the Battle of Medjez-el-Bab, "One Helluva Fight"


the cover for the game
and yes, it was... From the weather to the surprise roar of the Tiger...

The game up for review is High Flying Dice Games,"One Helluva Fight" covering the Battle of Medjez-el-Bab, 6th to 10th December, 1942,  the first major engagement fought by the Anglo-American forces in the Battle of North Africa.  Designed by Paul Rohrbaugh, with graphics by  Ilya Kudriashov. Published Nov 2018, this is one of High Flying Dice Games newest additions to a long list of the Blood and Steel series of games.

Rather than go into a great deal of history, I would like to use Paul's words in describing this battle... 

The first major engagement fought by the Anglo-American forces of the war occurred near the crossroads town of Medjez-el-Bab. A British and American battle group, named "Blade Force" and composed of units from the US First Armored and British 78th Infantry divisions, as well as some former Vichy French units,   initially took the town and then drove on to Terbourba to come within striking distance of Tunis. The Germans, however, cobbled together a battle group, centered on the newly arrived 5th Fallschirmjager Regiment (a unit initially detailed to attack Malta) and 10th Panzer Division. Supported by Luftwaffe and Italian Bersaglien units, a no-holds-barred tank and infantry fight was fought in the which the Allies were thrown back.  

The area where the battle for Tunisia was fought

The Game
The game is based on High Flying Dice Games successful "Blood and Steel" series of games. It comes in a standard zip-lock bag with the components nicely done. For example various colors are used to delineate the various units. One has the full range of units from anti-tank to leg infantry to Tiger tanks.  Air units are represented abstractly as air support markers, as is artillery with it's own artillery support markers.  One needs to supply a container (i.e. cup) and a 1D6 (best to supply two, so both sides have a die).

Closer look at the map and counters
The units have both an Armor Attack Factor (AF) for attacking armor type units, an Infantry Attack Factor (IF) for attacking infantry type units and a movement factor. The map is huge, being two 11"x17" sections. Printed on the two map sheets are the various tables and charts needed for play, along with the rules booklet having some of the tables and charts, too (pages 4, 8, and 9).

In the photo to the left one can see the game's armor counters being represented  by the French Char B, US M2 Stuart, and German Tiger with their AF/IF factors and movement. An US mechanized infantry unit, an Italian leg infantry unit and a German paratrooper unit are illustrated for the infantry.  

As mentioned before, the graphic design and colors used in the game are very well done.  A lot of companies art direction, when it comes to "sand", is that most of the time the color shade is too yellow.  Sand is anything but. When I first opened this game, it was like I went back thru time to when I was station in Saudi Arabia, during the First Gulf War. The shades of the various colors used for the map and counters was what was everywhere.  Ilya should be very proud of his work in this game.

There are several words that can and will be used interchangeably in this review of the game. For example "evening" and "night"; "markers" and "chits", etc.  

the game and it's components
Game Components
  • A nine page rule booklet (actually 8 as the 1st page is the cover), 
  • Two 11"x17" map sections (east and west), 
  • Two 1/2" un-mounted single-sided counter sheets of 288 counters (actually 247 game counters) comprised of:
    • Sheet one has:
      • 54 German and Italian unit counters.
      • 63 Anglo-American (and some French) unit counters.
      • 27 blank counters
    • Sheet two has:
      • 52 hit markers.
      • 8 arty markers.
      • 42 disrupted markers.
      • 24 entrenched (improved position) markers.
      • 4 other counters (game turn, end of turn, random event, and foul weather).
      • 14 blank counters 
The counters should be mounted before cutting out for play. While you are at it, order a 2nd set of counter sheets in case you lose one or more counters. Worth it, as the extra sheet only costs a little. Note: High Flying Dice Games does offer a low cost mounting service for their games. Ask when purchasing for cost.

Game Scale 
Each game turn equals 8 hours of real time with three game turns equaling a full 24 hour day. Each hex is aprx 1/2 mile across and each unit equals a company, except the Tiger 1's, which are equal to a platoon in size.

a Tiger of the 501st, dtd 1 Jan 1943

 
Sequence of Play
There are three separate and distinct phases, starting with the Weather and Air support phase (5.1), the Operations Phase (5.2), and the End Phase (5.3).
  • Phase 1 - Weather and Air Support Determination (5.1 and 6.1)
    • Starting on turn 2, one player rolls 1D6 and consults the "Weather Determination" table on the game map to see what the weather will be like for the current turn.
      • Turn 1, the weather is automatically "Clear".
      • Foul Weather can have a "very" adverse effect on units (see the "Terrain Effects Chart" and "Foul Weather Effects" table on p8).
         
    • After determining the weather, both players roll 1D6 to see how many air units they will receive for that turn (6.1 to 6.1.3).  
      • Remember, no air support on night (Evening) turns.
      • Artillery support is rolled for in Phase 2 Operations Phase, per each activation marker, each round.

