Playing Alone #3 – D-Day at Omaha Beach

I’m playing the First Waves scenario of John Butterfield’s insanely colourful solitaire masterpiece D-Day at Omaha Beach. Seriously, you’ve never seen a wargame map with so many primary colours splashed across it. I can only start out with the best will in the world, but frankly this game is so absorbing that I’ll probably forget to write about it as it goes along (and being ill really doesn’t help, although really I’m only writing this to give my brain something to do!). Still, at least I’ve got a dramatic start to kick things off on 6 June 1944…

Turn 1 – 0615 (Low Tide)

The US amphibious operations at 0615 hit something of a brick wall, with the landing check cards delaying four of the tank units until Turn 2 (meaning they won’t hit the beach until Turn 3), eliminating one and subjecting the remaining three to a step loss. Ouch. Still, there’s no possibility of good news in the Turn 1 landing checks, so I can’t complain too much.

Nothing good can come of Turn 1 landing checks...

Literally nothing good can come of Turn 1 landing checks…

The three landed tank units manage to avoid coming under German fire and attempt to barrage some Widerstandsnests (WNs) – two are successful, disrupting a couple of nests and hopefully allowing some easier passage for my units in Turn 2. Talking of which…

Turn 2 – 0630

A pleasant landing check in the east sector and some nasty drift results in the west leave me with ten units in the east sector (two drifted over from the west, resulting in a transfer of command to the 1st Division) and only six in the west, very sparsely spread across the beach. The delayed tanks from Turn 1 are on their way next time to fill out my western line, but it’s still not ideal.

The event card (following the landing phase in every turn from Turn 2 onwards) brings a Naval Gunfire counter into my possession, which is potentially very powerful; it’s simply a question of when to use it. The German fire phase sees three colour-coded German positions activate in each sector. This results in one step loss to an infantry company in the east sector; the west sector loses a tank unit but WN71 remains disrupted.

The disruption of Widerstandsnests allows me to start clearing mines from the beach. This doesn’t have any effect until Turn 7, when the tide rises, but it’s good to be able to get started to minimise the risk to landing units later on. Further successful barrages reduce the possibility of hits from WNs, and the US infantry advance begins. Each division only gets two actions per turn, so the free self-preservation movement action for infantry units is much appreciated in the first few turns – they need to get off the exposed beach! They still need to cross the horrendous mid-tide line though, where they’re exposed to heavy German fire.

The end of turn 2 in the east sector

The end of turn 2 in the east sector…

...and in the west

…and in the west

Turn 3 – 0645

Landing checks are uneventful this time. The event phase provides a hero (Pinder) to infantry company E/2/16 in the 1st Division, but adds depth to the disrupted nest WN71.

German fire causes step losses to three infantry companies in the east, along with two infantry companies and one tank unit in the west. Really not a good result. The US infantry continues to advance, while the tanks continue their barrage. The tide will rise in a few turns, so I’ll need to think about getting tanks out of drowning danger! The problem is, moving a tank uses one of the two actions available in each sector per turn, so I have to weigh up losing a tank against losing the ability to attack a nest or advance infantry at the top of the beach.

Getting ready to attack WN62

Getting ready to attack WN62

I have a small grouping of infantry companies around WN62N (the northern half of nest WN62), along with my hero Pinder. With a bit of luck, I’ll be able to take out this nest within a few turns. They’re right up against the shingle now though, so moving them any further will require using valuable actions (apart from the company with Pinder – heroes grant a free action to their unit).

Turn 4 – 0700

Landing checks delay two of my anti-artillery units by three turns, but the landing infantry are positioned very nicely. The east sector is developing into an obvious push through the central area covered by WN62. In the west sector, drifts in the Dog White zone have put five steps of US manpower into one hex, creating a “concentrated hex” – this is very dangerous for German fire from WN68 and WN70… But as luck would have it, smoke obscures the beach in the event phase, meaning WN70 doesn’t fire this turn!

Handy smoke cover!

Handy smoke cover!

German fire in the east reduces a couple of tank units, and the 1st Division suffers its first infantry unit loss (reduced to one step) near WN62. This is the beginning of the end, in some ways – if one US division suffers eight infantry units reduced to one step or eliminated, the US loses the D-Day invasion! Unfortunately, the concentrated hex in the west sector gets hammered by WN68, with the two units there losing a step each. German artillery also starts firing this turn, meaning infantry company K/3/116 loses a step before it even hits the beach.

My planned US infantry attack on WN62N goes beautifully, even across the shingle. As a hero involved in the attack, Pinder can supply a required weapon (in this case, artillery – I guess he’s tucked a Howitzer into his pack), so the German unit loses its depth marker and is disrupted. It should be simple to eliminate on the next turn.

