More Normandy gaming

[My original Normandy ’44 AAR starts here, with links to take you through all the turns of the seven turn mini game.]

So I am now finished my latest game of Normandy ’44. Playing solitaire, it appears that my pro-Allied bias shone through, as their forces did better than the first time, to secure a win in the seven turn mini campaign game.

Part of the difference was that the Omaha led forces broke out earlier, and more successfully. Thus, they were able to establish a link with the other beaches. Probably the core reason was better die rolling. That, and foolishly trying to conserve German supply points on defense, so as to mount a more potent offense. It didn’t work. There were too many days of clear weather, and too few opportunities for significant attacks. It appears that prudent use of supply points on the Determined Defense table may be the most productive use for the German side.

From Utah, I tried a much more aggressive approach as the Allies, including several chancy 1:1 combats. While these paid off, the cost was that I came close to handing the Germans an automatic victory because of the level of Allied step losses that built up here and elsewhere. In other words, although the Allies won the scenario, it was close to a German win.

On the Gold, Juno, and Sword front, the Allied forces were more successful in driving the Germans away, into Caen. However, after that there were no serious attempts to take the city. It would have been a bloodbath, and given the casualties elsewhere, was not attractive. It felt better – for the Allies – to pin German defenders in the city, while trying to make headway on the flanks.

In face-to-face play with a live opponent, it would be interesting to see how somebody else handles the German defenses here. For example, given the strong defensive bonus, maybe you can hold the city with a lot less, and release resources to menace the Allies on the flanks. This may delay the inevitable surrounding and cutting off that Caen faces. Intriguing.

It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing experience, cementing the game’s position as my favorite of the campaign. That having been said, I need to think about finding a slot to try out the whole, long campaign game.

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End position, with the front line marked in red. The Allies never really came close to threatening Villers-Bocage, but made better headway in the west; they are just about to split the defense into two. And in the east, they have also stretched the German defenses.

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Oh glorious Omaha! With a better performance here, the Allied forces are threatening to snap the defenses open. The Germans have some decent troops, but maybe too much terrain to defend.  The British Mulberry is in place, and the USA one would have followed shortly. That relentless wave of reinforcements would surely overpower the defenders – unless the stormy weather can provide enough of a respite.

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Things were getting very interesting around Caen. The Allies had broken out in the north-east, but lacked strength in depth. German forces (12th SS, 21st Panzer, and others) were still a potent attacking threat, especially if the weather turned nasty.

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Back to the beaches

I decided to have another round of playing Normandy ’44 (Mark Simonitch‘s game of the Normandy landings, published by GMT) and am currently about to start turn four – June 9th 1944.

This time the Allied forces have made an earlier and better breakout from Omaha and Utah, though losses have been heavy. Again, the best progress has been by the Allies on the Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. Bayeux has been taken and advance elements are threatening Villers-Bocage and Caumont. Caen, however, is a big beast of an obstacle which is very difficult to overcome.

One of the many attractive aspects of the game is that each turn does not take too long to play. So, it’s perfect for picking up in spare in-between moments.

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The Allies have beaten back the defenders outside of the city of Caen. Now for the city itself.

My original AAR starts here, with links to take you through all the turns of the seven turn mini game.

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Normandy ’44 reflections

Result

At the end of the seven turn scenario the Allies need 14 VPs. My Allies got 13… The German retention of Caumont and Villers-Bocage won them the game. It was close.

The thought that is uppermost in my mind after the replay, is that I waited too long to play the game. I did benefit from a tightened up set of rules, some clarifications and changes, so perhaps I shouldn’t really complain.

[Check the end of this post for links if you have missed the replay.]

Thoughts

Overall, I liked the game. I liked the scale, the complexity level, and the atmosphere the whole package delivers. The physical components are excellent, no doubt benefiting from having Mark Simonitch involved in producing one of his own games.  It’s playable, has depth, and enough scope for trying different strategies – as the Allies. The Germans are on the defense most of the time, though it may be that a more adventurous German defense would be more aggressive than I was.

