07 December 2011

Naughty or Nice

New Years Day, will mark six months of blogging, and latent carpal tunnel syndrome. Coincidentally, 1 January 2012 will also mark the biggest Sitrep giveaway to date.
Sitrep launched on Canada Day, 2011. Compliments and support expressed by ASL players from around the globe since that time have been welcome and encouraging. We would like to hear from more of you, especially those who are not native English speakers. Feel free to post a comment in your own language.
For our December raffle, Helen and I want to give away something a little more grand. We also want to give Squad Leaders a choice of prizes. Therefore, the winner of our last raffle of the year will receive one of the following gift packs:

Contest rules
You must be a Squad Leader—a follower of Sitrep—as of 31 December 2011 to qualify for the raffle. The winner is determined by a dice roll. The Squad Leader with the lowest dice roll after any tie-breaker rolls wins. Helen has volunteered to roll the dice.
Anyone who joins Sitrep after 7 December will receive one “ballot” for the raffle. A ballot is equivalent to one roll of the dice. Note that you must become a Squad Leader to qualify. "Subscribing" to Sitrep does not give you a ballot.

Those who were Squad Leaders as of 7 December 2011 will receive a bonus ballot, or roll. In addition, Squad Leaders who joined Sitrep before December will receive an additional roll for each month that they were Squad Leaders. For example, if you joined in November, you would be eligible for three rolls: 
  • bonus roll for being a Squad Leader on 7 Dec 2011;
  • one roll for being a Squad Leader in Dec 2011; and
  • one roll for being a Squad Leader in Nov 2011.
The draw will be held on New Year's Day, 2012. 

We will also have a bonus prize for a "qualified" runner-up. Everyone who is following Sitrep using their real identities—real names and avatars with their portraits—is eligible for the bonus prize. The prize is a set of our new American and Commonwealth dice, or a $20.00 gift certificate—winner's choice. Thanks to Chris Dawson, Matt Purvis, and Ogi below for championing the bonus prize. :)

If you have not figured it out yet, joining Sitrep sooner rather than later will give you an edge in future contests.

Good luck!
Bonne chance!
Viel Glück!
¡Buena suerte!
Lycka till!
Buona fortuna!
Hodně štěstí!
Held og lykke!
Boa sorte!
Veľa šťastia!
Sok szerencsét!
Καλή τύχη!
Mult noroc!

01 December 2011

Fourtune Favours the Brave

The results of our November raffle are in. To liven things up, I decided to roll our “gold-edition” BattleSchool dice in Helen’s new dice tower. There were over 100 Squad Leaders in the raffle this time around. That is a lot of rolling and counting, even with just three dice. Some 90 minutes later we had broken in Helen’s dice tower.1 We also had a winner.
It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an “Tommy, go away;”
If you were brave enough to sign up as a Squad Leader, you had a chance to win a set of five 9/16” (14mm) precision dice. Because I opted to use three dice for the raffle, eight people tied with a low score of four. 
The "gold edition" black and red dice were hot, with heaps of “double bayonets.” But for some reason, the white die refused to sing along with his chums. Not once in 400 rolls did the regular “Tommy” produce a “one” at the same time as his golden squad mates did. Reluctantly, I have decided to give this particular white die to the winner of this month’s raffle. Just kidding, I will keep it aside for Helen to use when she plays me. ;)

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
I went into a public-’ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

Of the eight Squad Leaders with a low roll of four, five had joined Sitrep in July. Clearly, there is an advantage to becoming a Squad Leader sooner rather than later. However, for those who have recently found the blog, there is hope. Mike Ledlow joined in November, and was among the eight finalists. The other two finalists joined in September, which brings me to the winner of the tie breaker.
Tin Man 
Bryan Martin, who joined in July, narrowly missed winning the tie-breaker with an “average” roll of ten. But Oliver Gray’s luck held out, and he managed to eke out a win with a commonplace “nine.” Oliver wins a set of five precision dice, and a $20.00 gift certificate for KitShop. Merry Christmas!
Oliver has been playing ASL in Scotland since the dawn of ASL. You can read a bit about his playing career, gargantuan ASL collection, and his engineer ingenuity in the box below.2 Suffice it to say that Oliver does not believe in half measures when it comes the The Game.

