Wargame Rules for D-Day
Wargaming D-Day, 77 Years Later
Whether you know about D-Day from the movies, such as Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, or Band of Brothers, or whether you know about it from video games, such as Medal of Honor, Battlefield, World of Tanks, or dozens more, the fact is that D-Day (or, Operation Overlord as it is more correctly called) is one of those battles that is seared into the collective consciousness of Americans, British, Canadians, and French alike.
It was the largest combined forces attack in the history of the world, with more troops, more boats, and more planes than had ever been amassed in one place for one cause--and that cause was to break through the Atlantic Wall, a mass of defenses that was being overseen by General Rommel himself. The Germans knew that invasion would come eventually, and they debated strongly where it would come and how it would play out. There were arguments about weather, about troop placement, about Panzer reserves, and about fuel. Perhaps the biggest argument was about the location of the landing: Would it be, as the Germans suspected, at the Pas De Calais? Or would it be somewhere else? (Spoiler warning: it was in Normandy.)
There have been many, many wargames dedicated to replaying the events of D-Day. Some are small scale, focusing on a single beach, with 28mm soldiers struggling to get out of the killing zone and behind the German defenses.
This is illustrated beautifully in this magnificent D-Day terrain board built by Mel Bose and featured in his book, Terrain Essentials. (Read the full review here.)
This is certainly one of the most enticing places for such a wargame to take place, but it's also one of the most problematic. If you don't have the gorgeous terrain pieces built by masters, as well as having hundreds of troops to devote to the project, it's hard to encapsulate an entire D-Day battle into a single tabletop action--at least at 28mm scale.
Bolt Action, by Warlord Games, does offer a solution to this problem, but it will set you back a pretty penny. This set seems to have everything that you'd need to play a D-Day assault on the beach, including landing craft, German bunkers, ruined buildings, tank traps, artillery, and more. (All for the low price of $480 USD.) The big problem with this set is a problem that plagues all 28mm D-Day games: there's just not enough troops. For $480 you'd think that you'd get enough soliders to fight the battle, but you only get 29 infantry and 23 crew. You're going to need to supplement that battle with a lot more.
Bolt Action does offer a different D-Day set, their Band of Brothers starter box, but as anyone who knows the show (or book) Band of Brothers, you know that you're not assaulting the beach--you're dropping from parachutes. So it contains a good force of airborne, a good force of Germans, a few vehicles, a bombed-out house, and all of the rules to get stuck in for your very first attempt at Bolt Action.
But even then, it's a Starter Box, not a battle box, and as such it is on a very small scale, just giving you a taste.
But, if we turn to a different system, and a different scale, there are more options:
Flames of War: Hit the Beach is a D-Day game, but despite the name it isn't really about hitting the beach. The main forces are a large number of tanks (9 Shermans against three Panzer IVs). The Allies also have paratroopers on their side (so this battle is probably a day or two after the initial beach landings, when the airborne had linked up with the incoming Allied troops from the beaches.) And the main targets to take out are V2 Rocket launchers.
Flames of War is a 15mm wargame, so it would be more easily suited to having large numbers of troops on a beach, so it's kind of disappointing that this is the route the decided to take with their D-Day game. (That said, what Flames of War is known for are the great tank models, and while they do have infantry, it's primarily a tanker's game.)
So what other options are there for recreating D-Day as a wargame? Well, one of my favorite historical wargaming channels, Little Wars TV, took on a massive table that is not just one beach, but all the beaches, and using 6mm scale miniatures.
For people who grew up using rules that are tied to miniatures (made by the same manufacturer, such as Warhammer, Bolt Action, Flames of War, or a dozen others) it may seem odd to see how historical wargaming fits their miniatures to match their rules, and in this game they are playing the "Rommel" rules by Sam Mustafa.
The battle report takes place in two parts and is really worth a watch, so pop on over to Little Wars TV to get a feeling for how their massive game turned out--and if it was different from the historical outcome.
Of course not all of D-Day took place on the beaches, as we already mentioned with the Flames of War set. The store Wargames Tournaments makes a gorgeous laser cut Pegasus Bridge. That bridge crossed the Orne River and was considered to be of extreme importance to the taking of Caen by the troops coming ashore, so British Airborne, landing in gliders, took the bridge and secured it.
There's a great battle report on the website dhcwargamesblog which shows the bridge painted up fully and looking great on a custom board.
There are many other D-Day wargames available, especially in board games. Some of the biggest titles are D-Day Omaha Beach, which won a lot of awards when it came out in 2009, and is highly ranked on BoardGame Geek (8.3) but which has an average playing time of 480 minutes, which might turn off a few players.
Axis and Allies even made a D-Day variant which has its pros and cons, but has a lower score of 6.3.
Do you have any D-Day wargames that you especially like? Leave them in the comments below!