ASL Starter Kit Explained

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ASL Starter Kit Quick Start

Daniel F. Savarese

Last Updated: 2005-09-25

A Brief History

Advanced Squad Leader logo Avanced Squad Leader (ASL) is a board wargame that simulates squad-level tactical combat during the Second World War. Its predecessor, Squad Leader, was released in the 1970's and, through expansion modules, gradually became more complex. ASL revamped the entire system in the 1980's at the expense of creating a difficult to digest mega-compendium of rules. The size of the rules and the cost to get started with the system discouraged the uninitiated from trying the new game.

For years, there has been talk of providing a simplified version of ASL to make it easier for new players to grasp the game. The original Squad Leader featured a programmed instruction system, whereby rules were presented in chunks required to play a given scenario. You'd read some rules, play a scenario, read some more, play another, and so on until you'd mastered all of the rules.

In 2004, Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) produced the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit (ASLSK) to make it easier for new players to master the game. The ASLSK is a proper subset of ASL. Each game will introduce additional rules from the ASL system. Even though it doesn't explicitly use programmed instruction, each game in the ASLSK series is, in a sense, a programmed instruction unit. The ASLSK harkens back to the days of Squad Leader, even sporting an affordable $24.00 price tag.

A second starter kit, ASL Starter Kit #2—Guns, was released in Summer 2005. A third starter kit, adding armored vehicles and subtitlted Tanks, will complete the starter kit series. Additional scenarios are published in Operations Magazine and there has been talk of publishing historical modules or scenario packs for players without a desire to move up to full ASL, but that's just talk at this stage.

Getting Started with ASLSK#1

The first ASL Starter Kit contains 12 pages of rules, but after you factor in the introduction, glossary, illustrated examples, and back cover, the rules are more like 5 or 6 pages long. Still, they are densely written and can turn off the novice wargamer. If you're new to wargaming, don't read them all. Plan on playing Scenario S1 first and read only the rules you need to start playing it. Also, refer to the Section 2 glossary any time you encounter an abbreviation you do not recognize. Then read the additional rules you need as you play the scenario. You can skip Section 4 entirely because no support weapons are used in Scenario S1. Also, don't use the rules in Section 5 because they aren't critical for Scenario S1. You can use them the second time you play the scenario or in other scenarios.

Suggested order in which to read rules and start playing
  1. Skim Section 1 since the terrain modifiers are listed on the quick reference chart. Instead, focus on the counter descriptions in 1.2 Counters.

  2. Read 3.3 Movement Phase, including 3.31 Defensive First Fire.

  3. Read 3.4 Defensive Fire Phase.

  4. Read 3.5 Advancing Fire Phase.

  5. Set up Scenario S1.

  6. Start scenario by moving Germans. The first time you contemplate engaging in defensive first fire, defensive final fire, or advancing fire, read 3.2 Prep Fire Phase and Fire Attacks and 3.2.1 Effects.

  7. The first time you reach the rout phase and have at least one broken unit, read 3.6 Rout Phase

  8. When you reach the advance phase, read 3.7 Advance Phase.

  9. The first time you think you need to advance into an enemy occupied hex, read 3.8 Close Combat Phase.

  10. When you reach the end of a player turn, read 3.9 Turn record chart.

  11. When you reach the start of the first American player turn, read 3.1 Rally Phase.

After you've played Scenario S1, you can read sections 4 and 5 on support weapons, experience level rating, and unit distinctions. Also make sure to read 1.2.4 Support Weapons (SW). Then play Scenario S2, where you can apply those final rules. The ASL Starter Kit rules are a subset of ASL rules. Everything you learn in the ASLSK, you can transfer to ASL.

Squad-level tactical combat presents a number of challenges and contradictions you'll become comfortable with over time. Maneuver, concentration of fire, and dispersal of units are all important and at odds with each other. You have to concentrate units under a leader to gain a movement bonus that facilitates maneuver or to gain a firing bonus to make concentrated fire more effective. Yet you need to disperse your units to prevent enemy fire from affecting multiple units with one attack. You want to move quickly to maneuver, but you need to move slowly and carefully (assault movement) to avoid FFNAM and FFMO modifiers when fired upon. Coping with all of these variables and more is what makes ASL so engaging to so many players.

Getting Started with ASLSK#2

The second ASL Starter Kit contains 20 pages of rules, but only 8 of the pages contain new material. The ASLSK#2 rules are the same as the rules from the first kit, but with additions covering new terrain (hills and orchard roads), multilevel line of sight, new support weapons, and ordnance. Additions and corrections to the rules from the first kit are highlighted in a salmon color. After you factor in the two pages of ordnance notes, new glossary entries, and examples, there are only about 4½ pages of new rules to read.

Suggested order in which to read rules and start playing
  1. The first two scenarios don't require ordnance. Therefore, if you've already absorbed the ASLSK#1 rules, read only the orchard road and hills terrain rules. Also, read the highlighted additions to 3.2.1 Line of Sight (LOS). Then play scenarios S9 and S10.

  2. Scenario S11 introduces light anti-tank weapon (LATW) and light mortars. Instead of tackling both weapons systems at once, download Scenario S29—which includes bazookas, but no mortars—from MMP's Web site and play it before moving on to S11. First, read sections 4.4, 4.4.1, and 4.4.2 to learn about LATW.

  3. Next, read 3.2.4 To Hit Process and examine the to hit chart and dice roll modifiers on the player aid card.

  4. Finally, read sections 6.0 and 6.1, primarily to understand critical hits, which LATW are capable of producing

  5. Play Scenario S29.

  6. To prepare for Scenario S11, read section 4.5 on light mortars.

  7. Next, read sections 6.2, 6.9, 6.10, 6.11, and 6.12 followed by 1.2.5 Smoke, because it restates the hindrance effects of white phosphorus—which the light mortar in S11 is capable of firing—from 6.2. Even though light mortars aren't Guns, they can use different ammunition types and employ Target Acquisition, requiring one to read a chunk of Gun rules.

  8. Play Scenario S11.

  9. Now read all the remaining Gun rules: sections 1.2.6 and 6.3–6.8

  10. Play Scenario S12 and the rest of the ASLSK#2 scenarios. Don't forget that shaped charge weapons (e.g., BAZ and PSK) can target Guns!

An earlier version of this page and the errata page was published in Issue 57 (September/October 2004) of View From the Trenches.

I updated the section called “Getting Started with ASLSK#2” to reflect the availability of Scenario S29.

The aslskexplained.pdf file linked to by the PDF icon contains all of the ASLSK pages in the form of a book of collated articles.

Additional Resources

Official ASLSK#1 ErrataLists official corrections to the rules and components of ASL Starter Kit #1
ASL Starter Kit #1 Tip SheetProvides an annotated and consolidated sequence of play to help you play without jumping back and forth in the rule book. Written by someone who goes by the handle of mbtanker, but I haven't been able to track down the author's home page or real name.
ASL FAQEven though the frequently asked questions are for ASL, they may be useful for the ASL Starter Kit as well.
The Big Black Book of ASL SleazeA compendium of game tactics you cannot afford not to know if you play ASL competitively. If you approach the game as a simulation, treat it as a list of oddities in the system.