13 September 2014

From Start to Finnish: Part 3

ASLSK2 (2005)
Uncle Buck
I have a soft spot for ASLSK2. I like the variety it brings to the game table. As with its predecessor, the Kit contains two boards. Board x features extensive tracts of farmland, while board w adds tree-lined roads and level-one hills to the Starter Kit landscape. More interesting, from my perspective, is the debut of new nationalities. Granted half of the eight scenarios in the Kit are your garden-variety American versus German affairs. But the contrast between the tanned Australian, British, and Free French forces, and the brooding Italians clad in dark-grey is more memorable. Mussolini’s men can be found battling Yanks and Tommies in Sicily, or the passionate, pastel-green Greeks—represented by Allied Minor counters—in Greece.
Nationalities featured in ASLSK2 scenarios
However, the main purpose of the Kit is to introduce ordnance. In ASL, ordnance is any weapon that uses the two-stage To Hit (TH) procedure. In order to affect a target, players first must make a TH dice roll (DR) in order to determine if a target is struck. Once a hit is secured, players must make a second DR in order to determine the effect, if any, on the target. Some Support Weapons (SW) are deemed ordnance weapons, as are most Guns. Certain Guns with a high rate of fire have the option of foregoing the TH procedure, altogether. These weapons may attack directly on the Infantry Fire Table (IFT) using their Infantry Firepower Equivalent (IFE). The IFE firepower (FP) value is noted in brackets after the calibre size. 
IFE-capable AA
Guns differ from SW in a number of ways. To begin with, Guns are manned by dedicated Infantry crews, whereas most SW can be manned by ordinary Infantry. Guns also have a number of special characteristics that can increase their effectiveness on the ASL battlefield. For example, a Gun usually begins play emplaced, which provides additional protection to its crew, regardless of the presence of any Gunshield. Unless noted otherwise, a Gun always sets up hidden, with its Location secretly recorded on a side record. And unlike SW, most Guns can Intensive Fire, which effectively allows Gun crews to fire a parting shot at the enemy, although not without some attendant risk. 
ASL Starter Kit 2 introduces ordnance and target acquisition
It is easy to recognize a Gun because it is printed on a ⅝” counter. Starter Kit 2 comes with 14 different Guns, each of which belongs to one of four major classifications: Anti-Aircraft (AA), Anti-Tank (AT), Artillery (ART), and Mortars (MTR).1 The Kit also includes ⅝” SMOKE and White Phosphorus (WP) counters, two of several types of special ammunition (Ammo) available to specific Guns. How to use Special Ammo, shift Guns (manhandle or Push, in ASL parlance), and acquire targets are just a few of the subjects covered in the new Section 6, two-pages of text and diagrams dedicated to ordnance.
Much of Section 6 applies equally to ordnance SW such as Light Anti-Tank Weapons (LATW), and light Mortars. These SW nonetheless merit their own subsections in Section 4. Two of the more famous LATW—the handheld rocket launchers known colloquially as the Bazooka (BAZ) and the Panzerschrek (PSK)appear in ASLSK2.
Mind the Backblast! Step outside and save yourself the pain.
The inclusion of rocket launchers in the second Kit may appear strange. After all, there are no tanks to hit. I nevertheless think that it was a brilliant idea to include them. Both rocket launchers use their own, unique TH tables located on the reverse of each counter. Although there are no armoured targets to engage, there are plenty of hard targets that will do in a pinch. The High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) munitions fired from a rocket launcher can prove extremely effective against Infantry huddled in buildings. A successful hit by a PSK, for example, will result in a 12 FP attack, three times the FP of most German squads. Rocket launchers likewise can do a number on Guns and their Elite crews. Starter Kit 2 is also a good time to learn that firing a BAZ or PSK from inside a building is risky business. The effects of Backblast are best discovered early in your ASL training, not when a tank is barreling down on your position. All this is to say that I am pleased to see that LATW are introduced before tanks—a great example of programmed instruction.
The addition of ordnance weaponry required the expansion of earlier rule sections. Indeed, Section 1 through 5 all contain significant additions. The new text appears in salmon highlight (a kind of muted pink) for ease of identification. This highlighting also serves to identify any rule changes, or corrections, that differ from the rules found in the earlier printings of ASLSK1—the errata that I mentioned previously. The addition of rules for ordnance led to a 30 percent increase in the size of the ASLSK rule booklet. Add another two pages of Chapter H ordnance notes (for the 17 types of light mortars and Guns found in the Kit), and the ASLSK2 booklet runs to 20, generously-illustrated pages.
