Normandy ’44 – Rule Notes

I’m preparing to revisit Normandy ’44 and wanted to make some rule notes. I threw this together about things that have occurred to me this time around. I’m looking at the latest living rules which have evolved based on play observations over the years. That, in and of itself, is a great sign of a quality game. Longevity of both the game’s popularity and the dedication to it by a cabal of folks who are tending the rulebook verge is fantastic.

Main Assault Force

I both understand why this concept exists and I equally understand why it never persisted beyond this particular title. It’s not clear to me whether this was intended to be a core feature of the ‘4x games from Mark Simonitch, but what is clear is that it makes sense in Normandy’s bocage maze.

For those who are unfamiliar, the rule essentially has you pick a lead division of which member regiments can participate as the force for whom the full combat value is applied when determining odds. It speaks to inter-divisional communication and coordination while highlighting that 6 regiments aren’t all simply rushing into the same physical space for the purposes of combat. That’s where the sophistication of this rule lives. Simonitch says it in the rulebook that this is done because some units are participating on the flanks or in supporting roles along with the main assault force (MAF).

Of course, the downside of the rule comes into play. There’s some mental bookkeeping that’s required both in the movement and planning for effective offensive campaigns within the game and at the point of combat to determine the optimum MAF. Simonitch, brilliantly, offsets this with allowing no more than 18 combat factors to be counted, so once you get to a certain point, you’re not micromanaging combat factors like you need to do in some games. Unfortunately, that doesn’t totally eliminate the planning overhead and I don’t *think* this concept is in other games, but perhaps it’s present in Caucasus Campaign which I believe uses the same system maybe.

What Makes June & July Work?

The core question any Normandy game needs to answer is how it makes June and July work from the invasion through the inevitability of the breakout. Normandy, of course, presents several hurdles including:

  • The logistical efforts of supplying and reinforcing all these allied units across the English Channel
  • The invasion of a variety of air, land, and seaborne units
  • Bocage
  • The damned Cotentin penninsula
  • German reinforcements
  • among others…

I think this is where the beauty of this game emerges. The rules are essentially tackling each Normandy specific issue in order. There’s a logical progression through the various operational considerations that culminates in the rulebook with the invasion turn being handled LAST. I cannot stress how good of an idea that was for readers because it’s both a treat at the end of the rulebook, but it also ensures that readers know the stakes of that turn as they apply their prior rule knowledge to what I’ll call “the grand Normandy exception” with the invasion turn.

Does it succeed as well as I remember…we’ll find out when counter pushing begins this week!

The Grand Exception

Speaking of “the grand exception,” let’s go ahead and address that now. The invasion is neither detailed, nor complicated. The subsequent rules for keeping the beaches open, constructing and protecting the mulberries and the rules related to how reinforcements stream across the Channel are all handled adroitly by the system Mr. Simonitch created for Normandy ’44.

There are other games, of course, that handle the invasion with more detail like Atlantic Wall. They allow greater flexibility in the selection of landing beaches like Liberty Roads. Require more attention to securing the supply of allied forces like The Mighty Endeavor. However, Normandy ’44 strikes a fantastic balance between addressing its namesake topic and getting bogged down in the details of the landing.

Make no mistake, the landing can be BRUTAL. The first time I played this game when I got it years ago, I think I gave up because all my airborne units suffered two step losses upon their initial landing rolls. It was misery…Thankfully, I had a generous opponent who let us re-roll the landing because it was catastrophic. That being said, as I recall from a subsequent playing, the allied ability to get reinforcements in each turn ends up balancing initial losses (even seemingly catastrophic ones) a struggle but not an insurmountable one.

Simplicity here does not cost the game in any way.

Artillery/Werfer Support

Another topic that I love in the rulebook is the way artillery support is handled for both the American and German units. Essentially, it offers column shifts at the appropriate time. For the attacker on the initial odds and for the defender when undertaking a determined defense. It’s “Simonitch classic” and it works as well here as it does in other titles.

What’s unique here is the way exceptions are handled like the Cotentin peninsula artillery, Caen-based artillery, and the number of shifts available and under what circumstances. Effectively, allied industrial scale is rewarded in the rules while German ingenuity is rewarded. Clearly, one is easier to wield than the other, but the result is an interesting “game within the game” when planning offensives.

The final showdown for Cherbourg is as climactic as possible. It involves two unique special rules including a concentrated naval bombardment from the Americans and the ability for the Germans to shift their artillery from anywhere on the peninsula to Cherbourg. This is the effective culmination of a variety of smaller incremental rules intended to ensure that this fortress requires the respect it demanded during the actual operation rather than simply being “another city on the map.”

Weather

To a lesser degree weather has the same importance and is used to manage a lot of other information about the game from replacements to air support to movement. Simonitch packs a lot into a few rules here and it’s a masterclass on effectively using core systems to layer meaning for related topics. Truly impressive stuff. There’s so much accomplished in 20’ish pages of rules that remains highly readable where other game rulebook cram a lot into 20 pages so dense the reader hardly stands a chance of remembering what was said the page before let alone once its time to shove cardboard around a map!

The item that caught my eye was the way german mechanized movement is impaired by allied interdiction inherently as a function of weather rather than requiring long-winded rules about how to allocate air points or to directly interdict movement. In effect, good decisions remain good decisions in the game systems as well and the player is left to worry about the campaign rather than the tedious administration of subordinate topics.

On to Normandy…

We are on to Normandy this week and hopefully, I’ll remember these great rules for a solo-playthrough that I’ll document for the site! Follow-along if you’re keen to see it and leave a comment below if you have a favorite moment, rule or thought about Normandy ’44!

Discussion

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