Memoir ’44 brings history to life on your tabletop. Players take the reins of either the Allied or the Axis forces and fight scenarios based on actual battles of World War II. This concept, while not new, has never been presented in a way that is so fun and so accessible to any level of gamer. Why? Because it’s not a wargame; it’s a board game about war.
Gameplay & Components
Did you ever play with those little green army men as a kid? The ones you could buy in bags by the hundreds? If so, you are in for a treat! The pieces bear a significant resemblance to those little guys, with green for Allies and Blue for Axis. There are a lot of components to this game, as one might expect in a game about war: infantry, tanks, artillery, as well as fortifications like sandbags, barbed wire and hedgehogs. These are all played on a large board divided into three parts (Right Flank, Center and Left Flank), onto which tiles are laid to represent terrain.
Like I said before, Memoir ’44 is a board game about war, and not a wargame. While this may seem like a subtle distinction, it absolutely is not. A wargame is a simulationist game that thrives on complexity, and usually takes multiple hours to play. This game is elegant in its simplicity, and delivers a satisfying experience in about an hour. Richard Borg, the designer, certainly made this simple with his Command & Colors system, which this game uses.
The Command & Colors system uses as its basic mechanic playing cards to represent which units to give orders to, and then resolves attacks with special dice. The command cards are dealt randomly from the card supply (a 70-card deck in the base game), and replenished each turn. A player’s turn consists of playing one command card, moving units, and resolving declared attacks. The design choice of having command cards, I feel, is the true innovation of this game and what sets it apart from a wargame. Having a limited set of choices speeds things along, and reduces the phenomenon known as “analysis paralysis”, where players get overwhelmed with the complexity of choices and take long times to decide their actions. As I said, the game play is about an hour, and this system is to thank. Within the context of using the action cards, however, there is still room to make clever, strategic plays. On a ten point scale, I would rate this about four on difficulty.
A typical turn consists of a player choosing one of his command cards and playing it. A typical command card is going to indicate ordering a number of units in a specific board section. After that, the player indicates which units are getting the orders, then resolves their movement in the order of his choice. After that, attacks are resolved in order of the player’s choice by rolling the attack dice, and models are removed from units if the die result matches their troop type. Cards are replenished, victory points (medals) are checked and play passes to the next player.
My favorite thing about Memoir ’44 is that it is scenario-based. The board gets set up to reflect a specific historical battle, with terrain pieces added and units in starting position in a way that somewhat reflects the battle. Each has a historical intro talking about the significance of the battle, and really sets the mood for the game. Additionally, enthusiasts may want to purchase the campaign books (there are two presently available), although the ones already present offer lots of choices or those who just want to pull it off the shelf once in a while.
Who will enjoy this game?
The biggest downside to me is that this is indeed a two player game. This has limited the amount of times it has hit my table. Additionally, setting up a scenario map can sometimes be time-consuming; there are a lot of terrain tiles and bits. Small downsides, but notable nonetheless.
Since purchasing this game shortly after its 2004 release, this game has seen a lot of play in my household. I feel that I have certainly gotten my money’s worth on this one. My wife and I have spent hours and hours playing this game, and we have since purchased just about every expansion released. Days of Wonder never fails to deliver a great game.
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