Review: Heroes of Normandie28 Jul 2016 55
Review: Heroes of Normandie
Released 28 Jul 2016
I'm one of those unfortunate souls who never had the chance to play boardgames as a kid. I'm talking real boardgames here, not the school holidays Crown and Andrews curse of staying with your grandmother brand of games. The medium is enjoying a huge renaissance and I would happily state that it's digital boardgames that are the biggest reason to own a touch device right now. Heroes of Normandie, which had a smashing PC adaptation, is finally on iOS tablets and phones. Time to re-up that Commando comic subscription and punt a panzerschreck through the hedgerow.
Am I Battling a Bulge in my pocket, or am I just happy to play this?
This has been bobbing around in my Steam library for a while, but it took the iOS version to get me to really examine Heroes of Normandie. I can't speak to the dynamics of its translation from tabletop to tablet, but if there's one thing that I can't abide, it's no-frills transmogrification. I had heard great things about the venerable cardboard Phantom Leader, when that made the leap to digital, but that was a poor adaptation. Thankfully, Heroes of Normandie balances its boxed roots with a good bit of kinetic pop.
Screenshots tell no lies. The cardboard version was a little stunner, the likes of which are intact here. Despite its top-down appearance, each little detail is lovingly rendered and pops on the screen. Shifting unit cards about the grid has them twist a touch, throwing a scant shadow beneath them in approximation of depth as you rearrange positions. Units themselves shudder and kick as they loose ordnance, recoiling against AT shells or steeling against the hungry snarl of an MG. For a game composed of oblongs and squares, the subtle animation gives a simple but very effective punch to every move.
The game itself is a popcorn romp through an Edwin Marcus Normandy. Historicity be damned, Heroes of Normandie is squash court combat; units never far from their opponents and enacting brief, punchy encounters. Across the two campaigns, skirmish mode, asynchronous-enabled multiplayer and a rogue-like (I know, right?) mode, this game has plenty to chew on. There's even a level editor for those so inclined.
It moves along at a cracking pace, guided by low unit numbers and brisk activation that governs who can fight and in what order. Each turn is broken into three parts. The Order phase has players assign which units will initiate an action, followed by combat or movement in the Action phase. Thereafter, all remaining units can be repositioned in the Supply phase.
Units can be buffed or hampered by a four-strong hand of randomly drawn cards each turn. These might enable a boost to assault statistics, allow for movement and shooting without penalty, shuffle or remove a unit's order ticket and so forth. I've found these cards bolster the straightforward dice combat, putting much more emphasis on risk management than coping with miserly rolls.
This isn't a game of persnickety combat modification, but don't let the lighter mechanics fool you into thinking the game is some die-chucker. Outside of core elements like suppression, wounding and weapon-setting, every unit features a good mix of abilities and bonuses. Frightening auto-suppresses a target, even if the attacking unit fails to connect or wound. Personal Order allows a unit to activate in the order for free. A unit sporting Autonomy gets free actions. Couple the above and more with the card system and Heroes of Normandie becomes a tantalising game of combat combos.
Beyond the campaigns, with their upward swing in discrete mission difficulty, and the skirmish, the rogue-like mode is the most interesting. As its name suggests, it's a one-life campaign where players begin with a small purse for acquisition, expanding and purchasing units with every successful encounter. In keeping with the spirit of the rogue-like, mission failure takes you right back to the start. No do-overs, no take-backs. The rogue-like mode is very much a playground for veterans to test their mettle, and a good addition overall.
While fiddly, I'd like to make special mention of how robust the game is on a phone, specifically the 6S. If you're putting the Pocket in Tactics on a commute, and are willing to put up with a touch of pinching and zooming between parsing unit or card information and taking in the whole battlefield, Heroes of Normandie is pretty good. Of course, it looks and plays marvellously on larger tablets, but if you're feeling the asynchronous itch on the 8:05, the gulf of playability is negligible.
Limited cards and activation orders per turn make each round of Heroes of Normandie feel seat-of-the-pants, so folks looking for the 'long game' might be better served elsewhere. It's a bold, punchy and handsome tactical combat game that just works. No quibbles, no fuss. And I'm no longer left reaching for Mastermind at Grannies.
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