The Normandy expansion introduced a 4-scenario campaign system based on the 29th American Infantry Division. It is worth noting at the very beginning that the campaign rules only apply to the American player; the German player plays as if the scenarios weren’t linked at all.
In a nutshell, the American player has a Core Division of 10 squad bases and each scenario might grant him additional forces. After each of the 3 first scenarios won by the American player, each American unit from the Core Division that still has 2 figures in the base receives a medal (or next level medal, if it already has one; one scenario introduces variations to this formula). Each medal level grants the unit a special ability in subsequent scenarios. At the end of the campaign, the American player scores 1 VP per medal level (the final scenario may grant him additional points).
The German player simply gets 5 VP per scenario won. Most VPs after the 4th scenario wins the campaign.
Campaign as a whole
In brief, I can’t help feeling that the campaign system was rushed and poorly thought-out. The scoring system greatly favours the Germans. Since the Americans do not advance at all if they lose a scenario, if the Germans win even one game, they essentially have the campaign in the bag – not only they get 5 VPs off the bat, but they deny advancements to the American player and these are vital for the overall success.
Furthermore, if an American unit is ever wiped out, it loses all medal levels it had. This means it is a perfectly valid strategy for the German player to target the Core Division to wipe them out (or at least inflict very severe casualties) This way, even if they lose the scenario, the American player will receive very few, if any campaign VPs. So in each of the scenarios the American player has not only to mind the regular objectives but also keep his Core Division safe. This may seem like an interesting deviation from the base formula of ToI, but in reality the Core Division is the most powerful, and in one scenario sole, segment of the Americans’ force and not committing it to combat can likely cost them the game.
On top of that there is a rule stating that equal campaign VPs (e.g. 0 each) mean a German victory.
On the other hand, thematically, only the American player is actually campaigning. To the German player it is as if he was playing a series of regular, disconnected games. This is despite the fact that according to the flavour text of three of the scenarios, the Americans faced the same German division (352nd Infantry).
In this way, despite not having played the Stalingrad campaign yet, I feel that it might be superior if only because there both players are subject to the same campaign rules and both have to manage their resources and get to develop their campaign command pool in a similar manner…
A fast and brutal scenario that can be comfortably played in a couple of hours, including set up. I found the scenario well balanced with the slight German superiority in firepower countered by the number of American units.
Just make sure you remove the minefield between maps 5B and 22A as per the errata or the Germans will find themselves trapped in their own minefields.
Battle in the bocage
Another very fun scenario. At 15 turns it is probably the longest one in the game but there is not a huge number of units involved so the turns go by briskly. The hedgerows cut up the board into small sections and firefights are close-range and bloody, as is fitting. Weather plays a very important role, poor weather can really make it hard for the attacking Americans – heavy rain and thunderstorms not only restrict movement but make infantry fire much less effective. Enigma is an extremely fun Operations card introducing a bit of bluffing to the game.
Overall, this scenario also feels very well balanced. On our playthrough, Americans actually won in the very last action round of the last turn. An exciting scenario which forces both players to adopt new approaches to the game, this one is probably my favourite of the bunch.
Breakout through St. Lo
This one feels just slightly slanted towards the Americans who start with a significant superiority in forces which the German player may find hard to manage, despite starting with a strategically placed Panther tank and some decent reinforcements later on. Essentially it is a game of denial for the Germans, whose objective is to prevent the Americans form capturing objectives and hurting their prospects of winning the campaign as a whole. While the Americans can probably be confident of winning, it is the margin of victory that is at stake here and the scenario can be exciting for both sides.
Piercing the Siegfried Line
This is the most unbalanced of the scenarios. American superiority is so massive that German resistance can swiftly be swept aside by an aggressive player and that is even before American reinforcements start hitting the table. The terrain features don’t help the German player by a whole lot because there are gaps in the minefields, razor wire can be readily removed by engineers or one of the many tanks the Americans have and squads in building and pillboxes get pulverised by concussive firepower.
I can only assume that this was done on purpose to counterbalance the skewered campaign scoring system I talked about earlier but if so, it is evidence of poor game design I’m afraid. The scenario was much less fun for both players, with the German player barely being able to do anything and the American just lining up execution squads and blasting away.
The scenarios, as so often with ToI are a mixed bag, but the good outweigh the bad here. The first two scenarios in particular are very solid and I fully recommend playing them individually (there are rules for that on pg. 3 of the Campaign booklet). The third scenario will also be fun if both players know what to expect from it, so it’s only the final scenario that I can advise people to steer clear of.
One final note is that if you have the Next Wave core set, you will have to find 2 stand-ins for American trucks, e.g. by using Soviet or British ones, since the new set has fewer of those than the old one did.
Overall, while I think that the Normandy expansion is very good, introducing many interesting features (new terrain, new units, weather, leader decks), the campaign system could have been handled much better. I’m looking forward to playing the Stalingrad campaign for comparison but just from a read-through it seems to be much better thought-out.
If you are wondering whether to add Normandy to your collection, don’t let any of the above dissuade you. There is still a ton of useful stuff there, there are 4 non-campaign scenarios and even the good ones from the campaign can be played individually. But if you’re thinking of following the exploits of the 29th Infantry Division, I recommend you keep it on a narrative level only or make up your own campaign rules.
Thanks for reading. Cheers!