Critical Hit (2017)
Country of Origin:
Historical map composed of 12 glossy 12" x 18" unmounted (light cardstock/heavy paper) map panels; 9 sheets of die-cut counters, including 6 sheets of 1/2" counters (1,680 total) and 3 sheets of 5/8" counters (528 total), for a grand total of 2,208 counters; 10 pages rules, 15 scenarios, 2 landing craft play aids.
Sword Beach is a monster-sized historical module from Critical Hit depicting one of the British landing beaches at Normandy. It is part of Critical Hit’s ambitious effort to present the entire D-Day landings, from major beachheads to subsidiary or related Normandy actions such as the commando attack on Port-en-Bessin at the ASL scale (the whole series can be found here).
It should be noted that Critical Hit says that ownership of Gold Beach is required to play Sword Beach. That’s a significant prerequisite. Unfortunately, it does not specify what components are actually required.
The heart of Sword Beach is its massive historical map–which must be laboriously assembled from the 12 overlapping 12″ x 18″ glossy unmounted map panels that together make up the map. It’s certainly a chore with that many map panels. The glossy paper makes the maps appear bright and crisp but can add unwanted glare depending on the angle of lighting in the room. The map artwork, depicting the invasion beaches, German fortified positions, Normandy hamlets behind the beaches, and a bit of hinterland, is generally good, though not phenomenal.One of the map panel contains a useful key to some of the unique fortifications that appear in different places on the map.
Critical Hit has provided identifying labels to the map panels to make them easier to assemble. The hexes on the Sword Beach map are slightly larger than standard ASL geoboard hexes, though smaller than the hexes used in some historical modules. They ought to be okay as long as the stacking doesn’t get too intense. Villages and a few other features are named, but more names would have provided more color and made for a more interesting map.
Needless to say, it takes a lot of room to hold the assembled map.
Sword Beach also comes with a veritable armada of counters (more than 2,200), but the counters are quite disappointing, largely because the British and German counters do not come in standard British and German colors but rather in weird alternative colors. The Germans appear in a shade of gray that Critical Hit dubs “feldgrau” (though it is not actually feldgrau and resembles the color of Finnish counters more than anything else). Even worse are the British, who come in what Critical Hit calls “Khaki,” but which is not Khaki at all. The color looks more like a mustard or olive green–which makes the British actually seem rather like Americans. Luckily, perhaps, players can use their own official British counters in lieu of most (though not all) of the counters here. The counters could also do with some stronger die-cutting.
Critical Hit does not number the countersheets, but here are their contents:
- A sheet of 1/2″ counters, mostly British SW, but also including some half-squads, crews, leaders and heroes, shore fire control parties, and “Bangalore heroes. Also 60 amphibious-related markers.
- A sheet of 1/2″ counters, all British in their mustard/olive glory, featuring 6-4-8 and 4-5-8 squads and half-squads.
- Ditto, except 4-5-7, 4-4-7, 4-5-8, 6-4-8, and 4-3-6 squads and half-squads, plus some crews.
- A sheet of 1/2″ German and British concealment counters, plus a few crews (both nationalities), and German heroes and SW and BU vehicle turrets.
- A sheet of 1/2″ British counters: SW, mostly, but also half-squads, leaders, heroes and crews.
- A sheet of 1/2″ German counters, including various squads and half-squads, leaders, and SW.
- A sheet of 5/8″ German and British counters, featuring tons of British landing vehicles and tons of German nasty fortifications (Armored Domes, Weapons Pits, Tobruks, Blockhouses, and more.
- A sheet of 5/8″ German counters featuring German nasty fortifications, plus various guns.
- A sheet of 5/8″ German and British concealment markers, plus some German vehicles and a few odds and ends.
Sword Beach is governed by 10 pages of rules, though several pages are actually historical background, charts, or diagrams. The rules basically govern terrain types and fortifications, including some fortifications printed on-map and others provided through counters. Other rules govern new types of demolition charges, as well as a “Bangalore hero” to help set them off. Some of the fortifications are moderately complicated but they are not too bad.
The module comes with 14 scenarios, most of which use only some map areas. They are reasonably equally divided between large, medium and smaller actions. Three of the scenarios are Seaborne Assaults. Five use OBA, but none of these scenarios use Night rules or Air Support. Most of the scenarios depict either aspects of the landing, or British attempts to take various locations or strongpoints. The British are on the attack in every scenario except Sword8 (Teach them War), which is an all-armor scenario that ostensibly depicts part of the counterattack of the 21st Panzer Division later in the day.
In addition to the 14 scenarios mentioned above, there is a 15th scenario that Critical Hit describes as a “Bonus Campaign Game,” but which is not actually a campaign game but simply a monster scenario. This 24-turn scenario depicts the entire Sword Beach landing–or rather, the beginning of the landing. It uses the entire large map area. To win, the British must obtain at least 300 VP, which are accrued through clearing beach obstacles and other obstacles between the ocean and the hinterland, as well as exiting tanks off the south edge of the map. Surviving German units and Guns are deducted from this total. Obviously, this scenario, too is a Seaborne Assault, and a large and complicated one at that.
Any Critical Hit product of this era may suffer from problems in development and balance, and it is not clear to what degree the scenarios here may have been playtested (no playtesters are specifically listed). However, it is possible that D-Day aficionados might wish to acquire this monster product regardless, taking their chances.
Update: Sometime in 2018-2019, Critical Hit released (separately) a “Monster Map Set” for Sword Beach. This product simply expanded the size of the hexes on the map, using more 12″ x 18″ map panels to display the map area. The original Sword Beach maps take up a very large playing area; few players would likely have the space for these steroid-enhanced maps.