27 April 2012

Kampfgruppe Normandy rules review

Kampfgruppe Normandy from Warhammer Historical, borrowed to me by my friend Widgren for this review, is a very thick and very good looking hardback overkill of a ruleset. I’m not completely familiar with the story behind these rules, but they are primarily written for 20mm scale in what comes off as an obvious attempt at doing a set of rules which can’t be used with models you may already have for popular rules using 28mm or 15mm scale. People, well gamers, are very quick to say that “20mm is the right scale for WW2 due to the amount of miniatures on the market”.
Personally I can’t say that I know anyone who plays 20mm scale wargames, I do know a lot of gamers who play 28 and 15mm in my current gaming group and in my past gaming groups – and pretty much the wargaming scene that I have seen with my own eyes in Sweden at conventions. Even though the entry on page 6 says that any scale can be used with these rules but they have primarily been written for 20mm 1:1 scale.

The other design choice that struck me as weird was the complete focus on the 1944 Normandy campaign.  While I suppose you could use the rules with other theaters and campaigns of WW2, the emphasis of all historical background information, army lists, intention of use and proposed scenery revolves only around Normandy. This might actually be more off-putting than the 20mm scale. If you aren’t really interested in the Western front, late war or the Normandy campaign you won’t really have any incentive to buy this book. On the other hand, if you are a fan of all those categories this book is perhaps all that you would want and will need in order to play games in that setting.

The game uses a point system and you can play it on platoon, company or battalion level – each with a point cap of its own. Army lists are based upon larger formations from which you draw your playing force. Another thing is that there is a fair amount of scenarios in the book based upon historical battles during the Normandy campaign, and players are encouraged to base their forces around the scenarios rather than the other way around (like in Flames of War).

The game uses regular D6 dice to generate results and the basic gameplay have some similarities to Flames of War like the standardized movement rates of various vehicle types and vehicle classifications such as slow tank, motorcycle, half tracked vehicle etc. There are also set modifiers for infantry in various cover and the like that you would expect and have seen in other similar games.

Turns are played just like in most games of this kind – each side completing all their actions before passing the turn over to the opponent. The difference here is that each player rolls D6 dice at the start of his turn to determine the amount of command points he will have at his disposal – which are used to activate units. As such you can end up with fewer command points than you have units in your army and will have to be selective with what you use that turn. The amount of dice used for generating command points increase with the game size, and you also add any command units to that number.

Units are activated one at a time, and each activated unit can perform 2 action. These range from moving around on the battlefield, unlimbering artillery and various firing actions (direct, indirect, suppressing fire etc). There are also a few other actions such as covering fire, resupply and using engineers to perform demolition tasks and such. Firing arcs for infantry is 360 degrees, 90degrees for vehicles and funs, 360 degrees for pintle mounted weapons.

The weapon ranges in this game are divided into several distances, ranging from “close assault” at 0-8” to “Extreme” at 40-48”. Depending on which weapon class you use, small arms/medium machineguns and so on the maximum range varies but the “to hit” value is static throughout the range chart regardless of what weapons you use.

The game features the usual “Roll to hit” which is answered by a “save” which depends on whether you are in the open or in some kind of cover. Saves range from 6+ at worst to 2+ at best. Unarmored vehicles have hitpoints, the bigger the vehicle the more hitpoints it has. Vehicles also reduce their accuracy depending whether any party moved and/or the target uses cover. I got to say that it is refreshing to see a set of rules that takes into account the movement of BOTH sides as you most often only base accuracy on whether you yourself have moved before taking a shot. A moving target should always be harder to hit.

Fighting tanks involves a classic vehicle armor vs gun penetration value chart.  The difference form infantry fire is that AT guns roll 2D6 and add the values together then check if they are up to or pass the target armor value. Sadly it doesn’t seem as if the tanks follow the unarmored vehicles with hit points. Instead a hit classed as penetrating automatically destroys the armored vehicle. Rolling double 6’s result in immobilizing the enemy tank which can keep fighting, or double 1’s which are just treated as glancing hits and do nothing. It would have been fun to see a bit more variety in the results of penetrating hits.