Of the games on the topic, this is my favorite. Joe Balkoski‘s Against the Reich is probably the closest contender. I am not a Breakout: Normandy fan. I thought Richard Berg‘s June 6 was very interesting, but just did not hit the sweet spot.

So far as playing performance is concerned, looking back I know I could have done better with both sides. My incompetence, in other words, probably balanced out!

Improvements?

It may be a bit cheeky, but I have one criticism and one wild suggestion.

The criticism is about the rules. It took me longer than I would have liked to get the details right. Mark is a good rules writer, but it appears to me that he needs an editor with a good eye for the realities of boardgaming. For example, in rule 13.6 we are told that a retreating unit becomes disrupted. However, the explanation of the combat results table doesn’t universally mention disruption when retreating is a possibility. And I don’t like disruption being at the end of the trick retreat rules. It would have been better to have a separate (main) rules section.

As another example, the Allied player may have to withdraw certain units. It’s a minor detail, and easy to miss. It would have been good to add a reminder at the relevant part of the Sequence of Play.

One more example. The rate of movement for German mechanized forces on a main (primary) road is given as 1/3rd of an MP. But that only applies in Storm weather. So, it would have been better to have the default 1/2 an MP (which is for Overcast and Clear) with the note giving the improved rate for the rarer Storm weather.

Nothing material, but a wee bit annoying.

Now, here’s a thought I had about how to improve the gaming experience: play the game as a double-blind encounter. If the Allies do not know where the German reinforcements are massing, the tension will rise substantially. Similarly, if the Germans do not know where the Allied forces are being assembled once they breakout from the beaches… Such an approach would necessitate reserves, probes, and a bit more caution – though conversely rewarding the bold stroke. Perhaps Ultra might give the Allies some idea of what is on the other side of the hill.

Yes, that’s another retirement project!

Closing

So, belatedly, thanks to Mark Simonitch and the GMT chappies for producing this game. It was fun to play.

Replay Links

Turn 1Turn 2 – Turn 3 – Turn 4Turn 5Turn 6Turn 7Reflections

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Normandy ’44 – Turn Seven (Last)

Weather

Overcast -2, thus the final turn of the scenario has no Allied air support.  The Allied player will need some luck to make big gains this turn. On the plus side, the Mulberry is up and running at Arromanche, so 2 Supply Points can come in per turn, instead of one.

German Turn

The 12th SS takes replacements and stands firm.

At Utah there’s a half hearted attempt to reorganize the defense, but no offensive action. Similarly, while the Panzer Lehr forces at Omaha are more substantial than the Utah defenders, they hunker down.

However, south of Omaha, an attack led by the 77th Infantry division takes Caumont. And the reinforcing 17th SS is involved in a bloody exchange which sees the German forces well in control of Villers-Bocage.

Allied Turn

At Utah there’s a breakout in to the open, but the US forces are too thin on the ground to make deep penetrations or threaten Cherbourg. Valognes falls, but a belated attempt to link the beaches does not get off the ground with the US 4th Division beaten back all too easily.

At Omaha and points south, Isigny falls (at last) to the US 29th Division. Attacks elsewhere run into a proverbial set of brick walls, leaving Caumont and Villers-Bocage in German control.

At Caen, an optimistic attack gets absolutely nowhere, meaning no material change on that front.

See here for the result and a brief overview.

Rules Highlight

Weather is crucial. Bad weather favors the Germans and good weather favors the Allies. The really bad weather – Storms – can safely be ignored in the seven turn scenario just completed, by using the relevant optional rules. They work, so far as I can tell. However, I wonder whether there still needs to be some kind of victory point balance to compensate one way or the other. For example, give the Allied player 1-2 VPs for each turn of (any) overcast weather, and the German player 1-2 VPs for each turn of (any) clear weather.

That having been said, with the relevant optional rules, I also wonder if the weather effects are more or less severe in the full campaign game. I doubt I’ll get to test it for myself, as the seven turn scenario is good enough to let me experience and enjoy the game.

And now, the pictures

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Overall snapshot to give a fee for the final positions.

