Playings; 2, 8 hours (1 Allied win, 1 Axis)
This is a simple game whose basic systems have been around since the days of Panzergruppe Guderian. Afrika comes with 2 rules booklets, the basic rules also update those of Stalingrad Pocket. Nothing new will be learnt by slogging through this booklet but the task is necessary to find the tweaks that have been made to this system. Unusually all fractions are rounded to the nearest whole number, rather than rounded down. Here 15 attacking 10 will be 2:1. An interesting innovation is the use of hit markers to record step losses. The unit is flipped to a weaker side after 1 step loss, if a unit can take further losses, this is marked by a chit. The loss of 3 or 4 steps will not weaken a unit further than the loss from full strength to 1 step loss but this system eliminates searching through counters to find a new unit whenever a counter takes a 3rd step loss.
The 2nd book covers the specific rules, the bulk of which are concerned with supply. Supply units are dumped at Tripoli or Alexandria and have to be moved to the front. These units can only be moved by boat or truck. The Axis has to roll for available shipping points, 1 to 4 are possible, each able to move 1 supply point. The Allies have an unlimited number of shipping points but both players roll for the amount of points that each port under their control can import. The 2 major ports of Tripoli and Alexandria can receive unlimited points each turn but the other 5 ports (scattered fairly evenly along the map) will vary between 0 and 4 points. Each supply point can put 14 units in supply and is then removed. The Axis will have difficulty moving enough supply into Egypt for his troops, sometimes it is better to keep reinforcements in Tripoli because it is not possible to move up enough supply for them. If supply is short but shipping is available, the points can be rushed to the front at a cost of putting the units left in
Tripoli out of supply. Supply points can also be moved by truck but it will take 2 truck points (out of 3 to 6 Axis points) to move a supply point from Tripoli to the Western map edge. The effects of being out of supply are pretty mild, 1 step loss, except for Italians on turns 1 to 6 who will surrender when out of supply.
Supply is 1 of the 2 factors that will dominate play in Afrika. The other is control of Cairo and Alexandria. If the Axis controls all hexes of both he has won. Additionally, control of Alexandria will prevent the Allies landing any new units or supply. Historically the Allies held a line at El Alamein. This is possible here but the gap between the coast and impassable depression is never less than 4 hexes. Stacking is up to 6 units, combat is voluntary and zones of control do not stop movement. Under these conditions, strong stacks on all 4 hexes are needed to hold this line. 2 stacks on alternate hexes invite hitting a single hex hard and rushing past to the Nile. The Nile is the only river on the map and naturally is some defense line, units cannot attack across and it can only be traversed by bridges at Cairo and Alexandria or by spending an entire move adjacent. Supply cannot be drawn across the Nile and supply points may only cross by bridges. Alexandria and all but 1 hex of Cairo are on the East bank of the river.
To capture these hexes, and win, the Axis must spend a move to cross the Nile and hope to capture a bridge at the end of combat. Retreat can be negated by taking extra losses in combat, so a swift capture of a hex will be difficult against a strong defender. Any Axis unit that has crossed over will suffer loss of supply if it has not cleared its way to a bridge by the end of combat. The importance of taking Cairo and Alexandria and the ease of holding the Nile barrier means that if the Axis is doing well a lot of action will occur in this area. There is no political incentive for the Allied player to hold the West bank of the Nile. If the map were long enough and victory conditions obliging, the Ally should withdraw to Bomb
ay or London. Withdrawing lengthens the Axis supply lines, if the Axis cannot get supply to the front he will start to waste away. Providing that supply is available the Italians should head East from the start. Note that in 1940, the Italians were content to occupy a small part of Egypt and dig in. Perhaps the local command knew that the organisation to drive deep into Egypt was not available. To play for a win rather than prevent an Axis victory the Ally must capture the 3 Easternmost Libyan ports, roughly 3/4s of the map, a draw would probably be an Axis win from an Italian point of view. With better shipping and truck abilities the Ally will not have any problem supplying troops in this area. If the Axis is unable to knock out the Ally he may still be able to hold onto enough ports to win at the last game turn.
