The Clash of Armour is the subtitle of this latest game from the prolific PSS, and we're in the desert once more - a locality increasingly familiar to wargamers. But there's no need to worry about getting sand in your boots, because, as the packaging suggests, tanks are the main fighting units in this campaign.
Tobruk is a medium-range simulation of Rommel's attempt to break through a vast minefield laid by the Allies in North Africa between Gazala and Bir Hachieim to defend Tobruk, a key Mediterranean supply point. By medium range, I mean that it doesn't recreate a single battle, not does it present the player with a long-term extended campaign. The action right-hand corner, is the ultimate goal.
The main display is a visually uninspiring representation of Cyrenaica, with the Gazala Line - the Allied minefield - cutting the desert in half. According to the rulebook, the minefield was only half-completed when the offensive began, and it is presumably because of this that there is a way round the bottom of the line. The Axis troops begin the game on their side of the line, and all the oasis targets - and the Allied forces - are on the other.
Identification of every part of the map is easy, because a Com Box can be moved over any feature, whether unit or landscape, for an instant report. There are few features on the map anyway - it's sand, sand everywhere.
Enemy units are examined by using the Com Box just as easily as friendly units, and the defensive strength of oases is displayed too. The system is smooth to operate, easy to understand and unambiguous. Data given on units includes their strength in terms of supply of infantry, provisions and artillery, and the number of moves that the unit can make that turn.
There are two turns a day, predictably divided into Movement and Combat phases. A Supply Phase and a Command Phase occur every second turn, at the end of the day. Units are moved at the player's leisure by means of the Com Box, although they don't have the option of committing suicide by passing over the minefield, it's treated as an impassable obstacle. Entering an enemy zone of control - the squares immediately surrounding the enemy unit - arrests movement, thought combat is not inevitable.
The Com Box doesn't let you plot out a movement further than the movement allowance of a unit, which I found a useful restriction and reminder. Movement orders are executed immediately, something else which helps in organising forces. When all units have been moved, pressing the space bar moves the game onto the combat phase. Combat is optional between adjacent units. Here, unless you've turned the thing off in the start-up menu, we hit the famous PSS Token Arcade Sequence.
This isn't so bad in a fast-moving type of game like Battle Of Britain, but in the middle of this traditional cardboard-counters strategy wargame, which has no other element of moving action, this sequence clashes stylistically. As might be imagined, you're put in charge of a tank. Trundling around in a very unconvincing landscape, you let loose machine-gun fire or shells at the odd enemy tank or oasis, achieving little. There's an option to deselect it, and unless you're really taken with it the game loses absolutely nothing at all by its exclusion.
Without the arcade sequence, combat is resolved speedily and simultaneously, and retreats and surrenders are reported. Units always seem to surrender - you aren't given the satisfaction of a 'unit completely obliterated' report. The supply phase follows, and the player is asked to decide which units will receive the limited resources available. The importance of supply in a desert war is emphasised by the fact that the Axis forces have to trundle their mobile supply bases after their forces, and protect them from the enemy. This factor adds a lot of interest to the gameplay, because if both supply dumps are destroyed - and they are extremely vulnerable - the Axis side automatically loses.
The command phase moves onto another screen, where strategic disposition of resource points is decided. Points are put into things like AFV (armoured fighting vehicle) recovery to minimise losses after battle and, importantly, into ground strikes and mine lifting. Putting a sufficient number of points into mine lifting allows the Axis side to make a neat break in the Gazala Line, to get some of the slower-moving units through quickly. Ground Strike allows the choice of one bombing target, which may or may not have moved by the time the order is executed.
The instruction booklet is entirely adequate, providing a short but informative summary of the historical situation and guides the player briskly through the mechanics of the game. There is, however, a lack of obviousness in the layout which makes it difficult to consult. It is also typeset without paragraph indentation, which may be a petty point but makes the layout look messy!
With two skill levels, Tobruk is easy to pick up and quick to play, but not easy to defeat. It has a hook in its smoothness and simplicity of objective, and although it hasn't much depth and may be devoid of ultimate long-term interest the short term challenge it's entertaining.
Slick and brisk.
Rather uninspiring, but clear.
Adequate, but badly laid out.
Robustly designed to be quick and easy to play, with no interruptions unless you count the arcade sequence...
Not a bad game.