ASL 201: It's the Little Things that Count
by Russ Gifford

(Originally published in Sioux Empire ASL #7.
A different, though similar, version appeared in Critical Hit #2.)


Part 1: Tactics

I see beginning ASLers take their lumps and they frequently have no idea why things are going badly. Unable to fathom the reasons for their problems, they blame the dice. That’s the beginning of the end of a potentially good player in my book. When they decide the dice are the problem, and they can’t control the dice, then QED: they can’t change the outcome of their games. 

That’s like saying “I’m perfect, so it can’t be my fault. It has to be the dice!” Is that really true?

Accepting that you’re going to lose is not the problem. Deciding that you can’t do anything about it is the problem!

A grizzled old veteran of SQUAD LEADER (at least a three striper) told me when I started ASL, “If football is a game of inches, then SQUAD LEADER is a game of details. If you’re going to play ASL well, you gotta remember: it’s the little things that count.”

As with all advice, it is wasted on people who don’t know enough to grasp the valuable information they are being offered. But gradually, as the scratches on my win-loss record continue to mount, I’ve come to understand what he was trying to tell me. Best of all, I’ve learned he was right.

Yep. Occasionally, the dice will cost you some games. It’s a fact of life and ASL. What the Sarge was trying to beat through my thick skull was that while I couldn’t control the dice, I damn well controlled the troops doing the shooting and the moving. If I put them in harm’s way by overlooking “the little things” I could be certain that sooner or later the law of dice averages would cause bad things to happen.   

For example: moving in a stack when moving one unit at a time is appropriate. That’s simple, and everyone knows that, right? Then think about this – how often do you take fire when you could have avoided it, and still made your point? How many time have you Prep fired with little chance of success, when maneuvering to flank might have caused your opponent more difficulty? These are the things you need to master to play ASL.

Rule #1: The squad leader that pays attention to the details is going to win more games than an opponent that doesn't.

Let's make it clear with an example, using the known probabilities of any two-dice roll (DR). The odds are best that you'll roll a "7" anytime you toss two dice. We know that – it is a fact. So let's look at the IFT chart.

The "7" on a 4 IFT is a PTC. But take a single negative modifier and instead of rolling for a PTC, your opponent will then be rolling to pass a morale check instead.  (A ‘6’ on the 4 IFT is an NMC.)

So, it is your movement phase. Your 7-4-7 American Paratroopers are moving up on two German 4-4-7 squads in two adjacent locations. Your first squad has moved one hex, and you are now behind a building that you think you'd like to take. Currently, you are still out of the enemy LOS, but once inside the wood building, you’ll be in their LOS and within 4 hexes. What to do?

Most of the time, we all move into the building. We want the ability to take our Advancing fire, right? And we believe a +2 wood building is enough cover.

Think about this. Two standard 4-4-7 squads DFFing together is an 8FP column attack. If you non-assault move into a wooden building you could say you're asking for an NMC couldn't you?

How do I figure that? 8FP + 2 TEM -1 NAM = 8FP with + 1 modifier.  So, if they roll a "7" – best odds  – then  7FP +1 on the 8 IFT column is an NMC. And you are rolling for the difference between being ok, and being routed.   

OK, you say - if they roll a 7, I can too. Yes – but when you roll a 7 in response, your 7-4-7 is a pinned unit. In fact, out of 36 possible rolls, 6 say you are pinned, and 15 say you are broken, meaning 21 out of 36 chances that your Advancing Fire is worthless!

Though you'd like to think that + 1 TEM should be good enough, this should show that it is not out of line for the result to be a chance for a break.

I think of it this way - there's always that shot lurking around, where one pip difference will spell the doom of a poor plan and some good troops!

Minding the "little things"

Where do the details come into this example? Things to consider: Yeah, you want that four hex range to get your Assault Fire bonus. But halved for movement - 3.5 FP - and if you pin, halved again, gets you a 2 FP – not great odds.  (Takes a '5' DR to get an NMC – not counting their cover, which we haven't discussed!) Five to get a pin chance on them. Woo - big deal! What's their sniper number? Worse, if you didn't pin, you still only hit on a 6 or less. Wow. There's something to cause fear in a 4-4-7!

