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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On The Road Episode 6: Advanced Squad Leader's Winter Offensive

Episode 6: Advanced Squad Leader's Winter Offensive 2017
Direct download

In this Episode, Sean and I travel to Bowie Maryland to check out one of the nation's premier ASL events.
We have a lengthy interview with Perry Cocke; one of the owners of Multiman Publishing who produces Advanced Squad Leader. We talk about ASL, other board war games, and the wargame industry. Perry goes over the long history of ASL and board war gaming.
A Big thanks to Andrew Hopson who takes over for Tyler in producing the podcast for a few months.

Twitter: @MitchWWPD
"Why We Fight" and "On the Road" Podcasts 


Perry said...

Thanks for interviewing me at Winter Offensive 2017 and posting the podcast. I had fun, and I very much appreciate your efforts at spreading the hobby. I also appreciate all the nice things you had to say about MMP and ASL.

In your wrap-up, you discuss the “design flaw” in the graphic presentation of ASL, mostly that the counters are too small and too plain to really catch on with today’s modern gamers. That is a legitimate criticism. While we do not today have any plans to change the counters, I am not saying that they will never change. The advantages of bigger, more colorful, prettier counters are obvious. However, I want to present some reasons why the counters are the way that they are.

Let’s start with counter size, which besides being “old fashioned” is also harder for old eyes to see and for palsied hands to manipulate. Squads, leaders, and support weapons are 1/2” squares, while guns, vehicles, and fortifications are 5/8” squares. Information counters come in both sizes.

There is a strong game-basis for having those categories in different sizes, so if we were going to increase the smaller ones, we would need to increase the larger ones as well. If we increase the counter size, we have to increase size of the hexes on the map sheets. Increased hex size, however, means that a given table-top area will necessarily represent a smaller area of the battlefield. That either shrinks the battlefield area, resulting in less room for maneuver (and a less fun game), or it increases the required table space significantly. Neither of those options is attractive.

Then there is the desire for counters that are more colorful and prettier. Please excuse my old fuddy-duddy (or “grognard”) thinking here, but let me sing the praises of functionality. The clean, crisp ASL counters (with a bigger font now than the original editions) pack a lot of easily identified information (once you know what to look for) into a little space. I believe you alluded to this in your wrap up, that players can know at a glance what a counter represents. I see that as a real feature (especially in big battles), not a bug; and it’s a feature that can get lost in the colors, pictures, and watermarks that make a counter pretty.

Then there is the whole legacy issue and the investment that ASLers have made in the system. Changing the size of the counters and changing the size of the hexes would throw out the window all the existing ASL counters and map sheets. The different sized map sheets could not possibly be compatible with each other, let alone geomorphic, and neither could the different sized counters. A new, modern counter design would also not be compatible with existing counters (as well as likely not being as functional). Adding only some additional color to the counters might leave them compatible with existing counters; however, the ASL-like counters that I have seen with additional colors just haven’t been that attractive. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but I am not sure it would be worth the effort.

And that is ignoring the potential outcry from the established player base if they have to replace major chunks of their collection. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to sell more redesigned stuff to that existing player base, but I want them to be able to continue to use the map sheets and counters they already have.
None of this is set in stone. The criticism that ASL counters are old fashioned and not attractive to new players is legitimate. But there are good reasons why they haven’t changed (other than a bigger font, crisper images, and a better die cut).

Thanks for listening.

….Perry (aka John Cox)

Mitch Reed said...

Thanks Perry! And sorry for the name slip... I will have to go back to listen to the Podcast to see when we talked about that. I now realize that making a small change would lead to a ton of big changes....

Mitch Reed said...

Also, I hate to make a plug here but if you like war games you have to check out Monty's Gamble Market Garden from MMP, which is in P-500 status now for $45, a steal for a classic.
BGG Page
MMP Page

Perry said...

Mitch, the name thing is only in the intro, not in the interview itself. Don't worry about it. And MGMG _will_ happen, almost certainly this year sometime. Hang in there.

David Garvin said...

Great interview.
As for the bigger hexes, etc, check out Deluxe ASL. It was an early effort to merge ASL with miniatures wargaming. Streets of Fire and Hedgerow Hell were the two releases. 3rd party products have also amplified this series. The hexes are larger and the use of miniatures for tanks is possible. The counters are the same for it, but as Perry stated: the counters may not appeal to those who game miniatures no matter how the counters would appear.

Great podcast!

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