For the record, I've been with the Squad Leader family of games since they came out thirty years ago. My copy of Squad Leader doesn't have the purple sky, but it is close.
I follow it through GI: Anvil of Victory, and then waited patiently for Advanced Squad Leader to come out. The day it appeared at my local hobby shop, the owner was thrilled to sell me copies of the rulebook and Beyond Valor, both for the profits and to shut up my nagging.
Since then I've played it on and off. I'm not an Advanced Squad Leader fanatic, I play a lot of other games, but I do have a great deal of respect for the system and its modules. Like it or not, it is the standard for the World War II tactical games against which all others are judged, and looking at tactical games without considering ASL is a little like studying geology while ignoring volcanoes.
There is a trend that I noticed over the years. I the beginning, at the dawn of purple-skyed game boxes, Squad Leader was considered a great game, but one of many, or maybe in 1978 several, in a player's collection. It was not the be-all and end-all of one's gaming experience. If there was a game that got exclusive play in the late seventies, it was Dungeons & Dragons, not Squad Leader, or any other hardcore wargame.
Then with ASL's introduction, things changed. The rulebook remains very dense, legalistic, and packed with acronyms and abbreviations. It is organized well enough that players can learn the system in pieces, but it is still a very complex game that attempts to anticipate a vast array of conditions and circumstances, leading to a vaster array of rules. Advanced Squad Leader is not for cowards.
Due to a combination of factors, love of the game and the demands of mastering its systemic and tactical complexities, many players became ASL exclusivists. All of their wargaming centered on ASL, and it was a rare time that they played anything else.
Now, I'm noticing something different. I look at a lot, if not most, of the profiles on the Social Networking Site, and make an effort to welcome new people, if nothing else than with a quick hello. There appears to be a growing number of members who list Advanced Squad as a game that they play, alongside others that have an equal level of allegiance.
Does this mark the end of ASL as a virtual career within wargaming, or am I noticing a phenomenon that just isn't there?
I strongly suspect that it's the former. There are a lot of new, highly replayable systems that earn massive fan loyalty, at least equal to that of ASL: Card-driven games, block games, Richard Borg's tactical block designs. Generally, they combine replay value with an ability to reach beyond the hard corps of historical wargamers. One does not need to devote weeks to learning Command & Colors: Ancients. Yet one might start to wear out the components with repeated play.
As I see it, Advanced Squad Leader remains the long-term standard in World War II tactical gaming, though other systems, such as Avalanche's Panzer Grenadier, have strong legions of devoted adherents. Yet as far as being the system that generates exclusive loyalty, that day is ending.
My view is that none of this is bad for the system or for the hobby. ASL modules will continue to enjoy healthy sales, and it will not fade away like an athlete who hangs on two seasons two long. Simultaneously, the wargaming community, and industry, becomes more rounded and healthier, both from an intellectual and commercial standpoint.