Advanced Squad Leader

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) was released in 1985 as the culmination of several years of development of the original Squad Leader game series. A public seminar to discuss the rules was announced for ORIGINS '84 in Volume 20, No. 6 of The General as well as a preview of eight new mapboards (16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23) which

...will be included in the "expansion modules" for the ASLRB. It must be stressed that these boards will be available only in limited numbers, but that all will appear next year as components in the modules.

The boards were soon available for direct sale from Avalon Hill, advertised in The General as being available in the first two ASL modules and scheduled for a June 1985 release.

The next issue of The General, published in 1984, contained an announcement from Robert McNamara:

Also on my agenda is a Squad Leader gamette tentatively titled North Africa: Forging the Hammer (does anyone detect a trend here?) which will add the Italians to the system as well as containing revised German and British counters. There will be seven boards (six desert and one eroded, rocky hill). The desert boards will be flat but the use of overlays for almost all terrain types will create a system whereby experienced players will be able to design virtually any type of desert terrain...(the) gamette is about 90% completed, but alas, must await the finalizing of Advanced Squad Leader before the finishing touches can be put on it.

The original road-map for the Squad Leader series had been to include a "North Africa gamette" after G.I.: Anvil of Victory, and work on this apparently was underway when it became apparent there was a need for an Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook - originally, considered as a simple compilation of the existing rules rather than as the basis of a brand new game system.

Another progress report in Volume 21, No. 3 gave a detailed description of the upcoming ASL system:

Advanced Squad Leader will be the culmination of all four of the previous SL games, plus one new one (on North Africa) - one all-encompassing rule system. The rulebook will take a form of a specially designed, sleeved three-ring binder which will be far more than just a compilation of the former rules. Not only are the rules entirely rewritten and reorganized for clarity, the design itself has undergone fundamental changes which add playability and realism. In fact, our rallying cry throughout the redesign has been "more playable than SL; more realistic than GI!" ...The fundamental changes made in the game system so far have been almost universally acclaimed as major improvements; and we remain confident that we are on the right track for the most awaited wargame release the hobby has yet seen...

The initial reaction to ASL by our playtesters range from surprise to muffled groans over the extensive nature of the changes to the game system. However, those reservations have given way to rising excitement as virtually all have embraced the new system with enthusiastic praise for the improvements... Nobody wants more rules, but ASL is not more rules - it is a better system with a sounder foundation, finely organized with far less verbiage than the four gamettes which preceded it. The new counters will allow us to improve the game system with a free hand and insure that everyone will finally have matching colored counters designed and printed at the same point in the evolution of the game system.

The initial release was in two parts; the first was an innovative Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook (ASLRB) inspired by U.S. Army manuals in that it was in the form of a 3-ring binder and designed to have its loose-leaf pages replaced periodically as errata became available, and additional chapters added as they became available. The second was Beyond Valor, the first "module" which contained the game's "system counters" - informational markers required for play, as well as unit markers with a complete order of battle for the German and Soviet militaries, as well as a limited counter mix depicting Finnish infantry.

The new counter mix completely replaced that which had been provided in the four games and gamettes of the Squad Leader series. Playtester Jon Mischon wrote in Volume 21, Number 5 of The General that ASL was "Closely akin to SL but NOT the same." ASL was a standalone, not an extension of the original series, a decision that was initially controversial to those faced with the prospect of replacing their game components - many of which were themselves replacements for earlier components (counters in Cross of Iron and G.I.:Anvil of Victory, for example, were replacements for counters provided in Squad Leader). ASL took longer to play, punished use of "cheats" that worked in the original game (for example flooding isolated defenders with multiple attackers; ASL introduced enhanced defensive fire rules for infantry), and emphasized realism over playability. Mischon's article clarified that while playability may have increased with the new rules organization, there were still many "special" circumstances that called for special rules. What the new rules benefited from, however, was a strong systemic approach whereby, in his words, the player could

...learn a concept and it applies, with varying D(ice) R(oll) M(odifiers), in all similar situations. This makes the game easier to learn and play. The rules make more sense. Most of the old 'funny' rules that allowed 'cute' tricks have been deleted. Mostly, I guess, its a distillation of the best of SL....In short, there's a lot less crapping around in the rules. Most importantly, the vast majority of the rules really will tend to benefit the player who thinks as did his historical counterpart. (Sigh, an end to our torching most of the mapboard.)

The release was not without its detractors; John T. O'Toole wrote in Issue 35 of the Grenadier::

Squad Leader in 1977 was considered an extremely complex and demanding game. The beauty of it was that it was also raging fun...Avalon Hill noted with delight that Squad Leader was attaining cult status. They were already hard at work on the sequels. The first "gamette" released was probably named after Willi Heinrich's war novel of the Russian Front, "Cross of Iron". Although critics complained that, at $12.00, it was too expensive and its 21 pages of extra rules threw in too much dirt on a clean system, we viewed things quite differently. For a measly twelve clams, we added tanks of enormous variety - with swivelling turrets yet, field artillery, snipers, cavalrymen, partisans, Stukas, the SS, and 8 new scenarios to our little world of infantry combat...The Faithful proved loyal in their first test... The foundation for the imposing edifice of Advanced Squad Leader had been laid...

I bailed out with the publication of...G.I.: Anvil of Victory. It wasn't the $30.00 price tag...Squad Leader had become a hybrid. Billed as a great game and billed as a great simulation, it had grown into something that was neither. Many realized this and also defected. There were still many hardcores out there though: committed men compelled by years of play and the $75.00+ already spent on their habit, who were dedicated to what was virtually their trade. They had become highly specialized organisms, and there was just no turning back. They had paid a lot to get where they were. Avalon Hill was going to make sure they paid a lot more...

