On 26 May, 1942, Erwin Rommel, with 332 German and 228 Italian tanks, attacked the British forces in the ‘Gazala-Bir Hachim Line’. This offensive was no small undertaking, and in the battle that ensued, the Desert Fox would push the troops of the Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) right up to the brink of military disaster. The ‘Gazala-Bir Hachim Line’ was a formidable defensive zone. The British High Command had learned from previous clashes with Rommel and had developed a defensive strategy specifically intended to blunt the Desert Fox’s favorite tactic: the sweeping flank attack. Thus, the Commonwealth line stretched approximately forty miles inland from Gazala on the Mediterranean Coast all the way to Bir Hachim in the Libyan Desert. Moreover, besides being long, the British fortified zone was also ten miles deep, with an integrated system of minefields and defensive “boxes” (strong points); each fortified Allied box was occupied by a brigade with its own artillery and other heavy weapons, and with sufficient supplies to hold out for at least ten days if isolated.
The operation, despite the Desert Fox’s hopes for a rapid breakthrough, did not begin particularly well for the DAK. After nearly running out of fuel on the second day of the offensive, Rommel’s leading forces quickly found themselves very precariously placed. Fortunately for the exposed German and Italian armored units, Axis troops finally managed to defeat the Commonwealth infantry in the center, and the commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps was able to restore a supply line through Trigh Capuzzo to his exposed tanks. Slowly, the tide of battle began to turn in Rommel’s favor. After ten days of bitter fighting, the Free French Brigade — its stores of ammunition and supplies exhausted — was finally driven out of its ‘defensive box’ at Bir Hachim.
British armor counterattacked on June 12 and 13 in a last desperate effort to halt the Axis advance and restore the Allied line, but after two days of fighting, the surviving 70 British tanks — now outnumbered by German and Italian tanks by more than two-to-one — were compelled to retreat.
Rommel had — through a combination of stubbornness, audacity, and luck — decisively won the Battle of Gazala. On the 18th of June, the British Eighth Army abandoned the fight and began a complete withdrawal east towards the Egyptian border. For Churchill and his generals, however, worse news was still to come. After more than a year of campaigning, the greatest prize of all, Tobruk, fell to the victorious Axis just two days later, on 20 June, 1942.
CAULDRON is an operational (battalion/regiment/brigade) level simulation — based on the MODERN BATTLES Game System — of the struggle for control of the critically-important fortified port of Tobruk, in spring 1942. CAULDRON is played in game turns which are further divided into two symmetrical segments: an Axis and an Allied player turn. Each game turn begins with the Axis player turn and proceeds in a set sequence: first the movement phase and, once all movement is completed, the combat phase. Once the Axis combat phase is completed, the Allied player then repeats the same sequence of actions. At the conclusion of the Allied player turn, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence is repeated until the game ends. A complete game is twenty-six turns long.
The game mechanics of CAULDRON are easy-to-learn and intuitively logical. The movement rules are orthodox with a limited number of different terrain types each of which impose different entry costs on moving units. Like the other games in the NORTH AFRICA Series, the positions for all starting units are printed on the game map for ease of set-up. To simulate initial Allied surprise, on the first game turn only, Commonwealth movement is restricted. During the initial Allied movement phase, only those units which are within three hexes of an Axis unit or which were attacked in the preceding Axis combat phase may move; beginning on game turn two, this restriction ends and normal movement rules take effect. Stacking is prohibited at the end of the movement phase; however, units may move through friendly occupied hexes without penalty.
The supply rules are comparatively simple. All Axis units are automatically in supply during the first three game turns; thereafter the regular supply rules take effect. Except for these first few game turns, the units of both sides must trace an unblocked path to a friendly supply source. Supply effects are identical for both sides: supplied units move and fight normally; unsupplied units have their movement halved (rounding up), are normal in defense, but have all attack factors reduced to ‘0’.
Zones of control (ZOCs) in CAULDRON are both rigid and sticky; that is: once units become adjacent, they may only exit an enemy unit’s ZOC as a result of combat. In addition, combat between adjacent enemy units is mandatory, and all units next to an attacking enemy unit must be attacked. All of the games in the NORTH AFRICA Series use a ‘differential’ type Combat Results Table (CRT), and terrain effects are represented as column shifts on the CRT. Artillery plays an especially important role in this combat system. It can be used to Barrage (attack) non-adjacent enemy units either independently or in concert with other attacking friendly units, and it can also be used to provide Final Protective Fire (defensive fire) to support friendly units that are under attack.
The winner in CAULDRON is determined by comparing the victory point totals of the Axis and Allied players at the end of the game. Victory points are awarded to both players for the destruction of enemy units, to the Axis player for ‘supplied’ control of Tobruk, and to the Commonwealth commander for any ‘supplied’ Allied units that are able to exit the east edge of the map.
There are no scenarios offered with CAULDRON as variations on the Historical Game; nor are there any ‘optional’ rules.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Even after over thirty years, I still have a soft spot when it comes to the folio version of CAULDRON. This is probably because, years ago, I used to take it with me — along with GDW’s 1940 and SPI’s WAGRAM — whenever I traveled for business. I can still recall many an entertaining evening sitting alone in my hotel room — my work for the day completed — puttering away with one of these three games, while my business colleagues whiled away their own time downstairs in the hotel bar. I can only guess at how many hangovers these games saved me, over the years. I also played these titles against live opponents when I was home, of course, but these compact little games were, hands down, my favorite solitaire ‘travel’ games: they just never got stale despite many, many playings. Not only that, but the historical situations simulated by these three titles are still, although very different, each fascinating in its own way. In this regard, CAULDRON remains a standout.
The long Axis siege of Tobruk, and the fortified port’s stunning and sudden capitulation following Rommel’s brilliant victory in the Battle of Gazala, was a fitting historical ‘exclamation point’ to arguably one of the most fascinating stories of World War II. Gazala was a very near run thing for the Axis, and Rommel came very close to losing the battle during the first few days of the fighting. Not surprisingly then, this historically fascinating game situation, combined with the well-tested MODERN BATTLES Game System makes for an exciting game that is easy to learn and fast-paced to play. Moreover, like all of the games in the NORTH AFRICA and MODERN BATTLES series, it is both simple enough to serve as introductory game for beginners, and still challenging enough to make for an exciting contest between experienced players. Thus, for players with even a passing interest in the North African Campaign, I recommend CAULDRON, highly; it is both a great solitaire game and an excellent choice for players of almost any skill level.
- Time Scale: 1 day per game turn
- Map Scale: 2.5 kilometers per hex (estimated)
- Unit Size: battalion/regiment/brigade
- Unit Types: armor, reconnaissance, mechanized infantry, infantry, artillery, and anti-tank
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 3 + hours
- One 17’’ x 22” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track, Terrain Key and Historical unit locations incorporated)
- 100 ½” cardboard Counters
- 20 ½” cardboard Random Number Counters (included in all of the “folio games” as a substitute for a six-sided die)
- One 8½” x 11” NORTH AFRICA Standard Rules Booklet (with Integrated Terrain Effects/Combat Results Table incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” CAULDRON back-printed Exclusive Rules Sheet (with Initial Set-up and Reinforcement Schedule incorporated)
- One 5½” x 8½” NORTH AFRICA Consolidated Errata (as of 29 July ’76)
- One 4½” x 8½” SPI Products Catalogue and Mailer
- One 8½” x 11” Strategy & Tactics Subscription Mailer
- One 9” x 12” cardboard Game Folio
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU