This is a review of Wild Bill Wilder and First to Fight’s “Fighting for the Freedoms: Operation Enduring Freedom #2 (or EF2). EF2 should really be called the battle against Isis. The pack comes with nine pages of rules (more like guidelines, Rrrrr) covering medics (pseudo US commissar counter), infantry sniper counters (found in Squad Leader or SL), forward air controllers, special sighting abilities (laser and thermal sights, night vision, etc), IEDs, MRAPs, LATW missile-type units, and helicopters (with optional mini-gun rules) and revised To Hit/To Kill tables. There also is new Nationality Characteristics for the US/Special Forces (they get an interesting +1 TEM against them for all IFT attacks due to body armor), Alliance Iraqis & Kurds (no special rules although there should as they don’t like each other), and finally Isis and Al Qaeda units. The Isis and US Special Forces have special rules that if they break, they are flipped over to their GO HS side and something used in SL (but more on this later).
WBW products always come with their own self-produced counters including all the nationality units, SW, AFV and air units. Here are a few examples from the pack:
They are covered with a plastic-type film that I’ve only seen from one other game producer. Not sure the purpose put possibly keeps counter ink from smearing or rubbing off the counter. Unfortunately the SW counters do not include ROF info and the LATW counters us SL layout information, so for example a US HMG has no ROF on the front and a R1 on the back. You can transcribe what this should be in ASL but not clear the intent. Also, the AFV counter art faces the counter side and not corner “to improve the image art” and they do not include ROF or any special ammo data on the reverse, just crew survival (aka SL). In addition, SMCs and crews do not have a self-rally square on the back side. There are counters for tank and gun crews but the gun crews are more like a HS and really part of the SL universe. Finally, there are no CX, concealment, or ASL sniper counters provided but the cover does state Beyond Valor and Yanks is required to play.
Finally, five scenarios on standard ASL geo-boards are included (the back of the 5th scenario is left blank) although the map shown on the front cover is not included but from WBWs Desert Storm product “Fire in the East (Part 1)”. The scenarios are medium sized scenarios using double- half board layouts. Scenarios typically pit an all infantry Isis force against a heavily mechanized US collation force in 7-8 turns or Special Forces units against Al Qaeda in 10 turn matchups.
While some ASL review pundits make assessments based on an initial review of the product components only, I am providing a solo AAR of the first scenario in the module EF2-01 It Begins! pitting the US 101st Airborne against Isis in Fallujah. The US starts of Board 12 (R-FF in play [but no GG?]) attacking into Board 21 capturing 21X5 (although the VC states “US player wins if he has cleared building 21X5 of any unbroken enemy units to win” so unclear if that is instantaneous or at game end). The US gets seven 757 squads, three 247 crews, a few SMCs (including a medic) and SW (Including a M202 rocket launcher), six Humvees (2xM998 & 4xM1025 [although only three provided in counter mix]), two Bradley M2s, and an M1A2 tank. On Turn 3 the US gets two AH-64 attack helicopters that hang around for two turns and depart. The bad guys are all fanatic and include six 558 squads, two leaders (9-2 & 8-0), 3x RPG, 2x LMG, 2x DC and a RCL all setting up on Board 21. On Turn 3 an Isis hero shows up with a note in the setup line that says “active turn 3” so unclear where he shows up and how. I put him with a MMC when the time came as he was probably in the basement pounding meth for the upcoming battle.
In addition the other vague scenario card information discussed above, the following issues were also noted: Who sets up first and who moves first is not defined (but Isis appears to be defending); the set up and SSR 5 states “Iraqi” and should say Isis; the US AH 64 reinforcement note cites the incorrect SSR dealing with their entry and exit; ELR is provided but all the units have underlined morale; and SSR 5 states Isis gets two fortified building locations but specifies “revealed by the defender when attacked” and “each one receives a +2 modifier”. Based on not citing the fortified building rules, it is unclear if a GO Isis MMC denies entry into the fortified hex or if you only play the attributes in the SSR.
Now, onto the scenario. Here is a picture of the scenario setup:
The US with an 8-1, 2x crew, HMG and LMG set up in the upper level of 12S5 with two unarmed Humvee taxis waiting outside. The main infantry force around the cemetery heading towards the cover in 21U10 and the U9 & V9 buildings bringing fire onto the objective 21X5 building (the two white “x” mark the fortified building locations). A mechanized force of two Humvees, 2x Bradley’s carrying a HS each, and the M1A2 is on the right flank with the aim of breaking through the weak Isis left flank and get in behind them for encirclement and failure to rout opportunities (well, only the Isis SMCs will break). The number of vehicle MGs is overwhelming but Isis does have 3x RPGs and a RCL. The Isis forces setup strong on their right flank against the cover approach route of the US forces, RPGs on both flanks against any armored wedge breakthrough and defending the VC building with upper level squads with an LMG (with the 9-2) and the RCL with a squad at ground level with the third RPG.
The very first shot on Turn 1 by the M1A2 in US prep fire was against the Isis RPG squad holding the US right flank gets a 3 To Hit followed by a K/4 result. This caused the Isis squad to reduce to a HS followed by a failed MC resulting in his death per the modules special rules. While Isis is Fanatic, the failed MC checks has them melt away much quicker than standard ASL break, DM, and rout rules. While these mechanics may have worked in SL, using regular underlined morale rules would be better here. But I played this out as stated in the module rules.
Turn 2 the US mini death star in 12S5 was not very effective with a sniper shot breaking one of the crews and the HMG broke. The US forces managed to move up into the 21U10 are with only one squad breaking through DPh. The armored fist on the right flanked moved unopposed into the rear of the Isis position as the RCL broke firing at a US M2. The most excitement was an Isis RPG squad was able to take a shot at a Humvee 2 hexes away but rolled a To Hit=10 (RPGs X-out at 9) so hit the bumper with a big “thunk” and some soiled pants only (that’s two RPGs and the RCL now out of the fight).
Turn 3 starts the US main hammer and anvil assault with part of the Isis force (2 squads and 8-0) cut off on the western side of town. Two more Isis squads die through double morale breaks due to the high volume of vehicle MGs and US squad “ameba” attack against the main building. Next to two UH-64s arrive and pound Isis positions with 2x12 IFT bounding fire shots. Not clear if they can bounding fire as “stopped” but not clear in the rules/guidelines. Here's a few of the end of Turn 3:
Turn 4, Isis is surrounded by the US so I drive Humvees into the two Isis occupied hexes in the VC building and overrun his last squad with an RPG in the open trying to make it back into the VC building. The Humvee makes it adjacent to the Isis squad who fires the RPG for, yes, DR=10 again! No more RPG and the squad is reduced to a HS following by another MC failure and death from another hummer. The VC building was occupied only by a wounded ISIS hero and HS (after a successful DC attack) and the 9-2 in another hex with multiple squads enter each location for CC. So this one ended on US Turn 4 out of 8 turns. Here is the the end of the scenario US Turn 4 just prior to the APh:
In summary, Isis had some really back luck with their support weapons but the break and die rules just makes them melt away like butter (even with 9 and 10 morale) due to the huge US firepower advantage. The US is stacked with way too many vehicles with their MGs allowed excellent, masses stand-off firepower and deadly PBF bounding fire shots. Adding the two UH-64s is really just too much for the Isis player to counter without some AA help (granted their RPGs were mostly gone by the time they arrived). Finally, the M1A2 120LL main gun (24 IFT) is truly deadly and Isis was lucky when it Xed out on turn 2. So, on the one hand it was fun to play modern conventional forces and enough guidance to get you moving pieces, but on the other there are editorial issues and a lot of SL rules and counters in this module suggesting this was balanced (and developed?) more as a SL module than an ASL module. But as I am a designer and natural tinker, these issues can easily be addressed but will require more play testing to balance the scenarios and updating the counters. My initial assessment is frankly leaving Isis fanatic and use regular ASL underline morale rules will even this up plus leave out two armed Hummers and a M2 Bradley. So if play testing turns you off, this product is not for you. This reminds of the WBW stuff he did way back in the day for Squad Leader where he made his own counters, scenarios, and guidance “rules” so players could explore areas untested by the current system. His methods continue allowing you to fight on the modern battlefield but will require you to take part in the design process making it your own and sharing it with others as I have done here. An interesting subject for ASL and about 75-percent there but will require a little research before you can pull a scenario out and start playing ASL.