Chapter H come to ASLSK
Two of the scenarios in the Kit are Infantry-only. If ASLSK2 is your first ASLSK purchase, I recommend beginning with scenario S10. “Paper Army” can be challenging for new players once the Greek and Italian squads begin to lose experienced personnel, and are replaced by Green and Conscript squads. However, the general rules overhead for this scenario is the lowest of any scenario in the Kit. I would follow up with scenarios S9, which adds hill terrain, and S11, which adds a single light Mortar. Hills add a dimension not found in ASLSK1. The ability to see over and beyond grain when on higher ground has significant tactical advantages. However, there are more important things to concentrate on when playing your first ASLSK scenario. In my view, it is better to master the terrain on board x, y, and z before adding new terrain features to the mix.

Area Target Type Firing and Acquisition Practice
Scenario S11 is a good place to start when you are ready to test fire ordnance. Unlike medium or heavy Mortars, light mortars cannot Intensive Fire, and do not need to be Manhandled, or Pushed, from one hex to another. Moreover, mortars, in general, are only permitted to use one kind of Target Type. “A Long Way to Go” therefore keeps things simple by allowing players to concentrate on learning the TH process, and the Area Target Type. Mortars are not especially accurate. They generally are used to blanket an area (in this case a hex) with fire rather than attempt to strike a specific target within a hex. Even when they do strike a target, Mortars do not deliver the same punch as a direct-fire weapon such as an AT Gun. Players may also discover how devastating mortar bombs can be when they detonate in the treetops, what ASL terms Air Burst, or when they achieve a Critical Hit. [Edit: When pressed  to provide a list of which scenarios in ASLSK2 to play nextby a new player in the Netherlands, I suggested that he play the remaining scenarios in the following order: S12, S15, S14, S13, and S16.] Notwithstanding the foregoing recommendations, I urge new players to begin with the scenarios in ASLSK1 first.
ASLSK2 includes boards w and x
This Kit also contains several apparently extraneous Russian Guns and crews. They are not used with any of the scenarios in ASLSK2. Instead, they are provided for scenarios published in Operations magazine. For example, the 45mm PTP obr. 32 AT Gun and crew are needed to play S18 “Baking Bread” in Operations 49. (See the MMP ASLSK Scenario Prerequisites Table in Part 8 of this series for more details.)
The eight scenarios of ASL Starter Kit 2
1. Strictly speaking, any “ordnance-capable weapon depicted on a ⅝” counter is termed a Gun, while any [ordnance-capable weapon depicted] on a ½” counter is a SW.” There are actually six classifications of Guns. Infantry Howitzers (INF) are Guns that were often outdated artillery pieces relegated to use by the infantry, hence the description. These Guns appear later in the ASLSK series. Recoilless Rifles (RCL) are the least common Gun. American versions of RCL are treated as SW, and are therefore depicted on ½” counter. German RCL were bulkier, and therefore are treated as Guns. Because RCL have a number of special characteristics, they have their own rule section in Chapter C of the ASLRB. To date, RCL have not appeared in ASLSK.

12 September 2014

From Start to Finnish - Part 2

ASLSK1 (2004, 2014)
The first Kit has been reprinted numerous times during the past decade. The most recent reprint—the 10th Anniversary Edition—includes an updated rule booklet and Quick Reference Data Chart (QRDC). By updated, I mean that any errors or omissions that have come to light since 2004 have been amended. There were only eight corrections, or errata. Moreover, these changes are reflected already in the rule booklets and charts contained in later Kits in the series.
At the heart of this Kit is a twelve-page, rule booklet with abundant colour illustrations. The rules are divided into five sections. The first section explains the game components. The two mapboards, for instance, constitute the playing area. The boards are “geomorphic,” meaning that they can be joined together to form larger (and different) playing areas by placing the boards side-by-side, or end-to-end. Board z represents an industrial area, while board y is rural, with dirt rather than paved roads, and with the greatest variety of terrain. There are six basic types of terrain in ASLSK1: Open Ground, roads, buildings (wooden or stone), woods (and woods-roads), orchards, and grain. 
Examples of the terrain introduced in ASL Starter Kit 1
The game comes with 255 ½” playing pieces that are used to represent American, German, and Russian Infantry and their Support Weapons (SW). Another 25 playing pieces serve as information markers that are used to denote the status of a unit, or some other effect. All pieces are commonly called counters. However, Infantry units are specifically referred to as either Single Man Counters (SMC) such as leaders, or Multi-Man Counters (MMC) such as squads and half-squads (HS). As befitting a basic game, only three types of SW are included: machine guns (MG), demolition charges (DC), and Flamethrowers (FT).
