(Repeat) History to #Coronatine #Wargame – Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send three main columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and one inland to Sidi Suleiman. From Gasr el-Abid the 11th Hussars Reconnaissance Regiment and Central India Horse use their fast tanks and armored cars to drive straight to Sidi Omar (+1VP). The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 and a fierce battle develops. Sensing an opportunity, the 11th Hussars and Central India Horse drive to Gabr el-Gerrari to and tie into the flank of 7th Armored. At the end of June 15, Halfaya Pass is still held by the Germans but Fort Capuzzo is threatened.”

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Game map for Operation Battleaxe from Revolution Games. The British start with Tobruk (upper left) under siege and the offensive jumping off from red letter areas to the south and east. VP zones are denoted in red.

“On June 16, the British strike first with an attack on Pt 206, which they occupy quickly followed by attacks on Fort Capuzzo. The fort holds, but barely. The German 15th Panzer Division now joins the battle to relieve Fort Capuzzo but runs headlong into the anti-tank guns of the British 65th Anti-Tank and is chewed up. The first battle of Rommel’s Afrika Korps is very inauspicious. The German 5th Light Division attempts to outflank the British 7th Armored and travels deep thru the desert from Sidi Rezegh to Bir el-Hurush to take Pt 206 from behind. This time it is the anti-tank guns of the 12th Australian Anti-Tank that savage the German armor units. At the end of June 16, the British are in control of Sidi Omar (+1VP), Pt. 206 (+2VP), and Fort Capuzzo (+2 VP).”

“On June 17, Wavell recognizes that most of the German armor has been destroyed by his anti-tank guns the day before. Sensing an opportunity, the takes the under-strength 2nd & 6th Royal Tank Regiments and strikes out along the coast to Tobruk. By the end of the day, Bardia (+1VP) and Mentasir II (+2VP) have fallen. Meanwhile, the German defenders at Halfaya Pass look on worryingly as a desperate see-saw battle in Musaid sees both sides trade control of the area. At stake is the supply lines for the Halfaya Pass defenders. As the day ends, the British have established control of Musaid and cut off the Halfaya defenders from any resupply.”

“Though Halfaya Pass is yet to fall, it is obvious that Operation Battleaxe is a resounding British victory. In Berlin, Hitler is furious at the loss of his Panzers. With the start of Operation Barbarossa only a few days away, plans are considered for the withdrawal of all German forces in North Africa. More importantly, the Allies have finally faced down the Austrian Corporal’s tanks and shown them to be vulnerable, breaking the aura of invincibility that has surrounded German armor since the Fall of France.*”

[79 Years Later]

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Amazing how different a game this game of Operation Battleaxe was from the first. Whereas in the first game the Germans could not roll wrong, this time the dice gods heavily favored the British. Even with Wireless Intercepts (spend The Advantage to Regroup then Assault in and impulse) and Axis Battlefield Recovery (return one Reduced-Strength Axis armored unit to Full Strength each Refit Phase for free) the German lose armor faster than it can be replaced. The British also managed to put most the the German units on the map out-of-supply and more than a few units Surrender.

Unlike my first game, The Advantage was heavily traded in this game. Early on June 16 and 17, the British player used The Advantage to trigger an Axis Fuel Shortage meaning no Combined Operations (activate more than one area). Both sides liberally traded The Advantage whenever a Fanatical Defense or Maximum Attack was needed. The German player was able to call on Rommel an der spitz! (add a die to an attack roll) only a few times – when needed most the Allies tended to hold The Advantage.

Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941. Designed by Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs for Revolution Games and released in 2013. Great simple-to-learn wargame with just the right amount of chrome to feel ‘authentic’ without major rules overhead.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “A soldiers stops to inspect the grave of a German tank crew, killed when their PzKpfw III tank, seen in the background, was knocked out in recent fighting in the Western Desert, 29 September 1942.” Courtesy ww2today.com

History to #Coronatine #Wargame – The sharp edge of Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send four columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and two inland to Sidi Suleiman and Bir el-Hurush. The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 – and are thrown back by the impressive action of the 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion.”

