Review: Lightning: D-Day!
Posted by Denny Koch on February 25, 2011
Publisher: Decision Games
Published in: 2004
Designers: Dan Verssen
Era: World War II, D-Day (Normandy invasion)
Game Type: Card game
Contents: 110 full color cards, Quick Play rules
Average Playing Time: 30 min
Our Rating (1-10):
Graphic Presentation: 7
Replay Value: 5
Overall Rating: 7.5
|PRO||Very short playing time, almost no setup time: perfect starter, filler, or closer game; nice historical photos, small box and quick gameplay = perfect travel game, strategically challenging, tough time limit, amazingly high simulation value, very short rules…|
|CONTRA||…which may be too short and imprecise for some players, artwork somewhat boring, not too much variety|
Lightning: D-Day! was the first game of the “Lightning Series” by designer Dan Verssen, a game series consisting of five very small and fast card games. Other games in the series are Lightning: Midway, Lightning: North Africa, Lightning: Poland, and the contemporary Lightning: War on Terror.
We own the game for several years now and we also had a small review on our old HFC website, but we recently “rediscovered” it and decided that this game is cool and needs a new review in our ambitious Operation Review Reset.
The Lightning games are famous for their speedy gameplay, very short rules (1 sheet of paper!), and low setup time. They can be played within 30 minutes, but they still offer a strategical challenge and are a tough nut to crack. Lightning D-Day isn’t an exception from this rule; the Allied player fights against a brutal time limit while the German player tries to slow him down and to make his advance as costly as possible.
As the name suggests, Lightning: D-Day! deals with the Allied Normandy invasion on June 6th, 1944. One player controls the Allied forces (US, British, and Canadian units), the other player controls the German forces. There is no game board; the play area is defined by five beach cards which represent the historical landing areas (named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah beach by the Allies).
Both players control a fixed number of units or Forces per beach (3-4) which represent the historical units from both sides, for example the Canadian 3rd Inf., the British 7th Armored, or the US I Corps on the Allied side or the 21st Panzer, 352nd Infantry on the German side. In addition, both players have draw decks of Action cards which heavily influence the combat. Action cards can lower or raise the attack or defense value of units (by representing bunkers, squad cohesion, artillery, the chaos of battle) or add special bonuses to a beach, for example by placing the famous 101st and 82nd Airborne there. Stragglers on the Allied side and reinforcements on the German side can further fortify a landing zone.
A game is played over 5 turns, each turn representing roughly one hour. Each turn, the conditions for the Allied player improve, representing his successful landing and advance on the beaches. After five turns, the number of beaches controlled by the Allied player is counted. The game outcome or victory level depends on the number of beaches in Allied hands. The Allies have to control at least four of the five beaches to achieve the historical outcome; less than four beaches mean a draw or a German victory.
Because of the time limit of five turns and the limited number of actions each player can resolve on a beach, one game doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes which makes the game a perfect starter, filler, or closer game on a game meeting when there isn’t much time left for a larger wargame or for “warming up” before moving over to the more complex games.
Despite being a small and fast card game, Lightning D-Day is challenging and requires strategical decision-making and planning in advance for both players.
Graphic Presentation and production quality
The game box is quite small, 15 x 13 cm (=5.9 x 5.1 ”). It contains two card decks and one folded black-and-white sheet of paper. The rules are printed on one side, the tabletop layout on the other side.
The cards are announced as being “full color”, but in reality, they don’t appear too colorful: they consist of a black-and-white historical photograph, a small flag icon in the upper left corner, a text box, a card number, and – if they are a force card – a green label named “Force”. Some cards have a combat value which is a black number printed in a yellow circle. The text boxes are semi-transparent and printed on a background showing a blue-yellow beach- and sea-map. So don’t expect something colorful and stylish as in Hell of Stalingrad. Nevertheless, the historical pictures are cool and add to the atmosphere!
The beach cards show schematic drawings of the five landing zones, together with directional arrows and boxes listing the participating (historical) units. Unfortunately, the printing is very small, especially on Juno and Sword, where you need a magnifying glass if you want to read the text in the tiny boxes. This won’t be a problem for most players because the printing on the beach cards is only chrome and absolutely irrelevant for gameplay. But if you are a history buff who enjoys such little details, you could be disappointed that you cannot easily read the historical information provided by the beach cards.
