I haven’t been writing on a regular basis lately. That’s because for the last eight months I have been re-consumed by an old passion.
That passion is called “Advanced Squad Leader”. Simply speaking, it is an old fashioned board game but that’s pretty much where the simplicity ends. It comes with rules that are as thick as a box file with a myriad of freely combinable (geomorphic) map boards and thousands of counters. To a lot of people, it’s the best system for simulating Second World War era conflict anywhere in the world.
This is not a blog entry about Advanced Squad Leader (“ASL”). As a matter of fact, I have another blog that focuses on ASL. If you are interested, message me and I will be happy to tell you about my other blog.
This is however, an entry about what I am learning about strategic thinking through Advanced Squad Leader.
Study the terrain
Every nooks and crannies in the terrain provides different possibilities: attack routes, hindrances, fire lanes, fall back positions & retreat routes. They present venues where you can divide up the defenders or channel the attackers. Strategy follows the terrain. I spent hours studying the map boards for a scenario before I setup the first counter. In the same way, time must be taken to study the business landscape before any resources are deployed. Winners are often those who see possibilities in the landscape that the competitors can’t.
Allow for setbacks
In Advanced Squad Leader as in real life, Fate has a hand even in the best laid plans. Winds might change, machines guns might jam and squads might decide they had enough and run. I have to plan for retreat routes where squads can safely rout to leaders who can turn them around. On the other hand, a puny antitank gun might pull off a critical hit and disable the tank that was hindering progress. A broken squad might decide to rally at a key moment and become a battle hardened team. I have to improvise on the fly. I have to allow for setbacks and opportunities.
It’s all about Costs and Benefits
Every choice in Advanced Squad Leader carries with it, benefits and costs. We pick our targets and our timing. We don’t shoot at everything that moves. Granted, if you decide not to shoot at an enemy unit, you might lose that chance forever but you are also open to even better opportunities that might come along .. and vice versa. There are times when we don’t shoot at all but choose to move into positions where we limit our opponent’s set of choices. Experienced players are great at calculating odds and making good decisions.
Never forget your Victory Conditions
Each Advanced Squad Leader scenario has a set of victory conditions that we have to meet if we are to win within a finite set of turns. It’s about time and space; it’s about speed and momentum. Sometimes you don’t have to kill the enemy but merely to blunt their momentum and to take them off schedule. There is a time to fight and there’s a time to run. There will be tempting situations and targets along the way and the winners are always those who never forget their victory conditions through thick and thin.
So tell me, is this not one of the best ways to train strategic thinking?
The side benefit and arguably an even bigger benefit to getting into Advanced Squad Leader is its top notched community of players. I have four ongoing games at the moment over the internet (much like people who played chess over snail mail back in the day). One’s a former tank driver for the US Army, one’s a retired US Marine, one’s a ambulance driver in Belgium and one’s a musician in Finland. There’s an aircraft engineer who makes dice towers and mapholders for other gamers. There’s a couple in Ottawa who sells gorgeous “battle dice” – special precision dice for Advanced Squad Leader. This afternoon I was debating some of the game rules with a lecturer at a Divinity college in Switzerland. A kind chap out in California decided to send me all his Italian army counters just for the cost of postage (actually he chucked in a couple of major “extras” as well)! Another sent me the complete set of scenario cards from one of the “out of print” modules absolutely free just because he wants someone to enjoy them instead of having them sit idle on his shelf!
So it’s not hard to understand how I am drawn back into this game after 30 years. If I perked your interest and you’d like to learn more, please message me or leave a comment - I’ll be glad to take anyone down that fantastic rabbit hole!
- Curt Schilling (en.wikipedia.org)