And if they are in a wooden building too, and you did not pin, you'd still need a 4, 3, or 2 to get a worthwhile result. Oops – on 2 you’ll cower off the chart! So, there’s two ways to get a 3, and three ways for a 4 – but one of those is a cower also, right? OK, out of 36 die rolls, you can get a meaningful hit on 4 of them – that’s an 11%?

But they have what percentage chance of hurting you? 21 out of 36? Almost 60% chances of hitting you. That’s a significant difference, isn't it? Exposing troops to potential breaking fire for no real gain is crazy.

Still think your dice are at fault?

Corollary to Rule #1:If you need to be extremely lucky, your plan isn't a plan, it's a prayer.

Can you see that knowing the details come into play in making this decision?

As I said, on that same example, if you roll average on an NMC, at worst you'll likely only pin. But I've found if you count on the enemy DRs to hit and your morale check DRs to fail, you can go a long way in this game. Every shot that doesn't break you is a joy and a treasure; every time you hit and break an opponent's squad is a godsend. Too, if you expect the worst it keeps you from getting too discouraged about "the dice" and you can worry about playing "the game."

All this is actually good news, because if we look beyond this example, what we are saying is the odds are in our favor if we play smart and remember "it's the little things that count."

Look at the details in the examples above:


If a 4+ 1 isn't a great shot, what is?


Where do the chances "even out" on the IFT?


What are the chances of a squad of getting a hit?


If you do get the hit, what are the chances of that shot breaking them?

Those are details of the game system, meaning "the rules." This is not only about rules, though: it's about tactics.

Knowing the rules decides what tactics you have available.

But you don't have to know all the rules. Every phase in ASL presents the player with decisions, and how a player responds to those decisions makes the difference.

The choice may be as simple as knowing when is the right time to stack a leader with a squad and when is absolutely the WRONG time! Knowing your chances will decide which squads are best to use prep fire to suppress the enemy, which squad should go into the street first and which should wait to cross after the first squad has drawn off some of the enemy fire. Sounds like real life fire and movement tactics, doesn't it?

Most of these points are so ingrained in veteran squad leaders that they never consciously consider them. This article is not for the vets, but the beginners.

With that in mind, let's look at this example again. What's the right way to do this?

There could be a good reason to move into the building if the range would be 4 hexes. Your paratrooper has an underlined FP, so he gets an assault fire bonus IF he is advance firing at something in normal range. 3.5 +1 Assault Fire bonus = 5 FP. If the enemy 4-4-7 was in the open, ok, it could be worth it. Better yet, if you could bring up at least one other 7-4-7 into an adjacent location, then yeah, it look’s like it might be worth the risk. You get something out of being able to fire in the advancing fire phase. 

If you have other units that might move to flank the 4-4-7's if they first fire, then yes, you get something by drawing their fire, no matter what the result is.

For example, if you moved into T3, and both 4-4-7's fired, they would be marked with First Fire. If you HAD more units, they could now run from T4 to U4 to V3 to W3 to W2 and into W1 with no risk!

But... do you have those units? If not, or unless there is a good reason to be in the building for advancing fire, consider instead moving behind the building in the movement phase, and waiting to enter in the Advance Phase can be a very smart move. 



Advancing in has some real merit.


You'll not give them a "free shot" in the Defensive Fire Phase.


Since they can't break you in Defensive Fire, you'll be a threat in their Prep Fire phase.


If they choose to shoot at you in the Prep Phase, you get the full  +2 TEM.


And if they shoot at you in the Prep Fire Phase, they aren't moving, and they aren't shooting at someone else!

This is even better if you started concealed. Advancing into the building - a non-open ground location - you'll KEEP the concealment! That's VERY nice, since their Prep Fire would be halved as well.

Even without the concealment, or the other squads, moving in during the advance might be more appropriate than risking the break. I mentioned the 'threat' your unbroken 7-4-7 portends to the enemy in his player-turn.

Corollary to Rule #1: In ASL, as in life, threats are often more powerful than the execution.

The threat of your 7-4-7 at 4 hexes during the enemy movement phase could change your opponent's plans, and that means he could make a mistake. Force your opponent to think on the fly. Put the dice in HIS hands - meaning, make him rely on luck, not you!

The above passages should help beginners recognize two aspects of ASL. They are the often mentioned but rarely understood concepts of strategy and tactics.

More on that next issue. Until then - Move out!

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