I've now reviewed the 'big four' - Germans, Russians, Americans, British and Commonwealth - and the Italians and Japanese modules have been out of print for a very long time, so I don't have them to review! I have managed to get my hands on the French though, so my ASL module review series will continue with them.
It's quite a thin box, isn't it...
Thanks to peterk for the images used in this review
Croix de Guerre (CdG), like Yanks, is an original Avalon Hill (AH) product. Unlike Yanks, it's quite small, even though like Yanks, it ships in a box that is wider than the MMP boxes, and contains older counters. Th box is slimmer than Yanks, and slimmer than all the other ASL modules. It is a small module in other ways, too, containing only two maps, three countersheets and eight scenarios. Even though you don't get a lot, prices for the French module are quite reasonable when compared to other OOP stuff, so the limited contents won't chafe quite so much when you open the box.
Everything I said in my Yanks review about crumbling counters applies here, which I'll quote for a sense of completeness:
My Yanks review wrote:
The other thing about the OoB is that it's the old Avalon Hill counters. The text is smaller, and the counters are often not square as die-cutting machines were less accurate in the 1980s. This is not necessarily a problem; you really won't notice the difference in play, but it is worth managing your expectations - the counters are not quite as nice as the new MMP ones.
Another thing is that these counters were printed in 1992, and may have been slowly decomposing in warehouses/on store shelves/in some guy's cupboard for decades by this point. My copy arrived with the die-cut edges degraded. I don't want to make too big a deal of this - my counters are completely serviceable, both from Yanks and Croix de Guerre. All that happened was that a tiny sliver of cardboard near the edge of the die-cut had dried out on most counters, leaving the edges brittle, and with the individual sheets of paper that had been laminated together to form the cardstock slightly separated and visible.
On the worst ones, all this took to fix was shaving the tiniest bit of the counter off with an Xacto knife, so it's not a big deal. The main problem is that there are a lot of counters, so if a lot of your counters are thus degraded, it will take time to fix them all. In old AH style, some of the counters are also attached along the edges of the counters rather than the corners, so you'll get some odd edges on occasional counters.
That's one hell of a confusing Order of Battle...
The French OoB is very small by comparison to the others. Partly this is because it only represents two years worth of fighting - 1939-1940. French forces after 1940 are represented by British and Commonwealth counters, while Vichy forces remain blue.
The module also ships with a bunch of counters in American and British colours - these are French weapons re-coloured to avoid identification problems when playing as the Free French. Free French OoBs use both British and American weapons, so you need appropriately coloured French vehicles so that you don't accidentally reveal information about concealed units if the concealed counter slips a little bit. At least that's the most convincing reason I've heard thus far for offering a 1940 French vehicle that was never used by the Americans in American colours...
The Free French additions to the British lineup make little sense to me, though most veteran ASL players accept them, which means I might have missed something. I still don't understand why you couldn't just give Free French forces blue vehicles and remove captured use penalties via nationality rules or SSRs, and thus have left these odd counters off the counter sheets.
The French OoB is small enough that storage is for once quite easy. They only take up half a Hozan, and leave the other half for the Allied Minors (who are a bit of a squeeze, but do fit). I have stored the US and British coloured vehicles with their same-colour OoB, as I imagine when I use them that will be the place I am most likely to look. Time will tell if this is a clever storage option or not. One thing I do note - the French squads, leaders and half squads are identical, stat-wise, to the Allied Minors. It might have been a smart thing for MMP to have simply added the missing French vehicles to the Doomed Battalions III (DBIII) counters, in Allied Minors colours, and rolled the French OoB entirely into the Allied Minors OoB. This would have caused some problems (What if Allied Minors fought against the Vichy French?), but might have solved a few too (like the unavailability of the French, for starters).
The Scenarios in CdG are of a later vintage than Yanks, even though they are both original AH boxed sets. Like Yanks, it's a mix of scenarios. ASL75 Strangers in a Strange Land is seen as a classic, is quite short and has the French on the attack, and only has two tanks and the rules for Ground Snow standing in the way of its noob friendliness. Le Herisson is the other classic, and at 5 hours is also quite noob friendly, and the inclusion of the German self-propelled artillery and the complications of building and gully LOS make it quite a good one for getting to grips with a few full ASL concepts without having to delve into Off-Board Artillery (OBA), night rules or the full suite of armour rules. The others are a mixed bag, though I will say they all look interesting. There's at least one Vichy vs. US scenario, and one French vs. French. But they are all long, which limits their utility somewhat.
