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.

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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.

Yep. The long-awaited Heroes of Normandie now sits on the Not So Big Anymore Table.

[SFX: And the crowd goes wild.]

By way of introduction, it’s a tactical game of moderately indeterminate scale. Typical units represent infantry teams (2-4 grunts for the most part), individual officers and heroes and individual vehicles. Unlike it’s predecessor Frontiers, HoN’s game boards are gridded in squares to regulate the action. (Players used miniatures-style range/distance rulers in Frontiers.) No ground scale or turn time scale are given. Combat is CRT-free with all relevant information printed on the counters, although deciphering the special ability icons can sometimes be a chore. A system of order tokens governs which units can activate in the course of a turn and each player has a few cards he can play during the turn for some additional benefits or trickeration.

In physical terms, HoN is an impressive accomplishment. The combination of Base Set, two Army Boxes, River add-on, D-Day add-on and assorted punchboards of additional Kickstarter stuff thrown in the package likely weigh close to 15 pounds. Graphics are colorful and consistently well-done with both good color registration and accurate die-cutting. The game is truly a visual pleasure, despite a few of the counters looking very busy with all their ratings and icons plastered about. Everything I’ve looked at so far (there’s a LOT to look at) is very readable, although I’ll note that the on-map icons associated with some of the game board terrain can look rather wee when I’m trying to read them from a few feet away.

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One of the punchboards with units and markers.

The v1.1 rules are a big improvement over the v1 rules (thanks in large part to community participation following the release of a PnP version of the game), but they still suffer some organizational and clarity problems. Some of the rules encountered in the early going don’t make much sense, for example, until you read the rules regarding specific ability icons or specific recruitment tokens in the back of the rule book, and none of it seems particularly well set-up for any sort of indexing or cross-referencing. Still, it’s a system that’s straightforward enough that the issues aren’t hard to push past and figure out.

The bugaboo of big games is always in the errata, and HoN has its share of screw-ups. Rules errors are few and relatively insignificant. The majority of goofs are printing related. There are a few counters and markers that have missing or incorrect values/icons. The biggest share of errata appears in the form of counters that have the wrong stuff printed on their reverse side — out of the great gob of counters in the game, there appear to be about 12-15 of those. Devil Pig has thoughtfully provided PDFs with print-and-stick corrective artwork, but having to apply a few DIY fixes in the middle of such a gorgeous batch of artwork seems a shame. Darn you, Chinese printshop guys!

Pre-gen scenarios (a separate scenario booklet is included) and DIY scenarios are both accommodated. In DIY scenarios players “recruit” their forces from a point allowance. HoN takes an interesting approach by using templates to represent core formations (like platoons); the templates include slots where you can plug-in tokens that represent additional assets or abilities. Both the base recruitment templates and the ‘support’ tokens cost points, so players have to make some key resource decisions before the start of the scenario.

Next post, I’ll dig into the system a bit more.

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