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NORWAY 1940 FROM TRAFALGAR EDITIONS It's interesting that, following two famous Napoleonic battles, Trafalgar Editions turned t...




It's interesting that, following two famous Napoleonic battles, Trafalgar Editions turned to this seldom gamed battle from the early years of WWII.  Even more so, in that this represents a move towards a more familiar style of board wargame.  Gone, almost, are the measuring counters and miniatures-influenced systems of the previous two games and in comes more familiar area style movement and cardboard units.  I say almost, because there's still a single, simple measuring stick for air movement!
Just to prove it!
What also remains is the high standard of production.  I can't think of another game box where a simple, vivid white background has been used to better effect.  Unfortunately the camera cannot adequately reflect this or you wouldn't be able to see the picture!  It's complemented by three subtle grey images depicting the three military arms of air, land and sea.  But dominating in startling style is the use of dark maroon, grey and black to depict Norway while symbolising the ribbon against which the central iron cross stands out.

Inside the box, the superb double panel mapboard is equally stunning.  Though the use of a substantial part of the board area to display all the key charts has its definite uses, it does detract from the highly effective and striking map area.

Two of the main play aids that also act as screens for secret force allocation continue this standard of production.  They carry evocative scenes on the front and symbolic images on the two side panels.

Inside are printed reinforcement schedules and the displays [see below] that they screen provide information about the Naval Combat and Transports pts each side receives and a display of Task Forces for placing naval and land units on.

These displays are functional in simple black and white printing, but despite their seeming clarity, there are issues in understanding the information that they are meant to convey.  These problems I'll consider later, when I look at the rule book.

The final components are a fine range of units and markers in two sizes.  The die-cutting is first-rate, with every single one pressing out of the counter sheets perfectly.  All three military arms play their part in this game, with land and air units being substantially larger than the naval units.  In part, this is because the former two have more information to convey while naval units come in basic generic points that do not distinguish types of vessel.

Counters galore
The rule book is physically the best produced of Trafalgar Editions three games, but also the most complex and at times the most confusing.  It's a substantial design, partly because all three military arms are treated in equal depth and introduce some novel features.

A typical turn has five stages:

Weather Phase
Supply Phase
Naval Phase
Air Phase
Land Phase

The Weather Phase

A help to learning the rules is that not all of these Phases or some element of them occur from the very beginning of the game. For example, the Weather Phase is not needed until Turn 6.  From this point on a simple die roll with small modifications determines the weather in the three sea zones that run from north to south.  It's also important to mention that you need to be alert to the difference between a Turn and a Day.  Sometimes the rules will clearly state that something happens on a specific Turn [as Turn 6 above], but more often it will refer to a Day.  For example, the first German forces start on Day 7.  This refers to the actual date, in this case the 7th April, which is Turn 1 of the game.  So, be careful, it's easy to slip up as the Turn Track doesn't print the turn numbers, only the dates!

The Supply Phase too doesn't begin immediately, but only from Turn 7 when the Germans must start to check for land units being in supply and try to bring in supply by air or sea for units that are out of supply while the Allies simply trace to a city or port.  In contrast, air and naval units never need to check for supply.

The Naval Phase

It comes as no surprise that the Naval Phase is important right from the start, as the only units that form the Set Up are the Norwegian units most of which are land units with small numbers of naval units in the ports of Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen and Kristiandsand and a single German fleet of German naval combat points at sea transporting a single mountain regiment and a small quantity of supplies.

The essential Naval rules are fairly straightforward, but cover an interesting range of actions.  Features that I liked are that Task Force markers are used which have a detected and undetected side, as well as a number of Decoy Task Forces.  The first two turns' German Task Forces are predesignated with specific land units being transported by the accompanying Naval Combat points of ships and each task force has a pre-set destination port .  This is unusual, but the rules explain this simulates the historical fact that these early troops were transported by warship.

From then on the German player uses a pool of Naval Combat Points and Naval Transport Points to create their own Task Forces and selecting which German land units are shipped aboard the transports and where they will be sent to.  I love the concept of this and the realistic and immersive feel, but here I encountered the main problem referred to earlier in that the rules leave far too much to be deduced and worked out from cross-referencing scanty rules and charts with too little information.  That said, Trafalgar Editions were excellent in answering my flurry of emails to help me make sense and arrive at the correct game play.

By contrast, the Allied Player has a much more prescribed and clear set of reinforcement details on their chart.  Though it is here that the care needed to distinguish "turns" from "days" mentioned earlier has to be born strongly in mind, as well as a careful reading of the rules.  Once the problems encountered in this area had been solved, it was into the joys of composing the make-up of the Task Forces, trying to avoid detection or achieve detection using both their ships and air reconnaissance, naval combat and landings.  Thrown into this mix is a small number of submarines and once again the rules were disappointingly unclear and needed the company's help to discover that they are a free asset that can be brought into play when desired!

The Air Phase

A final point to take care noting is that the Naval Phase precedes the Air Phase, though the rules present them in the opposite order. Each player receives a fixed number of Air Points each turn in three separate types [Fighter, Bomber and Recon], while only the German player also gets Air Transport points too.  Like most of the rules, there is a lot of small detail to absorb and often record, though the recording element of the game is easily carried out by markers on a few simple displays.  

The explanation of the different missions, airfields both on the Norwegian map and in boxes representing Great Britain, Denmark and Germany, German Parachutists and the many various limitations and restrictions take up three and half pages making this phase as detailed as both the preceding Naval Phase and the Land Phase to come.  
Added to this is the need to remember that bombers can be used to attack fleets, directly bomb land units to hinder their movement and
be used as land support to boost combat arms effects in the land phase.  It is a comprehensive array and matches the equally detailed set of naval rules, which are longer than even those for the Land Phase.

Land Phase

In fact, the rules for this phase are about the simplest in the whole game, except for two factors: the use of the less familiar flag system for showing unit size and a highly innovative combat system. The former has made its appearance in a small number of games over the years and in itself isn't hard to become accustomed to.  The only drawback is more for older eyes, as they are printed very small!

Combat, on the other hand, is a very unusual affair and one that I've not encountered before in 43 years of gaming!  Units do not have fixed combat factors.  Instead each unit possesses a die-roll modifier and rolls a separate die [either D6 or D3, depending on the size of the unit] to which the modifier is then added.  The results are then totalled, along with additional Combined Arms modifiers.  The differential between the two players final totals determines the losers losses.  This makes for some surprising results and makes any attack where the number and size of units is fairly equal a very uncertain and hazardous undertaking.  This is very strange, as the majority of games where the odds are more or less even tend to produce small losses to both sides, with no potential at all for massive losses.

For a game at this scale, it is most unusual to find a combat system where the winner of a combat suffers no losses at all and this is one aspect of the game that I would love to know the designer's intentions and whether there is something specific to this campaign intended to be modelled.

Overall, I've found the game intriguing.  I like the fact that air, sea and land all play their part.  For the Allied player I would say that the naval element is crucial to their possibilities for victory, while the German player dominates on land and his/her success depends on getting the bulk of those land units ashore.  So, in a way the naval battle too is crucial for the German!

In concepts and systems too the game has many pluses in the broad picture, but I find the many, many small points and exceptions make for a set of rules that are hard to encompass without fairly frequent rule checking.  If these were a set of rules that would be suitable to model a wide range of WWII battles, then eventual familiarity would be acquired.  But as they seem suited specifically to this one specific campaign in Norway, I can foresee the same learning curve needing  to be climbed in future outings. 
Norway defended - let battle commence.

Once again thanks to Trafalgar Editions both for the review copy and kind support. 

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