Critical Hit (2017)
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Historical map composed of 6 glossy 12" x 18" unmounted (light cardstock/heavy paper) map panels; 7 scenarios, 4 pages rules, 2 x 1/2" countersheets with 560 counters and 2 5/8" half-countersheets with 176 die-cut counters (736 counters total).
Port-en-Bessin is a coastal village in Normandy that was the objective of a British commando unit, No. 47 (Royal Marine) Commando of the Fourth Special Service Brigade during the Normandy invasion. Situated between Omaha, the easternmost American landing beach, and Gold Beach, the westernmost British landing beach, the fortified village was a key location. After landing on June 6, 47 Commando attacked, secured, and held Port-en-Bessin on June 7-8. This battle is the subject of the 2017 Critical Hit historical module of the same name. It can be considered part of Critical Hit’s broader effort to depict all of D-Day at the ASL level, though this module does not link (physically or via rules) to any of the other CH Normandy modules, being too geographically separated.
The core of Port-en-Bessin (hereinafter PeB) is its historical map; here Critical Hit provides a fairly large one that, as has become standard for Critical Hit, consists of multiple 12″ x 18″ glossy heavy paper/light cardstock map panels that must be assembled (and tacked down or put under plexi-glass) in order to play. The map panels provide bright colors but also, because of their glossy nature, some degree of glare. The map depicts the village of Port-en-Bessin, the nearby beaches, local fortified areas, and a degree of hinterland.
In general, the map artwork (credited to Ray Tapio and “El Soldato”) is crisp and clear, with a couple of significant exceptions. First, wood and especially stone buildings tend to blend into the dark green hues of certain elevation levels. Second, building depictions themselves are not up to the same quality of artwork that the rest of the map is; they seem cruder and some of the buildings are oddly extremely tiny, encompassing hardly more than the center white dots themselves. The poor building renditions mar what is otherwise a fairly attractive map.
It should be noted that the PeB map has one other issue: small hexes. The size of the hexes on the PeB map is slightly smaller than that of official ASL geoboards and considerably smaller than hexes in modules such as Red Factories.
PeB comes with 2 full sheets of 1/2″ counters and 2 half-sheets of 5/8″ counters. Most of the counters are not specific to or required for this module. One full countersheet is a generic sheet of German SMC, MMC, and SW; the other is a similar British sheet. The two half-sheets of 5/8″ counters are sheets specific to PeB. They provide some new fortifications types (Tobruks, Weapons Pits, Blockhouses, etc.), a couple of dug-in AFVs (including a dug in FT-17), and a couple of Flak Barges, which were barges jammed to the gills with a variety of AA guns. They look very scary. There are also a variety of German guns and AFVs, some of them repurposed French items, various bicycles, and a few British Carriers and 76mm MTRs.
PeB only has 4 pages of rules, almost all of which detail map terrain or fortification counters. Some of the rules, such as the beach-related rules, are not very relevant, except for DYO purposes, as no amphibious landings are portrayed here. Others, like the fortifications rules, are more likely to come into play. Most of these should be familiar to anybody who has played any of Critical Hit’s other D-Day related modules, on which these are based. There are also “light rules” for Slopes (of which there are a fair number) for people who do not own other historical modules providing full Slope rules. Some players would probably prefer using these simpler rules for Slopes even if they did have modules with full Slope rules. Overall the amount of rules that need to be absorbed is not too bad.
Seven scenarios are provided in PeB (it should be noted that no playtesters appear in the credits, which is usually a bad sign). Some of the scenarios are extremely small. PEB1 (Along the Way), for example, uses a tiny sliver of map area and features 4 British squads and 3 crews (along with 5 leaders and a hero) attacking a German position held by 3 squads and 2 crews. PEB2 (Confused Street Fight) is a bit larger. In this scenario, 8 British squads and 6 crews (along with an amazing 7 leaders and a hero) take on 9 German squads and 3 crews. Both sides have a ridiculously high number of support weapons (16 British and 12 German). PEB3 (Clear Them Out: WN57), which depicts a British attack on a German “Widerstandnest” (“Resistance Nest”), has 7 British squads and 4 crews (along with 4 leaders and a hero, as well as 12 SW) and 5.5 German squads and 5 German crews (plus 3 leaders and 5 SW, as well as 3 Guns and various big and nasty fortifications).
A more substantial scenario, and one that uses a larger map area, too, is PEB4 (B Troop Arrives). This scenario features yet another British attack; here the British have 7 squads and 4 crews (along with 4 leaders and hero, plus 15 SW). They also get 8 carriers, including 4 carriers with MTRs. The defending Germans have 9.5 squads, 8 crews, 5 leaders, 8 SW, a buttoned-up FT-17, 6 guns, a sort of stationary double-MG thingie, and some big fortifications. The British must “neutralize” 4 Guns to win.
Two scenarios use the whole map area and are significantly larger than any of the others. One of these is PEB6 (DSO Riposte), which features another British attack (actually, all scenarios in this module feature British attacks). The British have 24 6-4-8 squads, 6 crews, 8 leaders, that same damn hero, 18 SW, a module of OBA, and 8 carriers left over from PEB4. The defending Germans get 40.5 squads (!), 9 leaders, 16 SW, 2 Flak barges, 6 guns, and various fortifications. The British must eliminate a Flak barge and control at least 7 multi-hex buildings without exceeding a casualty cap.
PeB has no campaign game; Critical Hit has largely abandoned them because of the playtesting and development required. In lieu of a campaign game, the module does supply a “monster” scenario that is more or less supposed to represent the entire battle. This 47.5 turn scenario uses the whole map area and a whole lot of units for both sides in a complicated set-up. It’s not clear that any of the scenarios were playtested, but this one almost certainly wasn’t; however, with scenarios like these one plays as much for the experience of playing a monster scenario as for any other reason.
This product is typical of CH products of the era. It may have some appeal for fans of special operations, or Normandy fanatics, but it’s nothing special.