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Combat Commander: Battle Pack #3 – Normandy» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Landing in Normandy rss

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Francis K. Lalumiere
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(Originally posted on BoardGameNews.com)

The popularity of the Combat Commander system keeps reaching new heights, which in turn stimulates GMT into developing more supplemental material to satisfy demand.
After two “core” sets, fans were graced with two battle packs: one focusing on paratroopers, and the other on combat in and around Stalingrad.
This time, the Normandy invasion gets the hero treatment. While a few of the early scenarios depicted some of the opening maneuvers of Operation Overlord, the third battle pack really zooms in on the action of D-Day (and the next few weeks) in Normandy.

So what’s to be found in the innocent-looking, tranquil-green folder?
Eight new maps, all about Normandy (with bocage galore); a metric ton of new markers, with more new leaders than you can shake a BAR at; 17 new scenarios to get your Ranger adrenaline pumping (get those gliders ready); and special rules to cover situations specific to the Normandy topographical and military situation, including a unique rule set for a multi-scenario campaign game.

If that’s not enough, you can go sit on a Teller mine.

NEW PHILOSOPHY
This time around, the development team decided to concentrate their efforts on making the new material as historically sound as possible. This has influenced the production of the new maps, the new leaders, even some of the new special rules.

NEW UNITS
Novel units are nothing new under the Combat Commander sun – players were spoiled with them in the Stalingrad battle pack. So the new Ranger and SS Supply and FFI Irregular units are great fun, but hardly unexpected. What is unprecedented, however, is the slew of new leaders that pop out of the Normandy battle pack, for all three involved factions: German, American, and British. New leaders numbering in the dozens. Seriously.

The concept here is to give you a leader that bears the name (and hopefully, representative stats) of an actual officer involved in the action depicted by this or that scenario. So if Colonel Rudder was leading a specific attack, you’ll get to play with an actual “Col Rudder” leader marker in the corresponding scenario.
And while this works fine in concept (and I’m one of those who religiously reads the historical summaries for every new scenario I play), in practice it gets tedious after a short while.
The problem is not only that many of the new leaders are essentially reprints of existing ones (albeit with different names): there are also identical leaders within the pool of new ones. Take the two brand new American heroes, for instance. They’re different from Lucas (the existing American hero) and that makes them fun to play… but the two new ones are identical (except for the names, of course). Wouldn’t one have sufficed?
So it all comes down to weighing the fun of having “historical” leader markers for each scenario, against the tedium of wading through, say, 28 markers (adding to setup time) in order to find exactly the one you need—in the end you’re fishing for the marker with the right name on it, because chances are its stats are duplicated on another leader marker elsewhere.
As much as I am a military history buff, I would have preferred to get just the entirely new leaders and forego the stats duplicates. Less setup time, and less space eaten up in my Plano case.

NEW RULES
Just as Stalingrad received special rules to simulate the vicious urban fighting within its walls, Normandy also gets a rules upgrade, what with bocage busting and shooting at moving targets on beaches, amongst other favorite activities.
And while it’s fun, it’s not all that some fans (including Yours Truly) might have wished for.

The 12-page rulebook is divided into two big sections: the campaign rules and the Normandy rules.
The Normandy section features a handful of rules for bocages (hedges are +1/+1), rural roads (no -1 cover), limited smoke barrages (break your radio after smoke!), beach terrain (1.5 MP), shingle terrain (cover 3 if shot at through a shingle hexside) and hedgehog terrain (cover 1).
Then there are night rules, starshell rules and scout rules, but those are essentially a port from the Combat Commander: Pacific rule set. Nothing wrong here, but for fans who play both incarnations of the system, this chunk of “new rules” feels a bit redundant.
(Although, I have to say, being allowed to remove a starshell from the map with the play of an Artillery Denied card is a blast.)

The campaign rules are a nice rework of the campaign system devised for Stalingrad, but the two things I was looking forward to the most, i.e. bocage busting and combined arms, are found here, in the campaign rules. Get it? This means that those rules—which are great fun!—are only used in the campaign, and not in the regular scenarios. I understand they couldn’t be used in all scenarios, of course; but I wish the development team had shoehorned them in at least a few of the scenarios, with a “Bocage busting and combined arms rules are in effect” mention at the top.

NEW SCENARIOS
Ah, now you’re talking.
Not counting the campaign (hold that trigger finger, we’ll get to that in a moment), the Normandy battle pack delivers 16 new scenarios. Eight of them are linked to brand new maps that depict actual historical combat locations, sometimes with very specific terrain and features (like the trench maze between bunkers overlooking Omaha Beach, for instance).
And each of the new scenarios features very cool—and sometimes quite radical special rules— cooked up just for that engagement.

