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Subject: Memoir '44 - Entry Level Family Wargame rss

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William Hostman
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Preface: Yes, this game is heavily reviewed... as a wargame, as a gridded minis game... but it is a bridge between wargames and family games, and that role, and it's suitability for it, is the point of this review.


Memoir '44 - Entry Level Family Wargame

Wargames as a whole are noted for several major "flaws" for casual games: the snowball effect, the endgame let-down, the search for perfection of victory conditions, and the inevitability past the major decision point. All of these also make the genre less than suitable for "family play."

Memoir '44, hereafter M44, is a light supertactical miniatures-on-grid wargame, rated ages 8 and up. It is published in the US by Days of Wonder, and was designed by Richard Borg. Mr. Borg is participatory in the game forums. This is one of the games in a series called Command and Colors, which is spread across many years and several publishers. Days of Wonder will be publishing the next C&C game as well, Battle Lore.

It scored from this reviewer the following, as a family game:

Rules Mechanics: 8/10
Visual Appeal: 7/10
Command Cards Deck: 8/10
Rulebook: 7/10
Scenarios: 5/10
Game Play: 9/10 (counts double)
Components & Durability 7/10
Rules Growth 10/10

Overall: 7.777


This is a strong family game for 2 players. The rules are easy, grow well, and avoid the major flaws of most wargames from a family perspective. The rules are light enough for a 7 year old to play effectively, and the play intriguing enough for two ex-SFBer 30-something grognards to lock horns. Expandability and visual appeal make it a popular game, but some minor rules flaws and durability issues hurt it. Most telling of all, however, is that the scenarios are not play-ballanced, but are historical scenarios with relatively historical setup. The game is well supported.

The reviewer's personal tastes result in a personal rating of 8.2, for reference, firmly in the "Play often" category. This review, however, includes experience gained in teaching the game to sixth graders, his 7 year old second-grader daughter, and several friends in their 30's and 40's. The reviewer is also a graduate student in elementary education. This review is based upon

If you are looking for a good, simply, visually appealing wargame for play with non-grognards, this is one to consider.

Rules Mechanics 8/10
The turn cycle is simple:
1) Play a command card
2) Designate units activated by that card
3) move activated units
4) fire activated units
5) draw replacement command card, discarding the one used this turn.

There are three basic unit types: Infantry, Armor, and Artillery. Each is a simple and memorable rule package. Each is represented on board with miniatures. No "stacking" is allowed; each unit must be in a separate hex. Each unit has one or more miniatures.

The basic infantry unit is 4 figures, meaning the unit can take 4 hits. The basic armor unit is three miniatures, and can thus take 3 hits. The basic artillery unit is 2 miniatures, and thus can take two hits.

Combat is resolved by rolling special battle dice; there are two infantry sides, one each grenade, tank, armor, and star. Units get from 1-3 battle dice, by type and range, and special circumstances can add one die, while target terrain can remove two dice. There is no return fire.

When a battle die turns up a grenade, or the unit's basic type symbol, one figure is removed from the targeted unit. When a battle die turns up a flag, the targeted unit will have to retreat after taking other casualties from that die-throw. Retreats can't go through other units, can't go towards the other player's side, and can't enter impassable terrain... each flag is one hex, and extra but disallowed retreat moves result in additional casualties.

Units fire at full effect until destroyed... in the basic game.

Visual Appeal 7/10
Family games need to have strong visual appeal. M44 has this... nice large colorful board, double sided. large hexes, about 2.1 inches face to face, with 2" hex tiles for terrain, on board stock. The tiles are colorful, and visually appealing.

The figures are 25mm tall for the infantry, with a 15mm square base. The tanks are unbased and about 40x15x15mm. the artillery are also unbased, and about 15x30x15mm. Big enough to grab comfortably, small enough to fit several in a hex. There are 5 total sculpts for units, with German and US sharing an artillery piece sculpt (6 guns each), and each having a tank sculpt (24 tanks each), and an infantry sculpt (42 each). Threre are 3 additional sculpts: Barbed wire , Sandbag defenses, and hedgehog defenses, each with 12 pieces total, 6 in each of the colors.

The full color rulebook, available for download at the publisher's website, are visually stunning, and easy to use.

The dice are white with, round cornered, appear to be wood, with shallow-depressed painted symbols: two infantry in medium blue, a tank in black, a purple flag, an orange pineapple grenade, and a green star-in-circle. They bounce well, and are about 16mm size.