A similar push towards WN68 is underway in the west sector. A US ranger unit is trying to sneak up on WN73 in the far west, but it will take a few turns to climb the cliff and get close enough.

Turn 5 – 0715

There are no amphibious disasters this turn, but some units have entered the beach in such a way as to create concentrated hexes. More danger! The event card brings a hero (Bingham) to the 29th; I assign him to a heavy infantry unit closing on the disrupted WN68, but to offset the US gaining a hero, a depth marker is added back to WN62N! That puts my eastern plan back a turn.

Another infantry company takes a step loss in the east – WN62N might be disrupted, but WN62S can still hit one unit. In the west, a concentrated hex leads to a step loss and Bingham’s unit takes another, losing their heavy infantry advantage (they can now no longer attack from a non-adjacent hex).

My US tank barrage attempts fail, but WN62N loses its depth marker again under assault from Pinder and friends. I just hope it can stay that way!

The east sector at the end of Turn 5

The east sector at the end of Turn 5

The west sector at the end of Turn 5

The west sector at the end of Turn 5 – support is on its way in the form of General Cota and the 116 HQ

Turn 6 – 0730

Both artillery units landing this turn lose a step on the way in, taking their attack strength from 4 to 2. The infantry units landing in the west sector are unscathed, and the general and HQ arriving there will be enormously helpful in getting things done. Naturally, the event card puts a depth marker back underneath WN62N, so it’ll be another turn – again – before I can be rid of that German unit.

German fire this turn brings some unwelcome losses – a tank in the east sector and a heavy infantry company takes a hit and becomes normal, weakened infantry, as well as Pinder’s unit becoming the 1st Division’s second infantry loss (the unit survives with one step remaining, but that’s still a loss towards the maximum eight in the box). Artillery fire causes an infantry unit to lose a step before it even reaches the beach next turn. In the west, the 29th take their first infantry loss, plus two US units are disrupted and won’t be able to act this turn.

In anticipation of the rising tide, I move a full-strength tank up the beach in the east, while conducting another attack on WN62N. I strike somewhat lucky this time – the depth marker is revealed to be a “Tactical Reinforcement”, so it is removed and the German WN unit is defeated. The downside is that a reinforcement unit pops up in a nearby hex.

In the west, General Cota and the 116 HQ help push a whole bunch of units up the beach and away from the soon-to-be-encroaching sea. The free actions provided by these leader units are hugely helpful in moving units that would otherwise be stuck.

Starting to clear units out of the low tide area

Starting to clear units out of the low tide area

Turn 7 – 0745 (Mid Tide)

There are no problems with drift and the mid tide means units land further up the beach, but the mid tide also introduces a new snag when landing units – mines. The landing check card in the west sector indicates mine explosions, so one of the three ranger infantry units landing suffers a step loss because I haven’t been able to clear its mid tide entry hex in previous turns. This is a huge problem: rangers are useful units (they have their own free actions each turn) but they only have two steps to start with! The event card this turn adds a depth marker to WN62S (the other hex in the WN I’ve partially defeated). This feels horribly familiar.

German fire results in ten step losses across the whole map. I need to be more careful about where units are left at the end of turns! The 1st Division now has three lost units, while the 29th has two.

In the east, a US attack on WN65N spends my naval gunfire counter to help remove the depth marker and disrupt the German unit. Pinder creeps what’s left of his company up a slope to move around WN62S. A lot of tanks are left behind in the deepening water – they’ll be lost at the end of the turn.

The 29th Division in the west are still manoeuvring into position to mount several attacks. The terrain is tougher on this side of the map (lots of bluffs, walls and cliffs rather than slopes), but the presence of General Cota and 116 HQ means no units get left behind to drown.

Turn 8 – 0800

I’d set up the HQ unit due into the east sector so that it would glide straight into action in the middle of the combat. HQs aren’t affected by landing checks, but they are delayed by mines, so I’d stacked this HQ with a self-propelled artillery unit in order to have the artillery absorb any mine explosions and allow the HQ to ride in unscathed and on time.

This best-laid plan worked out OK – mines do now indeed go off in the east, and the SP artillery is the only unit eligible to take a hit (without delaying the HQ), so the HQ comes in fine. The only problem is that the landing checks caused the artillery to drift four boxes east and the HQ had to drift with it in order to avoid being the subject of a mine explosion! It’s now sitting out to the east of the proper action, so I’ll have to improvise a bit to make full use of it. A heavy infantry unit lands in the east unscathed, while in the west an AA unit is obliterated while landing and another SP artillery hits the beach fine.

The event card brings another hero to the 1st Division: Strojny. I place Strojny with the full-strength infantry company that’s been camped out safely to the far east of the map since the landings began. This will allow me to bring that company back into the fray without spending any of my precious actions.

