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Posted on Jun 18, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Shifting Sands Review

By Robert Delwood

Shifting Sands: The Campaign in North Africa 1940 – 1943 is MMP’s first card driven game (CDG). It is a two player, area movement game. Not just another North Africa war game, Shifting Sands expands the game’s scope beyond its title to include the little understood Abyssinian, Iraq, and Palestine campaigns. Two scenarios cover the action from the full campaign through to Operation Torch (the American landings), and Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower). Both are intended to be played in an evening.

The game includes a 22 x 34 map, 110 card deck, 394 counters and a 40 page rule book. The main portion of the map covers Tunisia to the Suez Canal. Two map insets include the Iraq and Palestinian theaters in the north and East African in the south. Other off map areas include South Africa and India. There are holding boxes for reinforcements and eliminated units. The map has a pleasant topographical feel with mountains looking like crinkled paper. Areas are clearly marked as squares although they could be slightly larger. Less clear are the terrain features in each area and the kind of paths between them. The mountain and swamp notations are difficult to determine at a glance. You have to look under any units stacked there to see the terrain.

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Unfortunately, doing so often telegraphs your intentions. Terrain in three areas even has to be clarified in the FAQ. Worse still are the path notations between areas. Primary paths are thick with solid outlines. The secondary paths are also thick but using a dotted outline. Not only are the dotted lines hard to see but the brown lines blend into the dark brown terrain. In one case, you can only see the path by squinting. Game designers need to be more aware of grognards, that is, those of us over forty with failing eyesight.

The cards are divided into two decks of 55, one each for the Allied and Axis. They are further separated by year, with each successive year being added to the active set of cards. Like the map, the cards are aesthetically pleasant and sturdy enough to hold up for many playings. Each card presents an event and a command point value. Similar to other CDGs, the card can be played for the event or for the command points (needed to move units to move or to have combat). Some cards allow you to do both. Since the game’s scope is larger than just the immediate fight in North Africa, circumstances in other regions or decisions from political events are represented through card play. The innovation is that they allow you to work toward events or goals. For example, Malta is not directly represented in the game but interdiction from it reduces the number of cards the players. The Axis can cancel this effect through Operation Hercules but it takes five cards, three of which must be played sequentially. The British can also secure Malta, requiring five cards also, two of which must be sequential. Similar situations occur for the Iraq revolt that takes the Vichy French Syria with it.

The counters are visually effective and come in two sizes. The larger 5/8" counters represent divisions; the smaller ½" ones are for battlegroups like something like half a division. Divisions are not only stronger by nature but attacks including at least one division use a separate combat results table, which is definitely bloodier. All units take step losses, either flipping them to the counter’s weaker other side, or replacing a flipped division counter with a full strength battlegroup counter. Units are either infantry or armor. Armor has several advantages. They are generally stronger and faster but in combat, they can shift the odds columns, and achieve overruns. The game also includes abundant support counters, such as markers for attacking or moving stacks, played events and turn and Action Round markers.

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