Gen Con 2013: Heroes of Normandie
Last week, Zach and I got a chance to demo Hereos of Normandie, a World War II board game, with its developers at Gen Con. IELLO was showing off the game at their booth on the show floor as well as at their press event earlier in the week.
Heroes of Normandie is a board game by French designer Yann et Clem and is part of IELLO’s plans to bring French-developed tabletop games to an international audience, namely by translating the game to English and bringing it to the United States later this year.
The game pits two players, one playing as the Americans and the other playing as the Germans, against one another in a wide variety of World War II scenarios all centering in theme and style around the battles fought in or near Normandy (or as the game’s French developers said was “the right way to spell it:” Normandie). The game uses a series of large tiles to create its battlefields and smaller tiles to act as different units of soldiers or light and heavy vehicles. Different areas of the battlefield tiles act as different types of cover, allowing some units to travel through them, some tiles to block line of sight and most cover to lower an enemy units chance to hit while firing upon enemies hiding inside. Each unit has strengths and weaknesses against each of the three types of units: Infantry, Light Vehicles, and Heavy Vehicles. Small-scale warfare was the name of the game in our demo where we played on a battlefield that could not, from the soldier’s perspective, have been much more than 100 square yards.
Immediately upon learning the rules, Heroes of Normandie reminded me most not of a board game but of a video game: Company of Heroes, a WWII RTS focused on squad warfare, cover, and sustained damage to the battlefield. This was only further cemented in my mind when I learned that upon destroying vehicles, their tiles flip, and they become new pieces of cover on the battlefield, blocking line of sight for infantry and providing an additional means of moving your units up towards the fight safely. The same persistent destruction is also true of the buildings present in certain scenarios and on certain battlefield tiles. Upon being destroyed, those units inside may have to take damage, and the building’s tile flips, revealing a now collapsed building with different properties.
The game utilizes an interesting order mechanic where initiative alternates between players each turn. In our scenario, I started with the initiative and then was given 3 orders (wooden blocks with iron crosses on one side and the numbers 1 through 3 on the other) and one dummy order (a block with an iron cross but without a number). I then placed my orders on top of my units on the battlefield (keeping their order hidden from my opponent). Zach then did the same. From here, I started the turn by moving and firing with my first unit, Zach then ordered his first unit and so on and so forth until the next turn, in which Zach took the initiative.
This semi-simultaneous turn system can makes from some really interesting gameplay as taking out an enemy’s unit before it is able to move/shoot forces your opponent to skip that order entirely (since the unit has been destroyed). In one particularly epic turn, I was able to kill around half of Zach’s forces without taking any losses by focus-firing the units I predicted he would have put his orders on first. The order mechanic can lead to some interesting changes in your strategy, where you may want to place a dummy order on your tank for a turn in the hopes that the enemy will anticipate that you have your first order set on it and will fire there instead of at your troops that you are hoping to use to flank and fire on the enemy’s units.
Due to the small scale of the battlefield, range is rarely something that needed to be taken into consideration, forcing Zach and I to focus on navigating intelligently through the cover we each had on our sides of the battlefield. Being out in the open could mean the death of a specialty unit or officer or a more robust unit being taken down to half strength due to casualties within its squad.
Out of all the games I got to check out at Gen Con this year, Heroes of Normandie was the quickest to catch my attention and the longest to hold onto it. The way that it easily replicates the best aspects of a miniatures game while also playing quickly and incorporating some of my favorite elements of certain video games like Company of Heroes or Dawn of War really worked its way into my brain and has yet to leave. The game’s art fits its style wonderfully. A small, two-tile battle like I demoed takes around 15 to 20 minutes which is extremely short for something that feels so much like a miniatures war game experience. The small-scale battles make every move or shot feel crucial, raising the stakes and, therefore, the pay offs of all of the game’s victories and defeats. Taking out Zach’s Sherman tank with a single shot from my well-hidden Panzerschreck unit was extremely satisfying while also allowing me to instantly provide cover for almost half of my units. It’s that kind of layered mechanics that made the game so fun to play during my far too brief demo with it.
My only major concern with the game as it stands now is the $80 to $90 price point. That’s a big chunk of change for a board game, especially one that is mostly tile and card-based (miniatures-free). While the game’s developers were quick to point out the extensive scenario list and army makeups, I am still not sure that will be enough to convince many to pick up the game for that kind of asking price. If IELLO could see the game’s price dropped to the designer board game standard of around $60, I think they will definitely have a hit on their hands.
UPDATE: Yann et Clem has let me know that the game will, in fact, be releasing with a $65 price point when it launches in America later this year. Since a too-high price was my only real concern with the game, I can now say that I am just really, really excited to get my hand’s on a copy later this year.
Heroes of Normandie is planned for release later this year with an estimated price point of $65.