Back on 18 July, I foolishly volunteered the details of my then in progress AFRIKA KORPS PBeM Championship match with arch rival, Bert Schoose. At the time, Bert’s Axis held a modest advantage, but I was still hopeful that something might happen in the game to improve the prospects of my beleaguered Commonwealth forces. Unfortunately, no such miraculous turnaround was forthcoming; quite the opposite, in fact. After reducing Tobruch without losing a single unit, Bert’s Axis forces methodically advanced east to meet the British field army near Mersa Matruh. There, on the January I ’42 game turn, General Auchinleck’s Commonwealth forces suffered a pair of devastating defeats that, in combination, spelled the end of any further meaningful British resistance in North Africa. Faced with inevitable defeat, I resigned at the end of the game turn.

Needless-to-say, although I hated to lose the game, I still want to publicly extend Bert my thanks for an exciting and well-played match, and my sincere congratulations on his capturing of this year’s AFRIKA KORPS PBeM Championship. After winning five games in a row against very tough competition, he certainly deserves the title.

Finally, for the (undoubtedly) small handful of readers who might be interested in how the aforementioned championship game actually developed, I have attached a turn record spreadsheet of the entire match. This spreadsheet includes both the Axis and Commonwealth moves, as well as a record of all supply and combat die rolls. One final observation: as will quickly become apparent to those who examine this record, Bert’s Axis forces got off to an early lead and, once Tobruch fell, were pretty much in control of the game from that point on. Interestingly, my British forces almost gambled on a low-odds breakout at Tobruch on the August II ’41 game turn, but tabled the idea in favor of a “safer” 3 to 1 attack in front of the El Daba Line, instead. Little could I know at the time, but that low-odds gamble at Tobruch was probably the Commonwealth’s last, best hope to get back into the game.

  AK PBem Tournament Round 5 Schoose


  • Link doesn't seem to work....

  • Greetings megoss1963:

    I just retested the link a minute ago, and everything seems to be fine. Now, in my case, I double-clicked the verbal prompt rather than the "EXCEL" symbol and then, as soon as I was transferred onto the new page, followed the standard prompts to open the file. If, after trying again, you still have trouble, however, let me know.

    Best Regards, JCBIII

  • Dear Joe,
    This does not relate directly to your blog post, but
    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the variant rules for Afrika Korps presented by Robert Olson in the General magazine, vol.5, no. 5.
    Do you think these rule changes better the game? I would like to get the opinion of an expert. Thanks for any light you can shed on this issue!

  • Greetings Anon:

    You raise an interesting question; unfortunately, I am in no position to answer it. In point of fact, I don't remember what types of "AFRIKA KORPS" rules changes Robert Olson suggested all those years ago, and, more to the point, I no longer have access to the article in question so I can't refresh my memory. That is to say: I just looked through my collection of old "General" magazines, and I no longer have any issues that predate volume 10 (1972-73). So, I fear that I can be of little help with your query.

    Speaking more generally, however, quite a few "AFRIKA KORPS" variants, scenarios, and rules changes have been proposed, over the years, in the "General," and in other gaming magazines, as well; regrettably, most of these proposals have tended to add complexity but with very little real improvement in either the game's playability or in its "historical" realism. Obviously, the authors of these various articles would disagree, but that is just my personal opinion.

    These somewhat negative comments, by the way, should not imply that I have any philosophical problem with experimenting with "rules tweaks" to my favorite games. On the contrary, I do it all the time; however, I usually restrict my rules changes to game situations in which the simulation's design seems to be in direct (and obvious) contradiction to the historical record, and where I think that such a change would actually improve play. Otherwise, I tend to give the designer the benefit of the doubt.

    Sorry I couldn't be more help and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Dear Joe,
    Thanks for the reply. Here is a copy of the article by Olson from the General. If you have the time to look it over and give me your opinions I would most appreciate it. The article is too big to post as a single comment so I will post the other parts in a comments to follow.

