Advanced Squad Leader

Advanced Squad Leader

Infobox Game
title = Advanced Squad Leader
subtitle =
image_link =
image_caption = Advanced Squad Leader 2nd Edition Rulebook
designer = Don Greenwood
manufacturer =
publisher = Avalon Hill Multi-Man Publishing
illustrator =
years = 1985-present
players = 2
ages =
setup_time =
playing_time = 360+ minutes
random_chance =
web = []
skills =
bggid = 243
bggxrefs =
footnotes =

"Advanced Squad Leader" (ASL) is a tactical-level board wargame that simulates actions of approximately company or battalion size in World War II. It is a detailed game system for two or more players (with solitaire play also possible). Components include the ASL Rulebook and various games called modules. ASL modules provide the standard equipment for playing ASL, including geomorphic mapboards and counters. The mapboards are divided into hexagons to regulate fire and movement, and depict generic terrain that can represent different historical locations. The counters are cardboard pieces that depict squads of soldiers, crews, individual leaders, support weapons, heavy weapons, and vehicles.


Twelve core modules provide representations of nearly every troop type, vehicle, and weapon to see combat action from any nationality involved in World War II. Each module comes with 6 to 20 researched situations depicting historical battles. These scenarios are printed on card stock with specifications of game length, mapboard configuration, counters involved, special rules for the conditions of the particular battle such as weather, and victory conditions. In addition to the scenarios published in the modules, there are numerous other sources for scenarios, both official and unofficial. There is also a detailed set of instructions in the ASL Rulebook for Design Your Own (DYO) scenarios based on a point-purchase system.

Additional variations on ASL include Deluxe ASL (DASL), which was a short-lived experiment in fusing miniature wargaming with ASL; Historical ASL (HASL), which used historically accurate maps, usually in a campaign setting where the outcome of one scenario affected the setup of following scenarios; Solitaire ASL (SASL) with many rules changes for fog of war and command to enhance solitaire play; and the ASL Starter Kits (ASLSK), a series of stand-alone introductory kits.

The game was first published by Avalon Hill in 1985 as a successor to the award-winning Squad Leader series, on which the game is based and from which the rules and components were directly developed. By the time the fourth and final installment of Squad Leader debuted, there were four separate rulebooks in existence with poorly integrated and sometimes contradictory rules. For example, U.S. forces had lower morale and were disadvantaged by the use of morale ratings to determine the ability to push ordnance through snow or mud, but there is no real reason for morale to affect such an attempt. It was clear that the system had grown in ways never dreamed of in 1977; large amounts of "nutmail" to Avalon Hill convinced the developers of the need to streamline the rules.


Avalon Hill had originally promised a new rulebook streamlining procedures, eliminating redundancies, and possibly revising the "To Hit/To Kill" system used to simulate armour protection and penetration in tank combat. Instead, by the time it debuted, Advanced Squad Leader had become a complete replacement of the games of the original SL series. As an example, the original SL has only twelve different tank and assault gun types, and only five different armor ratings, from -2 to +2. By contrast, ASL has separate counters for 56 different types of tanks and assault guns for the Germans alone, with armor values from 0 to 26, based on actual thickness and degree of slope. Beyond Valor includes 99 separate German vehicles simulated in the game, including halftracks, armoured cars, anti-aircraft vehicles, and softskins.

Some fans were taken aback by the need to replace the four modules they had bought; only the mapboards of the earlier series were compatible with the new game.

The new game requires at least two products, the Advanced Squad Leader Rulebook and an initial module, either Beyond Valor, which contains a brand new counter mix for the German, Russian and Finnish armies, as well as all necessary system counters, or else Paratrooper, which contains a limited counter mix for system markers, US paratrooper units and their German opponents in Normandy. Either initial module also requires ownership of boards from SL in order to play the included scenarios.

The new game does not feature programmed instruction, instead requiring a thorough reading of at least four chapters of the ASL Rulebook to play a game with ordnance and/or vehicles in it. Even the most basic ASL components were no longer introductory in nature, though Paratrooper, masqueraded as such.Fact|date=February 2007 (This would be redressed in 2004 by the introduction of ASL Starter Kits). Avalon Hill actually suggested that anyone wishing to play ASL also purchase the original Squad Leader and gain experience with that system first, and kept the original SL and three gamettes in print. The necessity of owning boards from these modules in order to play printed scenarios in the core modules of ASL may also have been a factor in this decision. So while ASL was intended to replace SL, there was a certain ambiguity for many years about the status of SL's replacement; the original game was still necessary as a steppingstone to learning ASL, and a source for needed mapboards.

ASL was the first of Avalon Hill's 'advanced' games (the others were Advanced Civilization and Advanced Third Reich).

In 1998 Monarch Avalon, Inc. sold its entire line of games to Hasbro. On January 15, 1999, Multi-Man Publishing, LLC (MMP) announced an exclusive association with Hasbro, Inc. "to develop, produce, and distribute games and other products for Avalon Hill's Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) game system." MMP is a gaming company started by Curt Schilling and his partners to preserve ASL and other Avalon Hill games. Multi-Man Publishing made many changes to the new system; a decision not to reprint the earlier Squad Leader games resulted in reorganization and 2nd editions of many ASL core modules in order to include boards from the earlier games, necessary for play of the printed scenarios in those core modules.

The Avalon Hill Game Company themselves described ASL in their 1996 catalogue as:

Our crowning achievement, and the ultimate wargame. No other can match its combination of beauty, detail and excitement. ASL is a system based on the original Squad Leader game, but revised and expanded so that ultimately a player can simulate any company or battalion-level ground action in any theater of WWII. Playing pieces (counters) represent squads, half-squads and crews, plus individual leaders, heroes, vehicles and guns. Each ASL module contains eight or more carefully balanced, historically based scenarios -- but players can also design their own using the 40+ geomorphic SL/ASL mapboards, numerous terrain overlays, copious historical notes, and thousands of counters depicting virtually every vehicle, gun and troop type in action during the war by every major and minor combatant nation.

Playtester Jon Mishcon described the new game rather more succinctly in Volume 21, Number 5 of The General Magazine, in relation to Squad Leader; he wrote that the game was "Closely akin to SL but NOT the same." ASL took longer to play, punished use of "cheats" that worked in the old game system (one example was flooding an isolated defending unit by moving multiple units towards him; in ASL, units could fire more than once at moving targets in certain situations, which was impossible in the original SL), and emphasized realism over playability. He clarified that while playability had in many cases increased with the new rules organization, there were still many "special" circumstances that called for special rules. The new rules did, however, have a very strong systemic approach whereby, in his words, you 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.)

In that same issue of "the General", Don Greenwood - developer of ASL and also editor of the magazine - responded to harsh criticism by consumers who felt that the redesign of the system was a cash-grab, or worse, a betrayal.

The SL game system, for all its acclaim...was based on a flawed foundation. The subsequent gamettes, in building on that start, only complicated matters by attempting to patch that foundation rather than replace it's how I rationalize it. A few years ago, ...I was so enamoured by (video cassette recorders) that I just had to have one. Two years later they were selling models for half the price with twice the features which mine had. Sometimes I regret buying that VCR so soon, but then I recall all the fun I had with it when it was new and eventually concluded that my money was well spent after all.

Despite the price tag and the expensive lists of prerequisites for each new module, the game system caught on and new modules continued to be produced twenty years after the original release - a feat unheard of in the board wargaming industry, especially with the decline in sales due to rising popularity of console and PC games. A large and active world-wide hobby community thrives around ASL, including tournaments, community websites, clubs, and fanzines. An active trading and auction community enables participants to buy and sell used ASL modules. ASL can be played over the Internet using a system called Virtual Advanced Squad Leader (VASL), using the "Vassal" game engine designed by Rodney Kinney. This is a Java-based application that allows for real time input by one or more participants/oberservers who can manipulate graphical representations of mapboards and counters, including random dice rolls, LOS checking, chart consultation and all the necessary administrative tasks to play a full game of ASL.

A number of third-party developers also continue to publish modules and scenarios for ASL.

ASL Rulebook

The ASL Rulebook was revolutionary in its design, as far as wargames go. Based on military field manuals, the rule book was contained in a three ring binder. Each chapter was colour coded along the top of the page, with brightly coloured section dividers of heavy cardboard stock reproducing charts and diagrams associated with that chapter. Errata would be provided on a regular basis, and coupons in the back of the rulebook could be exchanged by mail for the initial updates to the rulebook. The errata would come in the form of altered pages, with page numbers annotated with the date of any changes; old pages were simply removed from the binder and discarded and the new page inserted. The two largest updates were the '87 and '89 sections that came with many pages. The first edition rules shipped with Chapter A, B, C, D, H, J, and N. Chapter N was a visual inventory of all game pieces included in Beyond Valor and several follow up modules, but was not fully supported. While early modules did contain the appropriate Chapter N pages, some modules did not have the pages included immediately (Paratrooper's Chapter N pages, for example, were not provided until the release of Yanks). HASL modules did not have associated Chapter N pages, and neither did Doomed Battalions.

