Submitted by Eric Daniel
In 1980, for the colossal sum of $25, I acquired the Holy Grail of board games -
For those not in the know, SL, developed by the now defunct Avalon Hill Game Company, came out in 1977 as a turn-based WWII infantry board game played on geomorphic boards with cardboard counters representing individual squads, tanks, leaders, and support weapons.
SL, and its successor Advanced Squad Leader, set the standard for accuracy and detail. Weather, morale, seasons, troop quality, equipment reliability, fatigue, all are addressed. There was mud, there were hills and cliffs, there was smoke, white phosphorus, barbed wire, snipers, paratroopers, foxholes and trenches, there were even donkeys and reindeer. If it was in the war, it was in the game.
Squad Leader wasn't a game you played, it was a game you lived. To this day, I still get panic attacks waiting for Turn 1 of "The Tractor Works." Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers had nothing on that 10-3 harbinger of doom, Oberst Grup and his platoon of flamethrower and demo-charge packing 8-3-8 engineers.
The original SL evolved, through three expansion games, to encompass all of the major Axis and Allied powers as well as most of the terrain types. What SL didn't address Advanced Squad Leader did when it came out in 1985. With ASL the rules got more advanced, the counters got more accurate, and the style of play completely changed (the only things that transferred from SL to ASL were the boards and the dice 9though you now needed four dice instead of two.) ASL literally addresses everything. ALL Axis and Allied major and minor powers (Finns, Gurkhas, Bulgarians and Belgians, Vichy and Free French, as well as conscripts, guerrillas, Marquis and the Home Guard, and finally, the Japanese and Chinese and U.S. Marines (though not a different race, per se., they were missing from the original SL.))
ASL was not a game for the timid or the faint of heart. Its rules were lengthy and complex and you had to understand THEM ALL in order to play the game effectively. Once mastered though, these rules made for a very exciting and challenging game (to date, my favorite scenario is "Climax at Nijmegen Bridge." Though one of the original GI. Anvil of Victory scenarios, it has always been a nail-biting bloodbath and I never pass up an opportunity to play it.)
Unfortunately, like all good things, SL went out of production when Avalon Hill was bought out by Hasbro in the late 90's. ASL's death was short lived, however, as production rights for all things Squad Leader were acquired by Major League pitcher and ASL fanatic, Curt Schilling, who began reintroducing old material and publishing new under his production company, Multi-Man Publishing.