Normandy ’44 – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Great scope and high quality components; beautiful map; nice counters; has a complete index.
Failed Basic: Typos on the set-up sheets; needs shorter, more focused scenarios; the rules need to explain why a rule exists instead of assuming the gamer knows “why” it exists; rule confusion and lack of explanations is prevalent.
GMT has released the Second Edition of Normandy ’44 and it is a nicely done traditional war game with a fascinating scope, but it does have some issues that harm its playability.
Normandy ’44 is a divisional/regimental level simulation of the first 21 days of the Allied invasion of occupied France. It uses a modified version of the Ardennes ’44 system. One player plays the Germans and tries to drive the Allies back into the sea while the other plays the Americans and the British, whose main goals are to successfully land on the beaches of occupied France and then expand the beach heads and capture the major ports in order to further reinforce their armies.
The players have access to everything from artillery and air support to ship bombardments and airdrops, plus many types of infantry and armored forces.
The game components include a beautiful 22×34 inch full-color map, two 9/16″, counter sheets, a 32-page rulebook, 5 Player Aid cards, a 6-sided die and zip lock plastic bags.
The counters are die cut and double sided and are all very attractive, even if the printing is a little too small for older eyes. The front of the counter represents the unit at full strength. The back of the counter either shows the unit at reduced strength or, if blank, tells the player that the unit has been effectively destroyed. Each unit is identified by starting hex (if applicable), division emblem, unit name/number, unit size, troop quality, combat strength and movement allowance. Some units such as armor and anti-tank guns such as the dreaded 88s, are represented by silhouettes and armor ratings.
Both weather and supply are factored into the game with the historical weather conditions being conveniently listed on the day by day turn counter for those fateful few weeks in June of 1944. Supply is abstractly but traditionally figured by tracing lines free of enemy zones of control back to ports and cities.
The game expands the traditional zone of control found in most strategic games by a rule known as “ZOC Bonds”. These are the hexes between two adjacent zones of control, which can affect the lines of supply for units as well as their movement and/or combat.
The rules are well laid out and thoughtfully contain a complete index. Nonetheless, some of the rules such as the tactical, reserve and strategic movements, need a more thorough explanation. Too many of the rules don’t tell the player what the rule is actually used for in the context of game play but just present the rules as a matter of fact series of steps without any explanations or notes as to their real use during game play. For example, 9.10 Tactical Movement reads “Tactical Movement allows a unit to ignore all Movement Point costs for terrain and existing EZOCs and move one or two hexes. Units that use Tactical Movement may attack in the Combat Phase. Units that use Tactical Movement may not be placed in Reserve. Units using Tactical Movement must abide by all the other rules of movement… .” OK, so why shouldn’t I always use Tactical Movement for friendly units that are near enemy units? The designer needed to at least say something like “Tactical Movement represents the ability of a unit to …” so that the player can easily figure out the distinction between Tactical Movement and other types of movement.
Additionally, some rules such as those for “Ost Troops” need an explanation for players unfamiliar with the terms.
Initial set-up should be easy thanks to an extremely logical presentation of the counters, which match up to the set-up cards. There was very little hunting to find most units, although I couldn’t find some at all. The German 716th Division Marder regiment, for example, was listed in the set-up sheet but the counter was nowhere to be found. Neither was the 10th strongpoint of the German 716th Division. Additionally, the 352nd Division unit shows up on the set up card as being in hex 1720 but has set-up hex 1815 on the counter itself. This is extremely problematic. The set-up sheet should have been proofed one more time before printing.
Movement is straightforward except the previously mentioned tactical, strategic and reserve movement which needs further explanation.
Combat is very much the traditional ratio between the attack strength of the fighting units, modified by terrain, but features some added complications which include defining one unit as the primary attacker and other units as ancillary attackers. Too many modifiers are listed in the rules and then not fully accounted for on the Player’s Aid Cards making it extremely likely that the players will miss important modifiers that could affect the outcome of the battle and, perhaps, the campaign in general.
While the game provides three scenarios, the shortest of which is only 7 turns, each scenario requires the player to set up all the counters! Short scenarios should have been provided which focused on individual actions during the first few days of the invasion or later during the breakout from the beachheads. While the game plays well as a solitaire battle, it is crying out for solitaire rules, as it appears to be a nice fit for a more complete solitaire gaming experience.
Additionally, for ease of use, the sequence of play should be on a Player’s Aid Card and not just printed on the back of the manual. The landing of the Airborne and Ranger units on turns 1 during the Special Invasion Phase in confusingly presented both in the rules and on the Set Up Card. When, on the Set Up Card, the 325th 82nd Airborne indicates “Turn 2,” does this mean that only that unit enters on Turn 2 or that all units presented on the Set Up Card from the 325th 82nd to the 101st Airborne enter on turn 2? This is never fully explained and further adds to the frustration of trying to play the game.
When Duplex Drive (DD) tanks try to land during the initial invasion, the player must roll to see if the tanks suffer a step-loss. In reality, many of the DD tanks were released too far out from the beach and suffered massive casualties as the tanks sank in the deep water. In the game, if I understand the rules correctly, the roll to see if the DD tanks suffer casualties occurs after the combat results roll. This seems somewhat counter-intuitive as the tanks would actually suffer casualties before they could help clear the beaches. To me, this appears somewhat unrealistic.
While the game has many flaws, nonetheless, Normandy 44 provides interesting coverage of the D Day invasion and the weeks that followed. It’s too bad that the designers didn’t make the game more user-friendly, though.
Armchair General Rating: 80 %
Solitaire Rating: 3
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!