The first Starter Kit contains only ½" playing pieces
A pair of 11mm (7/16”) plastic dice included with the Kit are used to obtain a variety of results using numerous combat results tables. Most of these tables are found on the enclosed Quick Reference Data Chart (QRDC). Three double-side scenario cards provide players with six different scenarios or tactical problems. Each scenario spells out where the battle will be fought, what forces are in play, and what the objectives are. 
The second section in the rule booklet is essentially a glossary of important terms and abbreviations. The third section is the most dense part of the book. It is a detailed sequence of play that explains what occurs during each successive phase of the game, beginning with the Rally Phase (RPh) and ending with the Close Combat Phase (CCPh). The fourth section provides rules for SW, while the last section looks at the characteristics of the troops themselves, including distinctions based on nationality and experience.
The first scenario in the box held a lot of promise for the Starter Kit series. “Retaking Vierville” is a pure Infantry battle with no SW whatsoever. It is therefore an excellent introduction to the world of ASL. The scenario allows players to concentrate on the fundamentals of Infantry fire and movement, leadership, morale, and so forth. I have to wonder though if the series would not have benefited from more scenarios that built upon previous ones by adding one rule section, or concept, at a time. If you prefer a more gradual learning curve, then may I suggest that you play the scenarios in ASLSK1 in the following order: 
The first ASLSK boards: y and z
S1 Retaking Vierville
S5 Clearing Coleville
S3 Simple Equation
S4 Welcome Back
S6 Released from the East
S2 War of the Rats

All of the Kits, as well as Expansion Pack 1, contain a mix of basic and intermediate scenarios. The mix technically gives players of all experience levels an entry point into the system. In other words, a beginner need not begin with the first Kit, because each Kit (except ASLSK3) contains at least two Infantry-only scenarios. However, the introductory scenarios in later Kits tend to have more Special Scenario Rules (SSR), or other complications, that are less newbie friendly. If practical, I recommend that players begin with ASLSK1 and proceed through the second and third Kits before attempting scenarios found in other packs, or in the historical module. 
The general exception to the foregoing are the seven scenarios published in the now defunct Operations magazine. Each of these scenarios is intended to be played using the components found in one of the three “core” Kits. I have prepared a table in the last post of this series that will help you identify these scenarios. “Prelude to Festung Brest” is one such scenario. It is an Infantry-only battle that requires ownership of ASLSK1 (and nothing else) to play.
ASL Starter Kit 1 Scenarios S1 - S6
Reception of the inaugural Kit was largely positive, and the first printing sold out rapidly.1 In my third post of this eight-part series, I have a look inside the first Starter Kit to introduce ordnance weapons.
1. See, for example, Mark Pitcavage’s review published in Armchair General the year Starter Kit debuted.

11 September 2014

From Start to Finnish: ASLSK at Ten

In 2004, Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) had been the caretaker of Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) for five years.1 The small firm had breathed new life into the hobby. The Game had a future that promised, among other things, a completed core system. But hard-core ASL players would have to wait a little longer for the long-awaited armies of oblivion.2 Indeed, ten years on, the new and reproved Finns are still awaiting their place in the MMP sun. An upstart, ASLesque publication had jumped the queue. 
"So sorry, my island now."
The derivative game that started all the fuss is not, as some suggest, ASL for dummies. However, the sub-system that this “starter” game spawned is a far cry from the stepping stone it once claimed to be. In fact, this sub-system has grown so much over the past decade that it often bewilders the very people it is meant to attract. This, and the following posts in this series, are an attempt to shed some light on what has become an offshoot of the ASL tree.3
Back in the day, the most advanced technological device in my house was a 20-inch, black-and-white television. I took it on faith that Gilligan wore a red shirt, and that Ginger’s hair was, well, ginger—I thought it was blond. It was the late 70s, and the vivid black-and-orange Squad Leader box was a welcome contrast to the grey world of our cathode ray tube.4 Adjusted with care, our rabbit-ear antenna granted access to two channels, one with English programming, one with French. The board game from Baltimore had a different kind of programming, programming that unlocked a turbulent, technicolor world of the early 1940s. 
