Desert Duel (1st Alamein)
I've been going to the local library on Sunday lately in order to use the HS internet and get some (all too brief) personal gaming time in (odd how we don't get much time to play for ourselves).
Anyway . . . having recently acquired the current crop of ATO mini-games, I decided to give DD a whirl . . . the rules were brief, concise, had little room for (mis)interpretation and the subject is near and dear to my heart.
I'd set the game up at home earlier in the week in order to familiarize myself with the map and to speed up the process when it counted (Yes, I know there is a CB application, but I am limited to two hours on the library computer, so decided to play the paper version after my comp session was over).
Anyway, set up was relatively quick and easy (flourescents showed me the difference between the German and Italian units which were not readily apparent under my home lighting) and I soon started playing.
As is normal, while the rules were pretty straight-forward, a (very) few questions popped up (to follow later) and I'd also forgot (or missed) a few rules that I later incoporated in following game turns or phases, but nothing of earth-shattering import. I played using just the STANDARD rules (plus Leaders).
One of the biggest factors seperating DD from other games is the "Endurance level" (EL) factor. Units fight at full strength as long as they are on the map, but if they take a hit(s) from combat, this is immediately counted up against their "EL". If a unit gets enough hits to equal or surpass it's "EL", it simply melts away, never to return. Of course, combat hits can be buffered due to terrain effects, but this concept of full strength balanced on the knife edge of being able to take a "hit" (or not) works perfectly with this battle (and quite honestly I'd like to see more of these games from Mr. Rinella).
The Germans are pretty much the strongest units on the board and can take a lot of punishment, while the British are consistently solid in all respects. The Italian units are both weaker and can take far less punishment...all of which mirrors the historical facts at the beginning of the battle.
Rommel starts the battle in good shape & position along with a few (but only a few) attack options and has to make the best of it while the British are caught (just slightly) off balance. By the same token though, his strong German units are few in number and Rommel is forced to use his Italian troops in order to absorb losses.
If Auchinleck can weather the first two impulses, he can pretty much start bringing pressure to bear against Rommel (or at least be in position to help plug gaps or reinforce positions) and he can also bring down a heavy artillery barrage (one offensive shift right) every impulse (2/turn) as opposed to Rommel's use of artillery just once a game turn.
While combat is voluntary (thereby allowing units to reduce 'Hits' by refitting units in the field one level at a time), it is a battle and victory must be achieved, so decisions must be made.
Rommel can hit very hard, but must wait a turn for his Italian units to be in position before he can bring down a heavy attack...otherwise he is forced to use his German units alone.
The Auk can use all of his units to their fullest ability each turn, but can only move infantry or armor once per phase (see Errata question below though) and there is only a 50/50 chance that any attack using both armor and infantry will include both forces at the same time...so the British player is forced to think very much in 'chess-like' terms for at least two or three impulses before he can make a worthwhile attack, but when he does line up the perfect attack, he can hit with a vicious back-hand blow!
The Italian units are pretty much the key to the battle...Rommel must use them to at least defray German losses, but can't allow them to absorb more than one loss per infantry unit in any attack, because any solid British counter-attack will go after these weakened units...destroying them and creating large gaps in gaps in the German line.
While I did not have enough time to play my first game to completion, I will say this...the game did effectively mirror the actual battle and was a nail biter for both sides from start to finish. I was about halfway finished when the library closed and the Auk was gaining the upper hand, but in so doing was facing strong and large enemy positions in excellent terrain and it would take time to mount large, formal attacks against any of these postiions with any chance of success.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game and look forward to playing it this coming Sunday (remembering all the rules and their nuances) and I also hope that there are more games in this series coming from the designer...it works for the Western Desert Campaign and I think the sky is the limit with possibilities.
This game rates a good, solid "A", IMHO and is well worth getting!