A Five for Fighting Series Pocket Battle Games

Hopefully you took advantage of ATO's 75th Anniversary of D-Day commemoration and get all five of their latest Pocket Battle game set? I sure did and here's my take...

here are the beaches of Operation Neptune (aka D-Day)

A few weeks ago, all the free world (except Google) celebrated the 75th anniversary of one of the most spectacular, largest, and important invasions in all of history, "Operation Overlord", the return of the European allies along with the Americans to the European continent 6th June 1944.  Notice, I didn't include the Soviet Union as they were on the other side of Germany and to be honest, doing just fine right where they were.

In honor of this, Against the Odds magazine released a new pocket battle game set (series) of where Operation Overlord began with the 5 beach landings code-named "Operation Neptune" (commonly known as D-Day) - Utah (#21), Omaha (#22), Gold (#23), Juno (#24), and Sword (#25).  This series is design by one of the most prolific game designers I have ever known, Paul Rohrbaugh. 

Title:  Five For Fighting Series Games and Campaign Rules to link all 5 together.

all five of the 5 for Fighting Pocket Battle Games
Note: a tiny mistake was made on the above graphic.  Can you tell me what it is? 

Price:  the Five for Fighting PBGs will start being offered individually as freebie choices starting on 5/1 from ATO. Good news as they are excellent.

 Not available anymore. :(  If they become available, I will let you know.  A special is being run for the month of June, whereby if one buys anything from ATO, they will receive for free this 5 set Pocket Battles in addition to a free Pocket Battle Game. If a person buys at least $75 then linking rules for all five games and die cut counters will also be sent. You have only 9 more days to take advantage of this. After June 30th, I am not sure how these pocket battle games will be distributed, as I have not received any information. For now, this is the only way to get all 5 plus the counters and Campaign rules.  You can click on the game map above to go to ATO Magazine's page on this.

Designer:  Paul Rohrbaugh
Graphics Designer:  Mark Mahaffey
Developer:  Against The Odds (ATO) magazine
Publisher:   LPS, Inc
Published Date:   June 2019

Subject:   D-Day beach landings

Scale:  The game, time scale and unit size is not given. However, after asking the designer, I received the following: "The game's scale for a hex is a little less than a half mile across. Units are regiments/brigades (infantry) or battalions/KG/BG (armor and paratrooper). The games represent the first day, so a turn is about 2 hours of time".

Abbreviations used:  AF = Attack Factor, DF = Defense Factor,  MP = Movement Points, CD = Card Draw, ACT=Activations.

Map Area:   Each pocket game covers one of the five beaches from Utah to Sword. Utah and Omaha are separate while Gold, Juno, and Sword can be combined. Please see the campaign linking rules for more information.

Components and Physical Quality:   Each Pocket Battle game is 4"x 6" on very nice, coated cardboard, printed nicely on the front and back. Counters will need to be cut out unless one gets the die cut counters (hint- do it).

Player added Components:  Players will need for each game, 2D6 and a deck of cards. For the Campaign, only 1D6 and 1 deck of cards is used, not 5 decks. To be honest, I have not found where any dice is used in the separate beach landing pocket games, as movement and combat  is resolved by a card draw. I do know 1D6 is used as  the game turn indicator.  However, in the Campaign linked rules, a 1D6 is used in several places for random events, Duplex Drive tanks, etc, as a Game Turn track is provided.

Card Deck setup:   The card deck is setup with all 9's and 10's being removed and one Joker added to the deck. For the Campaign game, two Jokers are used. Germans use black cards and Allies use red cards.  An activation allows units or stacks to activate (1 for the German or 3 for the Allies with odd numbered card draw, 2 for both sides with an even card draw).  Face cards of the correct color allow either side to use their Artillery Support or Naval Support marker or flip a reduced unit back to full strength.  Yes, this will be mentioned several more times.

Note: High Flying Dice Games, has their own card set for this set of games (or each individual), Cost is $8 plus postage. Contact HFDG for further information.   Click here to go to HFDG for more info

Complexity (1 to 10):   "1". This is not the end all of D-Day games, but a fun, small, and easy to play series of well thought out games and a campaign.

Game Versions/Scenarios: There are no additional scenarios, however  there are the campaign linking rules which increase the play value by adding random events and a couple of optional rules such as Duplex Drive tanks and what I like to call "Hitler finally listen to Rommel" setup but officially known as the "Variable Free German Setup".

Under this optional rule there are variant units and reinforcements for both sides (airborne units for the Allies, Lehr Panzer and some other infantry for the Germans) that I found.   The variant counters have a "V" on the upper right side.  Nicely done as die-cut counters  make the pocket battle games that much better. 