My disappointment at not being able to use the bocage busting and combined arms mechanics throughout the scenarios was more than overcome by the sheer awesomeness of the special rules peppering the pack of scenarios.

Only one minor gripe: players technically get 15 new scenarios, not 16 (again, excluding the campaign). That’s because scenario 47 exists in two versions: historical and hypothetical/planned. But the difference between both versions is so subtle that it’s really one scenario with a small variant that you can check out if you feel like it. (And sadly, a typo appears to lessen the difference between the two versions even more; in 47b, make sure you perform the invasion bombardment after BOTH sides have set up.)

THE CAMPAIGN
A modified version of the Mediterranean random scenario generator is used to drive the campaign system in Normandy, where players struggle over five different maps, and where the outcome of each battle dictates where the next one will happen.

As was the case in Stalingrad, each side begins the campaign with a command platoon, and can complement their forces with campaign platoons drawn from a limited pool. Americans and Germans can both spend points to get armor support in the form of “just off-map” tank units represented by very localized artillery shots. Optional rules make armor support even more fun, by requiring a line of sight to be drawn from the edge of the map in addition to the activated leader, who serves here as a spotter. So get started clearing those bocages!
Bocage busting is achieved through the use of a satchel charge that effectively eliminates the hedge/bocage along the chosen hexside (appropriate markers are provided). As a tasty kicker, the satchel charge is placed on the next space of the time track, ready to blow another bocage to kindling at the next opportunity.

The Stalingrad rule about a fraction of the surviving units carrying over as reinforcements is no longer used, but has stepped aside to make room for an equally fun rule: the winner of each engagement gets to see his command platoon leader promoted! So Sergeants Craighead and Heinzmann could very well finish the campaign as captains.

The first player to win four battles claims victory for the overall campaign.

PRODUCTION
Production is great. So well done, in fact, that I’m having a really hard time finding something to criticize here. Some die-hard nutcases will retort that the hues are not exactly the same on the new counters, or that the font used to print the name of new units doesn’t seem to be quite the same one GMT used before, but this is all hogwash.
If you’ve enjoyed the production quality of the Combat Commander series thus far, you’ll be a happy trooper with the Normandy pack.

FUN FACTOR
What can I say? This game is fun, and more material for a fun game is, well, more fun.
I’m still a bit bitter about my not being able to enjoy the bocage busting and combined arms mechanics on a more regular basis (I play Combat Commander about twice a week, and I know I won’t get to play the campaign scenario that often, far from it) but the individual scenarios are such a blast that even if you never play the campaign, you get 16 on-the-edge-of-your-seat new episodes for your favorite WWII tactical series.
That’s more than worth the price of admission.
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David Bohnenberger
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I have a feeling the pile of leaders falls into the "we had space on the countersheet" category. For certain, we will all be sorting these into a separate bag or tray.

The designer seems to understand that there will be a lot of love/hate regarding this decision. Yes, it's nice to recognize the actual men who fought, and it just doesn't seem right to use a counter with the wrong name when fighting a historical scenario. But yes, it's a pain to pick through them all!
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Chick Lewis
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Very nice review, thanks for writing and crossposting it !

I actually REALLY like the huge number of named leader counters. I enjoy sorting through them all to find exactly the right commander chit.

I think this may hearken way back in time to the day Walt and I cracked open the Just-Released Afrika Korps game by Avalon Hill. I was used to counters representing whole divisions or corps of fighting men, and there in the countersheet was the 'Rommel' chit !!

I still remember thinking, WOW, that must be the ultimate tribute to an historical commander, to have a chit representing only one person.

I believe, in my own small way, that I honor those brave men by admiring and maneuvering their individually-named counters.

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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Thank you Chick!
 
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John Foley
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Quote:
As much as I am a military history buff, I would have preferred to get just the entirely new leaders and forego the stats duplicates. Less setup time, and less space eaten up in my Plano case.


Your reaction is truly noted. If this is seen as a major detraction by a lot of people, then I'll have to think about how to modify the approach.

I am also sorry that you are bitter about not being able to use the combined arms rules in the other scenarios. It took a very long and hard year of thinking and testing to create those rules, they were the last thing to finish before final production.

I am glad you can see and enjoy the richness of what the scenario designers created. I'm very glad that their fantastic work is the primary value of the battle pack.
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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johnfoley79 wrote:

I am also sorry that you are bitter about not being able to use the combined arms rules in the other scenarios. It took a very long and hard year of thinking and testing to create those rules, they were the last thing to finish before final production.

