The other day the topic of most under rated games came up in conversation which got me to thinking about Heroes of Normandie. I own a lot of what people would consider war or strategy games, in fact as I write this and look to my left I see Fire in the Lake, War Stories and Unconditional surrender all sitting patiently waiting to be played. Heroes of Normandie is the one of those rare games that delivers the full package of what I want in a war game.
I’m sure many a grognard is turning their nose up at the notion that Heroes of Normandie with its bright colors and extra large counters could deliver a great experience. I’ll admit when I saw its prototype at BGG Con in 2013, I had a similar reaction. It only takes a single game to realize the amount of tactical detail delivered by this game. In addition when you sit down to play and get a closer look at the art work and more importantly the iconography, you understand your preconceived notions were way off base.
Heroes of Normandie sets the bar in terms of components for a game of this type, simply put there is a lot of cardboard in the box. In fact there is so much I’m only going to cover the highlights. There are 6 double sided terrain boards with additional terrain overlay options such as buildings and defensive positions. The terrain on the boards is easily identified and how it effects the game is shown right on the boards with that great iconography I was talking about. You don’t have to flip to any table to recall how woods effect movement, cover or line of sight it’s all right there for you.
The base game comes with enough units for both the Americans and Germans to create some really large battles. For example the Germans have 3 recruitment options (more on this in a bit), 24 infantry units, 5 vehicle unit counter and 3 heroes. This is not even counting the recruitment counters, objective counters the 76 cards for the German deck and various other items. The Americans are loaded along the same lines.
The art work is fantastic and the cardboard is thick and sturdy. The whole package screams quality from a components standpoint even down to the rule books. I’d be remiss however if I didn’t expand on the rule and scenario book. Heroes of Normandie is a very easy game to play and once you know how to play it the rule book is a valuable quick reference guide.
A number of people, including myself struggled with the layout of the rules. This has more to do with habit than anything else on our parts. The book starts off by going over the counters and then recruiting and while the later is crucial to understand when creating your own scenarios. It is not something you need to know immediately as the early campaign missions tell you what your forces are.
Here is my advice to have you up and playing in short order. Skip the Army Creation part of the rules, open the scenario book and set up the first scenario. Then goto the Action section of the rules and read about the 3 game phases. You’ll be on your way and you can reference the back of the rule book for the iconography and it tells you which page to turn to in the rules to learn more. I promise if you follow these instructions you will be playing a game in less than 20 minutes.
A game turn is played out in 3 phases. You have the Order phase in which players secretly place order tokens on their units. The Activation phase in which players take turns revealing order tokens and having their units move or fire. Finally you have the Supply phase where any units not activated can move and then you do some general turn clean up. Let’s go over these in more detail.
During the activation phase you will have a number of order tokens available to you based on the order points of your army. Certain tiles have starts on them, for example officers usually provide 2 order stars. Recruitment tiles can provide an order star if you have and option in the box (see below) and some heroes do as well. For each order star you have available at the start of a turn you get an order token plus one “bluff” order token.
So if my army for a campaign mission gives me 3 orders, I get the order tokens labeled 1 through 3 and also a blank bluff token. These tokens all look the same on the back side. You would then take alternating turns starting with the player who has initatibe placing all of your order tokens on your units on the board. You will typically not have as many order tokens as units on the board.
There is a turn track that indicates who has initiative and other possible in game events based on the scenario. For example the first scenario has two platoons trying to capture some documents floating down on the body of a dead spy in a parachute. On turn 2 those document land somewhere randomly, there is a marker on the turn track to remind you of the event.
After all order tokens have been placed you now take turns activating units. The player who has initiative would reveal his unit with the 1 order token. This unit can now move, fire or take a special action. Unless playing a card he can only do one of these actions. Below you see a support team tile, everything this unit can do is covered below. The unit type and what platoon it belongs to is present. It’s special action are in upper right, in this case assault and suppression fire.
It’s movement is in the blue arrow, the large number in the center indicated it’s defense number and unit type. All units are color coded, yellow for infantry, red for light vehicles and gray for heavy vehicles. Around that are it’s attack bonuses against each type of unit. In this case the ranger support team gets a +2 vs infantry, +1 vs light vehicles and it can’t attack heavy vehicles. Finally to the right is a symbol which indicates if the unit survives the first hit and is flipped or eliminated.
While I won’t cover every rules I will go over two important ones ranged combat and movement. Ranges combat is fairly simple, you check line of sight to a target and if you have it you can fire. All units can shot the length of the board, but any unit more than 7 spaces away gives you a -2 penalty to your roll. You now roll your attack die a D6 and apply all effects. For example if the ranger unit above was attacking and infantry unit 6 spaces away.
I would roll a D6 and add +2 to the roll. Maybe that unit is in a building which give it a +2 defense bonus, maybe my unit is suppressed giving me a -2 bonus. The good news is all of this information is right on the board and tiles. If my roll after all effects equals or exceeds the targets defensive number I hit. There are rules for assault, Indirect fire, building fire, vehicle damage and so on. All of them are really easy and the campaign mission do a good job of introducing them as you progress.
I wanted to make sure I was covering movement because it allows me to show how much I love what they have done here. Below you see a section of a map board. You can easily see that the wooded area is terrain that effects the game. Once you learn how to read the icons, which takes about 2 or 3 sessions you’ll love this icon system.
In this case the woods are providing an infantry defensive bonus of +2. The movement icon indicates this is difficult passage and any unit moving in this terrain must stop moving when entering it. The red triangle indicates this terrain is blocking line of sight traced through this square. I mean it’s so bloody simple it is brilliant. I rarely flip to the rules anymore while playing the game.
Once you’ve played through the included scenarios and others you can find online or in the expansions. Heroes of Normandie turns into a miniatures game so to speak. The rules included a simple way to create scenarios and build armies with a point buy system. That is what the whole recruitment section I had you skip in the beginning is about. If you come back to it now after playing a dozen scenarios it makes a lot more sense.
I’m not sure if you can tell how much I love this game so let me be clear, I LOVE THIS GAME. It has wonderful components, some really inexpensive expansions to add more units and it replay value is unlimited. The game plays fast, looks incredible on the table and offers the same tactical experience as many other games set at this level of engagement. I have two “go to” war games when I want to get someone interested in the genre or play an experienced player with tactical skills. Heroes of Normandie is one of those and you owe it to yourself to play this game if you’re a war / strategy gamer.
Thank you Iello for publishing this excellent title! We look forward to more expansions!