SPI, ATLANTIC WALL (1978)

ATLANTIC WALL is a historical simulation of the Allied amphibious invasion of Normandy, code-named "Operation Overlord," and the initial battle to hold and expand the beachhead once Allied troops fought their way ashore. Based on the highly successful WACHT AM RHEIN Game System, ATLANTIC WALL was designed by Joseph M. Balkoski and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1978. ATLANTIC WALLis packaged in the large soap-box format that SPI reserved, during this period, for its monster games.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Late on the night of 5 June 1944, thousands of Allied paratroops began to parachute into occupied France. Their mission was to seal the approaches to the nearby Normandy beaches and to secure safe landing zones for the glider-borne infantry that was scheduled to come in behind them. Within a few hours, the follow-up glider infantry along with heavy equipment and artillery began their landings to reinforce the paratroopers who were already on the ground. Because of unexpected cloud cover over the drop zones, however, these airborne units were widely scattered and disorganized during the first hours after the drop. At the same time the gliders were plowing into French fields, waves of Allied planes roared over the Cotentin Peninsula. It was now 0300 on 6 June, D-Day, and flights of Allied bombers had begun to rain thousands of tons of bombs down on the German coastal defenses that bristled along the beaches of the Normandy Peninsula. The initial phases of the most complex military operation in history were finally under way. At 0500 hours, the vast naval armada that had escorted the 150,000 American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish troops who would shortly be landing in occupied France began to shell the German defenses directly behind the beach landing zones. Operation "Overlord," the amphibious invasion of Hitler's "Fortress Europe" was about to begin.

In the coastal waters off the 7,000 yard wide American landing sector, code-named "Omaha Beach," the first of many assault teams prepared to wade ashore in occupied France. Naval bombardment had commenced almost as soon as the Allied air strikes had stopped. At 0630 hours, 96 specially-equipped amphibious Sherman tanks, the Special Engineer Task Force, and eight companies of assault infantry, four each from the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, began their invasion run into the target beach. The Allied plan called for 34,000 men to land in the Omaha Beach sector in the first wave of landings. The second wave was scheduled to begin after 1200 hours and was expected to put another 25,000 men ashore by nightfall. Instead, the landings went wrong almost from the very beginning. Because of a five mile-per-hour tidal current, virtually every assault group drifted well east of their original objective. American units became hopelessly mingled; for a time, chain of command broke down. But only for a time, and as the morning wore on, small ad-hoc teams of thirty to forty soldiers gradually regrouped around surviving company and platoon leaders and began to take the fight to the Germans. Despite the battering that they had taken during the landing, dozens of these small combat teams clambered over the seawall and attacked the German positions in the beach draws and on the overlooking bluffs. Slowly, despite heavy German resistance, the American infantrymen pushed inland. By the end of this first day of the invasion, Omaha Beach would have earned the name: "Bloody Omaha." In this one beach sector, almost five thousand men would be killed, wounded, or go missing during just the first fourteen hours of D-Day. However, despite heavy casualties, the beachhead would be held and expanded. General Eisenhower's Great Crusade to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation had finally begun.

DESCRIPTION


ATLANTIC WALL: The Invasion of Europe June 1944 is a grand tactical simulation, at the company/battalion level, of the first twenty-six days of fighting between Allied and German troops during and after the Allied amphibious invasion of occupied France. The game simulates the Normandy Campaign beginning with the preparatory airborne operations on the night of 5 June. It follows with the Allied amphibious landings on 6 June, and then continues through the Allies' successful consolidation and expansion of the beachhead on 1 July, 1944. The game uses the familiar and virtually glitch-free WACHT AM RHEIN Game System, but it also introduces an entirely new element to the system's game mechanics: the "invasion stage" subroutine. Before the Allies can dash for Caen or drive on Cherbourg, they first have to wade ashore at Normandy and stay there, often in the face of determined and effective German resistance. This means that during game turns one through four (June 6th), the Allied player must get enough units ashore to clear his landing sub-beaches so that his follow-up waves of reinforcements can land; if he fails, particularly at Omaha Beach, he might as well pack it in. To support the landings, the Allied player has the assistance — on game turn one only — of parachute and glider troops that will drop into the German rear prior to the beginning of the first turn invasion stage. Only after the Allies successfully secure their beachhead can the real crusade to liberate Europe begin.

