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Subject: ROMMEL AT GAZALA - The Desert is heating up rss

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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Tampa
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The DESERT FOX



Rommel at Gazala (RAG) is a game on the battle for the British port and supply depot of Tobruk that raged from May 26th to June 24th, 1942. Its significance was with this defeat the British retreated deep into Egypt and Rommel seemed on the verge of sweeping to the Suez Canal. The game was first published as a desk top publishing (DTP) venture by veteran designer Jim Werbaneth. I was surprised that Lock ‘n Load took a "chance" by publishing this game, as it sadly didn't make much of a splash. Game scale is 2 days per turn with hexes representing 3 miles. Most units are regiments and brigades except for the Italian who are divisional size. Game play will run between 90 to 120 minutes.

The Battle of Gazala is often like one of those college football “Game of the Century” bowl games that takes many twists and turns and isn’t decided until the last minute of the game. The actual Battle of Gazala fits that description, as there were many opportunities for either side to win. With that in mind, how well does this game that harkens back to a simpler era reflect how near of a run thing was Rommel’s victory? The verdict is the game does even better now in its portrayal of this battle.





Initial set up - low density. It's NA - unless you're going to company level, it's gonna be low density.



COMPONENTS

In its original iteration, RAG was serviceable as a DTP. However when I first saw a test map at Jim's house prior to coming to a Southside Johnny concert this winner, I was simply stunned at the map that Lock N Load produced. I realized I now had a different game in my hands. We now have two maps with a perhaps one hex row overlay. The seams and all match up faultlessly. Moreover the entire color scheme for the map screams put me on your table NOW and play me. I thought the color shading of the Mediterranean was awesome look at the tufts of green interspersed along the coastal hexes. Everything is easy to read, very legible and leaves no room for interpretation. I wished perhaps they'd reconsidered the white numbers for the hexes but I can live with it. I am glad they made the command decision to remove the Combat Results Table (CRT) from the map. Instead we now have a nice heavy card stock CRT In addition we have a small colored game insert map, a Terrain Effects Chart and a Turn Record Chart (TRC). The TRC serves also track air points and armor losses which are used to for possible battlefield recovery points. The new counters to accompany the redesign are very nice and easy to read. They are done in typical NATO standardized symbols. It would have been nice had they included optional counters with icons like Worthington does with their wooden block games.



You have to make good use of these guys to win


RULES

The rules are short, well-organized and easy to read. With probably one read through a veteran gamer will feel comfortable to play. With two a less experienced player will feel confident enough to plow ahead. The only issue - the rule book is off by a year on the date of the battle. Small issue but that's a no brainer that a good editor should have caught. You might be surprised this same error was in the 2008 rule book.



Early mid-game - the Axis has had great success.




GAME PLAY

If you seek innovation and new complex systems purporting to be reality then RAG is not the game for you. Many of the game mechanics are simply industry standards from the rigid zones of controls to the sequence of play. The sequence of play is simple. Check all units both British and Axis for supply, conduct replacement operations, move and conduct combat. Mix, rinse, and repeat for the British side as the Axis always moves first. Don’t fret if you find yourself out of supply at least once during the game as you will be in good company with the Desert Fox. Or twice. Or perhaps three times. The effect of being unsupplied is the halving of movement and combat factors. Each side will get at least one pause to catch their supply breath as most games I played had this happened. Air power is factored in correctly since the Axis had quite the edge and more so as the battle progressed in overall air strength.

The game for is simplicity felt like a North African game. One of the reasons for this is that within the OOB, Werbaneth cleverly mixes in non-divisional units for the Germans that will give him an edge in battles by negating the effect of British armor. In a departure from most games, all units if they possess enough movement points can conduct overruns. Conduct of an overrun is the only exception to stopping in a zone of control. Combat is mandatory between adjacent units which does allow for a degree of unpredictability. Combat is a straight forward odds based type with results applied to both the attacker and defender. You have the choice of taking the results in either unit losses, hexes retreated or a combination thereof. What I like is how they didn't tinker with some of the game's lesser elements that add flavor. The value of Rommel here is in giving the Axis a one-column shift. The British have their more tangible element, their infantry support tanks that give them a one column shift. What was accomplished was beautiful in that the game’s key intangibles are factored in without a lot of rules to necessary to make this chrome work.

So how does it play? You tell me as you will keep playing it over and over for a while.... It is a immensely satisfying game that is bloody and freewheeling, with most games going down to the last turns to determine victory. Many games claim to mirror the chaos and uncertainty of the battlespace - ho hum. RAG surprisingly does despite its simpler CRT and low unit densities. Robert E. Lee - the master of the hanging flank would have appreciated this game. The mental challenge for players is accepting (with some trepidation) is you always have some flank hanging in the air, even with the minefields. The use of British airpower to upset the application of superior Axis air power and the wise use of replacements armor points often determines the game. My only quibble with play is my comment from 2008 with the need for an optional rule for the French artillery at Bir Hacheim. All the battle accounts I have read on the fighting around that box go to great length to speak how well the French serviced their 75 guns and the impact this add on the early fighting. Perhaps Lock N Load can add a counter in the next copy of Line of Fire?


CONCLUSIONS

When I played this as a DTP effort, me, the man who loves simple games was manifestly unimpressed. I noted then that I found a nice little fun simulation masquerading as fluff that would go into the collection. Well it did but that game will need to step aside for the lovely remake by Lock and Load. With this lovely remake, the game will get new life and see action again. It was a steal at ten bucks years ago, and with these production values that enhance an already very nice little game, it's still an obscene steal. And if you don't like this game, well Martha Davis of the Motels aptly summed it up, "Shame on You".





Turn 8 - the ROUT is on. Can I save Tobruk?


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