The post is based around a 3rd party game module designed for ASL, I will be using the rather nice map, but tackling it with the counters and rules from another game system …. OST.
Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) is a WWII tactical boardgame published by Multi-Man Publications (MMP). Old School Tactical (OST) also covers WWII tactical at a similar scale and is published by Flying Pig Games.
The Steelworks, Colombelles, France, is a historically based ASL module published by Lone Canuck Publishing, who produce quality 3rd party material for the ASL system.
As a generalisation, a noticeable difference between the two systems is that ASL is far more detailed and it has a larger and more established order-of-battle as it has been around for many more years, whilst OST has shorter rules that are easier to assimilate. Both have their fans and this article is in no way suggesting that one system is better than the other, it is just a case of playing with the kit that I have and hoping to enjoy another product that I took a shine to.
There is a link at the foot of the post in the ‘Resource Section’ of a replay of a Stalingrad scenario, which describes the ebb and flow of OST play. There is also a link to an ASL Starter Kit replay post which does similar for that system.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
I recently noticed that Second Chance Games (UK) had newly arrived stock of ‘The Steelworks’, an ASL historical module containing a nice looking large map, special rules, historical background, some ASL counters and five scenarios - at £19 plus postage.
Although I don’t have ASL, the map and situation looked very interesting and so I took a gamble and ordered it, hoping that with some tweaking, I could get my OST system employed on it.
Anyway, what is Steelworks all about? Colombelles is an industrial town north east of Caen, with a large steel factory and importantly, very tall chimney stacks that dominated the landscape, giving the Germans significant observing positions.
So began ‘Operation Stack’, the Allied attack to deny these structures to the Germans.
Our module gives us five scenarios, covering actions involving both British and Canadians, between 11th July and 17th July 1944.
Above, the very nice map measures 35” x 27” and shows the dominance of the steelworks in the centre of the map (scenario 1, which I will cover today, takes place in the bottom right part of the map amongst fields). Main features are the steelworks, rail lines, a canal and fields - a mix of ploughed and with wheat.
Making it work.
Both ASL and OST are tactical games that use a similar scale and so without making too much fuss, it will be fair to hope that much of the module should at least be playable to me.
Things such as leaders and the morale system are quite different, but the point is that both systems have these things and can be used by their respective systems, so the bulk of what we want to do should work, whilst accepting that this package has been designed purely with ASL and ASL play balance in mind. In any case, having got this far, I am past worrying about that and just hoping for an enjoyable and engaging gaming experience.
However, there are some obstacles / differences that need to be thought out. Firstly, is the obvious one for any OST gamer, this is a mid 1944 British / Canadian attack against German forces and to date, OST doesn’t have a Commonwealth module (one is due as the next release), so the first compromise is to swap out the Commonwealth OoB for appropriate U.S. units on a squad by squad, tank by tank basis. It is what it is and I can do no more than look forwards to the Commonwealth release and perhaps do this all again when that happens.
Hex size, the hexes on this map are larger than the standard ASL boards, which is handy, as OST uses bigger counters. These hexes look similar to those used in OST games, so as in that game, the infantry have enough room and the vehicles are a tight fit.
Stacking is different in OST, with two squads, rather than three units being able to occupy a hex. We will just accept that for what it is.
Most of the hardware should be okay, but heavy machine guns may change things a little. In ASL they can dominate space and are very good as an area suppression weapon. In OST by contrast, the HMG can feel underpowered in that role, but again, I will live with the impact that may have on balance and just see where it goes.
OSG uses ‘Gut Checks’ (read Morale Checks). The good thing is, rather like ASL, they are made on a 2D6, so we should be able to map similar outcomes to those intended in the Steelworks module quite easily, though in OST, recovery back to good order is easier.
Gut Checks - I feel that an easy application of the rule will be to have all units in this conversion using a Gut Check value of 7, with the exception that all German 4-4-7 squads have a value of 8 (worse), we will just see how that goes.
