AUTOMATIC VICTORY AND CAPTURED SUPPLY
INTRODUCTIONAfter forty-six years, it would be logical to assume that the rules of few games are as free of controversy or as well understood as those of AFRIKA KORPS. Reams of paper have been devoted in the General to answering rules questions, as well as to analyzing — down to the tiniest detail — virtually every aspect of the play of the game. Thus, I was surprised, in the course of a recent PBeM match with a very accomplished and skilled opponent, to discover that an AFRIKA KORPS tactic that I had thought was generally well-known to seasoned players was, in fact, only vaguely familiar to my adversary. The tactic in question is that of using a captured enemy supply to overrun a second enemy line that would, were it not for the use of the opponent’s own supply unit, be safe from a conventional attack. In the case of this particular tournament match, the use of this offensive tactic brought about the almost total collapse of my opponent’s position; his resignation followed one turn later.
THE CORE OF THE ‘AFRIKA KORPS’ GAME SYSTEM
Beans and Bullets: Supply in AFRIKA KORPS
Automatic Victory: The Rule that Revolutionized Wargaming
Enter Thomas Shaw. Shaw’s solution to Roberts’ problem was as simple as it was ingenious: unlike the combat rules in previous Avalon Hill titles such as WATERLOO (1962) and STALINGRAD (1963) in which weak units could be sacrificed — whatever the odds against them — to effectively block the advance of much stronger enemy forces for a single game turn, Shaw came up with a radically different approach to combat for AFRIKA KORPS. Shaw’s innovative rules change stipulated that attacks at 7 to 1 or 5 to 1 (surrounded) immediately eliminated the effectiveness of the defending unit and cancelled its zone of control; he decided to dub this special type of combat with the somewhat eponymous title: ‘automatic victory’ (AV).
Tom Shaw’s inspired creation of the ‘automatic victory’ type of battle — basically a form of attack in which the hitherto separate game operations of movement and combat are combined — has to stand as one of the truly great innovations in the history of game design. Moreover, this dramatic change in the combat rules of AFRIKA KORPS completely transformed the play dynamics of Roberts’ creation and, at the same time, also laid the groundwork for virtually all of the many ‘overrun’ movement/combat systems that have become widely-accepted within the hobby, today.
The inclusion of ‘automatic victory’ as a new type of combat went a long way towards opening up the battlefield in AFRIKA KORPS. However, subsequent AV rules interpretations, culminating in the publication by Avalon Hill of the game’s Third Edition rules in 1980, transformed it. The most important 3rd Edition rules clarification pertaining to ‘automatic victory’ was in the realm of establishing supply to units performing AV attacks. What happened was that, in the course of clarifying and expanding the AFRIKA KORPS game rules in 1980, Don Greenwood made explicit a unique characteristic of AV supply that had first emerged in the Q & A section of the Avalon Hill General many years before.
USING CAPTURED SUPPLY FOR AUTOMATIC VICTORIES
Setting the Scene: A ‘Real World’ Example
September II ’41 Positions Prior to the British MoveWest Map Section September II '41 Game Turn
The September II ’41 game turn finds the British commander in very difficult straights. During the just-concluded Axis player turn, the DAK has eliminated three British units (all 1-1-6s) in hexes Q62, L60, and K59 at a cost of a single supply counter. Moreover, the Axis player has enjoyed fabulous luck with his supply rolls: in fact, he has two more supply units racing towards the front, and an extra captured supply counter already in the battle area; and he has yet to lose a single unit in combat. The Commonwealth commander, on the other hand, has suffered very heavy casualties and finds himself with his back to the wall: he is rapidly running out of both space and units; moreover, desperately needed reinforcements are still three turns away. Rommel is virtually guaranteed to launch three more attacks before the Allied portion of the November I game turn, so, unless the British player does something dramatic, Alexandria is doomed to fall. With his Home Base on the verge of capitulation, the British player asks himself the obvious question: "What can be done to dramatically turn things around?"
October I ’41 Positions Prior to the British Move
October II ’41 Positions Prior to the British Move
Tobruk Front October II Game Turn
The German retreat is both welcome and expected by the Allied commander. However, with Rommel now apparently poised to strike at Tobruch, the overly-ambitious British player makes a fatal blunder during his October I player turn. He has become mesmerized by the possibility of holding the fortified port through the Axis portion of the November I ’41 game turn (two more Axis attacks), so he sends the 7/7 Mechanized Brigade out to sea. At the same time, he brings Supply #2 and 4I/7 into Tobruch and swaps the weak infantry brigade for the 2/3 Armored Brigade in H25. Because Rommel only has a single supply unit that can reach the Alexandria battle area, he confidently walks into the Desert Fox’s trap by first moving 5I/29 into the blocking position at K49 and then by establishing a second line anchored on the Alam Halfa Ridge. The Allied player has grown steadily more optimistic about his chances: the dispatch of a powerful unit to reinforce the fortress garrison may yet preserve British control of Tobruch until November, and with his El Alamein line beyond the reach of any Axis supply that is supporting an attack against K49, the Commonwealth player feels that the worst has passed. He is wrong; the weakness of the El Alamein position along with the unprotected supply counter garrisoning Alexandria will be his downfall.
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.