Squad Leader

Last night Charles Vasey taught me Squad Leader. A painful experience. I hope to return the favour soon.

It is nothing like as complicated and slow as I thought. Rather like the ASL Starter Kits, you are taught in stages. To play the first scenario, you only have to read seven (dense) pages of rules.

We finished in two hours, but we could do it quicker, especially at Charles’ speed. Rather like Chess, once you let go of a piece you have to leave it in place. You cannot examine stacks or check line of sight (LOS) unless you intend to shoot. If there is no LOS, you lose the shot. Charles, an evil bully, loves this and punished the quivering noob mercilessly.

I have a lot to learn about the tactics. Probably the most important first lesson is that running across open ground in front of machine guns is a very bad idea.

In this screenshot from VSQL, the Vassal module for Squad Leader, the Germans were firing along the black lines and the Russians along the red. The two long black arrows were devastating fire lanes. If crossing these, expect your troops to suffer a morale check, half of whom will fail.

As the Russians, I held buildings E4, J2, N4 and M2. Half my troops were ordinary. The rest were Guardsmen toting submachine guns in E4. Charles, held buildings H5, K5, L7 and I7. I7 was a particularly nasty machine gun nest. I had the advantage in numbers. He had the advantage in weaponry. I had to capture two of his stone buildings.

After an ineffectual first attack, Charles wiped out my ordinary troops by the end of the first turn. We managed to forget his first round entirely, but it did not matter as the Germans had already minced my cannon fodder.

In the second turn, I charged F5 with my guardsmen. Half of them survived the hail of fire from J4, who jammed their Light Machine Gun (LMG).

In the third turn, I had taken the entire F5 building, but the machine guns in I7 destroyed the remaining guardsmen completely. I had no hope of capturing two buildings, so resigned.

It was short, but I still really enjoyed it. Charles seems keen to play more, so I’m game.

I have an eBay bid on a Squad Leader set for £1. At that price it would be rude not to buy.


  1. I love Squad Leader, although I’ve only been able to play it a handful of times. I keep meaning to set up an online game with someone, but never quite get around to it…

    It definitely has had its reputation unfairly…bent by ASL. It’s not nearly as difficult to play as it’s bigger sibling, especially with the programmed instruction setup.

    You may want to take a look at Alan Yngve’s Tactical Training Series (scroll down a little). They’re even more remedial than the early scenarios in the game, and are intended to help new players grasp some tactical fundamentals.

  2. But why bother with Squad Leader at all, when you have the (superb) ASL Starter Kits?? These days, Squad Leader is a dead end, surely?

  3. I know what you mean, but Squad Leader seems to have a sensible rules ceiling. Wouldn’t ASL be far more complex in the long run? There is plenty of replayability too, with over 200 published scenarios. You can convince me otherwise though.

  4. Peter,

    Squad Leader is far easier to find, even though it is out of print, do to myriad copies on e-bay and in the used games section of most major game stores, and, if you only plan on playing casually, i don’t think the “ceiling” is ever likely to be a factor, especially if you add in the decent quality fan scenarios that are on the web.

    Of course, if you are looking for a game to play every week (or more) for the rest of your life, yes, ASL is probably the way to go.

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