Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Breakin' Out, Normandy Style

One of the "downsides" to retiring early is that you don't have anyone to game with most days. At least, most people wouldn't, but I'm lucky enough to have a couple of good friends that I've tended to game with on a weekly or bi-weekly basis during the day for the last couple of months. Unfortunately, one had his work schedule change for March and the other one has his own business, and you know how that goes.

So it was with great joy that I learned that my good friend Mike was willing to actually take vacation days from work to play a wargame with me. Wow. As such, I let him pick the game and he chose the AH classic Breakout: Normandy. This title was the last AH game published using the "impulse" movement system, whereby you pick an area and then do things in that area, then your opponent does the same. As the fourth in the series (which includes Storm Over Arnhem, Thunder Over Cassino, and Turning Point: Stalingrad), it was perhaps the most refined of the series, and certainly has the reputation of being the best game. There have been other games published using the same basic system, including Royal Tank Corps and Monty's Gamble, but BK:N still is my favorite if I can find six hours or so to play.

Funny story: A few years ago, Mike expressed interest in playing this game at Sunriver, and we pulled it out in the evening. After I explained the basic rules to him (and this is a game where you really need to stick to the absolute basics at first), we started playing, but it was evident that Mike wasn't really all that into it. He said that he was tired of the complexity and fiddliness of wargames and ready to just play Euros for a while. Strangely, he's swung all the way back to wanting to play more wargames, which I welcome. Me, I'm finding myself enjoying the Euros for the company, the wargames for the game as I get older, although the company is always the most important thing.

Our game, which went pretty much the whole 7 turns (it was all over but the shouting after a few impulses into the 7th day) lasted around six and a half hours, which wasn't surprising as I needed to look up a *lot* of rules, mostly of a fiddly nature. The supply rules are very confusing, using the word "supply" to refer to where you can put a supply depot (at the end of a supply line connecting to a supply source), but not discussing whether you can "supply" a unit across an unbridged flooded border. Typical AH terminology used in multiple contexts without clarity, perhaps the biggest bugaboo of the hobby. Even the errata didn't address the problem, we assumed that since such a unit was isolated that it could also not draw supply from an adjacent depot. That was about 15 minutes.

Mike has documented the game rather thoroughly, very generous for a man who was really only able to grab two of the ten VP he needed to win. While his Brits made a nice show on their western beaches, Gold never got off the ground and the US landings were a disaster, with the fortifications still intact into the third day. Mike spent a lot of time on Utah, which gave him a lot of control, but that's also where the bulk of my units are and where he gets relatively little supply. As such, Omaha didn't get cleared until turn five, and the Brits never exploited the gift of Bretteville, the most critical space for that part of the map for the Allies. Had he spent as much time and effort on that part of the map rather than Utah, he'd have broken through for sure. What certainly killed him was that we were almost always ending the day fairly early, with only five or six impulses played each day (including his air strikes, which don't advance the impulse marker). We'd start around the 1 mark, then end on the 5. Except for day six, which went all the way to seven or eight, every day was like this. It is admittedly difficult to win this way, but I still say that had Mike put his efforts into Bretteville, the game would have been his.

Regardless, I think it was an excellent learning game for Mike, and an excellent refresher for me. I expect we'll do this every couple of months or so, which is nice for us seniors...

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