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GrogHeads Reviews Field Commander: Rommel (Deluxe)

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Published by DVG (Dan Verssen Games)

Michael Eckenfels, 29 November 2014

 

The career of Erwin Rommel was laced with brilliance and interspersed with disasters that didn’t quite come to fruition. It seemed that each time, the ingenuity and initiative of Rommel and his subordinates were just enough to bring about victory when defeat seemed inevitable. This played itself out across the Western Front in 1940, in North Africa over the following two years, and then in Normandy, but to a much lesser extent. Indeed, it seemed as time wore on, Rommel’s field fortunes ebbed and waned much the same as Germany’s as a whole.

Moving through the French countryside, conquering for the Fatherland (i.e. me).

Moving through the French countryside, conquering for the Fatherland (i.e. me).

Field Commander: Rommel is a solitaire game that puts you square into the same command halftrack (figuratively) to make the decisions he was faced with over three historical campaigns mentioned above. Faced with dwindling supplies and increasing Allied strength, your victory is never assured and hinges on your initiative and choices. Sounds like most games, doesn’t it? That’s nothing new. What is new, though, is creating a solitaire game that can use the same system for the player to manage, growing from a division-sized unit in the first scenario to an entire defensive network in the last.

COMPONENTS

DVG has created some pretty and enjoyable games, with high-quality product, especially in their ‘Deluxe’ versions. As far as I can tell, this game was published previously without the ‘Deluxe’ moniker. I do not know the actual difference between it and this one, but with DVG, ‘Deluxe’ usually means awesome, and this game has some great components to it. In any case, I did an unboxing article on this game, so once again, forgive me if I repeat myself:

  • Maps. There are three mounted boards, in full color, measuring 11” x 17” each. Mounted boards are far more preferable to sheets, of course, and these boards look good, if a bit basic. It’s strange to have a game with multiple boards and different environments with different scopes and scales to each one, and being able to tie all of that in together to three different maps is quite a good accomplishment.
  • 176 5/8” Counters. There’s one card sheet of counters, which are full color and printed on both sides. When I first pulled these out of the box some of the rows fell out of the sheet without me touching them, which annoys me but considering the jostling they probably took with our good ol’ US Mail, I’m not terribly surprised. The counters are great in two ways – one, they’re huge and therefore easy to move around, and two, they’re easy to read.
  • Campaign Log Sheet. This was a little strange to have; apparently, it is a record sheet so the player can write down their results of each campaign they fight. At first I thought it was some kind of needed in-game sheet and was prepared to make 50 copies of it. Fortunately, I did not. I did not end up using this sheet, though I suppose it is a nice touch for any grogs out there anal enough to want to record the results of every game they play. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
  • Rulebook. The Leader series is characterized with some good rulebooks, and this one is right in that vein, though it’s not without flaws. First of all, it is short, so it doesn’t take a lot to get through it. For another, it’s well organized, making it easy to find the rules you need. It’s also in full color, making it easy on the eyes. Finally, it has a two-page example of play to help illustrate the concepts therein. My complaints are that this example of play is right in the middle of the rule book, breaking up the sequence of play and causing an extra page flip. (I know, this sounds like a mediocre complaint, and perhaps it is…but when you’re learning a game system, it’s a pain to constantly flip, flip, flip.) It’s also not of the highest quality and feels like magazine pages that are slightly more robust; maybe I’m just a ham-fisted page-turner, but it seemed some of my pages started to get a little wrinkled from all that flipping. That’s not DVG’s fault, that’s mine…but still, it’s odd.
  • One six-sided die. Yay, dice! Err, die.

 

The Allies can get a ton of supply, or reinforcements that randomly appear, even in zones that have already been conquered and occupied.

The Allies can get a ton of supply, or reinforcements that randomly appear, even in zones that have already been conquered and occupied.

 

GAMEPLAY

As this is solitaire, the player gets to decide which campaign they want to try out – 1940 France, 1941-42 North Africa, or 1944 Normandy. Each has its own quirks and challenges built-in but overall nicely simulate each of these campaigns. The scope, as mentioned, changes slightly with each game, and unit markers are designated on each game map as representing certain formations (for example, in the 1940 scenario they’re regiments, while in the 1944 scenario they’re divisions). This size has no effect on gameplay as each counter has values directly printed on them.

