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Subject: Squad Leader -- A Classic Revisited rss

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Dave Dentel
United States
Stephens City
Virginia
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Why review a title so classic that it spawned a seemingly endless collectible universe of its own in Advanced Squad Leader? I supposed it’s because the original Squad Leader was the first serious wargame that not only exceeded my expectations but was truly fun to play.

As far as I know, Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader was among the first major game systems to simulate tactical combat on the squad level. It was the second or third hex-and-counter game I ever bought and I actually remember there being a kind of anticipatory buzz about the new title hitting the shelves.

The game more than lived up to the hype, which was a good thing since my paper-route-funded budget didn’t allow for many busts.

First glance was pretty impressive. I was used to sparse graphics: standard military symbols for counters, maps with squiggly blue lines for rivers, shaded hexes for hills or woods, black dots for cities. Squad Leader featured handsome painted maps with individually rendered buildings and foliage that didn’t conform exactly to hexsides. (Didn’t realize at the time that this would play havoc with line-of-site rules, buy hey, this was the late 70s and the graphics were way cool.) And I know it isn’t very Grognard-ish of me, but I loved the fact the counters featured small drawings of soldiers instead of crossed rectangles.

Despite the typically cumbersome Avalon Hill rules, I found Squad Leader fairly intuitive. Infantry moved, sought cover, fired weapons. Tanks added interest but didn’t overly diminish the infantry. There were support weapons galore, and you could call for artillery fire, lay smoke, dig in and fortify. The scale of play and ranged fire rules dispensed with zone-of-control tedium and combat odds ratios. I loved the way you simply tallied your fire group’s factors and didn’t worry about defensive numbers.

Squad Leader also managed to capture the feel of tactical World War II combat. There’s nothing like the elation of crippling a panzer with a lucky bazooka shot, or the agony of seeing an entire Soviet guards platoon cut down in a crossfire.

Another very useful game-play element was the way the scenarios were designed to incrementally introduce more advanced rules. I can recall plowing through not-so-interesting scenarios just so I could get to the later ones with American units and gear.

The upside was that you could choose your level of complexity. The downside was that if you used all the rules things could really get cumbersome. (This is without the expansions.) And the same scale of play that got rid of some annoying abstractions could also make Squad Leader frustratingly fiddly.

Quick quiz: You’ve got a leader and two squads of infantry with a bazooka and machine gun on the second floor of a wooden building that’s on fire and marked with an artillery spotting round. How many counters is that?

Answer: Too many for a single hex.

Anyway, you get the idea.

As tempted as I was by the additional maps and counters, I never bought Cross of Iron or the other original Squad Leader expansions. I feared the added rules.

Still, the basic Squad Leader remains a must for any Grognard’s core collection.

Dave D.
Loudoun County, Virginia
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
United States
Austin
Texas
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I count 8. Unless there's a Prep Fire counter or Defensive Fire bullseye counter you want to spring on us!

Excellent review. I eagerly devoured each gamette (as the were called) all through junior high and high school. It was near impossible to get most of my friends to try this, so plays were few. Still, I bought expansions through college and had them all the way up through Croix de Guerre. I played a fair amount in college, but it ceased afterwards. A few months after Croix, I decided ASL was no longer worth the effort and sold off the collection.

Now I'm just down to the orange-and-black box and that's more than plenty for me!
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j b Goodwin

Lynchburg
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This is an excellent review that gives me the kind of personal information in which I am interested. There are lots of reviews that just give a component list, or a detailed run-down of the mechanics (which is fine, and those lists have their place), but I want to know how people feel about the game, why people like it, and maybe get a story or two about how it fits into your life along the way.

I agree that this game was radical, and fascinating. I also remember rushing past the earlier programmed scenarios to get to the meat. It can be a bit like walking through molasses up to your knees when you're learning this system, but it's worth it, and I think both the system's and components' design stand up after all this time.

I AM interested in ASL, but I think I will never be willing to devote enough time and resources to subscribe to this particular lifestyle game, so I think the orange and black box, will also be enough for me. I think every wargamer should have a set in his collection.
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Barry Ingram
Spain
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Nice review Dave.
Very evocative.

dave_dentel wrote:
Quick quiz: You’ve got a leader and two squads of infantry with a bazooka and machine gun on the second floor of a wooden building that’s on fire and marked with an artillery spotting round. How many counters is that?


Answer: 7

From what I remember there are no 2 storey wooden buildings in Squad Leader
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