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Subject: Tell me about Omaha Beachhead rss

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alex w
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In 1987, Victory Games released Omaha Beachhead. I was still at college but managed to acquire a copy from the meager lunch money I’ve got.

During those days, AH and VG were the companies to look out for, if you want to play a challenging wargame. They are the best companies that produced games like Russian Campaign, Squad Leader and Vietnam, all of which I enjoyed through the years. With homework and examinations, I was not able to play every game that I own, so selectively, as encouraged by the masses, Squad Leader took most of my time away.

After more than 20 years it’s about time to bring this Hex and Counter game to light.

A. The Components

The map

It’s a Standard Paper Map similar to those produced by VG on all their games. From the beaches of Omaha on the North edge to St Lo at the South. The East - West areas spans from Isigny to Caumont. If you just have a cursory look, the map is really ‘Butt Ugly’, as already commented by gamers. But if you take some time to admire the Highway (Road) Network and the appreciation of differing land levels, you might just feel that this map is actually a work of art. Every Highway line leads to a certain village or some high ground. Thus from this perspective, you noticed how the Allied Attacks are channeled through the valley and hill locks that eventually brings them to face the various German strongpoints. Similarly for the Germans, each Strongpoint and defensive line must be tailored to maximally punish the Allies. This is one game that trading space for time is NOT possible, BUT YET ironically, Possible if you (The German Player) would want to count hexes, to make sure your combat units do not get hit with an ‘Intensive Attack.’

On the map are various Lines indicating Divisional Boundaries, Victory Point Areas and German Reinforcement Entry and Naval Fire Limits.

Thus one can see, under the printing technology of the 80s, that this map is both beautiful and functional.

The Counters

With 288 counters at which only about 150 counters are actually combat units..., there isn’t much counters that occupies the map at any one time. Nevertheless, the US player will have more and more units on the map coming in from the beaches. Congestion along the Highways are a common sight. For the German player, conserving units on the board and forming a defensive line will be a very exciting Challenge indeed. In that sense, the gaming and strategy experience of this game is truly maximized.

Differing from most wargames, the counters do not display the standard combat values. Instead, Most Combat units have a Combat Value : Anti Tank Value : Movement Point value arrangements. The numbers are the same on both sides of the unit, but the back indicates that the unit is fatigue (have been committed to do something, etc..)

There are counters that are deemed as Assets that are assigned to Combat units. These Assets have an Armor Value and Anti Tank Value instead. These units act very much like ‘Weapons’ attached to a Character in a fantasy dungeon crawl game, or like an enchantment card on a Magic (the Gathering) creature card.

The Player Aid Charts

Each player has his own Player aid card. The Standard CRTs (Combat, Barrage and NEST combat charts) are present on both cards but the operations aspect on the card differs as different sides have different actions that they can take. These chart do not include the commonly used Terrain effect chart as there are simply no space for it. Furthermore, most hexes cost 1 movement point to enter with some specific additions on top of this base cost...., that becomes second nature as the game progresses or with repeated plays, thus seriously, I personally do not feel the need for a Terrain Effect Chart.

The Summary Track Display Card

Amazingly, the Terrain Effect Chart appears on the Track Display Card, along with reinforcement schedule for both sides, Victory point chart as well as the MOST important track, the Operations Point Track. This Display is very functional, but I must say, it took awhile to get use to it. (Like what those small numbers meant on the Turn Record Track.)

One Track that I felt was helpful but not necessary to have is the Modifier Calculation Track... I tend to use my fingers.

The Rules

Yes..... the scourge of the whole game.

I felt that the rules were VERY Clearly written. Since it was laid down quite logically, according to the sequence of play. I felt that the Operations Rules (Being Large and All Important) causes the rule book ‘programmed’ instruction to fail. By the time you read and digested the bulk of the Operations Rules, you are lost again from the actual sequence of play.

The Special rules near the end of the rule book was actually very informative, but felt ironic as these rules talk about special cases on TURNs 1 and 2 (which is at the beginning of the game.) Flipping to the back to get some play up front might cause frustration to some gamers.

There were no excessive rules explanations thus the rule book was written in a ‘Very Tight’ sense. Full of necessary instructions and in POINT-FORMAT, that leaves nothing unanswered.

