It was a standard archetype blown out to its extremes

Monday, September 25th, 2017

The Campaign For North Africa is no ordinary wargame from the golden age of the hobby:

It’ll take you about 1,500 hours (or 62 days) to complete a full play of The Campaign For North Africa. The game itself covers the famous WWII operations in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943. Along with the opaque rulebook, the box includes 1,600 cardboard chits, a few dozen charts tabulating damage, morale, and mechanical failure, and a swaddling 10-foot long map that brings the Sahara to your kitchen table. You’ll need to recruit 10 total players, (five Allied, five Axis,) who will each lord over a specialized division. The Front-line and Air Commanders will issue orders to the troops in battle, the Rear and Logistics Commanders will ferry supplies to the combat areas, and lastly, a Commander-in-Chief will be responsible for all macro strategic decisions over the course of the conflict. If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.

This is transparently absurd. Richard Berg knew it himself. He’s designed hundreds of war-games, focusing on everything from The Battle of Gettysburg to the Golden Age of Piracy, and The Campaign For North Africa was an outlier from the start. It was intended to be a collaborative mega-project for all of the wargaming experts employed by the storied, (and now defunct) imprint Simulations Publications Inc.

Initially, all Berg was responsible for was the map. Six months later, after the other designers had dropped out, SPI asked Berg if he was interested in finishing the game by himself. He was, and two years later he delivered history’s most infamous board game.

Berg has never completed a playthrough of The Campaign For North Africa. The game never received any of the compulsive testing required to iron-out inconsistencies and balance issues that are usually present in a freshly inked rulebook. Berg didn’t care. He never saw the point. “When I said ‘let’s publish this thing’ they said ‘but we’re still playtesting it! We don’t know if it’s balanced or not. It’s gonna take seven years to play!’ And I said ‘you know what, if someone tells you it’s unbalanced, tell them ‘we think it’s your fault, play it again.’”

The Campaign For North Africa

The Campaign For North Africa arrived in the summer of 1979 and sold for $44 in a chunky, four-inch deep box. The game was never a massive commercial or critical success. It harbors a middling 5.8 on community tastemaker BoardGameGeek, and objectively speaking, the systems are exasperatingly finicky and require an eagle-eye for obscure rules and exceptions. In many ways, North Africa is simply a product of its time. The late ‘70s served as the commercial peak for wargaming, with dozens of new designs hitting store shelves every week. The Campaign wasn’t unique, as much as it was a standard archetype blown out to its extremes. Naturally, you do have to pay a premium price for used copies of the game on eBay, but that has more to do with the novelty of owning the “world’s longest board game” than anything else.


  1. Lucklucky says:

    If he didn’t research Italian sources it will not be very realistic.

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