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Subject: Why do I love Squad Leader, if I haven't played it in 7 years? rss

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Jack Wingard

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A few weeks ago my friend TimothyP encouraged me to develop my list of top ten board games. It was a fun challenge, and I am glad to have done it; I now appreciate a play of each game on the list a bit more.

He was surprised to see Squad Leader ranked as number three, and asked about it. After pondering a bit I've landed on three main reasons for my fondness of Squad Leader, despite not having played it for almost seven and a half years: theme, scenarios, and maps. Here's my answer to Timothy, based on my memory of the game.


Theme.

Squad Leader has a rich theme that matches reality. This game has theme like no other game I know. Every rule is set up to replicate real-world situations in actual WWII combat. While this makes the rule-set more involved than most of the "Euros" that we play frequently (especially the further you get in the system), you can get started with a set of pretty simple combat rules.

The system is flexible enough to simulate most every situation that arose in WWII, with terrain, weather and visibility, and equipment, weapons and tanks included.

Fog of war is replicated well. The rules allow for the realistic unknown. Sometimes you know how many troops the other side has, but not where they are until you make contact. I'm over-simplifying here, but the idea is that of Stratego or the Lord of the Rings two-player game, from what I understand.

Tactics and strategy are very important, and the game rewards good decisions that correspond to combat. A win in the game is likely due to a plan that would have worked well in a real-world WWII situation. On the other hand, there is a significant role of luck in the game, which makes for unpredictable and exciting situations and plenty of replay value.

Military nostalgia plays into this particular theme for me personally, as my family has been pretty involved in the Services. My dad was in the Naval Air Reserves; my oldest brother retired from the Navy; my oldest sister was in the Army for a bit. I even seriously considered a military band career. In addition, having recently watched Band of Brothers gave me a new respect for the courage of these soldiers, and imagery for the reality that Squad Leader abstracts.


Scenarios.

Each game play is like a mission to accomplish. The win condition is usually different for each side, and there are hundreds of scenarios. This allows for unlimited potential for variability, and a unique challenge every play.

Scenario-based play allows for a gradual learning curve as well. The rulebook is set up to only introduce you to the rules you need for the next scenario. There is also an unofficial (but excellent) graded scenario set that lets you get a feel for the rules, without jumping into the deep end and getting overwhelmed.

Scenarios can be extremely balanced, or ridiculously one-sided, depending on player preference, skill, or mood. They can be bite-sized and wrap up in an hour, or epic, spanning weeks of play. The sheer variety of scenarios available in this game system is incredibly appealing to me.


Maps.

I've always loved maps, and the way Squad Leader draws in my imagination with them adds a lot of fun for me. I enjoy envisioning my squads traversing the terrain on the map, re-living childhood excursions in the woods behind my house.

The hex-based maps and movement allow for much more flexibility than other game boards. This opens up great potential for individual style and game play variation. It is rare to see the same maneuver twice, even when playing at the same scenario.

The shooting mechanic in the game is based on line-of-sight around and through terrain features. This adds a great degree of realism, and plays out as a unique and fun mechanic. I remember often squinting down the map board, trying to guess if my squads would be safe from the fire from the opposing army.




So, there you have them: my reasons for loving a game I haven't played in over seven years. My thanks go to Timothy for encouraging me to think through my top ten list of favorite board games, and then challenging me to defend Squad Leader's placement as number three on it. I look forward to more play in the next seven years!
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It's my No. 1, and I haven't played in 20 years!
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Brian B
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You can always jump back in.... It's a great system!
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Russ Williams
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Most of the reasons you love it are true of many other wargames published more recently, actually... but Squad Leader was indeed the ground-breaker that paved the way for so many others. I haven't played it in years either, but I still have very fond nostalgic memories of one summer when a friend and I were getting together regularly for games of Squad Leader!
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Richard Agnew
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Many good memories here too! This game filled many an empty evening and weekend during high school. Yeah...that says something about me.soblueshake
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Timothy Pinkham
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Great review, J!

First of all, let me clarify that I wasn't asking for a defense. My words were:

TimothyP wrote:
I think it would be cool to hear about how Squad Leader made #3 in your top ten all time list.

I was just interested in hearing about your background with the game since I hadn't heard it before. There was no challenge there.

Having heard the story, it's cool to see how your youth and family background affected your taste for the game. Knowing how deep your mind can think (and how much you enjoyed reading as a kid), it doesn't surprise me that you ate up the rulebook.

Thanks for the write-up, bro.
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Jack Wingard

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russ wrote:
Most of the reasons you love it are true of many other wargames published more recently, actually...

So true Russ. As yet I haven't experienced any other wargames, but as I wrapped up this little exercise I was thinking just what you said. The only advantage Squad Leader has is that its my first. Perhaps this is an indication that I would enjoy other wargames as well! (Though I suspect that with my personality I will want to dig deep into just this one for a few more years, before investing in others.)


TimothyP wrote:

Thanks for the encouragement, Timothy! As always, interpreting tone via the printed word can be tricky. Know that I took no offense, didn't feel attacked, and was happy to explore the reasons for my taste in this project. My "defense" of Squad Leader's #3 status was purely debate, not vindication.
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June Hwang Wah
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If you have not played this gem in a while, its time to break it out and let the Guards Counterattack!
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preston smith
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Its 2017 and the game is still g0ing strong.
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