If you ask most Americas what their first war game was, you will probably get one of two choices: Risk or Axis and Allies. For many years, those were the go to war games for the public at large. Even Kramer and Newman player Risk in the popular TV show Seinfeld. After conquering the world in Risk, eventually the dedicated war game fans would move on to the more in-depth strategy games such as Advance Squad Leader or any of the old Avalon Hill titles.
Today, we have many more options for new comers to cut their combat teeth on. Memoir ’44, produced by Days of Wonder, looks to make war gaming more accessible then it has ever been. Set in World War 2, Memoir ’44 pits two players on opposing sides in a scenario based, tabletop war game. Can Memoir ’44 make war gaming fun and accessible to all? Read on to find out!
Memoir ’44 is a scenario based war game for 2 players that plays in about 45 minutes. Memoir ’44 plays best with 2 players or 8 players (more on that later).
Memoir ’44 is one of the easiest to learn war games I’ve ever played. Gone are the 50 page rule books describing every part of a players turn in precise detail. Each game of Memoir ’44 will be a unique scenario based on the events of World War 2. With the somewhat asymmetrical game play, one player will take on the role of the Allied forces while they other represents the Axis powers. The game play uses designer Richard Borg’s Command and Colors system (Battle Cry, Command and Colors: Ancients) that has players using command cards to order units in one of 3 zones on the battlefield. Combat is handled with an easy die rolling mechanic and most scenarios end when one player collects enough medals. Memoir ’44 is easy to learn, plays quickly and has some nice looking components.
If you know anything about Days of Wonder (Ticket to Ride, Shadows Over Camelot), you know that they product some really fantastic looking games. In Memoir ’44, players are treated to some nice eye candy, especially for a war game. The game comes with over 70 plastic miniatures including: Soldiers, Tanks, Artillery, Barbed Wire, Sand Bags and Hedgehogs. Each one looks well sculpted and makes for an enjoying playing experience.
Also included is a double sided game board with one side featuring a grassy terrain and the other a beach area. To go on the game board are 44 double sided terrain pieces that will be used differently in each scenario. The artwork on the board/tiles is both thematic and very well done.
Finally the game comes with 60 command cards and some terrain/unit “cheat sheet” cards. The layout and design on the cards are top notch like you might expect from Days of Wonder. I was quite happy with all the components and my only grip would be that it’s not completely easy fitting everything back in the box.
How to Play:
We don’t review very many war games on Board Game Quest, but I’m guessing this will probably be the easiest one I’ll ever have to explain. The game starts by choosing one of the many included scenarios. Once you’ve setup your chosen scenario, the starting player takes his turn.
Each turn has the following phases:
1. Play a Command Card
2. Order – The battlefield is divided into 3 zones: left, right and center. Most command cards will allow you to order a number of units in a specific zone. In this step, you choose which units will be activating this turn,
3. Move – Move all active units. Each unit has rules for how far they can move and the terrain might effect that. For example, infantry can normally move 2 hexes on a turn. If they enter a forest, they have to immediately stop.
4. Battle – Each of your ordered units can fight the enemy. Battle is done in 3 easy steps.
- Check range – Units can attack a few hexes away but roll one less die per hex distance.
- Check Terrain – Some terrain will affect your attacks. For example: if you are attacking into a forest or city, you roll 1 less die.
- Resolve Battle – Roll the appropriate amount of dice. Each die has 5 different sides: Infantry (2 sides), Armor, Flag, Star and Grenade. For each symbol you roll that matches that unit your attacking (or a grenade), you kill off one figure in the unit. Once all the figures in that particular unit are dead, the unit is removed from the board and usually you get a medal (victory point). If you roll a flag during your attack, you force the defenders to retreat one hex.
5. Draw a Command card – Draw to replace your spent card.
That’s all there is too it. For a war game, Memoir ’44 is incredibly simple to learn. Most players will probably get a good feel for the game in a turn or two. The game takes about 5-10 minutes to explain the rules so you should be up and playing in no time at all.
The actual win conditions will vary from scenario to scenario, but all are fairly straight forward. For example, the first scenario ends when a player gains 4 medals.
First off, if you are a dedicated war gamer who has been pushing around tiny cardboard chits for the past decade, than Memoir ’44 probably isn’t the game for you. I think someone who has been cutting their teeth on Advance Squad Leader for years is going to find Memoir ’44 too simplistic and random for their tastes.
So who is Memoir ’44 for? I’m my opinion it makes a great into to war gaming. This is the game for people who don’t want 25 pages of in-depth rules governing each aspect of battle. Memoir ’44 can be learned in about 10 to 20 minutes just by reading the rule book. That’s just fantastic for a war game. The rules (not counting terrain special features and setup) encompass all of 6 pages! This is a very streamlined game that lets you dive right in.
