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Subject: A Game For Purists, Masochists & Collectors Only rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
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Desert War
Adding the French & Italians To Up Front



Designed by Don Hawthorne & Neal Schlaffer
Published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (1989)


Desert War is an expansion set for Up Front, the Squad Leader card game. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Up Front, I think that it is the finest simulation of tactical combat that I have come across and is, in my opinion, much more realistic that Squad Leader. When considering this you have to actually ask yourself what is being simulated in this game. It is certainly not a detailed simulation of the technical capability of weapons. What is being simulated is the uncertainty and chaos of the battlefield situation. In Up Front all actions of the various teams is controlled by cards – move, shoot, rally, terrain, everything. There can be times when you want to move or want to shoot but can’t because you don’t have an appropriate card – to translate this into a real-world situation, the opportunity to act didn’t arise for any one of many reasons. As you move there is a chance that your opponent will put unfriendly terrain onto you – this simulates the uncertainty involved in moving into new and unfamiliar terrain. Up Front has Soviet, U.S. and German troops – the first expansion, Banzai, adds Commonwealth and Japanese forces. Desert War, the third and final TAHGC expansion, adds Italian and French troops into the combat mix.

A fairly reasonable question would be why? The Desert War forces lack elan, and just about everything else that would be useful in a battlefield situation.


One of the nice features of Up Front is that each different nationality has a slightly different number of cards that they may hold and a different number of cards that they may replace each turn.


Soviet: four cards – all cards may be discarded if no actions are taken during a player turn (entrench does not count as an action)
U.S.: six cards – two cards may be discarded if no actions are taken during a turn
German: five cards – one may be discarded each turn, even if actions are taken
Italian: four cards – two cards may be discarded each turn if no actions are taken
French: six cards – one card may be discarded each turn if no actions are taken


The big problem regarding cards for the Italians and the French is that they have very limited discard ability and may face situations where it takes quite some time to develop a hand of cards that allows to act decisively, or even semi-effectively.


Most nationalities will “break” (lose the scenario as troops have lost heat) when their casualties reach 50% - the Italians were well known for their perceptiveness and consequently will break with only 40%. Italians, unlike other nationalities, also have a tendency to “surrender” (all members of a group are “pinned” – this further limits Italian game options).


Regarding the effectiveness of weapons, U.S. and German rifles have the same range as the French MAS 36 – these rifles can start firing from range 1. Soviet and Italian rifles don’t come into effectiveness until range 2 – this means that the Italian, with all their other problems, need to get to closer range for most of their troops to start firing. Both the Italians and French have good light machine guns – neither the Chatelierault nor the Breda require crew and both have more firepower than the U.S. BAR.



Comparing the squad make-up in the basic scenario, the Soviets have 15 troops, the Germans have 10 and the U.S. have 12. Compared to this the French have 12 while the Italians have a massive 18 troops.

To compare the average Close Combat Value/Moral Value for these squads (keep in mind that the average figures are only giving a general impression – there are other numbers that I am not mentioning so as not to make this too complex):
Soviet – 8.1/3.3
U.S. – 7.3/2.8
German – 7.4/3.2
French – 7.8/3.2
Italian – 7.5/3


What these numbers tell us is that the French and Italians have an advantage with close combat values and that both these nations are less likely to have troops become pinned, due to low morale, than the U.S. The big difference between the French/Italians and the U.S. regarding morale (pinning numbers) is that the U.S. morale actually improves when they are pinned (making them more difficult to rout) while the French/Italian morale is the same on the pinned and unpinned sides (the U.S. are easier to pin but it is harder to actually get them to run away).


Everything considered, the French and Italians are difficult to play and their biggest problem is their discard rates.

Desert War is useful for a situation when an experience player wants to handicap themselves when playing an inexperienced player. They may be useful for those looking at creating historical encounters. It is a must for those of you who want to collect complete sets of games. I have owned and sold several copies of Desert War – the most recent I sold for $150. That is a lot of money for a small number of counters and cards.




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James Fung
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There was a Relative Range zine article on how to play the French, i.e. overcome their incredibly limited discard ability: create 1 (or 2) 2-man throwaway groups that burn Movement cards and then anything else to move into open terrain. It works from the game perspective, but not so much from historical simulation perspective.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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fusag wrote:
There was a Relative Range zine article on how to play the French, i.e. overcome their incredibly limited discard ability: create 1 (or 2) 2-man throwaway groups that burn Movement cards and then anything else to move into open terrain. It works from the game perspective, but not so much from historical simulation perspective.


Now that you point it out, I think that there could be some historical truth in what you have said. I now firmly believe that if, during the 1940 German invasion of France, the French army had sent more tiny groups of troops (armed with bread sticks and camembert) out on picnics they would have been more effective in stopping the German advance and defending their country from invaders.

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Brian B
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I love the French, good long range firepower. You just have to try to keep a group moving to help cycle cards. If you play a scenario that requires mobility you're in trouble.

