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[Review] Memoir '44

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Joined: 03/23/2011

I’m sure that there are many, many game company executives who wish that they were running Days of Wonder right now. Days of Wonder has set the bar extremely high for their games, and it’s showing in a big way. Ticket to Ride has just won the Spiel des Jahres 2004, and their newest game, Memoir ’44 (Days of Wonder, 2004 - Richard Borg) is selling off the shelves faster than any other game I’ve seen. Memoir was definitely one of the hits of Origins 2004, where I saw people playing it everywhere.

Is this popularity deserved? The answer is that Memoir ’44 is the pinnacle - the absolute best of light war games. With the tried-and-true system Borg invented in Battle Cry perfected - Memoir ’44 plays smoothly, quickly, and provides a pile of fun! The game can be taught in less than 10 minutes, but has definite strategies, but with enough luck to make each game varied. It is the best game I’ve played in 2004, and one that is quickly replacing Axis and Allies as my favorite light war game about World War II. I usually can say something negative about most games, but Memoir is a game without error - a masterpiece of fun and excellence.

Okay, enough ranting about the game, and more about the mechanics. A double-sided board is placed between two players (more players are possible when combining multiple games). A scenario is picked from the book, and the appropriate side of the board is used - either the beach landing side, or the grassy plain. The board is divided into many large hexes, upon which are placed cardboard hexes of various terrain types - as depicted by the scenario. Each player sets up their forces, consisting of infantry units (4 men to a hex), artillery units (2 guns to a hex), and armored units (3 tanks to a hex). Other terrain obstacles, such as barbed wire, sand bags, and hedgehogs are also placed as depicted by the scenario. A deck of sixty Command Cards is shuffled, and each player is dealt a certain amount (again dictated by the scenario). One player goes first, and then play alternates until one player reaches the victory conditions.

On a player’s turn, they choose one of the Command cards from their hand and play it. Command cards allow players to do a variety of things, but the most common command cards are section cards. The playing board is split into three sections: right, center, and left - and a section card will indicate how many units a player can activate and in which section. For example, one card allows a player to activate three units in the center section, while another allows a player to activate one unit in each section. Other Command Cards are known as Tactic cards, which allow players to do a variety of things, such as attack with only infantry units, strafe the opponent with airplanes, or copy the command the opponent just played.

After choosing the card, the player announces which units they are going to “order” - according to the card. These units are then moved - tanks moving up to three hexes, infantry up to two hexes, and artillery one hex. Certain terrain types affect movement, such as beaches, rivers, forests, hedgerows, hills, and towns. After moving, each unit that was “ordered” may fire at an opposing unit. Artillery units may not fire if they moved, and infantry may only fire if they moved one hex or less. Special battle dice are rolled to determine casualties, with the number of dice rolled determined by the range and attacker. Infantry roll three dice when attacking an adjacent hex, two dice for a hex two spaces away, and one die for a hex three spaces away. Armor roll three dice up to a maximum of three spaces away. Artillery can fire up to six spaces away, starting at three dice adjacent, and ending at one die on the sixth space. Terrain can affect the amount of dice rolled, as well as line of sight. Each battle die has six symbols on it: two infantry, one armor, one grenade, one star, and one flag. After the dice are rolled, they are compared to the target type. Each die that matches the target type (i.e. when attacking infantry, you want to roll infantry silhouettes), or has a grenade (wild) kills one figure from the target unit. Stars are misses, and flags force the target unit to retreat - one hex for each flag rolled. If a unit is forced to retreat off the board, it is lost. When the last figure from a unit is killed, or if the unit retreats of the board, one figure from that unit is given to the opponent, who places it on a special “medal” spot on their side of the board. When an infantry or armor unit kills or forces a target unit to retreat from an adjacent spot, they can “take the ground”, moving right after. Tanks can even fire yet again!

After moving and firing all units, the player then draws a card, and turn passes to the other player. Play continues until one of the players reach the victory requirements - which is usually to reach a certain amount of “medals” - kills, or other victory conditions, such as taking a bridge, etc. That player then wins the game! In most scenarios, it is then proper to switch sides, and replay the scenario. The player who does better overall is the ultimate general!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: Do I really need to write anything here? By this time, Days of Wonder has established itself as the hands-down champion in this category. As usual, the components are absolutely fabulous - with the plastic units taking center stage. They are of a soft plastic, and are fairly large models, with differences between the German and Allied units. The board is fantastic - with beautifully painted terrain pieces. Because of the modular feel of the terrain hexes (which are thick and double-sided), thousands of different scenarios can be set up. The hexes even run all the way up to the edge of the board, so that two boards can be connected together, to play large-scale games. One really nice feature of the game is ten cards that summarize abilities of units and effects of terrain. Only the terrain types used in the scenario need be used, and the cards really help for ease of game play. The command cards are of an excellent quality and have great artwork on them (very indicative of the era), and everything fits very nicely in a superb plastic insert which is placed into a sturdy, well-illustrated box. If anything else, Days of Wonder has produced the best components in the business - again.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is absolutely incredible, with the rules taking up seventeen pages, with another eighteen pages dedicated to scenarios. This may seem like a lot, but there’s really not much more to the rules than what I described above. However, the rulebook provides plenty of examples, illustrations, and plenty of pictures. Everything is laid out in a wonderful fashion, and I really think anyone could pick up the game and learn it in a very short while. I’ve had great success when teaching the game - especially to those who’ve played Battle Cry before, even though it’s certainly not necessary.

