Skirmish Campaigns’ Normandy ’44 – First Hours: a review
Tired of fighting anonymous battles? Haven’t got the forces to enjoy campaigning in Italy or raiding in North Africa? Then I think I might have something for you…
For those of you like me and unfamiliar with the series, each of Skirmish Campaign’s 17 Scenario / Campaign books focus on an operational theatre on either the Eastern or Western Fronts, 1939 – 1944. The historical scenarios in each book are designed to be linked to form two or more campaigns. The books include realistic and variable order of battle (OOB) listings that can be translated to almost any skirmish rule system, including Flames of War (click here for the current Rules Translations).
Normandy ’44 – First Hours marks the beginning in a series focused on Operation Overlord. The 60 page soft-bound booklet contains 3 campaigns and 10 scenarios covering the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divsions and the UTAH landings. My copy leads with a historical introduction followed by an outline of the system underpinning the Skirmish Campaign series. Each opposing force listed on the OOB consists of a Base Force and a randomised (and sometimes imperfect 🙂 ) Variable Attachment(s). Victory is determined through points awarded for the completion of – urm – victory conditions (read Orders) and the infliction of enemy casualties. A optional touch allows the winner to gain Attachment Credits that allows them to postively influence the type of Variable Attachment made in the next battle.
Next is an outline of the 3 Campaigns: ‘Night Drop’, ‘Beach’ and ‘Eagle Drop’. ‘Night Drop’ follows the well documented exploits of the 506th Parachute Infantry Company, including a ‘Night Escape’ from Ste. Marie-du-Mont, Easy Company’s attack on the artillery positon at Le Grand-Chemin (as memorably re-enacted in the TV series Band of Brothers), the fighting around ‘Brecourt Manor’ and, finally, the ‘Attack on Ste. Marie-du-Mont’. The ‘Beach Campaign’ focuses on elements of the US 4th Infantry Division as they fight inland from ‘Uncle Red Beach’ and ‘Off the Beach’ to join up with the paratroopers in some of later scenarios outlined above before progressing on to ‘Howell Force’. ‘Eagle Bridge’ concerns itself with 3 scenarios representing 82nd Airborne’s 2-day battle to hold the Le Fiere bridges (‘Advance to Le Fiere’, ‘Le Fiere Counter-Attack’ and ‘Tank Attack’).
Each scenario details the Setting, Special Rules, Options, Victory Conditions and all important map. The scenario options are interesting as they allow for variations in force structure if anomalies are noted between the historical sources cited. I always find planning realistic (but playable) tables a bit of a chore so the clearly laid out maps are very welcome:
As with all historical scenarios, you will require a range of models and some dedicated scenery to make the best of this book. The authors have done a skillful job in ensuring that this isn’t too onerous by listing some of the more specialist units as Variable Attachments so you can always re-roll if you don’t have the relevant piece of kit.
In practical terms, if you have Battlefront’s basic US Parachute Infantry Company boxed set (UBX18) with the usual mortar, machine gun and AT support options you’ll be able to play most of the scenarios in the ‘Night Escape’ campaign if you buy a couple of Shermans. From the German point of view, the generic nature of many of the formations fighting in this theatre lends itself to, say, Chris’ orginial Pz. Grenadier list with only the need to find some 105mm arty pieces and the motivation to paint the odd Pak40. The presence of Renault R35 tanks in later La Fiere scenarios is another matter, but not insurmountable for the purist.
Whilst the scenarios are intended as skirmish games, the OOB are often scaled down from larger actions and are propotionally accurate for expansion to the larger unit scale used in Flames of War. The current Rules Translations sheet indicates the substitution of squads for platoons derived, presumably, from the arrmy lists in Battlefront’s Earth and Steel andTurning Tide.
How this works in practice is less clear. When 1 MMG is listed in the first scenario, ‘Night Escape’, it is not immediately clear if it’s OK to substitute 1 or 2 sections of MMGs listed as part of a Parachute Machine Gun platoon in Turning Tide. I’d guess it’s 1, but as we intend to play through this campaign in the year I’ll keep you posted as to what works well. I’ll certainly be emailing the authors to check how best to deal with the multiples of tanks listed in some of the later scenarios.
From the perspective of a US Airborne player, I’m looking forward to seeing where this book takes our Flames of War games. We’re excited by the prospect of a historical campaign as this – somehow – seems more acute where Normandy is concerned rather than in the vastness of the Eastern Front where we usually play. We also feel that there’s potential for mixing and matching some of the aspects included within Infantry Aces, particularly Ace Abilities to personalise the game further.
In summary, if you miss the colour provided by the scenarios that used to be included within the old Army Lists :), don’t mind playing unbalanced historical scenarios where you can’t pick-and-choose ‘competitive’ lists and are prepared to cobble some clever ideas together then I’d strongly recommend Normandy ’44 – First Hours.