Note: after much searching of all the rules, I cannot find the variant Allied units setup instructions or table(s) and believe they were not included in this Campaign linking rules. This make me think that there are possible future plans coming down the pike for this pocket battle game series.  

Those folks at ATO are rascals! Here is the Five For Fighting extra rules, including the extra for the Allies. Click Here to go there.

Setup Time:   Subjective, 5 to 10 mins for one game, 15+ mins for the setup of the campaign game if game pieces are separated into a gaming tray (ATO sells some nice trays btw).

Playing Time:   Again, subjective, from 30 mins  to 45 mins per pocket game to 90+ mins, if playing the campaign game.

Solitaire Play-ability (Scale 1 to 10):  "5", as the game wasn't designed for solo play, but like anything else, one can play it that way.  Just don't cheat :}

Rules:  Are very well written. If anyone can write rules for these pocket games, it is ATO.

Play-Balance:  The game series is very balanced. Just like the real deal, the Allies could have lost and can do so in this game series. 

Errata: Note the following please - The German AT and Infantry attack CD values are reversed in the rules.  They should be:

Infantry attacking a target in a non-adjacent hex: -1 CD
AT unit attacking an armor target in any hex: +1 CD

There might be more errata or not, however I don't believe there will be. The above will help keep those pesky nazi's at bay.

Description of Play:  Play is very easy as each game has the following (with the one exception being Sword Beach, noted below): 

Game Play
Combined Arms Bonus
Artillery and Naval Support Markers
Game Length
Victory Conditions
German Reinforcements (Only Sword Beach game has reinforcements, this being the 21st Panzer Division) (note - there is an optional rule and variant units for the Campaign game that allows even more reinforcements, but for the single game, this is it.)

Game Play is based on what card is drawn with the color and type of the card (odd or even or face card) regulating what can be done - i.e., move, fire combat, used for flipping a reduce unit or using Artillery (German) / Naval (Allies) support.  For example if a Red 2 is drawn the Allies may activate up to two units.

1st Landing at Omaha Beach
Special 1st turn:  This needs to be mentioned. Before the first card is drawn and after setup, the Allies go first and get 2 activations. This simulates the actual beach landings.  After this event, the card deck is drawn from.

Activation allows a player to either move or have fire combat, but not both. A unit can only have one activation per CD. The exception to movement or fire combat is a "face card". A face card allows a player to either use their artillery/naval support OR flip one reduced unit back to full strength.  Eliminated units may never return to play.

There are no Zones of Control.

Movement points of all units on both sides is 1 hex per activation. Hexes occupied by enemy units cannot be entered, nor can stacking limits be violated.  A player can stack one infantry unit with either one armor or one anti-tank unit for a combine arms bonus.  All sea hexes cannot be entered.

The cost of movement for all terrain is 1 MP even across rivers.  The various terrain outside of all sea hexes doesn't affect movement, only combat. This terrain being "Clear", "Beach" (-1 DF), "Hill" (+1 DF), "River" (-1 AF), "Road", "Villages", and "Strongpoints" (+1 DF).

Combat is pretty easy and straight forward. No dice are rolled, but instead a card is drawn (color or suite of card has no bearing, except if a face card is drawn, it is always considered a miss). Units can fire into, but not through Hills, Villages, Strongpoints, or other units, friendly or not.  Attacking is voluntary and is done one to one, by a single attacking unit against a single defending unit. The only exception to this is a Combine Arms stack may combine their AF for attacking. However, a Combine Arms stack may not combine their DF for defending and each unit in a stack defends separately.  All terrain AF/DF modifiers and card draw modifiers are cumulative.

Canadian troops storm Juno beach
To resolve combat, the firing player performs a CD, don't worry about color or if the card is odd/even, unless the CD is a face card (a miss).  Add the AF of the single unit or combine arms stack to the card number, then add or subtract the terrain modifier for the hex the firing unit is in.

Besides the "terrain Modifiers" there are these additional modifiers, that are added or subtracted to the attacker's card draw -
  • all infantry units have a -1 CD if firing at a non-adjacent hex.  
  • Armor unit have a -1 CD if firing at an adjacent hex.
  • German AT units have a +1 CD at all ranges when firing at Allied armor. 
These numbers get added or subtracted for the final Attacker's CD number.
Subtract the defending unit's DF and add/subtract it's terrain modifiers. If the final number is ">" (greater) than the modified defender's DF, the unit is "hit" and is flipped over, if it has two steps. If the defending unit has only one step, it is eliminated from the game.

However, if a unit has 2 steps and is already reduce, instead of being eliminated, it may retreat one hex, towards a beach hex for the Allies or away from the beach for the German. The retreating unit may not violate stacking limits. Other units in the hex are unaffected by any results suffered and must be separately attack (note - combine arms stacks). A few times using this system was required for me to get use to it but it became second nature.

Artillery or Naval Support is also easy, as any enemy unit on the map anywhere, can be attacked this way. When a correct color face card is drawn and the owning player decides to used their arty/naval support, the marker is placed on the game map on any enemy unit. Perform a CD, adding the +1 CD bonus on the marker, minus the target units DF and terrain modifiers. If the final modified CD value is ">" (greater than) the target's DF, then the target was hit. Either eliminate the enemy unit if it was a 1 step or flip it over if the target was full strength. It never came up, but if the target is already reduced, can it be retreated instead?  I say "yes", but I will ask this question and get back here with the answer..  

Game length is 5 turns or 5 shuffles of the card deck. And a game turn ends when the joker is turned up. Of course the joker is ignored if neither side has had an activation and play continues to the end of the deck.  Use a 1D6 to record the number of game turns, by placing the 5 spots up, then going down each time the deck is shuffled.

In the Campaign game, two Jokers are used. The first time a Joker is drawn, consult the Random Events Table. The second time a Joker is drawn, the game turn is over.

Victory conditions are primarily on the Allied Player. The Allies win the game if all German Strongpoints and all but one village hex were last occupied by the Allied player.  Also each Allied unit that exits the game map from the South edge before the last turn of the game, reduces the number of villages that need to be occupied. Of course they can't re-enter the game.

Any other result is a German win, where-by the Soviets after they steam rolled into Berlin, then liberate the rest of western Europe under Communism, there-by changing the cold war and world as we know it. A very grim future for Europe and the world.

Of course the Campaign has a slightly different version of the victory conditions based on winning the number of beaches (each card): The Allies:

Win 5 out of 5, Decisive Victory.
Win 4 out of 5, Major Victory.
Win 3 out of 5, Minor Victory
Win 2 out of 5, Minor Defeat
Win 1 out of 5, Major Defeat
Win 0 out of 5, Decisive Defeat

Evaluation:  The Pocket Battles series of games have matured thru-out the years, with this series being at present, IMHO, the pinnacle of these games. What started out as a challenge to use up a bunch of blank postcards has turned into a game craze that should have the big guys worried.  

Soapbox:   There are a lot of good ideas in this series of games. I am always impressed at how Paul comes up with new games while re-cycling the card draw system. 

I honestly believe that this is probably the best way to put the fog of war into a game.  I have heard that some don't care for this as the game moves too slow for them. But honestly, in war, does one side sit patiently waiting while the other side gets to move all of their troops and plan out to the perfect die roll with the right amount of combat factors for an over run to get the odds up to 7-1 for a sure kill? I think not. 

Outside of having some one take pot-shots at players, arty going off with aircraft screaming overhead, there is no way to simulate a war. But,  I believe the card draw system comes closest.

Hopefully, you will get the deluxe pack by buying $75 worth of something from LPS, Inc.  It is worth it, for this series, the die cut counters and campaign linking rules. Besides, one will be getting some good games from there.   I know this sounds like an infomercial for ATO, but it isn't. I am just this impressed with this set of pocket battles. Heck, if the truth be known, I am impressed with all of the pocket games, just this set, a whole lot more. .

And remember, you only have till June 30 2019 to get this set. 

NOTE - As noted from an email from ATO, these PBGs are being offered, starting May 1 as a individual freebies. 

History:  Everyone knows of this invasion. It was that important. And if you don't know of it (like Google) then you need to read up on it.

Summary:  That's it, I have enjoyed not only playing all 5 beach landing games, but also the campaign. Omaha beach was the toughest for me, but I was able to pull 3 wins out of 5. I can blame it on the cards.  Utah Beach was the easiest as it was on 6th of June, 5 out of 5 wins. Gold and Juno were next easiest with 5 out of 5, though I did have a few moments of agony.  Sword Beach, I won 4 out of 5 as the 21st Panzer activated and it hurt. I don't see how the Brits managed to beat back that armor division.

Speaking of, High Flying Dice Games, does have a small game out called "Nemesis" and it is reviewed on this blog. Here is the link  https://abwgb.blogspot.com/2018/09/nemesis.html . In this review, I wrote about having D-Day as 5 to 6 small games. I got my wish.  The 6th beach landing game would be Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France.  Not available, but hopefully, maybe....

The campaign game was tough, especially using the Duplex Drive tank rule.  Too many tanks sank to the bottom of the Channel with their crews.  The game is not an Allies walk-over, just like the real landing. It was touch and go for the Allies, but we pulled it off.  Thank God, we pulled it off.

Addendum:  And to all the brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians that perished that day, 75 years ago, it was not in vain and thank you.

updated: 25th June 2019 1 July 2019, April 2020

This blog is considered to be a living blog. Changes will be made to it as needed to clarify, correct errors or update with new information.