Rommel in the Desert

Carl came by again for our semi-regular Columbia game get-together, this time a return to Rommel in the Desert.

We actually played two games. First game was the 1941 campaign. I’ve played a fair amount of the meatier scenarios (Crusader, Gazala), but I’ve actually never managed to get any of the longer games in, as much as I’ve wanted to. Well, the first game didn’t turn out to be very long. Even though the Axis get only 10 units and only 3 Germans, those units are so devastatingly superior to anything in the British arsenal, trying to stand up to them is unwise. All you can do is fall back. In this case, I tried too hard to delay, and ended up getting cut off (for 4 units, there was no Escape from Derna).

So, with extreme supply line caution and respect for the Axis OOB now firmly drilled into my brain, along with a reminder to always count out the hexes your opponent can move to, we set up again (same scenario, same sides) and had another go at it. This time, the results were better. Instead of aggressively delaying, minimal delaying forces were deployed to the coast road, and a token unit was deployed to the Oasis near El Agehla to threaten the Axis base. This provoked a nice response, and the Axis was delayed somewhat tracking down this unit. The delaying action on the coast road went a lot better this time, and while the unit there was lost it slowed things down nicely and no extra units were risked. The units around Tobruk did not get stuck too far out. I even managed a minor counterattack which dented several German units at reasonable cost.

In the end, though, the German forces are overwhelming early. So there was nothing for it but to leave a maximal garrison in Tobruk (5 units) and fall back to Egypt, with an eye towards setting up a Crusader-style counterattack with the late-year reinforcements since I had accumulated a very large supply surplus (some 10 units).

Carl ended up deciding to bypass Tobruk, not even attempting to take it. Tough call there; it’s a bear to take, but then again, taking it gives you a positional victory and cleans up a big mess in your rear areas. He ended up trying to do a very aggressive, risky, end run around the British to cut off the coast road … and failed the required force-march die rolls, which was catastrophic. This lead to the destruction of all 3 recon units and two big German Armor/Mech units, or it would have if Carl hadn’t conceded at that point. I think the position was probably still playable, but it was a big setback definitely, and Kim and I had an appointment with the Two Towers Extended Edition in the theatre. So it was a convenient time to call it a day. What would have happened if he hadn’t choked the force-march die rolls, or at least gotten average luck? Hard to say. I had a huge supply reserve (as 11:3 advantage at that point, as it turns out) that I would have used to Blitz and try to break the blockade and re-set up the defensive lines, so I don’t think it would have been fatal unless he had maxed out the dice – and it’s possible that he would have been so strung out at that point that the units in Tobruk could have broken out and cut off the whole German army in return. Regardless, it would have been a challenge do deal with, certainly, and possibly a game-loser. But it’s a bit hard to say, we didn’t really have time to do any serious post-game analysis.

Rommel in the Desert is a game I have now played off-and-on for quite some time, and while I think quite highly of it, I’ve never been able to really sit down and play it a intensively over a period of time. While this can be an unforgiving game, playing this longer game certainly solidified my opinion of it as one of the all-time greats. The war in North Africa has been called not really a mechanized war, but actually a set of glorified cavalry actions – I think this is true, and Rommel in the Desert certainly gives a wonderful feel for this. It gets great mileage out of the blocks and supply cards, and has a real sense of bluff and deception, one of the best of any of the block games. This really is what a low-end wargame should be, in my opinion.

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