Full review with pictures and links can be found under:
Memoir'44 (M'44) is a simple yet challenging card-based wargame about the Second World War, published in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings. It is available in English, as well as in French. An Italian rules translation also exists.
It earned several awards and is highly rated in gaming websites, such as BoardGameGeek or The Wargamer), but does it earn its reputation?
Look & Feel
The game uses a big hexgrid map where you place terrain tiles. Units and obstacles are represented by plastic counters:
Illustration: Each unit is represented by several miniatures, which indicate how many casualties it can take before being eliminated. Terrain tiles (hills, villages, etc.) allow for infinite variations of the map.
Actions are represented by cards and special dice:
Illustration: infantry symbols (2/dice) inflict a hit on infantry and armor symbols (1/dice) hit armor. Grenades (1/dice) hit anything. Flags inflict a retreat (unless negated by terrain) and stars usually miss.
The material is really top-notch and well thought (for example, terrain cards like the one pictured below serve as play aids to remind players of terrain effects).
Illustration: armored units have a harder time hitting units hiding in towns (-2 penalty). Combined arms plays an important role in the game. Armor excels in open terrain and long range fire, while infantry is good at taking out units in defensive terrain. Special units (engineers, etc.) are also included in the game and its extensions.
The rulebook, as the material, is simply outstanding. It's well illustrated and full of examples. Learning to play takes about 15 minutes. Each game session, which lasts about 1 hour, is based on a scenario, which indicates the setup and victory conditions. In order to win, you must usually inflict losses on the enemy and capture key objectives.
You start the game with a hand of cards. Each turn you can play a card which tells you what you can do. Most of the cards serve to activate a number of units in a section of the front (i.e. activate 3 units on your right flank), but there are many special cards which add lots of spice to the game. Activated units get to move, then fire (by rolling dice). You then finish your turn by drawing a card and play passes to your opponent.
Luck plays a great factor and some things are a bit simplistic (like infantry being able to damage armored formations at long range), but all in all it's very playable and reasonably realistic. One minor issue with some scenarios is the lack of time limit, which can lead to very cautious strategies on both sides, but offensive action is usually rewarded.
Playing well really requires great skill and under its "childish" appearance, M44 offers many strategies. The luck factor is maybe too important and can well ruin any plan. However, this is the case in most tactical games, and the short game duration mitigates this.
As such, M'44 is in my opinion one of the best games to introduce new and / or young gamers to the hobby.
Of course, M'44 doesn't compare with Squad Leader or other more complex games simulating battles in more detail (including reconnaissance, etc.), but it would be like comparing apples with oranges.
There are many scenarios available in the basic game.
Illustration: If all wargames rules had this graphical quality, no doubt the hobby would attract more followers.
I specially like the scenario special rules, which can drastically change gameplay at a minimal cost in terms of complexity. Additional scenarios can be downloaded from the website. Despite being a "true grognard" used to more complex wargames, I must admit I really enjoy playing M'44 and haven't grown tired of it after something like 15 games. Extensions (see below) greatly enhance the game's lifetime.
I also appreciate the fact that each scenario comes with a short but interesting historical background text.
I have the feeling that some scenarios are pretty unbalanced, but never to the point of being hopeless. The short game duration allows to switch sides and play a second time, so this is not a big issue.
There are already 3 extensions. The first extension focuses on the western theater (Mediterranean, etc.). The second one covers the russian front, and the last one the pacific front.
Each extension brings in new units, new terrain, new scenarios and new rules. For instance, to simulate the lack of flexibility of the soviet chain of command, the soviet player must select his card one turn in advance. The rule is quite simple, yet cleverly simulates this factor.
I definitely recommend these extensions: they really renew the game without adding complexity.
One of the good things about Memoir'44 is that you can play over the internet for free, either in real time or by email. Check out the freeware VASSAL for more information.
If you like M'44, I recommend you try out Commands & Colors: Ancients, a game based on the same system but with some twists to adapt it to the ancient period. Unfortunately, the material is not up to par with M'44, though.
A serious contender to M'44 seems to be Combat Commander, which is nearing completion. You can already download the rules to get an idea.
If you are looking for a more complex and detailed game, there are plenty of good wargames on this period. Check BoardGameGeek or Web-Grognards, for example, for a listing of games. There are also wargames magazines, like Against the Odds, with nice games included.
Simple and fast
Challenging gameplay full of surprises
Ability to play online
Superficial in some aspects
Miniatures make tempting targets for your cat
Nice balanced review, especially for those who haven't seen the game.
We've had interesting experiences with the game, including playing the Cobra scenario SIXTEEN TIMES with sixteen straight German victories (even changing sides)--followed by teaching the game to a first-time player whose second game was the Cobra scenario, which he handily won as the Americans.
The Japanese/USMC expansion adds VERY interesting new national/arm of service characteristics creating new play strategies, especially for infantry. The Matanikau River scenario alone is worth the purchase price.
Still hoping for a specific Western Desert expansion module bringing specific British pieces (Tommies, 25 pdrs and Crusader tanks, please!) into the mix.
Also watch for the promised Carrying Case/Air expansion with mini planes.
Thanks. I've been looking for a recent review.