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Board Game: Normandy
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Subject: No Deception Measures – D-Day Out of the Box in the 21st Century rss

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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Will there ever be a time when a wargamer's desire to revisit the classic campaigns ever dwindles? In the case of WW2 I had thought so. Had the audacity of the Bulge died? Had Kursk become a foregone conclusion? And what of that grandest of invasions, D-Day June 6, 1944 - hadn’t we played that one to death already?

I pondered these on first seeing GMT's latest foray into the beaches of Northern France in "Normandy 44". When I say "latest" I mean that almost tongue in cheek, for Normandy 44 - GMT's regimental look at D-Day and the battle for the breakout from the Cotentin Peninsula came ever so close on the heels of another D-Day title released by that company only a few months prior - "The Battle for Normandy" - a monster of a game examining the campaign at the battalion level. And as if to answer my question even more forcefully, GMT plans yet another D-Day game by way of "Operation Dauntless" in the coming year.

So do wargamers really need to look at D-Day with fresh eyes? In GMT's opinion - obviously yes. Taking a second glance at Normandy 44, knowing the name of designer Mark Simonitch as one with a reputation for uniqueness in approach and after some serious contemplation along the lines above, I tended to agree. I couldn't wait to see what was in that 21st Century box.


A Thin Container - Ripe for Fattening

GMT chose one of its thinner boxes for this offering, half the height of its typical bookcase game and following the style offered with its Russian Front Caucasus campaign title last year. Considering the components that will be outlined shortly, I'm not too unsure whether a bigger box may have had greater benefits. At least 2 counter trays will be needed to put this baby's chits away and the extra storage room would have been nice. That said would there have been an extra investment required? I'd really need to check with GMT to see. However, considering that the company is now moving to a "thicker" box style with some of its touted re-releases - at no extra cost, one wonders whether any price differential would have been noticeable on the retail shelf?


A Map of Maps - A Thing Worth Framing

After some advertising material heralding a game in the Western Desert, the obligatory signed GMT courtesy packing slip (I've always liked that quality control touch) and the standard GMT bundle of plastic baggies (I've always hated those - they'll never match the convenience of a sturdy counter storage tray) the pale blue outline of the Atlantic Ocean came into view in what had to be the game's map sheet. What a sight to behold as it was unfurled.

Heavy-weight, smooth to the touch paper, not "deluxe" cardboard though it deserves to be - and definitely not mounted which would have been ideal to shake the waverers of those still unweaned from their Avalon Hill "Breakout Normandy" games (I was one), it's a map of Normandy unlike anything I have ever seen.

At 34 x 22 inches the map wastes absolutely no space in squeezing the Normandy countryside within its dimensions of vibrant colors. With barely millimeters to spare, Auderville at the very north-western tip of the Cotentin fills the top left corner tracing the peninsula down through Coutances and Granville its western-most base. The vista then spans east along the absolute bottom of the map enough to extend across Normandy through Falaise and up the eastern edge through Lisieux and on to the English Channel in which the unplayable area of Le Harve beckons for an expansion module of some sort.

In this way, at 3.8km per hex the entirety of the landings - both US and Commonwealth and the terrain across which the breakout occurred are provided for the gamer to deploy. Yet, it's the art and the attention to topographical detail that just grabs the imagination. The minutia of the various hills over which actual bloody battles were fought are depicted with clarity. Villers Bocage, St Lo, Tilly, Thury, Carpiquet, Cherbourg et al. Mixed terrain, woodland, bocage, beach landing boxes - and my favourite touch; a turn record chart in which the historical achievements of the combatants are listed for each day to give the gamer a litmus against which his generalship can be gauged. It's such a nice touch.

Amidst all this beauty, charts and a terrain legend adorn. For the solitaire gamer, all charts and labels are printed with a north-pointing orientation. For the 2-player crowd, the Allied side will need to not mind sitting with his landing zones positioned upside down (assuming of course that players will sit at the north and south edges of the map).

Yet, the total effect of this cartography is to make one want to frame the thing as a wall hanging. Its beauty and historical impact are such to render its expanse a focal point and an easy object for discussion.


Counters - An Exercise in Intuition but What of the What-if?

Times have changed in the printing world when it comes to die cut counters and befitting the quality of the map, two full color counter sheets are offered, furnishing the information chits and forces of the combatants at both a regimental level - and in the case of armored units, a battalion level (one supposes to add to the punch and fluidity of the attack and defense).

