Shadows Over Normandie uses the same game system as Heroes Of Normandie, but is a standalone game rather than an expansion. Existing Heroes Of Normandie players will be pleased that the rules have been clarified and the use of cards improved.
In both games each player has a hand of cards to support their game actions. In Heroes Of Normandie the cards were the same for both sides and were not always of use in a specific game situation. In Shadows Over Normandie each of the three factions (1 Allied, 2 German) has their own card set and where a card is seemingly of limited use an alternate play for the same card is specified. This means that there will never be a case of drawing a card that will not be of any use during the game.
Heroes Of Normandie units and terrain tiles can be used in Shadows Over Normandie without restriction, although in some cases the relevant Heroes Of Normandie special rules will need to be referenced. The Shadows Over Normandie units can similarly run on the Heroes Of Normandie boards, although it is best to have plenty of water present as the Cthulhu monsters are at their best in the wet.
Shadows Over Normandie is set in Normandy (no surprise) 1944 where the German secret society (the Black Sun) have gained the support of various Cthulhu inspired creatures (the Deep Ones). Think tentacles, amphibians and swamps.
The Allies are represented by the USA who have regular troops, heroes and vehicles but no monsters. The game lacks an in-depth commentary on the back story which is based on the Achtung Cthulhu role-play universe. There is however enough detail on the units and scenarios to get into the feel of the setting.
There is an obvious advantage over the run of the mill World War Two game in that this is clearly not real, so there is a lesser element of glorifying war. The setting also allows fanciful events to take place adding variety above the traditional historical setting.
Playing Shadows Over Normandie
The in-game scenarios are designed to be played as a campaign with the results of one game influencing the next. This can make some scenarios verge on the hard or easy side. They could also be played stand-alone or the scenario and force builder included can be used to create balanced games.
The force builder system is the same as for Heroes Of Normandie so you could send in British, paratroops, resistance fighters or whatever against the Germans if the appropriate expansion was to hand. This building system relies on trays with cut outs and colour stripes across the gaps. Tokens that are not required for the scenario gameplay are used to select forces. If the token fits in a gap of the tray and the colour stripe lines up then the forces represented by that token can be used in the game.
There is also a points allowance for each token, preventing everyone loading up with the good stuff. The system works but benefits from careful sorting of the tokens to be aware of all the options available. Experienced gamers might have preferred the system to be replaced by a points chart and the cardboard used by the tokens and trays freed up for more combat units and related on-board action.
Despite the cartoony nature of the graphics this is definitely a war game with a fair degree of realism, although possibly less so for the horrors. The graphics depict real or imagined forces as top down images of roughly the size of 15mm miniature war game armies.
Traditionally this sort of game uses a hexagonal grid but squares are used here with diagonal moves allowed, only one combat unit may fit in a square (except briefly during an assault) although vehicles and really big monsters occupy more than one square.
Each player has a set of order blocks, one blank, one special and the others with sequential numbers starting at one. At the beginning of a turn, each is placed on a square with one of their own units. The first player will then activate the unit under their block numbered one, then the opponent. Next the blocks numbered two will activate alternately and so on.
The special block can activate at any time and is brought in through card play. The number of numbered blocks will almost always be less than the total units each side has in play. Some units or sets of units bring an activation block with them and as these are removed from the game, their blocks (as the highest number still in play) go with them. A few units are able to act without an order block. Other units that have not been ordered will be allowed some limited actions at the end of the turn.
The appeal of the system is to have all the information needed to play either written on the counters or printed on the map. For the map this includes line of sight and cover issues. For the counters this is the effectiveness of weaponry and ability to move. All the counters are double-sided. In some cases the reverse represents the same unit at reduced strength, in others it denotes a hidden unit or a model in a different state such as a machine gun that is packed up or deployed.
Vehicles can be damaged, rather than destroyed, and some of the bigger nasties will take more than one hit before suffering any damage. Combat involves the usual suspects, ranged firing, some units can fire on the move and assault where the attacker enters the defender's location. Results are based around rolling a single dice, adding or subtracting various modifiers and needing to equal or beat a defence value.
Doubling the defence value will give a bonus effect. The monsters may not have modern weapons but follow the same plan. The range for a tentacle for example being based around how far it can reach out from its watery base.
There is some magic but generally as an aid to combat or summoning a new unit rather than some off the wall effect. Nothing is going to get turned into a frog but a unit could take a hit or become weakened. Terror has its place; if a unit is close to a horror causing unit and has suffered suppression (a detriment to combat and probably caused by the horror’s previous attacks) then that unit can panic and suffer an adverse effect such as running away from (fear) or towards (rage) the horror.
The symbol system can result on some crowding on the counters and until the meaning of those symbols are learnt rules looking up will be required. It could also be possible to miss a key strength of a unit because a symbol has not been recognised. This is less so for the human units and vehicles whose purpose can be guessed than for the swamp horrors where all bets are off. This approach is not helped by the dark swamps of the boards and shading of the Axis unit counters which while supporting the Cthulhu atmosphere can make it hard to identify all the key symbols.
Shadows Over Normandie does what it says on the tin. It's a blend of WW2 war gaming and Cthulhu mythos. The system is easy to get into with few rules to wade through before getting into the action although attention does need to be paid to the counter and map symbols.
It is a shame that the dark foreboding graphics make reading some of the counter details difficult.