Morale is handled on a unit and battlegroup level. On unit level, morale is taken if a unit of infantry has been reduced below 50%, AT guns take morale tests when they lose crew members, softskinned vehicles upon taking hits while tanks largely ignore unit morale. The effects of a failed morale test can result in units abandoning guns and infantry fleeing off table which leads to the battlegroup morale. Battlegroup morale is handled in a interesting way. It’s based upon your entire force as all units have a certain “morale value” ranging between 0-3 which is printed on a small morale token. When you buy units to your battlegroup you automatically receive a morale token for that unit. So once the game starts you will have a pot of morale tokens from which you draw randomly upon losing a unit in battle. What you have drawn is secret to the opponent, but he should be able to see how many morale tokens you have drawn in total at any given time.

Morale tokens are accumulated if units are destroyed, withdraw in disorderly fashion, HQ units are destroyed, being subjected to air attacks, having enemy capturing objectives and losing objectives. Morale tokens are also drawn when you want to remove suppressed tokens from your units. Each morale token allows you to remove 1D6 suppressed markers on the table.

Your battlegroup morale is broken is all the morale tokens that you have drawn is equal to or greater than your calculated battlegroup morale (which is once again based upon units in your force). I think this is the most interesting aspect of the Kampfgruppe Normandy rules and perhaps the only thing that really stands out to me.

The rules section is not very long, 52 pages all in all. The remainder of this 347page thick book is dedicated to army lists, scenarios, a mini campaign and equipment tables (British, American and German only). The scenarios seem well researched as do the army lists. You get stuff like lists of what battalions included in terms of equipment, on company level and in what amounts. Units in the arsenal of each army are described well enough to give newcomers some insight into their use and historical context.

The question is, are the rules worth it? The books is crazy expensive, my friend Widgren just bought it because of the Warhammer Historical sale a few months back. It’s not something you buy spontaneously. The rules aren’t bad but apart from the battlegroup morale I don’t find them to offer anything special or new which would warrant a swap of rulesets for players already involved in WW2 gaming. If you are just starting out with WW2 gaming the rules would be good if they were not part of this huge volume that is Kampfgruppe Normandy. My only complaint with the book itself would be the dark colored background and an intimidating amount of text on each page which could easily cause an anxiety attack upon a first casual glance.

I could compare these rules with others rules that I have read and am familiar with. Kampfgruppe Normandy is a lot less complex rulewise than Flames of War (which on the other hand is bogged down with a lot of whacky rules) to mention a game played on roughly the same level. The text in KGN in the rules section is a lot more streamlined and I would say a lot more user friendly with the heavy emphasis on categorization of weapons and vehicle types.

If you are looking for a more platoon based experience with more interesting details then there are rulesets that offer a relatively fast but fun gameplay like Victory Decision. Slightly more detailed are the “Berlin or Bust: Bellum Europa” which are modified WW2 rules based upon the Secrets of the Third Reich rules and offer you generic late war gameplay and army rosters for US/Soviet/UK and German armies (and these are available for free at the West Wind forum http://westwindproductions.co.uk/forums/index.php?topic=2525.0 ).

I think all of those other rulesets have a more distinct personality and things that set them apart from this rather generic set of rules that have been packaged into a Normandy campaign deal that is Kampfgruppe Normandy.  And if I wanted to get someone into playing WW2 games this heavily themed book would perhaps not be my first recommendation.


  1. Nope, since I don't have any models to use with this game (wrong scale, wrong period, wrong front). It is not hard to imagine how the rules work after having played numerous other rulesets that are basically based on the same ideas.

    I can't say that I see any real reason why people would pick this set of rules over any other based upon the rules themselves. While the battlegroup morale is a fun idea I also think that some people will be turned off by the random amount of command points you get to distribute every turn. The rest of the rules are very traditional and have most likely been encountered by veteran gamers before.

    I may have been a lot more positive if the part of this book which contains the rules alone was released on its own - and was a lot less Normandy themed. The price would be a lot lower and the rules would become a lot more accessible for (newbies) and those who want to see if the rules are any fun but don't want to fork over almost £50 just to satisfy their curiosity. I don’t think there is a single person that bought these rules on a whim for full price. And imo these rules, judged on the rules alone disregarding the other stuff included in the book, are not worth £48.

  2. So... You dont actually know how it plays then?

    You dont see the nuances in gameplay, the interaction of some elements and how it rewards tactical play.

    I would have thought, to be able to offer a complete and proper review, you would have to atleast try playing them.

