Ted Racier’s The Dark Sands (TDS) – The war in North Africa 1940-42 (GMT Games), is an Operational Level ground combat game that focuses on December, 1940-to-1942 December, in the North African theater. TDS is driven by Chit-Pull mechanics that provide variability to the simulation.
North Africa: “The Map”
The Dark Sands (TDS) map is rather interesting, there are two map sheets with each segment broken up in between the center map.
The West and East sections are broken up and scaled at 9 miles to the Hex. The Central map, 4.5 miles to the hex.
The way Ted designed this is almost as if you’re double clicking in, and out of the map to areas that cover vast swaths of where the battles revolved around. The sheer scale of the North African theater, the focal area’s around 1940-42, and the heavily featureless terrain around those main points of effort make it a balancing act when designing for play-ability of various operations. He did well with that.
I really like the terrain features depicted in TDS. The roads and bottlenecks create a very interesting situation for combat, I also found interesting; TDR gives you the opportunity to maneuver around these bottlenecks at the price of the games supply line rules that can cause mass-casualty scenarios for you in the face of combat. When, where, and how to strike is what makes the game addictive.
Gameplay: As so far, my initial gaming experience with TDS has been the Compass scenario, which I found to be a “figure it out” scenario – which is a good thing for me since I picked up the book and just went at it and pushed some cardboard.
What I did find is that the game in a traditional sense, has a feel I am familiar with, which made it fast to pick up and play.
The fun part, Chit Pulling: This made the game a bit more dicey (no pun intended) which I appreciate when I have a decent amount of knowledge around the North African theater of ww2 – it created some variability which I appreciated.
The Supply mechanics: My opinions of supply are more conjecture due to not playing TDS enough to really dive in deeper on it, but here we go – I am still analyzing the supply mechanics and will make a cogent judgement call on it at some point.
My case around why I like supply so far – Reading accounts of the initial 2 years of combat in North Africa, the British had their share of poorly orchestrated operations, head-long attacks that peter out due to not only supply, but lack of momentum (and eventually center of gravity) due to numerous elements. *You name it: AT trenches, out maneuvering, obstructing terrain, strict doctrine (that was not made for desert warfare), and poor experience in night operations, most of all – inflexibility of supply lines/movement.*
In TDS supply is rather strict/inflexible around maintaining a overland supply – GLOC/SLOC (Ground/Supply line of Communication). Being that eZOCs obstruct supply (4.5mi/hex) I am in a minor mental battle about it. In some accounts, and games supply is unobstructed even if an eZoc obstructs an unoccupied hex.
The distance per hex. 4.5 miles a hex in the desert may seem like a short distance in an featureless setting, but is it?
I would think that maneuvering through a 4.5 mile hex that is in a eZOC should still allow an armored force supply but who am I…I wasn’t there and from my perspective TDS did a decent job abstracting a lot of the complexities of supply in this tightly packaged game.
Units: The depiction of combat units in this game is well sized, not only physically, but also by unit scale.
Scenarios: There are 4 major scenarios in this game.
Each scenario scales up, providing you with some core concepts to help you build into a well oiled TDS fighting machine.
Overall, my initial reactions to this game, and my cardboard pushing so far to understand some of the mechanics has been rather positive, familiar, and fresh all at the same time. I will play through Compass one last time and proceed with a Crusader DAR post to follow to share my thoughts and deeper critique on this game.
To those who have not purchased this game, both new to wargaming, and experienced grogs, I would advise purchasing it asap. It is a great addition to the MTO collection.
Tune in next blog around TDR for the DAR on the Crusader scenario!