Color is the area where M44 has the biggest failing. Whilst blue and green are two of the traditional "army man" colors, the dark blue german figures and the dark green US figures can be hard to tell apart in dim light; the sculpts being different helps here, but it is a problem. The expansions include a light brown (Russian) and khaki (Japan) figures, with 3 sculpts for each, and the artillery in these is different from the base game's artillery.

A friend who is colorblind didn't realize the figures were different colors, despite being red-green colorblind, not green-blue colorblind, despite good light.

Were it not for the color issue, this would be an 8. The real test: if I leave the box open, my children, aged 2 and 7, want to play with the toy soldiers... as do my adult friends aged 20-50!

Command Card Deck 8/10
The command cards deck is truly the heart of the game. The instructions are clear, and the cards readable. There are essentially two levels of play: Adult, and Child. The cards are bridge-sized, and not noticeably plastic coated....

The two broad types of cards in the deck, Sections and Tactics. Sections are light green colored, and have no real reading needed past the numbers. They visually show which board section, and give the number of units to activate. Tactic cards are medium blue-gray present up to a paragraph of information, and require reading skills. Distinguishing them is easy; tactics do not show the map on them, so the lack of color discrimination on blue/green is a non-issue. Some tactic cards do not activate units, but have other effects, spelled out clearly on the card,

The adult game uses the whole deck. The Child's game uses just the tactic cards. The game plays well either way. There are a good variety of cards of both types.

Rulebook 7/10
The rulebook is coverless, heavy gloss stock, full color, easily readable, with 15 pages of rules, and 17 pages of scenarios. Each scenario gets one page for set-up visuals and any special rules. Again, color discrimination is important; the blue and green symbols for set up are hard to distinguish, and both sides use the same symbols. Go through and highlight the symbols for one side; it helps a lot. This factor alone lost the otherwise excellent rulebook.

The rules themselves are well illustrated, show the concepts of play well, and provide plenty of clarity on most items.

Scenarios 5/10
The 16 scenarios are not play-balanced, that is, the odds are not even between the sides. This can be frustrating for some players, especially younger ones, as the scenarios are all based upon historical battles, and if they pick the disadvantaged side, they can very easily find a scenario unwinnable from that side.

As a family wargame, this issue is a major one, earning an "F" grade... the scenarios are not labeled as to balance, nor is it always obvious, and they are intentionally not balanced, but this isn't mentioned in the rules.

The scenarios do follow a building complexity pattern, and are obviously intended to be played roughly in sequence.

Despite these lacks, namely color issues and lack of play-balanced scenarios, the scenarios are fun. Were this a general review, rather than focussed, the scenarios would be rated a "C" (7/10)

There is also no scenario generator, points system, nor blank terrain map.

Game Play 9/10
With the child's rules, the game is fast, furious, and very quick. the first several scenarios all play out in under an hour. This is short enough for most children. Given that an individual player-turn is usually under 5 minutes, this pace keeps children interested, as well as short-attention adults. With the fulll "adult" game, the timeframe doesn't change, but some tactic cards can take longer to resolve.

The use of command cards prevents the traditional wargame "Wait while i move all these..." delays. Since you seldom have more than 4 units active, that speeds up play. It also reduces the snowball effect. (Snowball effect, for reference, is where a few early victories in the game snowball by preventing the opposing player from ever evening the odds.) This is one great advantage in this game as far as family play: you can come back from even major losses with good play and a little luck.

Some tactic cards are very powerful; others are fairly weak. Many allow only one type of unit to play, and activate four units of that type; if you have no units of that type, they usually allow any one unit of your choice.

The endgame effect is minimized. Endgame effect is where you can see that you have lost several turns before the victory conditions are met. Due to the card-based activations, victory point system, and usually far more victory points available than are needed, the game can be turned around with only minimal luck, and position isn't everything.

There are two major lacks, however: (1) there are no markers for activated units. Easy enough to solve with gaming stones or even pennies. (2) The other is that it is possible to have units left but no command cards which can activate them; this is solvable with a house rule: Any card which results in no eligible units should allow any one unit to be activated.

The minor lacks are in rules clarity: (1) on a careful read, one realizes that order of fire is important, since one active unit must finish its battle before the next active unit fires. It is possible that a unit might lose their target because it had to retreat and did so right out of range. (2) the rules-summary cards do not give movement rules for infantry nor armor, but does give it for artillery. (There is space, so I just penned it right in!)

The terrain reference cards are abridged from the rulebook, and speed play enormously.

The scenarios are highly replayable, both swapping sides and simply resetting and playing again. The command cards result in different play each time.

Despite the listed faults, the play is strong, fast, and tense right to the end. 9 of 10.