Originally announced as a mere compilation of all the still valid rules that had come before, (Avalon Hill) coyly made it known that (ASL) would be a complete remake...Finally, the all new Soviet and German infantry units, armor, vehicles, support weapons, mapboards, and scenarios arrived at Origins '85 entitled "Beyond Valor". As if to further prove you can put a Squad Leader addict through any kind of hell, this big, tantalizing package not only cost $40.00, but it came without rules. These would come later, the Avalon Hill people told them without a trace of a smirk. Still, the number of guys walking around with big, useless $40.00 boxes under their arms was striking. TAHGC had not misjudged their men.

The rules binder did follow after a few more delays, which the Faithful would have been wise to spend scraping (up) the necessary $45.00 asking price. With $85.00 already sunk - without a die yet rolled in anger - the point of no return was already past. One wonders how many squad leaders actually told their wives how much this little pile truly cost them?

A letter to the editor of The General in Volume 23, No. 2 highlighted another aspect of the incompleteness of the initial release as it pertained to the necessity of owning boards from the original Squad Leader series to play the included scenarios:

Beyond Valor states on the box that it contains all of the components needed to play ASL. this is simply not true. Four of the ten scenarios require eithor or both of Game Boards 1 and 8, which do not come with the module. Having Board 1 should not be a problem, but AH is not recommending that a buyer go through GI before getting to ASL. The generation of gamers that did not learn SL through the gamettes probably will not buy GI. I would be pretty frustrated with AH if I spent eighty-five dollars or so only to find out that I was missing Board 8 (which is used in 20% of the scenarios)! I can understand not making us who have been with the system for so long buy Board 8 again, but why tell people that they have everything they need when, in fact, they have not?

One of the harshest playtest critics of G.I.: Anvil of Victory, however, wrote a glowing review of Advanced Squad Leader. Having gone on at length in the pages of The General regarding the inadequacies of G.I., James M. Collier later wrote in a two-part review for The Grenadier that ASL had "reached a new and rarefied height."

Briefly, then,  ASL is an historical board wargame - of which there are hundreds available - dealing with WWII land battle - in common with scores of other wargames. It is a game "system" in that it is open-ended, by being played in scenarios which are indefinitely flexible as to time, participants, terrain, and size. It is further distinguished by being meticulous in its detail and very sophisticated in its play option because it has been extensively researched and documented in an effort to create as much realism as can be tolerated in a non-computerized game.

That is a considerable distinction, but ASL has been further playtested and refined with a design and development skill which has brought forth a game which is quite playable and highly enjoyable and exciting in its play. Herein lies its singular distinction - it is satisfying in its realism (and thus valid as a simulation) while retaining a high order of playability (it is a fun game).


Advanced Squad Leader - Official Products
Year Title Type BGG Notes
1985 Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook Rulebook link 3-ring binder and rules
1985 Beyond Valor Module 1 link  
1985 Streets of Fire Deluxe Module 1 link  
1986 Paratrooper Module 2 link  
1987 Hedgerow Hell Deluxe Module 2 link  
1987 Yanks Module 3 link  
1987 Partisan! Module 4 link  
1988 West of Alamein Module 5 link  
1988 The Last Hurrah Module 6 link  
1989 Hollow Legions Module 7 link  
1990 Code of Bushido Module 8 link  
1990 Red Barricades Historical Module 1 link  
1991 Gung Ho! Module 9 link  
1992 Croix de Guerre Module 10 link  
1993 Kampfgruppe Peiper I Historical Module 2 link  
1993 Kampfgruppe Peiper II Historical Module 3 link  
1995 Solitaire ASL Solitaire Module 1 link Only solitaire module
1996 Blood Reef: Tarawa Historical Module 5 link Published before # 4
1997 Pegasus Bridge Historical Module 4 link  
1997 Action Pack 1 Scenario and map release link  
1998 Doomed Battalions Module 11 link  
1999 A Bridge Too Far Historical Module 6 link MMP production begins
1999 Action Pack 2 Scenario and map release link  
1999 Doomed Battalions (2nd Edition) Module 11 link  
2000 Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook 2nd Edition Rulebook link Revised edition
2003 Operation Watchtower Historical Study 1 link  
2003 Operation Veritable Historical Study 2 link  
2004 For King and Country Module 5a link  
2004 ASL Starter Kit 1 Introductory Module 1 link  
2005 ASL Starter Kit 2 Introductory Module 2 link  
2006 Armies of Oblivion Module 12 link  
2007 ASL Starter Kit 3 Introductory Module 3 link  
2007 Action Pack 3: Few Returned Scenario and map release link  
2008 Action Pack 4: Normandy Scenario and map release link  
2008 Action Pack 5: East Front Scenario and map release link  
2008 Turning the Tide Scenario release link  
2008 Valor of the Guards Historical Module 7 link  
2009 Beyond the Beaches: ASLSK Bonus Pack #1 Scenario and map release link  
2010 ASL Winter Offensive Bonus Pack Scenario and map release link  
2010 Doomed Battalions (3rd Edition) Module 11 link Includes Last Hurrah
2010 Action Pack 6: A Decade of War Scenario and map release link  
2011 ASLSK Expansion Pack #1 Scenario and map release link  
2011 Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #2 Scenario and map release link  
2012 Festung Budapest Historical Module link  
2012 Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #3 Scenario and map release link  
2013 Rivers to the Reich Scenario release link  
2013 Best of Friends Scenario release link  
2013 Rising Sun Module 13 link  
2013 Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #4 Scenario and map release link  
2014 Decision at Elst ASLSK Historical Module 1 link  
2014 Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #5 Scenario and map release link  
2015 Winter Offensive Bonus Pack #6 Scenario and map release    
2015 Hakkaa Päälle ASL Module 14 link  

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