"Sweat saves blood, blood saves lives, but brains saves both." - Irwin Rommel
When you think of Irwin Rommel, if you think of him at all, you probably think of a dashing warrior whose wits and savvy allowed him to make fools of the Allies in North Africa in the years 1941 to 1943 before lack of supplies and the fighting forces of the United Kingdom and the United States were able to force him from Tunisia.
You might also think of his daring exploits in the invasion of France in 1940 or his doomed defense of Normandy in 1944.
It's a shame that none of this swashbuckling nature is reflected in the solitaire war game, Field Commander Rommel, produced by DVG originally in 2008.
That's not to say that there aren't good things to say about the game, just not enough.
The best thing about the game, without doubt, is the production value. Now I'm not talking the ghetto version of the game. I am talking about the Deluxe version. Why? Because I'm worth it and so are you. The quality of the components is simply top notch. The counters are so thick that you can actually stand them on their side. ( "Pictures or it didn't happen! Har har!" you chortle as you cling to the belief that that joke never gets old. Well get a load of this...)
No kidding, if you hurled this chit at someone....you might just kill a man, so massive is it.
The counters themselves are easy to read and if they are not the prettiest, they are certainly unique. The one weird thing is that the full strength side of the units is printed on the back of the counter (the less shiny side that sometimes shows creases). I suspect this had to have been a printing error but they decided to go with it figuring it to not be a big deal (which it isn't) or unwilling to deal with the expense or massive delay that getting them reprinted would have entailed.
Each of the campaigns; France '40, North Africa, and France '44, is represented by it's own mounted map board with that super glossy finish that makes taking pictures difficult but means durability.
The maps have all the charts and information needed to play the game from set up locations and reinforcements, to victory conditions, to resupply charts and costs, to the chart for the enemy A.I. such as it is. This was all well thought out and better yet laid out. For pure functionality they are some of the best I've encountered.
But best of all they are small! They are only 11" x 17". Now your instinct probably tells you that bigger equals better as far as maps go but your instincts are wrong! Why? Because everything you need to manipulate and move is within easy arm's reach from a sitting position. Unlike say...Where There is Discord where you are six feet from one end of the board and have to call your wife over from the other room to come in and move the turn marker..and then she gives you that look...you know...the one which says she'll do it but you're gonna pay. (Not the pumice stone....oh gahd the calluses...Don't make me use the pumice stone on the calluses....)
The rules, like the maps are well laid out and include an in-depth example of combat which is the most complex of all the processes in the game. And when I say "complex" what I mean is less easy. One read through of the rules and you should be good to go because as I mentioned earlier, most of the stuff you would normally have to spend time flipping through pages to find is already on the map for your ease of use.
So what's not to like?
Well the game is easy to learn as I said but that is mainly because it's a simple game.
On a turn you spend supplies to flip damaged units to full strength and/or deploy reinforcements, battle move (that is move guys that are going to fight), resolve said battles, non battle move (not gonna explain it..you're a bright lad), check to see if you are in supply and take penalties if you are not, and then see how much new supplies you get for next turn based on what objectives you hold and how many Ally units you destroyed.
Then the allies take their turn. Fixing damaged units, then moving according to a simple chart, fighting, and then resupplying again based on a simple chart.
Combat operates on the "simultaneous" principle. Attacker wants to roll less than his attack value, defender wants to roll less than his defense value. A hit is suffered for each success. There are "battle plan" chits which each side gets per conflict based on the status of the units involved and the number of supplies available or spent. These add modifiers to the combat such as absorbing one hit or getting an extra attack roll for artillery etc. The Allied forces draw theirs randomly out of a cup while the Axis gets to choose.
"Easy", "Simple", "Quick". I have no doubt that these were the design goals established for this game but in achieving them they become the games undoing.
The cost of this simplicity is that there aren't a lot of decisions for you the player to make and those that you do make are pretty straight forward and obvious. The options for movement are limited by the simplicity of the maps, combat is simple but bland. The rules governing Allied deployments are simple but sometimes lead to strange situations where Brits are on Omaha Beach while G.I.s are on Sword.
A solo game absolutely cannot fail in this regard and still be considered a success. Otherwise it is no more than a traditional game of solitaire with a deck of playing cards. The complex rules and difficult nature of some solo games is often decried, Fields of Fire comes to mind, but it is that very complexity that makes it feel like more than just sitting around twiddling your thumbs.
Thematically, in a game where I am taking the role of Rommel, I want tactics to matter, I want audacity to be rewarded. I want lightning fast armored penetrations of the enemy (Oh grow up...your juvenile snickering is not appreciated...well ok...appreciated a little). I want grand sweeping flank maneuvers. This game conveys none of that.
Instead I feel as if I'm just pushing chits and if Field Commander D6 is on my side, I win the battle and if not...not. I'm along for the ride, nothing more.