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Subject: Afrika Korps - A Grognard's Look at His First Wargame rss

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steve mizuno
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Am I a grognard? Hard to see myself in that position, but I the fact that I started with this game pretty back in 1967 puts me there by default.

Afrika Korps - A Grognard's Look at His First Wargame

Back in 1966, for my birthday, I received an educational game - TUF. Tuf is basically Boggle with numbers and function cubes, and is really for geeks... guys who liked Tuf probably graduated to WFF 'N POOF or became nuclear physicists for the Ukraine, or ended up ruining the country through the use of derivatives.

Anyway, Tuf was an awful experience. I played it a few times, mostly to use the cool sand timers, but what REALLY grabbed me was the black and white brochure in the game.

It listed games like Battle of the Bulge, Waterloo, Midway, Gettysburg, U-Boat, Bismarck, Football Strategy, and Blitzkrieg, along with other fine productions by the boys at Harford road.

Having been brought up on a diet of COMBAT! and FIGHTING SEABEES!, along with Audie Murphy classics, I wanted a taste of combat. I decided on Blitzkrieg and Afrika Korps.

These two were delivered by "Santa" and I was ecstatic. Something about the advertising for Blitzkrieg - THE GAME OF LIGHTNING WARFARE - really pushed my buttons, so I chose those rules to read first.

This was a tactical error, as I ended up giving up trying to teach myself the rules. I had NEVER had to give up on rules for a game before. I was nearly in tears, I was so frustrated. So later on that day, I picked up the Afrika Korps rules, read them, and began to understand how the game was played.

I punched out the little bits... WOW! The Germans have TWO 7-7-10's! And the Allies have all these wimpy little 1-1-6's. I coerced my brother into trying this game, but he would only play as the Germans. So I went down to my first defeat - one that was destined to be repeated many times at the hands of my brother and his telekinetic control of those old white crappy AH dice.



I spent forever that first day staring at the board, looking at the fortress squares, the escarpment squares, and the coastal road. I also spent some time reviewing the victory conditions.... Okay, so it doesn't seem reasonable to eliminate all the enemy units, but controlling both home bases and both fortresses for two consecutive turns seemed manageable.



After I was thoroughly sick of my brother's use of the die, I got together with a friend from school, and we took on Afrika Korps. The very first time out, Brad let me have the Germans, and I sent a pile of guys along the coastal road. He occupied the passes on the escarpment squares outside of Tobruck (very nice move, by the way), and began schooling me in the proper use of the Allied forces.

There are all sorts of opinions about this game. I probably am not going to convince anyone as to its merits through a short review of my history with the game, but for those of you who might still be on the fence with this game, I think its worth another look.

There are relatively few unit counters - the two German panzer divisions each only have 3 unit counters - and most other units are either brigade size, or division size, and represented by one counter each. (German units tend to be smaller sized regiments and battalions.) Italian divisions are all one counter only, as are most Allied infantry brigades. Specialized units are smaller - the recon units, with movement factors of 12, tend to be battalion sized.

Most Allied units are infantry brigades, and most are 1-1-6's (Attack, Defense, Movement). Looking at the mapboard, these guys aren't very powerful, even in groups, and are certainly not very speedy - especially away from the coast road. Allied strength ranges from the aforementioned 1-1-6's, to 2-2-6's, a couple of 2-2-7's in November reinforcements, a few 3-3-7's, and the strongest Allied units, the 4-4-7's. The Allies also have some speedier units - the 1-1-12 Recce units.

Movement rules in Afrika Korps are a little bit odd. Units can use the coastal road for 10 free movement points along the road, and then jump off the road, and take the rest of their movement. There are also escarpment hexes, which interrupt movement (you move into them, and basically stop, unless you have moved in on a road. Rommel can move two hexes along with his units, and give a free two hex bonus.

There is one additional type of movement, and if one player controls both the fortress Tobruk, and his own home base, units can move by sea. Move the units into either the fortress, or the home base square, and put them "at sea." They arrive on the start of your next turn at their destination.

(The time record - a critical part of the game is the time record. The game begins in April 1941, and the Germans start with a pile of Italian divisions, along with one German division - the 21st Panzer. As an aside, students of history will know that this was actually the 5th Light division, and was not designated as the 21st Panzer until later in the campaign. May 1941 sees the Germans getting the 15th Panzer, putting them at their strongest in relation to the Allied force pool. The Allies receive, basically, an armored division in June, lots of infantry in July, some additional infantry in August, and then nothing until November, when they receive what seems like a veritable TON of units, including some powerful armored formations. The critical time for the Allied player seems to largely be between the May and the November reinforcements.)