Components & Durability 7/10
Having seen what happens to a set after 4 months in a 6th grade classroom, it ain't so pretty. The wheels came off the artillery, several infantry were broken at the knees, and the cards were scuffed. The barbed wire bits sometimes lose the end-cap (they are not solid moulded, but hollow with an end-cap...). The terrain pieces hold up well, and the map is fairly tough.

The box has a wonderful insert, which nicely holds all the pieces, and the shipping packaging is sturdy enough to reuse in putting the game away. There are, however, lots of little bits, and you should probably invest in some snack-sized baggies for them. Sadly, they are double sided, and not all have one-side's marker only... (So yes, there are a few with german marker on one side and US/UK on the other.)

The cards are not plastic coated, but are glossy cardstock. Since they are bridge sized, the standard "deck protector" and sports-card card sleeves are a bit wide. I'm told that YuGiOh sized sleeves fit. I've been using sports-card polypropylene sleeves on mine, with no major issues, but the extra 1/4" of slop side to side is an issue for some.

All the markers are of the same stock as the tiles, and hold up well if not lost. 7/10, due to fragile artillery and lots of choke-the-baby sized pieces.

Rules Growth 10/10

Rules for wargames are often large assemblages of special cases. M44 is no different, save for the number and (Lack of) complexity of those special cases. By adding new unit types in successive scenarios, the complexity can be built slowly. The additional types of units, Special Forces Infantry, French Resistance Infantry, and Elite armor each have very clear, simple, and direct changes from standard units. Terrain is likewise added incrementally.

Expansions: There are also 4 published expansions to the game.

Two are "new army" boxes, Pacific Theater and Eastern Front. Each adds new terrain hexagons, new forces, a new army with new sculptures, and some new scenarios to use these minis in.

Again, staged rules increases make for the special rules to come in to force gradually.

The Terrain Pack includes rules for desert, a load of new unit types and their markers, and a number of scenarios. It does not include any minis, that I can tell; I don't have it. (But the rulebook is available on-line at DoW's site...) Again, it adds scenarios, and increasing complexity through them.

The Desert/Winter Board is a complete alternate mapboard, for use with the terrain pack. It claims to include campaign rules, as well. Again, I don't have it. Unlike the others, the rules were not up on DoW's site as of October, 2006.

On-line support: There are dozens of player-created scenarios on-line at the publisher's website. Some are excellent, others excrement, but the base game allows 6 months of access to the scenario creator. Pacific theater also grants 6 months access; Both the base game and pacific theater gains life-time access to the generator, as does a reasonable fee instead. The forums are excellent, and in case of lost rules, most of the rules are available on-line as Acrobat PDFs.

Great "What the ???" moments
The risk player:
RP: So I get one die per figure Right?
Aramis: No, each group of figures gets dice based upon range.
RP: So I get 12 dice when attacking this unit 1 hex away?
Aramis: No... just 3 dice...

The Ex-Marine
EM (Shane): Sweet! Right where I wanted you... I play Their finest hour... You realize, of course, I'm about to wipe you off the map with my hordes of infantry.
Brother of EM: Uh, Shane, check the card... you have to ROLL to see which ones you get to thump Wil with... 4 dice...
EM: Oh, yeah...
roll of dice... Tank, Tank, Flag, Flag...
Aramis (Wil): Let's see, you've only got two tank units, and they're in the wrong sections... and flags don't activate units... Let's see those tanks' Finest Hour....
EM: Well, now... I can just barely get that one in range, and the other one will close assault on those gus there...
Aramis: I have an ambush!
Aramis, plays his ambush card proceeds to roll three tanks, and kills the unit.
EM: Hey! Not Nice! Let's see, three dice over there.
Aramis & BoEM: 4, Shane, 4 dice!
EM rolls... 3 flags, star.
EM: At least I made them run....
Aramis moves his retreating unit... right into cover and ready to close assault again on a different unit...
Aramis: And saved me a turn getting them where I needed them.
The Ex-Marine did win... 4:3... the next turn... when he got three victory points, two of which were the intended assault, performed with an Infantry Assault card instead.
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Denise Lavely
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Nice review for how to do this with families!

But I must disagree with you on one point. The fact that the scenarios are unbalanced is not necessarily a problem in family play. There is of course the official solution of playing each games twice, switching sides, and seeing who garnered the most victory points. But with the children I've played with, I've found two other possible solutions that have worked well.