Scenarios: s1-s6

ASL Starter Kit #2

The second Starter Kit adds rules for using artillery pieces, anti-tank guns, mortars and shaped-charge weapons (SCW - in ASL specifically referring to infantry carried and shoulder fired weapons like the bazooka, PIAT or Panzerschreck). This game, like the first Starter Kit, is intended as a stand-alone game and includes two infantry-only scenarios. Only what is included is necessary for play of the game, with the expectation that players who enjoy the experience will feel comfortable "graduating" to the full-blown ASL game series. In addition to counters depicting various nationalities and boards, a small 20 page rules booklet, pair of quick reference charts, and two dice are included.

Scenarios: s9-s16 (Scenarios s7 and s8 were sold separately in issues of Operations Magazine).

ASL Starter Kit #3

ASL Starter Kit #3 adds rules for tanks and other vehicles. It has been shipped to pre-ordering customers.

The General

The General Magazine was the house organ of Avalon Hill, and as such, regularly promoted ASL by in-depth articles on gameplay, "series replay" features where games were recorded and printed move for move for further analysis, and of course published scenarios. There were three main categories of ASL Scenarios printed in the General; conversions of scenarios from the original Squad Leader system, new scenarios, and tournament scenarios.

Squad Leader Conversions were lettered A-W, with the first scenarios appearing in Volume 22, Number 6 and the last in Volume 32 Number 3.

Tournament Scenarios were numbered T1 - T16, and ran between Volume 24, Number 2 and Volume 29, Number 1.

New scenarios included those for ASL (G1 - G46, Volume 23, Number 3 to Volume 32 Number 2) as well as three Deluxe ASL scenarios (DASL A - DASL C), one Historical ASL scenario, and one interesting new scenario using the mapboard from the Devil's Den game by Avalon Hill (a game about a battle of the American Civil War). This latter was numbered Scenario 3000. Scenario 2000 had been an SL scenario called Operation Hubertus, a "monster scenario" set in Stalingrad and apparently utilizing the research from the later module Red Barricades.

This is a complete listing of articles in General related to ASL (click on image for full size view):

ASL Annual

Aside from regular features in The General Magazine, AH also produced a series of magazines focused on ASL but with some original SL content also, beginning in 1989. The ASL Annual was, as the name implies, released once a year, with issues in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992, and two issues were published in 1993 (called ASL Annual '93a and ASL Annual '93b). No issue was published in 1994, with issues again appearing in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The 1995 issue was named ASL Annual '95w (Winter) in anticipation of a second issue that year being printed in the summer, but it did not materialize. Scenarios located in the ASL Annual were numbered sequentially with an "A" prefix, either ASL Scenario A1, A2, etc., or SL Scenario A1, A2, etc., Deluxe ASL Scenario A1, A2, etc.

ASL Journal

When MMP took over publication of ASL components, they started to produce ASL Journal on a generally annual basis. Format for the magazine remained very similar to the ASL Annual, though no SL-themed content was included. with no outside advertising, and full of articles, variants, and scenarios for all incarnations of SL and ASL. New scenarios of ASL (or DASL) were given "J" numbers, while SASL scenarios were given an "r" prefix (since they utilized the Red Barricades mapsheets).

Third party products

A variety of "third party" products have been developed for ASL on an ongoing basis by a variety of publishers, including scenario packs and historical modules (including mapsheets). Two prolific "third party" publishers are Critical Hit and Heat of Battle, who have both produced scenario packs, geomorphic and historical mapsheets, and even new playing pieces. Other products include player aids such as cards indicating SAN (Sniper Activation Numbers) and for resolving OBA (Off Board Artillery) battery access. There is also an English online free-to-view fanzine called "View From The Trenches" containing articles, reviews, and occasionally scenarios.

ASL for the Computer

Early Computer Programs by Avalon Hill

While a computerized assistant for ASL was released (ASL Gamer's Assistance Program, or ASL GAP), no computerized version of the game itself has yet materialized. A similar game called Under Fire was released by Avalon Hill's computer division in 1985 but like most Avalon Hill computer games, was behind the industry standards for graphics and gameplay. It was not billed as a computer version of ASL, though it did bear some similarities in that players commanded roughly company sized forces. Only three maps were available for play. The game was released for Apple II, Commodore 64, and DOS systems. The game was unique (and rather unsatisfying to many) in that for each of the nine scenarios, victory was not declared at game's end. A results screen would show losses in men and equipment, and list possession of objectives, leaving the determination of "victory" to the player.

