Thursday, March 09, 2006

AOO Review

Zeb Doyle

Well, I finally received my copy of ASL's Holy Grail, and I thought I'd share my impressions for those who care.

When I saw AOO sitting on my doorstep, it generated a level of excitment equal only to my first purchase of Beyond Valor so long ago. At that time, I was able to buy the rulebook but then had to wait some time before I had the money to get Beyond Valor. The delay really built up my sense of anticipation and excitment, and the prolonged wait with AOO had generated similar feelings in me. So, as I tore open the packaging, I could feel vast new vistas of gaming spreading out before me, just like when I first broke the shrinkwrap on Beyond Valor. Then, as I greedily gazed over the contents of my AOO, the disappointment sunk in.

It was inevitable, I suppose. I've already seen and played scenarios on all the four maps contained within, the vast majority of the Axis infantry counters are quite familar, and the new rules and Chapter H notes can easily be integrated into my existing ASL knowledge. In short, I was completely missing the sense of magic and excitment that Beyond Valor provided me. It's one thing to open your first module marvelling over the myriad half-comprehended counters within and quite another to cast a jaded eye over a mixture of stuff you've already seen and stuff you can comprehend at a glance. The veil has been torn, an era has ended, the core ASL system is complete, and I'll never get a similar sense of wonder from ASL ever again.

Melodramatics and my inflated expectations aside, however, it must be admitted that AOO is a very solid core module, contains some pretty neat-looking stuff, and is a very satisfactory finish to the core ASL line. Contents include four nice maps most of you have probably seen already: board 48 (village crossroads), board 49 (rural board transitioning into urban), board 50 (big hill covered with woods and craigs), and board 51 (dense urban terrain). To add to the versitility of the maps, you also get three sheets of overlays, including hills and a very cool river. One minor complaint here; the three sheets could easily have fit more overlays on them. There's lots of wasted white space on the pages.

But enough of maps and overlays; every module has those. Let's move onto the things that make AOO unique: the complete Axis Minor order of battle. There's lots of interesting stuff contained here on six counter sheets. The core Axis Minor squads are unchanged, although there are now a few more distinctions in the nationality characteristics. The Romanians and Bugarians also now have access to a 5-3-7 squad, and the Romanians actually get access to ATMMs in 7/43, months ahead of the Germans! The Hungarians, meanwhile, not being turncoat traitors, get spiffy two-tone counters with German grey around the outside and Axis green on the inside. This, ironically, makes them look rather turncoatish.

It's in the Chapter H notes that things get really interesting. As you'd expect from the Axis Minors, there's a crazy assortment of different weapons from a variety of different origins and some very novel design ideas. My personal favorites are counters for the British OQF 4.5 inch howitzers that were captured at Dunkirk and then pawned off on the Romanians in 1943 and a Skoda infantry gun with interchangable 37mm AP and 75mm HE barrels. Apparently, the crew would simply change to the appropriate barrel depending on the target at any given moment. Given the level of detail lavished on most counters, it's a shame MMP went with generic light, medium, and heavy trucks. They could easily have spared us more Sturmtiger counters (I think we have more counters than scenarios to use them in now) and used the space to give us more interesting trucks. Again, though, this is a minor complaint; overall the Chapter H notes are amazingly detailed and very educational to read over.

Moving on the the scenarios, of which there are eleven, AOO does a good job of using all the new boards and counters. I haven't played a single one of these yet, but just based off the card and in chronological order we have:

Balkan Sideshow: 4/13/41, looks like a Hungarian river crossing against Yugoslavians. Ten turns, has cavalry, a Toldi I, some Csaba armored cars, and roughly forty total squads.

Out Of Cowardice: 4/13/41. More Hungarians thrashing the Yugoslavians, with the support of more Toldis and Csabas. Six turns, 25 or so total squads, this is the smallest scenario in the pack by far.

Liberating Bessarabia: 7/5/41: Romanians attacking Russians in an urban setting. Eight turns, 25 total squads, and a bit of an armor battle with both sides getting some tanks. Another smaller scenario, as far as this pack goes.

Cautious Crusaders: 7/23/41: Slovakians making a rare and brief visit to Russia. Nine turns, 45 squads, bicycle troops, OBA, and a brutal battle for a railway station make this one look fun.

Huns Of Steel: 7/18/42: Hungarians, as you'd guess, trying to smash a Russian bridgehead. Nine turns, 38 total squads, and what looks like a pretty nifty armor battle, with some Panzer IVF2s up against Valentines and Stuarts. Cavalry and motorcycles also involved.

The Sixth Blow: 7/12/44. The Russians are now on the attack, aided by some partisans, and are up against Hungarian cavalry and a very tough bunch of Germans. Nine turns, 48 or so squads. Looks way cool, with Panthers and SU-85s slugging it out, while the Hungarian Csaba (yes, the same exact ATR armed model used in the 1941 scenario to overrun Yugoslavians!) goes running for a flank shot....or maybe just running.

With Tigers On Their Tail: 7/23/44. More attacking Russians, this time chasing down some Hungarians who get some Tigers to cover their retreat. Eleven turns, forty total squads, seems interesting. Fighting retreats are always fun to play.

Downsizing The Uprising: 9/9/44. Germans trying to hold off some restless Slovakians. Nine turns, 52 total squads, and finally the answer to the question that has plagued ASLers for decades: if a big group of 3-4-7s and 3-3-7s attacked a big group of 4-3-6s, who would win?

Ancient Feud: 10/11/44. Romanians attacking Hungarians in an attempt to grab territory for the post-war era. Eight turns, 28 squads, and a fun looking armor battle that has never before seen matchups of tanks with crazy names like the 40M Turan I (r) facing down the TACAM R-2 (f).

Return To Sender: 10/14/44. A big group of German-trained Bulgarians turn their rifles (and 105mm OBA) on a group of the SS Prinz Eugen Division. Ten turns, 44 squads, 88Ls trying to retreat from Ploesti, and six PzIVs in the hands of the Bulgarians make this one look very fun.

End Station Budapest: 1/1/5/45. Hungarians and Romanians face off one last time. Ten turns, 54 squads, all engaged in a dense urban slugfest.

That's it for the scenarios. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the package also comes with some replacement counters for past errata and some new rules pages. These cover Human Waves, Bicycles, and Platoon Movement. This last topic, as anyone else on the ASLML knows, has the potential to end Western Civilization as we know it, but I'm still very happy MMP put out some better platoon rules.

Overall, AOO is a module very well worth getting. There are five scenarios I really want to play (a high ratio for me), some important rules changes, a really high-quality addition to Chapter H, and lots and lots of new tanks and guns and toys. The boards are also of high quality and have already inspired some good scenarios. All in all, AOO was worth the wait. I'm still never going to get that Beyond Valor ASL feeling again though!

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

David (kerneld) Stanaway said...

Argh, spam again. Sam or someone please put that annoying squigley word verfication thing on this blog :)

I am very happy with my AoO, and agree with Zeb, that it is not the same as opening Beyond Valor. One thing I think Zeb missed is that the Hungarian two-tone OOB does not come with concealment counters, so you need to use German ones I guess, just be careful they aren't the lavender ones. Also, some counter errata. The Hungarian vehicular crew counters were misprinted as 1-2-7s they should be 1-2-6s like the rest of Axis minor.