Friday, January 28, 2005

SASL AAR - Mission 2: Pockets (Part 1 - Setup) 

I thought it might be fun to generate an After Action Report for my current SASL game. It might seem odd to commit so much bandwidth to SASL right after MMP's announcement that the game is now out of print, but I thought it might serve a threefold purpose. First would be to help memorialize the system, which as I have often stated I feel to be vastly underappreciated by most ASLers. Secondly, those who have SASL but haven't tried it before might be encouraged to give the system a tryout. Thirdly, there are likely still copies of the product in stores somewhere, and certainly available on eBay. This might give you a reason to consider picking it up should you happen to run across it. Hopefully, this AAR will give you a feel for how the system works.

The only other detailed AAR of a SASL mission of which I'm aware is the Series Replay published in The General in Volume 31, No. 3. If you're not familiar with the mechanics, see this article by Robert Delwood (which was reprinted in ASL Journal #2). Briefly, the system provides "missions" which allow a variety of offensive and defensive situations, ranging from advances to static defenses and even such operations as river crossings, air assaults and amphibious invasions. MMP (through the Journal) has published charts allowing you to fight solitaire across the Red Barricades mapsheet, plus two additional missions, one of which depicts the fighting on Omaha Beach. Heat of Battle included two solitaire missions with its Onslaught to Orsha package and Bruce Monnin's "The Boardgamer" magazine published an article allowing you to play CG II from the Pegasus Bridge HASL module using the SASL system.

Part of what makes the system so good is that it's almost infinitely replayable. Aside from the "historical" missions listed above, the terrain and the opposing forces are generated completely randomly. Thus, you'll know your overall objective, but will not be certain of exactly what you'll be facing until you actually make contact with the enemy. SASL provides a very different experience than regular face-to-face ASL, and a very rewarding one in its own right. The reasons are perhaps best laid out in a list on Pete Wenman's site:

Ten Top Reasons Why SASL is as good as ASL (but it is also very different) in no particular order.
1. Total Fog of War - no looking at the scenario card to see what units the enemy has
2. Cmd & Panic -the ability to lose control of your units at a critical time
3. Built in Campaign system -now starting to included HASL
4. Can play whenever you wish for as long as you want
5. Don't have to face your opponents taunts when you lose
6. Can take as long as you like to ponder a move and consult the rules
7. Does not require an opponent - obvious but a great asset
8. Group SASL -be part of a larger plan and command a Division, Regiment, Battalion, or Company.
9. No problems with sleaze, if you cheat you cheat yourself
10. No battle/mission is ever the same when replayed -the terrain, enemy units and enemy locations are always different

Today's mission will be "Pockets" (Mission #2 in SASL). Our orders from Division HQ state "Your command has received orders to make contact with and wipe out several isolated enemy pockets of resistance that were bypassed in the earlier advanceā€¦" Simple enough. Two mapboards will be used, and several "pockets" of enemy resistance will be generated randomly, each consisting of a cluster of Suspect ("S?") counters. Our job will be to make contact with and eliminate each such pocket. Each side receives CVP in the usual fashion. In addition, the enemy side receives VP for each enemy unit/Gun on the map at game end, plus 2 points each for every S? counter still on the map. Thus, to win this mission, we have to move quickly to activate the S? counters and eliminate the activated units. In addition, as is always the case when CVP figure into the victory conditions, taking prisoners is a very worthwhile pursuit, given the doubled CVP value they provide.

For this mission, I'll use a British infantry company, fighting the Germans in June, 1944. This will be the first mission for a campaign using this company, fighting monthly missions thru April, 1945. Playing a campaign is the most rewarding approach, since as with all campaign games, what you do in each mission affects the resources you have for the next one. You're forced to occasionally make hard decisions about when to press on and when to conserve your forces to fight another day. Playing a campaign will allow me to fight through the major West Front battles of the last year of the war.

Next step for setting up the mission is to generate the random elements using the mission card. The German SAN is 4 and mine will be 2, meaning not much impact likely from snipers. The AC# (Activation Check) is determined to be 3. This means that when a S? counter is checked for activation, a dr of 1-3 means it is activated (and German units are placed there) and a 4-6 means it was a dummy and is removed. Several modifiers will affect each activation, the most important being a -1 drm if an already activated German unit is within 2 hexes of the S? being checked. This means that once you activate a unit, nearby S? counters are more likely to generate units, so rarely will you activate units in isolation, which certainly seems "realistic." Once a S? is activated, you determine randomly what kind of units appear in that Location.

