201: It's the Little Things that Count
Part 2: Strategy
Last issue, we discussed the need to consider the "little things" - to analyze what makes a good move, and what's a risky move. But those were all tactical issues. Today, we want to talk about strategy, and how it should decide which tactics you are going to use.
Tactics refers to the actual movements and maneuvers of the troops on the board. Since most players move and utilize pieces when they play ASL (at least I hope they do!) everyone has a grasp of the idea of "tactical" play. Whether they employ tactical skill is what these articles hope to achieve.
Strategy is another subject entirely. Before we can discuss tactics we must first discuss and understand strategy, because it decides everything you do in the game. Most importantly, it is decided often before you ever hit the first wind-change dice roll!
RULE #2: Deciding scenario strategy should happen before you ever place the pieces on the board.
As an example, think of it this way in a scenario where you are the defender of building on Board 3:
You make those choices based on your weapons, your squads, and the time factor.
Strategy applies to both sides. It means the choices you make of how you're going to proceed in a given scenario. As the attacker, you choose between a frontal assault in force or an end run. It might be you've decided on a slow advance with minimum losses, or a war of attrition, trading losses to try to stretch the defender beyond his limit.
The strategy you chose will decide the tactics you employ. But as that line implies, your choices must be made before you decide your setup - or you'll spend valuable game time trying to ready your troops for the battle they were not prepared to fight!
RULE #3: Whatever your strategic choices, make certain you've MADE them. Evaluate the situation, and DECIDE how you want to fight the battle.
Too many beginners, and experienced players too, just "go with the flow" If you abdicate your choices for deciding the strategy you wish to pursue, your opponent already has an advantage, because he will get to decide the pace of the game, and where the battles will be fought, and when. This is almost as good as that time-honored American Civil War example of finding your opponent's battle plans neatly wrapped around a package of cigars! In fact, you'd be better to do exactly that, since at least then they'd be your plans, not his!
"Well, great," you say. "Everyone always talks about strategy. How do I decide strategy?"
The first step sounds stupidly simple:
Corollary to Rule #2: Read the victory conditions.
As I've been stressing in this article, it is the little things that count. You'd be astounded how many times I've watched people lose just because they didn't pay attention to the VCs! Examples are easy: Rocket's Red Glare, a classic scenario (G6). The VC's say "American wins if he controls Q7 or O10 at the end of any PLAYER TURN."
So, if you're the defender, realize you not only have to protect the building, but the ADJACENT hexes, too. Why? As we showed in the last example, if you survive all the fire, there isn't much to stop you advancing into an ADJACENT hex. So, obviously, the hexes ADJACENT to Q7 and O10 have to be kill zones, don't they? Otherwise, you'll see someone advance into the victory hex if you let him live. Then it's 'game over!'
But I've seen more than one player, damn good ones, in fact, lose G6 just that way!
So the rule of thumb on deciding strategy? READ the VCs and DECIDE what you have to do to achieve your side of them - which often means preventing your opponent from achieving HIS side of them!
Let's use G6 as an example, with you as the Germans. To decide your strategy, you first look at where you set up and where the enemy sets up. Assess your situation, specifically, your troops, and consider the victory hexes, but also all of the hexes ADJACENT to those VC hexes, as well.
We've read the VC, so let's look at the forces, the map, and the scenario length.
German Advantages: Good Defensive terrain, compact area, good troops, good weapons - and a 9-2 leader! Also - HIP and Emplacement available for gun (if positioned in the right terrain). High broken morale, too - a good chance of getting back into the game quickly.
Quick quiz - what's the date? Do the German's have inherent PFs, and if so, what's the dr to get them? Or, if they are available, should you negotiate the right to use the optional rule to pre-allocate the PFs? (Again, little things that make a difference!)
So, once we've decided the German advantages, how do you decide where to spend your limited resources? Where those advantages are maximized. And to do that, it is good to turn the board around and see what your opponent has for advantages and how he might be planning to attack this problem. (This is often where beginners - and veterans! - go astray, in my opinion.)
American Advantages: Lots of troops! Lots of Leaders! Lots of Firepower - and it has lots of reach! (MMGs!) Plus some armored support! What more do they need?
Well, how about this thought?
American Disadvantage: TIME. With only 6 turns, they have to move. And with a morale of 7, speed can kill. You like something higher than morale of 7 when you are assaulting. Also, while the AFV is nice, driving armored vehicles into close quarters invites burning wrecks!
German Disadvantages: Limited troops, close quarters. (If Americans get into the town proper, they get the advantage of the good defensive terrain as well.) Big trouble: Sudden Death victory means BOTH VC hexes must be covered since there is NO chance to retake the hex. Also, bad news - the two victory hexes are not necessarily mutually defensive positions. So, to maximize the German's advantages? The goal has to be to slow up the American.
