HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAmerican troops disembarking a Higgins boat landing craft onto Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.
In the early morning of June 6, 1944, Allied troops began final preparations to storm the beaches of Nazi-occupied France. By 0500 hours, the seemingly countless vessels that made up the vast naval armada that had escorted the 150,000 American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish troops were all positioned at their debarkation stations opposite the five Allied beach landing zones that would shortly be the focus of the day’s drama. As the sun rose, the conditions for a large-scale amphibious landing were far from optimal: the seas were choppy and there was a strong tidal current running close to the beach. Nonetheless, the decision had been made: Operation “Overlord,” the amphibious assault on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” — after already having been delayed one day by bad weather — was at last going forward.
German shell carriers during the D-Day invasion.
In the coastal waters off the 7,000 yard wide American landing sector, code-named “Omaha Beach,” the first of the carefully-picked assault teams clambered down into their waiting Higgins Boats; once loaded, the small landing craft circled waiting for the order to begin their final dash through the surf towards the obstacle-littered beach to the south. Omaha Beach was one of two landing zones assigned to the American forces. The other American sector, code-named “Utah Beach,” was farther to the west. Heavy naval bombardment of the German defensive strong-points had commenced at 0530 hours. 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 their target beach: a narrow strip of dark sand that would, by the end of first day of the invasion, be rechristened with the dubious title: “Bloody Omaha.”
American troops Protestant service, D-Day Normandy landing aboard transport ship.
Obviously, the first turn invasion procedures for OMAHA BEACH are, as the preceding description shows, a little cumbersome. However, the game’s regular mechanics of play, although generally logical, also take a bit of getting used to. Interestingly, the movement rules — although admittedly somewhat unorthodox at first glance — once learned, are probably the simplest element of the game system to remember and use. Instead of hexes, the game map is divided into 192 squares — referred to by the designer as a Time/Space Grid — with movement costs for entry into the next square marked at the sides and corners of each box. Concentration (stacking) is the same for both players: any number of friendly units may stack in a sector, but only two may attack or move into an adjacent square through the same sector boundary. The rules covering terrain effects on movement and combat, although generally logical, are a little confusing at first; not, by the way, because of any baked-in design complexity, but purely because of clumsy presentation. For example, although there are eight different types of terrain mentioned in the game: Beach, Cliff, Valley (Beach Exit), Strongpoint, Village, Road, Clear, and Bocage; only five actually appear on the Terrain Effects Chart. Roads are simply left for the players to figure out. Valley or Beach Exit boxes (which are important to play because they are mined) and Cliff sectors (which block the movement of certain types of units) are mentioned repeatedly in the rules, but are only identified in the post-production errata which — always a bad sign — came packaged with the first printing of the game. Otherwise, once learned, the terrain rules work reasonably well. Terrain effects on fire combat are handled somewhat similarly to those in SPI’s SOLDIERS (1972); that is: the defensive value of the terrain in the sector under attack is used when computing the odds for fire attacks. In addition, a separate melee value for the terrain in the target square is added to the JFD of each defending unit (maximum of two defenders per sector) when attacked by assault. There are no conventional zones of control (ZOCs) in OMAHA BEACH; a design feature that is quite typical of tactical level games. Instead, movement is affected by the proximity of enemy firepower. Thus, units must immediately cease moving when they come within Direct Fire range of an enemy unit. There are three main exceptions to this rule: tanks, which may move freely when within the DF range of enemy units; Bocage, which effectively shields any units in Bocage squares from the movement effects of enemy DF; and units in Row Three sectors which are exempt from this requirement, unless the enemy unit is in Row Two or Three. Finally, because of the time scale of the game, there are no supply rules.
