Editorial: On Board #12
If you’re a Panzer-pusher with a soft spot for North African action, you’ll want to know about what some gamers are calling an easy-to-play title that gets better with each session. Get the inside line on Corps: Command Totensonntag from Wargamer’s Pete Gade and designer Peter Bogdasarian.
Hard-Korps lovers of Rommel in the desert, this one is for you.
A quick peek over the sangar at Corps Command: Totensonntag bears good tidings. Few things say full-throttle wargaming like the battles of Operation Crusader, so needless to say that the game’s combo of the desert in late '41 and what looks like some damn solid art caught my eye right away. Throw in mention of four pages of rules and a mechanic that forces decisions around striking first or striking in force and … well … you got my attention.
Given a combination of quick playing time, “manly” counters, and the promise of bare-knuckled wargaming, is it any wonder that the crew over at Lock n’ Load Publishing is bringing this one to market?
Okay. Apply your sunblock, “SPF: Tobruk.” Designer Peter Bogdasarian gives us the inside line.
Pete Gade: So first off, what brought you to selecting the first battle of Sidi Rezegh? As this release appears to be the first game in the series, it would seem like Sidi Rezegh is an ideal pressure-test for a game system of this scope and scale.
Folks familiar with the battle know that it has the potential to look like a couple of eight-armed knife fighters on Rollerblades. With all that armor in play and everybody getting the chance to play the role of the attacker, this battle promises a lot of action … and consideration on the part of the designer.
Peter Bogdasarian: I wanted a game where players could chart multiple paths to victory. On the morning of November 19, the Commonwealth XXX Corps possessed a menu of tempting targets (the airfields of El Adem and Sidi Rezegh, the Ariete division at Bir el Gubi, the 21st Panzer and the relief of Tobruk itself). Historically, the Commonwealth divided its forces among several of these goals, but there is no reason to force a player's hand to avoid hindsight. No straightjacket rules here! Going into Operation Crusader, XXX Corps knew it needed to mass its strength against the Axis and issued orders to that effect, yet those orders fell by the wayside after the heady success of the flanking maneuver. Following orders to move in strength or daring to “wing it” a bit provides players with options and makes for different play experiences, which I enjoyed designing.
The other attractive aspect about Sidi Rezegh is how it avoids the classic trap of one player attacking while the other player simply defends. Both armies possessed plenty of strength to punch and counterpunch and either side could attack if it chose to. The game system I designed reinforces the attack and encourages players to retain the initiative by seeking to land the first hit.
Packing Desert Heat
PG: Break down the force mix if you could. What are the respective forces packing, what are their dispositions, and what sort of up-front considerations must each side factor in before the dice start clacking across the table?
PB: The British 7th Armour Division starts the game in three distinct columns. The 22nd Armour Brigade is on the left, the 7th Armour Brigade and 7th Support Group in the center and the reinforced 4th Armour Brigade on the right. This division is the most powerful Commonwealth formation in North Africa and is strong in armor. The Commonwealth player will win or lose the game by how he well handles it.
Four Commonwealth infantry brigades arrive as reinforcements—two from the 1st South African Division and two from the New Zealand Division. These brigades are composed primarily of infantry and artillery, though the New Zealanders have some Matildas and Valentines attached. Dan Pienaar's truculence is represented by the lower initiative rating on the South Africans, which makes them less willing to follow orders and advance against Panzerarmee Afrika.
The Axis greet the Commonwealth attack with three divisions, which are about as dispersed as the Commonwealth columns. To the west is the Ariete division, a strong force of tanks, motorized infantry and artillery. The Italians are not as poor as players might be conditioned expect—they fought well in this campaign at Bir el Gubi and on Totensonntag. The Ariete can easily repulse a single Commonwealth brigade but will face a stiff fight if hit by two or three.
Deployed on the north end of the map is the Afrika division. These troops are not yet battlehardened and they are missing most of their heavy equipment. The two battalions of ex-Foreign Legionnaires and some Panzerjaegers is are about all they have to punch with. Should the 7th Armour come after them, they will need help.
Finally, to the east is the 21st Panzer Division. The German panzer battalions possess what look like minor advantages over the British tanks (about one point better in each category), but when you start playing you see a world of difference in how they handle. These are the best units in the game and if the Commonwealth can smash them, then he'll likely win the whole thing.
The Axis get only one division (and a small artillery group) as a reinforcement, but what a division! At the start of turn 2, the 15th Panzer enters the board, greatly increasing the Axis firepower. By this point, Panzerarmee Afrika is often sorely pressed on at least one front and decisions need to be made about how best to allocate these reinforcements to fight the rest of the game.
The Poor, Sodding Infantry
PG: Talk a little bit about the role of infantry in WWII desert
warfare. I've seen a number of players new to the theatre in various systems
struggle with how to deploy them well, as they move slower and can find themselves
brutally exposed with all that enemy armor rooster-tailing all around their
positions. How does that play out in the game?
PB: The distinction between mobile and static warfare comes through in the ability of units to move and fight. Armor and reconnaissance units can move and attack in the same impulse while infantry and artillery cannot. To be effective, these branches of the service need to find "deadly ground" where the enemy can be enticed in an engagement. Infantry also ends up as an unsuitable weapon for pursuit since it has a hard time chasing down hostile units.
PG: And with forcing an engagement on your terms in mind, what does victory look like for either side?
PB: Victory is a mixture of what I like to call the Clausewitzian and Jominian factors. The Commonwealth win if they have one victory point at the end of the game. They gain one point for each airfield under their control, one point if Tobruk is relieved and one for each Axis division shattered. They lose two points if the 7th Armour is shattered and one for each of the other divisions. A division is shattered after losing a certain number of its constituent units to the deadpile.
The open-ended nature of the victory conditions allows the Commonwealth to define the reach of their offensive. They can operate for limited goals or press the Axis hard to achieve a decisive end. The key here is context—while the players fight at Sidi Rezegh, there is action elsewhere in Operation Crusader as XIII Corps clears the frontier and the Tobruk garrison waits for relief.