German fire causes another infantry loss in each sector (four and three losses now for the 1st and 29th Divisions respectively), along with hammering of my tanks and artillery across the beaches.

I have an absolutely storming US action phase, defeating German units in WN65N and WN68N (thank you, Bingham with the 29th) and disrupting units in WN61 and WN72N. I’m halfway through the 16 turns of the First Waves scenario, and I need to start seriously thinking not just about the Widerstandsnests but also taking control of a draw area or two, as well as some reinforcement positions. I need lots of VPs to win the scenario!

The east sector at the halfway mark...

The east sector at the halfway mark…

...and the west

…and the west

Turn 9 – 0815

Hooray! I’ve got some artillery arriving on DUKWs! Oh, wait… no, they’re not coming. Three-quarters of them have been blasted out of the water. Eliminated before they even arrived. The fourth unit takes a step loss and crawls onto land. –sigh–

WN68S gets a depth marker from the event card this turn. Gah! That could have been an easy kill, but it’s going to be much more of a struggle now.

WN62S fights back and kills off Pinder (rather than losing his unit, I choose to lose the hero and leave his one-step unit “Inspired”, meaning they still get a free action, just without the hero benefits to attacks), as well as taking out the fifth unit in the 1st Division.

Pinder's unit is inspired by his death

Pinder’s unit is inspired by his death

A ranger unit in the west takes out the German unit in WN72N while another sneaks round the back of WN73, but most of this turn’s actions are manoeuvres and barrages, readying my units to take on the nests. Many of the barrages are unsuccessful, however, so I’ve put a lot of men in harm’s way. I could easily lose within a turn or two if the card draws don’t go my way.

Turn 10 – 0830

Two self-propelled AA batteries are delayed by three turns on the way to the beach, but General Wyman moves into position in the landing craft, ready to join the 1st Division next turn… if they survive. WN65S gains a depth marker from the event card, but I have a unit next to it ready to take it on… if it survives. I’m not feeling too hopeful.

Company M/3/16 becomes the sixth infantry unit lost in the 1st Division, pounded by WN61. A newly arrived (one-step!) anti-tank company is lost to brutish artillery fire, but it’s an otherwise relatively light German fire phase in the east. Two tanks are lost in the west sector, but their reduced-strength barrages and attacks weren’t enormously helpful anyway.

A ranger unit is lost in the west trying to infiltrate past WN73, but an attack on WN68S manages to disrupt the German unit there. Annoyingly, the attacking units were one weapon short of being able to take on the nest. I’ll need to shuffle some units around (wasting more time!) to get the required weapons into the right places.

This picture looks a lot like the last one, but notice the lack of a German unit in the WN position!

This picture looks a lot like the last one, but notice the lack of a German unit in the WN position!

WN62S falls to my attack – I’ve taken down my first two-hex WN position! E/2/16 performed admirably in memory of their fallen hero Pinder. The downside is that yet another tactical reinforcement has entered for the Germans nearby. Draw E-3 is looking very nasty for any US units trying to make their way along.

Anyway, I’ve got some attacks poised for next turn, so let’s keep moving…

Turn 11 – 0845

General Wyman lands uneventfully… but the event card this turn is pretty horrific: German Plunging Fire!

Turn 11 German Plunging Fire

German fire eliminates two units that 16 HQ had been working with, leaving the HQ all alone on the beach! Another infantry unit is lost in the east, but luckily it’s one that came over in a drift from the 29th, so the unit loss counts against their losses – it’s only the fourth over there, rather than the seventh it would have been for a 1st Division unit.

And then, of course, the next round of fire actually brings the seventh loss to the 1st Division. I can smell catastrophic loss looming, and I can smell it strongly. In the west, the 29th Division take their fifth and sixth infantry losses. It’s not looking good on either side of the Division-divide.

WN65S has its depth marker removed and is disrupted by a coordinated attack from a full-strength infantry (what a rarity!) and a heavy infantry a couple of hexes away (even rarer!). It should be an easy defeat next turn, as long as the depth marker doesn’t come back. I’ve got my weapons into position to attack WN68S next turn.

Turn 12 – 0900

I finally get my AA battery to the east beach – it’s been delayed again and again since Turn 3! The event card places three German reinforcements across the map; these events really get a lot nastier from Turn 11 onwards.

German fire in the east sector brings no hits, but artillery finishes off the C/1/16 infantry company. The Germans have no effect at all in the west – all this disruption and removal is starting to pay off!

At WN70, my attack is going swimmingly until the depth marker reveals a requirement for naval artillery! Only the event cards can help that attack now, either with a Naval Gunfire marker or a Hero. The attacking US units are disrupted too, which will take all of next turn to recover from.