Impulse Points - A little more creativity is needed to rate each side for ‘Impulse Points’ for the OST game. For my first time out with this, I am just going to use a fixed formula. Each side will get an automatic 2D6 per scenario. In addition, a side will get an extra +1D6 in any scenario in which they have tanks. They will also get an extra +1D6 in each scenario that their OoB has at least the equivalent of 12 full squads. So for example, in scenario 4, the Germans have 12 infantry squads and armour, so will start play with 4D6 Impulse Points.
OST have generic crews already built in to their weapon counters (such as mortars and anti-tank guns), so crew teams listed in the scenario will be ignored. Half squads however are retained, simply start play with a flipped standard squad.
Three of the scenarios have casualty based VP’s as part of their victory conditions and these are listed as CVP’s. For conversion, losses will generate the following CVP’s. A squad is worth 2, a ½ squad is worth 1, a sergeant is worth 1 and a lieutenant is worth 2.
Minefields appear in four of the scenarios. For every 8 factors (round down) of mines listed in the scenario, use one OST minefield counter. Additional mine counters will almost certainly need to be made by the gamer.
I will be using Vol II, the OST Western Front ’44/45 core module to meet most of the battlefield needs. For most of the scenarios I would have to make some additional home made counters to complete the OoB, which I am okay with. However, I own the full OST system, so will dipping into other modules to get some additional counters. For example, scenario 1 needs 2 x HMG for the Germans, but the core game only has one. I will draw the second one from my copy of Stalingrad rather than making one (though in truth, the HMG’s in this scenario go into pillboxes, so there isn’t a compelling need to actually have the second counter on the table - just assume one is in the pillbox).
Luck Cards - I like the OST luck cards, so we may as well take some OST benefits in this game to balance against some ASL bits that we will miss out on. At the start of scenario 1, each side will be dealt a luck card, in scenarios 2 - 5, each side will get two luck cards at the start of play.
Leaders - these are replaced on a one for one basis. ASL 7 and 8 value leaders will use a sergeant in OST, whilst a 9 rated ASL leader will be represented by a lieutenant.
Bangalore Torpedoes - Make up two counters or use the ones provided in the Steelworks module. They can only be used to attack wire or mines, not anything else that might be in the hex. It is placed into an adjacent hex, paying double the usual movement costs as though one was entering that same hex. If the placing unit survives any opportunity fire, then the ‘one use’ torpedo attacks the wire / mine counter on the +5 column of the Infantry Fire Table. Any ‘C’ or ‘X’ result will remove the wire / mine counter.
The module provides five scenarios and rates them as taking between 2.30 hours to 16 hours (for the big one, where the British get 32 squads in total) and I am hopeful those at the upper end of this range will play faster with the OST rules … but I am only guessing at this point.
Some of the scenarios end with only player 1 (generally the attacker) being able to use the final turn. The other player doesn’t get to go. Since OST is impulse driven, in those particular scenarios, in the last turn, player 2 will simply lose one of their impulse dice at the start of that turn before any are rolled. Also, in those same scenarios, OST rule 3 - ‘Extended Play’ is ignored and cannot be utilised.
Everything else looks pretty straight forward and there are 4 pages of rules and notes included in the module, so gamers can draw their own ‘work-around’ solutions that will best work for them.
Anyway, considering that Steelworks is a piece of work dedicated to ASL, after an initial read, I am still glad that I bought it and have not been put off from trying to apply OST to it.
Note - the above was written on the day of purchase, before any actual play, so here goes the first reality check of play!
Playing Scenario 1.
The whole point of the operation was to secure the steelworks and blow the chimney stacks and then leave! In Scenario 1, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) are initially tasked with capturing the crossroads east of Colombelles. Providing that the German do not amass 14 or more casualty Victory Points, the British win IF there are no good order German squads within 2 hexes of the crossroads.
This is the smallest / shortest scenario and only uses one corner of the full map. It should give a good idea as to how well a system translation will do. It is a night attack, with visibility down to 3 hexes.