The card quality is okay but not overwhelming, they are glossy and printed on strong paper (slightly thinner than poker cards). As always, putting them into card sleeves won’t hurt, as we do with all our card games.
The rules are printed on one folded sheet of paper. They are divided into several sections: “Setting up the Game”, “Victory”, “Type of Cards”, “Player Turn”, “How to Attack”. In addition, there are four black-and-white illustrations of the four card-types where the values and sections of each card are labeled. You can download the rules here (PDF, 305 kB).
On the backside of the rules sheet, you can find the tabletop layout where you can see how to lay out the five beaches and where to put the turn cards, decks, and units.
The rules are very short, but many players have difficulties with them. We didn’t experience many difficulties ourselves, but we are quite experienced players and were able to solve game questions with common sense. Nevertheless, during our first game, we got one rule wrong because it was only mentioned in the FAQ and not in the rules (we didn’t consult the FAQ on our first game because we wanted to see how the game plays “out of the box”). It was the rule that a player can only play one card at a time, while we permitted playing several cards simultaneously (especially cards raising the attack value) which allowed a unit with a low attack value to conduct the attack in the first place.
Many answers to the questions raised in the official Q&A (available on boardgamegeek, *.doc format) could be found in the rules by reading them carefully, and we didn’t stumble across any black holes or even game stoppers while playing the game. Nevertheless, the fact than many (especially inexperienced) players appear to have severe problems with the rules wording cannot be ignored.
In fact, some of the information included in the official FAQ are missing in the rules and should have been included there in the first place to avoid confusion, for example the fact that an Allied player controls a beach if there are no active German forces on the beach (in the rules, it’s only “if there are no German forces present on the beach”). This makes for an important difference because it makes things easier for the Allied player, who is under heavy pressure during the entire game. Another example is the aforementioned card limitation on “one card at a time”. You have to give your opponent at least the opportunity to also play a card or “pass” before playing a second card.
We also used the Optional Rule “Rollover attacks” described in the FAQ because it makes attacks on adjacent beaches more realistic by giving the defender the slightest chance for defense. It simply feels better if your units are not removed without any resistance but have a chance to fight back (although with a heavy malus due to being flanked!).
The game wants to keep things fast and simple, so we can understand the decision of including very short rules. One sheet of paper isn’t as deterring as a multiple-pages-rulebook, and the game is meant to be played within minutes, so many players don’t want to read pages and pages of rules before starting to play. The downside for short rules is that some rules are not written in very detailed manner.
In our opinion, the rules are not that bad (and surely not as bad as other reviews or forum posts suggest), and it isn’t really much of a problem to get a game running within minutes. Another page of rules wouldn’t have hurt, though, so we strongly recommend using the FAQ for your first game.
Playability and Gameplay
The playability is great and you can begin concentrating on strategy and planning-in-advance really soon. Especially if someone explains the game to you, it’s really easy to get a grasp of the basic principles. But the rules also do a fair job of introducing you to the game because each step is listed in order.
We got our first game running within minutes (as usual in our game sessions, I was playing the Allies, Andreas the Germans (he only insists on playing Allies when the Russians are present in a wargame, he just likes to play them ). I was reading the rules aloud and we followed the instructions for setup and gameplay after taking a quick look at the different card types.
The German player always goes first each turn.
The setup is fixed but contains a random element as well. First, the five beaches are put in the center of the table in their historical order from left to right (Allies’ perspective): Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah. All forces or unit cards belong to a beach which is listed on the card.
Players then sort their Force Cards into five piles based on the beaches to which they belong and shuffle these piles. The piles are then placed face down near their beaches in the “Inactive Forces area”. You always have the same 3-4 forces on each beach, but you don’t know when each force will appear. For example, there is a 1/3 chance that the German player gets a “first turn attack” on Utah beach because of the 243rd Infantry’s special ability “you can declare the attack for this card without playing an action” which allows the unit to attack immediately after being activated.
Each player has a “Country Card“, listing the Sequence of Play (which is very short). There is also a “Turn Deck” with one Turn Card per turn. Each Turn Card lists the special conditions for this turn and represents roughly one hour real-time.
