Field Commander Rommel – PC Game Review
Field Commander Rommel. PC game review. Designer: Craig Finch. Based on Original Board Game by Dan Verssen. Published by Finch Digital Mobile, Inc. and Dan Verssen Games. Digital downloads: $19.99 for Mac and PC; $12.99 for Mobile Devices. Available at the Mac app store and Amazon Android store.
Passed Inspection: gorgeous graphics; built for fans of original board game.
Failed Basic: No instructions; no tutorial; confusing interface.
Field Commander: Rommel is a light operational-level wargame that charts the World War Two career of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel from, the 1940 invasion of France through the North Africa campaign, to the D-Day landings of 1944. Sadly, the game is confusing and frustrating in the extreme.
Rommel made his reputation as a hard-charging armored commander during the 1940 German invasion of France, when he commanded the 7th Panzer Division, later called the “Ghost Division” because of the speed of its advance.
During the North Africa campaign Rommel enhanced his reputation by achieving success with limited resources. It was in Libya and Egypt that he earned the nickname “the Desert Fox” for his innovative and surprising tactics. However, Rommel has been accused of forgetting the first rule of modern warfare: tactics and operations must be served by sufficient logistics. In the North African desert, Rommel was always outrunning his supplies and often depended on captured enemy stocks to keep his army going.
After the Germans had been driven from North Africa, Rommel was given command in France, with orders to stop the Allies’ cross-channel invasion. Rommel believed that the invasion had to be stopped at the water’s edge, while other officers in the German High Command wanted to let the Allies land and than fight a traditional battle of maneuver. Because of this dispute, Hitler took control of the panzer divisions which were then deployed piecemeal after the Allies had already achieved a bridgehead. In mid-July 1944, while visiting the front in France, Rommel was attacked by an allied plane, he was severely injured and knocked out of the war. Rommel was then implicated in the plot to kill Hitler and forced to commit suicide in order to protect his family.
Throughout the war, Rommel had the well-deserved reputation as a professional and honorable soldier and leader. For example, he ignored orders from Hitler to shoot Jewish soldiers and captured commandos. He ensured that prisoners of war were treated humanely. He even objected, in writing, to the Nazi party’s treatment of Jews—an action that would have gotten a lesser-known person sent to a concentration camp.
In 2008 Dan Verssen Games released the board game version of Field Commander: Rommel. Armchair General published a review that praised the game for its fast pace and easy mechanics, both of which are praiseworthy concepts in a board game—especially a solitaire one—in which the player must work out all the phases, movements and combat results by hand. Of course, the huge advantage of an electronic game is that all, or most, of the game mechanics are worked out “behind the curtain” by the game’s algorithms. In an electronic game, there is no need to roll the dice, cross reference a combat results chart, calculate the modifiers and get an answer; the game does all that for the player. With the digital version of Rommel, sadly most of this is still played out in front of the player.
There are three campaigns in the game. The first and easiest, because of the low number of units involved, is the one based on the 7th Panzer Division’s drive through France in 1940. The second campaign is the 1941–1942 battles in North Africa. The last one is built around the German defense of Northern France after D-Day in 1944 and is the hardest, based on the number of the units involved. All three can only be played from the German side as Rommel.
In each of the campaigns the player has a map that is divided into a number of named zones. He starts with his units already pre-positioned on the map. The player moves the units he wants to attack with into an enemy occupied zone. In this phase, a unit may move more than one zone in order to reach an enemy unit.
The combat resolution phase does not take place on a map in which the player maneuvers his units. Instead the battle takes place on a screen where the AI and the player choose from various combat modifiers from a menu, such as air support, being dug in, assaulting, or ambushing; these modifiers may be added to the combat after a modification roll and the supply status of the units is taken into account. The dice rolls and the combat results appear in the middle of the screen between the units. After combat is completed the damage point can be applied to multiple units of the player’s choice. In short, combat is much like combat resolution in Risk. However, none of what is going on is all that clear to the player while it is taking place. In fact, if I hadn’t found, by sheer chance, the information button I would still be trying to work out what the broken crate symbol means, or the fact that a tank symbol actually means artillery support.
Further, in replaying the same battle over and over, I found that the selection of the combat modifiers seems to have little effect on the outcome of the combat. Simply selecting the modifiers at random yielded the same results as careful, thoughtful choices. This is because the random dice rolls are simply overpowering to any selection made by the player. In short the only real determining factor the player influences is to have more and more powerful units in the battle than his AI opponent. After the combat phase the player may move reinforcements, usually only one zone, and may resupply his units as well.
On the good side, the graphics of Rommel are outstanding; bright and colorful. The unit graphics are clear and readable, as are the maps. There is no question as to what kind, or nationality, of unit the player is dealing with or what zone the units are in.
Also, in all fairness, a player of the board game would likely not have the same issues I did in working out the game, already being familiar with the mechanics and concepts of the game. However, not having instructions, or a tutorial, is almost a deathblow to the playability of this game.
The Bottom Line
I believe that there is a good light operational-level war game buried under all the perplexing and maddening interface and symbology problems in Field Commander: Rommel. However, without a tutorial, or player’s guide, the digital version of Rommel is strictly for fans of the board game.
Armchair General Score: 70%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He has an article in January’s Sci Phi Journal. His website is: https://bakerp2004.wordpress.com/