
A: Theoretically, yes. But it’s very, very slow due to the complexities of the Defensive Fire Phase. VASL can be used to create log files that can be emailed back and forth but doesn’t eliminate the DFPh complexity.

(Article Updated: May 20, 2024. If you have any of your own insights or recommendations for new players post them up in the comments section below!)

GET TO THE CHOPPA…!!! Get To The Choppa...!!!


© 2023-2024, Neal Ulen. All Rights Reserved. Copyright & Fair Use Notice.
ASL-Players.net is not affiliated with Hasbro, AH Games, Inc., or MMP, Inc. Advanced Squad Leader is a trademark of AH Games, Inc.


23 COMMENTS

  1. Great overview! I wish this had existed when I was starting my journey. What moduel would you recomend after Beyond Valor?

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    • I think it’s a matter of preference. Which order of battle interests you more? Americans (Yanks), British/Commonwealth (For King and Country), or the minors? Personally, I’d go with Yanks, but that limits you to later war scenarios, Sicily, Italy, and post D-Day Normandy.

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  2. well, thanks for that! Easily the best one page summery of the game I’ve seen. Most pages are pretty vague and list all the obvious thingsor go into so much detail I don’t know what they’re talking about. You go into just the right amount of detail on all the important aspects of the game. Thanks again.

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  3. Why do alot of ASL players have a hate boner for Critical Hit? I have a bunch of Ray’s stuff and find it mostly fun. Yeah some of the sencarios are unbalance so are a lot of AH and MMP scenarios. People spend so much energy hating CH.

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    • I also have some CH modules. My point is Ray publishes and recycles so many things that people just need to do due diligence before dropping quite a bit of money on something.

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  4. Nice. I’ve wondered why ASL never caught on as a miniatures game. I’ve play alot of different miniatures in bunches of genres and have exposure to the ASL rules and they definitely have a miniature feel to them like you say.

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    • Probably just an expense thing. Also, Line of Sight is very detailed and critical in ASL. I don’t think you could capture the true impact of all the LOS on all the geomorphic boards with miniature terrain. I guess you could just limit miniature on deluxe sized boards, but that’s not really in the spirit of miniatures (big tables with cool 3D terrain).

      It just never caught on for a bunch of reasons. Which is fine. The system still works great just using paper.

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  5. Your description of Consimworld is on point. The community area there hasn’t change din 20 years. Its impressive tbh. I mostly just read and gamesquad is my haunt because of the q&a like you said.

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    • Consimworld forums are an anachronism. Something you’d expect to see whan looking up something on Internet Archive. Its to bad that this hobby is still propped up by a bunch of crotchety, insular hobbyists clutching at their carboard pearls to their chest in their ancient cabals. This game needs new blood, desparetely, not a bunch of salty old men on a geocities site arguing about counter clipping. LOL

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  6. The geomorphic board system is one of the things that makes this system so incredible imo! I think for $300 you can buy the entire board bundle if you don’t have the boards and cna build an infinate variety of battlefiels. No other system has this that I can think of. To do this with miniature terrain would take $30,000 and require it’s own warehouse. I avoid overlays no real use for them with that many options anyway.

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    • Completely agree. That’s not even counting third-party geomorphic boards and all the historical boards…some of which are massive. I’ve always thought miniature gaming was really cool, but I could never rationalize the cost and storage space needed.

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  7. Thanks for the link to stores outside the US. It’s getting harder and harder to find ASL and places that don’t charge a king’s ransom to ship.

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  8. What’s your opinion on other versions of ASL, such as Civil War, Vietnam, or even more modern interprettaions? I believe that offering ASL to different conflict timelines would open up the system to a lot of enthusiasts.

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    • Yes, it does open up the system but ASL was designed specifically with WW2 tactics in mind. I don’t have experience playing ASL in those other wars offered by Critical Hit, but I can’t imagine that it translates well to either of those wars without massive changes to the ruleset. And from my understanding the changes to the rules in the CH modules are minimal.

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  9. Fantastic article.

    I found it reassuring to read.

    I first played squad leader in the 70s when it first came out. I worked for Avalon Hill Games UK and had free access to all of their games. Imagine my job was to be able to help all the players play the games! So part of my day each day was spent playing games with people who came into the shop for help!

    Life and career took over and although I have all the old SL modules and counters and a lot of ASL I never got into ASL. Now, having retired, I have a bit more time and am getting back into ASL via the starter kits.

    Thanks to this site and this article I don’t feel that the starter kits are a waste of time. Also thanks to this site I found a games shop online in France and have ordered SK 1 and 2. Fed up waiting for a response from board game geek sellers.

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  10. Thank you for the article! As someone exploring getting into this system reading about it was kinda daunting, I couldn’t find anything that was both a summary of the system and fleshed it out in detail what its all about, where to start, whats available. Brilliant!

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  11. imo new players need to set aside their normal thinking of wargaming when they approach ASL. I think many new to a game are used to sitting down reading 25 pages of rules and playing a wargame. You can’t approach ASL like that. You can’t read the rules and expect to be an instant black belt in karate, with experience comes knowledge and skill. ASL is a lifelong passion, your always learning the game, whether you’ve played 1 year or 30 years. Don’t pretend you need to learn and master ASL in a month, its impossible. Accept you’ll make lots of mistakes, and you will for MANY years, and just have fun doing so with your mates.

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    • Couldn’t agree more. I’ve always been a proponent of not drinking from the ASL fire hose. There’s no rush to devour the entire system. Peck away at it and enjoy it, instead of looking at it and thinking it’s impossible to learn, or trying to learn the entire system at once and getting discouraged.

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