Category Archives: boardgame

Scenario Review – Operation Epsom

Operation Epsom is, perhaps, my favorite scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.  A lot of Breakthrough-sized Normandy scenarios fail to create an effective balance between Allied firepower and numbers, Axis armor superiority, and the naturally defensive terrain.  Operation Epsom get the balance just about right, creating a tough and interesting battle for both players.

Operation Epsom was General Montgomery’s plan to outflank and seize the German-occupied city of Caen. VIIIth British Corps’ main objective was to break through the German lines by crossing the Odon River and driving for Hill 112. On June 26, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division supported by tanks of the 31st Brigade began its push, gaining a foothold across the Odon near Tourmauville. By the 28th, the Germans began two strong flanking attacks, with the intention of pinching out the British salient. Over the next 2 days, these counter-attacks devolved into a stalemate due to tenacious resistance by the British.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Here’s a photo of the map.

IMG_0411[1]

The river is the defining feature of this map, but a second key element is not visible.  The British player can choose 4 of his/her tanks and designate them as “Hobart’s Funnies,” with an ability of his/her choosing.  Proper use of Bridges, Fascines, Mine-sweepers, and Petards are absolutely critical to the British advance, and they can change the flow of the battle dramatically.

One of the great things about this map is that both players have the option of starting the battle offensively or defensively.  The British player is clearly the attacker, and has an easy target on his/her right flank, where there are 3 easy kills and the medal at Grainville.  However, it might make sense to make a few preparatory moves on the center or the left, both to get units away from a no-retreat position vs. the German 88 and to prepare for a decisive river crossing.  The Germans, on the other hand, can open fire with the 88 in the center or their standard artillery near Grainville.  Or, he/she can pull back from Grainville, and prepare for a better stand on the north bank of the river.  Or, he/she can bring armor and artillery forward.

At some point, the British player is going to make a push across the river.  Another great thing about this map is that it’s hard, but possible for the British player to go on the offensive in this way, and actually win.  There are enough targets and medals for a bloody river crossing to pay off, even if the British player never establishes a consistent bridgehead on the north bank.  On the other hand, the German player has the armor and artillery to play an effective game of whack-a-mole, presuming that cards and dice are cooperating.

Much as I love this map, it does have one flaw.  Both sides start with a ton of artillery, and if the British player decides to play it safe and plink from across the river, this will turn into a very long and very boring scenario.  By natural inclination I am not inclined to play in this manner, but cautious min-maxers should probably avoid playing as the British unless they actually enjoy endless plink-fests.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – This is a great map, so long as the Brits attack.

Balance Evaluation – Mostly Even to Slightly Axis Favored – I’ve seen both sides win convincingly, and though I’ve played it a lot, I’ve noticed no major trends.  Days of Wonder has it at 69/31 Axis, which I find rather surprising.  I can imagine how the standard Breakthrough deck, with its plethora of extra moves, could give the Germans a major advantage, as they will be able to easily and quickly move their forces up while making no sacrifice in terms of firepower.  That is a major reason I do not play with most of the Breakthrough cards.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – An aggressive British player will take a pounding in the early phases of the game, but the structure of the map means that the battle will not be over until quite late.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – The potential for artillery-fans to drain all the fun out of this map is, sadly, high.

 

 

 

Scenario Review – Withdrawal from Hill 112 – With Video!

Withdrawal from Hill 112 is a Normandy scenario for Memoir ’44 from Campaign Book 1.  It’s the third scenario in the Flanking Caen mini-campaign.  All four of the Flanking Caen scenarios are interesting and reasonably balanced scenarios, pitting a slight Allied lead in overall forces against a very aggressive, and potentially lethal Axis force.  This scenario is interesting because of the limited mobility available to the Axis forces, balanced by their superior starting force position.

On June 29, Operation Epsom entered its fourth day. The British were holding onto a salient that incorporated high ground known as Hill 112 on the far side of the Odon River, near the village of Baron. The British 11th Armoured Division had a tentative hold and the Allies knew, thanks to intelligence reports, that the Germans were amassing armor for a counter-attack.

The German command made a preliminary push, sending the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions and the 2nd SS ‘Das Reich’ into action along both sides of the Odon. Although the 11th Armoured Division was able to hold Hill 112, the British commander, Lieutenant-General Dempsey grew concerned about having his lead elements isolated on the far side of the river. He ordered them to withdraw back across the Odon, a decision that came back to haunt him when the Allies paid a heavy toll to reclaim the same ground nine days later.

Although Operation Epsom never quite achieved its original objective of flanking Caen, it did manage to draw the bulk of the German armor into the area which freed up the Americans on the right and opening the door for their break-out into hedgerow country.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Though old, Campaign Book 1 is still available as an eBook, and I highly recommend it to any active Memoir 44 player.  However, that means it’s still considered classified at DoW.  So, here’s a bad photograph.

