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Russell Gifford
United States
South Sioux City
Nebraska
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Paratrooper – Looking for a Safe Landing for ASL
By Russ Gifford

Beyond Valor, the first ASL module, was clearly aimed at people that had gone up the ladder of gamettes with the Squad Leader system. Paratrooper (ASL Module 2) was clearly looking at a different market – the people that thought just Squad Leader was enough for them.

Thus, while BV secured their base, Paratrooper took a leap of faith into the dark sky and tried to find the landing zone that had rejected the previous offers of complexity.

Again, the risky move paid off handsomely.

With eight sharp scenarios waiting inside, featuring the unique 7-4-7 American elite airborne units and the thrill of the June 5th D-Day drops, the game could intrigue any gamer. And the incredible George Parrish cover art would certainly get them to look at the box.

Paratrooper offered a bite-sized taste of the ASL system. If you were an original Squad Leader fan, there was much here to tempt you. Even if you weren’t, the price might. At $17, it featured a lot of bang for the buck. Some people bought it and the rules as a package, figuring if they didn’t like it, they could sell or trade the rules and get most of their money back.

Inside the Box

Along with the price (only a third the cost of Beyond Valor), the box promo material screamed this module was for everyone with an interest in trying ASL. ‘Introductory Version’ was stamped clearly on the cover. The back made the pitch even more directly: “We recommend that players own Squad Leader… if only to acquire the four playing boards” needed to play these scenarios.

It was a good market to aim at. Basic SL had sold extremely well, far better than any of the follow-up gamettes.

With only a single board, two sheets of counters, and an additional chapter for the ASL rule book, would SLers and non-SLers take the plunge?

In a heartbeat. Inside, they found it was a good purchase. The easy to read training manual took non-players and former SLers through Boot Camp – literally. Step by step instruction, with the best in the business leading them through their paces. The high quality components made a perfect introduction to a quality game, and the low density- high excitement scenarios were made for learning, training, and replay after replay.

The Mapboard

Board 24 was a bit of a step back to old SL. It reminded people of the village board 3 in the original series. It had most of the buildings back in the center, but there was a difference. The center of the board was essentially a valley. Everything was at a -1 level, changing play in this center dramatically. The crisp greens and sharp look of the stone buildings worked well with all the rest of the four original SL boards, which is where all the scenarios of the Paratrooper module are set. These boded good things to the SLers that were stepping up and it meant only SL needed to be purchased to be able to play the scenarios in this set. All the counters, including informational counters were included.

(This feature also made Paratrooper a great traveling ASL set, too, since there was little to carry: 1 rule book and the thin Paratrooper box with four extra boards tucked inside!)

The Scenarios

The difference with Beyond Valor is stark and clearly seen in ASL 11. Defiance on Hill 30 is set on the sparsely populated farmland of boards 2 and 4. For at least four turns, and likely more, four squads of American paratroopers have to fend off most of a German Grenadier regiment (12 squads). The trick here is the Americans get “dummy” counters – “?” counters that might hide a real unit, or another “?” counter. But sooner or later, the game will come down to the Germans kicking out the original 4 squads, and the American reinforcements (5 more squads) trying to fight their way back to control the high ground overlooking the all important Chef-Du-Pont crossing. A nail biter and a fun scenario to play many times over.

Confusion Reigns, ASL 12, gives us the first use of board 24 – or at least half of it. Three half boards are in play, and this time it is a straight-up fight: 12 first line German squads against 12 Elite American paratroopers, trying to push the Germans out of Ste. Mere-Eglise. The problem – the American must kill or capture almost half the German forces, while conserving his own force. Tough to do!

ASL 13, Le Manoir, is often reviled as the most unbalanced ASL scenario available. The problem - no one is certain which side has the real edge. Again, only 2 boards, but this time it is two and a half Germans and two heavy machine guns against almost a regiment of Americans (11 squads). With no cover and no off board artillery, the Americans have to dig out the Germans the old fashioned way: fire and movement.

Scenario 14 is my personal favorite of this series, though I’ve lost it more ways than I can count. Seven American squads and a hero have to run the three board gauntlet to clear out a 75mm AT gun that was guarding the road from Utah Beach. Unfortunately, there are 12 German squads holding the defensive positions protecting the gun. Still, the hodge-podge of German units and their low ELR should outweigh their superior numbers and excellent defensive positions. The key to the American success is to maneuver and spend some time pouring firepower on the Germans so their low ELR takes them out of the game. But as always, the temptation to just try to force the issue fast by charging straight up the gut is hard to avoid. (Avoid it! Ignore the temptation!)

Either way, Silence that Gun is just damn fun to play!

Four scenarios, and not a special rule or a significant change from SL among any of the choices. Each would allow the player to work on learning the new Defensive First Fire /Final Fire tricks, and the rate of fire with machine guns. One scenario introduced foxholes, one had dummy counters, another had a hero and two had hedges acting as bocage. Other than that, just plain old duke it out excitement!

The second half of the scenario pack for Paratrooper raises the stakes just a little with the addition of AFVs – that’s tanks to you folks. But first is the obligatory monster scenario – over 30 squads on two half boards in ASL 15. Trapped! is a scenario passed over by many thanks to the heavy number of SSRs – special scenario rules. An unusual two part scenario with seven turns each makes it a unique experience in ASL. Should the German win either of the two playings, they win the scenario.

ASL 16, No Better Spot to Die finds six American squads dug in and holding La Fiere against a regiment of Germans (13 squads) and a platoon (four tanks) of obsolete French Renault tanks that the Germans had put into service.

The trick here is anytime either side has less than half its original contingent of forces in good order, the best remaining unbroken leader must take a task check. (Pass his morale.) If he does not, a truce is ordered, ending the game! Thus, meeting the victory conditions is not only important at the end of the game, but at every moment OF the game! This makes this scenario a wild fight, and many times it hinges on a leader passing his task check!

ASL 17 is back at Mere-Eglise. This time 19 German squads, half ok and half poorly trained and armed conscripts backed by a Marauder and two Renaults are trying to force their way back into town, but eight American squads are dug in and ready. The Germans win instantly if they control four buildings – but lose the moment they have less than 9 unbroken squads. So this can be a tricky scenario. Fun to play, though.

ASL 18 is the joker in the deck, however, with all four boards in play and 12 turns of time. The Germans start immobile, but once released, they win by exiting forces off the south end of board 24. Despite all the tricky rules, this one is actually fun to play, coming down to the last possible chance to win 11.5 turns later!

The Results

In the end Paratrooper succeeds for exactly the opposite reasons of Beyond Valor: unlike BV, Paratrooper is short, sharp and straight ahead. No special rules, no trick plays. Just good old SL gunning. Unlike BV, there are no chances for monster stacks, and no dense four-board missions in the heart of the concrete jungle. But it works. The scenarios are clean and well developed, and fast play means multiple tries to figure out the key to success. Almost 20 years later, they are still trying to find the key – and having a great time doing it!
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Ruben Rigillo
Italy
Roma
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Wonderful review!
This is one of the (just) two modules I owe (the other is Partisan).
The way you go through the Scenarios is the best point!!!
It's not so easy for a newbie to understand how a Scenario could work at a first glance.
Great help!
Thanks.
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