6th June 1944. D-Day. Operation Neptune. A 156,000-strong Allied invasion force crosses the English Channel to commence the Operation Overlord campaign to take back Normandy from the Germans and create a beachhead for further operations in Europe.

For the 2017 anniversary, we’re looking at how three board games deal with three of the most renowned landings made by air and sea that day.

First, A Little History…

Pegasus Bridge (Operation Deadstick)

At around 12.10am on 6th June, British troops from ‘D’ Company, 2nd (Airborne) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry landed in Horsa gliders close to the bridges of Bénouville and Ranville across the Orne river and canal, taking the defenders completely by surprise and capturing both bridges in about 10 minutes.

Reinforced by paratroopers from the 6th Airborne Division, the troops held the bridges, fending off repeated counterattacks by German infantry, aircraft and tanks until they were relieved around midday the following day by commando troops under Lord Lovat, moving forward from the British landings at Sword Beach.

Pointe Du Hoc

At 7.10am, a force of 225 troops from the 2nd Ranger Battalion beached in ten landing craft and scaled the cliffs around this German strong-point midway between the US landing beaches of Omaha and Utah, with the objective of neutralising the six 155mm WW1-era artillery guns housed there and depriving the enemy of an observation post.

As the Rangers climbed, the German defenders hurled down machine gun fire and grenades, yet somehow the Rangers gained the heights and control of the Pointe, only to discover that the 155mm guns had already been removed.

They held against numerous counter-attacks for the next two days, finally relieved on the 8th June by fellow Rangers from the 2nd and 5th Battalions and the 1st Battalion of the 116th Infantry, accompanied by tanks from the 743rd Tank Battalion.

Of the initial 225 men of the landing force, only 90 remained combat-ready.

Omaha Beach

Omaha was the code-name for one of the five allied sectors designated for the main amphibious landings on D-Day. A meticulously planned operation was thrown into chaos within minutes due to the strong water currents and a far more formidable defending force than had been expected, which naval bombardment had been ineffective in weakening.

The US 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions, along with nine companies of US Rangers disembarked from landing craft and were promptly cut to pieces by around 6,800 experienced combat troops of the defending German 352nd Infantry Division.

Despite a bloodbath on the beach, small pockets of troops were able to penetrate the defences, form a beachhead and allow following troops to eventually carry the day.

The high casualties, acts of heroism and the film Saving Private Ryan have made this sector of the D-Day beach landings the most enduring and infamous.

The Games…

Memoir ‘44

It may be war gaming Lite, but the Omaha Beach set-up looks great.

Memoir ’44 is probably the most popular and well-known World War 2 board game, although at the time of writing the core box is strangely hard to get hold of, although many of the expansions are still widely available.

Apart from easy to learn rules and quick, streamlined game play, Memoir ’44 also benefits from a comprehensive collection of scenarios included with the core game, including Pegasus Bridge, Pointe Du Hoc and Omaha Beach.

As you’d expect with such a relatively simple war game, there isn’t the tactical diversity available in the other board games on our list, never mind “proper” war games, but it’s the perfect introduction to the genre, and games are so short that players usually play each scenario twice as both Axis and Allies, so no one can claim that either had it too easy!

Pros:

  • Look no further for a light introduction to war gaming on your tabletop.
  • Fast-paced, Command-and-Colours game play that we expect from designer Richard Borg
  • Great components stored in an excellent insert.
  • All three of our featured landings are available in the core set — no expansions needed.
  • The Overlord expansion allows you to create a far bigger and more sprawling D-Day and Omaha Beach experience.

Cons:

  • It might prove a little too tactically simplistic for some.
  • The Fog of War card mechanic can sometimes feel a little too frustratingly effective.
  • The simplicity can sometimes make different scenarios feel a little samey.

Tide of Iron (Next Wave)

This is less than half of the total troops you deploy on the board for Tide of Iron’s “Bloody Omaha” scenario!

Tide of Iron sometimes feels a little like Advanced Memoir ’44, with customisable infantry units, different types of armour and vehicles and more detailed rules.

