Relief at Tobruk

German troops break the Tobruk perimeter defenses

German troops (in green) break the Tobruk perimeter defenses

I was a bit optimistic when I made my first post about this game (here) but I have now had a chance to play it. Part of the delay was head scratching by me about the activation rules. Units are activated by formation when that formation’s chit is drawn. So far, so good. However, the rules mix in references to HQs and formations. The problem (of interpretation) is that the Allied forces have more than one HQ activating at a time, and the rules suggested each such HQ go separately. But there was no way of knowing what units belonged to what HQ. Finally, Eric Harvey clarified the position and into battle I went.

The historical situation sees the Allied forces bottled up in Tobruk with relief on its way from the south (XXX Corps) and the east (XIII Corps). For the Axis, there are the crack troops of the (German) Afrika Corps and the 15th and 21st Division, backed up by the less deadly Italian Trieste Division and XXI Corps. The Axis are trying to batter their way into Tobruk before the arriving Allies batter them. It’s a race by both sides against time. The stage is set for Operation Crusader.

Game play is, once the queries are sorted, easy. There are only a couple of details that might catch you out – like artillery support only for the attacker, and overrun being different from every other overrun I have ever encountered. But the chit draw adds to the tension and the interest and produces some welcome chaos. It is very frustrating for the Tobruk Garrison chit to be drawn early, and then have these forces stand meekly by while the Panzers crack on! Combat is odds based with die roll modifiers for air support, and artillery (channelled by HQ units). Anti-Tank units get to fire in defense before regular combat, so can turn the tide on their own. Movement is bog standard apart from minor restrictions when using road movement, and an interesting Minefields rule that allows the Axis to reduce one Allied unit each turn to half its Movement Points.

All in all, it’s a nice, playable package. The glitches are annoying. (For example, the flipping game sequence in the rules has Air Allocation in the wrong part of the game turn. Ooops.) However, it would not stop me playing it again, or another game using the same system. Indeed, I now need to find where I put World at War #24 which has the same system, I understand, and features Sedan: The Decisive Battle for France.

Wide open spaces

Wide open spaces

I have played the first four turn scenario through to completion twice, each time with an Allied victory. I make no observation on game balance because I am sure I was not even handed. However, I think the Allied air power and initially available forces are quite a challenge to overcome. I have, as the Axis, broken the Tobruk perimeter but never made it to Tobruk.

Some comments:

  • I wish this were the system used in Decision’s WW2 and modern Folio Games.
  • I hope future games make the HQ unit ratings different in appearance from regular combat units.
  • There’s room for plenty more chrome without danger of overwhelming the players.
  • Given the large Movement Allowance units have in this game, it seems to be difficult to avoid enemy outflanking movements. In a meatier serving, I might expect to see some reserve or chit draw interruption rule to offset this.
  • I know this is ‘only’ a magazine game, and I know it takes time and resources to produce, test and edit games, and even more to get the rules right, but if the game turn sequence is wrong , it does make you wonder what else might be. Better quality control, please, Decision.
  • I don’t want to finish on a negative note, so I will happily confirm I got more than my money’s worth out of the game. And the magazine wasn’t half bad either!