 

Rommel victorious in the 1940 French campaign. Gives you a good overview of the maps used.

Rommel victorious in the 1940 French campaign. Gives you a good overview of the maps used.

 

The maps are divided into zones, with a few zones on each map designated as Objectives. These are the targets of both the player and the game system and should be captured and held at all costs. One annoying aspect of this game is that an Axis unit has to occupy an Objective zone in order for the Axis to get credit for it towards Victory. If Axis forces vacate the zone, for whatever reason, the zone reverts back to the other side’s control. Say your panzers wipe out the defenders in Tobruk – if a unit is not left behind to hold it, the zone will stay in control of the Allies. I don’t like that, but it makes sense overall, otherwise Rommel would have tremendous strength to bring to bear. If anything, the game is designed to not make you comfortable in your conquests.

 

An all-out battle with German and French forces, plus Battle Plans, deployed.

An all-out battle with German and French forces, plus Battle Plans, deployed.

 

Combat is pretty standard fare with Attack-Defense-Move ratings on each unit counter; counters have a ‘Full’ strength side and a ‘Depleted’ strength side. When the player rolls equal to or less than the Attack rating (on offense) or the Defense rating (on defense), one hit is scored. A hit will flip a Full unit to Depleted, and will remove a Depleted unit from play. However, combat is simultaneous, so each side can get their licks in.

 

 

Losses won’t stop my attack (the 78th Artillery is reduced)…the French won’t stand a chance! I hope, anyway…

Losses won’t stop my attack (the 78th Artillery is reduced)…the French won’t stand a chance! I hope, anyway…

 

Further affecting combat are Battle Plans. Each side gets a certain number of these, which are chits, for each combat. The Allies’ Battle Plans are drawn randomly from an opaque cup, the number depending on the number of full-strength units they have and the amount of Supplies they have. The player’s Axis Battle Plans are chosen after the Allies’ are drawn, so you do get some insight into how you can counter their effects (giving you a bit of a taste of Rommel’s battlefield prowess, I think). Battle Plans can influence unit strength, can remove enemy Battle Plans, can offer ‘free’ shots in the form of AT Guns, Artillery, or Air Strikes, and perform any number of other functions. For the player, they cost a certain amount of points, which are acquired via the number of full-strength German units and the amount of supplies they have, as well.

 

Precious Axis supply, which can disappear fast. The Allies don’t have that issue 90% of the time.

Precious Axis supply, which can disappear fast. The Allies don’t have that issue 90% of the time.

 

Combat is fought in one (count it) round only, though there is a Battle Plan on both sides that can increase that to two rounds, and that can come very much in handy because attackers that fail to destroy defenders must retreat back to the zone they moved in from. Axis forces win by destroying all Allied units in a zone, and doing that in one round can be difficult at times.

 

Destroyed enemy units help the Axis build up reinforcements and supply. German High Command only rewards success!

Destroyed enemy units help the Axis build up reinforcements and supply. German High Command only rewards success!

 

Supply is the dark beast that becomes a burden that the player must overcome as much as the enemy’s forces. These are used to move and to pay penalties if there are too many Axis units in one zone (the Allies of course can have as many units as they want in a zone without a supply cost). Normally, Axis units can move one zone, but extra zones cost 1 Supply each, up to the Movement rating on the counter. Moving large-scale forces becomes difficult, and it’s especially so in the North Africa campaign where distances are much greater than in the 1940 France scenario, so Supply can become scarce, fast. Running out of it not only stymies movement ability, but also the number of Battle Plans received, and furthermore not having any can result in losses.

 

Axis reinforcements and supply arrive; supply is immediately applied to the Axis total supply, but getting reinforcement units forward will cost a LOT of supply.

Axis reinforcements and supply arrive; supply is immediately applied to the Axis total supply, but getting reinforcement units forward will cost a LOT of supply.