You won’t find any of our featured landings in the core set, so you’ll need to acquire the Normandy expansion, but it’s good value for money as is packed with new map tiles, troops, counters and rules.

In the Normandy scenario booklet you’ll find Pointe Du Hoc and Omaha Beach, but Pegasus Bridge is omitted. The very first scenario does deal with moving troops from Sword beach to relieve the paratroopers, but Pegasus Bridge itself strangely isn’t mentioned.

Pros:

  • Provides more complexity, versatility of forces and terrain, strategy and tactics for those finding Memoir ’44 a little too simplistic.
  • Great components.
  • The comprehensive Normandy campaign box packed with new map tiles, miniatures, counters and rules is good value for money.

Cons:

  • Difficult to acquire in the UK (US stocks seem reasonable at time of writing.)
  • No D-Day scenarios in the core box.
  • The components, whilst beautiful, can be fiddly.
  • Can take ages to set up.

Heroes of Normandie

Omaha Beach, cardboard style!

For players looking for a game that provides a more Hollywood take on WW2, Heroes of Normandie gives just the darkly humorous vibe that you’d get from Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen or Inglorious Basterds.

The game ditches miniatures of any kind for large, beautifully illustrated, heavy-duty cardboard counters featuring infantry squads, tanks, barbed wire, trenches, buildings… everything you might need to fight across a characterful battlefield.

Judging from the name alone you’d be forgiven for presuming that all three of our famous landings were featured scenarios, in which case you might be disappointed: all the scenarios in the core game are generic missions for gradually introducing you to the game.

A bunker full of whup-ass… hope you brought your flamethrower?

You might also be disappointed to find out that whilst there is an excellent Pointe Du Hoc scenario pack, it was only available to Kickstarter backers and so remains difficult and expensive to source.

The good news is that there are both D-Day and Pegasus Bridge expansions which string together multiple scenarios into a campaign for each. Omaha beach isn’t specifically mentioned, but the “Bloodbath” beach landing in the D-Day set is a dead-ringer for the infamous amphibious assault.

Pros:

  • Lack of miniatures means a much better price point.
  • Detailed scenario and campaign expansion packs.
  • Excellent artwork and production quality throughout.
  • Quick set-up and play time.

Cons:

  • No Hoc, Pegasus or Omaha in the core box.
  • The Kickstarter exclusive Pointe Du Hoc scenario is a tantalising but usually out of reach tease.
  • Some might not like the darkly humorous element and caricatured artwork for such serious historical events.

Verdict

Memoir ’44 provides an excellent gateway to the world of both board games and war games, but it sometimes feels a little too simple, and although Tide of Iron beefs all that up to give you something like Memoir ‘44 on steroids, it perhaps makes things over-complicated, long to set up and fiddly to implement, despite it all being worth it in the end. They’re also both pretty expensive at present.

Heroes of Normandie, whilst not littering your tabletop with toy soldiers, still looks great on the table and yet provides a game that is easy to set up and get playing, provides all the rules information you require on the game pieces themselves and plays out in a surprisingly quick time.

Whilst it’s disappointing not to see the most famous actions of D-Day in the core box, the expansions more than make up for it in their breadth of content, and the core set is cheap enough that you can probably acquire it and the D-Day and Pegasus Bridge expansions for less than the present asking price of either Memoir ’44 or Tide of Iron, and certainly way less than the latter when including its Normandy expansion.

There’s plenty of reasonably-priced exapandability.

All Heroes of Normandie expansions also bring into play new rules and stacks of new troops that you can use in your own custom battles, and there are also heavyweight scenario packs for Carentan and Sainte-Mère-Église that allow you to continue your Operation Overlord gaming beyond the beaches and bridges of D-Day.

There’s also a highly active community for the game and you can download both official and player-created scenarios, missions and campaigns from the Devil Pig Games website.

The components and upgrades available for the game are highly thematic, including the custom card sleeves shown here.

Don’t get me wrong — Memoir ’44 and Tide of Iron are both excellent games, but for maximum bang for your buck, availability, playability, expandability and outright fun, Heroes of Normandie strikes that perfect balance between light board game and heavy war game.

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