Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Review of Memoir '44

Best. Game. Ever. 

That is basically how my friend Jeff described Memoir ’44  after I introduced it to him several years ago. I have to concur. Memoir is a game of World War II tactical combat based on Richard Borg’s Command and Colors system. There are several distinctive features of the system.

·         The map board features modular terrain features (hills, woods, towns, etc.). This allows players to set up an endless variety of battlefields.
·         Each player has a hand of Command Cards. To get troops to move or attack, the player must play a command card to order units (usually 1 to 3). There are also Command Cards that allow special actions, such as reinforcing units with casualties.
·         The map is divided into three sections (left, center, right). Often, a player may only order units in one section.
·         To attack, a player rolls special Memoir dice, which have icons of infantry, armor, a grenade, a star, or a flag. Infantry or armor icons hit their respective types of units, a grenade hits anything, and a flag causes a retreat.
·         Players gain medals for seizing key objectives or destroying enemy units. The first player to reach a specified number of medals wins the battle.

A game involves setting up a selected scenario, listed in the rule book. Each scenario specifies the map setup, the number of medals to win, and any special rules. Players then take turns playing a Command Card, ordering units, and making attacks, until one player reaches the medal count and wins the game.

A game in progress - Omaha Beach

Mechanically speaking, Memoir 44 is a very simple game. Like chess, however, that simplicity hides a very sophisticated game. Players will need to make a number of decisions throughout each turn – which Command Card to use, which units to order, which enemy units to attack, how to attack (e.g. do I use armor or infantry?), which unit attacks first, etc. The game definitely keeps players on their toes.

People who like “realistic” games will have complaints about Memoir. Luck can play a role – if you roll poor dice or draw bad Command Cards, your game will suffer. The Command Cards can be a major source of irritation. For example, if my opponent launches a serious attack on my left flank and I have no left flank cards, my units might just end up sitting there taking punishment without a chance to retaliate. Memoir also makes a number of abstractions. There is no differentiation between armor units, so different types of tanks will be treated as if they are equal. An American Sherman attacks the same as a German Panther.

Despite these limitations, Memoir 44 delivers an amazing gaming experience. As I mentioned, players have a number of decision points so they will remain engaged. Furthermore, I have been surprised at how the abstract system can encourage realistic decisions. For example, it behooves a smart commander to withdraw a unit with severe casualties from the front lines. In most wargames I played before, players blithely send units on suicide missions – win or be destroyed! Also, I have learned through hard experience that armor is not invincible, especially against infantry in prepared defensive positions. A wise commander will support his armor with infantry. Finally, a commander must realize that his plans will always risk being upset by the fog of war (i.e. a lack of command cards). Therefore, he will remain patient and flexible, marshaling resources until the time is right.

All these factors have made Memoir ’44 my favorite game ever. Even if I have a run of bad luck, I don’t mind. Games are short (typically around an hour, depending on the dice and the scenario) so a rematch is easy to do. I HIGHLY recommend this game.

Rating 5+++++++++ / 5

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