The Italians: I've never survived with the crowded, panicky squads that make huge targets. I like the little flame thrower tank tho...

I've been beaten by both Nationalities. Overall, I like the expansion but don't care for the Desert rules.


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Edward Kendrick
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Another important bad feature of the Italian OOB is the LMG, which like the Japanese LMG jams on a 5 or 6. This reduces the MTBF from around 33 shots from a Bren or BAR to 16. In the desert, where breakdown numbers are increased by 1, it drops further to 9.5. You can see why the Italians start with two LMGs, but even so it's not unusual for them to finish a game with neither working.

Haing said that, though, I have seen them bring off some startling victories, including a paradrop against the Russians played by a former WBC champion and a best-of-10 campaign game against the British .. so it can be done.
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jumbit
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It becomes a bit better when you realize that the French & Italians were mostly meant to fight each other in the desert.

The French aren't half-bad. As for the hand discard capability - well, that's French command for you. They had resources but there were all sorts of delays getting orders, and six cards with a discard of one neatly represents this.

The Italians...well somebody went nuts and heaped all sorts of disadvantages on them. The rules need to be fixed if the Italians are to be any fun to play at all. The Italians weren't that bad, historically. However, none of them knew what they were doing in Africa, or why they were there, or why they should take a bullet for Mussolini. This is why they surrendered in such large numbers. The game rules for Italians are just one silly weakness after another. Maybe they'd do better in a campaign game.
 
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Andrew Walters
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Since no one's mentioned it yet, I'll just point out that there is an alternative set of Italians for Up Front.

Folgore

I think I've seen it, but I have not played it. The story goes that the Italians' reputation for surrendering comes from US troops, to whom they were relatively happy to surrender. In fighting the Russians, where surrender meant mistreatment and death, the Italians were a lot more stubborn. So this author was displeased with Desert War's depiction of the Italians and wrote his own.

I don't have the knowledge to speak to any of these points, but there is an alternative point of view we should remember.

As for the difficult French and Italian card dynamics, keep in mind that it's restraint that makes art. A lot of people enjoy playing the French and the Italians.

Andrew
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Edward Kendrick
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This is quite true - it's been said that the Folgore depiction errs as much in favour of the Italians as the original veered to the other side. Perhaps the fact that Emanuelle (sp?) Oriano, the author, is a former Italian infantry officer might account for this!

BTW, the original rules do reflect the different conditions on the Eastern Front in that there the Italians break at 50% instead of 40%, and do not surrender to the ("not-so-tender mercies of the") Russians ...
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Edward Kendrick
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Oh, and the Italians were quite happy to surrender to the British as well - see Wavell's early campaign.
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Orion J.N. Winder
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Great review, of a GREAT game expansion.

The only problem I have is with the title of the subject, "A Game For Purists, Masochists & Collectors Only".

I have much fun playing the Desert War nationalities, especially so for a handicap when playing less experienced players (which seems to be just about everyone I play with anymore, as me and my sons played this one to death! and LOVED it!).
The prices are insane though, but thankfully, tis pretty easy to make on one's own if you've a friend with a copy. If they don't want to make these things available I've no complunction against self publication-ed. Serves them right
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castiglione
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jumbit wrote:
The French aren't half-bad. As for the hand discard capability - well, that's French command for you. They had resources but there were all sorts of delays getting orders, and six cards with a discard of one neatly represents this.


Is this valid, though? The French High Command was rather slow in processing information and acting upon it in 1940 but is extrapolating this to the tactical, man-to-man level even accurate? Somehow, I doubt it - there were times during 1940 when the Germans got a shellacking when they ran into the French.
 
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jumbit
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Yes, that's the idea. The French command was horrible, which doesn't translate into the squad level. French soldiers could be and would be as good or better than their opponents. A lot of people don't like this at all because they never bothered to make the distinction. This passage is from an article in Relative Range fanzine:

All this makes French Line Troops slightly better than American Green Troops, and elite French Legionnaires better than elite American Paratroops. The second notion I'd be willing to entertain for argument, but as to the first; no way. Following are rules for modelling the French more accurately.

He then lays out rules for making the French crappy, use second-line squad leaders, five card hand, use American split cards instead of German. His conclusion?

These rules give a much more realistic picture of the French in WWII. It doesn't cripple them, but it does keep them from slaughtering their German(!) opponents. If the French had been this good in 1940, an entire gaming industry might never have been born.

Again, failing to make any connection between the individual man and corps command level.
 
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Will Miner
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We came oup with the "cure" for the Italian surrender rule ,,,only one group is subject per game,,,sooo,,,i,ll take the two worst guys ,put them in a group then march them right across the board , end of problem.
 
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James Fung
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billingspike wrote:
We came oup with the "cure" for the Italian surrender rule ,,,only one group is subject per game,,,sooo,,,i,ll take the two worst guys ,put them in a group then march them right across the board , end of problem.

They're Italians, not Russians.
 
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James Brown
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Good revue and I never notices the CCV of the French before.

I thought I knew this game.
 
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