Rethinking ASL's OBA

I never liked the way OBA worked and some in the US Army support my thinking.


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(This article is not done and it's unlikely it ever will be, so here are some unpolished notes.)



I've been rethinking the OBA in ASL for a while. The problems are that:

  1. the OBA rules are overly complex

  2. OBA is an overwhelming but unreliable weapon that makes play balance difficult to predict, and 

  3. that the OBA rules doesn't really reflect what OBA should be (in short, it's not realistic).

However, I met two interesting people recently: a WWII artillery major and a retired artillery lieutenant colonel I worked with. The latter was a Viet Nam-era combatant and the practice of artillery then wasn’t much different than it was in World War II.


Both guys independently said almost the same things. 

  1. Artillery was absolutely a devastating shock weapon. More so that enemy tanks. All soldiers feared OBA.  

  2. Smoke spotting rounds was used almost only with aircraft attacks. Most spotting rounds were a single shell, usually HE. 

  3. ASL's AR and SR were usually the same event. Apparently, the forward observer and the artillery teams worked closely so that by time the first round was fired, it was right on the money. The WWII guy said most of the time the first round was exactly where is was needed. They were to be within 50 yards the first time. In ASL, that's one hex. It was so accurate occasionally, he would call FFE immediately. Off by 100 yards was rare and he neither one admitted to ever actually seeing one more than 125 yards (three hexes), certainly not ASL's 240 yards (6 hexes). They said a battery of six guns covered firing area of 135 yards x 35 yards although the patterns varied. ASL's impact area of three hexes (120 yards) is about right. There was harassing fire with a very wide dispersion.  

  4. As for correcting fire, it was bad practice to fire a series of rounds (FFE:1, and FFE:2) and then have to correct it. Andy Rooney said one of his officers was recalled after being off too much too many times. Rooney, by the way, was in the artillery before transferring to journalism. Although it must be noted that: 

    • Rooney was approved for the transfer to journalism by the replacement officer,

    • Rooney caused the inaccuracies by intentionally putting too little or too much powder in each round, and

    • this was during prewar training and not real combat.

In ASL Terms


For ASL, I would revise the system, partly because of this new information but mostly that the OBA system sucks and it can be made more simple. The basic problem is that OBA is so powerful and so unpredictable. For its power, it's like you get three extra HMGs used where you like. For being unpredictable, the OBA system says it all. You might get it, and you might not literally depending on the draw of the cards.  I say reduce its influence slightly but make it more reliable.


* Radio contact as normal.  This and the battery access could be combined into one but I believe too much subtlety will be lost.

* Do away with the card draws. The concept of battery access and mission priority is odd. For the scale of the game, the artillery was dedicated to the infantry unit for all purposes. It was usually assigned at the colonel level and then for several days at a time. The same with mission priority.  

The use of cards is bizarre and incongruous notion in ASL anyway. No other feature in the game uses cards and no other system within the game needs that nuisance of chances. The differences the cards attempt to portray are minimal as to be none existent. For example, the British have the best card set at 8/2, the Russians among the worst with 5/2. A first black card pull chances are 80% and 71% respectively. 

In terms of the dice, both equate to DR=7. The difference is only nine percent, or dr=.5. That is, half the chances of rolling a dr=1. When the Germans and Americans play, the difference in their OBA piles come within 4%. Again, the difference is so small that it’s less than one quarter of chance of rolling dr=1. Stated another way, to make a difference of the equivalent of a +1 DRM, the German card pile would have to grow from 8/3 to 15/3.

The following table shows the differences for some nationalities.



Card Pile

First Black Card Chances

DR Equivalent

ASL Terms





DR=8 (dr=1)





7 (1-5)





8 (1-3)





8 (1-4)


The DR Equivalent column lists the DR needed, if fractional numbers could be rolled. Since fractions can’t be rolled, the ASL Terms column lists the two rolls needed. If the DR equals the number shown, a second dr is made, with the battery access being successful on the range shown. For example, if the Germans roll a:

  • DR < 8, they get it; 

  • DR > 8 they don't.

  • DR=8, they need to roll again:

    • A dr = 1 they get it; 

    • dr > 1 they don't. 

If that sounds absurd, it is. Certainly this subtlety doesn’t make a difference in the six-sided die world of ASL. Make the battery access DR=7 and cut out the foolishness.  


* Kill LOS. No spotter unit is needed and no LOS is required. Most nationalities (especially Americans) plotted fire in advance of any attack/defense and with accurate maps. If you feel a situation was so haphazard that this is not possible, make an SSR. However, that SSR would also have to account for the same lack of planning with fewer of supplies for the units, poorer coordination among the troops, and decreased morale overall. Not having to deal with LOS would obsolete most of that silly OBA flow chart.


* Placing Rounds. No inital AR placement. Instead, the SR is subject to:

  1. Accuracy: USA dr=1-4; Germany/Britain 1-3, all others 1-2.  

  2. Scatter: USA: dr=1-4, 1 hex; 5-6 = 2 hexes. All others: dr=1-3, 1 hex; 4-5 = 2 hexes, 6 = 3 hexes.

* Keep the FFE1 and FFE2. Apparently when the battery starts to fire, each gun fires three rounds before being able to stop. The WWII guy said this could take as long as 15 minutes depending on spread and firing rate. 15 minutes in ASL time is seven turns, the entire length of a average scenario. In ASL, this would be an FFE3 and FFE4, perhaps excessive in game terms. On the other hand, should OBA even be used at all? both officers said they would rarely have OBA tactically with friendly infantry nearby. They’d shell the bejeepers out of the target first and then move in with the troops.


* The first cut's the deepest. The first round was the most deadly. Causalities would fall off 75% during the second (ASL's FFE2) since the soldiers were either dead or had gone to ground. Consider giving the FFE1 an extra -1 DRM.