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Desert War: Egypt, 1940» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Decent game worth a look rss

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Alasdair Campbell
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If you’re looking for a light, low-complexity treatment of a campaign that has been somewhat overlooked in wargames, which offers a bit of fun and which does capture some of the history of the subject, then this might be the game for you. If you’re looking for a game that is painstakingly accurate in terms of supply and the capabilities of both sides etc, which offers an in-depth and authentic treatment of the Italian campaign in Egypt in 1940, then this may not be what you are looking for.

Components

The counters are well made, of a reasonable quality, and are clear and provide the information required. The map is of a good thick card, and is fairly pleasing to the eye. However, I’m not sure why a darker colour wasn’t used for town names, just to make them a little clearer, and the same can be said for hex numbers. Also when stacks of units gather the hex edges can be a little difficult to make out, but I suppose this can be a criticism levelled at a lot of games. For instance, if you have Bardia surrounded, then lifting those counters to check ridge/escarpment edges can be a bit fiddly. However, as counter density for the game is pretty light, it tends not to be too much of a problem. There are two nice player aids which allow you to keep track of Resource Points and look up most of the useful rules at a glance. The rulebook is well-made and as the rules are pretty simple, any problems with the layout of the rules are fairly minor, due to there being so few rules.

Rules

As mentioned above, the rules, like its predecessor MedWar Sicily are for the most part straightforward and simple. You roll dice to score step-losses or retreats (hitting with a D6 on a ‘5’ or ‘6’ for motorised and armour, and a ‘6’ for infantry units). Terrain has predictable effects on movement and combat, and there are two small decks of cards which can be accessed through Resource Points (RPs), and these cards give each side special abilities which can be used to make a breakthrough, or add artillery support, or interdict your opponent’s supply etc. RPs are allocated through chit-draw to each side at the beginning of their turn and these RPs can be used for cards, reinforcements, refitting units, or building fortifications. To reflect history, the Allies have more high-RP chits and the Italians fewer. None of the cards are so powerful that they can deliver a knock-out blow on their own, but certain cards if used properly can have a decisive impact which can then lead to a knock-out blow. For instance, the Armour card can with a decent armour stack provide the breakthrough that your side required. But the anti-tank card can counter that by making all armour rolls infantry rolls.

So overall, the rules are fairly intuitive. You want to use your armour to attack with, as it has a greater chance of hitting. You want to concentrate your attacks to maximise your chances of punching a hole in the lines of the opposition, but you also have to screen your flanks to make sure your supply is not cut. In other words, hugging the coast too much can leave you open to being outflanked.

However, with brevity comes a little bit of ambiguity. With the Allied Air Support Card, it says it can be played within 15 hexes of an Allied-controlled city, but the only two cities in the game are Bardia and Tobruk which don’t tend to fall into Allied hands until the end of the game, if at all. So in effect these cards are nigh-on useless. Unless, city should read village, and then of course they can be played from the outset. Then when it comes to friendly units cancelling enemy ZOCs, the rulebook’s only reference to this is that if retreating, then units can retreat through an enemy ZOC if a friendly unit is in that ZOC. In other words, friendly units nullify enemy ZOCs with regard to retreat. But what about friendly units nullifying enemy ZOCs in general, for movement purposes and tracing supply. It doesn’t state anywhere whether this is the case or not. I have taken friendly units to nullify enemy ZOCs for all purposes, as this makes sense to me, and so once one unit has moved into an enemy ZOC and stopped (as per rules) the next unit can move in and is not stopped but can continue to move. Again with regard to cutting supply, if a friendly unit sits in the road/track hex which would normally be cut by ZOC, I have taken that supply is no longer cut.

Then we come to movement, the rules state that each unit or stack of units moves separately. Does that mean that a stack moving to the same destination have to travel the same route and move at the same time, or can you move separate units stacked in the same hex one at a time – the latter is what I have being doing as it makes more sense. Perhaps the rule should read: “You cannot partially move one or a stack of units, and then move another unit/stack, before returning to move the other partially-moved unit/stack. You have to complete the movement of each unit, before moving the next.” This still leaves the question, do you have to move all units in a stack (potentially to different hexes), before moving another unit/stack – would this reflect command and control restrictions. The rules don’t seem to make the point clearly enough for me to be able to answer that.

Then there’s the removal of ‘out-of-supply’ markers. All that is written in the rules on this one as far as I can see is that you check the supply status of your units at the beginning of your turn. But as initiative can mean that your opponent can have two turns before you go again, your units can sit ‘out-of-supply’ for your turn, and two of your opponent’s turns before being checked again, even if your opponent’s moves or your own attacks have meant that the unit can now access supply. In other words, there is no time to remove them other than the beginning of your own activation phase. Is this realistic, I’m not sure, but it can lead to units being more or less out of commission for three activation phases. I wonder whether the rule should be both sides are checked at the beginning of each player activation phase?

It states that stacking applies at the end of movement, so that means that units can move through max-stacked hexes. It would be nice for the rules to state that explicitly rather than simply saying stacking rules apply at the end of movement. What this means is that units can retreat through max-stacks, as far as I can tell.

Then we come to retreats, where the rules state that units must retreat away from the enemy unit inflicting the result. This means that if you have a unit being attacked from hexes 1, 3 and 5 of the six surrounding hexes, that you will have to roll each hex individually to make sure that your unit retreats away from the units inflicting the losses, and what happens if all three surrounding hexes inflict losses? Does the inability to retreat from a unit inflicting the loss lead to step losses? And then what about units out of supply retreating? According to the rules, they may not move away from a ZOC, so do they take step-losses when forced to retreat from a ZOC? Again according to the rules, out-of-supply units may not move adjacent to an enemy unit, and so if surrounded by units in hexes 1, 3 and 5, then the out-of-supply unit cannot move legally and so must take step-losses. It would have been nice just to have a bit of clarification of some points such as these, which may be easy enough for seasoned grognards to work out, but for us less experienced wargamers, these slight ambiguities can lead to a bit of head scratching.

Overall, despite these minor quibbles above, the rules are fairly straightforward and I feel lead to a pleasing gaming experience. The dice rolls for initiative lead to some uncertainly and the possibility for swings in momentum, and also dice rolls for combat lead to a great deal of uncertainty and sometimes frustration (of a good kind, if you know what I mean)... None of the cards break the game, and in fact the game can be played quite well without them. A lot of things are simplified and abstracted, but I feel they work in the main.

Gameplay

This is where the game shines for me. Although I must state that so far I have only played it solo, so there may be some aspects of the game which play differently opposed - ie not knowing which cards the other player has etc. I do feel however, that I have a good feel for the game even solo, and it does solo pretty well. It is a simple game, no doubt about that. There are not that many units on either side, so the game can be played quite quickly. Also there probably aren’t that many strategies either side can employ, especially given the victory conditions. The Allies are forced to attack aggressively from more or less the second or third turn. The Italians really have to make some kind of early push themselves to make sure they have some kind of presence in Egypt at the game’s end. So this makes for a sort of historical game. The two sides are not evenly-matched, as was the case historically. The Italians have more one-step units, fewer quality motorised/armoured units, and poorer quality infantry. However, the Italians can with some lucky dice make a fist of it, and perhaps rattle the Allies. But make no bones about it, I believe the game balance makes an Italian victory more difficult than an Allied victory. If dice average out, then the Allies should at least be able to remove the Italians from Egyptian soil, which gives them a very marginal victory.

There’s quite a lot of room for attempts at cutting supply with recce units having a significant movement advantage over other units. That said, I do believe many games will cluster around Bardi and Sidi Omar, the two key supply junctions on the border.
The dice mechanism works for me, as do the cards, and the RPs to allow you to bring reinforcements in etc. You do have to make tough decisions to spend your limited RPs each turn. And the game has had a tendency to be fairly close right up to the end, with the last Italian units being pushed out of Egypt on the last or second-last turn. Taking Bardia and Tobruk for an outright victory can be tough for the Allies. That said, I do feel the Italians will do very well to eek out a victory with Italian units in supply being in Egypt at game end, and as for the Italians taking Mersa Matruh, well you would have to get a lot of 6s early on...

I feel that a draw would be a fairer result for there being no Italian units in supply in Egypt, and that the Allied victory only comes with Bardia falling and this being the case. I think I’m going to make that a house rule.

So I would say that gameplay is overall pretty good. Quite a bit of back and fore, and the dice mean that various outcomes are possible. For a game of this price, and scope, I think it ticks a lot of boxes for me. I can play it in a short session. There is some scope for different strategies, but with a few plays I do believe you would find a couple of preferred strategies. I feel that the game brings out a “certain” amount of realism in terms of what happened historically. The Allies are the more powerful side, but the Italians are not in a completely hopeless situation. There are options for both sides.

Conclusion

I would recommend this game to anyone who likes simple wargames which offer fun uncomplicated gameplay and play quickly, 7 out of 10 from me. The rules are a little bit fuzzy, but are very simple. A nice pick-up-and-play wargame, with quite a bit of replay-value (mainly due to the dice factor), and which is quite fun. There is a little bit of a chess-like element in that there appear to be some optimum moves which you can make at certain times, but at other times you can take a risk and hope for a lucky roll of the dice. The game evokes the theme and campaign fairly well, and the components are good. If the randomness of dice put you off, or if you are looking for a game you can play again and again, or a game with a lot of depth, then this may not be for you. I would suggest it works best, if you have a couple of games, and then leave it for a few weeks/months and then you can come back to it and play it again a couple of times. And it solos pretty well from my experience.


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Chris Saad
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Yes we have had some discussion on vague rules. however observing over stacking limits during retreat is mentioned in the rules, page 3 (7.24),
so we also apply this to movement.
We also play enemy ZOC is negated for all instances when occupied by a friendly.
We play that out of supply markers are removed only when checking during activation...initiative can be a bitch.
Retreating is interesting. We have not fully settled, but this is how we currently play. When retreating you only must end your retreat further away than the attacking enemy. So your first hex retreated to may be adjacent to an enemy which attacked you as long as you end up further away from any and all hexes attacking and we add all dice together when multiple hexes attack, still taking step losses when retreating through ZOC unless occupied by a friendly. This eliminates most auto kills and we like that. In the case of Italian "survival" the only provision is that you cannot retreat into the same hex twice.

we like this game a lot.
The Italians have won the majority so far. But it does not seem like much of a victory when on average they only have 2 or 3 units left and the Brits are hardly scratched.
One cheesy way for the Italians to win is by getting one unit anywhere in Egypt then playing a supply card on the unit.
We have also noticed that since there is only one hex path into Tobruk,
that make taking it very difficult indeed, especially if well defended with 2 forts etc.

cheers
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Alasdair Campbell
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I'm glad you enjoy the game, and settled on the rules. I enjoyed the game, and played it a few times solo. What I enjoyed most was that it played quickly, and also offered a good number of options in terms of strategy.

Being fairly new to wargames, I found it hard to make the next logical step when a rule did not spell it out for me. I can understand that an experienced gamer would be able to do this. And I'm sure what you say here will help those who play the game. It's just a shame with such a simple set of rules, that a few more lines/examples of play were not included to make clear what happens in each situation, where there is a possiblity of more than one interpretation of the rules.


 
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