Second City TV brought lots of colour to my TV
Cross of Iron, 1978
I remember the excitement that accompanied my reading of each “module” in the Squad Leader rule booklet. Every teaching segment concluded with the memorable lines: “STOP! You have read all that is necessary to play...” a new scenario. Squad Leader was imposing. It was a far cry from Risk. Few games of the period approached its level of detail and complexity. Learning let alone mastering the game was a daunting proposition for a 14 year old. Programmed instruction made all the difference. When the sequel appeared a year later, my friends and I dove right in.5 
Chapter and verse
When the Avalon Hill Game Company (AH) released ASL in 1985, it introduced a really big rulebook (ASLRB) to the wargaming hobby. It was so big, and so exceptional, that it was sold separately. At the time, we took this in stride. In retrospect, it was a bold move. The ASLRB retailed for more than the base game! Rules were divided into colour-coded chapters complete with colour chapter dividers that doubled as player aids. The rules came in their own specialized binder, nestled inside a sturdy slipcase. The attention to detail was phenomenal. Absent, however, was anything approaching a tutorial, or a guide to learning the newfangled game.6 
Beyond belief: AH takes the wargaming market on faith
Although ASL was (and remains) a significant departure from Squad Leader, AH believed that it was similar enough to John Hill’s original creation that veterans of Squad Leader would make the transition without much fuss. Avalon Hill was counting on this. The company was also betting that the majority of their established player base would adopt the new game. It was a big ask.7 
The “advanced” game was not so much advanced as it was different. It was a completely revamped game system. Avalon Hill belatedly acknowledged this with the release of Paratrooper the following year. This so-called “Introductory Module” was aimed at Squad Leader players “contemplating a switch to ASL.” Paratrooper was described as “an inexpensive medium” that would allow these prospective recruits “to sample the rich delights of the ASL game system.” I agree that the module gave players a taste of things to come. But an inexpensive introduction to ASL it was not.8 Nor was Paratrooper a particularly useful tool for introducing players to ASL, least of all players without prior experience of Squad Leader.
The text on the back of the Paratrooper box emphasized that there were few prerequisites needed to play the eight scenarios in the module. The blurb also reassured customers that the enclosed “Squad Leader Training Manual” would help them learn ASL. Despite its name, the manual—better known as Chapter K—was designed to teach the basics of ASL, not Squad Leader
The manual was broken down into six teaching sessions, or days. It took the form of an imaginary, military-training syllabus—some 30 pages long—replete with a cartoon-character, American Drill Sergeant. In order to get the most out of the exercise, trainees had to obey the sergeant’s commands and move pieces about on a map. On the first day, trainees were treated to a forced march across several boards, traversing along the way much of the terrain found in Chapter B of the ASLRB. One board has at least 20 different types of terrain! Subsequent training days used the same “boots-on-the-ground” method to explain lines of sight, fire principles (including the protection afforded by various types of cover), engaging the enemy in close combat, the physical and psychological effects of combat, and the importance of camouflage and concealment. The manual nevertheless falls short of the programmed instruction method that Squad Leader employed to great effect. Jim Stahler’s training syllabus is still helpful, if incomplete.9 Let me explain.
Killer Chapter K
Even the most basic scenarios in Paratrooper include ordnance weapons such as light mortars and bazookas. These weapons use rules found in Chapter C, which are not covered in Jim’s six days of basic training. In addition, three scenarios also feature Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV), thereby necessitating a careful read of Chapter D as well. To put this into perspective, the first two chapters of the ASLRB run to over 100 pages. Admittedly there is a great deal in these chapters that can be ignored when playing the scenarios in Paratrooper. However, to play any scenario in this module also requires a player to grasp a good deal of Chapter C, which runs to over 20 pages. The Training Manual included with Paratrooper only addresses the salient points of the first two chapters. Therefore, until training exercises for ordnance appeared more than a decade later, beginners were left to decipher Chapter C on their own. Once we factor in another 20 or so pages for Chapter D, we can begin to appreciate the daunting task faced by the budding squad leader. 
In a nutshell, Paratrooper did not provide a progressive introduction to ASL, because in spite of its allegedly introductory nature, Paratrooper contained no truly introductory scenarios. This may have worked for some ASL initiates with prior experience of Squad Leader—namely, the target audience. But for those with no previous exposure to ASL’s predecessor, the subject matter in Paratrooper could hardly be characterized as basic, or introductory. It would be another 18 years before newcomers would have access to a truly entry-level ASL publication.
