Handicapping Breakout: Normandy

I’ve been playing a lot of Go lately. Go has a useful handicap method: you start the weaker player with extra moves to balance play. It made me think about how I have managed teaching games of Breakout. I haven’t aggressively handicapped the games, but Go has shown me that it’s a good idea. A handicap game allows an experienced Go player to present different looks to the less experienced player, and it demands some play by the better player that counts on the less experienced player to make mistakes. It works. It creates game tension that’s good for both sides. The less experienced player has an opportunity to “brute force” the more experienced player, and the more experienced player has to play carefully and even aggressively to win a handicapped game.

I propose the following handicap system for Breakout: Normandy. Limit the number of depots available to the German player in the refit phase. Have the inexperienced player play the Allies, and give the German player a number of depots equal to the number of German corps artillery on the board or in the dead pile. That’s one, to start, and two on turn two. You can adjust this up or down, to suit.

Here’s what I like about it. As an experienced German player, I have dozens of little optimizations that I use to challenge an expert Allied player. But when I have only one depot, the extra movement or extra bombardment or assault that I would normally make isn’t available to me. I have to play a slow game, and I have to defend with spent and disrupted units, just like I have to when I’m on the ropes against a top Allied player. I think teaching games with this handicap method can show new players how to execute basic tactics better than I can teach them by coaching their impulses. They need to see the possibilities. They need to analyze the board. It’s pointless for a beginner to analyze a lost position or a virtually impregnable defense. A beginner has to see possibilities. Playing against weakened Germans can help beginners see the game, and present new challenges to experienced German players trying to stave off players with developing skills.

Author: Nels

Former Breakout: Normandy GM at the World Boardgaming Championships run by the Boardgame Players Association (boardgamers.org)

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