Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
App Reviewed on: iPad 2
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Decades after the fact, when discussing the battles of World War II, the focus is usually on the flashier, better known conflicts: the war in the Pacific Theater and the massive battles in the European Front. Lost in the history books amidst the Pearl Harbors, the London Blitzes, and Hitler’s monumentally stupid attempt to fight against the Russian Winter is the North African Campaign. While it set the stage for the Italian Campaign that followed and the eventual downfall of Fascist Italy, the war in North Africa itself doesn’t get the same rockstar treatment many of the other conflicts do, save for one figure: Field Marshal Erwin Rommel - the so-called “Desert Fox.”
The majority of the North African Campaign was a series of back-and-forth engagements between the Axis and Allies that ranged across Libya and Egypt between 1940-43. As its name would imply, Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein focuses primarily on the decisive conflict around the titular Egyptian town. Players can take the side of either the combined Axis forces of Germany and Italy or the British Commonwealth troops of the Allies. Everything in this turn-based strategy affair takes place from an abstracted, overhead map view that drops players into the mindset of a battlefield general giving troop orders from a distant command post (not that such a hands-off approach was Rommel’s style, mind you).
Players of previous entries in the Crisis in Command series of historical war games by Shenandoah Studio (like the critically acclaimed Battle of the Bulge and Drive on Moscow) will feel right at home with Desert Fox. Much of the interface and backend layout are similar, right down to the historical notes and photographs used to give context and verisimilitude to the miniature battles playing out on your iPad. War history buffs (who are likely already familiar with this) will appreciate the reverent attention to detail, while newcomers (or those who didn’t devour The History Channel before it turned into aliens abductions and bad reality TV a few years ago) will find these additions informative and engaging without being boring. Nothing like a video game to make world history interesting, eh?
The gameplay itself can be brutal and uncompromising, but the tutorials do a good job of arming you with the knowledge to take on the various aspects of desert warfare, from reinforcing and refitting your troops, to disarming minefields, to using terrain to strategic advantage. The only real negative is the lack of scope of the conflict, though to be fair this is historically accurate. Still, the full Battle of El Alamein campaign can be a lengthy conflict that can be almost endlessly replayed, as armchair generals can test out different strategies and match wits against various commanding officers on both sides of the Axis and Allies. Do be warned that some commanders can take a very long time to take their action as the computer evaluates their options. Not that Desert Fox is a game one picks up for a quick distraction while waiting in line at the bank, mind you. But it’s still worth noting. You’re in for the long haul here.
While the presentation may be dry as the North African desert for those who are used to more “bang bang” twitch and less “move the artillery to the ridge after we capture that pass” strategy in their virtual wars, Desert Fox is still an excellent game. For those who enjoy the slow pace and deliberate command decisions that come with a good turn-based strategy sim? Well, they’re in for a real treat.