Desert War: Tactical Warfare in North Africa, 1940-43

Desert War was published by Simulations Publications Inc. in 1972, part of the ongoing early development of tactical wargames and a companion to Kampfpanzer. The game was a platoon-level treatment of tactical warfare in the North African desert with an emphasis on armour  (KampfPanzer covered armoured warfare in the period 1937-1940 in Europe and China). By 1972, only a handful of boardgames had yet been published on tactical-level subjects, and almost all of them (of those designed by the major publishers) focused on the platoon level, the major exception being a Vietnam War game set at the squad-level.

James Dunnigan, the driving force behind the tactical titles by SPI, was not happy with the direction of the games to date despite the popularity of PanzerBlitz, Red Star/White Star and Combat Command. He felt an imperative to include some kind of simultaneous movement system, and the so-called "Si-Move" system which included pre-plotted movement orders (done by physically writing orders on a paper pad and then simultaneously executing the orders during play) was introduced in KampfPanzer and Desert War.1

Si-Move was not completely new:

The concept of Simultaneous Movement was originated in the optional PanzerBlitz modular movement system, which was really only half-turns. The concept held that all combat is really simultaneous - one force doesn't sit back while the other force moves past it or fires at it. The integration of movement/fire was the goal of this system. In part it was successful, but the cost in bookkeeping and recording each units actions began to take its toll...Dunnigan's fear of sacrificing playability for realism was coming true. Tactical wargames were in danger of losing the "fun factor."2

There were other differences between the systems, also; the following table was published in Moves to illustrate how the game system had evolved:

Game Hex Size Turn Size Turn Mode Attack Str. Defensive Str. Movement Combat Odds CRT Results
PanzerBlitz 250 metres 6 minutes Player 14A 8 8 Ratio Disrupt/Destroy
Combat Command 750 metres 9 minutes Integrated 14A 8 4 Ratio Retreat/Disrupt/Destroy
KampfPanzer/Desert War 100 metres 3.3 minutes Simultaneous-Movement 9M 7 10 Difference Distrupt/Destroy

The game system was described in The Comprehensive Guide to Board Wargaming as:

Simultaneous movement, modifications for different weapon types, entrenchments, overruns, and the controversial panic rule which randomly makes some units disobey orders. Comparable to Panzer Leader, with more nations but fewer different types of unit; infantry in particular play a smaller role. The map is mostly clear terrain. Generally simpler but less challenging than Panzer Leader, except for the simultaneity of movement. Panzer '44 is a more advanced version, based on later on in the war.3

Another new game mechanic was utilizing a "new" odds table; rather than a simple ratio of attack-vs.-defence, the KPz/DW system introduced a new calculation method where the difference between the attacker's and defender's respect strengths was used instead.


The game was only released in the black box format discussed here.

Not Included

In Moves Charles C. Sharp noted several elements of warfare not included in either Desert War or KampfPanzer; while horse cavalry was not a factor in the desert fighting, armored cars certainly was and are conspicuous by absence. Tactical Air Support is also mentioned in Sharp's article.4



Nr. 13 Feb/Mar 1974 ►"Penetrating Desert War" by Daniel D. Lind (Variant)
Nr. 14 Apr/May 1974 ►"KampfPanzer/Desert War: Game System Profile, Choices & Changes" by Jerrold Thomas  (Review)
►"KampfPanzer & Desert War: A Wider View" by John Fernandes (Analysis and Variant)
►"KampfPanzer Expanded" by Charles C. Sharp (Analysis and Variant)
Nr. 15 Jun/Jul 1974 ►"3rd R.H.A. at Tobruk" by by Richard Bartucci (Variant)
Nr. 16 Aug/Sep 1974 ►"Analysis of the KampfPanzer/Desert War CRT" by William S. Hescox (Analysis)
Nr. 22 Aug/Sep 1975 ►"Opportunity Fields of Fire" by Robert D. Zabik (Variant)

Strategy & Tactics

No. 45 Jul/Aug 1974

► "Simove Observations" by Gordon P. Cavis (Analysis)

No. 47 Nov/Dec 1974 ► Combination Play System (Variant)

Fire & Movement

No. 10 . "Foxes in the Desert: A Game Survey of the Desert War" by Warren G. Williams (Review)
No. 60 Jun/Jul 1989 ►"World War II Anthology: Chapter 1: The MediterraneanTheater" by Vance von Borries (Review)


No. 74  

 ► "A Panzerblitz Ramble" by Herschel M. Sarnoff (Survey of Tactical-level Armour Games)


 Issue 21  

► "World War II Tactical Games Review" by Geoff Barnard (Review)

Ann Arbor Wargamer

Issue 10  

►"Desert War Revisited" by Dean Martelle (Review)

Outposts Magazine

No. 5   ►"PBM: Desert War" by Ross Challender (Variant)


  1. MacGowan, Rodger B. "F&M Special Report: History of Tactical Games. 20 Years Later and 10 Years After Squad Leader" Fire & Movement Number 53, May/June 1987

  2. Ibid.

  3. Palmer, Nicholas. The Comprehensive Guide to Board Wargaming

  4. Sharp, Charles C. "KampfPanzer Expanded" (Moves Nr. 14)


Desert War

Developer: David C. Isby and Lenny Glynn
Publisher: Simulations Publications Inc.
Date of Release: 1972
Scale: Platoon
Players: 2
Campaign Type: none
Components: ►22" x 28" unmounted map
►400 1/2" counters
►8 page accordion folded rules & scenario folder
►errata sheet (after August 1973)
►Box (see article)
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