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.
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.
For the Americans, the heavy is called a ‘Support’ team and appears to be four dudes with a BAR included. The Germans get a two-man MG42 team. The German machinegun team has a little bit more firepower than the BAR, but the game’s “Tripod” rule applies to it, which means they have to spend some time setting up before they can fire. Both units carry automatic weapons, so they feature additional icons indicating that they can use Suppressive Fire (a little rule which doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself but looks pretty important to me). The German MG42 team can also engage multiple targets in a single attack.
The officer in each player’s platoon has two little stars on his counter. This means he provides the force with two ‘orders’ per turn. Since the officers are the only source of orders in this particular scenario, they probably shouldn’t take too many risks. If an officer becomes a casualty, his two orders are gone. And a force with no orders automatically loses the game. More about orders in just a bit.
At the beginning of Turn 3, each player receives a machinegun-bearing half-track as a reinforcement. The only restriction here is that the ‘victory document’ can’t be carried off the map in a half-track. With a six game-turn limit, the scenario threatens to be short and bloody.
The overview image shows everything after initial deployment. Teams marked with the ‘Recon-3′ symbol can deploy up to three squares away from the deployment zone and have the option of deploying ‘concealed’. Both sides’ Recon units take full advantage of their special abilities in this scenario. Terrain on the two-board setup is fairly thick with hedgerows. The American have no cover in their deployment zone, but that’s likely not a big deal. In fact, the hedgerow blocking line of sight into their deployment area may prove to be an advantage for units attempting to exit later in the game.
Another important element in the pre-game setup is a little bit of card deck-building. Yeah, the game uses cards to add in a surprise factor. By my count each player has a stack of 67 cards to begin with. From this starting point, they each build a deck of 40 cards. For the most part, the cards appear to add little one-use tweaks to unit actions — stuff like +1 to a fire attack, +2 to an assault dice roll, 2 extra movement points. That sort of thing. There are also some (usually more rare) of the “look what I found” variety. These do things like let your (American) guys make one attack with a captured Panzerfaust or inform your opponent that the unit he just moved has stumbled into a mine field. Other cards give you a bonus order for the turn, or cancel one of your opponent’s orders. In general they don’t seem too goofy, although in a small scenario the “order” variety of cards might prove really painful. Other than that, basically you draw a hand of four cards to start with, then play them as needed (or when allowed — the cards indicate which phases they can be played). You can discard what you don’t want at the end of a turn, and then always draw up to a four-card hand before a new turn starts.
A note of caution is in order for gamers with delicate political/historical sensitivities. Heroes of Normandie is first and foremost a game, not a grimly serious dissertation on politics and morality in the Second World War. The presentation throughout is light-hearted, even a bit humorous in places. French humor, by and large, although with no sign of Jerry Lewis. ‘Character’ artwork is caricature. Themes and likenesses are freely borrowed from old war movies. There’s a German recruitment option titled “Nazi Basterds”. Some rules and concepts are definitely cinematic. Card artwork ranges from historical photos to illustrations from war-era propaganda. If you prefer your wargames to be gravely straight-faced exercises in historical propriety… well, this probably isn’t your cup of Calvados.