John, as you correctly state, I'm only bitter about not being able to use the combined arms rules more often. Because they ARE terrific rules (and it shows that you worked on them a long time).
I especially like the optional rule that forces you to trace LOS from the very edge of the map. I wouldn't want to play it any other way.

I actually have a day-long campaign session scheduled with Jaels for the 25th of April. Can't wait to hit the beach...

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John Foley
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Quote:
I especially like the optional rule that forces you to trace LOS from the very edge of the map. I wouldn't want to play it any other way.


I definitely prefer this method myself.

It's important for me to acknowledge how important Kai's input was for this particular implementation. She insisted that I remove the extra complexity that I had originally crafted for these rules. I had fallen a bit into the trap of "over-simulation". I rose up to her important challenge and cut the unnecessary detail so we have (a) the basic rule - which sticks as closely as possible to the radio mechanics and (b) the optional rule which adds only the most important additional bits (most critically a way to tie LOS to the board edge). THANK YOU KAI!
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Kai Jensen
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Just doin' my job, sir.
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Peter Appleton
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I'm not very enamoured by the multitude of new leader counters, I must admit, as there's nothing about them (apart from the US heroes with a 1 command radius) that can't be found in the base games.

Now if there had been leaders with a longer range, or some with a 3 command radius, for example, I would have been happier but I certainly don't need to play a scenario with leaders with a "historically accurate name" to enjoy it.

Of course, I'm sure that there are others out there that wouldn't have it any other way.
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Chadwik
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I will add my voice to the maelstrom: in future I too would prefer to see a tweaked stat or two on new leaders.
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Brian Workman
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I guess I'm undecided about the historic leaders. I think it's a pretty cool idea and I'm into wargaming for the history of it, but it's really just a paste on flavor, and not really the historic leaders with their stats and roles.

Take for example the Pegasus bridge scenario:

Pvt Romer shows up as a reinforcement - in the real battle he was actually on on the bridge when the gliders landed. He fired a flare in the air, yelled "paratroopers!" and ran for the bushes, where he hid for two days. He never fired a shot (so his ratings should be...?)

Major Schmidt's contribution was to arrive on the scene half drunk in the back seat of his speeding open Mercedes which was promptly riddled with bullets seriously wounding him. He was immediately captured.

...and of course Lt Brotheridge was the first man to die by a bullet (there were some casualties in the glider landings).

There are certainly similar issues with other scenarios. I think it is pretty much impossible to apply accurate stats (although at least Hickman, Thornton, and even Brotheridge feel right, and I think that is really what it's about...capturing that feeling.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, and I really do like the idea, it's just that they lend a false sense of historicity and if this is the new trend for future modules, I really don't know where I'm going to put them all, or how I'm going to find the right guys when I need them.

Anyway, that's me thinking about it out loud.
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Gian Carlo Ceccoli
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Yesterday, finally, my Normandy's module is in my home.
I would like to congratulate Chad, Foley and GMT; the product is truly a "state of the art" in-board wargames. Thank you for your work and entertainment that you offer to all of us fans.
A couple of copies of the form have been offered for the next tournament to CC during the SMC 2010, http://www.asgs.sm/smc/viewpage.php?page_id=12, and they will be a very nice prize.

Some initial considerations (the form will be a review next month on our pages, http://www.asgs.sm/readarticle.php?article_id=108)
- Scenarios seem very beautiful, special rules are excellent.
- The campaign is very interesting, especially for the type of "development" designed for it.
- The rules for attacks combined, dedicated to the famous armored tanks absent in CC ......... are great, but I hope and believe that a possible evolution of the system see: larger maps, which allow longer matches almost "campaigns", the armored cars, at least 1 / 2 for the scenario.

Regards,

GC
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After numerous campaign games in Stalingrad (including ones of our own design), I, and my primary partner, love the promotion rules and Leader counters in Normandy. What we would like to see is more "promotable" leader counters in future additions to CC (or just a new counter sheet) to allow us to make our own campaign games with any two nations. After I purchased Mediterranean, we have not played a single printed scenario, opting instead for the Mediterranean version of the Random Scenario Generator for our games as we enjoy the tension of an unknown game. For those players who haven't tried the Mediterranean Random Scenario Generator, we highly recommend it to you as it creates amazingly balanced games. It is a quantum leap from the original CC Roll-your-own generator, It doesn't take long to roll up a game and you will no longer fight the same battle to death which quickly bored us when I only owned the original CC game. Needless to say, the Normandy game has got us salivating to create our own campaign games (we did a couple of scenarios and are now back to Roll-your-own). I have every pack for the European version (the Pacific did not interest us as there as the tactical flavor seems to present less maneuvering and more to chance (mass Japanese assaults against heavily defended US positions, or Japanese troops popping up like groundhogs all over the board).
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