  • Phase 2 - Operations Phase (5.2, 6.2, 7.0, 8.0 and 9.0)
    • Each Operation Phase in a game turn is divided into two parts (one can call them rounds or operational phases 1 and 2 or whatever. Just remember there are 2 parts to it.
      • At the beginning of each round when a friendly formation "Activation Marker" (AM or chit) is selected, that player rolls 1D6 for the number of "Artillery Support" markers (or chit) they can use. (6.2.1). Rolled for each activation marker in use.
      • Round 1 has all the active formation activation markers that are available for use (there can be up to 4) and the "Random Event " marker placed into the opaque container for selecting. 
        • At the end of the 1st round, "Disrupted" markers are removed from any affected units by rolling a 1D6 and consulting the "Activation Interval Disruption Removal Chart". "Hit" markers are not removed (top of p8).
      • Round 2 - once all the chits have been selected and acted upon for the first round, the AM chits are placed back into the opaque container with the "End Turn" chit instead of the "Random Event" chit for the second round. 
US M3 Lee and crew before this battle.
Note - there are several units that are not part of a formation, these are considered independent (3.0 Game Terms And Abbreviations under "Formations").  There are no activation markers for these units. Each unit may activate once per turn (can be activated in either operational phase 1 or 2) with some restrictions in regards to stacking with friendly formations (see 8.0 Stacking). One independent unit can stack with a four unit formation stack or two units from different friendly formations plus one independent unit can stack together. No Vichy French unit can stack with any British unit (Vino and Tea wars?).
    • Here is a listing of the independent units:
      • Allies:
        • All the Vichy French (no one trusted the Vichy, but fight they did). Vichy can stack with the Americans.
        • Four 1/18 US Infantry units.
      • Axis:
        • All the Italian units (these were some of the best Italian units in action during WW2).
        • And the Four Axis Flak units.

    • Players take turns selecting a chit from the container.
      • In the first round when the "Random Events" chit is selected, continue the selection until all chits are removed from the container.
      • After the end of the 1st Round, roll for removal of disrupted markers from units.
      • Remember: for the 1st Round, each player will have two arty support die rolls. And for the 2nd Round, a possibility of 2 more for each player unless the "End Turn" chit is selected.
      • In the 2nd Round when the "End Turn" chit is drawn (for example, the 1st draw), the game turn is over. No more draws. It is possible that no units activate for the 2nd round.
    • When an active formation chit is selected there are four possible actions it can perform: 
      • Movement Only (7.1 and 7.4.3)
        • Units may move a number of hexes up to the limit of their movement point (mp) allowance. 
        • Consult the Terrain Effects Chart (p8) to see the cost of each type of terrain. 
        • A unit may move 1 hex if it expends all of it's mp's. 
        • A unit may be forced marched (7.1.1) 
        • Close Assault Fire Comba.
        • Foul Weather can interfere with this action.
      • Movement and Fire (7.2)
        • Units may moved half of their MP allowance (drop the fractions) and conduct an attack or vise-versa. NICE.  
        • There are two type of units that can't perform this action (see 7.2).
        • Foul Weather can interfere with this action.
      • Fire Combat (7.3, 7.3.1, 7.4.2)
        •  This is what can be considered normal combat between units. 
          • A unit has 2 different attack factors depending on what is being attacked (armor (has a picture of armor on the counter) or infantry)- 
            • AF (armor attack factor) for attacking armor.
            • IF (infantry attack factor) for attacking infantry.
          • There are five possible die roll modifiers that can be used. (7.3.1).
          • Add or subtract the die roll modifiers to the die roll. If the modified die roll is less than or equal to the firing units AF/IF, a hit is scored
            • First time a unit is hit, a disrupted marker is placed on it.
            • Second time a unit is hit, a hit marker is placed on it. 
            • 3rd time it is hit, the unit is eliminated.  
            • Remember, a unit can already have a disrupted marker or a hit marker on it from a previous Operations Phase 1 or 2 or Action/attack. If the unit only has a hit marker, it has to take a disrupted marker and then another hit to be eliminated.  If already disrupted, then a hit marker has to be placed and needs a 3rd successful attack on it.  If the unit already has a disrupted marker and a hit marker from before that wasn't removed, it is eliminated.  Whew, sorry, this is more for me anyway to make sure I got it right.
          • There are no ranged Attack Factors, outside of Artillery. 
          • Terrain Effects Chart lists possible DRMs.
          • Improved Positions are only +1 DRM.
        • Close Assault Fire Combat (7.4.3).
          • This is an interesting and important operation. A friendly unit can enter a hex with an enemy unit. Though part of "Fire Combat", it has a lot of paragraphs describing how to do this.  Just be aware it is available, gives a very tactical feel to the game and provides options for the player to explore.
      • Construct an Improved Position (IP) (a.k.a. "Entrenchment" counter) (7.5)
        • IPs cannot be constructed in Towns or during Foul Weather.
        • Unit cannot move when it constructs an IP. 
        • All units in a stack have to construct their own IP. 
        • Once a unit that makes an IP moves or is eliminated, the IP marker is removed too.
Note - There are so much to these four actions, one really needs to read and pay attention to the rules. Rule sections are after the possible action. 

Also note  - This game, unlike a lot of other games, has no supply or zones of control.  Very nice.
  • Phase 3 - End Phase (5.3 and 10.0)
    • Players remove all "Disrupted" markers and roll for possible recovery (i.e. "Hit" marker removal) for units that have not moved or been fired upon that turn. (10.0).
    • Both players calculate victory point awards that turn and adjust the VP Track on the game map. (13.0)
    • If this is not the last turn of the game: 
        • Advance the game turn track marker to the next turn.  
        • Continue with Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3. 
That's it. The entire game as it is played. Everything is in the rules.  Not everything may be together in one place, but it is all there.  When the Playing Aid Card is called for, everything is found on either game map sheets or in the rules (p4, 8, and 9).

Panzer burning during this battle. Notice the NCO checking.
There is a small addendum sheet, but unlike a lot of companies, High Flying Dice Games, due to how it conducts business (printing the game when it is ordered), has the ability to fix errors in rules. For example, the missing text on the game turn track for game turn 9 was fixed by the time the 10 or 12th game went out. Errata as I have found it (there are several spots) has been fixed as of today, Jan 1, 2019.   And if you have any questions, Paul will answer any and all questions, cheerfully I will add.

Here is what Paul sent to me in case you have ordered the game before Jan 1, 2019.

One Helluva Fight
Addenda, December, 2018
Map (correction): The text describing the Allied formations is switched. The British 78th Division units are on the top, the US 1st Armored Division units are on the bottom.

Note: The first 10 or 12 copies of the game went out with the text missing on the turn 9 space (Turn 9, 8/12/1942, Evening).

Rules (clarification): The terms Evening and Night are used interchangeably throughout.

7.4.3 Close Assault Fire Combat (correction). The note at the end should read “…+1 for Improved Positions” (not +2).

Whats next, oh yeah, my options or ratings. Without further adieu...

Time for the buns ratings:
•  Complexity of the game: Low-medium complexity. Adding the option rules increases the complexity, but this can be a boon to even out an experienced player's ability for a new player. 
•  Solitaire: Med HIGH (as always, a little work is needed)
•  Enjoyment Level: VERY HIGH (imho)
•  Nail biting: Eight to nine fingers worth. 
• Historical Level: VERY High. This game has a solid historical reference background and a very solid OOB (Orders of Battle) and game map.  Weather rules are pretty much right on, as the weather for the battle was horrible.  Dried areas were not to be found. Mud that went deep, sinking both tracked and wheeled vehicles and men.  The Tiger was basically a movable pill box with armor that stopped anything the Allies had and outgunned  the Allies. With this unit in the game, I feel sorry for the Allies who had much to learn in regards to armor warfare and designing armor (even the Sherman was a horrible matchbox).  If there was one country who designed a tank correctly, it was the Soviets with the T-34.   
•  Length of typical full game: About 3 to 4 hours. Remember, optional rules, longer playing time.
• Out of the games played, (no optional rules used, as this is a more complex game than what I am use too), The Axis player won 75%. The Allies were able to squeak by with only winning 25% of the games.

I know that this win ratio is lower than what Paul designs for.  It could be that I am not ready for a game of this caliber of complexity.  But it is a very interesting game.  I can't think of another North Africa game that show cases Panzer III's and IV's, Stuart's, and Lee tanks with Tigers on the prowl.  And rain, bloody, bloody rain.  

 Semovente 75/18 on the move

Final Thoughts
This game is different for me in that instead of using a card activation system, this game uses a chit selection for activating certain formations for moving and combat, up to twice in an Operations phase and units that can activate only once in a game turn. Using the "Close Assault Fire Combat" (7.4.3) rules for attacking, can allow over-runs with armor break-thrus.  It pays to have ready reserve units in this game for exploiting these fortunes of war.

French troops on their way to the fighting lines in Tunisia shake hands with American soldiers at the rail station in Oran, Algeria, North Africa, on December 2, 1942
Having the Vichy French in the game is also different from most wargames.  One of the many units that fought on the Allied side after the Torch landings was the French Foreign Legion.  Following their brief existence as the "Colonial Infantry and Foreign Legion Marching Demi-Brigade" for 10 days  (Dec 5, 1942),  Général Henri Giraud on December 15, 1942 created the "3rd Foreign Marching Infantry Regiment 3e REIM", from elements of the I (battalion) / 3e REI, the III (battalion) / 3e REI, and a third mixed battalion from the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment, 3e REI and 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, 2e REI for fighting the Germans in Tunisia.