The closest version of a computerized version of SL/ASL was the 1981 release of Close Assault, also by Avalon Hill, which included an actual mapboard and counters that the human player used to make his moves. He would then input them into the computer for resolution of sighting and combat. Then the computer would make its move, and print only the results that the human units could see.

Though the counters were larger, they used the factors from Squad Leader. The player input the weapons and leaders directly into the game rather than using counters as in the board game.

Like the original Squad Leader board game, German, Russian and American nationalities were represented. The computer allowed three scenarios and any combination of two forces, including a hypothetical US vs USSR 1945 scenario.

The game was released for the Apple II, Atari 800, and the TRS-80.

Computer ASL interpretations

There have been a number of computer game interpretations of ASL.

Close Combat by Atomic Games was originally devised as a computer game version of ASL. Atomic Games had already developed several games for Avalon Hill, however, with Avalon Hill embroiled in a financial crisis that would ultimately lead to its demise, Atomic Games took what work they had completed, severed ties with the board game franchise and completed the game's development for Microsoft. The first three Close Combat games were notable, at the time, for being among the few games published by Microsoft. The final two games in the original series were, however, published by Strategic Simulations, Inc.

In 1998 Big Time Software negotiated with Avalon Hill to do a computerized version of Advanced Squad Leader, but plans fell through. Big Time Software went on to produce , which was a 3D tactical computer game very similar to Advanced Squad Leader but with significant differences. While lacking much of the arcane detail of ASL (you could not swim, climb cliffs, or descend onto the battlefield by parachute), it also featured an innovative simultaneous turn-based system, and provided complete orders of battle for German, American, British, Canadian, Free French and Polish forces in Northwest Europe from 6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945.

Close Combat and Combat Mission both inspired later computer games which are beyond the scope of this article, including GI Combat (a 3D version of CC which also inspired Eric Young's Squad Assault and CMX2, a second-generation version of the Combat Mission game engine. None of these later offspring of CC or CM were directly related to ASL, and both series took on lives of their own.

Avalon Hill's Squad Leader

Hasbro eventually permitted the release of a game called "Avalon Hill's Squad Leader" which was a disastrous use of the trademark name. The game, released by Microprose in 2000 (but developed by Random Games), bore no resemblance to either Squad Leader or Advanced Squad Leader, was well behind industry standards in terms of graphics and gameplay, had an awkward interface and was on a completely different scale than the actual SL and ASL games. It was largely regarded as an embarrassing joke by the gaming community and quickly faded into obscurity.

While the turn-based format was nothing new (and had in fact been used successfully in earlier titles such as Soldiers at War, Jagged Alliance, and X-Com) the graphics were done poorly with little flexibility in adjusting the camera angles; animations were poor, voice acting was also poor, pathfinding was antiquated, and multiplayer features were lacking. While Squad Leader and progeny had the squad as the main combat unit, this computer version had individual soldiers as the main units. Reviewers pointed out that the game was reminiscent enough of Soldiers at War that it was likely only minor improvements to that three-year old game engine had been made and re-released under the Squad Leader banner.

Virtual Advanced Squad Leader

The most successful literal adaptation of ASL to the computer has been Virtual Advanced Squad Leader, as described above. VASL still officially requires ownership of the physical components of the games, however, or at least of the printed scenario cards, reference cards, and rulebook. In addition to possession of these physical components, a detailed understanding of the rules must be expected of players, as the computer version does not enforce rules - it merely serves as a means of manipulating 2-dimensional virtual game boards and pieces in an online environment facilitating long distance play, either by email or in real time. The closest the game comes to performing any of the "chores" of playing ASL is by providing random dice roll results for both players and recording moves from hex to hex on the mapboards. Some LOS calculations can also be made by the computer engine.

External links

* [ ASL homepage] on Multi-Man Publishing's website
* [ VASL] , an online version of Advanced Squad Leader
* [ ASL Series on Consimworld]
* [ ASL E-Mail Distribution List] for discussion on Advanced Squad Leader
* [ The ASL Scenario Archive] , the scenario archive site
* [ ASL Wiki] , primer on rules and tactics

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