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Situation near end of June 15. The 33rd AT Battalion defending Pt. 206 has already inflicted significant British armor losses. It will not get any better in the next two days….

“For two days, the British tanks throw themselves at Pt. 206, and for two days the 33rd AT Battalion makes a heroic stand before reluctantly withdrawing to Fort Capuzzo. Even when the British try to outflank Pt. 206 they run headlong into the newly arrived German 5th Light Division and its armor. With their own armor reduced to smoking husks in front of Pt. 206, British infantry units try to hold what they can but eventually start a fighting withdrawal. By the end of June 17, Wavell knows he is defeated. Though he is on control of Halfaya Pass and  Pt. 206 he has failed to relieve the Siege of Tobruk. British losses are painfully high. In this first action against Rommel, the British 7th Armored Division is all but destroyed, while the relatively unscathed German 5th Light Division is poised to for a counterattack deeper into Egypt. Wavell is forced to call off the offensive and signal the failure of Battleaxe to Churchill.”*

[79 Years Later]

I LOVE A WARGAME THAT IS ALMOST HISTORY. In this case, I am talking about Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 by designer Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs and published by Revolution Games in 2013. This title is part of the Area-Impulse series of wargames by Mr. Rinella that includes Patton’s Vanguard (2017) and Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (2019) also published by Revolution Games. The Area-Impulse series are lower complexity games that use area movement and activation of areas in impulses. Each day is of a variable length as each turn includes a Sunset DR (Die Roll) to see if another impulse occurs or if the next turn in triggered.

Operation Battleaxe does an excellent job portraying the situation in North Africa in June 1941. The British have to strike hard to relieve Tobruk while the Axis must defend. This was the first action of Rommel and the 5th Light Division. In this game these key German units are not released until the second day but once they are….

Each turn in Operation Battleaxe is one day, meaning the British player has only three turns to achieve victory. Given the odds built into the Sunset DR, this means on average each turn will be about 7 impulses. The Allies realistically have something like 21 actions to build their victory – meaning there is little enough time to act and even less time to waste. The Allied player earns VP at the end of every turn for control of certain areas. They also gain VP at the end of the game for eliminated German units and reduced German armored units. If they have enough VP then win; less than enough and Mr. Churchill is unhappy!

For such a simple game, Operation Battleaxe actually has a decent amount of chrome to reflect some of the unique conditions of this war. Like every Area-Impulse game, there is The Advantage which can be cashed in by the owning player for an effect such as Fanatical Defense or Axis Fuel Shortage. In this game, I strongly encourage the use of The Advantage Optional Rules which are Additional Tiger Cubs (return a single Allied armor unit to full strength without spending a Replacement Point) and Wireless Intercepts (reflects the Axis advantage given their ability to read British messages). Both are easy to use and add just-that-much-more flavor to the game for almost no rules overhead.

In my game, the 33rd AT Battalion in Pt. 206 rolled HOT(!!!) for June 15 and 16. It certainly sold itself dearly for delaying the British advance. Indeed, by the end of June 15, when the German 5th Light Division was released, the battle was actually pretty much finished given the British armor losses. In this game the British ‘Tigers’ were pretty much declawed from the beginning.

A great aspect of the Area-Impulse games is that they are smaller footprint and actually play relatively quickly meaning I will likely get a second game in this evening. With an easy-to-learn and relatively unsophisticated, yet highly thematic, game system that plays quickly, Operation Battleaxe make a perfect Coronatine wargame.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “Destroyed Matilda tank North Africa.” Courtesy worldwarphotos.info

#WargameWednesday – Deep Play of Patton’s Vanguard (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2017)

Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arraourt, 1944 covers key battles in September 1944 in the Lorraine region of France. Designed by Mike Rinella (Michael Rinella on BGG) with graphics by Charles Kibler (BGG link), the game was published by Take Aim Designs and Revolution Games in 2017. Although I had played the game twice while on a road trip, it was not until this last weekend that I really played a deep dive of the First Scenario.

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Patton’s Vanguard comes with two scenarios, each covering four days battle. Turns are a single day, units are Company-level, and the map uses areas to segment the battlefield. The really interesting game mechanic is found in 8.0 Impulses. Each Impulse the German then the American player performs one action. If the first American die roll (DR or 2d6) of the turn is equal to or greater than the Impulse number, the next Impulse is played. If the DR equals the Impulse number the weather also changes. If the DR is less than the Impulse number the Daylight Phase of the turn ends and the Refit and End Phase is executed and play goes to the next Turn. This mechanic is called the Sunset DR. It is what makes Patton’s Vanguard a tense game; one can never be sure just how long each turn will last. With only four turns to achieve victory the pressure is on the Germans to attack.

Using an area map also means there are no Zones of Control. Well, not officially. One of the hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around is the concept of Contested Areas in the game. Contested Areas first appears in 7.0 Stacking and Control.

7.4 Contested – An area is considered Contested if it contains units of both sides. Contesting an Area that is controlled by the enemy does not alter control of that Area. Units within a Contested Area may only conduct a Ranged Attack (8.1.2) or Bombardment (8.1.3) against enemy units within that Contested Area.

Sounds simple enough. An Area with units from both sides is Contested. Units in Contested Areas can only use Ranged Attacks or Bombardments. Looking at 8.1.2 The Ranged Attack Impulse further specifies in part:

….A ranged attack may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1)….Units in the Active Area may attack (only).

The sticky wicket here is that each turn the weather starts at Fog Weather and it stays that way until the Sunset DR changes it or Impulse 6 when the fog automatically burns off. So units in a Contested Area cannot move –  or attack – in Fog Weather.

OK you say, so armor and infantry can’t attack if stuck in a Contested Area during Fog Weather. Just use your artillery to bash’em.

Hold on. 8.1.3 The Bombardment Impulse states in part:

Artillery and Air Bombardment may not be declared in Fog Weather (9.1).

So OK, find a way to move them. Maybe 8.1.4 The Regroup Impulse? Be careful though:

….Units within a Contested Area may not Regroup into another Contested Area, even if friendly controlled….

In my postgame review I discovered the counterbalance to Contested Areas. It is 11.1 Mandatory Attacks and 11.2 Optional Attacks. Specifically, 11.1 says in part:

….If a Mandatory Attack results in a Repulse (11.5.4) all participating units must retreat (14.2).

11.2 Optional Attacks states in part:

….Moving units may not join with units already within a Contested Area (7.3) to make one combined attack.

Which shouldn’t make a difference until one reads Repulse in 11.5.4 Computing Results:

….Retreat is required in cases of Mandatory Attacks (11.1). Attacking units making an Optional Attack (11.2) may not retreat.

Why this detailed discussion? Because I totally messed up Mandatory Attacks and the Repulse part of 11.5.4 in my deep dive game. I didn’t retreat correctly (i.e. often enough) meaning I missed many opportunities for an Assault (move & attack) by making units too sticky with Contested Areas.

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End of First Scenario…sort of

You might be thinking I am hating on Contested Areas and all the nuanced interactions with movement and attack and retreat. YOU. ARE. WRONG. I actually think Contested Areas is a BRILLIANT game mechanic and the very heart of Patton’s Vanguard. I am not disappointed or angry after my deep dive game, I am immensely happy that I unlocked another level of understanding in this game.

I am also amazed at the amount of chrome that is found in the short 16-page rulebook. Chrome like US airpower or weather or historical leaders. Chrome that is seamlessly integrated into the game and contributes to the experience rather than a useless bolt-on mechanic put there to be “historically accurate” with no real game reason.

Patton’s Vanguard is a refreshingly different operational-level view of the Battle of Arracourt. Kudos to Mike Rinella for delivering a tight, tense game. Even though I made mistakes the game continues to intrigue me. Will have to get it back to the table for the larger Second Scenario covering September 25-28, 1944.