Next to be determined are the Random Event numbers. For this mission, they'll be 4 & 5 for the Germans and (lucky dr) 5 & 6 for the British. The Wind Change DR at the beginning of each player turn is checked to see if it matches one of the RE numbers for that side. Thus, if the Wind Change DR is a 5 or 6 at the beginning of a British player turn, I get a Random Event which will often generate reinforcements of some kind, or some other beneficial event. These REs provide additional variability helping make every mission different. My final dr determines that the Boobytrap level is "B" thus making my life marginally harder.

Now to determine the mapboards. Using the tables designated by the mission card, I generate two mapboards, 12 (oh no! not the marketplace!) and 5. I will enter board 12 first, with board 5 waiting beyond. Two "pockets" of resistance are created on board 12, one just north of the village and another near the south end, and a larger "pocket" is generated in the board 5 woods (aka, the "Bois de la Carte Cinq"). See the setup below. Finally, the weather is determined in the usual DYO fashion. Today will be clear and very dry, with a mild breeze and occasional gusts. And, by the way, the game length will be a minimum of 11 turns.

So, here is what we face (click the map for a larger image). On this map, north is to the left and as per SASL convention, I will enter from the west map edge (at the bottom). The two clusters of enemy forces on board 12 are widely separated but both provide something of a covered approach. First though I have to decide how to divide my forces. My company consists of 9 squads, 3 half-squads, 3 crews, 4 LMG, 3 PIAT and 3 mortars. Most importantly, I have 3 leaders. In SASL, the biggest difference in actual play compared with ASL is the use of Command Control. Unlike in ASL, where your troops always do whatever you tell them to do, SASL units only move or fire if they've passed a TC that turn, which is called a "Command DR." If they fail that DR, they "Panic" and are effectively TI for the remainder of that player turn. This is where leaders play an even bigger role. They effectively have a -1 DRM for their CMD DR, and their influence means that if they pass, every unit within 2 hexes (and in LOS) is also considered "In Command" and can move/fire without making their own DR. For example, a squad with a morale of 7 is much more likely to avoid Panic if they are within range of a leader with a morale of 8 (will be able to move/fire if the leader makes a DR of 9 or less, a 83% probability) than if they have to make the roll themselves ("In Command" on a DR of 7 or less, a 58% probability). Thus, I will generally try to keep my forces within command range of a leader as much as possible. Panic results will seriously slow down the advance.

In this case, I'll send two-thirds of my company (and 2 of the 3 leaders) against the larger force outside of the village, with the remaining leader and platoon taking on the smaller force beyond the southern gully. To attack the larger force, most of my units will move through the center of the village, taking advantage of the cover and protection provided by the buildings, while two mortars and a maybe a squad take them on at longer range from the woods hexes along the board edge. In the south, there's mostly open ground, but I'll take advantage of the gully to sneak in closer while remaining out of LOS, while again leaving my mortar crew along the board edge to take pot shots at them. Enemy units are checked for activation either because of your movements in their LOS or when attacked causing a PTC or better result. Ideally, activating units by firing on them is preferable since of course whatever IFT result caused the activation will immediately apply to the activated units. Taking advantage of the cover will allow me to get in close without activating too many units in the process.

Once I (hopefully quickly) dispose of the board 12 forces, it'll be time to go after the enemy units on board 5. These will be trickier in some ways but better in others. Because of their setup (none are in the edge of the woods, all are in interior woods hexes), none of the S? counters will have LOS to board 12, allowing me to move to the woods free of any return fire once my work on board 12 is done. Unfortunately, while they won't be activated from long range, I can't attack them from long range either, and thus won't be able to activate them without getting adjacent. But given the VP penalties for leaving S? counters unmolested, I have no choice but to get in there and take them on. Yep, gonna have to get our hands dirty here. If I have enough time, I'll try to make sure my units are concealed by the time they move adjacent to each of those counters (since concealment is easy to gain in the woods). The Germans will get first shot at my units, but if they're concealed the effects of point blank fire will be negated, and the enemy units will lose concealment meaning my return fire won't be similarly hindered. Once I do reach the woods, I'll probably have my two separate forces regain contact with each other rather than having the southern force make a flank attack. Otherwise, given the woods terrain, they'll wind up fighting widely separate battles and unable to support each other.

So, the board 5 woods will be the slowest going, with 36 VP worth of suspect counters hidden away. But the key to victory will be getting through board 12 with all due haste. If I get bogged down in clearing those forces, I'll run out of time to make much progress against the Bois de la Carte Cinq. Leaving too many S? unscathed will make victory impossible no matter how successful I am elsewhere.

Okay, any questions? Right. Off we go.

Wind changeā€¦

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