Heroes of Normandie: Observations

Unless I’m writing about a monster game or something similarly complex and time-consuming, it always seems a bad idea to post a gaming AAR based on information gleaned from only a single playing. I thought about this quite a bit since my last blog post, so I’m altering my plan a little bit toward more of an overview approach.

Single scenarios from a ‘system’ game, learning scenarios and other small set-pieces seldom provide all of the experience and understanding I like to have when I sit down to write. Such is the case here with Heroes of Normandie. The focus of my previous written examples was the first offering in the game’s scenario book (which I think was also included in the print-n-play version), but I have played several other scenarios in the box before firing up my keyboard again.

I discussed setup of the starter scenario, “Godsend”, in my previous post. It’s a small scenario — five units per side at the top end — so it’s not entirely representative of the system’s range. After playing a couple of bigger scenarios, it’s quickly apparent that small scenarios expose some of the vulnerabilities in the Heroes of Normandie system. They’re not game-breakers by any means, but worth pointing out because sometimes they can stick out like a hammer-struck thumb.

Some of Heroes of Normandie's counter artwork.

Some of Heroes of Normandie’s counter artwork.

The peculiarites of the game’s Orders system and the mechanisms of card play can have a disproportionate impact on small scenarios. Anybody prone to doing some quick math before diving into a game might predict the issue, and game play seems to support the theory. Card play has the most obvious effects, especially for gamers experienced at other squad-level wargames. Regardless of the number of units on the map and the number of orders available to each side, each player always has a hand of four cards to play every turn. When you have 5 units on the map and just two orders to allocate (as in “Godsend”), playing a card that grants an extra order to you — or a card that cancels one of your opponent’s orders — can have considerable impact on the outcome of the game.

I suppose it’s a fairly common effect in wargaming. Small scenarios suffer more the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Bigger scenarios mitigate the impact of blind luck (dice rolls, card draws, whatever) simply by having more stuff going on. The cards certainly introduce an element of chaos into the system, but I appreciate the uncertainty because I’m a big believer that things seldom go according to plan once the shooting starts. Players who like lockstep control of their cardboard minions will likely not appreciate the occasional wild swing in fortune introduced by the cards.

The vulnerability of the Orders system looms larger than any likely card play issues. Whereas an unfortunate card play or two might make things hard, in a small scenario you can lose the game instantly by losing the only unit on the map that provides Orders for your force. In “Godsend” if you lose your officer, you lose the game. Period. It’s sort of the ultimate in headquarters hunting. Fortunately, it’s a short scenario (six turns) so neither side has the luxury of very much time to spend on stalking the other guy’s fearless leader. Both officers are two-step units, which makes instant obliteration unlikely, but both players certainly have strong incentive to keep their leaders well protected for most of the game.

Some of the set-pieces in the scenario book are thin on units that provide Orders. Frankly, I consider most of the published scenarios to be either learning tools or entertaining oddballs. The game system truly comes into its own when you settle down to play an old-fashioned points-based game, where each side gets to build (or ‘recruit’) a customized force within the limits of a points allowance. The imagination and pre-game planning involved in force building make the recruitment phase of a points-based scenario nearly a game unto itself. There are tons of options, skills and abilities players can buy to customize their forces. The recruitment template system adds a great deal of depth to the game and builds in a high degree of replayability, especially when you throw all of the expansions and Kickstarter additions into the mix.

Gameplay leans a bit in the direction of cinematic, especially with the cards in play, but good tactics generally pay off. As an example, only automatic weapons can reliably generate suppression, so good game play rewards using machineguns and BAR teams as bases of fire. Weapon ranges are less limited than in many tactical games, although in practice fire attacks are usually constrained by the fairly close terrain. Infantry in good terrain, in improved positions or in buildings will likely have to be winkled out the old-fashioned way in assault combat. Armored vehicles have an intimidating presence, but they’re far from invulnerable and must be properly supported with infantry. There’s a lot that the game gets ‘right’ from a tactical wargaming perspective.

The system wobbles around a bit when explosives and ordnance come into play, but that’s pretty much the case with every squad-level wargame. Grenades seem too lethal in the open, but are modeled spot-on against troops in buildings and fortifications. Their uber-lethality is balanced to a degree by their rarity; grenade attacks are ‘bought’ in finite quantities during the Recruitment Phase. Mortars are too accurate, too responsive and used at ranges too short compared to reality. Air and artillery come into play through Recruitment options (‘activated’ by card play), and both are, again, too accurate and too subdued in their area of effect.

At its core, Heroes of Normandie is a respectable, entertaining wargame. Even though the central rules framework is pretty basic stuff, I hesitate to call it a “light” wargame because of the card play and the complexity of all the recruitment options and unit abilities. It’s not ASL- or even Lock N Load-level complexity, but there’s a lot to think about as a game unspools itself. It goes easy on soft factors — no morale checks in this game — but still manages to capture essentials like the impact of leadership and the value of suppression through a straightforward approach. It’s not going to fire any of my other tactical wargames, but it’s certainly going to see a lot of table time.

 

Heroes of Normandie: The Setup

I think the best way to provide an overview of how Heroes of Normandie works is to just dive right into some scenario setup and game play. I’ve never been big on trying to provide Reader’s Digest versions of rules anyway. On top of that, for the really curious, v1.1 of the HoN rules is available for download from the Devil Pig Games website.

For my example, we’re diving into the first scenario in the scenario booklet. The US and German players have evenly matched forces in a sort of modified capture-the-flag setting. There are five possible “objective” locations on the two-board setup; the actual objective — which a friendly unit must reach (ostensibly to recover some valuable documents), then exit the board safely — is selected by die-roll at the beginning of Turn 2.

Setup for the first scenario, "Godsend".

Setup for the first scenario, “Godsend”.

Each side receives the basic units on a standard rifle/panzergrenadier platoon template. No attachments or assets are available in this brief learning game. Note that “platoons” in HoN aren’t really platoons. They’re closer to reinforced squads or, at best, half-platoons. Each template includes a Recon team (three little guys drawn on the counter), a ‘Fire’ team (with five little dudes), an Officer and a sort of ‘heavy’ team. Continue reading

Hedgerow Heroes

About 15 months ago I lost my mind for a while and plunked down a significant chunk of change (in adjusted game budget dollars) as a Kickstarter campaign pledge for a game titled “Heroes of Normandie”. Offered up by Devil Pig Games (essentially a French design and art team), I was impressed by the game’s potential to become a colorful addition to my array of tactical-scale wargames. The game system was based on a game I was already familiar with — “Frontiers”, designed by the same team and published by Asmodee Editions — so I figured the chances of a good result were fairly high.

Heroes of Normandie content

Inside Heroes of Normandie Base Set box.

Thanks to general wargame design craziness and the vagaries of gentlemen in France trying to superintend manufacturers in China, the project neatly spiraled away from its original production schedule (“Estimated Delivery Sep 2013″). That said, the whole oversized Kickstarter package landed at the Swamp Bunker — finally — at the end of May 2014. Continue reading

First Take on Last Chance

Way back in late June of last year, right about the time I was taking a little break from blogging (I’ve done a lot of break-taking this past year), the folks at MultiMan Publishing opened pre-orders on “Last Chance for Victory” (or “LCV”) — Dean Essig’s fresh take on the Battle of Gettysburg using the Line of Battle rules system. Ooo. Just in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle, no less. How could I resist “special 150th anniversary pricing”? Especially considering that I liked the first Line of Battle game, “None But Heroes” (or “NBH”, on Antietam), much better than the older Regimental Sub-System (RSS) games.

So much for flashbacks… elegant dissolve to the present. A big box of Gettysburg, wargame style, plopped onto my doorstep the other day, which means Last Chance for Victory is now taking its turn on the virtual table (via VASSAL, mainly because the Not So Big Anymore Table is not so big anymore and strains under the stress of even a 2-map scenario). Why, I’m so excited by this game’s arrival at the swamp bunker that I’m moved to writing a brand-new blog post. After several months of moderately “meh” games on the table, what we have here ladies and gentlemen is something worth getting worked up about.

VASSAL screen shot of the Confederate player's initial deployment.

VASSAL screen shot of the Confederate player’s initial deployment.

First of all, this is a huge — HUGE — box of old-fashioned wargaming goodness. I’m not the sort to judge a game on the price per pound metric, but it’s gratifying to see such a level of physical effort put into an old-school hex-and-counter game. Six maps, eight sheets of counters and more pages of bookage than a single “out of the box” photo can accommodate. And while bookage alone doesn’t predict quality, a slow scan through all of the information soon reveals the impressive amount of research and organization that’s gone into LCV. There’s none of that trendy, post-Ameritrash game bling in the box. No cards, no plastic miniatures, no standup doodads nor any wooden Killer Meeples. Just lots of well-done wargame stuff. Continue reading

Adventure Is In the Cards

It’s the post-convention game season — when publishers uncork a flood of new games they wish they could have finished in time for the summer’s gaming conventions — and there are several games in the landing pattern for the Not So Big Anymore Table. So, of course, here I am fiddling with a card game.

Newly deployed to the desktop here in the swamp bunker is Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. That’s right. A card game based on the themes from the popular Pathfinder RPG. No counters; no hexes. But it does have dice, and some of the cards have stompy things on them like swords and warhammers and spells that go ker-blooey. So I like to think of it as a second cousin to some sort of wargaming.

I’m generally not a fan of card games for a number of reasons. Collectible card games seem like more of an economic struggle between players’ personal pocketbooks than a gaming experience. Some of them aren’t very thematic; others seem simply too complex for my aged brain to comprehend. Hardly any of them are amenable to solitaire play. Pathfinder ACG, however, is looking like a strong favorite to break past my typical objections. Continue reading

Hulking Out

I have a theory.

About 15 years ago, shortly after SSI released the PC game “Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate”, somebody at Games Workshop behaved in a rude manner toward a computer programmer somewhere. Seeking vengeance, the programmer cursed Games Workshop. And that curse has stuck. Since Chaos Gate — 15 long years — every single computer game based on the very popular Warhammer 40k tabletop game franchise has been a disappointment.

Ready for my closeup CB
That’s all I can figure. There has to be a Curse of the Rude Englishman. I mean, the tabletop version of the game continues to thrive despite its ridiculous expense. Spin-off games like the third edition of Space Hulk and the Death Angel card game are popular and well-received. Fantasy Flight Games has several thriving lines of Warhammer 40k role playing games. The Black Library can’t print 40k themed books and fluff fast enough. Continue reading