    The Real Afrika Korps
    By Robert Olson
    from The General, vol. 5, num. 5

    Every so often I get a bug, and I read about, and stay up half the night thinking about "improvements" on some Avalon-Hill game. This time it was Afrika Korps, which a few of the very old NUTS will recall was my favorite game for many years. It was, and is a great one, but I find it hard to get opponents. Everyone has some excuse why he doesn't play AK anymore, but basically I believe the game has become stereotyped to old hands, and has too little complexity for some of the new initiates to the A-H world.
    First of course I read the standard texts on the subject, so any changes I made would not affect the historical side of the game, and hopefully improve it. Then I set out in my well-known way to make hash out of the A/H rules, and improve and enhance the playability for all of us.
    In Afrika Korps as it stands there is a lot of movement, but darn few attacks, as neither side can really afford to lose any units, and I find that after an hour's play, the game is often decided by a desperate gamble on the part of one player, the success of which often predetermines the outcome. Rommel attacks at 5-1 or better, the British scarcely ever if they are sensible. This is hardly in line with the facts, as both sides made several major attacks, though the British usually got the worst of theirs until the finale at El Alamein.
    Several things bother me about A/K, but the first I want t o discuss is the obvious importance of Tobruk, (and secondly Bengasi) to both sides. Assuming the British player to be half-way competant, he can only be forced out of Tobruk by a long odds roll by Rommel on his total garrison since the British can repeatedly reinforce the port, and resupply it no matter what. He can never be starved out, and it is unlikely that the Germans will get but one supply wagon at the outside if he does take the place. Even a cursory examination of the facts tells us that Rommel ran his war for several months on the equipment and supplies he obtained at Tobruk, and to some extent in Bengasi, including it must be said, his own staff car; yet in the Avalon-Hill Game the British would have to be idiots indeed to leave him any, nor are there any to be had in the Western desert where the British had established huge supply dumps at Msus, Bengasi, and Mechili. In the game, Bengasi is practically worthless, it's a fortress without being a port, and it yields no supplies to Rommel merely a kill on a lousy 1-1-7. Big deal. Yet Bengasi was much more to him, politically, militarily and a source of supplies. Why else the gnashing of teeth at 10 Downing St. when it was lost? The British were even loath to release the news to the public. It was
    because it filled the bill for Rommel; supplies, although the shallowness of the port prevented the landing of heavy equipment. Again at Msus we know that although the British succeeded in burning up all the gasoline in front of their own retreating armor, which was then largely abandoned, the bulk of the food, stores, guns and ammo fell into the hands of the advancing Germans. In the game Msus is but a dot in the desert.

    As the game begins, Rommel marches unoppos- ed thru Agheila, Agedabia, Msus and probably kills a 1-1-7 in Bengasi, while 213 looks on unopposed and untouched at Mechili. It was this unit and it's exact position, it surely was not at Mechili. Under the old rules it had to be there to balance the game, now1 intend to place it where it belongs, and let the Germans attack it, without disturbing game balance.
    I know that Rommel had to scury about a good deal, but under his two move bonus rule he moves in some pretty peculiar ways, and we take a lot of time just moving him to give the bonus to the maximum number of units. There's nothing wrong with this rule, in fact I invented it, but I will propose a more realistic approach.
    In the whole North African War the legend of the 88mm gun fills many pages, and a single battery of them in one instance virtually eliminated a British Tank regiment (4-4-7) and when they were sited in defense in depth, no tank the British had was more than a cheese box on tracks. Yet where are they in the Avalon Hill Game? My suggested rules will correct this obvious oversight in the German order of battle.
    Since Rommel moved a lot further than is possible under the rules in one month, and the British are somewhat slower also than actually was the case, I propose a remedy under the rules.
    Now to the rule changes themselves. Any rule not specifically altered here remains the same.
    1. Substitute the basic Blitzkrieg Battle Results Table for the one in use in Afrika Korps except - --
    a. A die roll of 3 at 1-2, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, results in a "contact" neither side losing or retreating, as in Bulge.
    2. Road movement on a road is tripled, the 10 square bonus is dropped. All units can move three squares on a road for each normal square movement.
    a. All British units can move two extra movement squares (or six road squares) if the units are within two (2) squares of a supply wagon at the beginning of the British player's turn. The supply wagon is not affected unless used in a battle.
    b. All German and Italian units can move two extra squares if the units moved are within five (5) squares of the Rommel Unit at the beginning of their turn.
    c. If either side has no supply wagon on the board after rolling for same, the basic movement allowance for all units is reduced to four squares per turn until a supply wagon is obtained by that side, however, the side does not lose if he can still trace a line of supply to his home base, or a port, regardless of how long he is without a supply wagon.
    3. Units of both sides are doubled in number by adding a second set of counters to the game, not including supply units, not obviously a second Rommel Unit also . . .
    a. The German player receives two 4-4-10 units (easily converted from excess supply units) each representing a regiment of 88mm guns, and Mobile artillery, which come on the
    board with the 15th Panzer Division. b. The Replacement rule is unchanged.