Landing in France, D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Combat in OMAHA BEACH can take one of three forms: Direct Fire, Indirect Fire (German artillery and heavy weapons, and Allied Naval Gunfire), and Assault (melee) combat. Direct Fire (DF) attacks are always voluntary and are conducted using the attacking unit’s JFD value. Interestingly, an individual unit’s DF combat power may be divided — at the phasing player’s option — among different targets, so long as no fractional values are applied against any of the targeted units. The combat power of different firing units may be combined, but only if the target is not also being attacked by ‘split’ fire from any of the attackers. In addition, Direct Fire attacks are limited both by the firing unit’s DF range and by its facing. In all cases, the top edge of the unit counter is considered to be its ‘front’; thus, the orientation of counters on the map sheet is critically important because units conducting DF attacks may only fire at those enemy squares directly or diagonally to their front; in addition, attacking units delivering ‘flank’ or ‘rear’ fire against the side or rear boundary of a defender’s square gain a -1 die roll modifier when resolving their attacks. Village, Bocage, and (under certain circumstances) Slope squares block DF attacks, but combat units (whether enemy or friendly) do not. Indirect Fire (IF) attacks are similar to Direct Fire attacks and, because they occur during the same phase, may be combined with DF. Besides the limitations on which types of units may use IF, the other major difference between this type of attack and Direct Fire is that, unlike DF line of sight (LOS) restrictions, no type of terrain ever blocks Indirect Fire attacks. Assault combat is different from fire attacks in that it involves the attempt, by the phasing player’s units, to enter an enemy occupied sector in order to physically dislodge the defender through melee combat. Only infantry, engineer, and tank units that have not yet fired in the current combat phase and that are also within DF range of an undisrupted enemy unit (or units) may attempt to assault. The game procedure required to conduct assaults involves several steps. First, assaulting units are designated during the phasing player’s fire and assault initiation phase. Next, the phasing player rolls one die for each separate regiment (or its components) attempting an assault against a specific enemy-controlled square. This die roll is matched against the Assault Power (AP) value of the units attempting the attack; if the die roll is unsuccessful, the units may not assault, but may fire normally; however, if the die roll is successful, the units may advance onto the boundary of the target square in anticipation of the attack to come. Although assault assignments are made during the attacking player’s fire phase, assault combat is not actually resolved until the following game turn; this final step occurs — assuming the assaulting units survive the enemy’s defensive fire attacks — during the attacking player’s assault resolution and melee phase. After the melee’s final attack and defense values have been totaled (the combined JFD strength of all attackers versus the combined JFD strength, plus terrain modifiers, for all defenders), assaults are resolved by both players rolling a single die; each player’s die roll is added to their respective combat strength and the higher adjusted number wins the battle. The loser must retreat all units to an adjacent sector where they become disrupted; moreover, this melee result applies, in the case of the defender, even to those units not directly participating in the battle. Units which are unable to retreat are eliminated. Assaults, it should be noted, can be risky for both sides: if the winner’s adjusted die roll exceeds the loser’s by four or more, all losing units are eliminated instead of being retreated. Oddly enough, this type of attack need not actually be directed against an enemy-occupied sector, but can instead be used to escape from enemy units; this is called a Withdrawal and is conducted exactly like a regular assault except that there is no melee combat at the end of the special assault advance. During an individual assault, a maximum of four units may attack an enemy square, but no more than two units may assault through any single sector boundary during a combat phase.
Omaha Beach follow-on wave of American troops.
All fire combat outcomes in OMAHA BEACH, with the exception of Allied Naval Gunfire, are resolved using a single “odds-differential” Combat Computation Chart (CCC). Allied Naval Gunfire (which becomes available on turn five) is a special case: it uses its own Naval Gunfire Table (NGT), and its combat results are dependent not on odds, but on the sector row that the target unit occupies. In the case of both the regular CCC and the NGT, combat results are resolved by a die roll, and there are only three possible outcomes: X (defender eliminated), D (defender disrupted), or no effect. Disrupted units are inverted until the end of the owning player’s combat phase and may not move, fire, or assault until they have been turned right-side up; in addition, the JFD of disrupted units is reduced by two during melee combat. Interestingly, disrupted units that are disrupted again — in contrast to some other tactical games — suffer no further penalty; however, tanks, unlike all other types of units, are eliminated on a D as well as an X combat result.
Reinforced concrete casement, Point du Hoc Normandy. German troops removed the guns to escape destruction from Allied bombardment. Photo taken after D-Day.
As might be expected, given the extensive and detailed records available on the landings at Omaha Beach, the designer has made some effort to incorporate a certain amount of historical ‘chrome’ into his basic simulation platform. Thus, over and above the design elements already described, OMAHA BEACH also includes rules covering, among other things: the variable entry of German Tank Units; Headquarters Units (these can eliminate the need for component units within their command range to roll on the AP chart); German (off board) Divisional Artillery; the submersion of beach sectors due to the Incoming Tide; German Minefields; Anti-tank Units; German Strongpoints (powerful if garrisoned, but irrelevant if unoccupied); and even an abstract rule covering German Entrenchments. All of these rules, although sometimes obtusely written, add something to the simulation. However, one of the more appealing aspects of the OMAHA BEACH game system is the role of Allied combat engineers and the special rules governing their use. These valuable units can be employed in a regular combat role, but their main function is really to clear Beach Obstacles on the first game turn (only) and thereafter, to attempt to clear the German minefields clogging the Valley (Beach Exit) sectors. Only an engineer unit that has not fired or assaulted during its immediately preceding combat phase may attempt to conduct a clearing operation. In addition, the Allied player may make a “maximum effort” with an engineer unit by declaring this intention prior to the German player’s fire phase. If this option is chosen, the prospect of the engineer succeeding in his mission is increased, but with an increased likelihood that the unit will be disrupted or eliminated due to enemy fire.