WN65S falls easily to my attack, while WN68S has its depth marker removed and becomes disrupted.

Large chunks of the 1st Division are finally getting off the beach and pavilion hexes and onto the high ground. There are plenty of dangerous reinforcements around though, so they still need to watch out for German fire.

Turn 13 – 0915

As incredible luck would have it, the event card this turn gives me a Hero for the 29th Division – just where I need one to make up for the lack of naval artillery! Unfortunately, Thompson joins a unit disrupted during their attack last turn, so he won’t be able to fulfil his destiny this turn. Maybe he never will…

Of course, there’s never a free lunch in this game (or even a free Hero). WN68S gains a depth marker to make up for it.

Strojny’s unscathed unit takes a hit from German fire. A/1/16 narrowly escapes being the eighth and final casualty for the 1st Division – WN64 doesn’t fire because it doesn’t have the depth marker required by the fire card! The late Pinder’s unit finally succumbs to reinforcement fire in the bocage south of the beach. They did well, Pinder’s boys.

A ranger in the west takes out WN72S without trouble, while WN68S and WN66N are both disrupted and have their depth markers removed. There’s a nice little zone of safety in that area, with all nearby German units disrupted.

So disruption. Very safety. Much attack.

So disruption. Very safety. Much attack.

In the east, a US infantry company tries to take on a reinforcement hex – oh, how silly of me! These guys are usually much nastier than the Widerstandsnests, and this one requires flanking (US units attacking from hexes not adjacent to each other), so its effective strength of 6 (strength 3 in a bocage hex) versus my 6 leads to the German gaining depth and my infantry being disrupted. Gaaah.

On a hiding to nothing

On a hiding to nothing

Turn 14 – 0930

Both remaining self-propelled AA batteries get delayed beyond the end of the 16th turn, so they’re out for good. There are no more US units in the queue to land on Omaha beach, so the landing phase can be skipped for the rest of the game. I finally gain another naval gunfire marker, but I probably won’t get the chance to use it now. German fire has no major effects now, so it’s on to my US attacks.

WN73 is disrupted (the attacking ranger has no machine gun and there’s no way to get one into combat range now). The ranger units in the far west decide to cover as many draw and reinforcement hexes as they can to maximise VPs. WN70 and WN71 are both disrupted and lose their depth markers. WN66N and WN68S are defeated. These nests really are dropping like flies now… but is it fast enough?

Turn 15 – 0945

The 1st Division gains a new Hero, Spalding, while WN66S gains depth. G/2/16 company takes its first step loss from a reinforcement position – things are getting really dangerous, and some units are going to have to fall back away from German positions.

Strojny and his unit disrupt WN60 in the east, while WN70 and WN71 are defeated in the west.

Turn 16 – 1000 (High Tide)

The 29th Division takes its seventh infantry loss, but it’s not enough to kill me – I’ve made it to the final turn for the first time ever!

WN66S is disrupted and loses its depth marker, but that means WN66 remains untaken as a whole – it counts for no VPs unless I have both hexes of the nest.

Victory?

So I made it. But that doesn’t mean I win. It’s all about control of WN positions, and those positions have to be outside the field of fire of enemy units. It’s time to add up the VPs…

Omaha beach at 1000 hours

Omaha beach at 1000 hours

1 VP for each WN position I control (2 VPs for two-hex WN positions, but 0 VPs if one of the two hexes uncontrolled):

WN72 = 2
WN71 = 1
WN70 = 1
(WN62/WN68 = 0 because of enemy fields of fire)
WN65 = 2

So that’s 6 VPs from WNs captured.

1 VP for each German reinforcement position I control = another 5 VPs, giving 11 so far.

5 VPs for each draw I control: the tiny Draw D-1 is the only draw I control, so that’s another 5 for a total score of 16.

What’s the victory condition? 19 points. I lose by three points! Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Where did I go wrong?

Thoughts

I do love this game, but it’s an absolute brute. I need to try holding back my infantry units in the first few turns, seeing if I can wait until WN positions are disrupted by tank barrage before pushing infantry onto the beach. The trouble is, infantry arrives thick and fast during the early turns, so it can quickly lead to overstacking and concentrated-fire hexes. Still, if I can keep more infantry safe in the early game, I can (a) manage some easier take-downs of German positions and (b) feel safer taking on tougher reinforcement positions that project fields of fire onto my valuable VP hexes.

Still, that’s all for next time. And there will definitely be a next time.

A change of pace for my next few solo games though – I’ll be digging out Agricola to see how far I can get in a solo series.

This game was played and written up between 29 December 2013 and 4 January 2014. I’m working very slowly at the moment!

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