Click to enlarge

Oliver will receive three 9/16” (14mm) BattleSchool dice. We had some white dice left over, so we had a few of the popular black and dark-red produced to match them. But rather than use silver foil, as in the original design, we thought we would try gold. Helen is a big fan of them. They remind her of Christmas, her favourite time of the year.
Bundled with these BattleSchool dice are a Sniper! Effects die, and a Rate of Fire (ROF) die. These speciality dice are the same size as the BattleSchool trio. The Sniper! die is bright red, which works well with the white foil of the designs. The Sniper! die is designed to be used whenever a player gets a Sniper Activation. You can learn more about the design of this die in my Sniper! post.3 
The ROF die is a stunning contrast of metallic foils on black acetate—the light-weight material used in precision dice. The one-spot features a “Sherm” in gold, the two-spot a “Pak” in silver, and the three-spot a Soviet 82mm mortar in copper.
The ROF die can be used in lieu of a coloured die when playing. Alternatively, it can be used “heretically” as a third, ROF-only die. Steve Pleva, a prominent ASL player, pioneered this alternative house-rule at various tournaments in the United States. Used in this latter fashion, a ROF die removes the automatic twin benefits of rolling low and maintaining rate. Thus it is possible to miss your target, yet maintain rate. It also reduces the impact of Critical Hits, because obtaining a “crit” does not guarantee that a weapon will also maintain rate. But however you choose to use the die, its striking graphics are hard to miss. In other words, a big benefit of the metallic foils is that you are less likely to miss a "rate shot."4 
Given that Oliver has an extensive ASL collection, I cannot imagine what he will need to spend his $20.00 gift certificate on at the moment. But with more ASL releases just around the corner, I am certain that he will think of something. But please, no more Raaco until after I receive mine. 
Congratulations Oliver!

Click to enlarge

1. In truth, Helen had given her dice tower a good work out almost two months, at ASL Oktoberfest. She is pleased to have her very own walnut dice tower. The tower was crafted my Mattias Ronnblom’s father. Mattias, for those who do not know, is the man behind the Friendly Fire scenario packs, and the Friendly Fire ASL tournament. The tournament is held in Linkoping, Sweden. The tournament runs in late summer, usually in late August, or during the first weekend in September. The scenario list consists primarily of scenarios due to be released in the Friendly Fire pack in October of the same year.
Custom Olli Tower
2. Some years ago, Oliver broke his original dice tower. Clearly, the first tower was not rugged enough. An aircraft engineer by trade, he reasoned that aluminum was a far more robust construction material than either plastic or wood. And so it began. In the past few years, Oliver has manufactured and sold dice towers to players in more than a dozen countries worldwide, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 
However, Oliver’s inventive streak did not end with dice towers. He wanted to protect his laminated, unmounted mapsheets from damage. 
Map Case Spine
At one time, it was possible to purchase an unmounted mapsheet of each ASL mapboard from Avalon Hill/Multi-Man Publishing (MMP). Some players preferred the unmounted mapsheets over the mounted boards. The mounted boards typically suffered from the “bends” due to the need to fold them along the Q-row. In contrast, the unmounted mapsheets could be laminated and thereafter kept stored flat. 
So Oliver conceived of a large, aluminum binder, or folder, to house the majority of his map collection. When MMP released the map bundle, the utility of Oliver’s storage system increased. Like the older mounted boards, the newer Starter-Kit style boards were usually shipped and stored folded. But when MMP released the map bundle earlier this year, the company decided to ship the bundles as they had received them from the printers. While the new boards have a crease along the Q-row, they are not folded. Instead, they ship in a long box. (I know this first hand, having failed to find a better spot than my game room to store a dozen map bundles.) Players around the globe scratched their heads, and debated the wisdom of folding the new maps. Some decided not to fold their maps, and devised ingenious ways to store them. Oliver must have chuckled. His aluminum folders were standing by.
3. Here is the executive summary:
In addition to the grave marker design, the one-spot includes text to remind players of the possible effects of a “1” on a Sniper Activation roll. They are “Elim” (or KIA) for a SMC, “STUN” for a CE, fully-armored AFV, “Break” for a MMC or the crew of a partially armored/unarmored vehicle, and “Immob,” or immobilization for an unarmored vehicle. 
The two-spot features a red cross, which reminds players that a SMC will suffer a wound result. The other results are: “Stun” for a CE fully-armoured vehicle, and “Pin” for a MMC or the crew of a partially-armored/unarmored vehicle.
4. And here is a bit more detail until I can find time to finish my “Got Rate?” post:
The four-, five-, and six-spots have pips. The other faces have the following:
The one-spot has a Sherman tank in gold foil with a “1” encased in a square beside it. If you roll a “Sherm,” any weapon with a ROF of 1-3 has got “rate.”
The two-spot has a German anti-tank gun in silver foil with a “2” encased in a square beside it. If you roll a “Pak,” any weapon with a ROF of 1 or 2 has kept “rate.”
The three-spot has a Russian 82mm mortar in copper foil with a “3” encased in a square beside it. If you roll a mortar, any weapon with a ROF of 3 has “rate.”

