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      These notes were written by Jim Werbaneth on the release of the first edition of this game. The second edition will be released by Lock 'n Load Publishing at the end of March 2015.


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      Jim Werbaneth

      Whenever a wargamer contemplates the idea of designing a game, he has two emotions; ambition and intimidation. Virtually every wargamer has considered designing his own game, and many follow through, though an awful lot of projects are done only for a small audience, normally the creator and maybe a few of his friends. There is, arguably, a lot more inventiveness and creativity going on in the hobby's community than the range of commercially published games might indicate.

      On the other hand, a great many gamers look at professionally-produced wargames and react by saying to themselves; I can't possibly do that. In many cases it's true; games such as A. A. Nofi's Imperium Romanum II (West End) and the Advanced Squad Leader series (Avalon Hill) represent mammoth research efforts, very solid scholarship and analysis, and a great deal of talent augmented by design experience that is beyond the abilities of nearly everyone.

      But just as not every game has to be a great one, not everyone has to be a turkey, either. If the average, experienced game player can get past the I can't possibly do that syndrome; chances are he can design a game of his that, even if it is not a candidate for any time capsules, is worthy of signing his name to it. After all, playing games gives one a better idea of what makes a good one than, as some designers persist in doing, building unplayable monuments to their own vanity and dubious genius.

      Actually, such games probably do the hobby some good in two ways. First, under that mass of gratuitous complexity and wordy rules often lurks good ideas, that can be incorporated into later games. Second, the natural corollary of This thing is total crap is I can do better than this, and quite often both are true. The fatal drawback is that people have to pay good money for these lessons.

      There are a few simple rules that all designers, but especially new ones, should try to follow. First of all, pick a good, interesting subject. The definitive treatment of history's most obscure, boring and slow-moving conflict will have to be just as apathy-spawning, boring and slow. Ironically, a poor game on it, however, might be a lot more popular, as it could be inaccurately exciting.

      Then research it. It's not necessary to move into the National Archives or Imperial War Museum, just to learn the basic course of the battle, identify the units present and the terrain over which they fought, and the major factors that made the clash what it was. Good research doesn't always make for a good game, but it seldom hurts either.

      Just as important, a designer should stay within his limits, and try not to be too ambitious. When someone's first wargame is a 2,000-counter, high-complexity treatment of an intricate conflict, such as the Battle of the Bulge or the Pacific War, he's generally made a grave mistake. Design a systemically simple game, preferably of small physical size, before moving on to more sophisticated endeavors.

      Finally, while never disregarding historicity, design a game that will be playable, accessible, and above all enjoyable. After all, if the game isn't much fun to the designer, he can't expect anyone else to enjoy it.

      Rommel at Gazala is presented as a game designed with these rules in mind. The subject is one of the most dramatic, and closely contested, battles in North Africa in World War II. It was a seesaw affair that saw Rommel, at one point, surrounded and on the brink of surrender, only to break out and win what is probably his most impressive victory. Then to insure that it would be of interest to Command's readers, I submitted a feedback proposal before doing any work other than the research.

      The bulk of the research was done in May and June 1990, for an article on Gazala I wrote for World War II magazine. Writing an article on the subject first, even before formulating a feedback proposal on it, is one of the best ways I've found to research a game.

      Rommel at Gazala was designed to fit within strict systemic and physical limits. In complexity, it is akin to the old Blue & Gray and Napoleon's Last Battles quads, only with a different sort of combat results table, and more chrome. The map had to be small enough to be folded and stapled into the magazine,
      and not necessarily included as a separate item. Likewise, the counter mix was limited to sixty pieces, including markers. Rommel at Gazala was designed to be a bonus to the regular issue
      game, similar to Triumph of the Will or Tiger of Ethiopia, but standing alone.

      The game is fairly simple and should be appropriate for novice gamers to learn, either on their own or with the help of someone with more experience. Though I'm partial, I'm satisfied with the tension and excitement levels, and Detail from an original playtest map. It is a photocopy, as apparently, no origin, colored versions exist today. The game went over well with the playtesters. In the end, however, whether or not it meets the last requirement is up to each gamer.

      THE BASICS

      After the research, the first step in designing Rommel at Gazala was to draw a map. Originally I intended to use a scale of 2.5 miles per hex but found that such a map would exceed the size limit I'd set. Therefore I increased the hex scale to 3 miles, a fairly small change that would not change the basic character of the game.

      The map was based almost entirely on one of the Gazala battle area in the atlas accompanying The Second World War, of the West Point military history series. It has virtually all the terrain, natural and man-made, that would be militarily significant to a low complexity game on Gazala. The fortifications of Tobruk were filled in from the Tobruk inset map of Vance Von Borries' game Rommel's War (Quarterdeck).