    Seems a little unfair to criticise a set of rules based on not having played them and their price. The price has nothing to do with the mechanisms or the gameplay.

    Thanks for the response.

  3. The rules are so traditional in terms of mechanics and ideas that it is rather easy to imagine how it works and be able to compare to other rules. Would it have been better if I actually played a game of these rules for the review? Yes of course, but then I'm not exactly commenting on the flow of the game in my review which is more based upon what ideas the KGN rules have come up with and offer to gamers.

  4. GOOD review. To the point, explicative about a whole range of points. Maybe not shared point of view by other gamers, but to each one his/her own. I think you made a good work and it definitely can help other people. Thumbs up!

  5. I realise that, but the ideas and mechanics really only show their true nature when played.

    You keep saying its traditional, yet in gaming WW2 for the last 20 years I havent seen anything as well modelled as the Suppresion rules and the cleverly done artillery rules that keep both players involved.

    Along with the morale chits, none of these are 'traditional' mechanics.

    Granted the to hit and save mechanisms are similar to many, but thats not the entire ruleset. There is alot of new mechanisms in the book in my view. Having gamed Rapid Fire for the last 15 years and various other things, KGN seems like a new slant on the Old Skool rulesets.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to reply, Im not trying to be argumentative, merely offering a view from someone who is a fan of the system and played alot of games...

  6. No problem Piers, and no offense taken.

    My first experience with Suppressing fire rules was when I played Secrets of the Third Reich (28mm platoon based skirmish) a couple of years ago, and have since then come across other variations of that feature - most recently in the Victory Decision rules.

    The suppressing fire in KGN are part of the battlegroup morale markers pot and thus offers a bit more danger to your force as a whole. Again, I found the battlegroup morale to be the best and most unique part about these rules.

  7. Well we can atleast agree on that!

    Suppression Fire is really part of teh firing, it offers a means to pin an opponent in place. It links to the morale chits by making you draw tokens to remove teh suppresion.

    It is a simple, yet elegant morale system.

    Have to say I didnt like SOTR at all... So we may just have different tastes in game mechanics. Which means neither of is right or wrong! I havent played Agis' 'Victory Decision' so cant comment, but as I didnt get on with the Mongoose version, I elected not to try it out.

  8. "Personally I can’t say that I know anyone who plays 20mm scale wargames, I do know a lot of gamers who play 28 and 15mm in my current gaming group and in my past gaming groups – and pretty much the wargaming scene that I have seen with my own eyes in Sweden at conventions."

    We need to hook you up with some 20mm goodness, then! We have been running IABSM in 20mm at the last three Stockholms Spelkonvent and we are doing it tomorrow at Incognicon.
    You ever come up to Stockholm? We could show you The Lard Side of wargaming...;-)

  9. @Thomas, Stockholm is quite a distance to travel from Lund - especially for a student. I don't doubt there are 20mm gamers in Sweden, but I have not come across anyone here in "the south".

    From what I've learned 28 and 15mm are "new" on the market compared to 20mm. As such I think the 20mm crowd is mainly composed of older gamers as the younger ones are more used to rules and miniature ranges using the other scales.

    From a modelers perspective I'm not overly excited about 20mm as a scale either. It has always seemed to me to offer fewer miniatures on the table compared to 15mm while not quite living up to the amount of detail offered by 28mm - in general. And again, based on peoples preferences at game clubs and my game group around here - starting 20mm a collection would be met with great skepticism.

  10. " I think the 20mm crowd is mainly composed of older gamers"
    Ouch! Yep, you're dead right about that. At 41, I'm the young punk of my group...

  11. @Thomas, nothing wrong with that either ( I bet you guys have a lot more relaxed attitude towards gaming as well), just trying to make a point about how unfamiliar the 20mm scale comes off to the "younger crowd" who have learned wargaming by playing 15 and 28mm :-)

  12. Dunno... we have several under 18 20mm gamers on The Guild.

    I think its more familiar to those who built models as kids and the massive selection of figures and vehicles is still to be equaled by 15mm or 28mm.

    I personally think the look of 20mm is the best of all scales. Just look at AB Figures...

  13. Good read there. I know not everyone may agree with the review but at least lets people see a perspective from a point of view. I have been reading up on various WWII systems, mainly 28mm for me.

  14. Useful review. Thanks for expressing your opinion, appreciated.


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