But remember, as the American sets up second and will fire first, the German can't expose themselves to the withering fire those 7-4-7's and their MMGs put out in a fire group!!
So, in Wellington's terms, G6 appears to call for a "reverse slope" defense, where you try to interdict the areas the American will have to cross rather than meeting him "up front."
Another consideration: You're (very) limited on forces, too, so make sure as you fall back you're not going to be channeled away from your defensive points. Meaning, for my money, don't hang too many units on the wings.
If that's the case, how do you hold the wings of the battlefield?
You don't – let him have them! Just make certain it takes him longer to try an end around than he has turns.
Go upstairs with a machine gun on the first floor, look to interdict those hilltops that he'll have to cross if he uses the wings for speed! From a first floor building, those level 1 hills are OPEN GROUND. Even an LMG makes life tough, and a -2 leader with a squad and a light, or better yet, with a medium or heavy MG, and those open ground hexes should become kill zones!
Knowing I hold the hills if I hold the level one buildings, I can worry less about o10 and more about the closer building. If he chooses the woods, then he has slower going still. And that's to the German's advantage, too. Again, I am also playing for time, the key factor in all scenarios.
OK, so where do I next want to make things tough for the American player?
To figure this out, again, it is important to look at things from the opponent's point of view. Where does the American set up, and where would I, as the American, want to be?
The American set up is scary for the German. The Americans forces can start in S1, T1, U1, V1 and X3, And/Or enter on Turn 1 on road hexes I1/Y1.
Whooo-boy. This will definitely be a nail-biter for the German!
Looks to me that as the American, my initial objective might be the stone building in S3. From there, I have a GREAT firebase, I can suppress all the fire in R5, and not have to stack everyone together to do it. In fact, it looks DAMN inviting – except that if I can see R5, he can see me, too. But, that's what they pay us the big bucks for!
So, back to the German side, how do I keep the American's out of the R3 building, at least for a few turns?
If it was only a matter of a very short time, you'd stack up in the S3/R3 building and say, 'Come and get me!' But could you also try to make it too hot to inhabit by targeting it with your 9-2 and a heavy in R5?
Umm - if you are upstairs, realize you'd be inviting an American kill stack to form in U1. Three 7-4-7 with MMGs is at least a 20FP hit on the upstairs R5 location - and they shoot first! If the Americans put ONE of their -2 leaders with it, it becomes a 20 FP +1 TEM. (What's that for a hit? Let's see - 10 +1 nets an NMC??? (Uh, that would be 1 chance out of 36 that they don't get at least a PTC!!! How does that sound to you? Now you see why I mentioned the 'reverse slope' concept of not exposing your troops to first turn fire?)
And if they get ROF on the MMGs, there's a follow-up shot of 12 +1? Trust me, if your 9-2 and the HMG goes down on the first shot in this scenario, it might be one of the few cases where you could extend your hand for a quick shake, and say, "OK, how about best two out of three?"
OK. Let's look downstairs instead in R5? Tell me - what is the month? Is the grain hindrance in effect, or not? (Ah, there's those 'little things' again!)
OK, if you don't like those options, what about using your big Gun to target the building, set up emplaced in non-open ground, it will be HIP. You could lure them in and ka-bang!
Or perhaps you'd like to make it hard to get into the building by laying a fire lane on the street in front from M5?
Or put the 9-2 and the HMG in R6 Lvl 1 - again, the reverse slope concept to avoid taking pre-planned hits.
All these are possibilities. But also be considering what if the big hit you planned doesn't work - what is plan B? Do I survive to DO Plan B?
The best thing to make that happen is consider when your troops break, where do they have to rout? That's the hex where the leaders need to be, to put the troops back together.
As you can see, you'll answer these questions differently than I, so our games will be different. These are the questions that decide the course of the game, because how you answer them will choose your strategy. Perhaps one time you'll try one method, and the next, another.
That's why ASL is so much fun, because in most scenarios, there are no perfect answers. It's a matter of what's comfortable for you. Play the game and see if it works! That's one reason ASL has such a draw.
But as you pplay, take home the lessons you learn, and try to improve your choices, rather than saying it was just "bad dice." Learn from your mistakes. Every game is different, but there are crucial details that are similar -- you all shoot, and you all take MC's. When and where you decide to do both of these things makes or breaks every game.
Pull G6 out, and do your own analysis. Then give it a try, and let me know how it plays out!
Sometimes your choices will work, and other times you'll have played into your opponent's plan. In any case, it'll be the things you do that make the difference! And as I said, it's the little things that count!