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.
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.