24 November 2011

Well ain't that just Marvie?

Christmas is coming... in January. Apart from getting their hands on a copy of Festung Budapest, attendees at Winter Offensive 2012—Multi-Man Publishing’s annual tournament—will have a chance to pick up the latest Winter Offensive Bonus Pack (WO BP3). Proceeds from the sale of this pack will go to support the WWII Foundation. For some, this is reason enough to purchase the forthcoming WO BP3. But for those who “already gave at the office,” here are some other reasons to spring for the pack.

Inspired by historical topography
The latest Bonus Pack will feature two special mapboards (64 and 65), which combine to form a sizeable village. The boards mate along one edge, while the remaining edges retain the geomorphic configurations of a standard ASL mapboard. These particular boards are a quasi-historical representation of Marvie, Belgium. Moreover, they are the first in a series of “double-wide” boards that will be modelled on, or rather “inspired by,” historical locations. This is an exciting development for MMP. It is also a nod to the pioneering efforts of Third-Party Publishers who have developed similar mapboards in the past.1 Best of all, the new boards signal a welcome (official) shift toward a more realistic representation of the battlefields over which many of our ASL engagements were fought.
The pack contains three scenarios from noted designer Pete Shelling. Each scenario uses at least one of the new mapboards. The first scenario, WO6 “The Heat is On,” is the odd one out. It uses board 65 to recreate a combined-arms battle on the Eastern Front in 1942. 
The remaining scenarios occur in Marvie, Belgium. Both scenarios bring to life the bitter battles that occurred near Bastonge, shortly before Christmas 1944. And both star the hard-pressed riflemen of the American 327th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Just two rifle companies (Fox and George) stood in the way of the Panzer Lehr Division as it drove on Bastonge during the Ardennes Offensive. The glidermen at Marvie not only checked the German advance, but also gave the German armour a bloody nose—with a little help from their friends in the American 10th Armored Division. 
John Fletcher, a veteran of the 54th Armored Infantry Regiment, 10th Armored Division, in Marvie, Belgium. He stands in front of the former headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, fifty years after the Battle of the Bulge.
The first scenario is WO7 “Hell for the Holidays.” The second, WO8 “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” takes place, well, at night. Night scenarios are few and far between in ASL. Needless to say, I am looking forward to playing this latest offering, not least because it takes place on new ASL turf.
Click to enlarge
I recall seeing some of these scenarios being tested at ASL Oktoberfest last month. Perhaps it slipped my mind, but I did not realize that they were intended for WO BP3. I do remember commenting to Pete (and Bret Hildebran) during their playtest, how different the boards looked. I think you will agree that the works-in-progress above have a more natural feel to them, especially when compared to their more linear cousins. 

