I suppose you are wondering what the differences are between the new TOCS (Tactical Operations Combat System) and the MASL (Macro ASL) system, so I thought I’d spend some time trying to explain a little more about these new systems and what the gaming experience will be like.
MASL was initially conceived and developed to be a training suite for military officers and cadets to become familiar with battlefield logistics, issuing orders, planning operations, the importance of intelligence gathering activities and performing reconnaissance, along with learning situational skills such as amphibious assaults, establishing beachheads and bridgeheads, airborne operations and establishing airheads, clearing minefields and bridging rivers. The MASL system (for WWII/Korean War modules) is an optional method for resolving battles as ASL scenarios, instead of using the TOCS CRT.
The players, referred to as Commanding Officers at the TOCS-level and their subordinate Field Commanders at the MASL-level, can leverage a full set of ground, air and naval actions to accomplish tasks and objectives. Only through training and actual combat experience can Commanding Officers learn the skills necessary to be proficient at achieving objectives. This bifurcated command structure ensures that scenarios generated by the Commanding Officers have considered all plausible events that the subordinate Field Commander might experience; however, the Field Commander is the guy on the ground who has to fight the fight; where the battle is now completely under his control. The resultant scenario outcome will be reported by the Field Commander back to his Commanding Officer so that the TOCS map is updated accordingly. This split-level command and control system allows cadets to work as teams at the HQs staff level and farm out battles to line commanders, once the battle is committed, it is out of the Commanding Officer’s control, where he must wait until the scenario is resolved.Field Commanders must do their best to accomplish the scenario objectives set out by their Commanding Officers, or use their own best judgement based as the situation develops.
So lets spend some time taking about each system and how they are used in conjunction.
The TOCS (Tactical Operation Command System)
All TOCS game modules are games unto themselves and do not need the MASL rules at all, unless you want to resolve the TOCS battles as limited intelligence ASL scenarios. The MASL rules only apply to TOCS modules based on WWII and the Korean War time period, they cannot be used for the WWI modules. The TOCS system is a double-blind game where players will only see their own counters and the enemy units will be hidden. Enemy units that are located through reconnaissance or probes will be marked with markers so that their current position can be remembered. Players take alternating Operational Impulses and spend OP points to activate units to perform actions or issue orders for other units to act. This concept of issuing orders allows units to perform actions that they would not have been capable of on their own, which highlights one of the many capabilities that HQ units provide. As units are activated and perform actions they fatigue (degrade) so that the next time they are activated they will perform less. Commanding Officers, can continue to activate the same units over and over, each time degrading them to a further degraded state, until they are no longer able to activate and have a diminished combat effectiveness. While it is not advised to drive units into the ground, there are occasions when there is no choice, or an opportunity warrants the consequences. Remember, the enemy may suspect what you are doing, but he will not see what your doing, or be able to easily determine what you are doing.
Moving and fighting within a double-blind battle space is dangerous, when compared to the relative safety in omniscient games. If you accidentally or purposely move into an enemy occupied hex, an immediate ambush occurs with only that activated unit. If on purpose it might be that you ‘bumped’ the enemy to see what is there, such as the Russians would do with their penal battalions. To avoid ambushes, or launching blind attacks on hexes that might be empty, TOCS provided a toolset of intelligence gathering actions and events. Almost all units were capable of performing reconnaissance, but the Recon (Reece) units were especially designed to excel at it, with fast and nimble all terrain vehicles, equipped with optics and radios, they became the scouts, the eyes on the ground for Divisions. Typically out in front (Semper Avanti) always advancing, allowing follow up units to engage the enemy once they are located. In TOCS, the Commanding Officer can gain insight within the enemy perimeter through ground and aerial reconnaissance and aerial observers, or by launching probes on enemy occupied hexes, or through ground and aerial spotters, or through both civilian and prisoner interrogation. In addition, intel comes from the battles themselves. The map is divided into friendly and enemy perimeters, which change when empty hexes not in EZOC are recon’ed or moved into. The pace is fast and the map perimeter is constantly in flux, where Operational Impulses tend to see the attacker spending OPs on reconnaissance and movement leading to a couple battles, and the defender moving or constructing roadblocks and minefields to impede enemy movement, or digging improved positions. Both sides might be firing artillery interdiction in order to cost the enemy extra movement points moving through chokepoints or restricting enemy reserves from reinforcing a battle.
The fog-of-war that is brought on by the limited intelligence (double-blind) TOCS system, offers players a new choice in war-games that emphasis real life as close as possible, while offered in a fast paced game that is fun to play. Repeat playability is very high, because of the sheer number of variations in moves and combats, so that no two games will turn out the same.When battles are resolved using the MASL rules, each scenario will generate a unique ASL board set based on the TOCS map artwork.With the number of unknowns and uncertainties within both of these systems, the consequences of any set of actions will only be understood over time. The US Army uses AARs (After Action Reports) and Sitreps (Situational Reports) as a chance to learn about the tactics and combat performance. During our play tests we kept Sitreps/AARs so that we could later compare what was happing at each specific turn. There were many situations that at the time there was just no way of knowing what was happening within the enemy’s perimeter except to exchange war-stories after it was over, and these Sitreps/AARs when combined, provided the ‘whole picture’.
