Full disclosure: I am not a hardcore war gamer. Although most regular visitors to the site will probably file that in the “no duh” category. While I do enjoy a game of Memoir ’44 or Kemet, those are about as deep as I get into war gaming. The thought of reading through a 50 page manual and then spending 8 hours pushing tiny cardboard chits across a map sounds as enjoyable to me as a visit from my mother-in-law. I tend to reach for games that are a bit more action packed, streamlined and sexy looking. Sorry to all fans of cardboard chits, but I’ll take a well sculpted mini any day.
So when I was approached about reviewing Desert Fox, the newest game in the Crisis in Command series from Shenandoah Studios, I was skeptical. Can I handle a war game? Our crack reviewer Tyler has already reviewed one of their games, Drive on Moscow, so I figured I’d bite the bullet (see what I did there) and give it a shot. After all, if Tyler can lead his troops on the iPad, how hard can it really be?
Desert Fox takes you into the battle for North Africa during World War 2. Can this war game hold the attention of a newbie like me or is it only for Grognards. Read on!
If you don’t know your history of World War 2, then you will probably be surprised to learn that there was a good amount of fighting in North Africa. Desert Fox centers around the The Battle of El Alamein. You’ll control either the Axis forces as they work their way across the desert in the hopes of capturing Egypt, or the Commonwealth troops trying to stop them.
Having never played one of their previous Crisis in Command games, I was very grateful for the in-depth tutorial. The game did a great job of walking me through how to play over a series of 4, increasingly complex missions. Overall in the game, you are put in command of one of the armies with the goal of capturing Egypt (axis) or stopping them (Commonweath). If you fail to do either of those before the time is up, it comes down to victory points.
The full game is divided into a number of days based on the scenario. Each day will be broken into impulses, where players will select an area on the game map and control all units in that space. Players can choose to move units to another area of the map, engage in combat with enemy units in their space, or simply pass.
Players must also maintain support lines for their troops. These are based on controlling spaces to their edge of the map. The Axis troops have a hard time maintaining support (historically accurate I guess) and will also get a ration of support points to use during the game. Once those are gone, it’s up to chance to decide if their troops will refresh. The Commonwealth troops have no such issues and even will have access to air support.
Each time a player acts, it will consume a random amount of time on the turn clock. When the time clock for the day reaches the end, the turn is over and victory points will awarded to the Axis player for holding key areas, as well as for combat victories. The Commonwealth will not gain Victory Points as the Axis player but they must do two things: 1) not let 6 Axis troops make it to Egypt (with support) and 2) not let the Axis player have a the required number of victory points to win at the end of the game. There is a handy calendar in the game to help players keep track of how much time is left in the game.
The games title screen gives players a number of options. There are options to adjust the settings of the game, read the rule book, start the tutorial missions, read up on the actual history of the battle and finally just play the game (offline or online). I’d recommend everyone starting with the tutorial missions to get a good feel for Desert Fox. Although players experienced with the previous Crisis in Command games can probably skip the first tutorial mission. When you’re ready to play, you have three options. You can choose to play the first half or the second half of the battle of El Alamein. Or, if you are looking for a longer game, you can play both scenarios in one big game.
Once you dive into the game proper, the main action will take place in a large map of North Africa. The map is laid out in different sections, named after (what I assume) are real locations in North Africa. There are also roads and terrain features laid out throughout the map. In many of those sections are the units you command (and face off against) in the game. Each unit shows it’s name, type and current strength.
When it’s your turn to take action, you simple touch a section and the units will highlight. You touch the unit you want to control and then either touch a different region to move it to or leave it in its current location to start a battle (if there are enemies). Before you commit to a battle, a popup window will give you some hints as to the likely outcome of the battle. It will let you know the current modifiers to the combat (based on icons) and also the likely outcome. There is a handy undo button that you can use if you decide against a chosen path (not available once you press the commit button). Once you press the commit button, the battle takes place and any destroyed units are atomically removed.
Finally, you can bring up the game menu with a press of a button. This offers a wealth of knowledge, such as row current time track, calendar, victory point totals, mission briefing, supply lines, objectives, history and other handy tidbits. Overall the interface is extremely polished, worked great and excels on the iPad. The game also works fine on the iPhone, but I definitely prefer the extra real estate the iPad offers.
As I mentioned at the start, I’m not a heavy war gamer. Well based off my tactical prowess in Desert Fox, the Axis powers would have lost the campaign in Africa miserably if I were in charge instead of Rommel. That being said, Desert Fox ended up sucking me in from the start and hours had passed before I even noticed.
I started off playing the tutorials a couple of times as I really had no idea what I was doing. I actually ended up repeating the first couple of tutorials to try and more fully understand how to play and some strategy. After I was able to beat all of those, I finally felt like I had a good grasp of the game and dived into the first real mission. The Commonwealth proceeded to kick me squarely in the nuts and I lost. After reading a bit more on supply lines and combat modifiers, I finally felt like I had a solid understanding of how to play and tried again. This time I successfully beat those pesky defenders down. I never actually made my way to Egypt as the Axis forces, but I won the Victory Point battle. Hey, a win is a win.
Once you get a firm understanding of some of the underlying concepts of the Command in Crisis games, they become a lot more accessible and enjoyable. Desert Fox, without a doubt, has a bit of a learning curve, but it actually wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. The game does a lot of the heavy lifting for you and you can move as fast or slow as you want. I really appreciated the popups before battle as I could see what modifiers I was facing and how the computer thought I’d do. There are times I thought I’d destroy the enemy, only to realize I forgot about some terrain or supply changes and would have lost. The handy undo button was mashed and I moved my attention to another region. It’s these kind of touches that help make the game really accessible to a war game newbie like myself.
Having never played their previous games, I really don’t have a whole lot to compare Desert Fox too. I can tell you that after spending the week with Desert Fox, I immediately purchased The Battle of the Bulge during their 4th of July sale this Summer. I haven’t tried it yet, but if it’s half as polished as Desert Fox is, I’ll be happy. That fact that Desert Fox was able to convince a war game newbie like myself to immediately buy another title should tell you something about how much fun this game is.
Desert Fox easily sucked me in before I even knew what was happening. Even with only 2 missions, there are HOURS of game play here to be had. Since you can play both sides of the conflict (and their strategies will be very different), there should be plenty to keep you busy. Whether you are a war game expert or just someone looking for some light conflict, Desert Fox will hold your attention. The interface is incredibly polished, the game is fairly easy to learn and I find myself getting drawn back into it again and again.
When it comes to strategy in Desert Fox, the learning curve isn’t steep, but if you don’t understand the game concepts, you will fail…miserably. That being said, Desert Fox is and incredibly enjoyable tactical game and can appeal to gamers of all experience levels. Check this one out today, it’s available as a universal app for $9.99.