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Posted on May 23, 2013 in Boardgames

Fox’s Gambit – Boardgame Review

By Rick Martin

Fox’s Gambit: The Battle of Gazala, May–June 1942. Boardgame review. Publisher: High Flying Dice Games. Designer: Paul Rohrbaugh. Price $11.95 (ziplock bag with uncut and unmounted counters)

Passed Inspection: Excellent value for the price. Fast to set up and easy to play. Great looking components. Easy to understand rules.

Failed Basic: Some typos. Needs an index.

Fox’s Gambit is High Flying Dice Games take on the fighting in North Africa from May 27th to June 25th of 1942. As an inexpensive and fun introductory simulation, it is a winner!

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High Flying Dice Games Website simply and succinctly states that “Fox’s Gambit is a low complexity level simulation of the Gazala campaign fought in May / June 1942 between the Axis forces led by Gen. Erwin Rommel and Gen. Auchinleck’s Eighth Army.”

The British-led forces, frustrated in earlier clashes with the “Desert Fox,” constructed an extensive series of fortifications called boxes, as well as minefields to constrict the Afrika Korps’s movements and hinder Rommel’s initiative. The Axis forces hoped to wage a campaign that would take their forces to and beyond the Suez Canal, defeat the Allied forces arrayed against them, and garner increased support from the German high command.

The historic fight led to the fall of the Tobruk and yet another Allied retreat, this time to El Alamein. The Afrika Korps was so battered at the end of the Gazala battles; however, that Rommel’s subsequent attacks at El Alamein were decisively turned back.”

The game comes zip-locked with a full-color cover, two 11″x17″ maps of North Africa that link together, a well-organized, black-and-white printed rulebook, a very short errata sheet and one page of full color counters which need to be mounted and cut.

The two maps are beautiful, functional and easy to read. All the tables are printed on the map as well as in the rulebook. The maps also provide set-up information for all the units including reinforcements. Unfortunately, two units are listed on the map with incorrect unit stats: the Italian Pavia unit and the Allies’ 6th South African unit. I assumed that the counters had the correct stats and that the typo was on the map’s set up table.

Although the rules are only seven pages long, an index would have been helpful.

The counters use standard Nato symbols, and each unit is rated for size, attack and defense factors, and movement allowance. Only about 80 counters are used for movement and combat; the rest are informational, such as “disrupted” or “minefield cleared.” All nice looking and easy to read.

The sequence of play is very straightforward. The Axis always moves and attacks first. Then the Allies move and attack. The sequence for each follows this order:

  • Supply phase
  • Air attack phase, in which bombers and fighters tangle over the desert
  • Movement
  • Combat
  • Mine Clearing phase (very important based upon the vast minefields laid by the Allies in order to halt the Desert Fox’s advance)
  • Recovery Phase, in which units lose their disrupted states from battle and the Italians, if out of supply, may surrender.

The simulation of supply and logistics (a burden in some games) is treated very eloquently and simply here. Units must be able to trace a clear line back to their prospective edges of the map (West for the Axis and East for the Allies). If either an enemy unit or an enemy zone of control (the hexes adjacent to the unit) obstruct a clear path, then the unit may be out of supply. If a unit is out of supply, it cannot attack or move until it is back in supply. Italian units have a good chance of surrendering if out of supply. Rommel’s troops and the British Long Range Desert Group have some special exemptions to the supply rules but Rommel’s forces must make sure that they are in supply, especially if they are advancing down the Coastal Highway towards Tobruk. In one game I played, the British Long Range Desert Group cut the supplies down the Coastal Highway and delayed the taking of Tobruk.

The war for the air over North Africa is covered during the Air Phase. The Axis and Allies can use their air power counters to represent either bombers or fighters. If air assets are depleted owing to air-to-air combat, the air assets return two or three days later. The rules briefly refer to anti-aircraft fire which can deplete air assets, but I could find no mention of anti-air attacks anywhere else in the rules.

Movement is very abstractly and simply handled and is affected by the status of the unit (whether it is disrupted or not) and the terrain.

Combat uses the tried-and-true method of comparing attack and defense factors and rolling on a table. The “retreat” result seems to come up quite a lot during combat.

At certain intervals during the game—or by players’ choice—the Refit Turn can occur. As both sides find their supply lines stretched to the max by a hostile environment, as well as naval and air strikes, the Refit Turn halts almost all offensive actions and allows both sides to attempt to re-group decimated units. This can be a life-saver to both sides, as it allows units removed from play a chance to enter the map again. Both sides have different die roll targets they must make in order to reconstitute units, reflecting the logistics capabilities of the different armies. Of course, the poor Italians get the worst of this.

The extent of minefields deployed by the British calls for some strategic thinking on the part of the German player. Do you allow most of your forces to move down the choke point that is the Coastal Highway? Do you proceed east and have your progress slowed as you try and clear a path through the minefields? Or do you attempt to cut south towards the Qattara Depression and then Northeast and avoid the minefields all together?

The British player has an option called “Strategic Withdrawal,” in which the Allied units that can trace a line of supply automatically move off the map to the East. In effect, this ends the game early but denies the Axis player easy victory points from crushing the remaining British units; it also gives the German player a maximum of three turns to hurry and take undefended objectives. Historically, this option was used to pull the British units back towards the defensive positions at El Alamein.

The game is easy to play and its full 30 turns can easily be played in 3 hours or so.

All in all, Fox’s Gambit is a very fine game for the price and a blast to play for those interested in the World War 2 Campaign for North Africa. This is another fine feather in the cap of High Flying Dice Games.

Armchair General Rating: 91 %

Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 4

About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

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