The rest of this blog describes the alternate combat system called MASL (for WWII TOCS modules only) that allows players to resolve the battles on the TOCS campaign as ASL scenarios. The MASL system is optional and players do not need to use it, and can resolve all combats using the TOCS CTR (Combat Resolution Table). However, for those players interested in dynamically generated unique fog-of-war limited-intelligence ASL scenarios, the TOCS system is the ultimate scenario generator.The claim-to-fame in the TOCS-MASL system is the seamless way that scenarios are generated and how the results fold back into the TOCS system, allowing players to play using either the CRT or MASL or both to resolve battles. Let’s take some time and dive into the deep end of the pool…
The MASL (Macro ASL) System
Many people may think that MASL stands for “Modern ASL”, which is another 3rd party product development, but since Macro-ASL started with its first playable prototype in 1983 and was based on the original Squad Leader system it is now over 35 years old. The intention is to write the Chapter-M rules section for the ASL Rulebook so that the ASL gaming series can be extended beyond HASL (Historic ASL) modules into TOCS modules. The TOCS game modules are the next logical step for extending the ASL series, by providing a more comprehensive campaign experience, where the same high degree of fog-of-war extends into the generated scenarios it produces.
Players that enjoy playing scenarios have probably noticed that the last few turns always come down to a do or die attempt to achieve the scenario victory conditions, to the total disregard of the cardboard soldiers under their control. It’s almost like all troops go went berserk on the last turn. On the other hand a HASL module offers the player the ability to balance troop strength against objectives, so, in effect, the game has introduced consequences that carry into future days. HASL modules also introduce a degree of fog of war with perimeters and reinforcement purchases. Since a HASL module is based on a few large maps, the battle area is relatively small and does not focus on anything happening is the surrounding area, other than what is happening on those maps.
The TOCS-MASL system allows combat to occur in any hex within the TOCS map, which is huge compared to a HASL map. A TOCS map, such as the AttM map, is 32×66 hexes, which represents 2,455 square kilometers. This allows the historical module to be played out over a huge area and fought in manageable scenarios that are controlled by the TOCS stacking limitations. When combat occurs on the TOCS map, Commanding Officers can agree to resolve it using the CRT table, or to fight it out in ASL as a unique dynamically created scenario. Even with replay, it is unlikely players will ever experience the same scenario conditions twice.
Scenarios are unique because they will have a different board topology based on the TOCS hex artwork, where each battle the board set is rolled on the Board Generation Table and remains the same for the entire campaign. If more then one battle were to occur in that hex, the same board set would be used.However, each time the TOCS game is played, it would in all probability result in different board configurations. This will keep the game fresh and new each time it is replayed.
Counters on the TOCS board will scope down to be ASL scenario OOB on the MASL-level and combat losses that occur within the scenario will map back as Step Losses and TO&E inventory losses at the TOCS-level. This way if the same unit uses the CRT in a future combat it is factored properly. This MASL system is far too intricate to describe in a blog post, so you have to trust that everything has been factored in so that this transition from TOCS to MASL and then back from MASL to TOCS is seamless… absolutely seamless. Over 35 years of developing this process has covered every conceivable outcome, which we hope all players will appreciate.
The fog or war that was experienced on the TOCS level extends all the way down to the MASL scenarios as well. The defender will not know how many turns the scenario lasts, and neither side will know the others OOB or reinforcements or artillery or air support until it arrives. Neither player will know what the other is trying to accomplish, as this is known only to the friendly Commanding Officer and the subordinate Field Commander that is following his scenario objectives. Now this can come to a shock to players who need to know everything, or exactly how to win, but that’s not how combat works in the real world. The actual Field Commander often has to think on his feet and try to accomplish his Commanding Officers objectives based on very little knowledge of the enemy disposition or intentions. This is why all battle plans should have contingencies based on what is encountered. No Commanding Officer wants to see his units decimated in a hopeless cause.
Some things that ASL players will immediately notice is that TOCS-MASL requires players to be aware of the losses they are taking, and the importance of gather intelligence during the scenario from reconnaissance, civilian interrogation and taking prisoners. Prisoner interrogation is beneficial during the scenario, and prisoners can be interrogated on the TOCS map to reveal information that otherwise would be secret. The takeaway is that it is important to your Commanding Officer that you take prisoners every chance you can. The single most important aspect is being able to achieve your commanding Officer’s goals with minimal casualties, which may cause players to develop new skills that do not border on recklessness. Artillery is modeled very well in TOCS and it is not uncommon for artillery duels with each side having multiple OBA modules in action during the scenario. Players will need to learn how to adapt to being shelled, just like their real-life counterparts did, where it often held up mission objectives as units quickly took shelter or dug in to hold ground taken.
The MASL system is so comprehensive that everything in Chapter-E has been modeled within the TOCS system. There should be no rules in Chapter-E that haven’t been accounted for in every TOCS module as they are all in the TOCS WWII Rules. This means that TOCS hexes can have both defensive and creeping barrages, bombardments and so forth. Likewise, every possible type of operation, from amphibious assault, seaborne assaults, paratroop landings, glider landings, aerial transport have been accounted for.
For the ASL enthusiast that has been longing for scenarios that map into something bigger than a one-off battle, this might be your dream come true. For players that are looking for a freehand at achieving your Commanding Officer’s objectives this might be the experience your looking for. For those who like to lead (on the TOCS level) and fight (at the MASL) level, it offers a glimpse at the decisions that real commanders would have faced.For those who are fascinated by fog-of-war combat, this is probably as close as it gets in a ‘game’. The fact that it plays remarkably close to reading the US Army in WWII – Green Books, it is an experience that just has to be played to be truly understood. It is our hope at Brick Mill Games,LLC that all of the above turns out to be true for you and that you enjoy many replays of all of our modules.