The Logistical Nightmare Of ‘The Campaign For North Africa’

What is the most complicated board game ever? Is there even an answer? There most certainly is and today we’ll be diving into The Campaign For North Africa.

Campaign for North Africa is a tabletop war game set in World War II. At first glance, it seems just like any other game you might have seen in the past. It looks something similar to Axis and Allies. However, Campaign For North Africa (CNA from here on out) is a beast unlike any other.

If you’re a fan of the show ‘Big Bang Theory’, and let’s be honest, who is? You might have noticed something interesting on the latest episode. In one scene they set up the game on the floor (its really the only place you can set up the 10 foot map) and then Sheldon doesn’t understand basic human interaction and the other ones make some nerd culture reference. Bazinga!

I don’t know. I didn’t watch the clip.

Picking low hanging fruit aside, I did think that this would be a good time to discuss what this game is. Plenty of other war games attempt to take the complexity of war and boil it down to something the average tabletop gamer can enjoy. CNA ain’t about that. CNA is above all else, a logistics simulator.  Even the box itself proudly declares “A super detailed, intensive simulation specially design for maximum realism”. They are not kidding. EVERY detail of what goes into a war effort is noted upon. There are books of charts and tables and references for the players to use to determine what will go into each turn.

I wanted to be able to give you a proper example of how a turn plays out in CNA, but the rules are certainly no help. If you’re interested in tackling this beast, feel free to give the rules a read by clicking here. But, be ready to set aside a couple hours. Did I mention the rules are 192 pages? No? I could have sworn I did.  Well, regardless, the rule books (plural) with all charts, tables and graphs totals 192 pages long so… Godspeed with that.

This is the table of contents for the first of three rule books. Let that sink in.

If all this seems overwhelming, don’t worry. It is. But, you’re not alone. The game recommends you play with a team to help you.  And by “team” I mean cabinet of commanding officers. Each commander has a specific but still hugely wide role. With so much to keep track of in this game, no one person could reasonable handle it themselves.

Overall, Campaign for North Africa is a huge logistical endeavor. I want to go over how a turn plays out, but even explaining a single aspect of even 1 part of a turn is entirely too complex. Therefore, there’s not enough time nor space to go over all of that right now. If you’re curious what goes into keeping your troops fully supplied, be sure to check back in next week when we will go over how all that works.

Thanks for reading!

  • euansmith

    This sounds like it would be playable… on a computer.

    I thought that SPI made the most complicated game, but it looks like CNA takes the biscuit; and tracks its passage from factory to front line.

    • Simon Chatterley

      It also tracks the full process you did to make the packaging the biscuit came in…

    • Matthew Pomeroy

      the longest day is another great classic, while these games look intimidating, they are really amazing to play and a lot of fun

    • af

      > This sounds like it would be playable… on a computer.

      I used to think so too. Then I read this article and it opened my eyes:

      I now firmly believe needless complexity (aka “depth”) is wrong EVEN with computer games. This is because a wargame must remain a game; and game design is as much about what you choose to leave out as what you choose to include. Real war is not only cruel, it’s also boring. And you simply cannot make a fun game if you don’t focus on an interesting angle and choose to model it to the exclusion of everything else.

      A marvellous WW2 computer wargame, by the way, is Unity of Command (2011, It chooses to model the operational level of warfare, it’s relatively simple — definitely not an obscure grognard’s game — and it has a pretty decent user interface. It’s one of those “easy to learn but hard to master” games, and it’s all about encircling corps-level formations and cutting off supply lines to the exclusion of everything else. It definitely doesn’t fall prey to the temptation to model every minute detail (“the computer can simulate it all”) and it excels at what it does.

      • euansmith

        There is a market for Dwarf Fortress, so I guess that there are customers for mindbogglingly complex minute. I’ll check out Unity of Command. I like my games simple and elegant.

        • Matt Sall

          I’ve always wanted to get into Dwarf Fortress. I actually really do like micromanaging things in games but DF has such a learning curve I could never get myself into it.

          • euansmith

            I think I’ll stick to Minecraft and brick up the villagers I want to keep alive. 😉

    • Matt Sall

      From everything that I’ve read, the game isn’t difficult to play. All the guides and tutorials I read were understandable (for the most part), it’s just having to keep track of so much simply takes SOO much time.
      Still, if you like spreadsheets, this game is for you.

      • euansmith

        But then, wouldn’t the game function better in Excel rather than on your living room floor? 😉

  • effinger2

    It is a great game! I played it when it first came out. The Italians waste water, cooking pasta instead of drinking the water!!!! LOL

    • Matt Sall

      This game has tons of hyper specific rules like the pasta rule!
      I wanted to get more into the nitty gritty of how the game works as a game so I couldn’t really find a place to mention the fluffier stuff like that but I’m glad people know about it already lol

  • effinger2

    Their War in the Pacific is a monster game too. Loved it along with the East Front game. Love those games

  • bad mood

    Did you ever wonder why the Munitorum was such a nightmare organization that always got your reinforments lost? Play this game and find out…..

    • georgelabour

      This game will summon a portal into a hellscape that will then send you centuries out of time?

  • marxlives

    I am impressed. They really went go big or go home with this game.

  • dave long island

    Play Squad Leader a couple of times, and you’ll become an staunch anti-war activist for the rest of your life!… lol

  • af

    This game wasn’t meant to be played. Seriously. Other serious wargames are unwieldy; this one even the author could never finish it, as he readily admits in interviews.

  • piglette

    Didn’t we have an article on this game recently? Am I crazy?

    • carlisimo

      Yes and yes!
      But I’d never seen quite the same coverage in previous articles; for example, I hadn’t heard of Second and Third Line trucks being part of what you had to manage in the game. Every article (except this one) is always about the pasta rule.

      • Matt Sall

        There are a good number of articles out there giving a whole overview of what the game is. I wanted to go into a little more depth into how the game actually works as a game.
        I wanted to even go over how to take a turn, but that is so complicated it had to become its own article for next week!
        The pasta rule is fun and silly but was a little too….sensationalizing, I guess, for what I was trying to go over here.

        • carlisimo

          I like your approach and look outward to the next one.

  • Ludwig Hesselbach

    Speaking of low hanging fruit, “I’ll make fun of something super popular, pretend I hate it and I’ll be cool for disliking it. Because nothing is as cool as hating stuff in this day and age.” Next we’ll hear about how bad the Matrix sequels were and how listening to Nickelback is torture. Not that these thing aren’t true I’m just tried of people thinking that talking smack about everything makes them sound cool and enlightened.

    Now we resume your regular scheduled internet trolling already in progress.

    • Matt Sall

      I know a lot of people who like Big Bang Theory and I’ll admit I’m not breaking new ground by poking fun at it.

      I did try to give the show a fair shake and I didn’t like it for how it portrayed people who like games and science and whatever other nerd/geek culture stuff. The show always felt too much like nerd blackface.

      Either way, I loved the Matrix sequels and you’re wrong if you think I won’t rock out to How You Remind Me.