Here to explain some of the features of MMP’s new lifestyle community is ASL real estate guru Tom Repetti:
While being historically accurate enough and meeting the needs of Pete Shelling and Chas Argent, there’s some other general board ideas (stolen from the masters like [Bob] Macnamara, [Don] Petros, [Charlie] Kibler, and [Ken] Dunn) that seemed to work themselves nicely into the design:
  • Give ‘em something obvious to look at. There’s some obvious and interesting strongpoints out there to drool over, with long LOS and firelane opportunities
  • Spice it up with some subtleties. The Gully Cliffs, small hill in the center-left, hexside pond in the city park, the Level 1 hill with some “gotcha” LOS from the upper building levels surrounding it, vehicle entrances into the factory...
  • Space it out nicely. The focal points are separated by 1-4 hexes of open or slightly-hindered space. Nothing impossible, nothing too easy either.
  • Have some dominating terrain but avoid one single focus point that covers everything.
  • Make it realistic. This is one double-wide board that truly seems to deserve/need/require the full double-width, with very little “filling” to take up space.
  • Make it SSR-able and overlay-able. With “Gully to Stream”, the bridges become much more important. With a nice 5-hex overlay, that level -1 city park can be turned into something else. If the central hill is SSR’d to level 0, things look different.
I think the 64/65 village has some nice features that make it worth having.
  • It actually takes advantage of the double-wide space. It’s a genuinely triangular village area, and it really needs to be on a double-wide board to work. I’m happy about this; turns out to be not-so-easy to design a double-wide board that doesn’t look like a normal board laid across the diagonal from A1-GG20. 
  • Maybe I’ve just stared at it for too long, but it came out feeling like it really had a “sense of place”. Here, this board really came out smooth, with each new area naturally flowing from the ones adjacent. Not much fighting going on, and I think the result has a nice sense of flow. 
  • The hill in the middle of the village is unique, and I like the buildings that march up the crestline. We broke some of this ground on board 60 [Action Pack 7], and we used the lessons learned here. 
  • I love the little orchard hill on 64F10/65G1. I think real farmland is often bounded by natural terrain like this, so that hill feels very believable as the nexus of the four surrounding farms. On top of that, it would seem to be a linchpin to advancing across those hedgerows in any direction. I expect that hill to see a lot of action.
  • Another subtle-but effective piece is the hexside pond in 65O3/P3. I expect there’ll be times when it really makes a difference in attacks across the city park. A younger Tuomo [Tom’s Finnish alter ego] might have put a whole pond in there, but this is hopefully a lighter, more realistic, touch that still has an effect on game play.
  • Yes, 65CC6 is reminiscent of the board 6 chateau. IMO that’s a good thing. That section of board can be used for those kinds of scenarios without breaking out board 6 again.
  • I like the use of rectangular Brush to depict “dense grain”, if you will.
  • I like how the workyard around 64K5 dominates that area as the key to that side of the town without dominating the entire board. The factory entrances are a nice touch, in my opinion, and I love Lumberyards anyway.
Sold! I must admit that I was wondering about the square plots of brush. I had assumed that they were patches of grain newly converted to brush, and that the contours would be adjusted in the final design. Clever idea. Corn, or maize, is more difficult to move through than grain is.
Historically speaking 
I am not very familiar with the actions around Marvie. For those interested, there are plenty of websites offering firsthand accounts of the action. I will, however, leave you with a map covering the night attack of 23 December. 
Click to enlarge
The new Winter Offensive pack should be available on the MMP website in February 2012. The pack comes with two mapboards—one more than usual—and three scenarios. If I understand Chas Argent correctly, Pete Shelling has designed other scenarios that will take advantage of these new “double-wide” boards. I can only speculate with regard to the price of this pack. Still, my guess is that it would not be more than $15.00. Is it worth it? Yes. But only if you enjoy:
  • funky new mapboards, 
  • Pete Shelling scenarios, and 
  • helping a worthy cause: the WWII Foundation.   
Now if historical anecdotes are more your thing, then perhaps this will entice you. On 22 December 1944, the Germans delivered a surrender ultimatum to the besieged defenders of Bastonge. A delegation of two enlisted men and two officers approached the American lines at Kessler farm, about a mile southwest of Marvie. They were met by men of Fox Company, 2/327th Glider Infantry Regiment. 
The German officers were escorted back to company headquarters where they delivered a typed ultimatum to the Americans. There the Germans waited. Finally, after almost two hours, they received Brigadier-General Anthony McAuliffe’s famous reply: 

N U T S !

The German delegates were baffled by the US response. Unsure what the American slang meant, they returned to their lines. Within two days, the same men of Fox Company were in the thick of it, as the Germans redoubled their efforts to break through to Bastonge.
1. It appears that Gary Fortenberry—the man behind the new mapboards in Action Packs 6 and 8—had approached Avalon Hill (AH) around 1983 with the double-wide board concept. At the time, ASL was in the development stages, and there was no enthusiasm for a new style of mapboard. Gary attempted to win over fellow hobbyists in Texas and Virginia, during the late 80s and early 90s, respectively. And he apparently had no takers in Ohio, when he began attending ASL Oktoberfest. Gary was convinced that the concept had merit and would be welcomed by the ASL community at large. It took a company with an open mind and vision to get it out there first. 
That company was Heat of Battle. In 2000, this Third-Party Publisher released a scenario pack called High Ground. According to Mark Pitcavage, a well-known chronicler of things ASL, this marked the first time that any ASL publisher had produced geomorphic mapboards that had a dedicated “mapmate” for one of the board edges. This allowed the creation of a large, contiguous hill mass spanning two board widths, as shown below.