 

While the player controls the Axis, the game system drives the Allies, and each campaign’s game board has several things printed on it that determines Allied actions in that campaign. Rules governing movement are explained in the rules, but in general, Allied units will move towards objectives that the Axis have occupied. Furthermore, even if Axis units have occupied an Objective, Allied units can still suddenly appear to attack it. You see, the system not only governs the moves on the on-board units, but also handles this potentially obnoxious notion called Operations.

 

The Allies are building up a fearsome force. This is basically a big “oh %*#%” event that stares you in your face, teasing you, just waiting to be unleashed and ruin all your plans.

The Allies are building up a fearsome force. This is basically a big “oh %*#%” event that stares you in your face, teasing you, just waiting to be unleashed and ruin all your plans.

 

Operations are essentially Allied counter-offensives, and can be diabolically obnoxious. Each campaign starts a certain number of Allied units that are held back for an Operation, and each turn the player draws a chit that instructs to either add forces to the pool, to get extra advances, or to actually launch the operation. This can be a killer, especially if your battle plans center around dawdling and sightseeing. The sooner the Allies are put out of your misery, the better, because these Operation counterattacks can decimate any advance easily, and are especially annoying because they seem to happen when I’m on my last leg and just needing one little push to break through.

 

The Turn track displays the number of VPs you win (in the upper right corner) if you finish things on that current turn.

The Turn track displays the number of VPs you win (in the upper right corner) if you finish things on that current turn.

 

Victory measurement is a bit confusing, however. The rules stipulate that each campaign ends when either the victory or defeat condition is met, or if the Turn counter is moved past the last box on the Campaign Track. Each box on that Track has a number of Victory Points in it, and this number gets lower as each Game Turn passes. This Victory Point result is awarded if you meet the victory conditions in that Game Turn, but what’s not explained is some kind of measure of performance, such as telling me how well I did versus Rommel himself in each individual Campaign.

 

Paris is done for, but those arrows at the bottom indicate the Allies can still counterattack…

Paris is done for, but those arrows at the bottom indicate the Allies can still counterattack…

 

So Victory, it seems, is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – either the player meets the Victory Condition stipulated on the map (e.g., hold Cairo in the North African Campaign), or they do not. The Victory Points seem to only be used when linking the Campaigns together; if using those rules, a poor performance in one Campaign can severely handicap the Axis’ combat power in the next. On the other hand, an excellent performance means added benefits that might make things easier.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, the game’s rules are simple and the maps are somewhat claustrophobic. This may indeed have been the point, especially on the North Africa map, which pretty much funnels into a single corridor just before Cairo. (Historically, of course, there wasn’t much room there to move around anyway.) I’ve seen complaints to this effect on BGG, but to be perfectly honest, a simple game is not necessarily a bad one. While Field Commander: Rommel is hardly complex, it has just enough nuances and randomness to make it worthy of your time, especially if you’re into solitaire games. Solitaire games pretty much indicate (a) the absence of real human players, and (b) unfortunate lack of time, so quick set-ups and pull-downs, as well as gameplay, are crucial to making it viable and successful. On these counts, Field Commander: Rommel is an excellent game.

 

WILL I GO BACK TO IT?

Yes, I certainly will. The quick set-up is crucial to my life as a husband and father to two kids (and two dogs). The gameplay and rules are easily digested and play quickly and furiously. When I have an itch to command panzers in the field, this game will do it. At least until Tiger Leader comes out, and I take a look at that one for Grogheads.com…


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2 Responses to GrogHeads Reviews Field Commander: Rommel (Deluxe)

  1. chemkid says:

    great review, thanks a lot!
    i got interested in fc:r after reading your comments to the friday-thread about finishing your review for gh – i had to try this game, too.
    i’m very happy with the purchase and find the game very challenging. since that was my first ‘real’ boardgame (a&a doesn’t count… or does it?) i’m in trouble – playing fc:r while counters for lots of other games wait for clipping!! 😉

    cheers!
    chem!

  2. JudgeDredd says:

    Thanks very much.

    Great read and sounds like a nice, simple, tough game. I love DVG games and his attention to detail and gameplay are always excellent – especially for solitaire.

    I haven’t got this one yet, but it is one I’ve eyed on occasion. Perhaps it’ll be a purchase for me one day…sooner than expected.

    Cheers
    JudgeDredd

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