Friday, August 29, 2008


It's been a while since I wrote one of my game collection entries. The reason is because the game randomly chosen was Kasserine, a wargame from 2001 that deals with the fighting in North Africa in WWII, at the early part of 1943 when the Allied and Axis forces were fighting over control of the Kasserine pass. The game itself comes with six different scenarios, covering different parts of the fighting. I played the first and smallest scenario, covering the opening shots of the campaign as the germans attacked Free French positions at Faid Pass east of Kasserine.

The game takes place at the "operational" level, and the counters represent different sizes and types of units. There are different types of tanks, mobile artillery, armored cards, motorized infantry, foot infantry, artillery, mobile artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and more. The different sizes come into play by how strong the counter is. Companies are smaller than brigades, so they can take less damage and are less effective in combat. Combat itself is handled using multiple Combat Results Tables (CRTs), showing the difference between Assault attacks (done against hard terrain and defensive positions) and Mobile attacks (your standard "I drive my tanks over your puny infantry!" attacks).

There are also air units, though they are not usually on the playing board itself. Air units are handled somewhat abstractly. At the beginning of each turn, each of your planes is given one order (air strike, interdiction, etc.). You have to make a roll at or under the plane's efficiency rating in order for it to pull off its action properly, and then you figure out what happened. There is one type of interdiction mission that keeps the plane in limbo until it assists in a combat, but most air missions are handled at the beginning of the turn, and then you don't worry about planes until the next turn.

As anyone who has read about the war in North Africa knows, the war is about maneuverability. The game handles this by letting you cut off an enemy unit's supply lines if you can pin it against mountains or surround it. Without supplies, they can't properly move or fight, and are easier to take care of. Or, you can just slug it out head-to-head. This is what I did in the game I played. In the Faid Pass scenario, the Germans have to capture the pass, which is protected by French forces in a strongpoint on a mountain. Should be a hard nut to crack, right? The rulebook actually suggests surrounding it by sending in your tanks from the south, but I just got stuck in right away and sent my tanks in a head-on attack. It actually worked, too, because I got a good roll on the CRT and the French were forced to retreat, allowing the germans to take the pass.

Capturing (and holding...) the pass only gets the germans a marginal victory, however. For a full victory, you have to capture both another mountain about 12 miles away, and a town 12 miles away in a different direction. Unfortunately, while the germans are slapping around the french, the Americans are sending a bunch of tanks and infantry to support them. There are more Americans than there are Germans, so the Germans got stuck inside the pass, for the most part. The Americans couldn't make them retreat (they tried multiple times, and got shot up pretty badly for their efforts), but the Germans couldn't break out of the pass. A group of Germans tried maneuvering to the south, but got pinned down by some other French positions and more American reinforcements that came in from the south on turn 3.

The scenario only ran for six turns, so there wasn't much time to really have the germans make a go of it. They ended up capturing the town they needed, but they could never take the mountain. They took a lot of casualties for their efforts, too, which according to the rules knocks them from a Marginal Victory to the next lowest rating. Which I guess is an American victory, so "woo hoo" for the Americans, I guess.

Overall, I found the game to be somewhat difficult to learn. The rulebook is the main culprit in this, because it is not organized along the lines of how a play turn goes, which would make more sense. For example, right up front you do stuff with your airplanes. However, the rulebook only discusses airplanes after discussing disruption, supply lines, movement, combat, mine fields, and strongholds. Odd. They also make some mention of coordination rolls, without ever explaining what those really were. With about 10 minutes of detailed reading, I was able to figure out that they meant to roll against the unit's Efficiency Rating, but they should have just said that, or defined the term, or something. There are also waaaaay too many tables and charts. There are multiple play aid charts, and they really get in the way. I don't think they needed all of that. It just makes the game seem more complex than it actually is.

Once you get the system down, the game actually flows pretty quickly, though. And I like how the use of airpower and proper use of artillery are very important to your success. In fact, proper use of your artillery is probably the largest component of a winning strategy. In the scenario I played, the Americans have a lot more artillery than the germans (which I think historically occurs throughout the entire campaign), and when used right you can really screw up the german player. Of course, if they can break through the line they can just roll their tanks up to your pretty artillery and blow them up good, so you need proper formations, as well. All told, this is a good game that does what it sets out to do, though it is somewhat hampered by poorly organized rules and too many charts.

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