I want a big Normandy game. Normandy ’44 is a tremendously good game but I would also like to explore the campaign at a lower resolution than the Simonitch title allows. There are many options but I’ve turned up surprisingly few below division level. A few games cover the whole campaign at lower than battalion level, but those are incomplete or only cover the first few days after the landings. Examples include The Greatest Day or the SCS Day of Days. The former, when/if completed, will likely be a bit too much even for me.
The biggest are Decision’s Atlantic Wall and GMT’s The Battle for Normandy. The latter is out of print and increasingly hard to get; the going rate for both games is in the $150-200 range, so it’s a big buy that I want to firmly nail down before pulling any triggers. Thankfully there’s time, since it will take a while to save up that much bread. (Target: January)
In favor of Battle for Normandy, it’s fairly streamlined for such a big game and has a good, well-scaled selection of scenarios that range from Omaha Beach and its immediate surroundings clear up to a big, big campaign game lasting through August 11. That’s 201 game turns if you’re keeping track. It’s nearly universally regarded as a very good game.
On the other hand you have Alantic Wall. Not especially similar to the 1978 SPI title of the same name, it is part of GOSS (the Grand Operational Simulation Series) and it lives up to that ominous acronym. It’s a bit larger than TBfN in every way, has nearly twice as many counters and has rules an order of magnitude more complex. AW’s 234-turn campaign game is a much more serious attempt to simulate the whole story of the fighting in Normandy. Both games are nominally battalion level, AW has a lot more companies available and is much more marker-heavy.
It also has a reputation for being unapproachable. On top of being quite complex, the original rulebook is a big mess even aside from having no index. The new version, released last month, still lacks an index but has a massive, detailed table of contents and is substantially reorganized. A totally reorganized playbook (“Scenario Rules” in GOSS-speak)is also now available which also offers a number of significant clarifications and corrections and a near-complete reorganization.
To my half-informed eye the new manuals seem considerably clearer than the original did. It’s still a complicated game but it looks less unapproachable now.
Atlantic Wall lacks, however, the range in scenarios that TBfN has. The nominal “learning scenario” is huge by that standard, takes quite a long time just to set up and omits relatively few of the full game’s features and mechanics. As a scenario it covers an interesting situation and looks good, but as a teaching exercise it looks very poorly thought out.
This highlights a significant issue in an otherwise excellent Vassal module. Namely that it only includes the campaign. If you want to set up a scenario, you currently have to do it manually, which is a titanic pain in the dumper. Hopefully the upcoming version 2.54 of the module will fix this.
The battle for Normandy’s Vassal module has a similar problem of being incomplete. In this case, though, it lacks the game’s player aid card, which includes the CRT, TEC and other necessary tables. Neither do the downloads available from GMT and Consimworld. This makes it impossible to explore the game beyond a certain point using Vassal in hopes of making a decision on it — and that point is pretty much right after the airborne assault on the morning before the D-Day landings.
Atlantic Wall’s Vassal module is complete except for the scenario setups, however, and with the new rules I feel capable of exploring the game. So between the two games the edge currently goes to Atlantic Wall in this respect.
Additionally, AW’s Airborne and Amphibious Assault modules are basically 90%+ complete games in themselves. I’d call them mingames, but there’s not much mini about the beach landings; each is played out on its own map with its own set of counters and rules. And this is all part of the campaign setup. While these won’t teach me that much about how the main game functions, they’ll let me explore the scale in detail and get a sense of the basic GOSS way of doing things.
I also give the edge to Atlantic Wall for the Airborne landings rules themselves. I think they produce more organic results, and more interesting ones to boot. There’s more to them and the whole landing sequence takes longer, but that’s not unexpected. They are also clearer in at least a couple of places than the Airborne rules from TBfN; I had a hell of a time trying to figure out how artillery units behave during the airdrop segment combat, while in AW I found it in about two minutes.
So right now, unless I am still unable to figure the game out using the new rules, Advantage: Atlantic Wall. That decision could change, but I’ll keep you posted on the whens and whys.