The Fiendishly Complicated Board Game That Takes 1,500 Hours to Play: Discover The Campaign for North Africa

Monop­oly is noto­ri­ous­ly time-con­sum­ing. On the child­hood Christ­mas I received my first copy of that Park­er Broth­ers clas­sic, my dad and I start­ed a game that end­ed up spread­ing over two or three days. That may have had to do with my appre­ci­a­tion for Monopoly’s aes­thet­ic far exceed­ing my grasp of its aim, and I’ve since real­ized that it can be played in about an hour. That’s still a good deal longer than, say, a game of check­ers, but it falls some­what short of the league occu­pied by The Cam­paign for North Africa — which is, in fact, a league of its own. Since its pub­li­ca­tion in 1979, it’s been known as the longest board game in exis­tence, requir­ing 1,500 hours (or 62 days) to com­plete.

We are, of course, talk­ing about a war game, and that genre has its own stan­dards of com­plex­i­ty — stan­dards The Cam­paign for North Africa leaves in the dust. “The game itself cov­ers the famous WWII oper­a­tions in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943,” writes Kotaku’s Luke Win­kle. “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.”

You can get an idea of what you’d be deal­ing with over those two decades in the video below from Youtu­ber Phas­ing Play­er, an overview that itself takes about an hour and a half. “Hon­est­ly, if I’m being straight-up here, this game does sound, broad­ly speak­ing, like a fun time,” he says, half an hour deep into the expla­na­tion. “Imag­ine set­ting up a giant map of Africa,” get­ting your friends togeth­er, “Sarah’s in charge of the air force and Jim is in charge of logis­tics. You have all these peo­ple in charge of dif­fer­ent things, and you’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing strate­gies, and the com­man­der-in-chief is for­mu­lat­ing plans and doing all this stuff. That sounds like a real hoot, right?” Alas, “the big aster­isk comes in when that good time has to last lit­er­al­ly a thou­sand hours,” involv­ing what anoth­er play­er quot­ed by Win­kle calls “doing tedious cal­cu­la­tions all the time.”

Those cal­cu­la­tions neces­si­tate pay­ing close atten­tion, on every sin­gle turn, to not just quan­ti­ties like fuel reserves but the his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate size of the bar­rels con­tain­ing those reserves. Note also that, as Win­kle adds, “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.” The Cam­paign for North Africa’s design­er, the late Richard Berg, claimed that the so-called “pas­ta rule” was a joke, and that the game’s fiendish over­all com­plex­i­ty was in keep­ing with the style of the times, a “gold­en age” of war gam­ing with high sales and ever-esca­lat­ing ambi­tions. As with so many oth­er seem­ing­ly inex­plic­a­ble arti­facts of cul­tur­al his­to­ry, one falls back on a famil­iar expla­na­tion: hey, it was the 70s.

via Kotaku

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch a Playthrough of the Old­est Board Game in the World, the Sumer­ian Roy­al Game of Ur, Cir­ca 2500 BC

Learn to Play Senet, the 5,000-Year Old Ancient Egypt­ian Game Beloved by Queens & Pharaohs

The Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Board Game, Inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s Rol­lick­ing Nov­el

Monop­oly: How the Orig­i­nal Game Was Made to Con­demn Monop­o­lies & the Abus­es of Cap­i­tal­ism

Down­load & Play the Shin­ing Board Game

Board Game Ide­ol­o­gy — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #108

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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Comments (4)
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  • Paul Grant says:

    As a kid back in the ear­ly ’70’s I con­vinced my father, who had fought in WWII. to buy. It was so over­ly com­pli­cat­ed that nei­ther of us every fig­ured out how to play. It was real­ly a shame because it was pack­aged beau­ti­ful­ly and gave all the appear­ance, at least to the unini­ti­at­ed, of being a great game. I was so into all aspects of WWII at that point an real­ly want­ed to play the game but every fac­tor right on down to wind resis­tance, fuel con­sump­tion, ect. all had to be fac­tored into squadron respons­es to incom­ing attacks. The game was way over the head of a young teenag­er.

    It sounds like The Bat­tle for North Africa might have been from the same gamem­naker. I’ve often searched to see if I could find The Bat­tle of Britain. Maybe I’ll enlist google’s help again what with the info I’ve learned from this video, in the hopes of track­ing down a copy of the game.

  • Joey Sabin says:

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly few with opin­ions about this game have ever actu­al­ly played it. For those who have played it, the game is often described as, quite enjoy­able, pos­i­tive­ly chal­leng­ing, not very dif­fi­cult, and eas­i­ly playable in less than the over exag­ger­at­ed 1500 hours. Read­ing com­ments by the unini­ti­at­ed reminds me of the scene from the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey, where an unknown object is placed cen­ter stage, and the recip­i­ents attack it because they don’t under­stand it.

  • Jay Locklear says:

    The game fea­tures promi­nent­ly in an episode of The Big Bang The­o­ry (S11E16) where the com­plex­i­ty of the game is on full dis­play, as well as the sheer amount of time and cal­cu­la­tion required for game­play. All played for laughs, obvi­ous­ly, but the game is there, nonethe­less.

  • Michael Totcky says:

    I played sim­i­lar-look­ing and con­sid­er­ably com­plex games based on real bat­tles. From Napoleon to the whole Atlantic (sub game). The gen­tle­man who intro­duced me to them was a genius, plain an sim­ple and the games to him were triv­ial. We played for hours on end. Sev­er­al of us in a group did big­ger cam­paigns

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