Crisis in Command 3: Desert Fox – iOS Game Review
Passed Inspection: Adequate graphics, good OOB, innovative system, nice AI, excellent campaign scenario
Failed Basic: No fog of war
Shenandoah Studios continues its series of area-based operational iOS World War II games with its third game, Desert Fox. Famed designer Mark Herman turns his talents to the ever-popular North Africa theater of war. Gamers have a fetish for Rommel, if not for Montgomery. Fluid movements in the desert have always fascinated all World War II buffs and historians. This game has many new elements, but the question arises: can an engine that limits action to one area per phase in a time frame that randomly parses the time per phase capture the elan of perhaps the only part of the war that can claim a touch of romanticism?
A Swipe in the Sand
The game’s map covers the area between the Arab Gulf to the north, the Qattara Depression to the south, an area near Alexandria to the east and some kilometers west of the Libyan border to the west. As expected, the dominant color is sandy beige. Ridges are such as Ruweisat and Kidney are outlined clearly and depressions, known as “deirs,” are jagged, darker areas. The coast road is the only major transit route, but light colored tracks crisscross the hundreds of miles represented by the 61 areas (called “spaces” in the rules). Unit stacking is limited to three units and three minefields. The few towns such as El Alamein show up as sprinkles of squares. A useful overlay is the supply map showing which areas are out of supply or contested. The usual spread/pinch protocol zooms or spreads the field of play. New wrinkles in areas include inverted triangles for minefields and small “humps” for dunes.
Counters come in khaki for Commonwealth troop, light blue for regular Germans, dark blue for the Luftwaffe anti-aircraft units and green for Italians. Precise outlines of tanks, halftracks, the 88mm pieces and men mark the type of unit while a row of dots along the bottom indicates units’ strength and power. Elite units have their unit organizational badge on their counter and out-of-supply units have a small tag on one side. Animation comes into play on the small battle screen showing bullet holes and shell bursts. Movement comes with the creak of vehicles, and battles are accompanied by the usual bursts and rat-a-tats. The interstices between turns have popular songs of the day in English, German and Italian. One can get a “Lili Marlene” fix here.
Clicking on the menu button brings up valuable charts. Victory points, losses and replacement schedules are shown, as is the all-important supply schedule. Briefings, rules, objectives and history round out the offerings of this valuable feature.
Learning to play is almost intuitive. Four tutorials are available and the manual is well organized. The “Help” button brings up even more details and tips.
New Features on a Good Engine
A simple make-over of the Bulge and Typhoon games couldn’t capture the flavor of the desert war. The earlier games were conventional thrust-and-hold propositions with the usual weather and terrain effects tied to a simple but realistic supply system. The desert, as the saying goes, was “a tactician’s dream but a logistician’s nightmare.” Rapid movement was crucial for the Axis but came at an incredibly high supply cost. Commonwealth commanders could counter the movement with minefields and judiciously placed artillery. Also, the Desert Air Force (DAF) ruled the air from mid-1942, making Axis supply tenuous at best by attacking spaces at the beginning of each turn. Rapid Axis movement is provided by recon units that can move three areas per phase regardless of terrain but are almost useless in combat. New strenuous supply rules make advances a dicey prospect for the Axis. Any unit that moves more than one space, attacks or takes damage in defense is automatically out of supply and can only move one space and fights badly until resupplied. Re-supply calls not only for a clear path back to friendly spaces but use of supply points. The Axis receives a limited number of these points per scenario. Players can use more than one to supply an unsupplied unit in a friendly space but using all early in a game spells disaster. A comforting concept is that supplying a unit increases the chance of other units being supplied, especially when the supplied unit is close to the western map edge. Another offset to the supply rules is the 88mm’s ability to fend off DAF attacks in adjacent spaces. The Commonwealth, being close to base, has a much easier time with supply.
Minefields are the other major addition. Minefields of up to three steps can be placed in friendly spaces in the campaign scenario. Defenders in minefields receive a 10% bonus, while attackers must clear them to take control of the space. Only mechanized infantry and regular infantry can clear a minefield and have a 30% – 60% chance of doing so, depending on the presence of defenders. Defenders of El Alamein also receive a 10% bonus from heavy artillery. Another nice new twist is giving combined arms (infantry and armor) a 10% combat bonus. Finally, spaces’ victory points vary from scenario to scenario.
Dashing for Alexandria
Action takes place in three scenarios using regimental/divisional units, five to ten kilometer spaces and one-day turns divided into phases of random minute length. The Ruweisat Ridge scenario is a five-turn smash-and-grab proposition for the Axis. Victory is accomplished by exiting six supplied units off of the eastern edge of the map or by gaining victory points by holding certain spaces, clearing minefields or by inflicting more casualties than sustained. The fourteen-turn Second Alamein scenario sees the Commonwealth forces slog through Axis minefields to get to El Daba. AI opponents can be selected from the wily Kesselring, impulsive Rommel, erratic Auchinleck or the methodical Montgomery.
Battles commence when a unit enters an enemy-controlled space. A window pops up showing the units and probable results. A button within the window brings up all the modifiers. Possible results include strength point loss, retreat and destruction. If a defender is eliminated, victorious armor units can advance. Players should know the probable results are not written in stone but, if odds look bad, the “Undo” button is available to avoid embarrassment. When no combat or movement is advisable, “Pass” is an option. Scheduled replacements can be assigned automatically or manually during the next turn’s briefing.
The third scenario, the entire El Alamein campaign, adds so many twists that it is almost another game entirely. Comprised of fourteen two-week cycles, players will be tested for their endurance and true operational acumen. The Axis moves first in the beginning, and the next two weeks play out as regular scenarios. However, things change rapidly. If the Axis doesn’t spend a supply point each turn, the Commonwealth can gain and keep the initiative by attacking in the first phase of each turn. Players with imitative may be able to use night turns with infantry, a “free move” that doesn’t cost time and is great for clearing minefields. The end of each cycle presents players with two crucial choices: either go on the offensive or refit. Maintaining the offense means to continue with forces on hand; not a bad idea for Commonwealth forces but suicidal for the unsupplied Axis. Refit has four parts for the Axis: disengagement, reinforcement/replacement, redeployment and mine placement. Disengagement has friendly units beyond friendly lines pulled back; suffering a strength point loss for each enemy controlled space they pass through. Replacements/reinforcements are self-explanatory with previously destroyed units serving as reinforcements if they have at least one point left. Deployment allows free movement of reinforcements and a limited number of units already on the map to any friendly space. A limited number of mines are placed with friendly units. The Axis then gets supplied per schedule. The Commonwealth has the same steps plus armor upgrades. Refits take a week of the game calendar.
The AI is very clever and players can see the number of moves it’s considering—sometimes over 6,000—in a counter. One could wish for a fog-of-war feature but its absence is a minor nit to the game’s overall historical feel. Each scenario handles historical possibilities well.
Desert Fox is a significant advancement in this series. The system does have the feel of the campaign with the free-wheeling Rommel and the dogged Monty. Played either solitaire or through Game Center, players will be delighted. One hopes that the developers will do a similar game on earlier desert battles.
This game requires iOS 7.
Armchair General Rating: 91%
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad