Nordic Weasel Games

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Designer Diaries: Five Men in Normandy

While it was not the first game that I published commercially, Five Men in Normandy was essentially the birth of Nordic Weasel Games as an entity and so I would like to talk about it a little bit today.

The genesis of the game was the experiences we had playing an awful lot of Nuts by Two Hour Wargames. The campaign structure had left a big impact on me and I really wanted to create something similar but with my own spin on things, particularly in regards to characters. 

A lot of the basic mechanical ideas came out of experiments I had been doing on paper. I was curious if you could make a combat mechanic that did not rely on dice modifiers and if you could compress all of the effects of fire combat into a single roll of the dice. Thus was born the Shock and Kill dice mechanic where attacks have a certain amount of each type of die. This allowed for 4 "effective" outcomes (two morale related and two damage related) and since multiple results will "spill over" to nearby units it also produced some very cool effects like a shot knocking down one enemy and sending another scrambling for cover.

The mechanic had (and still has) a few quirks but it is very fast and efficient and was something that stood out in playtesting as being cool enough to build a game around. The general focus of the Fivecore mechanics of having things happen only on 1's and 6's also came from here. Hand to hand combat still used a conventional opposed roll which I think was mostly due to my preferring that sort of resolution. The idea of using the Shock and Kill dice for melee combat did get brought up by playtesters (and was used by Tom when writing Chevauchee) but I am not sure it ever occurred to me during the initial design process for some reason.

I do not remember where the turn sequence idea came from. It may have been one of those things that was tried on a whim and it ended up being liked well enough. Over the years this was the sort of mechanic that really divided people. Some thought it was fantastic and others really could not wrap their heads around it. In short you roll a die when it is your turn: A 1 indicates you will "Scurry" which allows all of your troops to move. On a 6 you are in a "Firefight" which allows no movement but everyone can fire. Any other roll allows activating a fixed number of figures (originally 2) to move and fire. 

With time, a similar system would show up in Five Men in Kursk  where it works as a pool of dice you assign to specific figures or groups, which tends to work better but there is a fast paced charm to the original mechanic. Turns blaze by and give the game an odd sort of "real time" feel.

The key to the Five Men experience (which would live on into current games like Five Parsecs) was the campaign sequence. Each turn you would play out a mission and then you would have random events happen which could affect your characters in different ways. The idea of receiving both a campaign and a character event should seem awfully familiar. Of course being a military game you don't have a lot of opportunities to do other things so there is no campaign action system as such, though an early version of the Player Action mechanic did show up, allowing players to kind of justify whatever they felt was fair if they could make a roll.

The rules also has the first example of character creation with motivations and backgrounds, most of which have game effects tied to them (if occasionally rather minor). This sort of thing is quite rare in WW2 games: Platoon Forward has something pretty similar but I had not read it at the time.  

One of the final decisions was to keep the scope extremely tight. That incidentally is why the game is called Five Men in Normandy. To make it clear up front that you were only meant to play with a handful of figures on each side and prevent people from cramming the table full of stuff. I deliberately left out tank rules for the same reason and any supporting stuff is usually limited to a single platoon mortar or the likes. 

Was the game a success? Yeah, it's hard to say it was not. After all it is basically the reason for everything else that followed though that is a story for a future post. For a while, I was pretty much known in indie circles as the FAD and Five Men guy.

The original PDF sold 332 copies in its time. That seems small in hindsight but is obviously huge for an independent author with absolutely no name recognition at the time, beyond some old FAD die-hards The updated "30 cal edition" sold another 1045 copies for just shy of 1400 sold.