Sunday, 31 August 2014

Heroes of Normandie

Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

This is a Kickstarter game which Allen supported, and he got a ton of stuff for it. It is a squad level combat game with World War II as the backdrop. The game comes with a number of scenarios. Players can also play custom match-ups using a point system to build customised armies. The points are used not only to buy infantry and vehicles, but also to buy special equipment and special abilities.

At the start of a round, both players place order tokens on units they want to activate for the round. Each order token has a number which indicates the order of activation, and since the order tokens are stand-up blocks, these numbers are hidden from your opponent. So he knows which units you will activate, but not the sequence in which they will act. You get to place one decoy order which doesn't have any number and is only used for bluffing. Once all order tokens have been placed, players take turns activating units. Units can either move or shoot. If moving, one special move type is the assault, i.e. entering the same space as an enemy unit and fighting it. Not all units can assault. An assault will result in one of the units getting killed or being forced to retreat.

Units are thick cardboard tiles, and their characteristics and special abilities are all represented as icons on the tiles. There are various terrain features on the game boards, and their effects are all indicated using icons too. These are very handy once you learn all the icons. Basic unit characteristics include attack values against infantry units, against light vehicles and against heavy vehicles, movement ability, and defense value. Special abilities include things like being able to conceal itself, being able to cross water, opportunity fire, and shooting at multiple units. Combat is resolved by one die roll, with attack value, defense value, terrain effects and line of sight all affecting the roll needed to make a hit. When hit, some units are flipped to an injured side, while others are killed instantly.

Both players have a hand of cards, which grant special bonuses or trigger special events. There's a card which gives you an attack bonus when assaulting. There's another which lets you reroll a die. There's even one which lets you cancel a card play by your opponent. The cards are quite useful. There is no limit to how many you can play per round. At the end of the round you always draw up to your hand size. You can discard cards you don't want before you draw.

Cards in the game. Most can only be played at a particular phase of a round or in a specific situation.

Victory is determined by scenario specific rules. One common way of determining victory is the value of kills inflicted. Some platoons (and vehicles too) have kill values, and when you kill enough units in them, you will score the kill value.

The Play

This was the first scenario, a small one, using only two game boards. I played the Americans while Allen played the Germans. In this scenario, a spy plane drops a top secret document near the centre of the board, and both sides want to grab the document and then exit their sides of the board with it. There are five possible locations where the document may land, and the actual location is only determined at the end of Round 2. Allen and I carefully advanced towards the centre of the board while keeping our units under cover in the hedgerows. We used five random small square markers to mark the possible landing spots of the secret document.

My unit on the left managed to grab the document the moment it landed, and was now getting ready to run for it, while the other units prepared to get into position to hold back the Germans. My unit in the centre was standing exposed in the middle of the road and needed to get into cover ASAP. There were hedgerows on both sides of the road. At the bottom left you can see the terrain effect icons of a hedgerow. The yellow arrow with a +2 means infantry units here get a +2 defensive bonus. The stop sign on top of a grey and a purple arrow means both light and heavy vehicles may not enter the hedgerow. The triangle with a cross means the hedgerow blocks line-of-sight.

My letter bearer was now at the bottom right corner, running without looking back. At this point, which was past Round 3, both Allen and I had one light vehicle each which had entered play. I stopped mine right here in the centre of this photo. It was now hit and destroyed, but that was OK. I had intended to use it as an obstacle to stop Allen's vehicle (at the top left) as well as his infantry units.

I had the document in hand, so I had the luxury of playing defensively. Allen was forced to play aggressively because he needed to catch my letter bearer. By now I had killed a few of his infantry units, and his only unit left anywhere near the letter was outnumbered 3 to 1. I won this first match.

This is the second scenario - Saving Private Rex. The American general's dog (yes, dog) ran off into German controlled territory, so he commanded a platoon to sneak into enemy territory to get Rex back. At the start of the scenario no one knows exactly where Rex is, but there are five possible spots where he may turn up at the end of Round 2 or later. Every round he runs randomly around the board, unless an American unit catches him (somehow he recognises and hates Germans and will never follow them). If anyone fires near him, the shooting will scare him and he will run the other way. If the American unit accompanying him fires, it will scare him away too. The Americans' main objective is to get Rex back. Killing off the Germans will give a major victory.

I played the Americans again, and started at the lower left corner. The Germans had one machine gun unit near the centre of the battlefield, dug in inside a machine gun nest. It had limited visibility and could only look westwards. I had to be careful to stay outside its line-of-sight. The rest of the German units could enter the battlefield from any of the boards except for the lower left one. My units were now moving towards the centre, while Allen's Germans were closing in from the north and from the east. Rex had just appeared at the northern edge of the board. On his first random move, he ran straight towards the centre of the board, stopping right in front of the German machine gun nest. This was perfect for me, because I had a unit just two steps away from Rex. In such a situation, I could whistle to get Rex's attention, and I could order him to join one of my units. Good dog!

Allen and I did not have the patience to find Rex's token among the mountain of tokens that came with the game, so we used another dog called Hardboiled instead. Let's look at the icons on that German machine gun nest unit. The two red triangles mean this unit has a restricted line-of-sight, being able to see only a specific angle indicated by these two triangles. The crosshairs icon means this unit has the opportunity fire ability. It can shoot during the opponent's turn if an opponent's unit moves into its line-of-sight. The row-of-bullets-with-flashes icon means this unit can shoot at multiple units at the same time. The row-of-bullets-with-red-arrow icon means this unit can do suppressive fire, which won't kill an enemy unit, but will reduce its effectiveness in both fighting and moving. The skull-in-red-circle icon means once hit, this unit will die, as opposed to being flipped over to the injured side. The yellow, purple and grey arrows mean +4 bonus when shooting at infantry, +2 bonus when shooting at light vehicles, and not being allowed to shoot at heavy vehicles respectively. The big 8 means a defense value of 8. The big arrow with an X means the unit cannot move.

Rex (represented by Hardboiled) had now joined one of my units, and that unit was getting ready to run Forrest run.

It was a little anticlimactic how easy it was for me to retrieve the dog and to leave the battlefield with it. By doing that I was guaranteed a victory. Now the question was whether I would be able to score a major victory by killing enough German units. So Allen and I continued to fight. Eventually I was able to kill more of his units, but it was not sufficient to achieve a major victory. But at least my general was happy now that Rex was rescued.

I was lucky in both the scenarios that we played, being able to grab the document first, and being able to catch Rex so easily. Both these were fun-type scenarios and did not have serious tones. We had to look up rules and icon meanings quite often, but soon we were quite comfortable with the game flow and the icons, and gameplay became much smoother.

The Thoughts

The gameplay of Heroes of Normandie feels similar to Conflict of Heroes and Duel of Ages, because of the similar granularity. Due to how most information is put on the units and the gameboard, the game plays very smoothly once you learn the icons. The game flow is clean and simple. The combat factor calculation is mostly straightforward. There is a bit of luck because of the die rolls, and also because of the card play. The cards can be quite powerful, and they are a big factor during play. The game in play looks serious, despite the cartoonish look of the box cover and the rulebook. I feel the game is of light-to-medium weight, slightly more complex than Memoir '44, but less so than Conflict of Heroes. I wonder whether my experience with the first two scenarios is making me think the game has a larger luck element than it actually does. At the moment I think there is a significant luck factor, so the game should be played in a light-hearted way, closer to how you play Memoir '44 than how you play Conflict of Heroes.

One thing that it has which these two other games don't is the point system for building armies. This kind of system is commonly seen in miniature games. I have not experimented with this aspect of the game, so I can't comment on it yet. It seems to offer much variability.

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