Saturday 8 October 2011

This dog doesn't bark..

For those who play Squad Leader (and if you don't I'm surprised you've got this far!) players like to play balanced scenarios - those that alledgedly have a 50-50 chance at winning with either side.

Now, I'm not in the camp - I don't care.  Take this tournament for example - I don't think there's a scenario released that any of the great players could not beat me at given average luck on both sides.  The equivalent might well be to take a rook or bishop from a chess match and expect me to beat a grandmaster with that advantage.  Most scenarios are balanced to within a pawn or two, to continue the analogy, but in order of how a scenario plays out, for me, it's skill, then luck and balance.

Bill 'at work'
Interestingly someone commented about this blog that it appears that ASL is simply too much luck dependent, and reading back you could accept that - if you just go on posts like mine.  There's a politeness amongst players -when you win, you must accept you had a good share of luck, and likewise you must acknowledge your opponent's bad dice.

I'm as guilty as anyone of doing that - it's not really a gracious victor that bemoans his luck whilst filling in the 'W' column of the tournament chit, but that causes its own problems.  It's hard to learn more from your opponent when you lose if they explain away their win to the dice.

Anyway, this introduction was just to explain that an unbalanced scenario is generally referred to as a dog.  Alright, so onto the action.

Tired from the late night with Burnie, I started the latest mini tournament with less hope than usual.  I was paired up with Bill Stoppel.

William L. Stoppel is a First Star General in the US Army, there's him above (obviously on the left) at his promotion ceremony and I can only say what a pleasure it was to play him.  He has an amazing politeness, topped with the utmost modesty.  We spoke about his job and career, his family and it's hard to say just how nice the man came across.

We played Hounds and Hussars from the new Schwerpunkt.  In typical Scwerpunkt fashion, the attacker has 4 and a half turns to take 3 of 4 buildings.  "Take" isn't quite the right word though, as the German defenders simply have to have a non-broken MMC in the buildings.  That makes it tough.  Given one building is a church (with steeple), another is a 3 hex rowhouse, and the other two are multihex buildings too one wonders whether it would even be enough should the Germans simply deploy each squad at all opportunities and hunker down in each building location.

Would Bill's Drill Sergeant be happy
with this sloppy pose?
The British on the attack have two Challenger a Carrier and two Cromwell tanks, so enough HE and AT capacity to deal with the threats but with one HIP self propelled gun and another on the prowl the British must expect to lose one AFV before they get going, and if they're unlucky it could be two.

I pushed hard on the first turn and made good ground, but Bill's tanks took on mine in a duel that had the Germans on top.  My carrier was hit twice by the infantry to be recalled and the close combats didn't go the way the had to.  I called time on the scenario on the last turn with me not being able to get the third building I needed.

I'd heard about Bill attending the tournament and I had planned to congratulate him on his promotion (I don't think he would have really cared about that, but it's a great opportunity to speak to a General!) so to go one further and game with him was fantastic.  I also got a chance to chat to Jack Daniels who is the man behind the "furniture" of ASL (although saying it like that kind of sounds like he's going to jump out behind the sofa!).   I'll put up some pictures shortly of that.

So, onwards and downwards went my record - I'd stopped counting at this point.  I was pretty sure it was going to end 2-'lots' but I was more than happy with the two wins.  At this point the target was to continue to put names to faces, catch up with some online guys who'd wanted to say hi, and to carry on enjoying myself.

Chris Doary, of BattleSchool - the guys who specialise in funky precision dice with all the insignias you could want had asked for a game, so now was the perfect time to play.  He'd set himself up in a prime location with plenty of light and a nice secluded spot it was like walking into his asl zone.  A clock sat proudly on the sideboard, and his various equipment was positioned with home-like comfort.  We chatted about the way the military had produced (or attracted) such polite, efficient and gracious players (Wes, Bill and Jack) and Chris said that he wished he had the same levels in each.

