No Retreat! North African Front – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Two games for the price of one. Accurate and fun simulation of the back and forth battles in North Africa. Great two-player interaction. Great on-line support.
Failed Basic: Rules are confusing. Some unit colors are not distinctive enough. More complete index needed.
GMT’s new No Retreat! The North African Campaign focuses on the back-and-forth struggle for Northern Africa, plus a separate game on the invasion of Crete. It is a sequel to 2011’s No Retreat! The Russian Front: 1941 to 1945; both games were designed by Carl Paradis. While putting “No Retreat” in the title informs fans of the original game that this is another entry in the same series, it seems a bit odd for this subject matter. “No Retreat” the perfect name for the battles in Russia, but it is the opposite of what happened in North Africa, where both the Allies and the Axis captured and then relinquished ground based upon the logistical situation at the time.
No Retreat! The North African Campaign is packaged in an attractive box deep enough to comfortably contain its 40-page rule booklet, a 2- page scenario booklet, 3 fully mounted, double-sided, color map boards, 5 aid sheets, 200 counters, 55 event cards and two dice. Additionally, GMT has thoughtfully included zip lock bags for the components.
The game’s scale is on the divisional, brigade and regimental level, with each unit representing from 8,000 to 12,000 men and machines. Each turn represents anywhere from a few days up to 2 weeks, based upon the flow of the combat at that particular time. The companion game (which utilizes much the same rules) is the Invasion of Crete uses regimental- and brigade-sided unit; each of its turns represents roughly 10 hours.
The rules are somewhat confusingly laid out, but at least there are plenty of examples and designer’s notes that help clarify the rules. Additionally, the first errata have been posted on GMT’s website.
The turn flow is as follows (with the smaller scale of the Invasion of Crete game, some steps are skipped):
1 Advance the turn marker.
2 See if the British on Malta have interdicted Axis supplies
3 Discard and redraw Event Cards
4 Receive Supply Points
5 Note any Game Turn Events for that turn
6 Check to see if the Sudden Death Rules apply, as well as any Map Control Victory, and see if an invasion of Malta occurs
7 Both players play Event Cards
8 Both players rebuild shattered or destroyed units and receive re-inforcements
9 Offensive operations are declared
10 If an Offensive operation occurs, players place their units on the battle map board
A Supply is checked and Battle Event Cards are played
B Players move their units
C Combat occurs and damaged determined
D A to D continue until 1. the offensive operation is cancelled (the player with the initiative uses up his “target counters,” which provide opportunities to attack), or 2. until one side or the other has no units left on the map board, or 3. supplies are completely used up.
These turns continue until a player concedes, is beaten, suffers “Sudden Death” or the scenario/campaign ends. It is this fluid nature of the combats that makes each turn unpredictable, unlike the more fixed turn structure in other strategic war games. The “Sudden Death” rules allow for the scenario to end early based upon some specific criteria for either the Axis or the Allies.
The Event Cards also add to the dynamic nature of the game. They add random events, such as the support of the Royal Navy to disrupt the Axis supply lines, the augmentation of anti-tank units with 88mm flak guns repurposed for the anti-tank role, Rommel falling ill and being forced to relocate for recuperation in Europe, etc. Unfortunately, some cards such as “Operational Pause” are a little ambiguous in their text and need a better explanation as to how they work.
When combat occurs, the combat rating of the opposing units are compared and any modifiers from either the event cards or the turn chart (which provides a month by month modification to the game based upon real-life historical events such as Pearl Harbor) are added to the roll. Additionally, anti-tank guns or heavy tanks can provide shifts to the combat result. The number is then compared to a chart for either the Allies, Italians or Germans and the final result is applied. Combat results include retreats, counter-attacks, units being shattered owing to being attacked by overwhelming odds, or units being damaged or destroyed. More often than not, the combat results in continued fighting or retreats; units aren’t often shattered or destroyed.
Rules are provided for building fortifications and minefields or improving the fortification levels around Tobruk, as well as abstract rules allowing engineers to destroy such fortifications.
Air strikes, air support, sea power, unit refit, morale and such are all handled abstractly and elegantly, as are supply lines and other logistics.
The action starts on the player mat, which includes a small-scale reproduction of the northern coast of Africa from Tunis to Alexandria. When the armies of the warring parties come into contact, the scale then shifts to one of the large map boards. When one army or the other gains control over the map board, a counter is placed on the strategic map to show who controls that map board. In this way, the game designer ingeniously allows the players to focus on individual sections of the North African coast without having to set up maps which, when put together, cover over 5 feet. Additionally, at the scale of the game, there are never more than 20 counters for each side, making the game perfect for a few hours of gaming at a time. Set up and clean up of the game takes no longer than 15 minutes!
While the North African game is perfectly suited for two or more players, it can be played solitaire with a little bit of balanced gamesmanship on the part of the player.
The Invasion of Crete supplement uses a more tactical version of the rules and dispenses with such items as supply lines. If played from the perspective of the Germans, this game is a great solitaire experience, as the Greek and British defenders have much more static set ups on the gorgeous map board.
The Play Book includes six scenarios for North Africa plus a campaign game and three scenarios for the Invasion of Crete. Copious examples and designer’s notes are also included. Each scenario can be played in two to three hours or less.
The game does have a few defects that detract from the gaming experience. While there is an index included for both North Africa and Crete, they are not terribly complete and some page flipping can be required to find a rule (this is especially bad in the Crete game, as some key elements are not clearly explained in the rules and must be researched in the examples and notes).
Some rules that need much more clarification are those for “counter blows,” supply by sea while defending a coastal city (such as Tobruk), and the exact use of camouflaged defenses in the Crete game. I and the other players found ourselves first searching the on-line FAQs and errata and then just coming to an agreement as to how to implement or interpret these rules.
In the Crete game, the color of the counters for the British and Greek forces is a little too close and created some confusion for unit identification. Additionally, it would have been nice if the designer had included hex numbers on the map boards for ease of recording unit placement.
I think more could have been done with American units. Currently, in the game, they are treated very abstractly.
These few issues not withstanding, No Retreat! The North African Campaign is a bloody good game and deserves a place on any World War II gamer’s shelf. It is a fine follow up to No Retreat! The Russian Front: 1941 to 1945.
Armchair General Rating: 88 %
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 3 (N. Africa) 4 (Crete)
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)!