So, with these easy to learn rules, does that make this the Candyland of war games? No, it’s not that simple. While Memoir ’44 isn’t going to be knocking anyone over with it’s in-depth strategy, it does make for a really fun play. The fact that the rules are so easy to learn is what makes the game so very accessible. You can drop this one down and play with just about anyone (Here’s looking at you mom). The sexy looking components and easy to learn rules will make Memoir ’44 easy to get to the table again and again.
However, with that simplicity, there are going to be some trade offs. You have to be OK with some randomness in your game. This rears its ugly head in at least 2 different ways. First, since the game is card driven, you will be at the mercy of the draw deck. If all the action is happening on the left flank and you only get center cards, it could make for a really rough ride. Even though you can keep multiple cards in your hand, the draw deck can be incredibly frustrating at times. You just have to accept that you will have to tailor your strategy to what appears in your hand.
The second way is that you are also going to be at the mercy of the dice in this game. If your opponent gets on a hot streak, your units might be crushed and there isn’t much you can do about it. That’s probably one of the more frustrating parts of playing Memoir ’44. On defense, you just have to sit there and take it. While many games will take care of combat resolution via opposing attack rolls (Risk, Heroscape, Descent), in Memoir ’44 you do nothing but sit there and watch. While this makes the game play more streamlined, it can feel a bit unfair at times. This is especially true because units suffer no loss in combat effective as their figures are killed off. An infantry unit usually starts with 4 soldiers. They will attack just as strong with one soldier remaining as they did when they started with 4. Days of Wonder definitely sacrificed some realism in the game play of Memoir ’44. In a genre that usually tries and stay as close to real as possible, these will probably be most peoples points of contention with this game.
However, if you are fine with all of that, then what you have is a fun little war game that is easy to get to the table. The fact that the rules in Memoir ’44 are so easy to learn make it a fantastic game to play when you want a fight but don’t want to spend an hour reading a rule book. Add that to the fact that you can play the game in under an hour and it’s no wonder Memoir ’44 makes a great intro to the war gaming genre.
I also don’t want to give the impression that the game is all random with zero strategy. You still need to plan your moments and try and use good tactics to outwit your opponent. If you just randomly throw troops at fortified enemy positions, your little army men are probably going to fall quickly. Good tactics and flexibility will play an important part in bringing home a victory. So while this is far from a historical simulation, it’s also not a random dice fest. I think there is a solid balance of luck and planning in Memoir ’44.
Finally, I wanted to talk about the Operation Overlord variant. At the beginning of the review I mentioned that you can play Memoir ’44 with 8 players. That’s true with the Operation Overlord rule set (free download here). It requires 2 copies of the game, but from what I hear, is an insane amount of fun. It pits players in a 4v4 battle where 3 players will each control a front of the battlefield while the 4th player acts as the general. His job is to pass order cards to the other 3 players. I haven’t gotten to try this variant yet, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
So while Memoir ’44 won’t be for everyone, I think it’s going to find a happy home with a lot of people. I first played this game many years ago and have come back to it recently. Even after all this time, Memoir ’44 has aged really well. I liked that I could jump back into the game quickly without having to spend an hour relearning the game.
The components also make the game play experience really enjoyable. I love pushing around plastic army men and tanks instead of little cardboard chits that most war gamers are accustomed too. I’m glad to see that Days of Wonder kept up their usual quality with Memoir ’44.
Memoir ’44 was published almost 10 years ago and is still readily available today. A game with that kind of staying power must be doing a lot of things right. In addition to the base game, there have been a ton of expansions produced. If you find you do enjoy the game, I’d recommend checking some of them out. Having all these expansion options will certainly up the replay value of the game.
So while Memoir ’44 won’t be impressing the armchair generals with it’s tactical prowess, what you have is a fantastic entry into this age old genre. As a gateway war game, it fills its role nicely. If players do enjoy Memoir ’44, then they can begin to look at moving up into some of the more serious war games. But for dipping your toes into the war game pool, you’d be hard pressed to find a better gateway game. Just be sure to protect your left flank.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $45
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great entry to the war game genre. While not perfect, it does make for a quick and light war game that will be accessible to many.
• Easy to learn rules
• Great components
• Quick play time
• Lots of expansions already published
• A lot of luck for a war game
• Some of the scenarios are sub par.
Fantastic review! I really like the structure of the post – very easy to read and very complete. I am an avid wargamer and would like to introduce some of my children to the genre, and I will definitely check this one out based on this review.
Also curious about the scenarios being based on actual WWII situations… it would be great to sneak in a history lesson or two in there before my kids realize that’s what I did…