Sunday, September 9, 2012

Anniversary remembrances ASL 50 evolves to Memoir' 70

During the 50th anniversary years of World War II I made an attempt to play as many games of Advanced Squad Leader on or about the 50th anniversary date as I could. Most of my games were with my regular gaming partner, Carl N., but I got in quite a few with other folks as well.

In order to keep the number of games within a manageable number, I only played "official" Avalon Hill scenarios and made the rule that there would be no "going back," so if  a scenario was published after the date that it would otherwise have been played we didn't go back to do it.

Overall this was reasonably successful as a plan. We made it into the summer of 1944 by late 1995 when personal circumstances cause me to have to more or less abandon regular playing for  a while. We limped on with a few more games in the series over the next few years but eventually I stopped playing much ASL at all. Eventually I even sold off my collection. The only remnant of my ASL days is a copy of the ASL Starter Kit No. 1.

It was an entertaining project, but pulling it off was a product of a certain stage of my life where I had some stability in my schedule that allowed playing a fairly involved game like ASL on a regular basis. This was in my pre-Eurogame heavy duty wargamer phase when I turned down games of Axis & Allies because I wanted to spend my time playing real wargames.

Times change, and so do we, although sometimes in unexpected ways. I've never lost my love of playing "anniversary" games, although I've broadened the scope a bit. This year  is an especially fecund year for such anniversaries -- with the bicentennials of Napoleon's Russian and Spanish campaigns and the War of 1812, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War as well as the 70th anniversary of the World War II campaigns.

A 70th anniversary isn't quite as iconic as 25th, 50th, 75, 100th, 150th or 200th, but that extra five years between a 70th and a 75th anniversary is poignant because so many veterans who are around for the first are gone by the second, so there's an extra level of attention being paid to our vanishing Greatest Generation.

Memoir '44, as it turns out, first appeared almost 10 years ago as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Normandy. The 60th was notable because it was the last major anniversary when a large number of the veterans would still be with us and in good enough health to travel. An 18-year-old rifleman hitting the beach in June of 1944 was a 78-year-old man by 2004. By 2014 those young men will be 88 years old and by the 75th anniversary  in 2019 they will be in their 90s. If the experience of the World War I vets is any guide, there's some chance a single individual or two might make it all the way to the centennial, but odds are the Normandy invasion will have receded from living memory by that point.

But i have been trying to do commemorative games of Memoir '44, just as I did with ASL before it. I can't play as regularly as I did 20 years ago, and my focus is not so relentlessly devoted to wargames that I'll forego playing anything else. So I haven't tired to religiously play every single Memoir '44 scenario in order or on its anniversary. All that said, I have managed to be pretty close and are just a season behind, although I will probably not make an effort to go back and fill in any gaps.

My tastes have evolved over the years. As I noted, I actually sold off my ASL collection to raise some money and clear out storage space devoted to  a game that I simply wasn't going to play much any more. Memoir '44 was much more in tune with my current realities and interests.  They are, of course, very different games in many ways. Advanced Squad Leader is the byword for a highly complex and realistic simulation wargame -- while there are vociferous debates in places like Boardgame Geek over whether Memoir '44 deserves to be dignified with the title "wargame" at all!

My personal opinion has long been that any "simulation" claims for ASL were overstated. While highly detailed and exhaustively researched, the game system virtually ignores the two most pervasive aspects of tactical combat -- the fog of war and limited command control. Players in ASL have vastly more knowledge of the facts on the ground than any actual tactical commander did (not even excepting today's electronically enhanced 'Net-centric' warrior) and exact micro-managed control over their units. It was, however, and is an extremely engrossing game to play and does provide a tremendous amount of insight into small unit tactics and weapons of World War II.

Similarly, I think the simulation-based critics of Memoir '44 overstate the case against this wargame. The card-based game system does a lot to counteract both the player's God's eye view and a God-like control over combatants so that one can make a legitimate argument it's more like an actual command experience than ASL is.

Both games are very ambitious in scope, however, and both cover nearly every major facet of World War II combat, every theater and most major and quite a few very obscure parts of the war. As such, both are very effective educational tools and appropriate commemoratives for that conflict. The vast scope of World war II seems very unlikely to ever re-occur. Global world-wide war involving mass conventional armies and navies seems no more likely than seeing a a re-occurrence of Roman legions or fleets of sailing ships with brass cannon. There may be another global war, but its form will be utterly unlike World War II., for good or ill.

I'm two decades older than the young man who played ASL so assiduously  I'm just as interetsed in playing a good and enjoyable wargame as I was then, although admittedly more amendable to one that I can set up play and finish in an hour or two and doesn't require referencing a thick rule book every five minutes. Memoir '44 is more my style these days. But it is still a wargame.


  1. Right on. Anything that gives younger generations even an inkling of what their grandparents went through is a good thing

  2. Same as you was a die hard ASL player now 20 years later Memoir 44 is what I have time for..