AFRIKA KORPS is an operational simulation of the critical nineteen-month period, between April 1941 and October 1942, when the Axis and Allies fought for control of North Africa. The stakes for both sides were high: Egypt and with it, the Suez Canal. An Axis victory would have transformed the Mediterranean into an Italian lake, threatened Britain’s links to her East Asian possessions, and potentially have opened the way for an Axis attack against the oil-rich Russian Caucasus. In the years since the end of World War II, the fighting in North Africa has taken on its own mystique. Characterized by sweeping mechanized advances and by dramatic reversals of fortune, the struggle between Rommel and a succession of British commanders has almost become the stuff of legend. And in one sense the fighting in North Africa was unique. It was fought on terrain perfect for armor and for that reason, the numerous engagements between Axis and Commonwealth forces took on many of the characteristics of naval battles in which opposing tanks, like ships on the sea, lunged and maneuvered against each other across the largely featureless desert.
The game begins with the newly arrived Axis commander, Erwin Rommel, launching a surprise offensive against the scattered and outnumbered Allies. One player commands the Allies (British and Commonwealth forces); the other controls the Axis (German and Italian forces). AFRIKA KORPS is 38 game turns long and follows a simple game turn sequence: the first player (German) rolls for supply, brings in any scheduled reinforcements, and then moves and initiates combat; then the second player (Allied commander) repeats the same sequence (except that supply is automatic) ending the game turn. The German player wins by either eliminating all of the Allied units on the game map, or by occupying both Axis and Allied home bases, and Bengasi and Tobruch for two consecutive player turns.
Three design innovations made AFRIKA KORPS unique when it appeared in 1964. The first was the introduction of supply rules that emphasized the critical role of logistics for both armies: supply lines took on a new significance, and stockpiling supplies for an offensive became essential, if the attack was to be continued. Charles Roberts’ second clever design feature was the introduction of command initiative through the “Rommel” movement bonus: this rule increased the movement range of units traveling with the Rommel counter. The third and most important innovation was game developer Tom Shaw’s inspired change in the combat rules to allow automatic victory during the movement phase of the game turn. Virtually all of these rules, in one guise or another, have become common in contemporary game designs; and with its game mechanics now commonplace, some players dismiss AFRIKA KORPS as being a poor simulation (which is probably true) and being unbalanced (which it is not). I admit that I have played simulations with far more detail and historical accuracy than AFRIKA KORPS has (although I think that Roberts got most of the important things right), but I have rarely encountered expert play in these other games. That is this game’s greatest appeal: a lot of us have been battling over the narrow yellow map board for a long time, and there is still a large field of very good AFRIKA KORPS players around. For this reason alone, I strongly recommend that anyone who has never played the game give it a try. And if, after a few games, you think it is too simple, or unbalanced, then seek an experienced online opponent, or better still, pack up a copy and head to the next board game convention. I think you might just be in for a surprise.
AFRIKA KORPS offers only the Historical game. There are no scenarios (although a number have been presented in the pages of The General over the years), and no optional rules. Like chess, the rules to AFRIKA KORPS can be learned in a few minutes, but mastery of the game only comes with study and a lot of practice.
- Time Scale: ½ month per game turn
- Map Scale: 10 miles per hex (estimated)
- Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade/division
- Unit Types: headquarters (Rommel), armor, armored infantry, reconnaissance, infantry, and supply
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 3- 6+ hours
- Two 14” x 22” hard-backed hexagonal grid Map Boards (with Reinforcement Charts incorporated)
- 108 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Starting Set-Up, Combat Results Table, and examples of play incorporated)
- One 5½” x 8” back-printed Starting Set-Up Card and Order of Battle Reference
- One 8” x 10” Time Record Chart
- One six-sided Die
- One Avalon Hill combined Order Form and Mailer
- One 3½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
- One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¼” flat cardboard Game Box