by Mario Huys

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, freshly promoted commander of the combined German Afrika Korps and Italian Regio Esercito (Royal Army), peered intensely through his binoculars. It was early July 1942 and the sun was burning without remorse. All around him the desert seemed to stretch endlessly, but he knew that was only an optical illusion. Just 15 kilometers to the North was the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, loosely patrolled by a British Navy in constant fear of the next attack by the superior German U-boat. An equal distance to the South were the steep ridges of the Qattara Depression, impossible to cross even for his track-studded Panzers.

In front of him were small escarpments where the British and their rimram of Commonwealth soldiers in all colors and hues had dug themselves in. He knew they were there even if he couldn't see them, thanks to the invaluable information given by the German intelligence in Cairo. At this point, close to the railway station of El Alamein on the coast, the desert was at its narrowest, limiting the maneuverability of his Panzer Korps. Countless times before their ability to slink into the desert, regroup and take the enemy by surprise had turned the tide of the battle. This time he had no other option than to break through. But if he did the road to Alexandria and Cairo would lie open, and Egypt, right up to the Suez Canal, would be conquered, as Napoleon had done before him. And beyond that the oil fields of Iraq and Persia were waiting, finally solving Germany's desperate appetite for fuel.

After the battle of Gazala and the recapture of Tobruq he had driven his men on in hot pursuit of the retreating enemy, giving them no pause to reorganize themselves. They had bolted across the Egyptian border, brushing aside the lightly guarded border posts. His men were exhausted, his supply lines long, his armor advantage negligible. But morale was high and that, he hoped, would overcome any obstacle. Tomorrow, after his battalions had regrouped, he would launch his attack. History was in the making.

We all know how this story continues. Rommel was not able to break through the British lines. With an enormous loss of life and material the attack was rebuffed and Rommel dug in. For 3 long months the two armies faced each other off until the British and their American allies, who had just entered the war, after a careful build-up launched a decisive offensive in the Second Battle of El Alamein. They pushed the Germans and Italians out of their trenches and chased them out of Egypt and then out of Libya until they only held Tunisia. Egypt would not be conquered, and the Axis powers would never regain the initiative. El Alamein was in many ways the turning point of the war.

Fast forward to another era and another mode of war. This is Diplomacy and the map is the much lauded Modern variant or, for the faithful reader of the Zine, the recently developed version called Modern-up which can be played on the DPjudge and on USTP. Having found someone else to GM, I had taken the opportunity to play myself. This was a team game, with each player controlling two powers. Team games are by nature relatively short and spectacular games, as the victory criterion is still the same as for single power games, except that the combined supply count of both powers is used as the metric. Applied to Modern a typical game lasts between 7 and 10 years, comparable to Standard, but with double the number of supply centers (64 vs. 34).

As Spain-Ukraine I built up a massive force to attack Egypt. Egypt was so kind to put few fleets in the Med (he even disbanded one), so my armada of 5 fleets and 1 army cleared out the Med in no time, against his petty 2 fleets and 1 army. I had counted that my final one or two centers would be gotten from his homeland. But now that I got so far, driving him back to his homeland and the Asia Minor coast, I realized that a direct attack on his homeland would come to naught. He now had fleets in Cairo and Alexandria, and his army in Eastern Sahara, with another army in Israel and one in Irak that was able to plug the hole in Syria. I had fleets in Lybian Sea, Eastern Med and practically in every water province touching the Eastern Med. My army was in Libya, ready to pounce on Eastern Sahara. Further North he held Adana, I had Izmir and Ankara (fleet, no army yet).

He had a chance of taking Iran the previous Fall and gaining a build. If he converted that to an army in Aswan, I would have been prevented from dislodging Eastern Sahara (supported by Aswan) or Alexandria (supported by Cairo). Luckily Russia kept him out of Iran, but things were not really improving. If I dislodged Eastern Sahara now, that army would retreat to Aswan. I then would have 3 units on Alexandria (Eastern Sahara, Lybian Sea and Eastern Med), but if he would use Aswan and Cairo to support Alexandria, I was not getting anywhere.

Ibero-Ukraine vs Egypt

(Click for a full-size view in a separate window)

It seemed my only recourse would be to conquer Asia Minor first. Once I got into Israel and beyond (meaning I first needed to take Adana and move through Syria or Iraq), his fortress might start to crumble. Somehow I find this unsatisfying. A purely Western attack should be able to bore itself into Egypt proper.

So I took a look at the borders, and here is what I figured out. Libya needs to be cut in two. Libya historically consists of three regions, Tripolitania on the coast, Fezzan in the South and Cyrenaica to the East. A North-South cut would cut Cyrenaica in two, separating its coastal area from the desert province known as Kufra. The Northern part remains known as Libya and contains the supply center. When joining Kufra with Fezzan, the first name that comes to mind is Libyan Desert, but that would be a misnomer. What is called the Libyan (or Western) Desert today is actually the desert stretching westwards from the Nile in Egypt (the current Eastern Sahara) towards and including Kufra, but not Fezzan. This as opposed to the Arabian (or Eastern) Desert east of the Nile up to the Red Sea, and thus not in Arabia. Confusing? Viewed from an Egyptian standpoint since the time of the pharaohs, it makes perfect sense. We can avoid this confusion completely by naming the region Central Sahara. Located between Eastern and Western Sahara, this recalls the division of the Atlantic Ocean in a North-, South- and Mid- part. A very Modern solution.