      The British order of battle was determined largely from The Second World War's map, and the book Desert Warfare by Bryan Perrett. The Axis one was compiled from the same sources, plus F. W. von Mellenthin's Panzer Battles. For the German battalion-level specialized units, I again turned to Rommel's War.

      A caution about this is in order. Using existing games as research sources is fine, but up to a point. Some are impressive works of scholarship in their own right, just taking a different form than a book, and are just as valid to the game designer.

      What is not permissible is relying solely on, or largely, on someone else's design for the bulk of a new game. For example, taking a game's map, orders of battle, and general mechanics and transposing them to a new system is tantamount to stealing.

      Assigning combat and movement factors to the units was the next step. For this, I referred to an inset in A. A. Nofi's article "The Desert Fox: Rommel's Campaign in North Africa April 1941-December 1942," in Strategy & Tactics 87. Nofi assigned numerical ratings to each division, at critical dates, quantifying its strength, training, proficiency, and leadership.

      Combat factors for the Axis were adapted almost straight from Nofi's ratings for the start of the Gazala battle. Also, based on his analysis of the organization of the Italian Trento semi-motorized infantry division, I decided to treat it as a regular, leg formation. British combat factors too were based on this article, but because of cross-attachments and the assigning of normally independent brigades to divisional command, I had to play a little looser and more subjectively with his figures.

      Movement factors were also arrived at subjectively, based on my understanding of the battle. Rather than adopt a complex logistical system that would represent the drag of supply on movement, I cut the motorized units' factors in particular. Moreover, one has to assume that a unit will not only spend much of its time resupplying, but also reorganize at times, and be fighting.

      Another rationale for keeping the supply rules simple was that both sides had their supplies massed close to the front for the offensive's each planned on making. Rommel only got his off first. Hence there was little need for the supply and transports units common to desert games. If logistical shortages and transport bottlenecks were to be a problem, it would probably be in the aftermath of the battle, when the victors were pursuing the losers.

      IMPORTANT FACTORS

      The terrain is a vitally important factor in defining a battle, and therefore must be equally important in a wargame of it. Gazala was fought primarily in an upland, flat, hard desert, interlaced with a few trails and escarpments. The British then altered it by constructing a long and elaborate line of minefields and fortified "boxes." Then too there were the old Italian fortifications of Tobruk.

      Consistent with the West Point map, I used only one type of hex as far as movement was concerned, clear. Boxes, towns, and Tobruk are just variations of it, with the first and last having special effects on combat, supply and victory points. Everything else would be represented by hexsides. This approach, I feel, helps keep down complexity without unduly sacrificing realism.

      Games such as Rommel's War and The Desert Fox (S&T 87) use hill or rough hexes to portray the broken ground south of Tobruk, around the Axis bypass road. Rommel at Gazala replicates much of the same benefits to defenders there by using a higher concentration of escarpment hexsides.

      Normally I shy away from mandatory-attack combat systems as unrealistic, especially at the higher scales. It seems unrealistic to expect a German corps and a Soviet army, as in The Russian Campaign, not to be able to get within ten or twenty miles of each other without attacking, no matter how ill-advised. Furthermore, the "no-man's land" that crops up between them is much too large and is especially unrealistic if it includes a city.

      However, this approach seems to work better at the more tactical levels, and in the desert, as in Von Borries' Battles for North Africa series. So I adopted it for Rommel at Gazala, though I'd probably not use it in too many other contexts.

      The combat results table is adapted from Krim (Command 6) but made more lethal. Overruns are also incorporated to replicated quick, sharp combats such as those occurring during the Axis flank march that opened the battle.

      Rommel at Gazala uses step losses because this is historically accurate and easy to implement, and it's something that I've always preferred. Non-armored replacements are modeled roughly on the rate of Rommel's Wars. A system of tank recovery, extremely important to the Eighth Army's powers of recuperation, was borrowed from Hitler's Last Gamble (3W). Fortunately, the system in the Battle of the Bulge game corresponding to the recovery rates at Gazala.

      Airpower was abstracted, with air points instead of specific air units. Since Rommel at Gazala has no artillery units (this was, after all, a tanker's battle), artillery capabilities were incorporated into both unit combat strengths and the number of air points available. Also, to simulate the large Axis stockpiles of shells left over in the area from the previous year's siege, that player can declare a maximum assault against the city. This lasts for one Axis combat phase and enables all Axis units attacking across fortification hexsides to do so with doubled combat factors.

      Combat column shifts for armor superiority are employed because tanks were the decisive arm at Gazala. In addition, the British player can get an extra shift during his attacks if they include either of his army tank brigades. Concentrated in them were the Matilda and Valentine infantry tanks, slow and under gunned vehicles that were nonetheless intimidating because little short of an 88 could knock them out. Representing concentrations of these guns, the Axis player receives one German anti-tank and one antiaircraft battalion, which on defense deprive the British of any armor or infantry support tank
      shifts.