The game turn sequence of play for ATLANTIC WALL is, as might be expected, quite detailed and complex. Nonetheless, an examination of the turn sequence does reveal a logical, easy to follow outline of the general course of play. A game turn in ATLANTIC WALL progresses through some or all of the following stages: Weather Determination Phase (AM game-turns only); Allied Mulberry Stage (AM game-turns only); Mutual Air Allocation Stage (AM and Night game-turns only); Mutual Artillery Resupply Stage (AM game-turns only); Allied Player-Turn (post-invasion stage only); Allied Parachute Drop (game-turn one only); Allied Invasion Stage; German Player-Turn; Naval Movement Stage(PM game-turns only); and Game Turn Indication Stage. The special Allied Invasion Stage consists of four phases: the air bombardment phase, the first Allied sea-landing phase, the second sea-landing phase, and the third sea-landing phase. In regular post invasion play, the Allied and German Player-Turns follow the same outline: mutual supply determination phase, movement phase, and combat phase.


As the preceding game-turn sequence shows, ATLANTIC WALL is very big, and very challenging. Once the designer chose to simulate the campaign on the company/battalion level, it is hard to see how it could have been otherwise. "Operation Overlord" was the most complex military operation in history. Yet, despite years of planning and preparation, the Allied military leaders responsible for its execution knew that success was far from certain. The Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, alluded with surprising humility to this stark fact. As the invasion force was finally getting underway, he observed that Overlord's ultimate outcome, once the landings began, would depend, not on him or his staff, but on the initiative, courage and discipline of the scores of unknown company commanders and platoon leaders actually on the beaches, and their willingness — despite seasickness, confusion, and fear — to take the fight to the enemy. It is fortunate for Europe that those ordinary men did just that. In a historical sense, ATLANTIC WALL succeeds on two levels: first, as an innovative and exciting invasion game; and second, as a simulation of the initial Allied fighting to push out from the beaches and into the hedgerows of the Norman countryside.

ATLANTIC WALL offers seven different scenarios: six scenarios are comparatively short in duration, require a limited number of counters, and use only one map section; the last campaign game scenario requires all five of the map sections, all of the unit counters, and simulates the entire first twenty-six days of the Normandy Campaign. The first three scenarios are post invasion games, each of which examines a different phase of the early Allied campaign. The post invasion scenarios are: The Fall of Cherbourg (thirty-six or fewer game turns); The Caumont Gap (sixteen turns); and Operation Epsom (twenty game turns). The fourth through sixth scenarios are invasion games that focus on the different Allied beach assaults. These beach scenarios are: Bloody Omaha (four game turns); Gold, Juno, Sword (four turns); and Utah Beach (four game turns). The Campaign Game combines both the invasion and post invasion phases of the early Normandy Campaign, and continues for 104 game turns. In addition to the scenarios, the designer also proposes a number of optional rules for those players who have extra time on their hands. Among these proposed additions are the following: Mechanized Infantry Movement, Saturation Bombardments, Alternate Final Protective Fire, Alternate June 6 Weather, German E-Boats, and Varying Corps Attachments.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 4½ hours per daylight game turn; 10½ hours per night game turn (4 game turns per 24 hour day)
  • Map Scale: one kilometer per hex
  • Unit Size: company/battalion, individual ship, air group/ wing
  • Unit Types: infantry, bicycle infantry, marine infantry, mechanized infantry, mechanized parachute infantry, ranger/commando, parachute/glider infantry, machine gun, anti-tank, tank/tank destroyer, reconnaissance, engineer, armored engineer, self-propelled artillery, parachute artillery, artillery, rocket artillery,headquarters, pathfinder, leader, assault infantry/ranger or commando/ engineer/machine gun/tank company, strongpoint, resistance nest, battery, air unit, air troop carrier, destroyer, cruiser, battleship, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two (teams highly recommended)
  • Complexity: above average/high
  • Solitaire Suitability: low/moderate (depending on scenario)
  • Average Playing Time: 20-200 + hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • Five 22" x 34" hexagonal grid Map Sheets (withTurn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Key, Beach Landing Displays, Naval Beach Support Displays, England Naval Display, Mulberry Table, Allied Supply Pool Track,Pathfinder Tables, Parachute Drop Displays, Parachute Drop Table, Weather Table, Weather Track, Allied Air Interdiction Track, Allied/German Air Superiority Tracks, Effects of Allied Interdiction Table, Allied/German Air Units Holding Boxes, Allied/German Battalion Breakdown/Battle Group Boxes, and German Off-Map Artillery Battery Display incorporated)
  • 2000 back-printed ½" cardboard Counters
  • One 8½" x 11" Rules Booklet (with Battalion Composition Charts, Abbreviated Sequence of Play Outline, and Designers and Developers Notes incorporated)
  • One 8½" x 11" Scenario Booklet (with Allied and German OoBs, and Abbreviated Sequence of Play Outline incorporated)
  • Two 8½" x 11" combinedCombat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Artillery Effects Summary, Allied Demolition Table, and German Small Arms Fire Table
  • One 8½" x 11" Errata and Addenda (28 June 78)
  • Two small six-sided Dice
  • One 4" x 8½" SPI Catalog and Order Form
  • One 3¾" x 8½" Customer Service Card
  • Two 8¾" x 11½" flat 20 compartment plastic Storage Trays with clear plastic covers
  • One SPI 9" x 11¾" x 4" soapbox-style cardboard Game Box

