The Battle for Normandy – Boardgame Review
The Battle for Normandy. Boardgame. GMT Games. Designer, Dan Holte. $149.
Passed Inspection: Nice, crisp combat play that moves the game along; good support thru Comsimworld; computer modules offered thru Cyber Gamebox and Vassal.
Failed Basic: Some slight map errors where sheets join up; examples of play could be more extensive.
If you roll very badly, you can find your troopers dying at sea or being dropped all over the place.
Back in 1981, I plunked down my hard earned money for the latest war game that represented the invasion of the Normandy coast during WWII. It was Avalon Hill’s The Longest Day. I came to enjoy the game play and system greatly, funky unit symbols and all. Although I don’t have the opportunity to set it up and play out the full game nowadays, it still has a fond place in my heart, so it was with great interest that I opened GMT’s entry into the D-Day monster game realm, The Battle for Normandy. The designer, Dan Holte, has a number of WWII games to his credit, and I like his latest release.
Yep, this is a monster game. Although it is set at battalion level like The Longest Day, the hex scale is smaller at 1250 yards per hex vs. 2 kilometers, which gives a map that covers less area of Normandy-but the game’s five map sheets actually make a larger playing surface than the old AH game. A nice change is that the map sheets make for a somewhat squared-up playing surface and have no funky joints like the map boards of the AH game.
The game comes well stocked with 2,250 counters on nine counter sheets. Six of the sheets represent combat units; the remaining sheets are markers for reduced/depleted units, costal fortifications and batteries, and a few game flow markers. The colorful counters are easily separated by nationality and are marked with traditional NATO-style symbols for infantry/artillery and with vehicle illustrations for mechanized units. Units have a color-coded tab for an eye-catching quick reference to their HQ unit, which is a great help when figuring out if a unit is within supply range.
Also included are a number of game charts and assist sheets, three large d6 dice and one d10 and a scenario book with six options. Although the box and website says that there is an included non-permanent marker, GMT decided at the last minute to omit this as it could damage or mar other contents.
An interesting aspect of the game allows a player to break down a battalion into companies. For the Allies this is important for the initial beach assault and airborne phases as it allows the player to create some task forces, i.e. commit two infantry companies and one DD tank company to the first wave. For the German, it allows the initial beach-defense battalions to spread out in order to assist beach strong points or to create and hold a thinly defended line.
The game uses three "turns" per day. It begins with a Night Turn that allows for house keeping (weather, Mulberry construction, etc). Naval units are moved and replacements and reinforcements arrive. Next is the Air Allocation Phase, a neat innovation that allows the German to tailor his operational level anti-aircraft protection by allocating points to specific map sheets while the Allies allocate air points for interdiction, armed recon and/or ground support. The Allied player can see his available air points permanently affected by this operational level and tactical AA fire. A laminated map sheet is provided for each side, to be used with non-permanent markers.
The Night Turn finishes up with each player allowed to do some engineering tasks, night movement and combat (albeit limited).
Daytime is broken into an AM and a PM turn which allows the players (Allied first) to ready artillery units and conduct movement, followed by attacks and ending with a mechanized movement phase. All in all, the game turns move smoothly and players can quickly get with the flow.
The June 6th turn has a couple of special phases to conduct the airborne landings and bring the troops ashore. In the airborne phase the locations of pathfinders are chosen and the units try to land on those locations. If you roll very badly, you can find your troopers dying at sea or being dropped all over the place. Scatter direction from the pathfinder is determined by battalion but a separate die roll is made for each company to determine the scatter distance for each one.
The beach landings have the usual problems of whether or not DD Tanks make it ashore. Add in potential for drift and the beaches can become a mess; I’ve had problems at Omaha and Gold beaches.
The phases for the first day are a little involved as there are three landing/movement phases, which include combat (of the quick d10 style, see below). Once these are completed, the turns move more quickly.
The game uses two different systems for resolving combat. There is a traditional hex(es) vs. hex combat resolved on a CRT, using 2d6 dice. However, for air-to-ground, counter-battery, artillery attacks only, initial airborne/airlanding/beachhead combats a single d10 is used to resolve any and all combats of these types, to include defensive fire. Basically, if you roll equal to or less than the firing unit’s combat strength you inflict a hit, which removes an enemy step. Modifiers are few: terrain, unit density in target hex and/or in range of tactical AA units (for air attacks). At first I thought this would be a bit confusing, but once implemented, I found it to be terribly easy to quickly run thru attacks without having to constantly refer to the CRT for a result. It does make for some bloody fighting on the beaches
Supply is handled simply with units having to maintain a supply line, hopefully thru their HQ unit. The Allies do have some limitations which are handled by Combat Supply Points (CSP) that allow them to conduct multihex attacks, support attacks with artillery, fire naval units or artillery units (except in response to counter-battery fire which is "free"). This allows the game to quickly deal with this issue with a minimum of fuss for the Allied player, yet it can greatly affect his actions if they greatly outstrip re-supply capacity.
As with many monster games, the key issues players have to deal with are set-up and playing space. It’s no fun to set up and start a game only to have an interloper (like a cat) traipse across the battlefield, scattering units hither and yon and chewing up the 21st Panzer. GMT has a fabulous asset in the Vassal Game System.
It is an easily downloaded system that has a module for The Battle for Normandy. The tutorial is great and in a short time a player can be ready to run a game with a friend either online or via play-by-email. Once you have the game set up, it is there, ready to use in an instant. You don’t have to worry about taping the map sheets together or setting out all the units, and units only move if and when you want them to, not when the kids want to mess with the old man. Also, GMT has great customer support thru their website as well as on boards at Comsimworld and elsewhere.
All GMT games come with nicely illustrated examples of play (sometimes covering more than one game turn), but this game has only a detailed example of play for the initial landing at Sword beach. While this helps explain the details of the very first turn of the game, it really does not show how anything else is handled later in the game (and it omits artillery fire that can occur during the first day). I would have liked to see the example run thru a full turn or two on that small portion of the entire battlefield.
I’d recommend this game to those that enjoy operational level games. The learning curve is very gentle and it allows players to plan out operations and direct replacements and reinforcements with a simple method that won’t turn off those who don’t want to be bean counters. It also can be a great game for a group of friends to gather around and fight out the battles, as everyone can be in the action from the get go. The small scenarios can be played out in an evening. If you feel daunted by a whole pile of counters or a large map and/or don’t feel up to working through the computer programs available to play the game, you might want to take a pass.
About the Author:
Michael Peccolo is a retired Armor Major from the US Army with overseas duties, Company commands and additional assignments in recruiting and ROTC. He lives in Tennessee where he raises horses with his wife.