Turn #1 is named “Wading Ashore“. All Allied Attacks get -1, which represents the disadvantaged position of the Allied soldiers who had just left their landing crafts and are wading ashore across the open sea.
Turn #2 is named “On the Beach!“. The Allies have reached the beach where they try to find cover. The German player can activate one Force for free at the beginning of the turn because of his advantage being the defender in this early stage of combat.
On Turn #3, the Allies are “Advancing up the Beach!“. Now, the Allied player can activate one Force Card for free at the beginning of the turn because they have a strong position now from where to launch further attacks.
In Turn #4, “All-Out Combat” breaks out. All Attacks from both players get a +1 modifier which can be devastating for defense and simulates the intense melee-like battle.
In the final Turn #5, the Allies are “Rushing the Defenders!”. All Allied attacks get a +1 modifier while the defenders start losing ground and this is very helpful because the Allies have to capture at least 4 beaches at the end of this turn in order to win.
Both players shuffle their remaining cards (Action Cards) and form their draw decks. (The number of card draws each turn is described on the Turn Cards; at the end of Turn 1, both players can fill up their hands to six cards. Each turn gives them one more card to the maximal hand size, so in the fourth turn, players draw to fill their hand with 9 cards at the end of the turn.)
Both players then draw five cards from their draw decks to form an initial card hand. Play then begins with the German player.
Sequence of Play
The Sequence of Play can be easily remembered because it consists of only 2 phases. As a reminder, the Sequence is printed on the “Country Cards” which are placed beside each player. The Allied Country card shows a map of Great Britain, while the German Country cards shows a map of central Germany. Besides the Turn Sequence, the Country Cards state who goes first each turn (Germany) and who goes second (Allies). A nice idea for a Player Aid, simple and functional!
a. Beach Actions
The German player now has the chance to conduct one action on each beach – one at a time, from left to right. Additional actions may be taken if a card or effect allows for it.
There are two possible actions a player can perform at a beach, but you have to choose – you cannot perform both actions on one beach (at least not without special cards or effects).
- Activate a Force: The player turns face-up the top Force Card assigned to the beach and places it in the “Active Forces area” next to the beach. This force is now “activated” and can attack and defend in further turns. Sometimes, a Force has special abilities, for example it can attack without spending an action. Since its action for this turn was “being activated”, such a Force can attack for free now.
- Attack: If you decide not to activate a Force at the beach, you can now attack with one of your active forces. Each Force can only attack once per turn, but it’s possible that more than one unit conducts an attack if a special card or effects allows it. The “one-attack-per-turn-per-force” limit always applies, regardless of how many additional special attacks you get.
b. Discard and Draw Cards
After both players have completed all actions on all beaches, each player may discard as many cards from their hand as they wish. They then draw new cards up to the maximum specified on the Turn card.
Then, the next Turn card is revealed and the next Turn begins with the German actions on the beaches.
Besides pondering over the question whether to activate a Force at a beach or to attack with one of your Forces, the Combat System of Lightning: D-Day! is one of the most interesting aspects of the game.
If you decide to conduct an “Attack action” on one beach with one of your forces, the fun begins. There are several possible constellations for such an attack:
- There are no active enemy Force Cards on the beach, only a face-down stack of inactive Forces. These Forces cannot defend. If you attack such a pile, the top inactive enemy card is simply discarded.
- If there are neither active nor inactive Force cards on the beach, you can attack an adjacent beach. The basic rules state that you can automatically discard an active or inactive enemy Force card from an adjacent beach, attacker’s choice. In our opinion, this felt somewhat strange (despite the fact that such an effect represents the “flanking” of an enemy Force which always leads to heavy casualties). We always play the Optional Role-over rule (described only in the official FAQ), where active forces on adjacent beaches can defend with a -3 modifier (which is bad enough for them).
- If there are active enemy Force Cards on your beach, combat ensues:
First, the attacker states which of his active Force Cards attacks and which enemy Force Card will be attacked. The defender cannot choose his defending Force.
Players then compare the attack value of the attacker with the defense value of the defender. Most Forces have a black number in a yellow circle printed in the text box. This is their basic attack AND defense number. In addition, some cards have a modifier for attack or defense. This is printed below the circle, for example “+1 Defense” or “+3 Attack”.