Recommended Reading


See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.



THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU

Recommended Reference

This book is a handy guide of maps for the Normandy landing beaches.

7 comments:

  • "The designer also proposes a number of optional rules for those players who have extra time on their hands."

    SNARF! (Note to self: DO NOT drink coffee when reading Joe's reviews!)

  • I so much wanted to like this game. The invasion sequencing felt so realistic and is a major draw. But once ashore, the Germans just don't seem to have much of a chance. The naval bombardment capabilities chase the Germans into the hinterland and, over time, Allied attritional attacks just take them off the board. It's boring to play the Germans. It just is. They haven't a chance.

    On top of that, the map is relatively bland and contains far less detail than I would have expected at this scale. Check the "elbow" around Caumont to the coast with historical maps or other games--it's just not right. Sigh.

    I sold my copy of this game as soon as I could. That said, I'm looking forward to the Decision Games remake. This game had such potential.

  • Greetings Eric:

    I confess that, all things considered, I have to agree with your overall assessment of this game. Like you, I really wanted to like this title. There was so much about the design that seemed promising; and yet, despite a number of very imaginative design ideas, it just doesn't really work, either as a simulation, or as a game. You could say that this is a classic example of "the whole actually being considerably less than the sum of its parts!"

    In any case, I share your disappointment in what could have been a great game, but wasn't.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I have a lot of rare games I wish to sell. Most are SPI, GDW and other rare gems. If you are looking for a title, send it to me at: perrya@jps.net.

    perry moore, game designer

  • Greetings Perry:

    Since you are interested in finding a new home for some of your older games, allow me to suggest the obvious: eBay (of course), but also convention auctions (PrezCon is comming up fairly soon); also, don't forget there are "game market" forums at both consimworld.com and boardgamegeek.com which are oriented towards marketing projects like yours.

    Good luck with selling your older "classic" titles and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Atlantic Wall is one of my SPI games that I like to pull out when looking for a solitaire game. Granted, the beach landing scenarios are basically nothing more than die-roll marathons, but they can have different results in every game.

    Unfortunately I have some issues with various aspects of this game. For example, (1) some German coastal defense artillery positions are not historically accurate (not located int he right places); (2) some German CD artillery positions could not move (casemated) while others could move (field works or open pivot mounts); (3) some German CD artillery positions exhibit the wrong gun sizes; (4) some locations try to hit targets they historically cound not reach; (5) some German artillery positions are entirely overlooked.

    I have a "house rule" that allows for US 2nd and 5th Rangers landing anywhere rather than how the game places them. That can change the balance of the Omaha scenario.

    I am still investigating the accuracy of US and UK airborne units as called out by the AW scenarios. Something tells me the UK airborne setup is somewhat wrong while the US setup may be missing a few key companies.

    The reinforcement schedules for the Allies seem mostly accurate except for airborne units.

    Overall I like SPI's Atlantic Wall game.

  • Greetings Anon:

    ATLANTIC WALL, as games go, is something of an "odd duck". You are quite right that the invasion scenarios are, rightly or wrongly, die-rolling marathons; however, there are several of the scenarios that I liked enough to play repeatedly. My main beef with the design is that the parts are greater than their sum. That is to say: some of the scenarios work pretty well, but I and my friends could never get the Campaign Game to hang together. An interesting effort, though.

    Best Regards, Joe

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