For such a small game, we devoted a lot of Daily Content love to Gazala 1942. And now it’s time to say goodbye to this fine little game. After 13 years in print, it’s Gazala 1942 gave way for other toys.
Gazala 1942 is a small game, originally part of a series of “quick-play games” that came in a small box, could be played quickly, and sold for a very low price. That last was made possible by cheap Chinese printing: we made a gazillion of them, and we sold a lot of them. Now we’re selling off the last of them; after Tuesday 4 September the game will be permanently out of print.
Gazala 1942 strained the physical parameters of the “quick-play games” with its map. Instead of the 22x17-inch standard we wished (so that it could fit into the little box without too many folds), it’s what was then our full size, 22x34 inches. The printer managed to come through for us on this occasion and put it on heavier paper than usual, so that the extra fold wouldn’t split the paper.
Terry Moore Strickland painted the Gazala map, introducing some features that have been copied by others since. It’s a beautiful work of art, as befits one of the best contemporary artists working today (even if this piece does pre-date her finding her own muse – I count this map as a step toward that awakening). It shows the desert ground in Libya just west of Tobruk where the Battle of Gazala took place, along with the British fortified “boxes” in which most of their brigades began the battle. There’s also a color player aid card with a swatch of stony desert ground as its background.
There are also 140 die-cut playing pieces depicting the Axis and Allied armies that met at Gazala. Most units are infantry brigades/regiment, with tanks shown in battalions as well as a few specialist units (German motorized infantry and anti-aircraft guns deployed in a ground role; British and South African recon “regiments”). Units are rated for combat strength, armor/anti-tank strength and movement. There’s even a combined Axis marine unit; no one seems to have ever noticed that it has a U.S. Marine globe-eagle-and-anchor background instead of the Italian San Marco Regiment lion-bearing-sword background it was supposed to carry.
The game system itself is reasonably simple, based heavily on that found in Alsace 1945 or Bitter Victory. But it’s not exactly the same, with a major twist. Each unit is rated for its armor or anti-tank strength (the difference being that you can use your armor strength in attack or defense, but your anti-tank strength only in defense). Tank units have armor strength, most everyone else just has anti-tank strength (a few very sad units don’t even have this).
Movement and combat are pretty standard wargame fare, with that extra step of armored combat thrown in there before the “real” combat phase. That helps make combat somewhat bloodier than Alsace 1945, though only somewhat – not every unit is a tank unit, after all. It does make the two German panzer divisions and to a much lesser extent the one Italian armored division a serious cutting edge to the Axis offensive, and help the British tank brigades in their inevitable counter-attack. At least, as the Allied player you’d better counter-attack with your tank units or you will be most unhappy with the game’s result.
The battle itself opened in late May 1942 with Operazione Venezia. The British had formed a fortified line stretching from the Mediterranean coast near the village of Gazala, where a narrow pass provided some very fine defensive terrain, southward into the desert. And there it sort of just ended; the last position at Bir Hakeim manned by a Free French brigade was about as far into the desert as the British could extend their supply network. Knowing the Axis to have greater difficulties moving their supplies, the British command thought or at least hoped that an attack around their left flank would be uninviting and the Axis would instead strike along the coast road where they could be assured of supplies but would have to attack into the teeth of the Allied defenses. Thick minefields covered the front of the entire Allied line to slow the Axis advance and provide advance warning of any serious offensive.
The Axis, led by German Gen. Erwin Rommel, of course attacked where the Allies hoped they would not, swinging their mobile formations around the southern end of the Allied line. For a time they appeared trapped behind Allied lines, but broke the stalemate and sent the Allies reeling back toward Egypt in serious defeat. Tobruk fell soon afterwards, and Rommel had scored the two victories that secured his (inflated) legend.
Gazala 1942 has three scenarios. One, an intro scenario, covers just the opening days of the Axis offensive. And then of course there’s the full historical scenario covering the Battle of Gazala. Finally, the Allies get to go on the offensive – something the British high command desired to do, but they had not completed their supply railroad before Rommel launched his own attack.
In all three scenarios, both players get to attack and must defend: sitting passively in place will easily bring defeat. The Allied position is vulnerable by its nature, and the Axis will sweep around into the Allied rear. How the Allied player addresses that threat will determine victory in the game. But he or she can’t just fling all their forces at the Axis armored spearhead: those minefields will slow the Axis infantry divisions, but they won’t stop them by themselves. The Axis has a chance to “bag” most of the Allied army in its fortified line if the Allied player is careless.
We gave Gazala 1942 a lot of Daily Content, because it was a fun game to play with. If you don’t pick it up before it’s gone forever, you’ll be sad.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.