Rommel inspecting the Atlantic Wall defenses, Normandy, 1944 before the invasion.
The winner in OMAHA BEACH is determined based on the victory point total amassed by the American player at the end of the last game turn. The German player wins by blocking the Allied advance inland and, by so doing, limiting the number of American points gained. Victory points are awarded to the American player for the number of Allied units that manage to penetrate south of the invasion beaches, for Allied units that exit the southern map edge, and for the success of American engineers in completely clearing beach sectors of German mines.
OMAHA BEACH offers only the sixteen turn (5⅓ hours of ‘real time’) Historical Game; there are no additional scenarios. On the other hand, although the game designer has not seen fit to offer any alternative (what if?) scenarios, he has included detailed instructions for those gamers who want to try a highly-structured Solitaire Play system. Finally, there is only one, relatively minor optional rule: Limitations on Firing, which is presented mainly as a device to speed play.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONAmerican Stuart tank comes ashore, Omaha Beach, D-Day.
OMAHA BEACH, like many of the other Rand Game Associates titles, is really an eccentric little game. Sadly, it also has one of the most unprepossessing (if not dreariest) game maps that I have ever seen. According to both David Isby and Al Zygier, the map design was actually intended to represent an overhead view of the battle area similar to that of a black-and-white ‘bomb damage effects’ photograph; in this, it succeeds admirably. Unfortunately, the result of this misguided graphics experiment is to present the players with a playing area that is surprisingly reminiscent of a toddler’s first unsupervised session with finger paints: a map sheet that is varying shades of ashen gray, smudgy-looking, and unremitting in its ugliness; unfortunately, a dismal-looking map is not this game’s only flaw. There are others, and they are not insignificant.
The design architecture for OMAHA BEACH is, quite possibly, a bit better than its physical presentation. How much better, however, I am not really sure. In a nutshell, I am in an awkward spot when it comes to criticizing this game because I have only played OMAHA BEACH twice — once as the Americans and once as the Germans — so I am really unclear how the game would hold up after repeated play. In those two “at bats,” I confess that I didn’t find anything about the basic game platform that I really disliked. Therefore, I suppose it is possible that there may well be a relatively decent game buried somewhere in this title; unfortunately, it requires more work than I am willing to invest to dig it out. This is probably too bad, because the game has subroutines that I think are really pretty good: the integrated fire and melee combat systems, for instance, seem to work reasonably well; and I actually like the effect that the ‘engineer’ and ‘drift’ rules have on play. In fact, it is interesting to ponder what a difference improved rules, more visually interesting counters, and an attractive, more detailed map, might have made to players encountering this game for the first time. For whatever it's worth, I know that it would have made a big difference to me. In reality, of course, Rand Associates games were always produced on a shoestring; thus, in view of Rand’s well-known production constraints (a small, two-color map, 72 counters, etc.), the one aspect of the OMAHA BEACH design package that I personally think was a major waste of the company’s resources was the addition of a set of extra rules specifically for Solitaire play. It would have been much better, I believe, if — in lieu of designing a largely useless solitaire system — the designer, Ken Smigelski, had devoted his limited time and development budget to cleaning up the regular game’s most obvious and egregious problems. And adding a few additional scenarios and optional rules to the finished design wouldn’t have been a bad idea, either.
USS Frankfort supporting the Omaha Beach landing.
In the end, I honestly cannot recommend OMAHA BEACH to anyone but a serious collector. I suppose that it might also be a worthwhile acquisition for the player who truly wants to own every last title that was ever commercially produced on the Normandy Invasion. For everyone else, however, I suggest that you give the game a pass. The design may include a few intriguing ideas, and it may even be playable; nonetheless, it is just too nondescript, too visually off-putting, and too carelessly cobbled together to warrant most players’ time. Put differently: as a game, OMAHA BEACH is probably better than it appears on its face, but not really good enough for the typical player to want to own.
- Time Scale: 20 minutes per game turn
- Map Scale: 500 yards per square
- Unit Size: company
- Unit Types: headquarters, infantry, tank, engineer, anti-tank, heavy weapons, artillery and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average (solitaire rules are included with game)
- Average Playing Time: 2½ + hours
- One 17” x 25” Time/Space Grid (square boxes) tessellation-style Map Sheet (with Combat Computation Chart, Naval Gunfire Chart, Assault Table, Terrain Effects Key and Chart, American Invasion Holding Boxes, German Tank Variable Arrival Table and Game Turn Sequence of Play Chart incorporated)
- 72 ⅝” cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 8” OMAHA BEACH Rules Booklet
- One 7½” x 8” back-printed, combined OMAHA BEACH and MISSILE BOAT Errata Sheet
Universal ‘Command Series’ Components Required:
- Universal Turn Recorder
- One six-sided Die
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Review of this title which is 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