Making it work:
The German 4-4-7’s will be second line rifle squads. The British (Americans by proxy) take 7 x 4-4-4 standard squads and 3 x 4-4-4 as half squads (flipped).
Below is an overview of the scenario area and the initial German defence. The Americans will arrive from the right side of the map. There are two pillboxes (dark green counters), which are machine gun nests and three German infantry squads which are spread out, but importantly, one section with Sergeant Vogel is located amongst some debris, behind a wall, near the crossroads. They have a PaK 40 anti-tank gun in front of them. This will almost certainly be where the German last stand happens, as the American victory condition is to clear the crossroads.
Since this is a solo game, for the three mine counters, I have selected 10 possible (likely) hex locations. When such a hex is entered, a D6 is rolled and on a 1 - 3, a mine counter is taken from the stash of three mine counters and placed there.
Below, as part of the set-up, each side gets a ‘Luck Card’. The Germans get ‘Steady under fire’ and the Americans get ‘Kill shot’. These can be used once.
The opening turn is awful for both sides, because their dice roll for Impulse Points gives really poor results (an unforgiving 2 for the German and 3 for the American). The Americans can only get three units onto the table, this is a serious set back for their time-table, in what I think is already a tight scenario.
As the game progresses, the Americans advance on a broad front, but put their leaders, each with two infantry sections and good weapons, out on each flank, intending to aggressively move these stacks and hook around to get behind the crossroads.
With the night putting vision down to three hexes and the enemy out of sight, the Germans use this time to spend their impulses trying to improve their positions (units can add a cover counter to their hex by rolling 5-6 on a D6 and paying an Impulse Point).
Above - First fire of the game comes on the German left. Sergeant Mattis’ team briefly come into view (out of the darkness) to the left hand MG nest, as Mattis tries to slip by. The MG fires, causing a ‘shaken’ test, but Mattis passes and moves on.
Above - to deal with the MG nest (dark green pillbox), two rifle squads, moving up the centre, manage to get either side of the pillbox and obviously want to assault it, but the Germans win the initiative - so get a chance to fire first and they inflict a ‘Broken’ test, which the rifle squad passes! The first squad assaults the pillbox and effectively locks it down with a Melee counter.
As Sergeant Mattis pushes deeper into the German positions on the American right, fire comes from the engine shed and he is killed and his leading squad is flipped for casualties.
Over on the German right, the second pillbox is also by-passed and so the MG team abandon the structure and try to set up in buildings to their immediate rear, but they are overwhelmed by American soldiers and locked down with a melee counter.
And then the most nail biting of ends ……. we are down to the last turn and the Americans must clear the crossroads if they are to win. They get lucky and receive a goodly number of Impulse Points - while the German’s don’t!
The Germans decide to hold their impulse points to make fire when the inevitable assault from Lieutenant Harris comes in on Sergeant Vogel's position (he is under the brown 'cover' counter in the below photo).
The Americans have managed to lock down the PaK 40 anti-tank gun and the MG from the pillbox by putting them into melee status (resolved at the end of the turn). Their only chance of winning is to move over open ground (1 impulse) with Lt. Harris and then assault into Sergeant Vogel’s location behind the crossroads (another impulse). The system only allows a unit to use two impulses for the likes of the main actions of move / fire / assault, but actions such as rally etc have no such restriction, though each still costs an impulse.
The Germans only have 2 impulses left. As Harris starts to move towards Vogel, the Germans use one impulse to fire on the Harris stack at two hexes away, with no effect.
They use their last impulse to fire on the Americans when they move adjacent and both Harris and his squad go shaken!
Oh no! that potentially stops the attack. The Americans only have 5 impulse points left and need to try and rally that shaken status off if they are to assault Vogel.
1st Dice roll, try to rally the squad …… fail, only 4 impulses left.
2nd Dice roll, try to rally the squad …… fail, only 3 impulses left.