Action Pack 4, published by MMP some years later had a novel way of configuring two of its mapboards. Boards 54 and 55 could be joined along the folded edge of the two boards so that their Q-rows abutted each other. To date, I think that the only scenario to take advantage of this feature is Ian Daglish's AP34 "Bocage Blockage." In is a novel idea, but it does not alter the essential nature of the playing area like the so-called double-wide boards do. (Boards 46 and 48 also "mate" in this fashion.)

07 November 2011

Alarm! Alarm! Festung Budapest!

My apologies for this sloppy post. It was a work in progress. I did not want to delay the news. The module is massive and the most interesting that I have seen from MMP. You can have a look at some of the details below. Most of the description is lifted from the MMP website. However, if you want to get a better idea of what is inside that big grey box, check out my new post here.

Festung Budapest
The Siege of Budapest, 1945 
With the issuance of Order Number 11 on 1 December 1944 declaring Budapest to be a “fortress” city, Hitler effectively sealed the fate of 70,000 defending Axis troops, and approximately 800,000 civilians.
Just one of many new squad types found in FB
Festung Budapest, the eighth Historical ASL module, takes players to the western side of the Hungarian capital. Seventeen scenarios and three Campaign Games cover the fighting on the Buda side of the Danube just west of the Castle Hill area during the period from 1 January through 10 February, representing the bitter struggle for the heart of the city.
Festung Budapest led me to reorganize my counters.
Festung Budapest comes with 4 maps and 9 counter sheets. In addition to the entire German SS MMC order of battle (from 8-3-8 to 4-4-7, including assault engineers), counters are provided for several new types of Hungarian infantry: SMG units, assault engineers, the fascist Arrow Cross Militia, and the anti-communist Vannay Battalion, as well as the Buda Volunteer Regiment, Hungarians fighting for the Russians. Counters are also provided for both Hungarian and Russian air support. There are also special counters to distinguish between certain German units such as the 13th Panzer Division and Panzer Division Feldherrnhalle.

(all take place in Buda, Hungary) 
Axis = Hungarians and Germans
  • FB1 Uncles and Pups (1 January 1945) Axis vs Russian: 4½ turns
  • FB2 The Devil’s Free To Have A Try (19 January 1945) Axis vs Russian: 7 turns
  • FB3 Furor Hungaricus (20 January 1945) Axis vs Russian: 6 ½ turns
  • FB4 HKL 259 (27 January 1945) Axis vs Russian: 6½ turns
  • FB5 Siesta Time (29 January 1945) Hungarian vs Russian: 6½ turns
  • FB6 Came Tumbling After (29 January 1945) Axis vs Russian: 6½ turns
  • FB7 The Terror of the Castle (31 January 1945) Hungarian vs Russian: 9 turns
  • FB8 For Want Of Either Crust Or Crumb (1 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 6 turns
  • FB9 The Shooting Gallery (2 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 7 turns
  • FB10 The Black Company (3 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 5½ turns
  • FB11 Boy Soldier (4 February 1945) Hungarian vs Russian: 6½ turns
  • FB12 The Black Ravens Are Flying (5 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 5 turns
  • FB13 Don’t Economize (7 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 7 turns
  • FB14 At The Narrow Passage (7 February 1945) Hungarian vs German vs Russian: 5 turns
  • FB15 The Taking of Object 59 (7 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 6½ turns
  • FB16 Crossing The Bloody Meadow (8 February 1945) Axis vs Russian: 6 turns
  • FB17 Stalingrad Redux (10 February 1945) German vs Russian: 5½ turns
Festung Budapest was released at Winter Offensive 2012, held in Bowie, Maryland January 12th - 15th 2012.

06 November 2011

Crossed Purposes?

