Barnes on Games- Heroes of/Shadows Over Normandie in Review, Armada, Study in Emerald, Empires: Age of Discovery, HABA

Barnes on Games- Heroes of/Shadows Over Normandie in Review, Armada, Study in Emerald, Empires: Age of Discovery, HABA Hot

Michael Barnes     
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Kelly's Heroes versus the Mythos!

This week, let's have a look at both Heroes of Normandie AND Shadows Over Normandie over on the Review Corner. I really, really like these games a lot as I've already expressed in this column. I think they are, for what I want out of the genre, the best WWII tactical wargames barring ASL (which is, quite frankly, kind of the ULTIMATE rendition of this concept). But they are, interestingly, influenced as much by adventure games and dungeoncrawlers as they are hex-and-counter wargames or miniatures games. It's more Hollywood than Osprey Books. This is especially evident in the horror setting of Shadows. A couple of the included scenarios are out-and-out dungeoncrawls, complete with loot and adventure game-like objectives. But then you can also field an Abrams tank against a Shoggoth too. They really remind me a lot of Earth Reborn, but less sprawling and weird.

I have all of the main expansions for Heroes, but Shadows is the one I keep coming back to play lately. I like the content of the Cthulhu Mythos: Call #1 blister pack expansion, but I HATE that all of the rules/scenarios are online PDFs behind a registration at Devil Pig's web site. Boo to that. And they aren't even a finalized translation at this point!

Definitely recommend these- they made a splash back during their Kickstarters, but it seems like they don't get much talk/action around here. I think folks so inclined would really dig these. There is some classic shitty translation and the rulebooks are typically French (if you know what I'm saying), but if you just shrug off some of the wonkiness these are awesome games.

Playing lots of Armada, talking about it in our forums. I'm about ready to call it my favorite miniatures game. I like it better than X-Wing. It's a Cadillac game to be sure, but it is well worth if it you are a SW fan or like the naval model of space combat.

A Study in Emerald... man, I don't know what to make of this game. The first play I did a two player with a buddy and we were both like "do what now". It has that weird Martin Wallace "arm's length" sense of engagement. And this is the "streamlined" 2nd edition. After he left, I set it back up and did a three player solo trial and I think I sort of understand it a little better. It's a really interesting game- not sure if I like it or not, but it seems to fall prey to the standard Wallace issues. The scoring is pretty cool, don't know about using bombs to blow up the "Royals" but it's right there on the cover, Holmes about to lob TNT at Cthulhu.

Empires: Age of Discovery is really good. I had kind of forgotten about Age of Empires III and I actually didn't care for it back when it was out. But revisiting it reveals a really nice piece of design. Like Age of Mythology, Drover was kind of ahead of the times on this one. It was clearly designed after Caylus and that first wave of worker placement games, but it retains a simplicity of process that got lost after the Rosenberg model took over. There are some simple conversions, but you're converting colonists into specialists. I'm really enjoying this, and the deluxe treatment is especially nice despite some crap graphic design. At least they ditched the horrendous Paul Neimayer illustrations.

HABA sent over their three new "Game Night Approved" family games and... all three are great! Kramer and Kiesling's Adventureland is a cool, simple adventure with some interesting mechanics- and three scenarios that alter the scoring and win conditions on a rising difficulty scale so everybody can play it. Strangely, it kind of condenses everything about a big, adult adventure game into a 30 minute family design. Move, pick up stuff, fight monsters... it's all here but at a really high level. Karuba is a Rudiger Dorn bingo game with an expedition/tomb raiding theme- very neat little game that my kids really like. Spookies might be the best of them, it's designed by the dude that did Beasty Bar and it is a GREAT push-your-luck design obviously inspired by Can't Stop. But it's more concrete- you send kids up the floors of a haunted house to catch ghosts. You get to choose how many dice to roll to hit the next target number, but the more you roll the less the payout is. The fail penalty isn't too harsh, you just put spookies down on each floor on your way back out. And if you roll the number of the floor you are on, you finish and stay put. My kids had a friend over Monday and we played it like three times, they just loved it. I did too.

Mail call- Healthy Heart Hospital is here from VPG, it looks like a fun business game with the perennially-underused healthcare theme... the Flick 'em Up Expansion, which looks adorable... the Arena of the Planeswalker expansion which doesn't look adorable but good... should be getting Talon here this week from GMT- totally stoked for that one. Very interested to look at it after Armada.

Barnes on Games- Heroes of/Shadows Over Normandie in Review, Armada, Study in Emerald, Empires: Age of Discovery, HABA There Will Be Games
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Posted: 21 Jan 2016 12:41 by hotseatgames #220422
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Nice reviews. I have intentions of grabbing the Heroes of Normandie PC game at some point in the future. I don't think I have much chance of getting the real thing to the table so I never grabbed it, despite wanting to.

I had considered the Shadows Over Normandie kickstarter when it was going, but the price they were asking was ridiculous for something not loaded with any plastic.
Posted: 21 Jan 2016 12:48 by Sagrilarus #220424
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I realize this is kind of a stupid observation given there's Cthulhu in the mix, but an Abrams tank in a World War II setting?

Is this like Heroscape where there's no limitations on theme and setting? As it stands I don't think "World War II" applies.
Posted: 21 Jan 2016 13:25 by charlest #220425
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I'm hoping that's a typo Sag and he meant Sherman?
Posted: 21 Jan 2016 14:34 by Michael Barnes #220433
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HA HA! Yes, that is definitely a typo..."Abrams" least I didn't reference M-16s and Patriot missiles...

