Operation Veritable HASL
The aims of this article are twofold; to briefly summarize the portrayal of Canadians in Advanced Squad Leader to date, and to provide a detailed review of the first module specifically dealing with Canadians, in order that prospective buyers might make an informed opinion on whether to include it on the shelf of their hobby room.
Background: The Canadians in ASL
The Canadian Army's participation in the Second World War has often been viewed as merely a component of the British war effort. That portrayal in ASL has been no different, and in terms of a tactical wargame, one can forgive this outlook. The only special mention Canada gets in the first four chapters of the ASL rules are in rule A25.4, which rather inaccurately states "Guardsmen, Gurkha, ANZAC...and Free French/Polish forces should generally be regarded as elite troops, as should Canadian units - all of which were composed of volunteers rather than draftees."
The webmaster sent in clarification on this point in the form of an article, subsequently published in ASL Annual (an annual/semi-annual offshoot of The General magazine) which discussed the historical makeup of the Canadian Army and how ASL portrays Canadian soldiers. Still, no "official" modules dealt specifically with the Canadians. The original Squad Leader series had extensive Canadian content in the Rogue Scenarios, but only in the most generalized manner. Specific battalion actions were not represented, and due to the limited counter mix of Crescendo of Doom, many weapons such as the PIAT or American-built tanks were not available; one scenario featuring the 4th Armoured Division had to use Cromwells ahistorically.
Interestingly, the genesis of the Campaign Game concept used in the HASL modules appears to be Scenario R220 of the Rogue Scenarios. This scenario, called CLEARING THE BRESKENS POCKET and played on 16 boards, was divided into three seperate "games" of 17 turns each, with each game connected to the others. The subject of the scenario was the actions of the Third Canadian Division during the Scheldt fighting. The sheer size of the scenario, as well as the fact that many of the boards were repeated in the configuration (meaning one had to have two copies of mapboards 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10), and finally the large number of terrain SSRs, probably resulted in this being a less than popular scenario.
The Historical modules for ASL (HASL) have proven popular, though the size of the mapboards have limited the types of battles that could be simulated. HASL modules tend to focus on small areas - Arnhem Bridge, Pegasus Bridge, the villages in Belgium where Kampfgruppe Peiper met their demise, or the Red Barricades Factory in Stalingrad. These small areas were fought over for days and sometimes weeks.
A different approach, called a "Historical Study" came to being; using different published geomorphic mapboards (and thus not being limited to actual terrain depictions), different areas of large historical battlefields could be explored. And so we have come to Operation VERITABLE, published in 2002.
The basics of Operation Veritable are available on the back of the box itself, or through the websites of those vendors selling the game. Officially, you receive
Prospective buyers will be curious about the details of these physical components; in detail they are as follows:
The historical write-up is a 12 page booklet, of standard 8-1/2" x 11" size (the same format as the old SL rulebooks), though the front cover is simply a black and white repeat of the cover box art (by well known historical artist David Pentland, who is no stranger to either ASL products, or tactical games in general, having done cover art for Battlefront.com as well for its Combat Mission series of wargames.) The back cover is a rendition of the mapboard, necessary for Campaign Game play.
The meat of the remaining 10 pages, including the inside covers, is devoted to several things. Firstly, a nicely written history by Ken Dunn with two well done maps and one historical photograph. There are no footnotes directly quoted in the text, however, the accuracy of the analysis is high, and the scenarios included in the game are placed in the proper overall historical context in this well written piece. Lacking are detailed situation maps or orders of battle for the divisions involved; however, these can easily be found in the standard reference works, including the book Rhineland by Denis Whitaker (a veteran of Operation Veritable, whose name features prominently in the historical write-up).
Also as a sidebar in this section is a very interesting piece on play balance and testing of one of the scenarios involving amphibious trucks.
Equally interesting as the sidebar are John Slotwinski's designer's notes, which include a list of references consulted during the creation of this module, a very nice touch which gives those inspired to read further an idea of where to start. Some interesting notes here also for prospective scenario and campaign designers, with a discussion of terrain and special rules, as well as balancing and playtesting.
The last two pages, penned by Kevin Valerien, are a discussion of Commonwealth "funny" tanks - the AVRE, Kangaroo, Crocodile and WASP, which played such an important role in the Rhineland fighting. While their worth on D-Day has been the subject of much discussion (as well as a comparison to the landings on Omaha Beach where they were noticeably absent), their importance after 6 June 1944 is often overlooked. This article gives a brief overview of what these vehicles were intended to do, and how they are portrayed in ASL, including their strengths and weaknesses and tips on using them successfully. Another sidebar discusses how special rules for bridgelaying were created for this module; a capability hinted at in Chapter H of the rules, but never formally fleshed out until this module took on the challenge.
This historical writeup is a welcome addition and hopefully will be emulated in future historical modules. The text is well written, and ties in the individual scenarios to the overall "big picture" without providing a lot of unnecessary detail. A nice set of references are provided for those interesting in studying further. The notes on game design are entertaining and enlightening, to casual players and prospective designers alike.
Countersheets are mostly duplicates of those already on inventory (either in West of Alamein, or its replacement module, King and Country, both of which provide the full British order of battle). However, there are some subtle differences and additions. The main addition is the introduction of the Sturmtiger (with its 380mm MA), not previously covered in ASL. It is introduced here with Vehicle Notes and counters. A variety of extra AFV counters are provided for the Germans, mainly duplicates of commonly used tanks and also some AT guns. The Commonwealth AFVs provide enough Kangaroos to "lift" an entire company of infantry, with some extra WASPs, Shermans and anti-tank guns. Cellar counters round out the 5/8" counter sheet.
The 1/2" counter sheet are largely duplicates again, however, the German counters have red ID letters or names on them, which is important in distinguishing parent formations in the Campaign Game (units of the Panzer Lehr Division are treated differently in certain CG rules and need to be separate from other German forces). A set of British/German control markers are also included as well as additional Canadian MMC, SMC and SW counters.
There are two elements to this module; the "mini-CG", which is a series of scenarios played on a historical map of the actual terrain, with the scenarios being linked to each other to portray the experience of the same units fighting over an extended period of time, and the printed scenarios, which cover situations encountered by many different units belonging to different formations, fought at different times and places throughout the operational area. These scenarios are played out on geomorphic "generic" mapboards from previous modules and not on a purpose made rendering of the historical terrain.
The intention of these stand-alone scenarios is to give an idea of what the fighting was like in different sectors of the Veritable front at different times. The scenarios (and the rulebook chapter included in this module) are numbered sequentially to the first two historical studies done by MMP, and therefore, do not start with the number "1". For this reason also, there is no chapter divider, one drawback to this offering. (The first two historical studies deal with the Pacific Theatre.) The scenario titles are traditionally tongue-in-cheek punny in some cases. One scenario is a reprint of a previously published Deluxe ASL scenario, with updates.
The following chart will give an idea of how much historical ground is covered, as well as identify which boards a player will need to have in his possession before being able to play the scenario. (The latter information is identified on the back of the module box, incidentally). Map "RR" is the historical map included in this module.
The map is useful only for the "mini-CG" included in this historical study. The map itself is un-mounted and artwork is adequate; the terrain is slightly rising farmland and not dynamic in the manner of the HASL modules to date. However, it is the only map included in the game based directly on the actual terrain fought over.
The rules for the campaign game seem well researched and written. Particularly interesting are some of the historical notes which add much in the way of historical detail (one might call that "chrome") and which suggest a deep understanding of the subject matter.
For example, Kangaroo APCs are all "Recalled" as soon as they drop off their passengers - an excellent way of simulating the actual tactics employed by the Kangaroos and reflecting the fact that they were not attached to the infantry units they "lifted" into battle and were under orders to remove themselves from enemy observation as soon as their task of moving the infantry forward was completed.
Another example of solid research are the rules for Canadian reinforcements. Unlike the ASL rulebook, this module notes that Canadian reinforcements by 1945 were not all volunteers, and very elegantly reflects this fact in the reinforcement mechanics, which are fully explained in the text of the rules.
Unlike previous Historical ASL modules, there is only one Campaign Game provided (Red Barricades had three different CGs possible, for example, using the same map). However, since this is only a "historical study" and there is so much value in the printed scenarios also included in the same box, one is inclined to accept MMP's self assigned description of "mini-CG."
As the first "official" product dealing specifically with Canadians, one can't imagine a more satisfactory set of components. Replayability may be somewhat low given the single CG included, though the large number of printed scenarios do increase the value of this module considerably. What is offered is a well researched and playtested set of rules, including a new addition to the German AFV pool in ASL. One doubts this will become a classic on the order of Red Barricades, but the situations crafted in this module are balanced and fun to play, and nicely set into context by the historical writeup and well done scenario cards.
One hopes that MMP will put out more historical studies of this quality. An offering on Ortona or Groningen would be especially welcome and probably have a much higher replayability value than Operation Veritable. Nonetheless, this is a unique offering and as worthwhile as any of the Historical ASL modules to come to print to date.
Final Note - VASL
A google search on "VASL" or "Virtual ASL" by Rodney Kinney will yield a very good freeware program that uses Java to allow players of ASL to play online, using virtual boards and counters. This program is supported by MMP, and requires players to own the ASL Rulebook as well as the scenario cards, but all other components exist in digital form. It is a great way to play ASL without having to co-ordinate having guests in your home, travelling to a stranger's home, or dropping in to the local ASL club. The board for Riley's Road (the campaign game in Operation Veritable) is part of the free download. The URL at the time of this writing is http://www.vasl.org