Saturday, 18 April 2015

Normandy, A bloody Summer and a Bloody Review...

Bloody Normandy,
A review of Normandie 44: Une Ete Sanglante…

Normandie 44 is a… game on the battle of Normandy. One standard map, two sheets of 5/8” counters.  The game has been edited by a French publisher both in French and English (but the English rules are poorly translated, the translator had simply forgotten some key elements…). It covers the battle for Normandy from 6 June 1944 to end of August.  This is a barebones introduction of a rather interesting game.  Before discussing the component as I am used to do I want to point out that this game is not a new one. It is a second, expanded, edition of a game included in Vae Victis Magazine several years ago. Said that it is a really expanded edition with bigger map, more (and die cut oppose to mount and cut yourself) counters and several revised mechanics. After a long dithering I ordered it last July, just in time to refight the bloody summer of 1944 70 years later.
We are about to land in France...

Once you open the ziplock you end up with colour rules, a really nice map and counters, and a quite sturdy play aid. The map is definitely pleasant and has really big hexagon. It is also clear and well laid out with a lot of helpful things around, like landing boxes and a big turn track with space for renforcements.  The counters in my copy, were a bit difficult to remove from the frame, but rather pleasant. You have a mix of NATO and German symbols and division patches to identify the units. Units vary in size from full divisions to some battalions. 

The rules are a mixed bag, the French ones are fine, the English translation included in the bag is not. Noe even the English update is at the same level of the French version. I do not know if this is a problem with the translator (rumoured to be Charles Vasey... this will explain a lot of things Addenda: the final version of the translation is not his work), or just an effect of time pressure, but there are several inconsistencies and omissions. Probably the English version of the rules is the biggest let down. Of course I know French and can use the original rules, but the game is advertised in an English edition so... ok complain aside the rules are quite logical. Everything is covered, from airpower to ships (albeit in an abstract fashion). The focus of the game is land warfare. Turns are divided in two halves (thus being in effect only 3.5 days long). They have provision for reserves and exploitation. Supply plays a key role, you need to spend supplies to attack, thus showing the importance of the logistical build up. 

I think the logistic section is where the game really shines. you need to stockpile supplies to get thing moving, (supplied HQ modify the initiative roll), but you need to spend supplies (attacks) to use this "movement" to do something useful. There are also little tricks there and here. An HQ can have only 2 Offensive (supply) markers. You spend one for each combat phase. Each turn will have two combat phases per player (plus you can spend these offensives also to provide defensive support). Seems quite straight forward... but is not, sometime you have the ability to perform an exploitation immeditialy after your combat, but you need to spend the offensive marker to have a second combat thus, first you have to have two... second the HQ will be done for the turn. Also supplied HQ can provide offensive support for one (and only one) combat. Will yuo have a lot of supplied HAQ, maybe with only one marker each to provide more supports... or concentrate your supplies in few to provide more offensive push? Of course... offensive markers are in reasonably short supply anyway...
Cotentin Close up

Movement and combat are quite straightforward, with some interesting airdrop and landing rules and off map movement and combat to represent the larger theatre of operations (a plus in my eyes). 

Apart from the poor writing in rules one thing that has not persuaded me was the stacking value of some units and the stacking limits. They simply does not make sense…  a British independent tank brigade with three battalions is 3 stacking points, ok one SP per battalion… but a full British infantry division is also 3….  Does this sounds right to you? More to the point, in the rules the maximum stacking point per hex is 5, thus you cannot attach a tank brigade to an infantry division to support it during an assault. Well the independent tank brigades were designed to do just that. This frankly does not makes any sense. Also because a full standard US Armoured division is also 3 stacking points, thus with three tan battalions, three armoured infantry battalions, Recon, artillery and so on…