Mark- it's actually kind of nice that it's not loaded with plastic...I mean, I've got two base sets and three main expansions along with a couple of single-punchboard add ons and one blister pack set...and I've got TONS of units. That all store in a single box. And all of the information is on the chits with just a single icon reference sheet. So it feels more compact than if it had minis.
Posted: 21 Jan 2016 16:16 by hotseatgames #220445
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Don't get me wrong, I'm cool with the game not having minis. I'm not cool with being charged mini prices.
Posted: 22 Jan 2016 06:40 by Chaz #220587
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Barnes, you sound like you haven't played Study in Emerald before. I swore you were talking it up a while ago. Am I just crazy, or were you talking specifically about the second edition confusing you?
Posted: 22 Jan 2016 07:18 by VonTush #220588
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Ha! There he is, on Big Ben, looking across the Tames River and what, four or five city bocks, ready with a lit bundle of dynamite. To me it looks more like a glorious suicide rather than a serious attempt at taking out Cthulhu.

I've been looking into that 2nd Ed and...Bleh...Never a good sign when the First Edition you're replacing gains in value when the 2nd Ed is announced and released.
Posted: 22 Jan 2016 07:43 by bfkiller #220589
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VonTush wrote:
I've been looking into that 2nd Ed and...Bleh...Never a good sign when the First Edition you're replacing gains in value when the 2nd Ed is announced and released.

I just picked the 2nd edition up yesterday. I would much rather have the 1st because it sounds like it suits my tastes a lot more, but I'm not going to pay an exorbitant price for it. I'm hoping this is like Age of Industry compared to Brass: generally considered to not have been improved by the streamlining, but still a pretty good game in its own right.
Posted: 22 Jan 2016 08:44 by xthexlo #220595
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I've been curiously fascinated with "A Study in Emerald" since reading the story. Does it, in anyone's opinion, offer the same feeling and flavor as the story?
Posted: 24 Jan 2016 05:35 by jgriff #220707
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As someone who loves Study in Emerald, I can't say it really feels like the story. The story is basically a Sherlock Holmes style mystery. The game is more of a hybrid euro-style game. The theme is there to match the story (and 19th century anarchists in general) but the mechanics really have nothing to do with a mystery which is slowly revealed. It's classic screw-your-opponent while trying to figure out who your opponent's are.

There is absolutely no part of the 2nd Edition which will make our table. In the interest of streamlining, they seem to removed the best parts of the game. I really don't know if I'd want to play a game of Study with no City Cards being stolen and no blocking discs.
Posted: 25 Jan 2016 09:38 by Grudunza #220757
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I'm with jgriff that stealing City cards is a huge part of the game. Looking at the list of 2nd edition changes, there are a couple that seem like they might be for the better, but mostly not for the kinds of games we all seem to like here (though it's probably an improvement for gamers who prefer simpler rules and low-conflict).

1st edition ASIE is so good for its interaction, which works in several different ways. You really need to be on top of what everyone else is doing, and seize opportunities to screw with them and get your nefarious plans together, and the dynamics of the moving agents and the endgame timing and the assassinations are all really interesting. It is a bit all over the place, but usually a lot of fun, and can feel quite different from game to game. The first time I played it, our group was collectively scratching our heads after the first hour, but at a certain point it kind of clicked, and we were like "ahhhhhhh!"

Barnes, I hope you get a chance to try the first edition and at least compare the experience.
Posted: 25 Jan 2016 17:21 by Michael Barnes #220793
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I probably won't get to, but I am going to look at the rules and such online to compare them. The thing is, it's one of those Martin Wallace games. So it has this unmistakable Wallace-ian KLUNK to it all, even in its "dumbed down" rendition. Nobody can design games as klunky as he does and get away with it.

I do think I like it, but does it feel like any kind of a story? Heh, not so much. Guys and gals moved around Europe, recruited other guys and gals, some guys and gals blew each other up or blew up Cthulhu monsters. That's pretty much it. But oddly, it helps to know the gist of the story or else it doesn't make ANY sense. It's just that there' snot really a narrative line here so much. Maybe those details in the 1st edition give that.
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 13:47 by craniac #221005
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Would Shadows Over Normandie work as a first purchase from the series? It sounds pretty cool, and I've got an Amazon gift card that is ready to burst. Sure, I could save that $40 and eventually buy a sweet lens, but my dopamine levels are really low today.
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 14:01 by Almalik #221007
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Yup. Shadows would work as a first purchase, it's second starter box and no more complex than the original rules-wise. And it's awesome!
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 14:15 by hotseatgames #221008
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I'm excited to send off Pathfinder and get Cyclades. I don't see anything going wrong.

awww, I meant this for the math trade discussion thread.
Posted: 28 Jan 2016 16:33 by Michael Barnes #221017
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Craniac, Shadows is designed to be a completely standalone game. You can play it without anything from the core box (and in fact, I actually have not combined anything from the two games yes). There are a couple of things in the rulebook that are NOT in the Shadows box and I think Shadows did not, inexplicably, come with a grenade blast template. But yes, you can get just it and go from there. It's easier to get into the system that way, I think, because there's only one non-essential expansion for that side of the product line to date.