My first was the old AH edition of TOBRUK. I had learned and was playing PANZERBLITZ and PANZER LEADER up until then and I had absolutely no miniatures experience whatsoever. When TOBRUK was advertised in the AH catalog, it just seemed to be dripping in realism. Now, realism wasn't what made AH famous--it was games, wargames to be sure, but games that could be played and made great competition venues. TOBRUK seemed to be a step off the precipice. Well, I plopped down my 12 bucks (earned cutting grass in my neighborhood) and held my breath. I remember when the game arrived and I sucked in my breath looking at the counters, the rules, the extensive charts, the casualty roster pad--even the featureless map didn't dissuade me. Jumped right in. And thought that this game was the cat's meow. Until SQUAD LEADER was published in 1977. I never picked up TOBRUK again after that, but I had a pretty large hole in my desert gaming for a long while. Now, I never did get DESERT WAR by SPI--but I'd played MECH WAR 77, PANZER 44, and KAMPFPANZER and just didn't think much of si-move at that scale. So there wasn't any desert gaming for me until West End's TANK LEADER series, and I did all three of them, to include the last title on the Africa theater. Oh, those counters were a bit garish (and for the Commonwealth, they were a bit tough to read). But I was having those tactical thrills again. But the system didn't seem to catch on for some reason, so I had difficulties finding opponents (bad graphics did not help here). It wasn't until AH published WEST OF ALAMEIN in the ASL series that I was rip roaring in the desert in a way I hadn't since the original TOBRUK. And ASL just "felt" right. Far more than TOBRUK ever did--and it moved a lot faster than TOBRUK ever did.
Now, to be fair, Yaquinto players had "88," which was one of three games that were heavily miniatures based. Unlike TOBRUK, this game had terrain depictions and the system didn't feel quite as onerous. I never played this particular game or ARMOR, its Western Front counterpart, but I did play PANZER (the Eastern Front version) quite a lot. Additionally, GDW also did THE SANDS OF WAR and THE SANDS OF WAR EXPANSION SET which had a lot of WW II North Africa scenarios. But the system and components never really gelled for me--felt too vanilla. Nothing horribly wrong, just seemed a bit flavorless. And in the S&T issue with PANZER BATTLES, we find one small scenario set in North Africa, but it really was a "teaser" for a new platoon-level tactical system that was eventually published as MECH WAR 2.
Now there are more choices than ever before. We also have ADVANCED TOBRUK system which is awesome--you can jump into a fairly detailed Africa tactical system right away, without having to learn a huge rulebook and buy a bunch of other stuff you need to start playing it. We have PANZER GRENADIER'S DESERT RATS and AFRIKA KORPS, with add ons for the South Africans and the like. ASL, ATS, and PG alone give us a great panoply of desert gaming. I won't be surprised if Mark Walker eventually takes on North Africa for his Lock 'N Load series. For those who like man-to-man games, I think we even have a SERGEANTS! module from Lost Battalion Games that covers it. Lastly, I just saw that MMP is doing a company-level tactical game on Bir Hacheim involving the Germans and the Free French. So WWII North Africa tactical wargaming is alive and quite well.
What are your favorites? What is still missing? What do you wish for? Let us know!