If you then look at the German panzer division you will discover that each of their regiments/battalions is only 1 stacking point… thus because each German Panzer Division is represented in the game by 4 counters (2 Panzer Abteilung and two panzer grenadier regiments) you have them at 4 points.. thus 6 Germans battalions (with their attached reconnaissance, artillery, panzerjaeger, and pioneers occupy just 25% more space than three British Tank battalions. Not his does not make any sense. It is the same with the two “heavy” US armoured divisions. Again stacking values do not make any sense. IF I can cram a whole panzer divisions and at least something else in an hex I can do also the same with the 2nd and 3rd armoured. In my last play I just upped stacking limits to 6 per hex and thing worked a bit better… with the caveat you cannot put two full infantry divisions in a single hex. I think that 5 stacking point is reasonable if you reduced the independent tank brigades and the Heavy combat command to 1 stacking point. Anyway this is the major design issue in Normandie 44. One that Eric Teng, the designer, has to address and explain.

Well I have told you I like the graphic, got a headache with the rules, and have some problems with some of the design decisions. But what I made of the game overall? Well after I ditched the English version of the rules and switched to the original one, after I made my own interpretations of the (few at that point) unclear rules and decided to consider the stacking points for the tank brigades just 1... I was able to play the game reasonably smoothly and was given a quite nice experience in return. 

There is a lot of elements to like in Normandie 44. The first good point is represented by the combat system. I already mentioned the supply factors, but there are more nuances. You have elite units, and you can have air and naval support. I like the ability of allied airpower not only to support combat, but to make retreats more difficult. Even more I like the wat combat results are used. There is a combination of permanent step losses, and temporary disruptions. The temporary results gave much more granularity to division sized counters.  You can see attacking forces slowly deteriorate and defending forces collapsing and the utility for rotations in and out of the main line. Of coruse there are replacements points (and usually these things have been always dealt with replacements rate) but... but recycling whole divisions on and off the dead pile in weeks always seemed artificial. Here you pull units away from the line, rest them, and put them back. I know people nowadays are often all hyped up about results, but something showing processes is indeed important.

Another key are doing rather well is the replacement system. Allied units have infinite replacements, you just pull out of the line, and absorb replacement, replacements for the German side are more hapzard, and few. This perfectly captures the big dilemma the German command faced. It was easy to send unit to Normandy, not so easy to keep them operational once there. While the Allies can take losses and, if given time, be back in full strength, the German army cannot take too many casualties each turn before holes develops. If the process continues unabated sooner or later simple holes will be replaced with gaping ones and the flow of allied forces will start. Yet the German has to keep some form of pressure because he needs to slow down the enemy... trade off. 
The British Beaches, look at the German tactical symbols!

In conclusion… well in conclusion Normandie 44 is an excellent game marred by a subpar rule set, an awful translation (again, if Charles is the responsible of that debacle I would understand a lot of things… Addenda repeated: he was not responsible), and a couple of quirk points. Yet it is an excellent game that allows you to explore the campaign in reasonable detail and in a reasonably short time frame. The critical elements of the campaign, namely the bloody stalemated in June and July, the sudden manoeuvre phase in August, and, finally, the race between German and Allied reinforcements are extremely well captured.  The casualty system is eminently successful in representing the severe attrition of the battle and the ability of the Allies to over-replace the Germans.

Important Note:  I have been told that Charles Vasey has nothing to do with the final translated version despite the rumours. so I apologize for my bad guess.  Yet I stand by my comments that his rulebooks are not so user friendly and I want also to point out that the same shady figure of our hobby, instead of explaining the situation, sent me two e-mail calling me little shit... go figure. Of course I will never buy a game designed from him again.


  1. Yo Chico, sorry to rain on your parade but although I translated the originals this version is not mine. In May 2013 Eric Teng wrote to say "As you might have noticed, the game has not been released, as I wanted to correct and improve it! I have made a new version, witch is quite different..". You might want to correct your errors.

  2. Well, if you said that before calling me little shit... I would have done... now... well readers deserve honesty anyway.