Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Game Review: Alien Squad Leader

Alien Squad Leader.  I have been talking about this game for some time now.  However, I have actually not given a lot of details about the game itself or why I think it is one of the best 15mm Sci Fi games on the market.  I will now correct this oversight.

ASL is a self-published game by a British fellow, Alex Self.  It is currently in print via 15mm.co.uk and in its second edition, with a third edition on its way.  It is an old game, created over 12 years ago I do believe.  There is a yahoo group which although small, contains a lot of information on the game, with FAQ, photos of miniatures, optional rules and articles by the author.  Alex answers rule questions directly and also gives advice and suggestions freely.  Can you imagine getting answers to questions directly from Games Workshop in a timely manner?

The rule book itself contains almost no art work, although several color pictures of in-game models and units are presented.  There is a plethora of fiction in the book, similar to the old 40K rulebooks.  Each piece of writing focuses on one army type and gives some flavor to the game.  Unlike many other systems there is no official background for this game.  Players instead should take the army lists and run with them: creating their own backgrounds or importing one of their choosing. 

There are fifteen army lists in the rule book.  Each army is built with a specific flavor and play-style.  Some are easier to play than others.  This is intentional.  Each is built around special rules, similar to 40K army-wide special rules.  Also each has different unit choices: some have a plethora of unit options; others have but a handful.  All of this combines to provide a rich game experience.

The featured armies are:
  • Human Imperial - technologically advanced forces which rely on firepower rather than numbers. 
  • Human Colonial - local defense forces or less advanced nations.  Better on defense than attacking.
  • Imperial Strike Force - small strike forces equipped exclusively with power armor and vehicles. 
  • Outlaw Gangs - criminals and lightly equipped mercenary forces. 
  • Alien Imperial - aliens with superior technology supplemented by primitives. 
  • Alien Imperial Strike Force - as above but made up of power armor equipped alien units. 
  • Alien Warrior Caste - aliens in power armor who prefer close combat over ranged. 
  • Tripods - armies is made up of alien walker vehicles.
  • Alien Enslaver - master race of aliens supplemented by hordes of primitives.
  • Cyborg Enslaver - Psionic masters who rely on legions of cyborg thralls, supplemented by small numbers of regular troops. 
  • Mechanoid - robotic armies out to exterminate all organic life.
  • Hive Mind - 40K Tyranids.  Nuff said.
  • Victorian Imperial - technologically regressed empire which relies on discipline and massed infantry blocks.  
  • Alien Greys - aliens who use paralysis rays to incapacitate their enemies.
  • Children of the Gods - probably the strangest army.  Technologically advanced creatures who can summon powerful beings from other dimensions to fight for them. 
The game is played of course with 15mm miniatures with the game being unit based vs individual miniature based.  Miniatures are mounted on either a 50x50mm square base or for large vehicles on 100x50mm bases.  The number of miniatures on each base is irrelevant.  They represent the unit itself, nothing more.  Of course it is aesthetically pleasing to use as many miniatures as will fit on a base.  However, if you are short of figures that is not a problem.  The rule book does give guidelines on what the quantity of miniatures would be on a "normal" base for that unit type.  I personally use individually based miniatures, fastened onto bases with blue tac.

Unit types are many, and each type of unit has a subtype, 29 in all. 

  • Regular - normal quality infantry, the mainstay of any army.
  • Inferior - lesser quality infantry, think militia or police units.
  • Power Armor - elite troops, possibly with jump packs, energy shields and computer aiming devices
  • Heavy Weapons - infantry with heavy weapons for taking out vehicles and hard targets
  • Monstrous - large aliens, Ogre sized or larger
  • Refugees - unarmed civilians
  • Robotic Infantry - robotic infantry
  • Heavy Droids - large sized droids with heavy weapons
  • Recon Droids - small flying robots which zip around the table
  • Battle Mecha - huge robots, the size of battle mechs, one of the strongest in the game.
  • Fighters - armed with hand weapons, or possibly sticks & stones and the handy-dandy fist/claw
  • Shooters - armed with bows, or archaic small arms
  • Riders - cavalry
  • Beasts - trained war animals or other fearsome creatures
  • Monstrous Creatures - huge creatures, dragon size or larger
  • Thralls - mindless slaves or undead zombies
  • Close Flyers - flying monsters or flying primitive cavalry who specialize in close combat
  • Distant Flyers - modern aircraft armed with heavy weapons and possibly computer aiming devices
  • Crewed Weapons - large weapons not easily man portable
  • Floaters - anti grav platforms, slow moving and easy to kill
  • Defense Turrets - non movable defensive fortifications
  • Light Vehicles - lightly armed and armored recon vehicles
  • Light Transports - unarmed troop transports
  • Mobile Artillery - capable of both direct and indirect fire
  • Armored Fighting Vehicles - medium and heavy tanks armed with heavy weapons
  • Armored Transports - lightly or possibly heavily armed and armored troop transports
  • Assault Tanks - slower armored vehicles designed to operate near enemy units
  • Assault Transports - even more heavily armored troop transports which have a larger carrying capacity
  • Main Battle Tanks - the most powerful vehicle in the game, armed with the most powerful weaponry