HOWEVER, with actually so much rules in POINT-FORMAT... It may be a daunting task for a single read to absorb all the rules in proper. (reminds me of my school days)

Nevertheless, with the first few turns under the belt, the game actually flows very well and quickly. Constant referring to the rule book becomes unnecessary as you would have noticed everything needed to play are on the Player Aid Charts and Display Track.

ONCE you have overcome these 14 pages of rules (first 2 pages are not important), you are ready for a fantastic gaming experience. (Took me 3 reads and a few notes taken with 1 solo play before I got it...no shame in that...)

Summary of Play

(1) First Wave (Turn 1 only of course)
This is where the initial Landings will take place. Battle with beach defense NESTs to get ashore. Rangers make their appearances too.

(2) US Support Phase
Dice are rolled to see how much Air Strikes and Naval Fire Support the US player gets this turn. Each of these support points act very much as a barrage attack to soften up the defenses before the Infantry men goes in.

(3) Initiative Phase
A die is rolled. Evens the US player goes first on the following Operations Phase. Odds the German player goes first.

(4) Operations Phase (The heart of the game)
a. A die is rolled, this is the number of Operation Points the player can use at the moment before play passes to the opponent.

b. From these Operations Point, each unit will expand them (usually 1 base point) to start some form of actions. For Example, an Infantry unit is given 3 ACTION POINTS per Operation Point spent. The player uses these action points to conduct movements, attacks and/or other administrative actions (like Entrenching)

c. These actions could be in combination, such as taking a tactical move followed by a Deliberate attack.

d. Thus in a sense, Operations Phase is actually a combination of movement phase + attack phase + Administrative actions ALL in one. But has given you the flexibility of doing any of these actions in any way that suit your strategy best.

e. Once all the ACTION points are expanded for that unit, it is deemed fatigue and you can begin spending another OPERATION point for another unit. (Or same unit but there are heavy penalties.)

f. Once you have expanded all your Operations Point (There are deficit spending options!), your opponent gets to have a go.

g. This alternate between both players till both Players passes or a certain condition happens. (Like someone rolling a ZERO.)

(5) German Reinforcement Phase
The German player Rolls a die and consults a chart on how many spaces his marker moves along a line of reinforcement. Where the marker ends, EVERY unit on that space or behind it, enters play as reinforcements. Thus not every game is the same where the German player knows when each reinforcement comes to assist. This makes the game VERY tense.

(6) US reinforcement Phase
They enter on a pre-determined turn. And they start on turn 1. Once they enter play, they have a free move. (Similarly for the German Reinforcements)

(7) Replacement Phase
Any unit that is Damaged will be ‘repaired’, provided they are in LOS and are not Fatigue. Which means, don’t commit these units for 1 turn and they will be reinforced.

(8) Fatigue Recovery Phase
Units that were activated, committed in combat, etc... recovers if they are in LOS. Back to the mobile side.

(9) US Control Phase
There are 17 victory point hexes on the map PLUS 3 areas in which Victory points could be collected due to deep penetration into enemy territory.

(10) Victory Point Adjustment Phase
Naturally, all the Victory points are cumulative from turn to turn.. As long as the US player holds them, he will continue to score. German wins by denying US victory conditions.


B. The GamePlay as I see it

This system feels very different from the usual wargame that even veterans would play. We have experiences in playing wargames using ‘Odds’ system (more games than I can remember), Combat Differentials (like Russian Front), or with Amassing Firepower (like in Squad Leader).

But I have never played such a wargame before where :

(1) Artillery firepower is both powerful and useless. (To bombard an enemy unit and soften him up before the actual attack seem like a feasible strategy, but any lack of Operations to do both these actions would render Demoralization and Disorganization caused by these bombardment to be useless. Thus in a sense, the proper use of Operations Points is paramount to success...but Operations Points are not something we can control... which makes each Operation Phase very stressful to plan the proper attack or defense.)

(2) Movement and positioning of units are as important as getting units to the front for the attacks. (The position of supporting Regimental units and any Artillery units are necessary to boost up the modifiers. The CRT is quite painful for both sides but I felt it punishes the uncoordinated attacker more than the defenders.)

(3) Only 1 main Attacking unit. (So do I husband all my Assets onto that 1 unit? What happens if my unit is destroyed, all my attached Assets would be destroyed too! This is one question that have different schools of thoughts. Though possible to have multiple Assets on a German unit to booster its defenses, but 1 strongpoint weakens the others in the line...so the question remains unanswered, at least for me.)

