My First Real Campaign: The Dark Sands (Part 2)

Welcome back to my play through of “The Dark Sands”. If you missed the first part of this campaign you can click here to read about it.

Just a few “housekeeping” items before I get to the gameplay. As I was about to start Turn 8 I realized I had completely misinterpreted a rule regarding activation of units using one of the chits and had given the Germans a bit of an unfair advantage during the last turn.

Shout out to the BoardGameGeek forums!

Ok, no big deal. I was able to rewind a little bit and adjust some things at the start of Turn 8. I fiddled with things until I felt like it was “fixed”, and played on. This turn is historically the start of “Operation Crusader” so the Commonwealth is about to get some very powerful activation chits, some armor improvements and a decent amount of reinforcements.

Turn #8

The scene after most of Turn 8 was in the books (Before the Tobruk breakout)

What Happened

Some good rolls resulted in a mini-breakout from Tobruk that threatens to put a large part of the Axis out of supply if the Commonwealth can keep the momentum going next turn. The Germans were able to take Sollum, but then Commonwealth forces under the 13th Corp HQ (with access to some seriously spicy artilllery!) were able to cut off Halfaya Pass! The Brit’s have priority next turn, and with a full strength attack things could get pretty dire for Rommel and the DAK.

What I Learned

Just because you “can” capture an important objective doesn’t mean you should. I am not sure that the Germans will be able to hold Sollum for long. Also the fact that German and Italian reinforcements slow down significantly is a huge advantage for the Commonwealth. I think the writing may be on the wall for the Germans, but then again the randomness of the chits could swing things back in their favor!

Turn #9

These forts are (almost) impossible to take!

What Happened

The Axis has surrounded the Fort at Bardia and will try to take it next turn. The 13th and 30th Corps continue to push West. The Commonwealth and Italians keep swapping minor tactical victories at Tobruk. With the arrival of some very tough Free French (7 defense rating!) I’m starting to doubt the fort/port will ever change hands.

What I Learned

These forts…are so tough to take! And (with the exception of Sollum) you can’t just starve them out because they are a supply source! That means you have to concentrate your best units to have a shot at winning one of these battles, and that’s dangerous because of how easy it is for the other side to take advantage and potentially box you in.

It’s really important to take advantage of the “infiltration” that German Panzer units can use. It lets you move from ZOC to ZOC as long as there’s no British tanks around. This was the fist time all game I’ve had a chance to use it, and its pretty useful tool.

Turn #10

So yeah…that switched fast huh?

What Happened

Holy cow, things changed fast! So in semi-chronological order here’s what happened to completely turn the tide of this game. Bardia fell, and that opened up a path for me to bring some units down the coastal highway, and rush the Panzers and Motorized infantry that had been at Halfaya Pass over to the trails south of the main road. This was going to put a huge chunk of the Commonwealth out of supply, and the logistics chit fell at the perfect time.

Out of supply units are useless in combat, and have a max movement of 3.

So the Allies were stuck. They couldn’t fight with any real power, and they couldn’t move far enough East to get back in supply. A few units were able to get back and attempt a desperation attack to reopen the rail lines, but it failed. When it was all said and done the majority of the British forces had been pulled off the board during the attrition segment.

As for Tobruk it remains in Allied control, but I’m not sure if I can continue to pump reinforcements into it because the Germans are getting very close to attempting a “Sudden Death” victory (compete control of the coastal road) if they have a little luck in Turn 11.

What I Learned

Three big things I want to mention.

  1. I made a huge mistake with the Commonwealth forces when I pushed them too far West and didn’t leave enough units in reserve behind them. I got too aggressive because of how successful the last few turns had been and I wanted to smash the main German force. You gotta leave some guys behind to guard your rear! Maybe that should have been more obvious to me at this point in the campaign game, but I was so sure that the Axis were done!
  2. Momentum can swing so fast in this game. If I had gotten a few different chit pulls, the Brits could easily have re-taken Sollum, held Bardia and put a large chunk of the German forces out of supply!
  3. Have you ever wondered “how exactly does a much smaller, but more mobile force completely outperform a much larger force?” I know I have, and playing this game has perfectly illustrated that situation for me.

Turn #11

The game has now shifted over to the East map.

What Happened

The Germans pushed onto the East map, and are moving fast down the coastal road. Reinforcements for the Commonwealth are rushing to meet them for what’s sure to be a huge battle at Mersa Matruh.

What I Learned

This is the first time all game there’s been significant combat on one of the “zoomed out” maps and I’ve had to remember to “halve” the movement capabilities that I have been using all game. It is nice to be able to use the full stack for combat through.

This was also the first time all game I had used the naval movement. It lets you shuttle units (3 for the Allies, 1 for the Axis) between port hexes as long as they are in supply. I used it here as a way to move some extra units into Tobruk because the reinforcements are a little thin this turn for the Commonwealth. I think I could have used this to better effect a few turns ago when I was attempting the Tobruk breakout.

Turn #12

The Axis only gets a VP at the end of a turn if they control Tobruk AND Mersa Matruh.

What Happened

The Germans took Mersa Matruh with the majority of the 15th Panzer Division. Although the Axis was able to hold that objective for the whole turn, no victory points were awarded because the Commonwealth still holds Tobruk.

This 2nd HQ allows for all German and Italian forces in range to attack.

What I Learned

The addition of the “Panzerarmee Afrika” HQ counter allows for much more coordinated attacks, and I feel like a few turns of this type of heavy combat could finally result in the capture of Tobruk. This HQ really only has any power on the West and Center map, so it won’t help me much in terms of pushing East.

Turn 13

Look at those reinforcements rushing up the coastal road!

What Happened

Tobruk almost falls when a German and Italian attack (supplemented by the amphibious Hecker units) does some serious damage. However, the reinforcements chit was pulled just in time, and some more Commonwealth units were able to come in to the port.

In the East, the Panzers are still holding Mersa Matruh, but the British colossus is headed their way fast! Maybe I should have started pulling the Axis forces back now, but if they could just hold out for one more turn I think I can take Tobruk, and get at least one victory point. That single point is actually pretty huge, because this late in the game (with both sides tied at “0” VP) even a single point could decide victory.

What I Learned

Not much in terms of the the mechanics, but I will say I had never heard of the “Hecker” unit before and that led me down a very interesting rabbit hole. Again, that’s what makes playing these games fun for me is the doors they open in terms of new things to learn about.

Turn 14

The scene at our stopping point in the midst of Turn 14.

It finally happened, a coordinated force of German and Italian forces has captured Tobruk. But the time and resources that the Axis had to spend on it makes makes me wonder if it’s really a victory at all. It certainly helps in the short run because the “Tobruk Falls” chits that get added to the cup will give the Axis some more options to move or fight this turn.

However, there will be no victory points for the Axis this turn, because the Germans were pushed out of Mersa Matruh a few chits after Tobruk fell.

And so at this point, I feel like I have found a natural stopping place before I play out the games final turns. I realize that the middle of a turn might seem like a weird place to end at first, but the way this has all played it out I think it’s actually a great “intermission” before we get our “third act”. The Germans simply do not have the manpower to re-take Mersa Matruh. But they may have enough to prevent the British from taking Bardia and Sollum, which at this point in the game is the Commonwealth’s only chance at victory. It’s a classic setup. The Germans and Italians are going to do everything they can to “run out the clock” and delay the advance, while the Brits throw everything they have at the two objectives in a final push to win. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to play, and I hope you come back and join me for the third and final installment.

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