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Night Drop: 6 June 44» Forums » Reviews

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Chip Saltsman

Maryland
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Picture this: Your 78 “sticks” of paratroops jump into the Normandy night on D-Day. Fifteen vanish immediately. The rest are scattered all over the map, with another 9 eliminated by marauding German units in the first turn. You don’t know what each unit represents (leaders, platoons or an initiative chit). Objective hexes? You see them, but you don’t yet know their value. You know where the Germans are, but not their strength. You try to combine sticks that have no combat power into companies which do, but the German player can unhelpfully move your units, too. Eventually the sun comes up—and you have just five morning turns for the forces you can assemble to secure enough objectives to win.

Or you could be playing the German side. Your five randomly-drawn units must disrupt the Allied forces enough to weaken them, delay them and ultimately hold on to three areas where VP hexes are clustered. You don’t know the VP values either, at first. You get 9 reinforcing units, but when/where to bring them on? Do you create “speed bumps” or bunker down in a few towns?

My first game came down to the final die roll, in which the paratroopers captured a 3 VP town hex, securing a tactical victory.
Night Drop is one of two games delivered with my most recent copy of Battles Magazine, free to subscribers. It recreates the initial drop and morning hours of the 82nd Airborne Division’s landing in Normandy during D-Day, June 6, 1944. The chaotic situations, lost soldiers and confusion you read about in accounts of the landings are all present in this game. This game is at tactical level, with 1 turn = 1 hour, 1 hex = 400m and 1 unit representing a companies or smaller "stick."

Night Drop comes with a nicely rendered map of the area around the Merderet River from St. Mere-Eglise to Pont-L’Abbe. There are 140 counters, printed on extra-thick cardboard which give them a very substantial feel. The 8-page rule book is straightforward. Setup takes a little time—though the 5 German units are quick, each Allied stick must be separately scattered. During the first four turns it is night, when units move slowly and attempt to combine. As battalion headquarters are revealed, the Allied player draws a VP marker and places it on an objective, but the Germans don’t yet know what the hex is worth. And, depending on initiative rules, one player gets three activations in a turn, but the other gets only two.

The Germans can’t stand up to a fight in the open. So channel the “Mayhem” guy from the Allstate Insurance TV commercials and employ some sneaky tricks:

• Sneaky trick number 1: Paratrooper sticks are not revealed until they stack together and have a chance to combine, depending on whether they are platoons or headquarters and how many are present. As the paratrooper commander, I made two stacks of three platoons and one of three headquarters sticks, which I didn’t plan to combine until they could get into a better configuration. The Germans rolled in combat units and wiped them out for a loss of 9 sticks (3 companies). Ouch. Half the strength of the 505th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) was gone by the first activation of turn 2.
• Sneaky trick number 2. The German player can choose to move his own units during a night turn activation or he can move unrevealed American sticks instead. Paratrooper sticks near the board edge can be walked out of the game! If they are clustered, you can over-stack them (more than 3-unit stacking limit are eliminated).
• Sneaky trick number 3. Move American units into stacks near a road, and then rush a unit over during the next activation and kill them.

The Americans have a sneaky trick of their own—one stick from each of the three PIR’s is an “advantage” chit. By expending it, they secure initiative for the turn (instead of a die roll), and with it the three activations (instead of two) that brings. You can save these for vital turns later in the game, but if one is captured by the Germans, then the German player gets the initiative next turn.

Turns 5-9 are daytime. Suddenly the game moves a lot faster—units have more movement points, which means the American player is rushing to secure VP hexes. Germans get to look at some of the VP markers to know where to make a stand, but there are only five of these turns. This means some desperate fighting for key terrain.

How did it play out? The American player needs 9 VP’s to eke out a tactical victory. By turn 5 I had 3, but then the Germans recaptured a hex of St. Mere-Eglise and I was down to 2. Turn 7 got me to 6. Turn 8 I was at 7. The last three combats of Turn 9 were for VP hexes, and I only cleared one hex on the last roll, but it was for 3 VP giving me the narrow victory.

Towns contain 5 of the 9 VP hexes, and towns give a significant bonus to the defense. It takes at least two attacks to clear a defender out, unless you roll particularly well. Stacked German units are even harder to evict, but that also means the Germans are leaving something else open. One tactic is to have two PIR’s, which attack in different activations, involved in the fight so the hex can be assaulted twice in one turn, but it takes some effort to get those units in place.

This is a little jewel of a game. It is easy to learn, plays quickly, and no two situations will come out the same.
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laurent Closier
France
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Chip,

Thank you for your excellent review. You have summarized the system/game so well .
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Nigel Twine
United Kingdom
Near Portsmouth
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"You do not stop playing games when you get old; you get old when you stop playing games." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
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Dear SeaSalt,

Thanks for the review. You`ve just explained to me where I`m going wrong with the 91st Luftlande. I`ll go the re-arrange route instead of the reinforce and move route next time. Sneaky does it!

By the by, my opponent suggested (I think he was trying to help me out) that eliminated Germans could possibly go back into the cup thus being available to re-enter as a new unit of reinforcements (albeit far from the action). What do you think?

Kind regards,

Nigel66
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laurent Closier
France
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Nigel66 wrote:
By the by, my opponent suggested (I think he was trying to help me out) that eliminated Germans could possibly go back into the cup thus being available to re-enter as a new unit of reinforcements (albeit far from the action). What do you think?


Please note that eliminated units cannot re-enter the game. But you can allow it as an house rule of course .
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Nigel Twine
United Kingdom
Near Portsmouth
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"You do not stop playing games when you get old; you get old when you stop playing games." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
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laurent closier wrote:
Please note that eliminated units cannot re-enter the game.


Hello Laurent,

Yes, that`s the stance I took. But if "Seasalt`s Sneaky Tactics for Desperate Germans" fails me and I start getting thrashed again.....

Seriously though, thanks for an excellent little game. I just ordered, "I Wouldn't Want To Do It Again: D-Day in Normandy as seen through the eyes of Private Fayette O. Richardson (Pathfinder) and 1st Lt Rex G. Combs, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, US 82nd Airborne Division" by Joel Baret to learn more about engagement. Last time we played we had "The Longest Day" playing on TV in the background. Good times.

My Battles subscription runs until "On Pegasus Wings" which I hope will be the equal of "Night Drop".

Regards,

Nigel66
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