Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Beginning ASL with the Starter Kits

[Version 1.3]


I have just started revisiting ASL after a long hiatus. I played the original Squad Leader in the early 1980s (along with the expansions: Cross of Iron, Crescendo of Doom and GI: Anvil of Victory). All these, originally published by the Avalon Hill game company, are now long out of print.

After discussions on Boardgamegeek (BGG) I decided to try the Starter Kits (SKs) as a simple route into what is a highly complex tactical WWII game/simulation system. I found much of the information to be scattered around in different places so I decided to write a few notes here to keep track of what I did and how it progressed. I will update this blog as I advance (hopefully) towards full ASL.

The differences between the kits

There are three starter kits usually abbreviated to SK1, SK2 and SK3 (or ASLSK1-3). There is also an expansion pack (SKEP) and a bonus pack. These are now published by MMP. The SKs and the expansion pack are stand-alone games and do not require the other kits to play. The bonus pack just has a new map-board and 3 scenarios (i.e. you need other components to play with this).

ASL works by purchasing modules or kits that contain maps, counters and so on as well as scenarios. The scenarios specify which bits of the kits/modules need to be used to play a particular game. Each scenario specifies different configurations of boards and armed forces with objectives to be achieved by one or both sides within a set number of turns. Thus the game provides practically infinite possibilities for simulating small scale tactical operations throughout WWII depending on which modules are purchased (see below). The Starter Kits and Expansion Pack contain everything needed to play the scenarios enclosed in that particular pack so unlike full ASL you only need to make one purchase in order to start.

SK1 introduces the basic infantry rules and support weapons rules. It has 2 map-boards and counters, dice, reference charts and rulebook, along with some infantry only scenarios. It covers US, USSR and German forces.

SK2 introduces the rules about ordnance and SK3 then introduces tanks. [I do not own either of these]

SKEP covers all three areas (infantry, ordnance and tanks) with a comprehensive rulebook that includes errata and updates from the previous SKs. It also contains new mapboards and 8 scenarios. SK2 includes the rules included in SK1, and SK3 includes rules in SK1 and SK2 so you don't need all three to play the SK system, but you can progress in a logical order of complexity from SK1 to SK3. The 'SK system' then is a smaller version of  full ASL and is intended to introduce people to the game. It is still quite complex in itself.

SK1 and SK2 are currently out of print (December 2011) and already beginning to fetch inflated prices on ebay. I would therefore recommend starting with the Expansion Pack.

What you need for full ASL

Full ASL requires that you purchase the 2nd edition rulebook, and the 1st module 'Beyond Valor' which contains the counters, scenarios and map-boards needed to start playing. You cannot start ASL proper without purchasing these two items. Note that Beyond Valor is essential as it contains several counters needed to play the game which are not provided in other modules (but Beyond Valor does not contain the rules). It also contains the complete German order of battle required in many other modules (as well as the Russians and Finns). These two items are quite expensive (in the UK the rulebook is about £45+ and Beyond Valor is £85+) so the SKs are a useful and cheap way into the game. There are several other ASL modules and expansions that cover other nationalities (for example, For King and Country covers British forces, Yanks - currently out of print - covers US forces etc.) But the other modules are no use without the rulebook and Beyond Valor.

What to buy for ASL SK?

At the time of writing (updated December 2011) SK3 and SKEP are available and in print (I am in the UK), SK1 and SK2 are out of print, I have SK1 and the SKEP. I do not own the other SK items.

People differ in opinion as to what the best route or use of the various SKs is to get into the basic system - there are several options. Most people say to start with SK1 as it is the easiest (no big guns or tanks which complicate things considerably). Some say to go straight to SK3 to get everything (including guns and tanks) and some people recommend the SKEP because the rules include some additions and rewrites and include errata from the original SKs. My own path and advice is detailed below.

