Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rommel at Gazala review

This is the issue game in Command Magazine No. 34 (which also included the Death & Destruction expansion for Proud Monster).

Dwarfed by the D&D expansion, Rommel at Gazala would be easy to miss, with less than 100 5/8-inch counters.

The game uses the system that debuted in Budapest '45, which uses unit rosters to track step losses. Compared to other step-loss games, the units here have a large number of steps, often 20 or more. The rosters list the attack and defense factors of the unit. Movement allowances are determined by unit type. The only information on the counter itself, aside from from its nationality color and NATO unit symbol, is the unit's historical ID. The unit rosters and step losses are less work in Rommel than they were in Budapest because of the extremely low unit density. There are just a dozen Axis units, and less than two dozen Allied ones. Axis units are divisions, except for two Italian regiments and one German brigade. Allied units are brigades.

With so few units the placement of each one becomes critical. As in Budapest '45, when units are not in combat they are kept face down. In Rommel, because there are so few units, this limited intelligence will have little effect, especially for the British. The lion's share of the Axis offensive power is contained in the three German mobile divisions, which the Allied player should have no problem tracking from memory (the rules prohibit taking notes) There's a little more scope for deception on the Allied side, although most brigades have comparable factors. The Axis can detach a recon battalion from each German mobile division to help cover more ground, but these one- or two-step units are very fragile and cannot be replaced if eliminated.

As in Budapest '45 the turn sequence is asymmetric. After a mutual supply check phase the Axis move their mechanized units. They conduct a combat phase and then all Axis units can move and clear mines.The British player turn consists of a combat phase followed by the movement/mine clearing phase, so just as the Soviets were in the earlier game the British are forced to set up their attacks the turn before executing them.

The map is based on the terrain analysis of the Moments in History wargame Triumphant Fox. Each hex is 3.5 kilometers, every turn is a day. The small unit scale for a divisional-level game is responsible for the inclusion of a zone of control rule, which is most unusual for XTR games. Units are forced to stop by enemy ZOCs and cannot move through them. They may, however, leave an enemy ZOC and combat is not required. Combat is odds based with step losses, as is usual in XTR games. Besides ZOCs there are very extensive minefields on the map, which also channel movement. Both sides can clear enemy minefield hexes during their general movement phases.

The winner is determined by victory points, with every eliminated step worth 1 VP, except for eliminated Italians, who net the British 2 VPs each. Should the German be so careless as to allow the British into hex 1200 (the coast road leading off to the West) they'll be giving up 50 VP.

The primary Axis objective is to capture Tobruk, which is worth a variable number of victory points, depending on the turn. The longer it takes the Germans to capture the port, the fewer VPs it's worth. On May 27, Turn 1 (an impossibility) it's worth 130 points. By June 21, Turn 26, it's worth 0 VP. If sufficiently ahead on points the British can declare a withdrawal, conceding Tobruk as of that turn, but escaping with all supplied forces and denying the Germans those VPs. As both sides keep their exact losses a secret, the British cannot slice this too closely or they could just cost themselves the game.

Set up time is minimal, with just a couple dozen pieces. The game is easily playable in a single session and fast movers can probably complete a two-game match in an evening.


(Yes) for Wargamers: Especially for players who want to try out the Budapest'45 system.

(No) for collectors: Nothing notable here.

(Conditional no) for Eurogamers. If you're interested in checking out a hex-and-counter wargame this is meaty enough to be a good representative while the low unit density helps keep it manageable.

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