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Memoir '44 - Blocks That Work Better Than Miniatures

Kevin L. Kitchens
United States
Gainesville
Georgia
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I love miniatures in games, I really do. But only when they work. For me the minis in Memoir '44 don't work. The scale of course is way off, so unlike Gears of War: The Board Game, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, or Star Wars: Imperial Assault where every mini on the board is part of a cohesively sized system, in Memoir, they are just playing pieces akin to Monopoly. The scale of the dog to the battleship equates to the scale of the infantry to the tanks.

Along with this there is the cumbersome setup time of counting out and placing all those extraneous pieces as well as the need to move around clumps of them each turn and you increase the pain points of this otherwise fun game considerably.

So I set out to find a better solution.

During the latest HAMTAG video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mu2G3KEJsd4), Judd Vance mentioned working on a block system for the game and I remembered I'd been meaning to share this post here on the blog. I originally posted this in July 2014 in the Memoir '44 forum under my old account which was lost when I requested that account removed Fortunately I kept a copy.

Interestingly, it turned out to be Judd's first version of his blocks that I reference at the end of the article. He did them in 2011 and I found them of course after I did mine. When I get an idea, I tend to proceed with solving it before seeing if it had already been done because I don't want my version to be influenced by others. Of course that's probably a dumb idea because I could learn from their mistakes, but I'm hard headed that way.

I also since found out that other games in the Commands & Colors family use blocks instead of miniatures. So obviously I'm not alone here. But while Commands & Colors: Ancients and Commands & Colors: Napoleonics may also improve the game with blocks, my preferred era is WW2, so Memoir '44 wins out for me.

One final note before the how-to. My son discovered while we were using these that the blocks make it convenient to remember which units you moved for later attacking in the same turn. Simply lay the block face forward and then restore them after you resolve combats. Nice.


Memoir '44 Custom Blocks

I originally played Memoir '44 Online on Windows and that was the first I'd heard of it. Learning it was a board game, I picked up a copy to play with my adult son when we both had time. The game is light and great fun, but a pain to setup each scenario. Moving loose groups of minis as well can be a hassle. Having seen the blocks of the other C&C based games as well as the idea of reduced counters standard in wargaming, I wanted to create blocks for Memoir that would make the game setup and play a little faster.

I present my Memoir '44 Custom blocks...



The major hurdle was going to be the blocks themselves. I checked on Etsy for some, but the best I could find was 3" square blocks. I talked to the vendor to see if they could produce 1.5" ones and after a couple of back and forth emails, that line went cold. We've bought finishing wood at Home Depot in the past, so I checked there to see if they had some and voila! They had the perfect solution.



These sticks are 99% finished and are 1/2" thick (good for standing) and 1 1/2" wide and 48" long. By rights, it should produce 32 blocks (48/1.5") however when you factor in blade cut as well as leaving an area to hold for safety when sawing, the real limit was about 26 blocks per board. This also allowed a handle to hold the board when painting, so I could paint all four sides without waiting for each coat to dry.

For me, in metro Atlanta, each stick was about $2.50.

As the base game only needs 22 sets of units, the 26 was an acceptable target. I actually had a couple of bad cuts in the first two sticks as well and ended up with only 24 usable blocks from those. So I added an extra infantry and artillery unit.

42 Infantry = 11 units (rounded up)
24 Tanks = 8 Units
6 Artillery = 3 Units

I took a fine (400) grade of sandpaper and knocked down the corners just a bit, just sand up and down the length of the board very lightly.

I painted the grey and green using spray paint with primer. The downside of this is that the board is so thin that the paint "mist" missed quite a bit, so I got the can too close to the board and it puddled. So I had to clean a lot of that up (user error). The tan board I used Ceramcoat Arts and Crafts paint with a foam brush (very watered down, just thicker than a wash) and it worked much better.

However after cutting the squares, the spray paint ended up working a lot better to finish off the cut ends. With the hand painting I had to touch each one it was a little messy, though not unbearable. If I were doing it over though I'd probably hand paint as the spray required too long to dry.


The sticks painted before cutting.

To cut them, I used a chop saw that we've had for years. You could just as well use a mitre box and handsaw -- which I might do if I did this again. The chop saw blade was not for fine detail work so was a little rougher. Also on the upstroke, the blade would sometimes catch the new piece and send it flying across the room (or in one case over my car and into the driveway). I ended up having to cut the board, let the saw stop, then lift the blade which made it take a little longer.

To insure even cuts, I lowed the blade and set the board against it widthwise. Then clamped a piece of scrapwood to the saw to serve as a stop so that I could just feed the board against the stop, lower the blade and cut the piece. This part worked great.


Creating the Stop based on the width of the board.


Sliding the board to the stop before the cut.

The blade left some frayed edges, so I had to sand off the rough spots and then paint the cut edges. TIP: It's much easier to paint the sticks first and knock off 4 of the six sides before you cut them.


Blanks cut and in need of a little touch up sanding.


The German army lines up for some edge painting...

When the painting is all over you end up with nice blocks ready for the stickers...



The stickers I designed in Photoshop. The goal was to make them so each side would show the current strength of the unit in the upper righthand corner. No matter which side you're looking at, the correct value showed.

I originally planned to photograph the actual game pieces, but decided to go with a generic WW2 silhouette for each piece (same for all armies) for simplicity and make the counters less busy. The silhouette is situated so that it's right side up for the default strength (which is also marked in green). You can rotate for reductions (or increases) as necessary.

The labels are paired so you can keep them straight -- each side requires a slightly different label to make the rotation work for both players. I will upload these sheets as PDF to the files section.


An entire base army on one sheet.

To make the initial setup as well as selection from the box easier, I made labels to go across the top of each block for ARMOR, ARTILLERY, and INFANTRY.


Block top labels. More than you need for three armies.

I printed these on a full sheet of 1/2 sheet labels, so the split in the middle covers the seam between the two labels. I assumed they would stick well and then a clear coat sealer on top would insure they'd hold. This was not the case.

The Germans (of course) grey paint had to cause trouble. Not sure what's in the grey vs. the green to make them not stick fully, but corners would peel up a bit. I went over those with a decoupage solution from white glue to help hold them, but I think more will have to be done here. Perhaps a lacquer finish will help hold them on.


When the labelling was all done I applied several coats of the sealer to protect them...

Finally got them on the board. Set up the initial Pegasus Bridge scenario...





And that's all there is to it. Again, with normal play the stickers and clear coat should hold just fine, but I do need to get them secured a little bit better. If I knew I would do decoupage, I would have just printed them on paper and did that from the start.

Hope you enjoyed this.

P.S. As I was developing my version, I did a google search just to see if this had been done before... I found this thread from 2011: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/617754/looking-feedback-memo... which was a similar attempt, but much smaller blocks. So kudos to them as well for working on this too.



UPDATE: The printout files are now live... Memoir '44 Custom Blocks Label Sheets
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