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the largest and longest-running ASL tournament anywhere. ASL Oktoberfest, or ASLOK for short, originated in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1986, Bill “Fish” Conner and Darryl “Action Burk” Burk held their first tourney. Seventeen enthusiasts attended. As time passed, the event grew up and left home, drawn to the bright lights of Cleveland. Today, ASLOK is the most significant event on the ASL calendar.1 
One hundred and sixty-three people registered for ASLOK this year. While not a record, attendance was well above the median of 134. In its second year, ASLOK drew 47 people for what was then a weekend tourney.  Attendance climbed to 85 the next year, and to 95 the year after. From 1990 onward, registration has never fallen below 100. From its humble beginnings as a regional event, ASLOK has morphed into a ten-day international festival. No other tournament has come close to matching the magnitude of Oktoberfest. 
Silver jubilee
Perhaps the most impressive thing about ASLOK is its longevity. A handful of regional and national tournaments have been around for 15 years or so. None, to my knowledge, have surpassed the 20-year mark. ASLOK is the only exception. Twenty-five years is a long run for any tournament, let alone one devoted exclusively to ASL. For this reason, as well as more selfish ones, I thought that this particular ASLOK milestone was worthy of commemoration. More to the point, I felt that this memorable occasion would be more memorable if I created a set of precision dice to mark the occasion. 
Last year I designed a set of German and Russian BattleDice to commemorate the 25th anniversary of ASL. The silver anniversary of Oktoberfest presented me with an opportunity to build upon this earlier work by adding a couple more nationalities to the dice mix. The German and Russian set had proven quite popular. However, the set also raised expectations. Would I be making an American set, how about the Japanese, or had I considered...?” I was not opposed to the idea of creating dice for each major nationality in ASL. At the same time, I had not contemplated producing additional dice with the same level of detail found on the ASL Anniversary set. In other words, although I was comfortable with the prospect of creating a line of smaller dice featuring basic national symbols, it had never been my intention to create an entire line of dice festooned with elaborate graphics.  
Notwithstanding this, I had established a pattern with my German and Russian BattleDice set. Each nationality pair would feature a medal on the ace of the coloured die, and a soldier on the corresponding spot of the white die. I had already set aside green for the Americans and amber for the British Commonwealth. Designing the ASLOK set should have been a simple matter of inserting new graphics into this template. It was not. I was conscious of several problems before I started. In the end, some of the designs proved far more difficult than I had anticipated. Throughout the design process, that forgettable Sesame Street ditty taunted me: “One of these things is not like the other...” What follows are my rationalizations for the final designs of the ASLOK Anniversary set.
The natural order of things
My first anniversary set was a nostalgic nod to Squad Leader (SL). The German on the lid of the SL box is an enduring reminder of the roots and the evolution of our hobby. It is not for nothing that this iconic German squad leader continues to feature prominently on the cover of the ASL Rule Book.2 The Russian officer, snatched from the cover of Cross of Iron, reinforced the SL legacy. It stood to reason that I would draw upon the last two gamettes in the SL series for my next project. That was in fact the plan.
As plans go, it began well enough. I modelled one of the white dice on the steadfast corporal of Crescendo of Doom fame. I was unable to track down a copy of the original photograph. Fortunately, Rob McGowan’s artwork contained more than enough detail for my purposes. Of the four designs, the British corporal required the least work—about a day.3 The nature of the design was such that it also provided the broadest canvas for the placement of text. He remains my favourite. The American soldier was another matter.
General Issues
Why an American, and not an Italian? After all, the first set of dice was a study in contrasts: German versus Russian; Axis versus Allies. Honestly, it never occurred to me to square the British corporal off with an Axis rival.4 In keeping with the title, the cover of G.I. Anvil of Victory had an obvious American theme. And given that GI was the fourth and final installment of the SL series, it seemed appropriate that my fourth nationality pair would be an American one. 
Original (rejected) artwork
It also made sense from an ASL perspective. The first core module, Beyond Valor, contains the bulk of the German and Russian orders of battle. The next two core modules add the Americans (Yanks) and the British Commonwealth (For King and Country).5 I have not done the math, but I would contend that the majority of ASL scenarios use one or more of these general “nationalities.” In light of this, I felt that American and British dice would see almost as much use as the German and Russian dice would.