Chapter why
In 2004, MMP released only one ASL game: ASL Starter Kit 1 (ASLSK1). The small, unassuming box is a marked departure from earlier publications. Until then, ASL had been a strictly, modular system. The ASLRB,  together with the indispensable module Beyond Valor, form the core around which the system expanded. The new Kit is self-contained. It may have been sired by ASL, but ASLSK owes its parent no allegiance. 
Starter Kits target new (and returning) ASL players. In keeping with this aim, the Kits require only a small investment of time and money. Ken Dunn, the lead developer, and MMP accomplished this frugal feat by dramatically reducing the complexity of the game. A simpler game means less components, and in turn, lower cost. Each Kit contains just enough material to play the scenarios enclosed in the box. With a bit of imagination, future scenarios can be designed within the limits imposed by the contents of a particular Kit. Although infrequent, new scenarios fitting the bill have appeared in later publications. 
Each Kit contains playing pieces, mapboards, charts and tables, a pair of dice, and an abridged rule booklet. The playing pieces are standard ASL counters.10 The mapboards, while compatible with ASL mapboards, differ in several respects. The terrain on many ASLSK boards lacks variety; they remind me of the earliest boards from Squad Leader. This is to be expected. Unexpected, however, is the small size of the buildings relative to the hexes. Personally, I think the buildings look more to scale than on many ASL boards. The downside is that the urban boards lack the claustrophobic feel of an ASL city board. There are far too many open Lines of Sight (LOS) due to the greater expanse between structures. 
Boarding school: ASLSK buildings teach newbs FFMO lesson
The other interesting thing about ASLSK mapboards is that they are printed on heavy card stock. Classic ASL mapboards are mounted the same as a Monopoly or Scrabble board. Not only are mounted boards costly to produce, but they also weigh almost four times as much as a card-stock board does.11 The light-weight “Starter-Kit style” boards, as the new boards came to be known, also pack better, because they take up half of the volume of a mounted board. The styling, new board format is tailor made for Starter Kits.12 
The unadorned, largely black-and-white, ASLSK Quick Reference Data Charts (QRDC) charts are functional. Again this keeps costs down. The tables on these QRDC are stripped down versions of the elaborate, colour-coded tables found on the chapter dividers of the ASLRB. In some cases, an ASLSK table bears only a superficial resemblance to an ASL table. The ASLSK To Hit (TH) table is one such beast. Closer inspection reveals that the “beginner” table is designed to simplify play. Each type of weapon has its own TH values, right down to the Final Dice Roll (DR) needed for a Critical Hit, and/or any Special Ammunition. Experienced ASL players may find these “slide-rule” tables awkward to use. But keep in mind that the tables are designed for people approaching the game with no preconceptions. That said, I have two reservations. 
ASLSK To Hit Tables lighten arithmetic
First, substantially different tables make it a bit tedious for an experienced player to teach someone at the ASLSK level. The old hand has to not only “remember to forget” some ASL rules—more on this in a moment—but also has to (re)learn how to calculate a successful hit using an unfamiliar table. (Alternatively, the teacher can dispense with the ASLSK TH table and have the student use the ASL TH table instead.) My second reservation is that a similar relearning process will invariably occur when a beginner transitions to ASL. Neither of these reservations are show stoppers, but one or both may lead to some unnecessary frustration.
No OPP Fire
The publication of a bare-bones version of ASL that captures the essence of The Game is a remarkable achievement. The ASLSK rule set is a distillation of the more fundamental aspects of ASL. On the one hand, ASLSK includes the core principles of Defensive First Fire (DFF): First Fire, Subsequent First Fire (SFF), and Final Protective Fire (FPF). On the other hand, ASLSK excludes less commonly used rules for Opportunity Fire and Spraying Fire.13 Infantry can Double Time in ASLSK, but only if declared at the beginning of a unit’s Movement Phase (MPh). Moreover, Infantry cannot dart across a street (Dash), or skirt the edge of an obstacle (Bypass). These are sensible compromises, as was the decision to make all buildings ground level only.14
No concealment
Culling specific rules keeps new players focused on the most important concepts of ASL fire and movement. Removing entire tracts of rules keeps the amount of reading (and rereading) to a minimum. Excluding the rules for cavalry was an easy decision. Ignoring the rules for concealment was more controversial. Still, it is easy to see why concealment did not make the cut. Even among veteran players, this area of the rules is prone to misunderstandings. Granted concealment adds more to the game than just fog of war. Nevertheless, this section of the ASLRB can be a lot to digest for a beginner.
