Critical Hit (2015)
Country of Origin:
9 11" x 16" unmounted (light cardstock/heavy paper) geoboards (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I), three sheets of overlays, 5 countersheets with 684 die-cut counters, 10 scenarios
Battle of El Alamein Monster is an unusual product. In essence, it is largely a re-tread of one of Critical Hit’s various previous desert modules, but it and its sister product, Battle of Gazala Monster, have a few significant differences.
Critical Hit originally began publishing desert modules and packs not as ASL-compatible but with its other tactical game system, the ASL clone known as ATS, which ostensibly was in part derived from a 1970s tactical game called Tobruk. Some years later, in 2010, Critical Hit decided to port its ATS desert products into ASL with a dozen or so releases typically called the Afrika Korps series. This included one pack specifically on El Alamein, from which this product is derived. The “hook” was that these products did not use the traditional geoboards of ASL but rather used a few much larger desert maps on which terrain would be “created” through a great many overlays.
The Afrika Korps series was intriguing for desert-loving ASLers, but rather than support that system with new products, Critical Hit abandoned the series. Instead, in 2014, it completely redid its desert system, now using its own 8″ x 22″ desert geoboards. It featured re-jiggered versions of older scenarios owned by Critical Hit, some previously published.
Only one year later, Critical Hit returns to the scene of the crime with Battle of Gazala Monster and Battle of El Alamein Monster, which replace the 8″ x 22″ desert geoboards with 11″ x 16″ geoboards (with which Critical Hit has seemed to be enamored of in 2015, releasing a great many). The accompanying scenarios are not described as original and design credits are given to the designers of the “originating scenarios,” i.e., the versions these scenarios are based on. The designers mentioned include Harold Hock (so presumably some of his old scenarios were recrafted), Pat and Fred Hair (who long ago submitted a host of desert scenarios to Critical Hit before disappearing from the ASL scene), and Pedro Ramis, Kurt Martin and Philippe Leonard, who originally designed ASL products but then started working on ATS.
The two pages of rules lay out the unusual aspects of the product. First, there is an expressed hope by Critical Hit founder Ray Tapio that players “possess a spirit of experimentation and creativity.” This is language typically used by Critical Hit when its products are underplaytested or underdeveloped–and should actually be taken as a warning. Similarly, it also seems to implicitly suggest that solitaire gamers and “two or more gamers sharing a military-history interest” are who this product was designed for–in other words, not for ASLers who seek competitive and/or balanced scenarios.
Moreover, Critical Hit announces, for most scenarios in the product, “scenario length is ‘taken out of the equation,'” in that the scenarios have huge scenario lengths–20-30 turns–that are probably more than enough for one side or the other to be totally wiped off the map. Combined with this is the fact that most scenarios are very large indeed, typically with huge numbers of vehicles, and take place on a very large playing area.
The only actual new rules for El Alamein Monster are new OBA rules, including counterbattery fire. For ease of play, official ASL rules wisely abstract out counterbattery fire for playability purposes–after all, one need only account for the artillery pieces that did fire, not those that did not fire. However, counterbattery fire appears here in all of its “glory.” OBA is nastier, too; for example, one can call artillery concentrations that provide for Double Firepower OBA attacks (and easier Critical Hits, too), as well as barrages that quadruple firepower and increase the number of Critical Hits.
El Alamein Monster comes with several countersheets of British, Italian and German troops, all of which seem to be duplicates of units/weapons already in the official countermix, but they will come in handy, as most of the scenarios exceed the number of vehicles in the official modules. As mentioned, it comes with 9 pretty generic 11″ x 16″ desert geoboards in the Gary Fortenberry style (but it should be noted that these boards are much thinner than official ASL geoboards). The idea of assembling a battlefield by putting together 6 or 8 of these boards does not sound like much fun. There are also three sheets of overlays.
El Alamein Monster comes with (10 scenarios). Many are not original scenarios but are rejiggered from the scenarios published with Afrika Korps – El Alamein and Afrika Korps – Hellfire Pass and Beyond. EAM1 (Hammer and Anvil) appears to be a modified version of AK1 (Charge to Aqqaqir Ridge. EAM2 (Kidney Ridge Pakfront) is a 20-turn version of AK7 (Kidney Punch). EAM3 (Der Teufelsgarten) is derived from AK88 (Teufelgarten). EAM8 (Along the Rahman Track) is based on AK5 (Action along the Rahman Track). Some of the scenarios here may not have been previously published.
The product may perhaps be primarily for desert completists, but there are too many warning signs for others..