The difficulty arose when I tried to use the lieutenant on the cover of GI. The outstretched arm and leg made for an awkward design. I would either have to chop off part of each limb, or settle for a tiny, almost unrecognizable image on the face of the die. Neither prospect appealed to me. So off I went in search of an alternative. I did not have to venture far. 
Yanks did nothing for me. But the cover of the Paratrooper module worked on a number of levels. It had an interesting subject, a sergeant of the 101st Airborne Division, the famous Screaming Eagles. Paratrooper provided a convenient segue from SL to ASL. Avalon Hill published the module in order to assist/entice SL players contemplating the transition from SL to ASL. Except for the ASL Rule Book, Paratrooper was largely self contained, requiring only the four original boards from SL to play. Finally, Bill Conner, one of the founders of ASLOK, was a former ‘trooper—in the 82nd All-American, if memory serves me. 
The sergeant still required some work. His blackened face had to go, as it would “muddy” the image at scale. I was loath to remove the grenades and kept them even though they are barely visible on the finished die. The netting on the helmet—Helen’s favourite detail—turned out surprisingly well considering the scale. (Photographs do not do it justice.) But for the most part I had to reduce the amount of overall detail drastically. I must have redone the drawing more than 20 times. Consequently, the paratrooper was the most labour intensive of the four graphics. But it was not the only graphic to require a lot of work.
The trouble with medals
Deciding upon which military medals to pair with my American and British squad leaders should have been a snap. The German and Russian set suggested to many observers that I would use the most prestigious, or highest, American and British military decorations in my designs. I may as well set the record straight. 
Medal of Courage
Where military orders are concerned, the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves is a mid grade order of the Iron Cross. There are five grades above it, one of which was never awarded. As I explained in an earlier post, I used this particular grade of the award because it looked the most interesting at scale. The Hero of the Soviet Union is not a military order, but rather an honourary title bestowed upon civilian and military personal for heroic deeds in the service of the Soviet state and society.
Order of Glory
The highest Soviet military order during World War II was the Order of Victory. It was reserved for generals and marshals. The highest medal awarded to a soldier for bravery in battle was the Medal of Courage. Over four million were awarded. The Order of Glory, awarded to non-commissioned army personnel for bravery in the face of the enemy, was less common. Roughly 2,600 soldiers received the First Class of this Order. In retrospect, the Order of Glory may have worked for the Russian set, although the T-35 on the Medal of Courage beckons even now. But in my defence, I still feel that the Hero of the Soviet Union works best. The gold star has good contrast, while the red colour of the die does double duty as the “ribbon” of the decoration. 
Therefore, when it came to selecting medals for the ASLOK set, I did not feel constrained by any particular  precedent, other than using medals, I suppose. Unfortunately, my options, where medals were concerned, proved more limited than I had imagined. The top three candidates for the American die are shown below.
Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, and Silver Star
The "Gillespie"
I had ruled out the Medal of Honor (MOH) early on. During the war, the US Army had used two different designs: the Gillespie (1904-44), and the current version above. The other difficulty was that the Marine Corps shared the Navy version of the medal. Additionally, some Americans are sensitive about how and where the medal is displayed, and for what purpose. Until 2006, it was illegal to reproduce or sell the medal—some transgressors have paid stiff fines or gone to jail for doing so. However, for my purposes, the MOH was simply too complex a design to replicate well on a die, especially the star-speckled ribbon. 

Military Cross
I initially turned to the Silver Star, which oddly enough, is not silver, save a tiny central star. The Star is not very elaborate, and thus was a good candidate. I even considered cutting out the central silver star so that the green of the coloured die would radiate from the centre. The trouble is that the comparable British medal was actually two medals: the Military Cross (MC), and the Military Medal (MM).6 The former was reserved for junior officers and warrant officers, the latter for the lower ranks. US decorations for bravery make no such distinctions. 
I had the same problem with the second highest US award for gallantry. The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) was awarded to soldiers of any rank “for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.” The British equivalent for officers—usually above the rank of Captain—was the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), and for other ranks, the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).7 Moreover, the DSO often was awarded for inspired leadership rather than gallantry per se. The DSC nevertheless had its appeal—at least from a design point of view. 
Photo of DSC
The DSC is fashioned in bronze, which gives the medal a certain understated dignity. The design is not very elaborate either. It features a bald eagle, the national bird of the United States since 1782, and a small scroll with the words “FOR VALOR.” Now work with me for a moment. Remove the eagle, and replace it with a lion. Modify the shape of the cross a bit, and add a “u” to the scroll. Et voilà: a Victoria Cross (VC)—the supreme award for gallantry across the British Commonwealth. 

