As you know, we have really enjoyed our plays of games designed by Mark Simonitch, including Holland ’44Stalingrad ’42Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul and most recently Salerno ’43. He has an amazing ability to boil down all the elements involved and come out with a very playable simulation of the historical event. Over a year ago, his newest game called North Africa ’41, which covers the campaign in North Africa from Rommel’s first offensive in March 1941 to December 1941, was announced on P500. As is usual, it has quickly shot up the P500 orders and now sits at 1,766 orders as of April 2022. The game is currently at the printer and will probably be shipping in the next few months so we wanted to get this information to you so you could pre-order and save some cash while getting a great game. We reached out to Mark to see if he would be willing to give us the details about the design and he was more than willing to share.

Grant: What is your upcoming game North Africa ‘41 about?

Mark: It is a regimental/battalion level game on the Desert War in Libya and Egypt during 1941. It covers the period from Rommel’s arrival in March to the end of December when the Axis had been pushed back to El Agheila.

Grant: How does this game compare to your first foray into game design with The Legend Begins: North Africa, 1940-42 from Rhino Games?

Mark: The scale is almost exactly the same but the system is different. The Legend Begins used a chit-pull system that created a lot of excitement each turn, but that took too long to play. North Africa ‘41 uses my standard Igo-Ugo ZOC Bond system where the emphasize is on medium complexity and playability.

Grant: Why did you feel your systems could be easily used to tell the story of the struggle in the deserts of North Africa?

Mark: I think my system can handle any WWII campaign, the trick is to find the right scale and scope. For North Africa the first decision was how long a “turn” should last. 1 week? 2 weeks? 3 days? I experimented with all those and decided that about 5 days per turn was the lowest I could go and still keep the game a manageable length. If the game had too many turns, very few people would play it. The game system would not have worked if each game turn was one month or half a month.

Grant: What changes have you made to the system since Holland ’44 and Salerno ‘43?

Mark: The biggest change was allowing a supplied unit to cross an enemy ZOC Bond. (Although in this game the ZOC Bond rule was replaced with the “Overlapping ZOC” rule, which works very similarly) This rule change made the game more fluid and forced players to build continuous fortified lines if they wanted to stop an enemy advance.

The second biggest change is non-motorized units surrender if they are forced to retreat more than two hexes in a single combat phase. This represents the units being overrun and is an incentive to players to keep their non-motorized units out of the mobile battles — your non-motorized troops belong in your fortified positions.

Grant: What is the scale of the game and the force structure of units?

Mark: Each hex represents an area 8 miles across. Most units are regiments and brigades, but all tank and reconnaissance units are battalion size.

Grant: Why are game turns divided into 3 Impulses representing 4-5 days? What does this allow in the game play?

Mark: Each Impulse is basically a standard game turn in my other games. Every third Impulse there is a Interphase where reinforcements and replacements arrive. So the three impulses + the bi-monthly Interphase is called a “Game Turn”.

Grant: Your maps are always so well done! What role do you believe the map plays in the game and how do you feel it sets the tone for the operation?

Mark: Maps to me are very important. It often explains why campaigns develop the way they do and are an opportunity to teach about the geography and topography of the area. I had studied the Western Desert maps before, but I did an even deeper dive this time and learned even more about the size of towns and landmarks, the important desert tracks and the rail line.

Grant: What are the highlights of the terrain and the focus of the play area?

Mark: I think there are four major elements about the map: the two bottlenecks at each end of the map–El Agheila and El Alamein, Tobruk, and the escarpment at Halfaya Pass. Practically everything else is expendable territory.

Grant: How many changes have you made to the map over the course of the design process? What were the significant changes?

Mark: Probably 100’s and 100’s of changes, mostly minor. Research into port capacities came up with a few minor changes. We spent a lot of time working out how the Wadi Faregh (south of Agedabia) should be depicted and which tracks were good and which were just signpost in the desert. Basically all tracks either led to the major oasis in the south or connected one water well to the next.

Grant: What new discoveries or changes have you made to the Order of Battle of The Legend Begins?