      Another critical factor in the battle was Rommel's leadership, and Rommel at Gazala would not have been complete if Rommel wasn't present. He has a battalion-sized head-quarters that entitles the Axis player to a beneficial combat shift on either attack or defense. Moreover, Rommel can move airmobile (by Fieseler Storch light plane) if the player so desires.

      PLAYTESTING

      The first step of playtesting Rommel at Gazala was to playtest it myself. The objectives were to check the basic mechanics, make sure they adequately reflected real-world dynamics, and generally see that all the parts worked right together.

      As it turned out, some slight but ultimately important changes were in order. For example, the combat results table was still not lethal enough and had to be "bloodied up" at the higher odds. Also, the cost to execute an overrun was one movement point above the cost to enter the defender's hex. This was definitely too low, and had to be increased to three points.

      Then it went to two-sided testing, by my friends Walt Dippel and Rev. Jack Werth and myself, though my role was basically to oversee their play and note any remaining problems. Again, there was a need to change some things.

      Chief among them was a rule originally included, which doubled Axis movement factors on the first turn. This was intended to allow for the type of grand, sweeping movement that Rommel made early in the battle. At first, playtests replicated this, but then it was discovered that by using trails and generally avoiding overruns, an Axis player could get into Tobruk on the first turn. That was the end of the game.

      So I reduced the bonus to one and a half the printed movement rate. The same thing happened. Even by giving the Axis just a five-movement point bonus, some units could get around fortification line, negating it for the next, potentially decisive combat phase. Given the probability of advancing into Tobruk after combat, the situation was not rectified. Again, game over.

      What was especially frustrating was that there wasn't anything the British player could really do to prevent this, given historical deployments. Furthermore, the Axis had a massive superiority in air points, and maximum-odds attacks against Tobruk were easy to get, particularly with the possibility of a maximum assault. So I got rid of the first-turn bonus altogether.

      As it turned out, Axis units could still end their first movement phase in roughly historical positions, should the player choose an historical route, if care was taken and overruns were made judiciously and some luck. Also, even if the Cauldron could not be reached through movement in the first turn, it might be through advance after combat.

      The second major flaw was in the allocation of air points. The Axis started with eighteen, which was entirely too much for either play balance or historical accuracy. I reduced this to fifteen which, though still heavily in the Axis' favor, made for a better game. With that, the three of us agreed that Rommel at Gazala was ready to be submitted for publication.

      CONCLUSIONS

      Rommel at Gazala is not the last word on the battle, any more than Cemetery Hill is the definitive simulation of Gettysburg. It's small, simple and breaks no new ground.

      What it does is show that designing a workable, though not immortal, wargame is not beyond the capabilities of the experienced player. It doesn't take blinding genius, ninety-hour work weeks, or familiarity with all kinds of obscure sources. What it takes is some reading, a willingness to keep things small, short and simple, and above all a willingness to put pen to paper and cardboard. A first design generally won't be Pacific War, but then it doesn't have to be StrikeForce One either.

      BIBLIOGRAPHY

      Churchill, Winston. The Second World War Volume III, The Hinge of Fate.
      Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.

      Griess, Thomas E. (ed.). The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean (West
      Point Military History Series). Wayne, New Jersey: Avery, 1989.

      Irving, David. The Trail of the Fox. New York: Avon, 1977.

      Note: I briefly considered removing The Trail of the Fox from the bibliography, but that would be a lie. We know now that Irving is a repulsive excuse for a human being who uses his considerable talents to deny the Holocaust, and that he adopts politics that might bring a smile to the lips of Adolf Hitler or Henry Ford. However, The Trail of the Fox remains a fine biography of Rommel from which
      none of the infamous David Irving smell emanates. Therefore the book remains on the list, and on my bookshelf, even though I would dearly love to kick the crap out of the author.

      Von Mellenthin, Major General F. W. (trans. H. Betzler). Panzer Battles. New York:
      Ballantine, 1987.

      Nofi, A. A. "The Desert Fox: Rommel's Campaign in North Africa April 1941-
      December 1942," Strategy & Tactics (July/August 1981), 4-14.

      Perrett, Bryan. Desert Warfare. Wellingborough, England: Patrick Stephens Limited,
      1988.

      Tarnstrom, Ronald L. Germany: The Wehrmacht Strikes 1920-1942. Lindsborg, Kansas:
      Trogen Books, 1989.

      Werbaneth, James P. "Gazala: The Duel for Tobruk, 26 May-21 June 1942." Unpub-
      Lished manuscript, accepted by World War II, 1990.

      Note: Published in World War II Volume 7, Number 1 (May 1992) under
      the title “Helpful Conduct by the Enemy.” That name change was the choice of the editor,
      not the writer.

      GAMES

      Berg, Richard. The Desert Fox, SPI (Strategy & Tactics 87), 1981.

      Von Borries, Vance. Rommel's War, Quarterdeck, 1985.
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