The Christmas elves at CH have been busy this holiday season and have brought us Kursk-Devil's Domain and Peleliu: White Beach One just in time for Christmas! My copies showed up yesterday, and I've spent all of 40 minutes looking at the new products, so this is in no way a review. Instead, I'd like to share my first few preliminary impressions.
First off, let me say that I understand ASL is a niche hobby. Anyone producing stuff for it is participating in a labor of love and not a business that's going to bring them wealth and fame. So, I try to give all those people the benefit of the doubt. If a few words are misspelled, if the grammar isn't perfect, if a tank is identified as a Panzer IVH instead of the correct PzIVJ because you couldn't justify the cost of a $300 reference book, that's completely understandable to me. Every time I comment on an ASL product, that's in the back of my mind and I hate to be overly critical.
That said, ASL is a game of details, and when those details get neglected, it can lead to a lot of questions and clarifications. Unfortunately, I think both these new CH products fall into this category: they look like real labors of love, with attractive maps and interesting situations. However, even a quick examination of both Devil's Domain and White Beach One seem to show a lack of development and polish such that I can only recommend them to people with a deep interest in that specific historical action. Again, I hate to be critical, but a) it's somewhat frustrating to see so much time and effort short-circuited and b) it's really frustrating that, based on CH's track record of doing this, I volunteered to help proof-read for both these, but never heard back from anyone.
Let me move from abstract rant to two specific examples. Peleliu, for instance, is an attractive product with eight scenarios that all look interesting, a large HASL-style map, and a 12 page booklet with new terrain, rules, and historical commentary. Great stuff, until you actually start reading the commentary. Due to the multiple repeated sentences and slight incoherence, I assume it's a cut and paste job that was never edited. For example, in the section 'The Imperial Japanese Navy,' you read "While the IJA fought for the beaches the IJN units having built the airfield and assigned to the island much longer than the IJA controlled the airfield area." Later in the same paragraph, we learn that "While the IJA fought for the beaches the IJN units having built the airfield and assigned to the island much longer that the IJA controlled the airfield area."Other sentences don't repeat but still require repeated reading to puzzle them out: "Although they did have improvised explosive devices, which are more reflective of a set demolition device, as they were command, detonated."
Now, it's true that this is just the historical commentary. In a sense, it's just a bonus, and certainly any problems here won't affect game play of the scenarios. Unfortunately, some of the new rules and scenarios have similar puzzling issues that would appear to require emails to the designers to sort out. Again going with Peleliu, rule 5.3.1 states that Marine 7-6-8 squads may deploy in their RPh by passing an NTC even if no leader is present. 3-4-8 half-squads can freely recombine, and the Deployment limits of A2.9 are increased from 10% to 25% for this squad type. There's even a historical footnote to justify the SSR, explaining that these Marine squads were highly motivated and trained to split into fire teams. Great stuff!
However, let's take a quick look at G17, the standard ASL rules for the Marines. The stuff covering Marine squads is exactly a half page long, so it's not as though there's a ton to look over. A17.11 already allows 7-6-8s to Deploy in its RPh by passing an NTC or during set-up with no limits at all. So, 100% of the Marine 7-6-8s could Deploy pre-game if they wanted, not just 25%. A17.15 mentions that these 7-6-8s are the standard Marine squad for all actions 4/44 and later, and since Peleliu takes place in 9/44, it would certainly seem as if the CH 7-6-8s and the standard ASL 7-6-8s are the same squad. The CH SSR seems to be trying to give the Marines a bit of historical flavor but is blissfully ignorant that this is already covered in the core rulebook.
The problem here is that the mere presence of an SSR like rule 5.3.1 with the deploying Marines, greatly strengthens the case of those critics who argue that CH designs mainly for their ATS line and then converts the scenarios into ASL without a great deal of playtesting and via someone who may or may not be conversant with ASL. I'm agnostic on that debate myself, but rule 5.3.1 does really make me wonder if the skeptics are right. If CH does have a good explanation for this apparent lack of knowledge about a fairly basic Marine nationality trait, I'd love to hear it.
At any rate, I mentioned above that I didn't want to get overly critical, so I'll attach a list of questions/clarifications I have so far below, and end here. Again, I'm sad to say that there are enough little flaws here that I can't recommend these products to most people, but if you like playing on attractive historical maps or have a strong interesting in either Kursk or Pelileu, these look worth checking out.
Thanks for reading,
Rule 3.2 reads that "trenches are equivalent to woods for both rout and rally purposes (e.g., units in a trench receive a -1 DRM to Rally attempts)" The -1 DRM is already a standard rule (A10.61). Is it your intent that trenches be treated as woods per A10.51 Direction, and that units can therefore use them as rout targets?
Per rule 9.1 Civilian Interrogation is NA. Does that mean that standard Interrogation does apply?
Rule 9.12 discusses A-T Ditches. By SSR they may set up HIP and any AFV entering a hidden A-T Ditch is automatically eliminated. However, per A12.33, all fortifications always set up HIP. Is that part of the SSR redundant? Also, per A12.33 any fortification is revealed once an enemy unit is within 16 hexes and has LOS. Given that none of the scenarios appear to take place at night, I don't see how an AFV could ever move into a location with an HIP A-T Ditch. What am I missing?
Rule 9.13.1 says that Fougasse FTs have an X10 number. The example in 9.16 says that Fougasse FTs malfunction on a roll of 11 or higher. Which is correct?
Rule 3.12 says that all ponds are treated as Deep. Generally in ASL, only Rivers have a Depth. Is there any affect on game-play to having Deep ponds?
Rule 3.24, same question as Kursk rule 3.2: it reads that "trenches are equivalent to woods for both rout and rally purposes (e.g., units in a trench receive a -1 DRM to Rally attempts)" This is already a standard rule (A10.61). Is it your intent that trenches be treated as woods per A10.51 Direction, and that units can therefore use them as rout targets?
Rule 5.8.1: should read drm and not DRM
Rule 6.7: same question as Kursk rule 9.1: Civilian Interrogation is NA. Does that mean that standard Interrogation does apply?
Section 8 of the rulebook says that "The Japanese force on Peleliu did not have access to standard mines; therefore minefields are not available in Peleliu scenarios." In scenario 1 Spitfire Three, the Japanese OB is listed as having 24 AP mine factors and 12 AT mine factors. Is this correct?
Scenario 6 Valley of the Dead. SSR 7 read "The Japanese player may secretly choose to receive an Offboard High Caliber Mortar. If the Japanese player chooses this option the Marine player may make a secret pre-game purchase" of various fortifications. If the Japanese choice is secret, how does the Marine player know whether to purchase fortifications? If the Marine player gets to buy the forts, are the Set DCs they can buy in addition to the DCs in the Marine OB or are they subtracted from that total?