    c. The British player now has four 4-4-10 and eight 3-3-7's which are supposed to be used as replacement counters after Aug. '42. I pro- pose he receives them all as reinforcements on 1st Oct. '42. If the British can hold out till then, they will certainly turn the tide at the appropriate historical time. The game, however, continues until 2nd Dec. '42, at the option of the players, if the outcome is still in doubt.
    4. 1 propose the following rule changes with respect to Bengasi and Tobruk . . .
    a. Whenever an enemy unit approaches to a square adjacent to Bengasi or Tobruk, all troop reinforcement to that port cease. When an enemy unit is moved adjacent to a fortress it is beseiged. Supplies can continue to be landed in a beseiged fortress. When a fortress becomes beseiged, it may require a supply wagon(s) to maintain the garrison, which varies depending on the number of basic defensive factors in the garrison. The requirements are as follows:
    1. 1-3 defensive factors - 0 supply wagons within the fortress
    2. 4-6 defensive factors - 1 supply wagons within the fortress
    3. 7-9 defensive factors - 2 supply wagons within the fortress
    4. 10-12 defensive factors - 3 supply wagons within the fortress
    b. When a fortress is beseiged no units, including supply wagons, may ever be evacuated, or destroyed by the defenders, unless the number of supply wagons is in excess of the number needed to maintain the garrison. If the number of S/W at the end of a turn is insufficient to support the existing garrison, unit(s) must be removed to bring supplies into line. Remember that only 3 factors can be beseiged without a supply wagon.
    c. The British player must roll for supplies to be landed in a beseiged fortress, in which case he must roll a 3,4,5, or 6 to land supplies in Tobruk and a 4,5, or 6 to land them in Bengasi. A beseiged German player rolls in conformance with his altered supply table when landing supplies in a port, whether beseiged or not.
    d. No more than three units (combat) may be landed in Tobruk by either side on any one turn. Both sides may bring in supplies thru Bengasi, and both may land one infantry unit there per turn. Remember, only supplies can be landed in a beseiged port.
    5. Supply rules are altered as follows for the German player. See the supply table. It now refers only to supplies received at the German players home base. For supplies desired at Bengasi the German player adds one to his die roll; at Tobruk he adds two to his die roll. Thus, for example, from July '4 1 to Dec. '4 1, the German player must roll a 4,5,6 to receive supplies at his home base, as is now the case under the regular rules, but to receive them at Bengasi he must roll a 5 or a 6, and to receive them at Tobruk he must roll a 6 alone. The German must announce prior to the roll where he is attempting to land his supply wagon, and if he selected Tobruk in the above example and rolled a 5, he would still get nothing, though that roll would have gotten him supplies at his home base or Bengasi. Again remember this does not affect the British who always receive their supplies, UNLESS THE PORT OF ENTRY IS BESEIGED, when they must roll for supplies. The Germans always roll for supplies, WHETHER BESEIGED OR NOT.


    6. The initial set-up is altered as follows, bearing in mind that the units of both sides have been doubled in number . . .
    a. The German player begins with all his units stacked on his home base, plus he receives ALL THREE of his supply units on his first turn.
    b. The British player must place supply wagon no. 1 at Bengasi, no. 2 S/W at Msus, no. .3 S/W at Mechili, no. 4 S/W at Tobruk. Then he places all units as usual EXCEPT he places both 7A-2 units at Sidi Barrani, one 213 armored at Msus, and the other 213 at Age- dabia, one 2/7sg in Bengasi, and the second
    2/7sg at Aghelia. The 4th Indian Div. and the Polish Brigade are situated on the British home base.
    7. Supply wagons cannot be captured by a soak off, nor if captured, used to support an attack in the same turn as captured. All enemy units on the same square as a S/W must be eliminated or pushed back two before the S/W is vulnerable to capture.
    a. Any unit victorious in battle may occupy the space of the defender. Supply wagons cannot be moved back two, and are captured when an enemy unit occupies the square it is in, either when alone, or when it's guarding unit(s) have all been eliminated or moved back two.
    8. In addition to the regular Conditions of Victory, either player can win the game without occupying any ports if he can send 15 factors over his opponents Eastern or Western base line, (as the case may be) and maintain them with a line of supply to a friendly port or home base for two turns, however, in no event can the player retreive his 15 factors if the supply line is interrupted, so he had better be in a strong position. Some players might with to devise a point system on a 1914 basis.