To be fair, the ASLSK rule set does contain an element of concealment, namely Hidden Initial Placement (HIP). This particular form of concealment is such a fundamental part of how Guns work in ASL that it could not be trimmed. Indeed, concealment, in the form of HIP, has not been overlooked in a more general sense either. Through the artful use of Special Scenario Rules (SSR), ASLSK scenario designers have developed a workaround that allows all or part of a force to set up HIP at start. Even optional rules found in Chapter E of the ASLRB have appeared as SSR in ASLSK scenarios. I point out some of these SSR in later posts. Below is an example of a ASLSK board q (transformed on Virtual ASL per SSR) and used to depict a snowy environment.
Board q cropped and transformed into a winter landscape
There are two obvious advantages to the SSR approach. One, these occasional rules are not found in the ASLSK rule set, which keeps the size of the rule booklets manageable. And two, such SSR (usually) alert new and experienced players alike that a non-ASLSK rule (or variation thereof) is in play. In a similar vein, many scenario Victory Conditions (VC) in ASLSK are verbose by ASL standards. This is another consequence of keeping the rules overhead to a minimum. However, the net result is the same. Beginners get a taste of the fruit without having to splurge for the entire tree.
ASLSK versus ASL Victory Conditions (VC)
Careful pruning, and selective grafting (onto scenario cards, as circumstances demand), has kept the ASLSK rule booklet incredibly compact. Yet, in spite of Kenn Dunn’s horticulture, the booklets have colour illustrations aplenty. The example below is typical of the abundant diagrams that make light work of some concepts that may be hard to visualize. (I added the arrows and terrain descriptions. I encourage players to highlight or otherwise annotate their personal copies if it will aid in their comprehension and retention of the rules.) 
Interaction of hills and orchards in ASL
However, the tiny (by ASL standards) rule booklet included with the first Starter Kit is not without its problems. One thing that continues to confound experienced players—particularly those with a penchant for organization—is the lack of an index. Okay, there is a glossary under the heading “Definitions.” It even includes rule citations. However, these citations are of questionable value due to how the rules are organized. In contrast to the procedure-manual layout of the ASLRB, the bulk of the ASLSK rule set takes the form of a sequential narrative, organized by phase. The most problematic section is entitled “Sequence of Play” (SOP). The same section in the ASLRB runs to less than a page. In the first ASLSK rule booklet, Section 3 is a whopping seven pages long! 
The reason for the discrepancy is simple. In the ASLRB, the section dealing with SOP merely outlines how the game flows, and broadly describes what occurs during each phase. Not so in ASLSK. Section 3 is the heart of the ASLSK rule set. It introduces rules and game concepts in the same order that a player might encounter them in the course of play. Put another way, this section is an annotated SOP that doubles as a repository for roughly half of the ASLSK rule set. 
Sequence of Play
Imagine that you need to prove to your inexperienced opponent that you can recover, retrieve, gain possession of, or otherwise pick up a Demolition Charge (DC) during the MPh. You consult the glossary. But none of these terms is listed. You do find a listing for DC. However, after getting no joy from Subsection 4.3, you flip back through the pages until you find the subsection of Section 3 that deals with the MPh. A half-page of text later you find the reference, in the last paragraph of the subsection. There has got to be an easier way. There is, if you are clever enough to consult Section 4.0 instead. The answer lies in the last sentence of the first “run-on” paragraph. 
Starter Kit is designed ostensibly for beginners, not students articling for the legal profession. Were the ASLSK rules organized differently, a glossary might have sufficed. As it stands, the lack of an index is arguably the second biggest shortcoming of the Starter Kit series. Fortunately, Jonathan R. VanMechelen, a veteran ASL player from Pennsylvania, has compiled a superb INDEX for ASLSK.  
ASLSK Index for ASL Players
The absence of an index also makes it difficult for an ASL coach to quickly assess if a particular ASL rule is in force. Having played ASL for decades, a lot of rules become second nature. For instance, when it looks like the enemy is about to overwhelm a position, it can be prudent to break and run. However, the option to voluntarily break an Infantry unit does not exist in ASLSK. In fact, there are so many minor differences between the rule sets that keeping track of them during play can be tedious. What is needed is an index that cross references ASL and ASLSK rules. Happily, JRV, as he is commonly known on the ASL forums, did not rest on the seventh day. You can download a pdf of the “ASLSK Index for ASL Players” from his website.15 
The biggest beef that I have with ASLSK is that it is not a form of programmed instruction akin to Squad Leader. It undoubtedly helps that ASLSK rules are presented in three, modest bundles. However, a beginner is still required to read a small textbook before commencing play.16 The Starter Kits did not replace Chapter K either, because they are not tutorials. In fact, there is a great deal in Jim Stahler’s tutorials that is not present in the ASLSK rule set. But do not despair. Jay Richardson has produced a splendid series of illustrated tutorials. His most helpful tutorial was published in Operations 49, MMP’s former house magazine. Jay’s tutorials (and a host of player aids) are nonetheless accessible online.17  
For the most part, ASLSK is self-contained. This has certain advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest plus is the low cost. One can forgive a lot of trespasses for the bargain price that Starter Kit 1 retails for. Depending upon your perspective, we have Ken Dunn to thank or blame for the Starter Kit series. I have no hesitation in raising my hand to say thanks for making ASL affordable and approachable to a greater number of people, especially younger generations. Kenn has done yeoman work, and continues to devote a great deal of his spare time to the development of new ASLSK scenarios and publications. However, some are bound to blame him (and MMP) for taking ASL down a different path. For almost two decades Chapter K introduced new players to ASL. Ten years after the release of the first Starter Kit, many longtime ASL players have come to question the rationale behind the new kid on the block. Are they right to think that ASLSK has become a separate book rather than a new chapter in the growth of the hobby? Before you come to any hasty conclusions, I encourage you to read the remainder of my impressions, beginning with the next post in this eight-part series on ASLSK.
Specific scenario dependencies are addressed in later posts
1. Hasbro Inc. acquired the rights to ASL in 1998 (along with a host of other popular Avalon Hill titles).
2. The Axis Minor states are the black sheep of the system. As early as 1978, the Romanians made a guest appearance in Cross of Iron. Not until 2006, however, did these lesser powers finally have their just due. Armies of Oblivion, reputed to be the “last” core module, brought not only the Romanians, but also the Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats, and Bulgarians to the ASL game table.
3. My choice of metaphor is intentional. An offshoot, inviting unwelcome comparisons with a “sucker,” is a clone of the parent plant. Strictly speaking, ASLSK is not a clone of ASL. It has some unique elements such as its individual To Hit tables for various weapons. However, over 99 percent of the rules in the ASLSK rule booklets come directly from the orange tome. And many of the Scenario Special Rules that appear in ASLSK scenarios are in reality simplified versions of rules found in the second edition of the ASL Rulebook (ASLRB2). By way of contrast, Solitaire ASL (SASL) is more of a departure from ASL than ASLSK is.
4. In 2014, almost 12,000 UK households had yet to switch to colour televisions, largely due to the higher licence fees: £145.50 ($240.00 USD) for colour, £49.00 ($80.00 USD) for monochrome (i.e. black and white). 
The Big Brother Corporation (BBC) is watching you! A 1980s TV detector van used to locate unlicensed television sets.
5. The sequel, Cross of Iron, ended each teaching segment with the phrase: “STOP! You have read all that is necessary to play Scenario [X]. We advise you to play it at least once before advancing to the more complicated and realistic scenarios which follow.” Programmed instruction continued with each subsequent game in the series. While this helped players digest new rules incrementally, difficulties arose as earlier rules were replaced with new ones. By the time GI Anvil of Victory appeared, the rules had become a contradictory mess. Advanced Squad Leader was something of a reboot that incorporated a redesigned game engine. The new game rendered all Squad Leader materials save the boards (1-15) redundant. The hobby has not entirely recovered from the schism that the introduction of ASL created.
6. The first edition of the ASL Rulebook did not include the Chapter K series of tutorials that are now included with ASLRB2. 
7. Many owners of the four Squad Leader “modules” balked at having to purchase virtually everything from scratch. Although the first edition of Beyond Valor utilized boards 1 and 8, grognards were left with stacks of incompatible counters, and close to one hundred, redundant scenario cards (if one includes the scenario packs published separately). Most Squad Leader components were consigned to the trash. But almost all of the scenarios were later recycled by Jim Stahler, the author of Chapter K. The last batch of Jim’s Squad Leader conversions was published as Rivers to the Reich only eight months ago—29 years after the debut of ASL. The scenario pack also includes reprints of overlays originally released in GI Anvil of Victory, the last of the Squad Leader games.
8. The disclaimer on the back of the box made it clear that the first four boards from Squad Leader and “the ASL rules” were prerequisites for play. “All other components necessary to play the game,” were enclosed, and “absolutely no other purchase” was necessary. It sounded attractive enough. Paratrooper retailed for $15, roughly the same cost as one of the Squad Leader gamettes. It was misleading, however, to refer to the $45 ASL Rule Book in passing as “the ASL rules.” At three times the price of the ASL sampler, the rulebook was a hefty price to pay to sample the system. Moreover, some of those looking to test drive ASL also may have had to spend an additional $12 for boards 1-4. Even today, $72 is a lot of money to shell out for an introductory wargame.