Now that we have a name, let's look at its surroundings. It's bordered by Western Sahara to the West, Libya to the South, Eastern Sahara and Aswan to the East. Aswan thus needs to be extended westwards so that it touches the Libyan border, by usurping (part of) the desert area known as The New Valley Governorate in Egypt. That shrinks the size of Eastern Sahara roughly to Matruh Governorate, but Eastern Sahara as a name may still work.

What does this gain us? Let's say we start with a Spanish army in Western Sahara and an Egyptian in our new province. We force a fleet into Libya. Already Egypt has a gap in Eastern Sahara. If he pulls back his army there, Western Sahara follows from behind and threatens Aswan. If he pulls back to Aswan instead, we close in on Eastern Sahara and the new province. We now have 4 units against his 3, so Alexandria falls and after that Cairo and Aswan.

Ibero-Ukraine vs Egypt, Part II

(Click for a full-size view in a separate window)

Let's assume now that he has an extra army in reserve that he can put in Eastern Sahara. Spain also builds an army and drops it in Libya. Eastern Sahara's support is cut with Libyan Sea, so we can dislodge the first Egyptian army from the new province. That army falls back to Aswan. We have 3 units on Eastern Sahara, and Eastern Med to cut the support from Alexandria. Hence we can capture and destroy the Egyptian army in Eastern Sahara. From there it proceeds as before.

Let's say Egypt has even deeper pockets and brings in a 5th unit to fill Aswan. Surely this will bring out the stalemate? No! If Aswan is used to support the new province, Eastern Sahara can be destroyed with an attack from Libya and Libyan Sea, while Western Sahara and Eastern Med cut the units in the new province and Alexandria respectively. There's more guesswork here (Aswan could also choose to defend Eastern Sahara), but in the end Spain will prevail. Olé!

So what's in it for Egypt? Libya remains 2 moves removed from Alexandria and Aswan. But Western Sahara is only 2 moves far as well, and not behind the roadblock Libya! Thus Morocco, Algeria and eventually Tunis are easier to get at. Instead of being roped in by Italy and Turkey, an African campaign may bring him on the Atlantic shores in just 3 moves, right in the middle of the Spain-Britain battle! However without a fleet to support, as that route is longer and has more enemy fleet obstacles. This is reminiscent of Rommel's Blitzkrieg in North Africa that also frequently ran out of steam (oil) because of a lack of supplies. Plus the more action in the desert, the more valuable an army becomes in that area. Convoys galore.

So is this change good or bad for Spain? It's good because of the ability to conquer Egypt from the West. It's less good because of Egypt's ability to quickly plant an army in Western Sahara and hinder the capture of Morocco. Consider however that by moving West Egypt foregoes the possibility to obtain 3 builds. With Turkey often grabbing 4 in the first year, that's a heavy risk. Moreover, the prudent Egyptian will probably support his fleet first into Libya before proceeding further West. Rather than Morocco, Egypt will probably be more interested in Tunis. For that he needs to move to Algeria. From Western Sahara a move to Algeria cannot be supported by Fleet Libya (because of the Tunis coastline standing in between), so any enemy unit moving on Algeria (Italian, British or Spanish) can bounce the army.

Furthermore, the earlier map changes have, in my very small game sample (7 team games) benefited Spain more often than Britain. The current SB balance is 4 conquests (or credible attempts) by Spain, 2 by Britain, and 1 no-fight as SB were on the same team. These changes make the game quicker, just as the Desert province will.

In all these 7 team games I was surprised to see that Egypt not only had never been eliminated, but also had never lost a home center. There was one game where Turkey was staring at some empty home centers early in the game, but decided in favor of non-aggression. It may have to do with the nature of team games, where the winning team on average only has to capture half the victory criterion per power, and games tend to end in 7 to 9 years, too short to visit every corner of the board. But having this back door through the desert (and no fear for stalemate!) should make the Egyptian homeland more appetizing to the dominant Med power. This will have a major effect on breaking Egypt's isolation. And that should be good news for all players involved.

Aftermath: We're one turn further and guess what? I took Alexandria! That's simply bad defense on his part, because Egypt simply should have supported with Cairo instead of trying to move Cairo into Eastern Med where 4 of my fleets were waiting. He had tried the same thing the season before and I had noticed that he tends to repeat himself, so I decided to give it a shot. If it failed, at least he would have had enough of a scare to leave my Eastern Med fleet alone, so I could attack Adana in peace. But hey, it worked. And with that I'm now assured of victory.

The first test game using this map revision, called teamsecret, is currently running on the UKDP judge. The next one will be set up shortly. Check the openings list for more. The game described above is teambalanced, also on the same judge.

Mario Huys
([email protected])

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