3.) Battle Cry: Richard Borg’s previous game, Battle Cry by Avalon Hill, uses the same basic system as Memoir ’44, but in a Civil War setting. Players who own that game may wonder if there’s any reason to own both games. If one likes World War 2, then the choice is obvious, but Memoir has improved the whole system to a degree, and changed some of the nagging annoyances of Battle Cry. One of the most important changes is the card balance. No longer are there any over-powered cards, or even under-powered cards. Every Command card has a purpose and a place; and while it’s certainly useful to have a bigger hand of cards, it’s important to know how to use them.

4.) Strategy: One of the biggest criticisms that may be leveled against this game and Battle Cry is that the game is really not that strategic, but depends on dice and cards. The dice and cards do play a large role in the game’s outcome, to be sure, but skillful card management and clever movement of the forces will hand the game more often to the better player. The game is very tactical, and while it won’t simulate a World War battle to appease a hardcore war gamer, it will satisfy the majority of players.

5.) Overlord: The Overlord set of rules (downloadable for free online) and scenarios are designed for more than 2 players. Four players can play on each side - connecting two boards, with two zones per player, and one commanding general on each side. The commander draws the cards and decides which of his subordinates to hand them to - who then decides the best way to use such cards. This is by far the most fun way to play Memoir ’44. I rank Memoir a “10”, as it is one of the best games I’ve ever played, but in the Overlord scenario, I’d rank it as an “11”. The huge battles I’ve been a part of have been deliriously fun, and go remarkably quickly, considering how many are involved. I’ve played the Overlord Normandy beach scenario many times, and still haven’t bored of it yet.

6.) Fun Factor and Speed: The Fun Factor of this game is huge - as it plays almost always under an hour - yet produces a great and satisfying experience. Almost everyone that I’ve introduced the game to has immediately wanted to play the game again, whether they’ve won or lost; and many of them have immediately wanted to purchase the game for themselves. It’s a great game, and one that will interest many people - even if they normally don’t like war games.

7.) Variety: There are seventeen scenarios available with the game, and myriads more being posted online on a consistent basis, at . These scenarios are user-rated, so that you can go through and pick the best ones to try out. Rumors of expansions are in the works, adding more delight to an already fantastic game, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting bored anytime soon.

8.) BGDF: Here's an example where a designer took a very popular game, remade it successfully, and it was even better! Borg is taking this design to the bank, with another version coming out from GMT eventually, and other games in the works. If you design a game, and it does well, don't be afraid to deviate from the formula a little, but only a little!

Memoir ’44 sold out its first shipment in record time. Run - don’t walk - to your nearest game retailer and preorder now. Don’t miss out on the chance to own one of the best games of 2004 - and one that you are certain to love and enjoy. Memoir has given me many hours of enjoyment, and I’m sure many more to come. It is by far Richard Borg’s best game yet, and Days of Wonder’s crowing achievement, even topping Ticket to Ride! It’s good to be King - or at least, Days of Wonder!

Tom Vasel

“Real men play board games.”

[Review] Memoir '44

As usual, Mr. Vassel has written an excellent, spot-on review. I've enjoyed reading his semi-regular columns here, and I won't make the presumption that I can add anything meaningful to what he's already said - so, I'll get straight to the point of why I'm posting at all.

The one niggling little thing about Memoir that, in my mind, did not get fixed in the transition from Battle Cry was the impact of casualties on firepower...or, more specifically, the lack of any. A unit at 25% of its strength has just as much combat effectiveness as a fresh unit, and this was hard for me to swallow. Kevin Nunn and I came up with a house rule to address this that worked pretty well, which I will share here.

For each figure below full strength, the unit rolls one fewer dice than it would if it were at full strength, down to a minimum of one die. As an example, an artillery unit that normally rolls 3-3-2-2-1-1 dice (at ranges 1-2-3-4-5-6 respectively) would, after taking one casualty, roll 2-2-1-1-1-1.

Granted this may just be fussing over where to draw the "simplicity versus realism" line, but for me, it added much more realism than it gave up in simplicity. FWIW, YMMV, koo-koo-kachoo.

[Review] Memoir '44

Two minor grievances with M44. The artillery pieces are too flimsy and some were missing wheels or barrels right out of the box. The rules regarding hills and LoS are seriously lacking. I don't understand why they have yet to issue rulings or a new FAQ about his.

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