Having played a couple of games of Afrika the time comes to compare the abilities of our cardboard chums with their historical counterparts. Unfortunately they do not come off too well. During the campaign both sides managed some impressive advances. In this game movement allowances go up to 25, the faster units can move twice in a turn but units will still not be able to match the speeds of regular combat units in 1942. After El Alamein the Allies advanced practically the length of the map in 1 month (1 game turn). This is not possible in Afrika. Most of the Italian units have a single move of 8, these units will not be able to run away as fast as their counterparts in early 1941, perhaps units that are patently running away should at least double movement factors. The main coast road allows movement at 1/2 a point per hex, naturally big advances and retreats will follow this road. A number of other roads are marked on the game map but these cost the same to move through as regular desert. Supply is traced at 1/2 a movement point per hex along roads only so it pays to keep near the roads but units tend to cut corners through the desert because following the roads confers no advantage over the desert. Ice Cold In Alex was on the tele recently, I cannot vouch for its accuracy but it was filmed in Libya during the 1950s. Allowing for a little dramatic license, roads should confer some movement benefit (1/2 for roads with the main road upped to 1/4) and the Quattara Depression deserves more than the 2 point penalty in Afrika, impassable to tanks perhaps?
Between the breakthroughs were periods of building up and re-organising or not much happening to you and me. These may occur during the game, especially if the Axis wants to attack but is short of supply and the Ally does not have the troops to counter-attack. Players could easily do nothing for several turns while they build up their forces but most cardboard pushers suffer from the General Haig factor. Simply, this implies that if not much is happening and the player can guarantee at least 2:1 somewhere, he will attack. Loss of units will not affect a player's victory and everyone knows what new troops are lined up for reinforcements, if a player has more units on the map or due to come on, he can trade units for hexes. To be fair, replacement units are governed by a die roll, the rate of replacement of dead units is not known. The Ally has a chance of having to withdraw units rather than receiving replacements. The worst result is banned on turns 1 and 2 but a hefty withdrawal on turn 3 or 4 can set the Ally back badly.
Regardless of replacements the usual gameplayer's assaults will lead to a healthy surplus of dead units. Replacements can be given to any unit not in an enemy zone of control, it is of advantage to use replacment points to build up units near the front rather than at the rear. This saves a lot on transport problems and is precisely the opposite to what should happen, where possible units should be pulled out of the line, rested and reinforced. The Ally can choose which units to withdraw, he will try to send the most beat up and out of the way units. This was not a luxury that his counterpart possessed, troops were removed for other fronts or for political reasons, the theatre commander did not have free choice, even having to replace Australian troops inside besieged Tobruk. The Allied commander should be forced to withdraw a number of steps rather than units (multiply table result by 3) but this will favour the Axis if rolled early in the game.
Afrika is promoted as an easy to play game, certainly learning the rules will not tax the brain. The supply system is not involved enough to need much work, any player that fails to deliver available supply points deserves to lose. The Axis die rolls for supply and port capacity and the Allied roll for replacements have a big effect on the game but what's a game without a little unpredictability? When push comes to shove a wargame must simulate certain aspects of its namesake. Afrika falls down here in terms of movement allowances and victory conditions. The end of the game is set to match the Allied Torch landings way off the West map edge. In real terms the Axis needs to be well on his way to India by this time. I have been playing for an Axis automatic win to reflect this, the Axis can grab a slice of Egypt and settle down (the Italian option) to win but this would not offset Torch landings and an Axis withdrawal from at the map at the end of the game. Treated as a game Afrika is harmless, although rather long for a simple system and low counter density. To be considered as a simulation, considerable work needs to be done. As well as the areas already highlighted, combat needs changing to allow for mass retreats or surrenders rather than mass deaths as currently provided by the CRT. All this can be fixed and if this were a cheapo magazine game would be worth the work. Afrika is too expensive considering its size and the work needed to tie it closer to history.
"Afrika didn't please me at all. We tried the campaign game twice. The 1st was stopped after turn 4 when the Axis player realised that his dug in Italians would surely starve before getting to fight the Allies. This was because the Italians hadn't attacked from the start and reduced their own numbers. That made me wonder whether the supply system was working properly. Maybe that was the game's way to force the Axis player to repeat his historical invasion of Egypt? We started a new game, now the Italians attacked but even then it was difficult to take enough losses to supply the rest. Sometimes it was better to not supply most of them to conserve supply for the German reinforcements, who are much stronger and eat less. Turn 8 was accepted by both players as the early end for this game. Simple but not much fun if you keep history in mind."
ZOCo Ben must have got some poor rolls for supply arrival and shipping. I found getting the supply to the front was the hard bit. Historically the Italians moved into Egypt siezing a slice of land near their border. They did not rush off to Cairo but stayed where they could remain in supply.