One thing to mention is that players are encouraged to let their imagination take them wherever it will in regards to model selection.  There is no official range of figures for ASL and this is part of its charm.  Use the models you like and let your imagination do the rest. 

Turns in ASL are UGO-IGO.  However, there is no guarantee that your army will follow your orders.  Most armies require Command Stands to activate units.  To activate a unit a Command Stand must roll equal to or greater then the command value for that particular army on a 2d6 (the unit must also be in command range, which varies depending no the army).  It is possible to activate units with Command Stands but this is more difficult. 

For example, for a Human Imperial Army, a Command stand must roll a 5 or higher to activate a unit.  If the command test fails then that Command Stand cannot attempt to activate another unit that turn.  This makes having multiple Command Stands desirable since it is likely you will eventually fail a command test.  It also makes the order one activates units of particular importance.  Each army may only field a limited number of Command Stands and they are expensive to field.  There are ways to activate units in groups and units which can activate with free actions as well.  Without going into detail the system is designed so that it is highly unlikely that all the units of say a large army will be able to activate each turn. 

All this combines to make each turn a toss-up in regards to how your battle plan will unfold.  I like this uncertainty in the game. Defending units can also be placed on Overwatch, which allows them to shoot at enemy units during their turn.  Again, this is a nice feature for UGO-IGO structured games.

Combat, whether ranged or close, is also based on a 2d6 roll, with modifiers based on terrain, unit characteristics and whatnot.  Typically, units can take 3 hits before being destroyed.  Armor saves exist for certain types of units, as do saving throws for units being in certain types of terrain.  Combat does not always result in unit damage.  Units can be forced to retreat, evade, become pinned down, ect, depending on the type of unit (Primitives are more likely to flee when faced with modern small arms than regular troops for example).

Speaking of terrain, the rules take an "Area Type" approach.  Each piece of terrain occupies an amount of space on the board, typically with players using felt or MDF cut into specific shapes.  For example, if the area represents a Built-Up Area (urban) then that terrain could occupy an area up to 40 cm2.  The actual "placement" of buildings and or objects representing the terrain feature are totally irrelevant.  Buildings can be moved around inside the feature to accommodate units which move in and out. 

Line of Sight is dependent on several factors, including terrain features, with visibility in and out measured in centimeters.  Height bands are used in place of actual model height to determine what can and cannot be seen.  The terrain rules eliminate a lot of possibilities for arguments and does away of with "terrain micromanagement", where every bush, tree and rubble pile becomes crucial to line of sight determination and or cover saves/bonuses.  This speeds up the game tremendously.

Finally, the game itself admits to being shamelessly designed for Tournament play.  The lists are balanced point-wise and there are six scenarios presented in the game which provide a refreshing change to the typical "line up the armies and kill each other".  There are akin to the old 40K 3rd and 4th edition missions.  Again, another feature of the game I like.

ASL does not claim to be a realistic simulation of sci-fi or near future modern combat.  If that is what you are looking for than there are many other systems out there for you.  However, if you don't mind armies of Martian Tripod Walkers duking it out with bug-eyed three legged aliens or primitive human tribesmen taking on entire robotic armies with nothing more than spears and slings then this game is for you.  ASL is easy to learn, but hard to master, with many nuances which only become apparent after playing the game.  Rest assured, there is a lot of depth here and a fantastic amount of fun.


  1. Nice summary. I have a copy of this game, but have not ever played it. After reading this, I might have to pull it out and try to get it to the table.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. NP. Give it a whirl. As I get older I find I am drawn to games which are rules-lite, but tactically challenging.,

  2. Fun game that should be better known


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