War, eh? It's no laughing matter, really. It seems like every single time a war happens, somebody ends up getting hurt. Since the beginning of recorded history, wars have caused a catalogue of injuries from a little finger boo-boo all the way to a blasted into dust by a mad big bomb. Say what you want about wars – you have to agree that they come with their fair share of inconveniences.
If you want to have a wee war on your table, you've come to the right place. Let Grand Side-General of the Ambassador Florence (I don't know anything about military ranks) tell you all about HEROES OF NORMANDIE.
HEROES OF NORMANDIE
I've never understood why they put “Hut!” at the end of Atten-HUT! It always reminds me of Pizza Hut and makes me a bit hungry. The last thing I want to be thinking about on a battlefield is delicious hot stuffed-crust pizza, my goodness.
Anyway, please stand to attention, because Heroes of Normandie is looking like a very good game. It's a light, tactical wargame that has the feel of a miniatures game – and I'll explain why it feels like a miniatures game a few inches below this.
The game has a Hollywood-style WWII setting. It feels quite tongue-in-cheek (one of the mission involves rescuing a general's beloved dog from the battlefield) and has lovely art to support the setting – a nice comic-book aesthetic. There's a lot of stuff inside the box. The US army and the Germans. Troops, tanks, scenery tiles. All in lovely, colourful, thick cardboard.
You choose a scenario then you build your army. This is where it moves into miniatures game turf. Each player has a set amount of points, and can rig out their squad however they wish. You can take a variety of troops onto the board, extra ammo, commanders that give bonuses, vehicles. Players have a little cardboard frame that lets you slot your chosen units right into it – another nice idea that makes everything easily understood by new players.
There's just a LOT of stuff in the game from the kick-off. As much as I love true light miniatures games like X-Wing and Dust Tactics, I think there's a fair amount of extra purchasing necessary before those games really shine. Heroes of Normandie gives you plenty to choose from, and feels pretty much complete to me. (I know there's extra stuff you can get for the game – including the obligatory Cthulhu-themed set that brings monsters and cultists into play.... WHAT? I TOLD YOU IT WAS TONGUE-IN-CHEEK.)
Okay, so how does it play.
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
Listen up and I'll explain how it plays. It's actually really simple. Every unit has all its important info printed right on its tile. Movement, offensive capabilities, defence. It's all there. Within a turn or two, new players are up-and-running with their troops' basic abilities.
Now, players also have some order tokens. Let's say a scenario allows players three orders – the players will take order tokens numbered 1-3, and then a fourth blank token that they can use to bluff. Players lay these tokens face down on the army tiles they want to give orders to in that turn. In initiative order, order 1 gets resolved by both players, then 2, then 3. Easy. Done. After all the orders are executed, any units not ordered have a free movement. And that's pretty much it!
Now, these orders are crucial to the drama of the game. You will see your opponent place four blocks down on four units. But you won't know which will activate first. One of those blocks will be blank, too. That unit will not move at all (until the end of the round, when it gets its free move). Within this game mechanic there's a lot of space for the springing of traps and a great deal of bluff and counter-bluff. With the orders placed one way, you might make a straight-forward advance down the middle. With the orders placed another way, your units might start to flank, leaving the centre of your squad lying deep. Your opponent's job is to work out, with the information he has (3 of 4 of your units are definitely doing something), which way your tactics are leaning.
Let's talk about the cards now. Each player has a hand of cards that can tweak the rules of the game. Cards that let you move through rough terrain without penalty. Cards that let you reactivate a unit you've already ordered. It adds another layer of unpredictability, and there are LOADS of cards. You're constantly thinking about what your opponent might have up their sleeve.
There's smoke. There's different terrain. There's buildings you can enter. Rules for grenades and launchers and reinforcements. The game is built for you to play around with. The scenarios in the book, as fun as they are, are just a guide. You can easily fling down some boards, some terrain, choose a point total for your armies and get right down to it. Give some orders, make some bluffs, chuck some dice. You want a long session? Build a long game. You want a quick one? Have a 15 minute firefight. It's all in here.
Heroes of Normandie is a strong, fun game with a generous amount of content inside the box. It's the kind of game you and a friend can get up and running quickly, but it has enough depth to have you both coming back for more again and again. The rulebook is a bit clunky, I think. If anything, it over-explains stuff. The best way to learn this game is to set up the first scenario and play with the rulebook in hand. Once it clicks, it clicks for good.
It's not a Memoir '44 beater or anything – but I say that as someone who LOVES the C&C system that powers Memoir and Battlelore and such. But it's a game that will be staying in my collection because of its simplicity and openness.
It's a great little wargame sandbox. You should play in it.