Oh... and the one critical change introduced to the classic formula in AK was the Automatic Victory. Automatic Victory occurs when a unit or units attack another unit or units, at odds of either 7-1 or better, or 5-1 surrounded. Once AV conditions have been established, subsequent units may move directly through the zone of control of the AV'd unit(s). This one single change causes great issues for the Allied player in this game. Incorrect placement of a defensive line, or even one unit, can cause the Allied player to lose stacks of units, or the game.

Errors in unit placement for the Axis player can also cause serious problems. Misplace one unit, and a flood of Allied units can surround your line, cut off your units from supply, capture one of your critically important supply units, and potentially end the game.

Unit density in this game is almost always critically low. Both sides feel the loss of even a few of the less critical units. If you are unable to hold a line, you cannot safely assault a defensive position. This low density of unit counters makes individual unit counter placement critical, and really emphasizes the use of threats to create movement responses from the enemy. For both sides, use of the high movement factor units, coupled with the extremely low unit density, sometimes causes severe headaches to try to corral the recce units or panzers, or restrict their ability to turn your flank.

In Afrika Korps, as in chess, the threat of a move is often enough to cause your enemy to abandon entire defensive positions. This is more true than any of the other AH classics that I have ever played...

Many players of this game conclude, probably correctly, that a severe lack of supply will cripple the Axis player. Yes - this is true - particularly during certain critical parts of the game. But even substandard supply results can be handled by an excellent Axis player. Sure, there are certain times when you really need supply - during the initial attacks on the Halfaya Pass area, followed by enough to drive the Allied player back into Tobruck. However, after this, the use of well chosen threats to the flank of the Allied defensive position can force the Allied palyer to abandon position after position. Trust me - given even a close to average result of supplies, a well-trained Axis player can turn defensive position after defensive position, and cause the Allied player to fall back again and again. Add in a few AV attacks, and a poorly positioned Allied defensive position can be isolated, supplies can be captured, and the game lost, in just a couple of turns.

Back in the day, I bought the old play-by-mail kit for Afrika Korps. I played quite a few contests out over months of real time. I later ended up meeting one of my opponents who lived in San Diego after I moved here to go to school. He was quite a guy - AREA rated, and particularly good at kicking my ***. He often bypassed Tobruck to win the game before my November reinforcements could hit the board and turn the tide of the game.

Luck - a discussion of the luck factor in Afrika Korps is crucial to a review of the game. A basic novice at Afrika Korps, assigned to the role of the Axis, can and often will, turn the game into several low odds attacks - and will probably lose, but with enough 1's, will beat even the best Allied player. This is unfortunate, and there is nothing in the rules to prevent this. That same player, assigned to the role of the Allies, will probably be eviscerated long before the November reinforcements can arrive.

Luck in supplies, and luck in combat results, are a virtually unbeatable combination. But most games will not see extremes in results. And even games with smaller amounts of "luck" can become easily untenable, for one side or the other, but have not acquired, for some reason, the reputation of resting on just one or two die rolls.

For this reason, I believe that experienced AK players do not enjoy taking on inexperienced players. They want to find someone to match wits with, not someone who will reduce the contest to one or two attacks on Tobruck.

Luck can decide this game, but what wargame in your collection does not share this flaw? Many games basically boil down to one or two critical events. Victory in the Pacific, for example, although long and involved, can easily boil down to one critical day/night roll. I have played many games of Bulge in which one critical attack decided the game. Most wargames have this as a "flaw." It is easier for this to happen in Afrika Korps, sure, and this happens generally because the Axis player (almost always the Axis player) decides that this is the only way they can win. Is it really? No... in almost every circumstance, unless luck has cripppled the Axis supplies, or they have taken early and critical losses, there is no need to make that 1-1 or 2-1 attack on Tobruck to decide the game. The key as the Axis player is to knock out the Allied home base, and then take a series of calculated high odds/low odds assaults on Tobruck to take the fortress, particularly post-November. (The Axis receive a pile of very decent soak-off units in November to enable them to make these attacks.)

