Games that can never be played

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

It’s an interesting take on what a culture produces, when it produces games that can not be played:

The thick, black-and-white rulebook packaged with every copy of the 1979 war-game The Campaign For North Africa is full of obtuse decrees, but the tabletop community always had a special appreciation for entry 52.6 – affectionately known as the “macaroni rule.” The Italian troops in World War II were outfitted with noodle rations, and in the name of historical dogma, the player responsible for the Italians is required to distribute an extra water ration to their forces, so that their pasta may be boiled. Soldiers that do not receive their “pasta point” may immediately become “disorganized,” rendering them useless in the field. It’s a fact of life really: if the Italians can’t boil their pasta, the Italians may desert.

It was a joke, by the way. Richard Berg, the legendary game designer and author of The Campaign For North Africa, says so himself. He’ll happily admit that this was an unreasonable game for unreasonable people, but still, a pasta point? There’s attention to detail, and then there’s taking the piss. As Berg explains, the rule wasn’t even entirely factually accurate. “The reality is that the Italians cooked their pasta with the tomato sauce that came with the cans,” he says. “But I didn’t want to do a rule on that.” Yes, at the pinnacle of North Africa’s ridiculous excess, even Berg couldn’t help but poke a little fun at the obsessives in his wake.

It’ll take you about 1,500 hours (or 62 days) to complete a full play of The Campaign For North Africa. The game itself covers the famous WWII operations in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943. Along with the opaque rulebook, the box includes 1,600 cardboard chits, a few dozen charts tabulating damage, morale, and mechanical failure, and a swaddling 10-foot long map that brings the Sahara to your kitchen table. You’ll need to recruit 10 total players, (five Allied, five Axis,) who will each lord over a specialized division. The Front-line and Air Commanders will issue orders to the troops in battle, the Rear and Logistics Commanders will ferry supplies to the combat areas, and lastly, a Commander-in-Chief will be responsible for all macro strategic decisions over the course of the conflict. If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.

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