This unit proved it's self in combat,  such as the destruction of the I (battalion) / 3e REIM.  During combat, this regiment had the privilege of meeting the first German Tiger tanks and endured the loss of 35 officers and 1634 legionnaires.  They gave their all during the Battle for Tunisia. What is very interesting is that this unit could trace it's history, not only back thru WW1, but all the way to receiving battle honors from "Camerone" Mexico, April 1863.  

What gets me is how Paul thinks out and designs interesting features of in a game, such as the way he treats the Tiger tank. Not only can you use it as a combat unit, but you can apply a Tiger unit as a support unit for a die roll modifier (-1) to apply to another units attack.  Having both the AF (armor) attack factor and the IF (infantry) attack factor shows the two different types of ammo units had to be concern with.  It's the little things like this that can make or break a game, especially if the ideas are half thought-out.  One thing I can say is Paul never half-thinks a game out.  

I also believe that Paul out did himself this time with this game, possibly bringing the "Blood and Steel" series to it's pinnacle.  One needs to go back to see how many different games that Paul has designed in this series and judge for themselves. 

Here are other titles that are available in this series from High Flying Dice Games:
*A Test of Mettle: The Battles of Arracourt, Dompaire and Mairy, September 1944 (Professional).
*Black Lion’s Roar: The Battle of Catigny, May 27-31, 1918
*Blood, Steel and Sand: The Battle of First Alamein, June 1942
*But Not In Vain: The Battle for Calais, May 1940
Hot Blood, Cold Steel: The Battle of Chawinda, September 15-16, 1965
*Kings of the Hills: The Battle of Kap-Yong, April 1951
*L’Audace: The Battle of Abbeville, May 1940
Lightning and Steel: The Battle of Piotrków Trybunalski, September 1939
*One Helluva Fight: The Battle of Medjez-el-Bab, 1942(newest)
Slim to None: The Battle of Slim River, January 7, 1942
(*note- these I have bought :) )

In the Works:
Hell in the Holy Land: The First and Second Battles of Gaza, 1917
A Long, Hard Road: The Battle of Dubno, 1941
Kings of the Castle: The Battle of Imjin River, 1951
There is one more, but I am not privileged to mention it.

Each game in the Blood and Steel series is well researched and documented. Games are low to moderate in complexity with many optional rules that will increase the complexity for those so incline (yeah, you know who are, lol).  One to two game maps, with counters ranging from 80 to over 200 and rules that are usually 6 to 10 pages in length.   Movement is handled via activation markers (chit pull) instead of cards.

This series of games have been well-received in the gaming community thru-out the years, (Paul was telling me that his YSU students help play test this system starting in 1997).  The first game, "the Battle of Prokorovkha", was published in 2000 by Microgame Design Group.  This game and two more were picked up by L2 Design Group in 2006. All are still available from L2 Designs and published as: 
  • Blood and Steel: Kursk, the Battle of Prokhorovka
  • Blood and Steel Expansion: The Battles of Oboyan Hills and Rzhavets
  • Blood and Steel: The Battle of Ponryi

The bibliography Paul included is very good, honestly, one could not ask for a better selection.  Out of the three references, I would recommend, if you have the resources to purchase,  Rick Atkinson's An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (his entire series on the US in WW2 is well worth the cost, too).

a scene from the movie "Sahara" 1943.  Yes, that is a M3 Lee
One of my favorite WW2 propaganda movies is "Sahara", made in 1943. It concerns a M3 Lee tank and crew who are skedaddling from the fall of El Alamein (first battle). The problem is there was no American M3 Lee crews at this battle, but with the Torch landings and some of the nastiest losses inflicted on the US when this movie was made (Battle of Medjez-el-Bab, Kasserine Pass, etc.), that for probably morale value, this movie was changed from Tunisia to Egypt.   Of course I could be pulling all this from my butt, but it makes sense on the mix-up story line.

The question that begs to be ask, "is there life left in this series"?  After 19+ years, if this particular game is any indication, there certainly is.  Well worth buying and the time needed to mount/cut out the counters.  I can't wait for his next games to come out.

It would be something to see a few other battles done in this series, such as around the Dunkirk area, such as the battle of Wytschaeteor, or maybe Operation Dragoon, the Dieppe Raid area or even individual battles from 1812 such as the Battle of New Orleans with pirate Jean Laffite and Choctaw warriors, oh boy (yeah some of those northeastern battles attacking Canada or the burning of Washington D.C. would be ok, if they really are needed... lol).

Well, that's it for now. Thank you for dropping by.   

-ab 

This blog is considered to be a living blog. Changes will be made to it as needed to clarify, correct errors or update with new information.

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