Withdrawl from Hill 112

The river dividing the map is pretty significant for the Axis.  Note that the bridge on the Axis side empties into a hedgerow, making it nearly useless for any sort of tactical reinforcement.  The Allies have it a bit easier, as their bridge is not only free from obstructions, but also protected from distant fire by a town.

Both sides are weak in the middle, and the action in this scenario is going to come down to the flanks.  The Axis have tank superiority, and with a good hand they can break the Allies on either side.  However, they need to be fast and consistent, because the Allies do have position in the center and greater flexibility.  Their bridge is open, and they can, in the right circumstances, move their tanks back and forth.  On the other hand, the Axis infantry in the center are almost entirely useless.  Should the Axis player take the time to move them up, it’s quite possible for the Allied player to make them pay by pressing an assault on either flank, or just plinking them from a distance.

On average, I think this map favors the Allied player, but a decisive Axis victory is a definite possibility.  We played this twice, switching sides, and the Allies won both times.  The first game turned into a last-turn nailbiter despite a mediocre Axis hand, while the second game was a brutal crushing of the Axis thanks to a complete lack of cards on their left flank.  DoW has this scenario at 60/40 Allies based on 148 reports.  I think that experienced players will even that up a little bit, but it definitely shows the advantage held by the Allies.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – This is a fun scenario with an interesting imbalance.  The Axis player will usually feel like they have a chance, because they do – even though, most of the time, the Allies will win it.

Balance Evaluation – Allied Favored – 60/40 is hard to argue with, and a mediocre hand will doom the Axis player every time.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Weak – The Axis can open up with a pretty devastating assault, but the strong Allied position makes it unlikely that this is a true knock-out blow.  That is, unless the Allies can’t follow up with anything stronger than a probe.

Plink-Fest Danger – Weak – The open space and the tanks turn this into a tank-brawl, and those don’t last very long.  Dice and cards will give one side or the other a quick advantage, and it’s all downhill from there.

Video – Unfortunately, the match we recorded was a somewhat boring smash-up of an immobile Axis side.  I just didn’t draw the cards to defend myself, and was broken on my own baseline.

Scenario Review – Ingermanland

Ingermanland is an odd little scenario from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in Campaign Book 1, for Memoir ’44.  Two weak forces duke it out in ugly terrain, and a single good move from either side can swing the battle in one direction or the other.  I quite like the scenario, but it has proven divisive.  My regular gaming partner hates it.

Outrunning its air cover, Kampfgruppe Raus pressed north from the newly captured town of Ostrov into the woods and swamps between the lakes Peipus and Il’men. Remnants of the Red Army and partisans in the woods, by now short of armored vehicles used other methods to harass the German advance. They employed snipers, minefields, abatis (trees bent, shaped, and cut to block roads and paths), and other obstacles to delay the Panzers’ advance. Isolated Russian KV-1 tanks roamed the woods threatening German supply lines, and then became giant metal pillboxes when they ran out of petrol. Von Leeb wrote in his diary that “the Russians defend every step.” The Kampfgruppe attempted to push through heavily defended woods to the north of Lake Samro in an effort to break out into open territory where their superiority in armor could impact the conflict.

Here’s a photo of the map.

Ingermanland

Note the three Russian snipers.  It’s that sort of map.  The Russians have an incredibly small and weak force, and they can’t really take many losses.  This is compounded by the fact that half the Russian backfield is an exit zone for the Germans.  On the other hand, the German force needs to hit in a concentrated fashion that is incredibly hard to do.

The Germans need to move up and either park tanks beside the snipers, or kill them outright.  If they get lucky and roll those grenades, the whole character of the map changes.  On the other hand, if the Russians can knock out the German artillery with sniper fire and maul the German infantry before it comes into attack range, then the game becomes very hard for the Germans. As Russians, I always had the feeling of impending doom.  If the German player has the cards, he or she can push hard in a single sector, and take advantage of the exit zone to get an unstoppable victory.  However, it’s bloody hard for the German player to actually pull that off.

I must admit that this map is rather controversial.  My regular gaming partner does not like it at all, and is convinced that it should be a Russian Turkey Shoot in most cases.  In his opinion, the Russian player needs only pull back, and mangle the Germans with long-range sniper fire.  To prove the point, he mopped the floor with my German army in our second test game last week, losing only a single unit in the process.  This, of course, was just after a nail-biter of a game in which I just barely held off his final advance on the Russian left flank.  I think it’s actually fairly well balanced, given competent play on both sides.  Days of Wonder Online supports neither of us, giving it a 43/57 split in favor of the Germans.  Try it out, and form your own opinion.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This is too odd and too controversial to score any higher.  Players who love plodding plink-fests where neither side has good options (such as myself!) may love it, while other players may hate it.

Balance Evaluation – ? – As described above, I can’t find a consensus opinion on the matter.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – Neither side has anything approaching the force to win a quick victory.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – If the battle becomes a close-quarters fight, the Germans have, in all likelihood, already won.