(4) Germans are NOT as interesting to play??? Where do you get that idea? If that is true, that means the German player is not doing his Job!!! I agree that the pressure lies greatly on the US player and it’s the US player that is setting the momentum of the battle. With the unknown arrival times of German Reinforcements and the faltering defense line, The German player is anything but boring. I can’t count how many times, I eagerly clenched my teeth when the US player rolls the Initiative and Operations Die. Anything less than 5 is a reasonable relieve, and any US Operations die roll of 3 or less is a Victorious Scream for the Germans!

(5) Losing a battle do not require a unit to retreat, they either stay or gets eliminated. Each battle is usually a unit-to-unit conflict. If the attacker loses, everyone stays. If the attacker wins and eliminates the defender, he advances 1 hex. If the defender loses or wins but is still alive, he does not retreat. THIS feeling gives both a strange (a) ‘Why don’t I retreat....’ Issue, as well as, (b) ‘Watching the game in a bigger perspective feeling....Commanders did not issue retreat orders, so they stayed and fight it out.....’ Issue. Some gamers feel that this ‘rule’ is utterly wrong.......in game terms, but if you take a look at the time frame (1 turn is 1 day) as well as the size of such battles (1 Battalion front), than it all looks reasonable.


C. So how do I like this game?

Seriously, I feel that there are lots of other wargames out there that plays superior to Omaha Beachhead. The system and the whole feel of the game is weird and is difficult to get into. However, from the looks of each turn (on the map) it does give the feeling of Omaha units moving inland facing various strongpoints along the way.

The need to have a Divisional Front and supporting units make this game feel tactically-cum-operationally right. From mid of the game onwards, one can see the various divisional frontlines forming, which is both very good in game terms (no rogue units running around, eg, 1st Div units on the 29th Frontlines.) and satisfying in visual appeal.

The thread of the FJ units counter attacking over extended US units do give a fantastic excitement and tension each turn. The game eludes a great sense of Kampgruppe units forming for a certain assaullt operation and than redeploying for an extended defense later. No other NORMANDY wargame comes close to proving that feel. (Either they are too large, eg, in Regimental size, or too small and fiddly to give that sense of kampgruppe formation.)

Omaha Beachhead is a game you hate on the very first play and later grows on you to become an exciting game that is second to none. The first game took more than 4 hours to play (short game) as it was more of a trial. The others took us approximately the same time to complete for a full 10 turn game. All of which ended with a US victory, but we do note that the German play was more taxing. Thus from the current feel, it may seem that the US player has a better 60% chance of winning the game. Is this historical? Or does it put off other German players? That’s up to you to experience it.

Take the time, Take the effort and Take the Germans, if you want to experience an (OLD) wargame that is both excellently designed and beautifully executed. If you can learn ASL, there is no reason that this game will stop you.
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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Very nice review! it's refreshing to look at the older war games from today's perspectives and draw comparisons to the mordern experiences. i quite like your saying make
Quote:
this game feel tactically-cum-operationally right.
which I found in a number of VG games. One example is Hell's Highway. Keep these VG games reviews moving, ok?
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alex w
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Hi Lawrence,

With any luck, perhaps we can meet for a game or two when i drop by to HK.

I like Hell's Highway too, but find few takers willing to sit with me on that.
 
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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Hi Alex,

Sure enough. However, I am not a good rules memorizer.....do tell me in advance with enough time.

Lawrence
 
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Duncan Idaho
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Top notch review. I'm a big fan of France 1944, another game that people really didn't like much, with a unique game system.

I came across this browsing ebay. You've made me want to play it.

Is it suitable for solitaire?
 
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alex w
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To a certain extend, you can play this alone. But the idea of when to spring a trap on over extended Allied units will be a spoiler.....

But yes, it's still ok, solitaire wise.
 
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Eric Teoro
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Hasimir_Fenring wrote:
Top notch review. I'm a big fan of France 1944, another game that people really didn't like much, with a unique game system.

I came across this browsing ebay. You've made me want to play it.

Is it suitable for solitaire?


On the Pay It Forward chain, a member just gave me both of these games. I am unfamiliar with both, but they I am intrigued by both.
 
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