Both players then have the chance to play Action Cards from their hand to further modify the combat value and to add special effects to the combat. Each player can play one card at a time and must give his opponent at least the chance to also play a card or to pass before playing a second card. This can result in long strings of cards played against each other, countering a card, adding nasty surprises and combat values. Bluffing, threatening, and punishing the opponent is an important part of the game. A typical combat can look like this:
Germany: Attacks with the 352nd Infantry at Omaha Beach at an attack value of 4.
Allies: Defends with the US V Corps at a defense value of 3.
In case of ties, the defender wins. At the moment, the German player would win the fight. But the Allied player now plays an Action card: “Company Cohesion“, which raises the Allied defense value to 6.
The Germans have to add at least 3 more attack factors if they want to win the fight. So the Germans declare that the Allies are walking over “Open Ground“, which adds +3 to the German attack for a total attack strength of 7. The Allies respond with “No, my units are in cover!” by playing a “Cover” Action card. They now have a defense value of 8. The Germans declare that they are firing from “Bunkers” which adds 2 more attack factors and +2 additional factors if played on Omaha Beach (which is the case). They now attack with 11 attack factors. The Allies are desperate because they don’t want to lose their Force. Fortunately, the “Division Cohesion” is high and they can raise their defense to 12. The Germans want to kill the Allied force on any cost, so they play one final, desperate card: “Last Effort“. This raises their attack value by 3 (they now have 14 attack factors, but the attacking force will be discarded after the attack is resolved. The Allied player doesn’t have (or doesn’t want to play) any more cards and he loses his defending Force.
Since the Action Cards have many interesting effects, combat is very dynamic and very thrilling. Playing or not playing cards is always a hard decision; you draw new cards at the end of the turn, but until then, you have to use your valuable cards for attack and defense purposes. If you play a great card very early in the turn (for example, because your opponent lured you into wasting it…), your Forces on other beaches are stripped down to bad or even none cards and will suffer seriously. Or you spend all your cards in defense and don’t have any left when it’s your turn to attack the enemy. The game requires some decision-making: which beach is the most important one this turn, where is the best use for a given card etc..
Besides adding defense or attack values to a Force, Action Cards can have several other effects. Straggler / Reinforcement cards can only be played during your turn, they are played on a beach and converted into a Force afterwards. “Charge!” allows you to activate one Force card for free at the beginning of your turn, “Chaos” cancels an enemy Action card just played, “Mounting Casualties” raises your attack value but comes with a drawback: you have to discard one of your inactive forces to gain +2 attack. The Allied player can add Airborne cards to beaches, for example the 6th Airborne to Juno, Sword, or Gold, or the 82nd Airborne to Omaha or Utah. You can then resolve +1 Action at that beach until the end of the game, which can be very helpful for tough nuts like Omaha.
The Germans have similar card effects, for example “Local Command” which allows for an extra action at a beach until the end of the turn. In addition, they have some really nasty effects, for example “Sea mines” which deactivates an Allied force card just activated (or kills the Force card, if it was activated on Omaha Beach), “Pinned Down” which cancels an Allied attack unless the Allied player declares that he will discard his attacking force after the Attack is resolved, or “Redeploy” where the Germans can move one Active Force from one beach to a different beach.
The cards nicely represent the specifics of both sides and add some surprising simulation value to the game. It feels “real” if you attack the Germans at Omaha, rushing from cover to cover, while the Germans shell your forces from a bunker and use artillery for pinning you down. If you play an Action card while uttering the card title in a very important voice or describe the effect in your own words (“No, you don’t get them, because we hold our Heads Down” – “Ha, but my troops have superior Training“), it feels really cool and adds greatly to the atmosphere.
Combat is really bloody; a unit is simply discarded if it loses the battle. Since you don’t have many units at your disposal (3-4 per beach), each unit lost really hurts.
The game plays really fast and the mechanics are very simple; it mainly consists of turning cards over and declaring attacks, and then playing Action Cards back and forth in order to get the highest attack or defense value.
The basic game concept is easily understood, while the main task of the game is to learn when to play an Action Card – and when not!
