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MEMOIR ’44

Reviewed by Frank Branham

(Days of Wonder; 2 players, ages 8 and up, 30-60 minutes; $49.95)

 

Many years ago, Richard Borg had an idea to create a very unique simple wargaming system called Command and Colors. A few of us very lucky folks got to play the original game for a year or two before Hasbro/Avalon Hill published the civil war game as Battle Cry (Summer 2000 GA REPORT). Battle Cry did quite well, attracting some wargamers, as well as a few folks that would not have otherwise sullied themselves by playing a wargame.

In the meantime Richard has been designing several Command and Colors games covering different periods of history. While we may have to wait a year or two to see the Napoleonic, Fantasy, or Ancients games, we can play Memoir ’44.

For those who have not played Battle Cry: Memoir ’44 is a very simple 2 player wargame with a very small modular map, and usually fewer than a dozen units per side. There are three rules characteristics that make this game unique.memoir441a

1. All of the terrain is modular, printed on cardstock hexes. This means that the game can play many scenarios, with setups for 16 provided in the rules.

2. Combat resolution is by rolling dice and counting hits that match the target of an attack. There are not Combat Results Tables.

3. You can only move and attack with a few units each turn. Exactly which units get to move and attack is determined by your hand of cards. The card you play tells you how many units, and in which section of the battlefield you can move your pieces.

#3 is a huge change from other wargames. The card restrictions keep you from always moving the same units, and the presence of special action cards give the game quite a bit of flavor.

For those who have played Battle Cry, gory details:

Memoir ’44 fixes a lot of niggling problems in Battle Cry — including several that you may not have noticed. Overall, the scenarios provided are much more interesting, with more objectives that earn victory points on the board. Leaders are gone, but in their place is a number of special unit types, each with their own quirks.

Infantry and Artillery do less damage, which makes movement much more important. Cavalry is replaced by tanks which are extremely deadly at close range, thanks to an Overrun rule which can give a tank unit an extra attack.

The cards are better thought out. You never have to discard cards without activating a unit. There are more special cards, and all of them seem niftier.

Days of Wonder’s production for Memoir ’44 is simply stunning. The game comes with a boatload of 1/72 scale German and Allied infantry, two different flavors of tanks, artillery, plastic hedgehogs, and plastic barbed wire. The board is double sided, portraying the beaches of Normandy on one side and the fields of France on the other. Several dozen hexes can be places on the board to indicate bridges, bunkers, rivers, hills, hedgerows, woods, and towns. There are also racks to hold your hand of cards. Lastly a thorough set of summary cards covers all of the differing units and terrain types, providing a very quick reference for the special rules in the game.

The object of most scenarios is to collect 4-6 victory points (different per scenario). The most common way of gaining a victory point is to eliminate an enemy unit. Many of the Memoir ’44 scenarios include towns that give the Allies a victory point as long as they occupy the space.

This is a key weakness in the Command and Colors system. The way you usually score points is taking out opposing units. The best strategy for some scenarios is to find a good defensive position and sit there waiting for the opponent to move in. A few scenarios in Memoir ’44 have good defensive positions for both players, which leads to slowly paced and tedious battles.

Memoir ’44’s beach battles completely avoid this problem. The Allies have no defensive positions, and tons of opportunity extra victory points hiding behind the Germans. The resulting battles have the Allies taking heavy losses crossing the killing zones of the beach, racking up points extremely quickly if they manage to break the German defenses.

Even the more slow battles rarely last more than 45 minutes, which is the true charm of Memoir ’44. Turns move quickly, and the game combines simple rules with fairly tricky choices. Hand management is crucial–it is foolish to charge a unit on attack unless you have more cards to press the attack. However, you can get away with such bravado if you are pretty sure that your opponent does not have any cards to counter your move. The game does, therefore, have hints of deduction and bluff hiding in all of that card play.

Days of Wonder is providing unprecedented support for the game from their website. Players with access to two copies can download rules for larger double board scenarios which can support up to 8 players. A single copy gets you access to a special area of the website with user contributed scenarios. An online Java scenario builder app is also available for those with two copies. Also, more scenarios are available from various sources.

If you are trying to answer the question of whether or not you should acquire a copy, the answer is not very simple. If you hated everything about Battle Cry, nothing in Memoir ’44 is likely to change your opinion. If you are a fan of Battle Cry, you will want to take a serious look. I find that any desire I have to play Battle Cry has pretty much been wiped away by the much more interesting options in Memoir ’44. Folks who are interested in World War 2 should definitely give the game a look, as the combination of flavor and ease of play are as good as it gets.

The first printing of Memoir ’44 has already sold out as I write this, but the second printing should hit US beaches in early August. – – – Frank Branham


 

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