Mark: Fred Thomas helped me clean up the Order of Battle and found a lot of nice new detail on the Italian units. He also did a great job at pinpointing the arrival dates of all units. Robbert Fabbro emailed me and asked to join the research team and gave Fred and I a lot of help rating all the different tank units. And finally, Kevin Shewfelt joined the team and helped polish the German Order of Battle. It was an amazing experience to have such help — we had a lot of fun bouncing information and suggestions off each other.

Grant: What is unique about the CRT? Can you show it to us?

Mark: It is basically like all the others except I added more DRX results in the 1-1 and 2-1 columns. The CRT was designed early and stayed steady throughout the design. I like how it works.

Grant: How is Coastal Shipping between ports handled? Why was this important to include?

Mark: Coastal shipping was included and given some detail so players could learn why some ports were important and others weren’t. The Allied decision to hold Tobruk was actually a controversial decision because that meant the Royal Navy had to risk their ships to keep it supplied. This became especially dangerous after Crete fell. The rules for shipping were made as simple as possible — just determine the starting and ending point and roll the dice. The table takes care of everything else.

Grant: What is special about the Malta convoy rules? Also port destruction/repair?

Mark: I could have kept it simple and started all Axis Reinforcements and supply points in Tripoli but I wanted to show players the precariousness of supplying the Axis army in Africa. During the summer of 1941 the Luftwaffe left for the Eastern Front and Malta recovered its strength and became very active against the convoys. The Axis lost about 15% of supplies during the Summer and Fall which explains why very little occurred during that time.  So that system is there to tell an important part of the story of the Desert War.

Port repair was included because it adds an interesting layer of decision making. A successful Axis attack against Tobruk requires either luck or a combination of lots of supply and a bombing campaign of the port.

Grant: What is the concept of Resource Points?

Mark: Every Impulse players roll on their Event table which either gives them a Resource Point or an asset, like an air unit or a delay marker. This is to add some excitement to play and to show that players can’t have everything all the time — if they want Benghazi repaired then they have to give up mines and equipment to build Fortifications. If they want air support for an upcoming attack, then that has a price too. 

Grant: What are Delay Markers?

Mark: Delay Markers are the same rules as in Ardennes ‘44, except players only get two. I just wanted something to add a little variety to how far a unit is able to move. I didn’t want players to be guaranteed to get a unit to a certain hex at a certain time. Two simple markers makes all movement uncertain.

Grant: What are the victory conditions for each side? Which side has the harder time of meeting them?

Mark: I like very simple victory rules. So victory is determined by ownership of the five airfields on the map. If you control more than your side did historically, then you win. Airfields are counted twice a month. I think the game is balanced, but I’m sure players will eventually find one side or the other is favored.

Grant: What are the various scenarios included? Which scenario do you like to play and why?

Mark: Enter Rommel is a nice scenario to get the feel of the game and the excitement of the dash across Cyrenaica, the initial attack against Tobruk, and the battles around Haffaya Pass.

But if you want a nice history lesson on the Desert War in 1941, the struggle to keep Tobruk supplied, the slow buildup of Allied troops, and the ever increasing improvement of Allied tanks (from obsolete Cruisers to Matildas, Crusaders, and Stuart tanks), then you have to play the campaign game.

Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design? What do you think it does well?

Mark: In The Legend Begins, I had a very clunky Italian-German cooperation rule that was not fair at all to the Italians. In this game I use a rule called Commando Supremo where the Axis player can purchase, at the cost of 1 Resource Point, full cooperation with Italian units. If not purchased then Italian and German units cannot participate in the same attack.

Grant: What other games do you have in the works?

Mark: My next project is to balance the Sickle-Cut scenario of France ‘40 and prepare that game for its 2nd Printing. After that, I’ll tackle Cassino and Anzio.

Mark as always thank you for your time and for your work for GMT Games. I have really enjoyed your games and I look forward to North Africa ’41 as well as your future games in the series.

If you are interested in North Africa ’41: The Western Desert, March to December 1941, you can pre-order a copy for $42.00 on the P500 game page on the GMT Games website at the following link: