Crowbar

I like Mark Walker games. I have quite a few from the Lock and Load and Flying Pigs labels, and they are always absorbing, often entertaining. There’s a couple that I don’t take off the shelf that often, like All Things Zombie (‘cause I always suffer dice roll homicide halfway through the first scenario) and I usually have to make a rule adjustment or two on others, like the casualties in Flintlock, but these are signs of good game involvement. Have you ever played First Martians strictly by the rules? You have? [Sidles away].

I saw this one on a Kickstarter Email and was intrigued: a game covering the Ranger assault of Pointe du Hoc. Well, that’s specific, quite a bit more focused than the usual D Day games, like Avalon Hill’s D Day (which I own), where you attack the various beaches with the various forces assigned with usually the same results. When you throw that many people and bombs and tanks at a small space, you’re bound to overwhelm it. And, yes, yes, I know how much of a near thing the landings were and how more of  a near thing was the subsequent breakout.

But I never thought the Pointe du Hoc assault was a near thing. My only prior exposure to it was the five or six minute treatment in the movie The Longest Day. Clean and well dressed American Rangers take about a minute or two to scale the cliffs with rocket propelled grappling hooks and shoot Germans who dutifully throw their hands up in the air and die a bloodless/uneviscerated death as required by 1960s war movies (and cowboy movies. And crime movies), with a couple of obligatory Rangers dying in the same heroic manner to make things look even. And then the Rangers discover the guns they just fought so ferociously and bloodlessly to destroy aren’t even there! SNAFU!

Well, no. Like practically all battles in every war, this was a godawful bloodbath that could have gone either way. And, yes, the guns were there, just not where we thought. Still had to be found and destroyed and the Rangers lost more than half their force doing so, and it took a little more than five minutes. Took three days, actually. And what Crowbar does is capture quite accurately and viscerally this somewhat insane mission and what a near thing it was.

Think about it: you’re asked to climb a sheer cliff face while German soldiers, hands down the best in the world at that time (yes, they were, especially at the squad level), are shooting at you from the top of the cliff and dropping grenades and making nuisances of themselves and you can’t even shoot back until you get to the top, and then, after you get those pesky Germans off you, you gotta go find some gigantic German artillery pieces which aren’t where intel said they are and blow them up. Man.

All that comes through in this rather magnificent game. Yes, magnificent. I mean, look at it. Gorgeous. Big counters, big map. Yeah a little obscure here and there, especially with features like barbed wire, but workable, and readable rules and aid cards and just well done.

This is a chit pull dice roll event card game- everything at once and when I first got it and stopped admiring the art I went, “Oh, man.” This is going to be tough to learn. Movement is through movement dice covered with symbols and combat is with normal dice, and event cards also do some movement or combat, especially for the Germans, and there’s different rules for the different sections of the map- sea hexes, beach hexes, interior- and a relief column attempting to reach you and commander rules and supply and, in typical Mark Walker fashion, not all of it is explained with the clarity you need (fr’instance, what’s the deal with supplies?) but you know what? Doesn’t matter. It works.

Because it makes sense. It’s all intuitive and logical, even the varying colored movement dice which become dicier the more you use them. Which is fairly accurate: whenever a squad starts something, it’s usually successful. It’s when you take those next few steps that things tend to go to crap. About halfway through your movement you have to decide whether enough is enough or are you going on, foolishly, in some cases. Combat is usually hand to hand because fortifications rendered distance fire and artillery somewhat moot so you gotta move and you gotta engage. And you’re going to get your butt handed to you. Over and over.

By ‘you’ I mean the Rangers because this is a solitary game and you command only one side. I thought that was going to be a problem. What? No German turn? How in the world can you call this a game? But you don’t have to worry, the Germans show up. And make themselves quite the nuisance. They have a counterattack track which always initiates at just the most inopportune moment and invariably you’re going to pull a German chit that sends grenadiers running your way and, of course, an event card. Man. 

There is a multiplayer variant in the rules but don’t bother. You’re going to make your Rangers’ job that much tougher if you get your pals to take over a company or two. Unity of command, people.

I played this just once so far. How’d I end up? A dismal failure. I don’t think I earned enough victory points to even move the scale. Fox Company did all right, actually reached the road and set up roadblocks; Dog Company had its problems but Easy got decimated. One German with a machine gun can really screw up your plans.

As we discovered back then.

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