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Thursday, February 4, 2016

John Tiller's "Battles of Normandy"

 By Mitch Reed

Miniatures, board games, and video games; three distinct methods of gaming that often do not share the same participants.  I have always felt that board war-gamers were a separate animal from those who play miniatures, and these two groups are even more different from those who play either PC or console games.  However every so often I do find players who dabble multiple gaming platforms and if they have a favorite PC game title it usually is one of John Tiller's excellent products.  Tiller's latest release from his Panzer Battles series is a well done game that features the Normandy Campaign of 1944.

Over the last twenty years I am sure many of you have either played or heard of a game developed by John Tiller.  Staring with Talonsoft Games of the 1990's, he moved on to creating titles for HPS Simulations, and then over the last few years his own software development company. Over the years Tiller's games have covered many different eras and levels of warfare from squad level to  the operational level.  Tiller's latest series is called "Panzer Battles" which focuses at the battalion to Corps level of combat.  The second title in this series is called Battles of Normandy which is a deep dive into the entire campaign from the beach landings to the end of the Falaise Pocket.

 Hitting the beach... 

 Or hitting the Drop Zone!

Let me first tell you what John Tiller's games are not; they do not have the beauty of a game like Fallout 4, instead they are deep dives into a military simulation that focuses on putting the player in the shoes of an operational commander.  So if you want something sexy over substance, then Tiller's games are not for you.  They are geared for the more serious gamer that wants a deep experience.

What Battles of Normandy does give you is 93 scenarios that are either stand alone or linked in a campaign game where you play a series of scenarios that features a particular unit. Each scenario focuses on a different battle and can last from 6 to 144 game turns. Each of the scenarios have one side or the other that can be played by the AI and all of them can be played head to head via a few different modes.

Above is the selection screen where you pick mode and scenario

I have never tried to play head to head since their is enough games versus the AI to keep you occupied.  About the AI, it is very good and will give you a challenge, if this seems to tough for you thankfully you give yourself an advantage via a slider.  

The turn mechanics are simple, each turn is broken down into two phases, one for you and one for your enemy.  During your phase you can move your units, fire with them, have them dig in, plan air strikes, assault, call in arty, etc.  This is game is deep and everything action you can think of is included for you to use during your turn.  While this may seem overwhelming to some it is in fact very easy to play this game.  You can get into the minutiae of the details if you want or you can slug it out through bocage country. 

Player can utilize all of these different actions via the GUI shown above.  It perhaps the one complaint folks have with the system is that the GUI is not smooth and you have to memorize what each of these icons represents.  While this is part of learning the game I am used to the interface since it is has been a mainstay of each of Tiller's games.  Also, many of the icons I have never used and if I need to find something, the command bar above the icons can also get you where you want to go. 

Like I said, game play is really easy and when you select a hex, you get all of the terrain and unit level info popping up on the left of your screen.

If you click on the unit and hex info above you get a very detailed run down of the units numerical abilities and more detail about the terrain.

From playing this series and the Panzer Campaigns games I feel that the key to managing and winning a  battle is watching the Morale and Fatigue of your units.  Units that are fatigued do not perform so well and can easily become Disrupted or Broken which is not very good if they are your forces.  Besides knowing this it is also key that you know what your units are capable of, so do not go sending your infantry through open ground to assault tanks, it is not a great move in the game as it was back in 1944.

Another aspect players need to watch is supply and command and control.  Units cut off will become Isolated and ripe for destruction.  Also, making sure your unit can trace a line its parent headquarters, and that HQ to its parent HQ is and important aspect in keeping your troops from becoming worn down or to get them to recover from disruption.  While these things are important they are "under the hood" and does not interrupt the fun for  a casual gamer.

Just like a real commander back in 1944, your are given an objective, forces to meet that objective and a time limit to achieve it in.  Also like that commander, you really need to use a combined arms approach to the battle.  Use your artillery to soften up the enemy, you machine guns to keep the pressure on, and then close in with your infantry when the time is right.  Focusing on an enemy unit and  disrupting it is the one sure way to assure that your assault will succeed.  This simulation of combined arms warfare is the strongest aspect of this game in my opinion.  At times the game really becomes a true simulation that keeps challenging a player.

Knowing what your units can do is very helpful in order to not put them at a disadvantage, like moving tanks across bocage.  It also helps to know these things because your units have unique capabilities,so your engineers act like engineers and can do things like lay/clear mines to bridge operations.  Your recon forces also are key since they can tell you where the enemy is actually deployed.

Perhaps those Stuarts can tell me what is under those question marks? 

Troops of the Royal Engineers hard at work! 

You do get a lot of units with these special abilities, so keep using your Sherman Crabs to clear mines and obstacles while using Churchill AVRE's to exploit a break out is not a good idea.

Battles of Normandy costs $39.95 and is delivered via direct down load. You are getting a deal with such a deep and accurate game for this this price.  With 93 unique scenarios to play (which are very repayable) you will not get done in time for the next title in the series.

So far the Panzer Battles series has two titles, Normandy and the Battles of Kursk Southern Flank, and I hope more are coming in the future (Gustav Line Battles and Market Garden would be my wish).  If you like this series I would also recommend Panzer Campaigns Series which covers the operational level of warfare very well or Squad Battles which recreates the tactical level to the same high standards found in the other series.

So if Battles of Normandy sounds like a game which covers a subject matter you enjoy, I would recommend getting it, you will not be disappointed!

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