It's these 9/16 inch counters that now make my Breakout Normandy seem old hand. Borrowing from many wargame designs now, armored battalions offer silhouettes of their predominant vehicle types, NATO symbols represent regiments and brigades, thin white boxes surround some units to depict their lack of zones of control, white bands depict unit reduction, various colored boxes and dots provide other relevant command information and most of all, units contain a full-color mini emblem showing their divisional affiliation. So tiny they are but easily recognisable by all bar the most astigmatic, they just add another touch of magic to the design.

Here's where gamers may want to pull out their Zetterling German OOB's, for an eager glance of these sheets made me wonder at the depiction of the SS formations on offer (by the way - in the game the SS are not their stereotyped black, rather they're a kind of steel-grey). For whilst I could see the 1st SS and 2nd SS there, they seemed to possess no armor, being mainly constituted of panzer grenadier regiments. Zetterling reminded me that this is correct. At the time of the landings, both divisions were severely depleted of both manpower and armor and it was not until the end of the breakout phase that they began to make their impact felt. This of course, was not the case with the 12th SS and lesser so, the 9th SS and 10th SS, the latter two making a mad dash from the Russian Front in order to attend the party.

That said, PzIV, Panther, Stug, SP and even S35 Somua unit art abounds (in addition to a plethora of Allied armor of course). Even Whitman’s Tiger battalion 101 awaits, all armor being rated for their "tank" punch.

However, given that this is a Normandy game with a 21st Century treatment I'm wondering why extra counters could not have been provided for some what-if gaming situations (Normandy 44 offers gamers a choice of a complete campaign and two scenarios focusing on the linking of the beachheads and the capture of Cherbourg)? So what if the 1st and 2nd SS could have sortied at full strength? What if additional units had become available for either side - a fourth Airborne division for the Allies or an extra panzer division for the Axis? It would have been nice to been able to game out variations of this type and along these lines, maybe a variant will see the light of day by way of GMT’s C3i magazine as it is want to do. Yet, for now the avid DYO'er will either need to make his own variant counters - or as I did, buy a second copy of the game and adapt some of the existing counter art provided!


Commander's Charts - The Nostalgia of OOB's

Normandy 44 hearkens back to the grand old days of wargaming in so many ways but to me, it is most apparent in the series of charts found at the bottom of the box.

The one thing operational PC wargaming has never been able to provide (and for the life of me I still can't understand why and I worked for a wargame company as a writer/tester for years) is the ability to furnish the gamer with a list of the forces under his command. In the hobby as in reality, we call this an Order of Battle or OOB.

What a pleasant surprise then, to see two full color cardboard charts per player on which the forces both at start and for entry later in the game, can be displayed for ready access. Nostalgic memories of my first wargame - Avalon Hill’s Fortress Europa washed over me. A rear-printed chart covering both sides' resources for the Cherbourg scenario is offered as well (not to understate the fact that to this game's credit - Cherbourg is viewed as the crucial element of the D-Day Landings, as matches the intent of its contemporary planners).

Lastly, two copies of a double-sided reference chart can be found. A quick glance of this revealed what to me sealed the game as a most promising design. A CRT - a Combat Results Table. Normandy 44 offers itself as a game to be played rather than a complex "play" to be gamed. Yet, chrome lovers do not despair. There's plenty of the manageable type there to be found too.


Color My World - The Rules

Which leaves the combined rule and play book, that to GMT’s credit has been printed on excellent stock paper and in full color to boot. To my surprise, players won't find the hex scale printed in its introduction, rather this is left for the game box rear and the map legend. Still, 21.5 pages of 32 form the game's mechanics, 2.5 pages cover the scenarios, optional rules, multi-play and yes - solitaire. The remainder form a copiously illustrated example of play rounded out by some charts at the rear. The rules appear well written, heavily illustrated too. I just can't wait to get stuck into them.


Conclusion

So who'd have thought that "another" game of D-Day and the breakout from the beachheads spanning 22 turns, at one day a turn, covering the period June 6th to June 27th, 1944 could attract my attention yet again? At this first glimpse, I'm so glad it did.

The game out of the box is not without its minor flaws. Already Living Rules have added a few words of clarification to the rulebook (at this stage very few words it seems) and roughly three counters require a tweak (2 regiments of the 17th SS wrongly identified and an Allied DD tank unit needing an increase to its movement factor) but these are extremely small things and the counters will likely be replaced in the next issue of C3i. In other words, I don't consider this game at present, to be in the careless errata pile at all. Two typos exist on the rear box cover by the way - and that's something I've never seen before.

However, the map, the unit art, the CRT and the seeming clarity of the rules genuinely make me want to play this game soon.

Would I have liked a mounted map and paid for it - sure! Would I have liked what-if potential - certainly. Yet, Normandy 44 offers itself as an easy to learn, back to basics, pure bred wargame with enough attention to detail to whet my appetite and pull out my D-Day library for a refresher course in the history that I believed I knew.

Satisfyingly, Cherbourg sits prominently on the map of this game as the primary target of the Allied effort and the reason for its dropping of the 82nd and 101st Airborne in support of the beachhead at Utah. On June 6th, 1944 the Allies believed that without a major port in which to ferry supplies, an invasion of northern Europe could not be sustained. In choosing Normandy as the genesis of that invasion, Cherbourg represented that port. It would be a bloody race to grab it, a second beachhead at Omaha to protect its flank and further Commonwealth beachheads to the east to furnish its strategic depth.

As the author, historian and wargame designer Joseph Balkoski writes in his epic Utah Beach; "History has come to view D-Day as an inevitable Allied Triumph. It was anything but."

GMT's "Normandy 44" gives wargamers a fresh, crisp chance to try that theory out.

Happy gaming,
Adam.
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Barry Kendall
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Excellent intro. My word, man, stop leading me into temptation like this!

The thought occurs: Will The Bulge be next for this treatment?
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Frank cavallaro
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The thought occurs: Will The Bulge be next for this treatment?
it already has see "Adennes 44"
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Eric Brosius
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Adam Parker wrote:
At least 2 counter trays will be needed to put this baby's chits away and the extra storage room would have been nice.
On the contrary, I was pleased to find I could get all the counters into one tray. Three compartments for the German setup, two for the Allied invasion forces and one for paratroopers, three for German and three for Allied reinforcements, one for the cadres of each side, and ten for markers.
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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Eric Brosius wrote:
Adam Parker wrote:
At least 2 counter trays will be needed to put this baby's chits away and the extra storage room would have been nice.
On the contrary, I was pleased to find I could get all the counters into one tray. Three compartments for the German setup, two for the Allied invasion forces and one for paratroopers, three for German and three for Allied reinforcements, one for the cadres of each side, and ten for markers.
Thanks for letting me know Eric, I'm about to cut and trim them today. And I just returned from a picture shop - I'm actually getting my spare copy of the map professionally framed for display, I'm so enamored! We went with an olive drab trim

Sometimes wargaming has its unexpected bonuses.
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Joao Lima
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Very well written review.

Now, anyone tried this solitaire? How is it?
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Joao Lima
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tc237 wrote:
Great review Adam.
jmlima wrote:
Very well written review.

Now, anyone tried this solitaire? How is it?
I've done it, no different than any other game IMO, there are no hidden units or anything that hinders standard solitaire play.
In fact all units setup or land in the same hexes every game, so there is no trying to "feint" the other "player".

To help with solitaire play you can write up a plan for the Allied objectives, (US VII Corps Cherbourg, V Corps St-Lo, British Caen) etc..
is there chit activation, or anything similar?
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Joao Lima
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Thanks.
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Andreas Lundin
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Quote:
chit activation
chit activation is of the devil
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Joao Lima
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lundinandreas wrote:
Quote:
chit activation
chit activation is of the devil
Call me a worshiper of the horned one then. devil
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David G. Cox Esq.
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I am blown away by the thought that has gone into the fine detail of this game.

Even the map, hexes which start the game with a counter have their number printed in black while hexes which start the game empty are printed in grey. It actually does make it easier to set up the game.

This is impressive graphic quality.
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David Coutts
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Great review Adam, and now the latest issue of C3i magazine has a Normandy '44 variant:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1863650/new-c3i-variant-dis...
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Mircea Pauca
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I loved Breakout: Normandy (Avalon Hill) for its crisp competitive play potential and still reasonable history (yes I know, some 'artistic licenses' in BKN).

Does N44 offer enough additions in the decisions vs outcomes and historical details learned to be worth getting separately if one already has BKN and is very content with it? N44 hex-based terrain vs BKN areas; N44 play sequence and CRT vs BKN impulse system etc.

Quote:
The one thing operational PC wargaming has never been able to provide (and for the life of me I still can't understand why and I worked for a wargame company as a writer/tester for years) is the ability to furnish the gamer with a list of the forces under his command. In the hobby as in reality, we call this an Order of Battle or OOB.
SSG's Decisive Battles of World War II series (The Ardennes Offensive; Korsun Pocket; Battles for Normandy; Battles for Italy) all had interesting OOB pages. They also were very board-like in interface and mechanics.
 
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