In 1942, the United States went on the offensive for the first time in World War II, launching Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Although the British had been fighting there for years since November 1940, the joint British, Free French, and American alliance in Africa went on to fight the forces of Germany and Italy until the Axis was pushed out of North Africa altogether.
The combined effort took over six months to complete. In 1978, a strategy board game called “The Campaign for North Africa,” which simulated the armies and units that fought there between 1940 and 1943 was released by Simulations Publications, Inc. This board game takes longer than the campaign itself to finish.
Now, the idea that a game based on a World War II campaign takes just as long or longer to play as the campaign did to fight might sound like an exaggeration. It’s really not. “The Campaign for North Africa” holds the record for the longest board game ever produced and it’s estimated that finishing a full game might take more than 1,500 hours – that is more than 62 full days of nonstop game play.
Part of the game’s long gameplay might have something to do with the level of detail and complexity that comes with playing it. Not only are players controlling individual military units, they’re taking control of things that often go without mention in strategy games, like logistics. To note the complexity of the gameplay reviewer often point to the fact that Italian troops require more water because they have to prepare pasta.
The game starts with two players, but ideally ten players, each filling out what is essentially the general staff of each opposing side. Players assume the roles of Commander-In-Chief, Logistics Commander, Rear Area Commander, Air Commander, and Front-line Commander for both Axis and Allies.
In the box is a series of maps that fit together to form a 23-inch by 115-inch game board, 1,600 counters, a 16-page historical background written by expert military game designers and defense analysts, rules and charts for reference, logistic sheets, storage trays and one six-sided die.
There are 100 turns and each turn represents one week of time. During each turn, the sides aren’t just simulating combat operations. They have to go through what hundreds of actual military planners might have to do during a campaign like the one across North Africa. Players have to distribute equipment and supplies, calculate consumption, determine the weather, distribute water based on the weather, initiate construction and repairs of structure and ships, plan convoys to supply the supplies and so on.
This all happens before they ever meet in desert combat. Once in combat, the game gets even more complex. All aircraft sorties are meticulously planned, land units are placed on reserve, they have to calculate fuel consumption and breakdowns, move the units, assign roles to ground forces, release the reserves and do it all three times. All of the movement, logistics and fighting mentioned here is a fraction of the team’s responsibilities, and all comprises just one turn of gameplay. This is how the game became the longest ever played.
All of this isn’t to say that no one has attempted to play the game or that the game doesn’t have its own following. Some believe the game is perfect in its execution, though its designers have never fully completed a game. One reviewer remarked that a group of friends who met up to play three hours at a time, twice a month, would wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.