By Doug McNair
Having OD’d on Avalon Hill’s
ancient Panzerblitz as a child, it
takes a lot to get me excited about a World
War II battle game. So, when I rejoined the
Avalanche Press development team and got ahold
1942, I expected to familiarize myself
with the system quickly and move on to other
things. How wrong I was! Gazala is
a fascinating game of desperate measures and
mad gambles, with lots of replayability. After
a couple of run-throughs, it’s among
my favorite Avalanche games.
So far, I’ve concentrated on the Opening
Moves scenario. The strategic and tactical
considerations that make this scenario so
interesting are as follows:
This is THE driving force of the game. The
British minefields block the Axis forces from
using the road, which is the only supply source
available. The minefields extend far to the
south from the road at a right angle (with
the sea rooting their north flank), so Axis
forces circumventing them quickly become Unsupplied,
which cuts their movement and attack strength
in half. The German truck shortage just compounds
Rommel’s headaches, and puts his forces
in danger of becoming Isolated (with further
strength reductions) the farther they move
into British territory, even if their flanks
At start, Rommel’s preparations allow
the Afrika Korps to trace supply up to 35 hexes
out from the road, but only for the first eight
turns. This means the Korps is in a slow-motion
race against time from the get-go. It must round
the horn of the British minefields, depend on
the Italian XX Corps to clear the Free French
from the southernmost objective hex, then slog
northward and engage the British 1st and 7th
Armoured Divisions. In the meantime, the Italian
XXI and X Corps must breach the minefields and
engage the forces beyond, hoping to clear them
out and establish a supply line of less than
20 hexes to the central objective hexes, so
that the Afrika Korps HQ can pick it up when
it gets there. If this effort fails, Rommel
becomes Isolated after eight turns, just when
the British reserves are likely to arrive. This
puts Afrika Korps units at one-quarter attack
strength/half defense strength against one or
more full-strength Allied divisions. Not a good
prospect, even for the Desert Fox.
Not activated this turn. An Italian semovente
crew awaits orders during the Battle of
In Gazala, both players start each
turn unsure of how many formations will be
able to move and fight. The Command Limits
die-roll at the start of the turn limits how
many formations can activate per side, so
each side must carefully select which formation
chits to put in the cup. For the Axis, Rommel
and the Afrika Korps can’t do the job
unless the Italians do enough damage to force
a supply line through the British minefields.
So, the Axis player has to let Afrika Korps
sit and wait sometimes, throwing all the Italian
chits in the cup and hoping they can clear
the Allies out quickly enough for Afrika Korps
to have a chance of making it to the central
objective hexes before game’s end.
For the Allies, variable activation is only
part of the problem. British Indecision causes
the Allied player to not even know which of
his activation chits are in the cup after
he’s put them there. So, he can’t
always rely on his front-line units to be
able to move and fight when he wants them
to. He must therefore let them sit quiet sometimes,
even while under attack, and put the chits
of his reserve formations in the cup instead.
Once the reserves move up and get among the
front-line units, then no matter which Allied
formations activate, they can block Axis advances.
The Desert Fox himself is the main factor
giving Afrika Korps a chance to reach its
objectives. Rommel can activate on his own,
moving and attacking independently with any
units stacked with him. The Axis player must
therefore stack a powerful force of infantry
and tanks (enough to exert ZOC) with Rommel.
This lets him rush ahead and blast holes in
the Allied lines for the Korps to later exploit,
or zip around the Allied rear and cut their
supply lines. He can activate again in the
same turn when the Korps HQ activates, advancing
farther to take objective hexes (and hoping
he can hold them until the Korps catches up).
However, he too is subject to variable activation
(only able to activate on a die-roll of 4-6
when his chit is drawn), so even the greatest
general in North Africa is subject to the
fortunes of war.
The following partial narrative from a recent
game illustrates the importance of supply,
variable activation and Rommel.
Bersaglieri man a 47mm anti-tank gun.
Rommel and a stack of Panzers and infantry
are in hex 0812, having moved there after
the Italians forced a minefield breach and
cleared the French out of 0912. With no French
ZOC to contend with, he can move freely. His
chit is drawn and the die-roll lets him activate.
