Richard Berg’s Blood and Sand – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Original gaming system; excellent piece design; good replay value.
Failed Basic: Map hexes too small for game pieces, needs better placement of charts and unit status boxes.
Blood and Sand is an inventive and highly playable light simulation of World War Two’s North African Campaign. Blood and Sand is the second in the Bitter Victory game series; the first game in the series was MedWar Sicily. Players who enjoyed the first game would certainly enjoy this one as well.
The game has three scenarios: “Tobruk” which takes about 3 hours to play and is a good introduction to the game system. “Operation: Crusader” which is a very short scenario great for solo play, and then the full campaign game which takes about 6 hours to complete.
Historical Context – World War II in North Africa
The North African campaign was fought from June 1940, when the Italians declared war on the British, until May 1943 when Axis forces in North Africa surrendered to the British and American Allies. The game focuses on the campaign from April 1941, four months after the arrival of Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps, to December 1942, just one month after the British victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein. The fighting in the desert in this time frame consisted of a number of seesaw offensives that saw the Germans and Italians advance to the end of their supply lines and then be driven back by the British and Commonwealth forces. These battles saw both sides’ armored and mechanized units take the lead in the fights, many times making wide moves into the desert to flank their enemy’s defenses along the coast. Given the general inhospitality of the terrain and the limited road network, supplies and logistics were serious issues for the Allies and even more so for the Axis.
Blood and Sand Game Components
The 113 nicely thick game counters (46 Axis and 67 Allies) are colorful, with uncluttered and easy to read printing.
There are two decks of Opportunity Cards (Op Cards), 27 cards for each side. The Op Cards are also nice and sturdy. In the game they represent different abstracted factors of the war. For example, the Allied player has cards that add artillery support, or allow him to motorize an infantry unit, or conduct naval gunfire support, and so on. The Axis deck is similar, but has some differences as well, such as the “Rommel card,” which lets the Axis player seize the initiative at the start of a turn. Some Axis cards have two possible uses, for example, to conduct an emergency re-supply that could be used to save units from sure destruction or the card could be used to force an Allied withdrawal. This card replicates the Allies’ requirements to move units to other theaters of war. Altogether, the cards add a great deal to the game-play by preventing an Allied walk-over and enhance replay value. One note on the cards: it would have been better for the two decks of cards to have to different back designs to easily distinguish between the Allied and the Axis sets.
The map is gorgeous; bright and colorful. The hexes being marked only at their corners is a nice design and makes the map look that much better. Unfortunately, the hexes are about a quarter inch smaller than the game pieces. This makes the map somewhat hard to read during play, and when many counters are close together the map feels crowded as well. Further, all the charts, placeholders for the cards, reinforcement and other unit status boxes are on the south side of the map. It would have been better had the north side been setup for the Allies and south side been similarly setup for the Axis (or vice versa).
The rulebook is well written, easy to understand and a mere 12 pages, including reinforcement schedules. Anyone who has played hex-based wargames before could read the rules once and go straight to playing. One minor issue: since both sides receive extensive reinforcement during the game, two reinforcement charts separate from the rulebook would have been nice.
Sequence of Play
A. Initiative Determination Phase: Players roll to see who moves first
B. First Player Resource and Reinforcement Phase: The player receives three Resource points, with which he may refit units, build fortifications or draw Op cards. Player also receives reinforcements.
C. First Player Activation Phase:
- Supply Segment: Check supply status of units and roll for supply points.
- Movement Segment: Player may move any eligible units, including reinforcements
- Combat Segment: Conduct attacks as restricted by the supply rules.
- Marker and Card Segment: Remove enemy interdiction markers and discard unwanted cards.
D. Second Player’s Resource and Reinforcement Phase
E. Second Player’s Activation Phase is handled the same way as the first player’s.
F. End of Turn: Reshuffle Op Card deck and go on to next turn, or determine victory.
The Game System
The old saw is that “Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.” Of course, the reverse is true in board games—few players worry about logistics, and the games are usually all about the strategy and tactics. Blood and Sand has found a way to make the logistics important without bogging down the game’s action. The game uses a system of supply zones and supply points along with die rolls to determine available supplies. Also, by placing the supply segment at the start of the player’s activation phase and restricting movement and combat to available points, the game designer has forced the players to deal with the logistical situation in a realistic way, without a load of detailed book keeping.
The Bitter Victory system does not use die rolls indexed on a Combat Results Table (CRT) to resolve combat. Instead, the player rolls a certain number of die, depending on the type of units involved in the combat, to determine the outcome. The terrain modifies the combat by removing a number of dice from the attacker. While it sounds slightly cumbersome, it is not, and is, in fact, far easier than cross-referencing a CRT chart with multiple modifiers.
The card play and the supply rules, added to the “bucket of dice” combat resolution scheme gives the player a game that is, in the best way, both new and familiar at the same time. Blood and Sand is a good game to introduce a newcomer to the world of board wargaming but would still hold the interest of an experienced player.
Armchair General Score: 90%
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 4
About the author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee working on games and simulations for training. He cut his wargaming 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 Bachelors’ degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He just earned his Masters in European History and has decided to use all his education to play more games and bore his family.