Battle for North Africa (GMT)

Playings 3, 2 Axis, 1 Allied win (30+ hours)

World War II is not really my period but the vast spaces and low unit count does appeal and tempted me to buy Afrika. I didn’t have a lot of luck with that game finding the action cramped up around the Nile delta. Not easily discouraged and having long since sold Afrika I bought North Africa and have spent quite a bit of time on it, I might even say that I enjoyed it.

The rules are not really hard but are not as tightly phrased as in some games making it hard to get into the concepts of this game and easy to miss important bits. I was still making mistakes after all that playing, it may be that the relative shortness of the rules makes it easy to gloss over the details. With a long rule book it has to be studied and if some section has been missed out there is so much else that the gap is not noticed. In comparison I found it easier to get up and play the Crimea S&T as the rules style and many of the rules are familiar. There are some subtle or well hidden concepts here that you have to watch out for. The basic play style is the familiar chit picker with a few bells and whistles. Units are assigned to Divisions or classed as independent. Each division has 2 or 3 activation chits that allow parts of that within range of its HQ plus 1 hex of in-range independent units to move and then fight. The Division chits are paid for by resource points representing supply. If you pay the 2 or 3 (for armour) resource point for the chit it goes in the cup and is drawn randomly during the turn. There are unlikely to be enough points for all the Axis units as he has a host of 1 counter Italian Divisions that are activated individually. In reality the points are used to make the most of the best armed and positioned Divisions, some will be going 3 times in a turn and others will not be using their chits. The system is tweaked by the players rolling for initiative adding the Commander’s rating (handy with Rommel and Monty) to the score. If one player wins he can choose the 1st chit to play or if the commander is available can chose a group of chits that are for formations within range of the commander. You can pick up a commander and put him anywhere on the map allowing a co-ordinated punch or retreat on the 1st chit play of the game turn. The commanders themselves may be withdrawn according to an availability roll each turn. The final chit of the turn is not played but left in the cup.

The resource points to play chits are assigned from the player’s total at the beginning of the turn and the cost paid as they are drawn. Extra points should be assigned as they are also used for building fortifications and rebuilding units. You do not have to pay the cost when a chit is drawn but the formation is still counted as activated. This may occur when heavy losses suggest some serious spending on rebuilds. After all but one chit has been drawn the remaining Divisions who did not have chits in the cup and any independent units that have not moved get to go but only 1 attack is allowed and that depends on the player’s commander being in play. This final movement is done for all the initiative player’s units and then for all the opposition. It is commonly used to bring up the units that are not essential from the rear. There are no supply units as such but to activate a Division the HQ must be able to trace a path to the road and track system back to Tripoli (off-map), Alexandria, Cairo (off-map) or Tobruk. If a Division cannot trace this path when the chit is pulled it is gone but cannot do anything. If the Division has more than one chit another group of units might be able to force a pass through before the next relevant chit is pulled. If not the units will all be isolated at the end of the turn and if they remain isolated will lose 1 step at the end of the next turn and the final step the end of the turn after that. There is some hope as units that do not have chits in the pot can move without tracing a line of communication in the final phase after all chits have been drawn and only if they do not enter any enemy ZOCs. If the units had chits in the pot on the turn they were cut off then they will not be moving. The totally boxed in units have 1 final chance if their commander is in play and they were not activated that turn, a single attack is allowed at the end of the players turn at half strength, this can be enough for the strong Panzer Divisions to punch their way out.

If units are eliminated through lack of supply or during combat when they cannot trace a line of communications they are gone for good. Any other destroyed unit can be rebuilt at 2 resource points per step. A totally destroyed formation will cost at least 10 resource points to get it back into play on the next turn, seriously reducing the points available for movement. These replaced units turn up in the Tripoli or Cairo off-map boxes and so are of most use to the player doing worst as they can take a while to get to the front. Replacements are made when a chit is drawn or in the final phase meaning that if a HQ is destroyed before its chit is picked it can be rebuilt in the same turn. Any units remaining on the map belonging to that Division will be of little use as they are out of range of the HQ and can only move or fight if the Independent chit is pulled. This activates 1 to 3 independent or out of command units and there are always more than that around. The Allies have the worst set up as there are a host of independent units that cannot be absorbed by Divisions. There is a way around having units plod slowly to the front. In a chit activation a motorised unit can move along any number of road hexes provided they are not blocked by other units (except garrisons) not in towns. In the final movement phase this strategic movement is pegged at double the movement allowance, still a total of 32 to 48 for the fastest units. The German has some very good armoured Divisions that turn up in Tripoli but have 3 activation markers. If all 3 markers are paid for they can move from Tripoli to the map-entry transit box for 1 activation and then onto the map with the second. If the road has been cleared they will then move up close to the front lien and be fighting with the 3rd activation. This takes a little traffic direction on the turn before but can be done.

Combat is based on rolling a single D10 and adding or subtracting easily memorised modifiers. The odds give +1 for 3:2, +2 at 2:1, +3 at 3:1 and so on up and down in an easy to follow sequence up to +10. There is also a possible bonus of + or –2 for armour and artillery superiority. Most terrain has little effect except for the odd –1 and the effects of fortifications. With a maximum of +10 for odds and a possible 0 to 9 random factor it is hard to predict the results. At best you can destroy the enemy and the armour can move 1D10 +1 movement points forwards and then attack again. At worst the enemy can counter-attack discouraging low odds attacks. A common result is forcing all units to take a morale test with some modifier, units that fail lose a step. This make the Italians susceptible to bad results and the elite panzers hard to dent. Some results flip all units in the stack and since HQs have only 1 step this will have a greater effect on command control than on overall losses. The result of possible breakthroughs and the continuing movement and combat as different Divisions are activated makes it possible to blow a hole and move through it. This is not always the best course as units may charge ahead and then get cut off themselves. You need to check the edges before moving through with this game. As Tobruk is a supply source it can be cut off but still support units, a limited number can even be shipped in by sea. When fortified it is hard to take but the line of communication rules do allow a line to be traced past Tobruk to allow all the Crusader stuff. Nearby Bardia is not a supply source though and is a death trap to get cut off in.

I played the Rommel arrives short scenario and found it depended on getting into Tobruk before the Allies piled in. A puzzle that did not show the system at its best. The main Rommel scenario has the Allies all over the shop and about to get hit by Rommel, this is sound historical stuff. The game can start with the Italian offensive of 1940 with some interesting gameplay twists. Rommel may arrive at the planned time or sooner depending on how much real estate the Italians can carve out of Egypt. This really give the Italians some goal in the early game although they would do well to leave something behind in Tobruk just in case. The campaigns are also improved by random Allied troop withdrawals and returns. You can use the historical list and hunt all over the map for the right units or roll on a table that will take away units when you do well and give them back when the chips are down (in theory). This is a lot easier to use and gets my vote. When I played the Italian scenario with random events and random Rommel arrival he turned up early and stopped the Allies getting to Tobruk. There was some see-sawing around Bardia followed by a rout to El Alemain then another breakthrough with some tense moves around Alexandria until the Allies lost. The terrain in the El Alamain area make sit easy to hold if you have the troops but the Allies have probably had it if they are pushed off this area.