VC awarded during the Boer War 

I admit that the DSC and the VC are not equivalent awards, but they do have a lot in common. Both are bronze, both feature iconic national or imperial symbols, both are awarded for valour, both are crosses, and neither award discriminates on the basis of rank. The VC is also a good fit because, unlike the MM and the DCM, which some members of the British Commonwealth were not entitled to, the VC could be won by any subject of the British empire. That is how I came to choose a DSC and a VC for the ASLOK set.
Click to enlarge

The trouble with metals
The DSC required the least work of all the designs, but it still took the better part of a day to complete. In order to maximize the amount of detail, I discarded the ribbon and the suspension ring. Not only did this simplify the design, but it also allowed me to increase the size of the cross relative to the surface of the die. But no matter how hard I tried, a lot of detail was lost, including the text in the scroll. This had an unintended consequence. I had dispensed with the (lengthy) name of the award in favour of the official abbreviation, which I positioned to the left of the medal. With the space below the cross now “for let,” I was able to place the text from the scroll here. I am pleased with the result. The text highlights the “linguistic” differences between the United Kingdom and its former American colonies, but for the most part reinforces the elements common to both awards. 
The VC was the more labour intensive of the medals. I cannot recall how many times that I scrapped the design and started afresh. I dispensed with the ribbon for the same reasons as noted above. However, I kept Queen Victoria’s “V” and a portion of the bar above it. Unlike the ring on the DSC, I felt that these small details were an important part of the design. The lion and the crown were the most time consuming details. I had to repeatedly rework them throughout the design process. Having said that, I was surprised that the lion turned out as well as it did on the finished die. 
My troubles with medals did not end here, however. I needed to choose a foil for each medal. My first designs had used gold and silver foils. The DSC and VC are bronze. 
Copper foil
I had a number of metallic foils to choose from, but only three “metal” ones: gold, silver and copper. Although bronze is almost 90 percent copper, the bright copper foil had nothing in common with the dark bronze of the VC above. More problematic, the copper foil would be lost on an amber die. Copper had the opposite effect on the green die. So stark was the contrast that I feared people would find it too garish for their tastes. 
I agonized over the foils for weeks. In the end, I thought that an actual DSC had enough of a sheen that gold foil would be an acceptable compromise. The toughest call was using standard black foil for the VC. I was worried that the VC would be hard to see. While Victoria’s cross does not pop out of the die like the DSC does, I am good with the more subdued feel of the British award. Looked at another way, the foils on the green and amber dice tend to reflect national temperaments: the American predilection for hyperbole (or exaggeration), and the British penchant for understatement. 


...versus understatement

So there you have it, my reasons (or excuses) for the final designs of the ASLOK Anniversary set of BattleDice.
I rest my case.
1. ASLOK did return to Youngstown for a brief period in the mid 1990s, but has been held in Cleveland ever since. So important has this week-long event become, that many third-party publishers make a point of releasing their latest wares at ASLOK.
2. Some might argue that cover art adorned with German soldiers helps sell games. There was undoubtedly some truth to this when SL first appeared. However, I think that it takes more than a “Jerry” on the cover of an ASL Rule Book to get people to open their wallets these days.
3. Without access to the original photograph, I admit that I am speculating with regard to nationality.
4. Strictly speaking, if I were to stay true to the SL legacy, there could be no Italian set. Despite the promise of their appearance—in the forthcoming G.I. Anvil of Victory—as early as 1979, Mussolini’s much-maligned minions did not make their cardboard debut until the release of Hollow Legions, in 1989. 
5. I realize that West of Alamein was the original core module for the Commonwealth, but it has been superseded by For King and Country. As for the second and fourth ASL modules, neither should be considered a “core” module. Paratrooper was essentially a standalone product. The only unique component was board 24 (and the scenarios), which is currently available for purchase separately. The scenarios will reappear in the second edition of Yanks. Partisan! (1987) was a clever stopgap measure, a convenient vehicle for the release of Axis Minor infantry, and little else. The partisan counters have always been part of the Beyond Valor counter mix. With the release of Armies of Oblivion in 2006, the rationale for Partisan! finally evapourated.
6. Technically, there is a third award, the Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM). This medal was conferred to Indians serving with the BIA. Many of these men fought in East and North Africa, the Near East, Italy, and the Far East, especially Burma. More than 1000 IDSM were awarded. Indians also won 30 Victoria Crosses during World War II. 
7. The closest equivalent in the BIA was the Indian Order of Merit (IOM) 2nd Class. The IDSM and the IOM were discontinued after 1947 with the independence of India. In 1993, the British revamped their honours and awards system in an effort to rid the system of bravery awards based on rank. For instance, a new award, the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, replaced the DSO and the DCM. The MM was discontinued, but the MC was kept, although the latter is now open to all ranks.