Many also suggest starting with SK1 and then either SK3 or the SKEP. So you learn the basics with SK1 - a major undertaking in itself, and then introduce guns and tanks later when you feel ready. This is what I am doing now. Note also that there is no substitute for playing with someone who already knows the rules. ASL is difficult to learn by oneself. In fact many have criticised the SK1 rulebook for being too difficult for someone to just pick up and play without some supplementary knowledge of game mechanics. It is too abstract by itself. I cannot make a strong judgement about this because I played the old SL system so the material in SK1 was not completely unfamiliar.

Fortunately much help is at hand. I recommend that you register with BGG and look through posts on ASL SKs. If you have have questions post them there. There are many forums dedicated to ASL and ASLSK. I have had several rules questions answered and clarified very quickly. Start here.

Getting started with the SK rules

One of the best ways to get to grips with the rules is to watch Joe Steadman's videos which take SK1 and go through everything in quite a lot of detail phase by phase.

There is also a simple primer available here:

For those who have SK1 a good way to get into the system is to play through a real example of the first scenario described in great detail here by Eddy del Rio:
And then go onto the second scenario which introduces support weapons:

If you have SK2 then there are more play through examples:
And for SK3:

Another invaluable (and very detailed) set of rule discussions is provided by the following tutorials by Jay Richardson (reading some of these will also give you an idea what you are getting yourself into):

An ASLSK Tutorial (Part 1)
Squads, Leaders, Basic Sequence of Play

An ASLSK Tutorial (Part 2)
Support Weapons

An ASLSK Tutorial (Part 3)
Infantry in Battle

An ASLSK Tutorial (Part 4)
Ordnance and the To Hit Process

An ASLSK Tutorial (Part 5)

In-depth explanations of specific ASLSK rules:

Explanation of ROF (and Defensive Fire)

Explanation of the Rout Phase

For what it is worth this is how I am learning the basic system using the SKs step-by-step:

Note this is just the way I am doing it. It is not the only way or necessarily the best way, but it worked well for me.

  • Get SK1 and read the infantry rules. Sections 1-3 and 5.
  • Watch all Joe Steadman's videos (twice if necessary).
  • Play scenario S1.
  • Watch the videos again and look at Jay Richardson's tutorials on infantry (part1).
I write down questions about the rules as I am playing if I cannot quickly find the answer in the book. Then I can carry on playing and check the rules properly later. It can get very frustrating when you cannot find an answer for a question and it slows the game down tremendously at first.

I also annotate the rulebook and write notes down the side of rules so I can find things. One infuriating thing about the rules is that they are very densely packed within paragraphs. Often a rule will be hidden away as one sentence in a very long paragraph. Underlining helps to find them.

  • Read the support weapon rules (section 4) and play S2.
  • Read the relevant Jay Richardson tutorials on BGG (parts 2 and 3).
  • Ask more questions.
  • The best place to ask questions about SK1 is here.

  • Play some more scenarios from SK1 and use the BGG forums to ask questions. There are no more rules to learn at this stage, but plenty of scenarios to try.

  • Get the SKEP (skip SK2 and SK3)
  • Personally I find the SKEP book much better laid out and I can find things much faster than in SK1, but there are a LOT more rules on ordnance and tanks mixed in with the infantry rules.
  • I strongly advise reading the Jay Richardson tutorial on BGG on ordnance before reading the rulebook (tutorial part 4)
  • Then read the ordnance rules and play scenario S45 which has a few mortars, but no tanks.
  • Read the tutorial on tanks (part 5) and skim the rulebook on tanks so you know where the material is.
  • Read the rulebook sections on tanks while playing scenario S49 which has 2 German tanks at the beginning and a few more enter later on.
There are then several other SKEP scenarios with tanks and ordnance to try. You now know ASLSK.

That's it. I now have the 2nd edition ASL rulebook and am just waiting for Beyond Valor before starting out on full ASL.


  1. If you're still out there in the ASL world, I'd love to hear how things have turned out since going full ASL. I am getting ready to move from the SK to Beyond Valor, so kind of where you were a few years ago.

    Louye (Las Vegas NV, USA)

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