Monday, March 07, 2011

The politics of ASL

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system. Also note:  This is satire!

This is my story, of course.  So I get to tell it the way I remember it.  Which is the way it happened.  Or maybe this is just the way I wanted it to happen.  You'll have to decide that for yourself.

It's one of those things we never talk about in the world of Advanced Squad Leader.  The real politique of the thing.  The world of ASL, ostensibly a world of middle-aged men play-acting as World War II commanders, is a labyrinth of deal-making, plotting, and back-stabbing.

It's been twenty years or more since any ASL championship was ever decided by the dice.  Most champions, and you'll notice I'm not naming names, are decided in a series of backroom deals between the various factions long before anyone ever lines up at the hotel buffet for opening day breakfast.

Evans versus Greenman, WWF 1997.  The daggers were out for this one.
Factions? you ask.  Oh, yeah.  There's the New York gang, with JR and Dr. Phil and GorGor.  There's the Ginnard Brothers out of Ohio.  There's the Colorado bunch, with Repetti and Snow and Hundsdorfer.  Tim Wilson and Tom Jazbutis kinda run free agent.  And there's a whole bunch of others, besides.  My group was the Berserk Commissars, coming out of Oregon.

The long and short of it is this:  ASL is a world of politics.  Pure and simple.  I'm not going to make any bones about it, and I'm not going to apologize for it.  When large sums of money are at stake (the purse at Enfilade back in the 90s reached $60 one year), there's not a man-jack among us who is content to let the dice have any say.

Skeptical, are ya? That's fine. I'm not asking you to believe me.

I got two stories for ya. 

Playing Jaren Wilson at WWF '97.  Poor kid!  He had no idea that the fix was in.

The first one is the story of my game with Jaren Wilson, which took place in Park City, Utah in 1997.  Jaren was a newbie; an inexperienced player.  We were set up to play a scenario called The Red Wave.  Standard German hedgehog defense against uncoordinated but numerous Russians.  1941.  Well, I "arranged" to win choice of sides through some intense lobbying of the tourney director, Tim Wilson (no relation to poor Jaren).  I chose the Germans.  The word on the street about Red Wave was that the Germans couldn't lose.

Then, we got to the game.  Well, imagine my surprise!  Jaren was under the illusion that, if he played a good game and had a little luck, he might win!  Gotta hand it to the kid.  He showed a lot of skill and imagination in pressing his attack.  At the end of the game, he had me all balled up in one or two stone buildings, just waiting to be overrun by his platoon of tanks. In short, he was about to win... and there were all kinds of reasons that that just couldn't happen.

And, of course, I had my contingency plan.  Before the tourney, I'd worked out an exchange of favors with Tom Jazbutis.  You know?  One of those "You help me; I help you" kind of gigs.  So, I shoot Jazz a signal and he comes and sits nearby all nonchalant.  Then, while poor Jaren is poring over the board, counting Movement Points, or calculating his odds of Bog, or something silly like that, Jazz slips me the "special dice."

From that point on, I never rolled higher than a "4."  It was the most amazing hot streak any of us had ever seen.  Poor old Jaren even laughed about it.  Tell you the truth, I kinda feel bad about it all these years later.

Backroom deal-making, WWF '95
The other story doesn't end so nice for me.   And this one will give you a better idea of just how deep the corruption goes.

This was in 2001, when the 2nd Edition of the rulebook came out.  Let me tell you, it is truly a testament to human persistence that the 2nd Edition ever made it to print.  All the lobbying and deal-making that went into that process brought out the very worst in most of us.  Bitter fights over whether or not immobilized AFV might be held in Melee by armed enemy infantry.  Vicious debates about platoon movement, LOS along cliff hex sides, half-level Height Advantage, Smoke Exponents for half-squads.

But I came away from the whole thing quite satisfied.  I had successfully lobbied Perry Cocke, the rulebook executor, to include language that made infantry crews manning Guns to be considered squad-equivalents.

You see, Dave Hauth and I were scheduled to play Red Barricades soon.  I was to be the Russians.  My plan for success involved buying howitzers and AT guns and artillery pieces and emplacing them in fortified Factory locations.

The deal with Perry would make it so that, in my game with Dave, he would be unable to advance his Germans into close combat with my gun-manning crews.

Months later, after the 2nd Edition was well-out and published, Dave and I had our game.  And sure enough, long about Day 4, the great moment arrived.  Dave had purchased Pioneers and was set to charge against my line of hidden Guns.  The day went back and forth, but as Fate would have it, the culmination came when Dave tried, on the last German player turn, to advance into a fortified building hex with my infantry crew and 76* howitzer.

"You can't!" I said.  "That hex is fortified and occupied by my Gun-manning crew.  That makes them a squad-equivalent!"

Dave calmly opened the Rule Book to page A11, rule 5.5 and read "...if an Infantry crew/HS is manning a Gun, it is considered equal to a squad for stacking purposes." As if to emphasize the extent of his triumph, he added "Stacking purposes only."

For a moment I was bewildered.  There must be some mistake!  Perry and I had a deal!

But then, it hit me.  Somewhere in some backroom of this Byzantium that I helped create, this thing we call ASL, Dave had cut his own deal with someone.  I'd been out-foxed and double-crossed.  He continued speaking:  "So, let's see, I advance in 3 Pioneer squads and a concealed 10-3 leader against your 127 crew.  Ambush roll?"

Numb, I dropped a die.  Dave went on:  "You roll 4.  I roll 2.  Minus 3 for leadership, minus 2 for concealment.  German ambush.  Odds are 25 to one.  I'll declare hand-to-hand." 

He dropped his dice into the tower.  I didn't bother looking at the result.  "Well-played," I said.  It was all I could manage.

I conceded the campaign at the end of the scenario.  No hard feelings.  Business is business, after all.

The politics of ASL, my friends.  The politics of ASL.


Jim said...

I've noticed the slight virtual bowing to Pokey, er, Perry Cocke in posts lately [along with the 'Perry Sez']. Wow - I've missed out on ASL politics all these years. :^] Since it is 'politics', I avoid it. Remember the Bad Old Days of the mid/late 90's, when AHasbro came down on all things TPP? That was went I slowly faded out of the ASL scene, a year or so behind the demise of KE [run by a HS chum].

For all you non-ASLer's out there: it's just more politics, only with little bits of cardboard, and less lofty egos.

Anonymous said...

It all makes sense now!

The reason newbies beat me is Politics!!!


Thanks for sharing, Dade. That explains everything!


M.Dorosh said...

Well written and entertaining.

Ralph said...

Hee hee. I'm a faction.

“Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without
which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to
abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because
it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation
of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to
fire its destructive agency.” James Madison