Play balance is even; the Allies are under pressure of racing against the clock (=5 turns), and they must control at least 4 beaches at the end of Turn 5 if they want to win the game. The Germans have a tough time stopping the Allies, who become stronger in the end game. We managed to win with both the Allies and the Germans, but in the beginning and with less experience, the Germans tend to win more often. If you are an experienced player who plays against a beginner, you should give him the Germans because they have the time on their side. If you are playing with two experienced players, the game results should be even. Most games are decided in the proverbial nick of time in the final Turn 5, often in the last combat.
Each Force is assigned to a beach, so each beach always has the same 3-4 Forces assigned each game. The random element comes into play by shuffling the Forces, so you don’t know when a Force will appear. Another random element is the Action deck.
Nevertheless, this is the only variety in the game, so after a while, you know which Forces belong to a beach. You also know which Action cards your and your opponent’s deck contain. After your opponent played a certain nasty card against you, you know that this card won’t come again until the end of the game, so you can and will include this information into your calculations and decision-making.
Still, the game is tough and strategically challenging, so it won’t get old for a long time. The game simply isn’t meant to be played over and over and over again for several hours a day. But if you play it once in a while, for example for warming up in a game meeting or if you only have half an hour left, it will always offer a great challenge, even if you played it several times before.
You will have much fun with the game if you play it from time to time or with different players, or as a travel companion on a short trip, or as a filler game now and then. The game does a great job of offering a tough nut to crack while keeping things simple, so I don’t expect the replay value of a full-fledged consim with its strategical maneuvering options, or of a more complex card game with endless variety and combinations like Hornet Leader or other complex military card games like Up Front!.
The replay value is high enough for what the game wants to accomplish and you will enjoy it each time you play it. We played it quite intensively several years ago, but after “rediscovering” it in our collection, it was as good as new to us and we still enjoy it as we did then.
The game mechanics feel fresh and dynamic (at least if you haven’t played another game from the Lightning Series, since they all play very similar, which isn’t a bad thing at all, though). At the same time, the playing of Action Cards against each other, responding with another card, responding to the response, feels familiar to what you may know from playing (casual) family card games.
The combination of a simulation of a historical military event and of utilizing a fast response-Action card-system is quite attractive and entertaining. It could even attract younger players (ages 10 and up) and introduce them into the beautiful world of card wargames.
The most creative aspect of the game (and of the other Lightning games) is the fact that they can be learned within minutes and played within a very short time (compared to other wargames) while offering a serious historical WWII setting with interesting historical references. The game is simple and challenging at the same time, which is always a good thing.
So, all in all, not everything in the game is brand-new and never-before-seen, but it’s very cool in its own fashion and creative in the way it combines things.
Well, Lightning: D-Day! isn’t a complex consim, it’s a “light wargame”, meant for a quick game now and then while providing historical flavor.
Nevertheless, despite the low complexity and shortness of rules, the game contains some nice simulative aspects which really add much atmosphere to the game.
First, all Forces included in the game and assigned to the various beaches, are historical units with their historical unit designations. The black-and-white pictures are only chrome and don’t necessarily represent the actual Force, but this doesn’t matter. What’s more important is the fact that authentic circumstances, events, and means are translated into card effects. Beaches which are supported by Airborne forces or a strong Local command allow for more actions, units on “High Ground” have a higher defense value, “Open Ground” is always dangerous for the attacker, units sacrifice themselves in “Last Efforts“, German defenders and attackers in “Bunkers” are threatening, good leadership, training, and squad cohesion are important aspects during combat, the “Chaos” of battle can destroy the best plans etc..
The game also greatly portrays the especially brutal situation at Omaha Beach. Some card effects are stronger if played at Omaha (for example “Bunkers”) and both players have one more forces here than on the other beaches. So the game makes sure that the fights on Omaha Beach are especially brutal and bloody, and this works great! In all our games, Omaha saw heavy fighting, and in many games, the Allies failed to take the beach or took it in the very last-minute in a last effort with heavy casualties.
So, despite the fact that Lightning: D-Day! is a small, fast game of low complexity, the topic is very well represented by units and cards and gives an authentic feel.
Both players have a secret card hand and most of the fun derives from the playing of Action Cards, responding to cards, bluffing, provoking, luring out strong cards on weak beaches. If you know both card hands, this wouldn’t be much fun, would it?