9. Unfortunately, Sergeant Stahler went AWOL on Sunday. It would be more than a decade before he returned to the training depot. Day Seven: Light Mortars and Basic Ordnance of Chapter K was not published until 1997, some eleven years after the release of Paratrooper. Inexplicably, the new material first appeared in the historical module Pegasus Bridge. First Lieutenant Tom Huntington was the Drill Instructor for Day Eight: Guns and Advanced Ordnance Principles, which was published three years later in ASL Journal 2. Today, the eight-day Training Manual is included with ASLRB2.
Edit: I neglected to mention that Jim Stahler also published a very useful "Eight Steps to ASL: A Programmed Instruction Approach." The article first appeared in ASL Annual 90 (15-20). The article was reprinted in The General Vol. 30, No. 1 (1995): 19, 42-43, 47, 55-56. Thanks to Enrico Catanzaro of Italy for reminding me of this important article.
10. Admittedly there is some variation. In the ASL counter mix, for example, the flip side of a ½” concealment counter is used to indicate that an Infantry unit is Counter Exhausted (CX). Because there are no concealment counters in ASLSK, the CX status marker is found on the reverse of Desperation Morale status marker. I prefer this arrangement, in part, because when my half-squads Double Time, they invariably draw fire and break. At that point, I simply flip over both counters.
11. Board 16 (from the ASL module Yanks) is about 190 grams, whereas board z from Starter Kit 1 weighs about 50 grams.
12. The reduced weight of the card stock boards has enabled MMP to consolidate smaller modules into larger ones. For instance, in 2006, MMP released a third edition of Beyond Valor that contained six more boards than the previous addition, along with 14 extra scenarios that could now be played using only the contents of this base module (and the ASLRB2). The following year, MMP adopted the new board format for their Action Packs. Since then, all Action Packs have included three boards. (The forthcoming ASL Action Pack 10 is the first of its kind since 1999 to contain only two boards.) The lightweight and compact nature of the new boards has also led to their inclusion in periodicals. ASL Journal 7 was the first magazine to come with a mapboard. “Marders not Martyrs,” was the only scenario in the magazine that used the board. Board v was, in truth, an ASLSK board. It was included in order to promote the new style of board, and signal to ASL players that change was afoot. Board v would appear again in Starter Kit 3 a year later. Issue 5 of Special Ops—MMP’s new house magazine—contains ASL board 68.
13. Opportunity Fire (A7.25) is frequently declared by an attacker when the forces of the opposing side are concealed. Rather than fire during the PFPh at a concealed target using Area Fire (3.2/A7.23), a player may opt to declare Opportunity Fire instead. Should an enemy unit lose concealment during the intervening MPh and DFPh, the attacker can then fire on the enemy at full strength during the AFPh. Given that there is no concealment (EX: HIP) in ASLSK, Opportunity Fire is not a significant omission.
14. In my view, this is an improvement over the more abstract rule that Squad Leader initially employed. In “Guards Counterattack,” the granddaddy of all Squad Leader (and ASL) scenarios, units were considered to occupy all levels of a building simultaneously. The historical module Decision at Elst breaks with ASLSK tradition, but in an unusual manner. See Part 7 of this series for an explanation. 
15. JRV’s site also keeps win-loss records for all ASL and ASLSK scenarios. Players enter their results, and the program updates the win-loss statistics accordingly.  
16. In order to play all but one of the scenarios in ASLSK1, a player must read the accompanying twelve-page rule booklet in its entirety. The exception is the first scenario, which does not include any Support Weapons (SW), and therefore reduces the required reading by almost a page. Still, the first scenario in Squad Leader (see note 14 above) could be played after reading only six pages of rules. Later Kits include one or two scenarios featuring only Infantry and SW. However, these Kits also contain slightly more “advanced” types of terrain such as hills. Ordnance and vehicles add roughly six and ten pages, respectively, to the ASLSK rule set.
17. Such is the popularity of the Starter Kit series that various tutorials—not to mention rules, charts and numerous player aids—have been translated into French, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish. For ease, I have collected a sampling of this material and made it available HERE. If you know where I might find a copy of the Japanese translation, please let me know. The one that used to be listed on the MMP website is currently unavailable.