SR: Rommel in the Desert 4/1/05
- I sat down with Mark Kolenski for some 'Rommel in the Desert.' We
both owned the edition released by Columbia Games back in 1986 or
something. I downloaded the latest edition rules from BGG.
The block system used in the game is well known enough, but the
implemenation for RitD is very tricky.
1) Action management is somewhat randomized via a 'supply card' draw
with a 2/3 chance for a real supply (as opposed to a dummy), and
various player options vary from a pass or withdrawal (zero supply
expended) to a Blitz turn (3 supply). The standard move and combat
round takes one supply.
2) The other 'supply' is maintained on the mapboard, where each unit
must be able to trace back to its army's supply center on opposite
edges. Each player must be sure to have units allocated to maintain
supply lines and make sure they don't get cut!! As with any North
Africa game, this keeps the brunt of the action close to the road
network along the Mediterranean coast.
My experience with the game is that in most scenarios one side is
pushed to the critical limit and ends up being destroyed because of
the mapboard supply rules. While this is ahistorical, it makes for a
tense gaming situation that can be resolved in a single sitting.
Mark and I played the 3 turn Crusader scenario twice, where we
switched sides. Historically, Operation Crusader was the first Allied
counteroffensive against Rommel in the winter of 1941/42. All I can
say of the first game was that we got a lot of mistakes out of our
system, and discovered that the reputation of the old edition rules
being very uneven is well justified. The new edition contains a
number of clarifications and examples, and I would recommend using it
for whichever edition of the game one plays.
The rules are still pretty fiddly, but my impression is that they
represent the game choices very well: In other words, its one of those
systems where once familiarity breeds respect.
I should also mention how the strengths and weaknesses of the Axis
army are represented. The German units are quite strong, and
generally the Germans are more mobile, especially as they get a
so-called 'Rommel bonus' on one move a turn. On the downside, they
simply don't have the resources available to them that the Allied
armies have in terms of supply cards and fortress capabilities. This
can leave them in a precarious situation as the feared German tanks
can literally run out of gas, and helplessly watch their supply lines
Anyway, in the second game Mark and I had a bit more confidence in
ourselves, even though mistakes in play and in rules understanding
were still occurring. Playing the Axis, he executed a number of
attacks that pinned and largely decimated my holding forces, while I
did a little probing. I kept a strong reserve, however, and the Axis
army did indeed run out of supply cards just as the Allied line was
ready to break. Sitting on a reserve of supply cards and units, my
Allies moved forward and pressed a brutal attack on the Axis weak
point. A valiant defense thwarted severe damage from being done by
the Allies. The saving action by the Allies was a seemingly minor
attack out of Tobruk succeeded in eliminating the flimsy Italian
defense, and blocked the supply road there.
With both armies running on fumes, there was much manuevering along
the German mapboard supply from this point on. A concerted assault
against Tobruk by the Axis was successful largely becaue the
above-mentioned attack left the defense of that fortress sufficiently
exposed to finally wither under the onslaught of the German panzers.
Then the scenario ended! I had succeeded in setting my positioning up
to virtually eliminate the Axis army by cutting their supply, but that
would have required the advancing of a fourth turn. In a similar
vein, Mark couldn't realize the full benefit of taking Tobruk because
I still had sufficient proximity to the fortress to have it considered
'besieged' under the rules. In the end, the Allies and the Axis lay,
exhausted, panting, and half destroyed, with the former squeaking out
an ever so minor edge because there were barely more formations still
on the mapboard.
Anyway, it was a great experience, and I look forward to a chance to
hone skills via a replay or three.