He moves down the track to 0815, blows up
the British tanks in 0916, and advances into
that hex. The Afrika Korps activates and half-encircles
the British forces east and north of 0916,
beating back the British 7th Division and
The Axis player chooses not to put Afrika
Korps chit in the cup, selecting the Italian
XXI chit instead so that it can attack the
1st South African Division guarding the road
in hex 2707. This gives the British 7th and
1st Divisions time to regroup from the beating
the Korps has given them. Then the 1st South
African activates before the Italians can
and attacks, killing the Italian engineer
unit. XXI Corps is still able to force minefield
breaches on the road, but its attacks are
ineffective because they have no armor support
and the South Africans do. Rommel is unable
to activate this turn, so Afrika Korps goes
The Italian XXI attacks hex 2707 again but
is still ineffective versus the combined arms
of the South Africans. Rommel’s chit
is drawn but once again he’s unable
to activate. The South Africans attack the
XXI regiment guarding the south flank of the
attack on 2707 and drive it back. Grant tanks
then advance into hex 2706 to threaten the
German infantry spearheading the Italian attack.
This spells doom for forcing a supply line
down the main road. The Italian divisions
to the south now must take up that mission.
The Axis player rolls a 6 for command level,
while the Allies roll a 1. Rommel, Afrika
Korps and the Italian XX all activate, pushing
the British 7th north and the British 50th
out of hex 1410. This plus a previous minefield
breach into hex 1410 creates hope for an Axis
supply line 20 hexes long that Afrika Korps
can pick up while assaulting its objective
It’s the last turn before Axis supply
lines shorten. Afrika Korps and Rommel must
make major gains if they're to keep from becoming
Isolated. But the British 1st activates first
and concentrates its forces in hexes 1415
and 1416, forming ZOC to slow the German advance.
Then Afrika Korps activates and envelops the
British in a south-pointing semicircle from
hexes 1414 to 1417, and kills all British
tanks in hex 1415. Rommel, however, is unable
to activate, so he cannot exploit the breach.
Benefits of sharing the same hex. Rommel
activates the 8th Bersaglieri Regiment’s
Col. Ugo Montemurro.
Rommel and Afrika Korps are now Isolated,
but the path to hex 1715 (the last objective)
is wide open. Rommel can take it, but holding
it will be very hard if he remains isolated,
so the Axis player puts Rommel, Afrika Korps,
and XXI chits in the cup. XXI must continue
to push the supply route out to the Aslag
Ridge so Afrika Korps HQ can pick it up there.
The British player needs help for the badly mauled
1st and 7th Divisions, so he selects chits
for both South African divisions. He also
places tank replacements under the 2nd South
African HQ in hex 1916 to support the division's
attack. The Italian XX activates and kills
the British 150/50 brigade in hex 1511, taking
control of objective hex 1411 and driving
the supply line out to hex 1611. Rommel then
activates and charges out to occupy hex 1715.
He attacks the British 1st HQ and supporting
units in Bir Belefaa and drives them out.
Then the 2nd South African activates, moves
south and attacks Rommel in force. Rommel
holds! Afrika Korps grinds slowly to the rescue
but can't reach Rommel due to the ZOC of remaining
British 1st Division units in 1415.
The British 1st Division activates and decimates
Afrika Korps’ right flank (AK’s
defense strength now being halved due to its
Isolation). Rommel can’t activate this
turn, but Afrika Korps does, advances, and
blows up the British tanks in 1714 that were
attacking Rommel. The British move in more
forces to envelop Rommel from four hexes,
but once more he holds!
The British 1st Division activates first and
kills all of Rommel’s remaining tanks
in 1715. Then the 1st South African activates.
This is three Allied attacks in a row on Rommel,
with no chance to bring in German reinforcements.
It’s too overwhelming, and the battered
remnants of Rommel’s forces flee south
to hex 1514. The Allies advance into 1715,
and now all hexes adjacent to it are Allied-occupied,
except hex 1614. Afrika Korps is a shambles,
there’s no way it can move enough forces
into 1614 to mount a counterattack, and the
Axis supply line in 1611 is out of reach.
It’s the last turn of the game, so the
This piece originally appeared in October 2005.
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