The maps, like in all AH releases, are on cardstock. There are no printing problems with the CdG maps that I know of. I've said before that I prefer the crisp, light-weight Starter Kit style maps. As with Yanks, I bought individual maps from MMP to replace the cardstock ones from CdG.
What are these overlays all about?
CdG also includes a page of overlays - printed terrain sections that are placed on top of certain hexes at setup, and replace the terrain in that hex for the duration of the game. Overlays seem to have come into the ASL system with the desert module, West of Alamein, where they were used to represent desert terrain in a flexible way. They were used again in the PTO modules Code of Bushido and Gung Ho. The first ones specifically for use in European scenarios came with Action Pack 2. Since then they have been added progressively to the system with each release.
I am ambivalent about overlays. Veterans swear by them, arguing that with tiny changes even old, stale board can become interesting again. But scenario designers have begun to use them ubiquitously. Even brand new maps that have never been used before ship with scenarios that modify them with overlays (The fantastic new board 60 from Action pack 7 is a great example - all the scenarios that shipped with it put overlays on it, despite everyone raving about its uniqueness in the ASL system!). For new players, the impossibility of getting your hands on them will immediately render a large portion of your collected scenarios unusable. The addition of overlays to ASL just adds another layer of dependencies to an already hypercomplex system. MMP have promised an overlay pack, which will alleviate this problem substantially, but until then I will remain ambivalent about them.
The overlays in CdG are some of the most frequently used in the system, especially the five "OG" overlays (open ground of varying sizes) and the three "St" overlays (Streams). Just having those overlays made half the scenarios I wanted to play but couldn't suddenly playable. The "X" overlays (buildings) are also really frequently used, and handy to have.
Dependencies are getting complex!!
Yanks and For King and Country II (FKaCII) both had dependency issues - Yanks needs Beyond Valor III (BVIII) and FKaCII. FKaCII needed BVIII, Yanks and DBIII. Being produced quite late in the piece, CdG needs quite a few maps, orders of battle and other components.
The scenarios have the French opposing the Germans, Americans and themselves, so you'll need at least BVIII, Yanks and FKaC. Boards 2, 4, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 28, and 29 all make an appearance. These are all in the three modules just mentioned, except for the desert boards 25, 28 and 29. These came in the defunct module West of Alamein, which is widely unavailable and probably not worth buying just for the desert rules. Even if you don't have the British OoB you're probably better off getting FKaCII.
You also need overlays Hi1-3, which came in Action Pack 2, which is almost completely unavailable and laughably expensive. Luckily these combined dependencies only obviate one scenario - ASL81 Fratricidal Fighting, but it does show you how complex ASL's inter-module dependencies became, especially towards the end of ASL's time at Avalon Hill.
CdG is one of my favourite modules thus far - probably a close second to FKaCII. Given what I've said about it above, that might seem odd - it's a pretty messy module! There are things I forgive CdG that I criticized in Yanks, too - the size of the OoB and the small number of scenarios. CdG also has two other drawbacks - the complex OoB and the overlays, which as I've said above, I'm suspicious of.
So why am I willing to forgive it these flaws? Well, firstly the price. it's cheap at second hand prices, even when compared to the newer mega-modules. The overlays included open up a variety of scenarios that I've been wanting to play but couldn't thanks to their unavailability. The scenarios are also a bit better at first blush than those in Yanks. By the early 90s, scenario designers appeared to have found their stride, and the represented situations, complexity and game lengths all seem to have hit a sweet spot. CdG benefits from that, as it's scenario mix has a variety of interesting situations, many are novice-friendly if not noob-friendly, and the longest scenario there is only 10 hours, which is comparatively short!
Still, CdG is not without its problems. I just happen to think that the benefits far outweigh the costs in this case. I would strongly recommend CdG to new ASLers.
+ Strong scenario mix
+ Much-needed overlays
+ Cheap for a 2nd hand module
- (possibly) needless complexity of French OoB
- Minor dependency issues
- Older counter design + quality
Links to my other ASL Noob Reviews:
Beyond Valor III
For King and Country II
Doomed Battalions III
Armies of Oblivion
The ASL Noob Review Index Geeklist