There are many WWII games these days. Axis & Allies is almost a 4x game, you have to setup forward staging posts and factories and micro manage the war effort, on the other end of the scale you have Memoire ’44 a fun and easy to play game where the scenarios are all based on actual events. Heroes of Normandie is rather tongue in cheek. It’s like a Hollywood movie turned board game set in WWII. Think Dirty Dozen, or Saving Private Ryan and you won’t be far off.
Chock full of action and some noteworthy characters, Devil Pig has made a cracker of a tactical game that’s very easy to learn and fun play. Heroes of Normandie has been nominated for an Origins Award for 2015. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy so that I could write this Heroes of Normandie review.
For the TL;DR version click here.
Opening the Box
The specs on the Box:
- 2 players
- 30 min
- Ages 14+ (but it’s actually very easy to learn, with patience you can teach it to a 7 or 8 year old)
In the box we have 2 books, 1 is a rule book and the other a scenario book. 6 Double sided map boards. A deck of cards, set of order markers and dice for each faction in the box (American and German). Finally it has more Tokens than you can shake a stick at. It’s a rather heavy box.
My first peeve with the game is that it only has baggies for the dice and order markers. The sheer volume of tokens makes setup a chore. You can spend a lot of time searching for all the components needed for a particular mission. That being said, it’s not a big problem, a trip to the kitchen to appropriate some zip-lock bags will sort that out. You can store tokens that are usually used together in the same bag and greatly reduce setup time. Labelling the bags with their content will help too.
The components themselves are very good quality, the tokens are very thick and punch out with ease. I think the cards could use a thicker card stock, they are very thin and can bend with little trouble.
The art style, on the tokens, is cartoony but that just helps the game aesthetic. Its a good thing considering that the game does not take itself too seriously.
The cards though, have images that could have been taken straight from archives from the war, but some of them are on the lighter side.
It’s interesting, because looking at the board I see a light, fun game then looking at the cars in my hand I can almost hear the gun fire and the bombs being dropped.
You need to remember though that it’s not a game of the actual war, but a game of the Hollywood blockbuster movies of the war. So it’s not meant to be too serious but not a full-on comedy either. A balancing act that it does rather well when you look at the game as a whole.
Before I get on to how the game works, I have to mention the rule book. Firstly it’s great that it’s a collaborative effort with the gaming community. The input from the players that resulted in changing the rules is actually marked in the book. This input does mean that the book can and does change. We, in South Africa, have been spared the error filled rule books of the first print run but you might want to check with devil pig every once and a while to see if there has been an update to the book or not to download.
The second thing is the layout of the book itself. It’s backwards. It starts with the section on creating custom scenarios and then moves on to the how to play the actual game. This can be confusing and a bit frustrating as most games that have custom options usually give those at the end of the rules, after you understand how the game works.
I recommend that you setup the first scenario from the scenario book and then start reading the rules, starting with the orders phase, it’ll be easier to understand the game that way.
Onto the game
The game is played using tokens that represent the units in each army.
You begin with some/all of your units deployed on the board, depending on the scenario being played. Once you determine which player has initiative you go through the phases of a turn.
Each side will get a number of Order Markers, dependent on the amount and type of units in the army as well as any extra options available for the army. Plus 1 bluff token.
Players take turns place the order markers on their units (taking care not to show them to the opponent) indicating which of their units will be acting in this turn. The bluff token gives you some interesting tactical options to help you disguise your actual play from your opponent.
The order markers are numbered and the units activate one after the other in numeric order. There are special orders which are bonus orders that go last.
Each unit in ascending order number will now get a turn to act. The player with initiative with have his #1 unit act then the other player will have his #1 act, and so on until all units have acted.
The unit actions are simple. Either move, and assault if they can, or shoot.
Each unit has symbols printed on them that tell you exactly what they can do. The board also has similar markings on it letting you know how different types of units interact with that section of the board or terrain over lay.
This system is great. It will only take a game or 2 before you know exactly what each unit can and cannot do. You will most likely only refer back to the rules when you need to use a unit that you have never used before that there is an unfamiliar symbol on it.
This is the clean-up phase of the game. Resolve end of turn effects. Move all units that did not act in the Action phase, this is great because it helps you to setup for your next turn, and movement and proper positioning is crucial in this game. Finally you may discard as many cards from your hand as you like and the draw back up to 4.
The game itself plays very quickly. The 30 min written on the box is easily achievable, once you know what you’re doing. You can calculate very easily what you need to roll to hit. The symbols make it easy to see who can do what or move where. Add in the fact that all units have only 1 or 2 hit points it means that you have to try to play decisively.
The game is entirely playable without the cards, but they add that extra over the top, just in the nick of time, elements that make a movie fun and allow the Heroes to win the day. A lucky top deck can mean turning a loss into a draw or a draw into a win. The fact that you can replace your whole hand every turn means that you can cycle through your cards at a decent rate, in an attempt to find something that will most helpful to you.
I found myself laughing with everyone that I have played the game with. No one has had a negative comment to say about it. Games got tense very quickly and came down to the wire every time. No one ever had a clear lead, but that’s not to say that it’s not possible in games that have some luck elements to them i.e. dice and random card draws.
All in all it’s highly enjoyable and I highly recommend Heroes of Normandie. It is both a lot of fun and very tactical. I can see myself playing this game often except for 1 thing. It’s a 2 player game and my group usually has 4 or more players around at a time and we prefer playing together, if we can help it.
There are expansions that allow for up to 4 players in a game but you need to buy an army box per extra player. There’s even a Cthulu army that you can play with! 3 Allies vs Cthulu would be epic!
The game does also allow for custom scenarios and armies which greatly increase replay value.
Can I play this at a Braai?
I would have to say no. The games play very quickly. With alternate unit activation it means that there is very little down time so you would need to call for a pause every time you need to turn the meat!
Also setup can take a while if the box is not organised correctly.
Thanks to Boarsgames.co.za for a copy of the game so I could write this Heroes of Normandie review.