In our opinion, this game should be played with two players. Playing it solitaire is certainly possible, but it won’t be much fun and you would certainly miss the point of the game. You could play it as a study, to learn which units belong where and which cards both decks have to offer, but that’s all.
Don’t do this. Do yourself a favor and play with a friend.
Can be Compared To:
Other games from the Lightning Series. Especially Lightning: Midway and Lightning: Poland are very similar and use almost the same rules and game principles (adjusted to their respective settings, of course).
The other Lightning games are slightly more complex (complexity here is relative, of course. All these games are still ultra-low-complexity wargames). Lighting: North Africa is a close relative of D-Day and Midway, but players can conduct four different actions instead of two, and have some more options. Lightning: War on Terror belongs to the same series, but gameplay is somewhat different (it can be played with 2-4 players) and more abstract.
Naval Battles, a sea combat card game by the same designer, Dan Verssen, depicts single ships of various classes with different weapon systems, but the playing back-and-forth of Action cards resembles the Lightning system (but we like the Lightning games better).
The game is very different from other card wargames outside the Lightning series. The operational-strategical level doesn’t allow for much maneuver, as e.g. the skirmish Up Front! does.
Denny Koch’s conclusions
Lightning: D-Day! is a simple, fast light wargame with an interesting topic. It is perfect for “in-between”, as a filler game on game meetings, as an introduction to card wargames, or as a travel game. It can be learned within minutes and it can be played in less than half an hour.
I like the game, and each time it returns to the gaming table, it offers an amazingly high strategical challenge. The game is tough and never “solved”, you are forced into decision-making and planning in advance. It is quite unforgiving (due to the strict time limit) and combat is bloody.
We especially enjoy the “heart of the game”, the quick-paced playing of Action cards and the fun of responding and countering enemy cards. The battle at the Normandy beaches is depicted in a surprisingly detailed way and invokes images in your head while playing the game – a game ‘telling a story’ is something we always enjoy. You get a very good impression of the slow Allied advance towards the beaches and towards the German entrenchments, you begin to hate fighting on Omaha beach, and you begin to evolve a story around your played Action Cards almost automatically.
All our games were very entertaining, especially when we played our cards and embedded their titles into a derisive or gloating remark. The game managed to create a quite authentic atmosphere on our gaming table and we greatly enjoy how nicely tiny details are integrated into the cards and combat system. The thrilling storyline develops during the course of the game, and nasty surprises provided by Action cards bring almost physical pain to the opponent because they can can have brutal effects.
At first, we were sceptical about the replay value because the cards assigned to each beach are very limited and randomizing three cards isn’t very variable. But it’s the game itself that provides replay value because it puts the players under immense time pressure and is very unforgiving, forcing you to plan very carefully! This isn’t a game you will play continuously for days and months, but it is a game which will always return to your gaming table, even after years, and it will stay fresh.
Since the game is a perfect starter, we chose it as an introductory game for our next “HFC & friends” game meeting, where we introduce friends to new (and classic) wargames. Lightning: D-Day! can be explained with few words and will be the perfect starter into several days of wargaming. One of our friends is reluctant to read long rule books before playing a game – he wants to jump into the action immediately, so this game will suit him perfectly. If you have friends who are interested in wargaming, but who dislike the often monstrous rule books which come with The Hobby, try a Lightning game to lure them. Once they discover how attractive strategical decision-making is, they are probably ready for the next step
We recommend the game to all gamers who are interested in the Normandy scenario. The game may be simple, but the topic is presented in a very convincing manner. If you are a wargaming beginner and are looking for a game without long, complicated rules, you should also take a look at the game. Don’t forget to consult the official FAQ, and if you have any questions, you will find answers at the Boardgamegeek and Consimworld forums – or here of course
If you are an experienced wargamer, you should also take a look at the Lightning series – don’t dismiss the games as “too simple”. First, they are great fillers between longer games and great starters and closers on game meetings. Second, the rules and mechanics may be simple, but it’s not easy to beat the game and you certainly will find a challenge here!
The rules leave some room for improvement, but all in all, the playability is good and winning a game is very rewarding because the game is easy to learn – but not easy to master. Challenging, simple, fast, and simulative at the same time – that’s a combination we greatly enjoy!
Our Rating (1-10):
Graphic Presentation: 7
Replay Value: 5
Overall Rating: 7.5