  • Greetings Again Anon:

    Thank you for going to the trouble of posting Robert Olson's complete article from "The General," vol. 5, no. 5; I remembered it, once I saw it; this piece really brought back some old memories.

    Nonetheless, so much has happened in the hobby since Olson's essay first appeared, I wanted to ruminate a bit about his suggested "AFRIKA KORPS" rules changes before I actually responded to your original question. And now, having pondered his various criticisms and suggestions of this venerable old "classic," here are a few of my own thoughts.

    First, while I share some of Bob's frustration with the many historical flaws scattered throughout the original game design, the introduction of significant rules changes into a comparatively "small" game like "AFRIKA KORPS" is a very difficult feat to bring off without dramatically skewing the game in unexpected ways.

    For example, Olson clearly believes that, historically-speaking, the port of Tobruch is both too strong defensively, and too important strategically as it is presented in the standard game. This argument has some merit; unfortunately, his cure is worse than the original disease. Granted, it was not the only useable port on the North African coast; indeed, Benghazi was also a (shallow-draft) port -- as was Bardia, for that matter -- but none of these other coastal towns ever held the strategic value for either the Axis or the Commonwealth that Tobruch did. Moreover, Tobruch when it finally did fall, did not capitulate because of a protracted Axis siege, but because the British had allowed the port's defenses to deteriorate through neglect.

    It also seems, based on his article, that Mr. Olson believes that Rommel's forces are too weak! And, as almost always occurs when the issue of the DAK in "AFRIKA KORPS" comes up, he underscores his point by referring to Rommel's skillful use of the PAK '88 against the Commonwealth's armor in a "tank-killer" role. This is all well and good, but if we're going to add '88's, then shouldn't we also add fortified boxes and, even more significantly, minefields!

    This, for me, is really the crux of the issue. Once you start adding important (and powerful) combat elements, where do you draw the line?

    Hence, despite the inventiveness of many of Bob Olson's ideas, most of these suggestions (in my opinion, at least) really cannot be incorporated into the standard game of "AFRIKA KORPS" without completely changing the flow and tempo of the original. This is because the very game features that he decries -- low piece count, limited types of terrain -- magnify the effects of even small changes in the rules cases. As I indicated in my earlier comments, I am a big fan of "tweaking" rules to guide a game onto a more "historical" path. However, it has been my experience that it is actually safer to experiement with rules changes when playing BIG games like "DNO/UNT" or "WAR IN EUROPE" than it is to make even tiny adjustments in the rules of small games. The "Law of Unintended Consequences" seems to crop up, in these latter cases, far too often.

    Finally, I should also note that when Bob Olson wrote his article, "AFRIKA KORPS" had not really been out that long. And as the years have passed, the play of the game -- at least, at the expert level -- has evolved dramatically from the style of play typical of the time when Bob actually set out to modify the game. So, when everything else is said and done, the game that he described so many years ago, is really not thye game that is played today in high-level tournament competition.

    Thanks again for your interest, and I hope that these few comments are of some use to you.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Dear Joe,
    Thank you for this thoughtful answer to my question about Olson's rule changes. It is great to have someone so well versed in the both the game and the actual history of the Africa campaign to be able to refer to for questions. Thank you for your knowledge and for your willingness to share it with us!

  • Greetings Again Anon:

    Thank you, as always for your kind words.

    One idea that occured to me -- once I had already posted my earlier comments, of course -- was that you should look, assuming that you haven't done so already, at SPI's "PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA." This is not only a radically different take on the North African campaign than the one presented in"AFRIKA KORPS," but it also incorporates (in a roundabout way) several of Bob Olson's suggestions into its basic game platform. Granted, the arbitrary and random restrictions on Commonwealth movement can be a bit frustrating, but, in spite of this one feature, I still think that it is both a great game, and a reasonably plausible simulation of the most decisive months of the battle for North Africa.

    Just a thought ...

    Thanks Again for your interest and Best Regards, Joe

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