In this game, more than the other classics, there are seemingly beautiful ballets being performed by the forces on the board. The movement of two skilled players is a joy to behold, and a good bit of fun. Poorly played Afrika Korps, however, like most poorly played wargames, can be truly ugly. The game can be over as early as June or July 1941 with a relatively inexperienced Axis player. Good AK play, however, is exceptional, and something to truly enjoy.







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Chris Heap Senhouse
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Cool review - thanks!

I've always wondered about this game, and have been reading about the war in North Africa in "An Army At Dawn".

Chris
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Wendell
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Si non potes reperire Berolini in tabula, ludens essetis non WIF.
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What a great review, thanks.
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Bill Lawson
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Nice! This was my second wargame and first land wargame (about 66'). I'm currently playing Afrika II on vassal so my interest in this topic is still alive 40 some years later.
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David Gray
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First wargame I ever played...
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Seth Owen
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This one was around the third or fourth one my little gaming group got into in the lates 60s early 70s after Midway and Stalingrad and maybe Guadalcanal.

While luck can play a role in the game, clearly the repeated success of the same small group of expert players over the years in various tournaments shows that luck can't overcome skill.

I think AK has aged pretty well, over the years. It's forte was never historical accuracy, so it's been less affected by advances over the years on that front than some of its contemporaries. I think few people would play Stalingrad, D-Day or Battle of the Bulge instead of a newer game on the same topic, but Afrika Korps still has many fans who like the refined level of play that a game that's been chewed over for 40+ years can provide..
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Lo Ma
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I played a ton of wargames with brothers when I was a kid in the '60's, but Afrika Korps was the one I liked the most and is the best remembered. The fatal flaw of the game seems to me to be Bengazi depending on one roll of the dice, and Bengazi is the crux of the game, as I remember.

One of my brothers is still an avid wargamer and he says can't believe he once thought of Afrika Korps as an excellent game.

It still lives in my memory as a great game, although I have zero desire to play it again. That would probably destroy my pleasant memories.

As to Battle of the Bulge, which we also played a lot, the only thing I remember is having an image of pot-bellied soldiers... Hey, I was only 11 years old at the time playing with my brothers who wer 5 and 10 years older than me...
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steve mizuno
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LoMa wrote:
I played a ton of wargames with brothers when I was a kid in the '60's, but Afrika Korps was the one I liked the most and is the best remembered. The fatal flaw of the game seems to me to be Bengazi depending on one roll of the dice, and Bengazi is the crux of the game, as I remember.

One of my brothers is still an avid wargamer and he says can't believe he once thought of Afrika Korps as an excellent game.

It still lives in my memory as a great game, although I have zero desire to play it again. That would probably destroy my pleasant memories.

As to Battle of the Bulge, which we also played a lot, the only thing I remember is having an image of pot-bellied soldiers... Hey, I was only 11 years old at the time playing with my brothers who wer 5 and 10 years older than me...


???

Benghazi is generally isolated on the first turn of the game. The unit counter for 2-2 S.G. is generally the least used in the game, and typically stays nice and shiny. I think you are probably referring to Tobruck, and as I stated in my review, I contend that the gameplay really revolves around the timeframe from June 1 to October 2. A skilled Axis player will end up taking the British homebase with acceptable supply luck, and will then turn on Tobruck with a series of 3-1 / soak off or low odds attacks. This will generally turn out poorly for the Allies.

For some people, the mere fact that an inexperienced Axis player can turn the game into a die rolling contest makes it a non-starter. I believe that most games have some flaw that will allow a relatively inexperienced player to roll the die to win the game. Heck, even 3rd Reich has the old "parachute into London" problem.

Afrika Korps rewards the experienced geek, who has played many times over the years. Two such grognards, sitting across from each other, can really play the heck out of this game.

Glad you have fond memories of the game. If you decide you want to give it a try again, I'm sure that there are many old grognards who could show you a thing or three about proper play of this old classic.
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June Hwang Wah
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Thanks for the review. This was the first wargame purchased by my cousin when I was 7-8(?). Took a while for me to grasp it.

Borrowed and played it extensively during my primary (junior) school years. It plays like chess, and I think we memorised positions for the first few turns of the game, such that we did not have to even count hexes. And I remember destroying my Ariete Division with an unlucky Ex result with a 2x7-7-10 against a 3 factor defender in escarpment.

Sure brings back fond memories.
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