Having played Chris I can say for sure he was every bit as mannered and gracious as those guys - and the scenario we were to play gave me a chance to enjoy his company.

Before I talk about the scenario I have to mention Chris's wife, Helen, who must rank quite highly on the "Great wives of ASLers" chart.  Not only did she sit alongside Chris through many of his scenarios (and pull counters when needed), she played a scenario or two (winning the one I'd enquired about earlier) and was still learning the game.  She's also a medal winning sniper - and now works in the medical profession analysing blood. 

Did I have any scenario in mind, asked Chris.  Nope, I'm always happy to play anything, after all there are close to 5,000 released to-date.  No problems says Chris, I'll pick something in a bit, give me a few minutes to finish up some things. I popped off to see if I could catch up with the kids on skype, but no joy.  I returned to see that Chris had set up the boards and was pulling counters for one of the latest Schwerpunkt scenarios - Hussar and Hounds. Oops - that's the one I've literally just finished.

I was happy to play it again, having come close-ish to winning against Bill, so gamely took on the British (by dice-roll) again.

I'd like to say I learned the lessons before, and again had a great first turn.  I got all the Smoke (and WP) I needed and even took a full squad prisioner in the first turn.  With no casualties crossing all the open ground at the start of the game, and Chris down to 7 squads it surely couldn't be long before I'd avenging the defeat!

My British on the attack - I'd thought I'd done enough at this point
Suddenly it started to go wrong.  The half-squad holding the prisoners was killed, the prisoners re-armed and suddenly I was fighting to hold on to what ground I'd already made up.  The HIP SP Gun took out a Challenger, the other skirted out from behind cover and carelessly exposed its rear armour to the 75mm gun of the Cromwell.  Needing a 6 to hit, the British tank crew cursed the 7, and then found themselves staring down the barrel of a 75LL which was now pointing directly at them.  The next turn the mortar laid some smoke to give them a fighting chance, but Chris hit the tank, and quickly I was down to my last tank.  This one was swarmed, and all it could do was jump into motion, deploy smoke dispensers and prey for bad dice!

Chris's dice were hot throughout the game, but I made him work for the win - which he fully deserved. I'd got adjacent to one smoked building with 2 4-5-8s and a leader, but crucially they pinned on the return fire.  The configuration of the attack point - a one hex building followed by open ground before the mult-hex building is very difficult to attack if you can lay covering fire across the road. I simply couldn't get a foothold and resigned on the last turn.

Chris and Helen - brilliant 'hosts' in their ASL corner
It's hard to say the scenario isn't balanced - it's certainly a lot of fun, but with so many Schwerpunkt scenarios as the attacker you feel you can't build up the attack.  Smoke, then move, advancing fire, advance into CC seems to be the secret but if any of those steps don't work, you're stuck behind the curve all the way through the scenario - there's just no chance to recover.

Despite that I enjoyed the scenario, and I'm a firm believer that fun is more important than balance.  As long as the scenario is winnable, it's the fun of the game that's key and Chris and I definitely had fun.  Continuing the theme, I lost but had a good time doing so!


  1. Excellent blog Dave. Been really enjoying reading it. I've never made it to ASLOK and given current circumstances it's unlikely to happen, but your blog gives a really good feel for what it would be like. And it sounds like you're having a great time!
    Keep the reports coming!

  2. "Take this tournament for example - I don't think there's a scenario released that any of the great players could not beat me at given average luck on both sides."

    That is where you are mistaken, Amigo. There are published scenarios out there that are impossible to lose as one side. Two off the top of my head: Pride and Joy (the Greeks hardly have enough time to fulfill the victory conditions even if they were completely unopposed) and The Schoolhouse (in which the Russian defender receives SIX KV tanks reinforcement that he doesn't even need to win). Both very fun scenarios. Neither could be more unbalanced. You could play Bendis and you'd still win as the favored side. Fortunately, scens this unbalanced are really in the minority. :)

  3. The caption under the picture of Bill is brilliant! LOL