Saturday, August 18, 2007

Review - Memoir 44

This is part two in a series of four I’m doing on the Richard Borg Command and Colors system. Each review will look at the game in its own light, as well as how it compares to the others in the series. Read part 1 - Battle Cry - here.

The second game in Richard Borg's series of Command and Colors games to be released was Memoir '44 by Days of Wonder in 2004. At first glance, the game appears to be not much more than a Battle Cry knockoff with a WWII theme. In many ways, that is an apt description as it uses nearly the same system as its predecessor. The keyword is nearly, as there are some small changes which make for a game different enough that it easily stands on its own. In each game, players take opposing sides - for the base game this is understandably enough the Axis and the Allies. The game includes a large number of scenarios and to DoW's credit, there is good support on their website for the Memoir community, including the ability to download a large number of official and fan made scenarios. The game board is set up according to the scenario chosen - typically this means adding some tiles to indicate terrain and possibly some additional pieces to mark razor wire and sandbags. The game board is double sided, one side having a beach landing terrain for use in those type of scenarios. The game board is divided into three sections of hexes(left and right flanks, and of course the middle). After setting out the terrain, the units are placed according to the scenario and the game begins. As with Battle Cry, the setup for each scenario is set and doesn’t allow for any player configuration. The scenarios also indicate how many command cards each side starts with and which side moves first.

Each player takes his turn by playing a command card from their hand. The card indicates which section (left right middle) the player may order units, and how many units may receive orders. Some cards have various different powers (such as an air strike). For regular orders, the player first chooses which units to order, then the selected units may move. Units have different movement restrictions on how far they may move, and if they can participate in combat if they move. After all movement is completed, combat is resolved. The player rolls dice depending on their distance from the unit being attacked and may need to modify the number of dice rolled based on terrain. The die have unit symbols indicating if a unit has been hit or must retreat or been missed altogether. For this game, the die have two sides indicating infantry, one side for tanks, one side for missed attacks (star), one wildcard hit (grenade) and one retreat symbol (flag). If the symbol matches the unit under attack, that unit loses a “portion” of its strength. Infantry have 4 strength, Tanks 3, and Artillery 2. Each flag is the number of spaces a unit must retreat back to their side. If a unit is blocked from retreating, it loses strength. Unlike in Battle Cry, if a unit must retreat off the back of the board, it is not lost. A unit always fights at the same power, regardless of how “wounded” it has become. When a unit is completely reduced in strength, the opposing player receives a piece from that unit indicating a victory point. Scenarios are played to a set number of units being destroyed.

Besides the retreat rules (unit not destroyed when it has to retreat off the backside of the field), Memoir introduced the concept of taking ground and armor overruns. When an infantry unit in close combat (adjacent combat) forces another unit to retreat or destroys the unit, they may move into the space previously occupied by the enemy. For armor overruns, tanks may take ground and then get a second additional attack. If the attack forces a second retreat or destroys a unit, it may take ground a second time. These changes seem to considerably shorter the game, as a "tank blitz" can decimate a side in short order. It also allows a player to get their units in and behind the enemy to cut of retreats.

The true key concept that Memoir introduced was the Overlord variation. Here, you can play 8-players in two teams using two Memoir sets. The boards are placed together making a huge battle field with 3 players on each section (per side) and one "general" on each side controlling the strategic part of the game through the cards. Once orders are sent down, the battle commanders control the troops. Its a fun and exciting way to enjoy this two player game with a lot of people.

DoW did quite a good job with the components to this game. The plastic army pieces are quite good and there are a lot of them. The board and terrain hexes are of better quality that Battle Cry and will stand up for many plays. There are nice wooden dice and they are colorfully screened. The cards are carry the colors and look and feel of WWII and are of good stock to hold up for a number of plays. The instruction book is on nice thick glossy paper and explains the simple system well and with detailed examples. The scenarios are easy to setup and come with historical context. The scenarios are not all balanced, but if played where both players play each side and total the scores, should be fine.

- Excellent quality in the game - the box, pieces, board, instructions - all of it.
- Expansion of the C&C system from Battle Cry changes things enough to make it different rather than a simple re-theme.
- Huge support online for scenarios.
- Games are played out quickly.
- Balance. A large part of this series is the balance factor. Though a scenario may be biased, by each player playing both sides and the winner being determined by the total of the two scores, any imbalance from the basic setup is neutralized.
- Easy to play via Email. This one plays very well over VASSAL, as each player’s turn is mostly self contained and requires little feedback (in over 18 games, direction of retreat has almost never been an issue). In fact, nearly all my playings have been via email/vassal.
- Overlord supports playing 8 players. A great variation.
- Its widely available and there are a large number of expansions and extras that have been put out by DOW to keep the game going.

- It’s not a simulation. True war gamers cringe when people call this a war game (even a light war game).
- It can take as long to setup as it does to play.
- This one feels like the least strategic of the series. Often simply using your units efficiently is enough to win. Sometimes the scenario is so stacked against you it doesn't matter what you do.
- The entire game system is full of random goodness. From the cards to the dice that determine casualties. A well played game doesn’t always mean victory.

This one is a 7.5 for me, just below Battle Cry. I enjoy this one for its differences from the others in the series – the quick advances allow for fast resolutions. The pace of play is good, though again, setup time makes whipping this one out not nearly as likely. I actually enjoy this online via VASSAL more than in person - with the exception of Overlord. With all the scenarios available and the expansion packs out there, this one has a lot of replayability. Of course, with the BattleLore system now in full swing, this one has dropped off the radar a bit for me. Fans of WWII combat over fantasy might prefer the simpler system that Memoir offers over that of BattleLore and C&C:Ancients. I'd guess that other than for Overlord, this one doesn't get pulled out too often, though it is still a fun game.

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