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The Omaha – Utah corridor is not open, though this turn saw good progress made in forcing the Germans back. If only the weather had been clearer…

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Stalemate at Caen. It would probably stay that way until the Allies can force their way through on the western flank. But that’s not happening soon.

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Utah forces have broken out in the north, but are not strong enough to go much further. The German lines are stretched, however.

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Normandy ’44 – Turn Four

Weather

Bad news for the Germans as it’s another clear day (Clear – 5) with the consequential loss of mobility for German mechanized units, and Jabos on the prowl.

German Turn

The 12th SS switches to the western flank of Caen, while other Panzer Lehr reinforcements make their way towards Omaha.

The defenders at Tilly pull back and are joined by odds and sods to form a solid base at Villers Bocage.

Meanwhile, around Omaha, The defenders pull back to avoid the inevitable attack from the Allies and their reinforcements.

And at Utah, the defenders try to pull back a bit and stiffen their line.

Given the weather, and the lack of worthwhile targets, the Germans do not launch any attacks this turn.

Allied Turn

I now realized that I had been shortchanging the Allies with their reinforcement schedule. In Clear weather it is 6 points of reinforcements for the US and 6 for the Commonwealth. Maybe that explains the trouble the Allies are having in matching the historical progress at Utah and Omaha? Anyway, we’ll keep going and put it down to the friction of war.

As an aside, closer rereading of the stacking rules seems to suggest that even with the beaches fully stacked, I could have brought in more troops. Had their attacks out of the beach failed, however, the overstacked units would have died. So, probably not a risk I would have tried. But some would.

Allied reinforcements are units of British Guards Armoured Division at Juno and Gold, CCA of US 2nd Armored Division at Omaha, and a couple of TD battalions at Utah.

At Utah, the Allied forces attempt a drive north. Attacks by the 9th Division are stalled, but 101st Airborne successfully clears another strongpoint on the coast.

At Omaha, the effort is to get across the Aure River. The German defense is not yet stiffened with the Panzer Lehr units, and backed by naval and air support, the Aure river line is breached.

In the vicinity of Caumont, Commonwealth units pounce on the Panzer Lehr’s (strategically moving) Panzer Jager Battalion, catching it in transit. The Panzer Lehr unit is wiped out, but not before making the attackers pay a bitter price.

Commonwealth forces attack Caen but are bloodily beaten back. However, led by the British 3rd Division, the Allies take Epron and continue to exert serious pressure on the city, threatening to cut it off.

Commonwealth forces, striking in the Reserve Phase, clear the last of the German defenders from west of Bayeux, and so effectively joining Omaha with Gold, Juno, and Sword.

A reasonable turn from an Allied perspective, but the limited progress at Utah and Omaha threatens the success of the operation. The Allies may need to gamble a bit more in the coming turns.

Rules Highlight

There is an optional rule about the German naval gun batteries which I am using. In essence, if the Allies do not take out certain gun battery positions, they forfeit some naval support as the Allied ships have to suppress these gun batteries instead. The incentive is there for the Allied player to clear the gun batteries as soon as possible.

It’s not a difficult rule, and it adds good historical flavor for not much effort. It works for me.

And now for the pictures

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Gold, Juno, and Sword, and the action at Caen. The Allies have almost cleared the Germans from the west bank of the river.

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Omaha, showing the Allies south of the Aure River. Unfortunately, Isigny looks as if it should hold out fro a bit longer. Note the British 50th Division units responsible for connecting the beaches. Note also the Panzer Lehr lead unit, whose arrival surely means trouble is on its way for the Allies.

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Utah, showing some progress in the north, but little sign of the ring of defenders being broken.

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Near Caumont, Commonwealth forces surprised the German reinforcements and eliminated a Panzer Jager battalion, at some cost though.  The Strat Move marked German unit is about to lose the marker. Note the modest accumulation of forces for the Germans at Villers Bocage (bottom right) which may be where a stand will be made against the Allied thrust.

Replay Links

Turn 1Turn 2 – Turn 3 – Turn 4Turn 5Turn 6Turn 7Reflections

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