- for the VERY young - adult takes the disadvantaged side

- for the slightly older - explain up front that the scenario is unbalanced in order to mimic the actual history a little better. Allow the child to therefore choose if they want the challenge or the handicap. Most kids will choose the handicap at first, of course, but the day will come when they decide they want the challenge - and then you as the parent have the pleasure of knowing you've successfully guided your child into CHOOSING to do something difficult for the pleasure of trying to beat the odds
 
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William Hostman
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It's not so much that the scenarios are unbalanced, but that there is no checking for balance, no label of which side is advantaged (and it isn't always the side with more cards nor more troops, though both is a clear indicator).

If it were clearly labeled, that would be a wholly different matter. It isn't.
 
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Denise Lavely
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Gotcha - yes, this is true. You can get an idea how unbalanced it is by checking the website to see how many times people have reported each side has won, but I can also see how most people aren't going to do that.
 
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Nick Avtges
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If you don't want to visit the excellent Memoir website where you can see balance numbers based on hundreds of plays, I think a simple rule of thumb of letting the young uns play the allies works well. They are favored in most scenarios. And then when they play Omaha, they'll get a deep appreciation of the difficulty of that particular landing and perhaps a greater understanding of the incredible sacrifice made there.

 
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William Hostman
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I've been Banished to Oregon... Gaming in Corvallis, living in Alsea... Need gamers willing to try new things...
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To put it another way: Nothing on the website will matter to most families.

In another 10 years, that might not be the case. I am well aware of the stats page, but it's not readily visible unless you know what you're looking for/at.

The labeling is "standard scenarios" but doesn't tell you that
1) you can give feedback, both battle reports and scenario ratings.
2) you can see the stats and ratings within.

Oh, and you need to be logged in...
 
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James Hébert
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Thanks for this review. M44's going to be my family's first venture into this kind of gaming. Based on finding this site, and all the reviews I've read, I've ordered the game for my sons (and frankly, I can't wait to play it with them... it's gonna be a l-o-n-g wait until Christmas!).

Any chance you could be talked into sharing the list of the scenarios from the base game and which way each is balanced? Since you noted it, and it's generated some chat here, do you think it's something worth making a part of the thread? My older boy would not mind winning or losing as much, but my younger one would. I would be interested in helping him get into the game by playing the weaker side for a few games at first.

Also, can you get lifetime web site access at Days of Wonder if you purchase the base game and later add Eastern Front? Your review indicates this about the base + Pacific Theater. However, I've gotten the impression that the base + any expansion allows this. I'm pretty interested in picking up Eastern Front next, and wondered if I've got it wrong.

Thank you again. Great review!

James
 
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Nick Avtges
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You don't need to be registered at the Days of Wonder site to see the scenario stats. Just go here: http://www.memoir44.com/index.php/?t=content&sub=scenariostd...

You do need to be registered to see the detailed AAR and enter your own. The base game comes with a web-access code which is all you will need. If you have the Pacific expansion, you'll get another code, which will then let you download the scenario builder software.

But...since it's public anyway, I'll post the current scenario numbers here.


01 Pegasus Bridge Allies/Axis: 695/306 - 1006 AARs
02 Sainte Mère-Eglise Allies/Axis: 370/214 - 587 AARs
03 Sword Beach Allies/Axis: 307/336 - 643 AARs
04 Pointe-du-Hoc Allies/Axis: 239/97 - 336 AARs
05 Omaha Beach Allies/Axis: 89/359 - 449 AARs
06 Mont Mouchet Allies/Axis: 160/157 - 318 AARs
07 Vassieux, Vercors Allies/Axis: 74/117 - 192 AARs
08 Operation Cobra Allies/Axis: 132/140 - 274 AARs
09 Operation Lüttich Allies/Axis: 131/142 - 273 AARs
10 Toulon Allies/Axis: 105/53 - 158 AARs
11 Liberation of Paris Allies/Axis: 113/39 - 152 AARs
12 Montélimar Allies/Axis: 110/85 - 196 AARs
13 Arnhem Bridge Allies/Axis: 133/27 - 161 AARs
14 Arracourt Allies/Axis: 102/43 - 146 AARs
15 St Vith, Ardennes Allies/Axis: 63/64 - 127 AARs
16 Saverne Gap, Vosges Allies/Axis: 69/69 - 139 AARs


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James Hébert
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Very cool... thanks for the tip, and stats.

Once I have the registration and can access the web site, are there more scenarios to find there? I do not seem to find many on the web, though I've seen the occasional post referring to higher-numbered ones being released through certain channels or magazines. I gather having "more" is not that necessary, though, as replay value must be pretty high.

Dang, I'm eager to play this game. ;-)

James
 
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