3rd Dice roll, try to rally the squad ……. success, only 2 impulses left
4th Dice roll, try to rally Lieutenant Harris …. Success, only 1 impulse left
That final impulse is used for the squad to make an assault move into Vogel’s position, carrying Harris with them. The hex is marked for melee.
In the melee phase, all the melees are resolved, including the one just discussed and in truth, the only one that really matters. Harris gets lucky and they roll 11 in attack, which is typically a killer dice roll and so it is here. Vogel and his squad are removed from play, but it is simultaneous combat, so Vogel’s part of the fight must also be resolved, this causes both Harris and his squad to go shaken again, but it doesn’t matter, on the very last impulse / roll of the game, the Americans can claim that the Germans do not have a squad within 2 hexes of the crossroads - so they win.
That was very tight. During play, I didn’t think the Americans could make it in terms of movement and wondered whether as part of the conversion, a scenario might have to be extended by a turn or two, but I think that this gave such a tight game, that for now, I would be inclined to leave it as it is.
OST does have the variables of the Impulse Points, which are diced for at the start of each turn, so some unlucky rolls may skew our scenarios here, but in this instance, despite the very bad roll on turn 1, the Americans did quite well with gaining Impulse Points and were still able to pull a win - just!
There are plenty of variables between the two systems that can have an impact upon play. For example in the last turn as described above, the squad with Lieutenant Harris had a satchel charge, but they couldn’t use it, because placing it counts as fire, which of course costs an additional impulse and I wanted to use that for the assault, while with ASL, such placement simply becomes a natural consequence of moving and surviving defensive fire.
Thinking about it, the scenario only needs the area cleared of Germans, not the ground actually taken, so placing the charge was the better option anyway as it is more powerful than the squad assault (oops! I must have got a bit excited in those last moments). I also forgot to check on mine activations, so will need to remember that on future playings.
Anyway, the point is the conversion worked and gave a good game. It played faster than the ASL scenario stated, which is estimated at 2.30 hours, while my game came in at around 1.45 hours. There are some parts where you do have to work things out on the hoof and I expect to uncover more of these moments as I progress through the scenarios.
For example, the module special rules for MG nests say that when the heavy MG is removed from the bunker, it becomes a MMG. In OST that is harder to do because the HMG is inherently crewed, there isn’t a MMG, but there is an LMG, but LMG’s are not crewed, rather they are allocated to a squad. The way I got round this to keep in the spirit of the module was that when the HMG moved out of the bunker, I put an LMG counter on it and treated the LMG as a crewed device, so it behaves like the HMG but has a lower fire value. It can return to the pillbox and become a HMG nest again.
As a scenario, even though it is the smallest of the five in the set and uses part of the map that is away from the Steelworks, it gives a very compelling game. The night visibility of 3 hexes is a challenge for the Germans as they have relatively few units and will not get to see the enemy until they are close enough to manoeuvre for assaults. The German player will be heavily engaged with managing a finite resource and a defence that likely needs to slowly collapses onto the crossroads (I should have pulled back the squad at the engine shed to fall back on the crossroads).
The Americans have the numbers and plenty of equipment, some not that useful at night, such as the small mortars, but their main challenge is that they have ground to cover and are up against the clock and cannot really afford a cautious advance.
Regardless of my application with OST, having read through 'The Steelworks' by Lone Canuck Publishing, it is an impressive package at a good price and would be a great buy for an ASLer and I would think that if I can get a game in with OST, then those with the ASL starter kits could likewise enjoy this package, accepting that some tweaks and fudging would be needed.
I will continue to play through the module and may give an updated blog article if the interest is there.
As I said at the start of the post, I am not saying one system is any better than another, I am just having some fun with what is in front of me, so if you feel strongly loyal to one system or the other, then please keep any comments friendly.
My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.
An earlier post covering a Stalingrad game that gives an idea how the OST system runs. LINK
A post covering an ASL Starter Kit game, giving an idea of ASL flow of play. LINK