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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Summary

Game Type - Board Game
Play Time: 30-60 minutes
Number of Players: 2-8 (Most commonly 2 players)
Mechanics - Card Driven, Scenario Based, Dice Rolling Combat
Difficulty - Moderate (Takes 5-6 plays to become totally familiar)
Components - Excellent
Release - 2005

Designer - Richard Borg - (Abaddon, Battle Cry, BattleLore, Commands & Colours: Ancients, Commands & Colours: Napoleonics, Heavo Ho!, Hera and Zeus, Liar's Dice, Samurai Battles, Wyatt Earp, Yahtzee Free for All)

This review follows on from my review of the base game in the Memoir System. As such I will endeavour to analyse this expansion on its merits and then comment on what it adds to the Memoir ’44 system. I have owned this expansion for well over 12 months now so I have been patient in learning the game before getting this review to you (22 plays in all at this point). I hope it reflects my understanding of 'Eastern Front' and is of use to readers.

I’ll also highlight the fact that this review will not go into the basic game play of Memoir ’44. I have covered this in detail in the following review and I suggest you read that first if you are unfamiliar with the system - Memoir '44 - A Detailed Review

Overview

The Eastern Front is the first real expansion of note for Memoir '44 (I discount the Terrain Pack as a solid expansion at this point but will revisit it after the Air Pack is in my hands).

As the name suggests the Eastern Front focuses on the field battles that took place in that theatre and in particular it allows for the introduction of the Russians and the Finns in several expansions. The expansions cover the time period of ’39-’44 and this is the first real departure from Memoir ’44, the time frame for conflicts has been expanded beyond the D-Day landings of the original game (I recognize that this also occurred in the Terrain Pack).

This was probably a necessity for the Memoir System to move forward and I don’t feel it detracts in any way. As one would expect the game offers a range of new figures, tiles and terrain, tokens and scenarios. But most importantly it offers new rules that alter the play.

The Components

Part of what makes Memoir stand out as a game, and Days of Wonder as a Company, are the great looking components that helps one’s imagination run wild with possibilities.

Figures

In all the Eastern Front comes with 70 new figures to allow the Russians to enter the fray. All units follow the standard rules of their unit type unless the Scenario Briefing states otherwise.

Russian Infantry (70) – The Russian Infantry come in brown (as do all the Russian units), which is somewhat apt given Stalin’s view of the masses – bleh. The poses for the Russians are unique to the infantry poses of the German and American Infantry of the base game and the use of a harder plastic is evident.


Image Courtesy of Merg


Armour (T-34s) (20) – These units are also unique in design. I don’t have the historical knowledge to know if the sculpt is an accurate representation of the T-34 but I would hazard to guess that they got it pretty close within the limitations of the model size.


Image Courtesy of matthew.marquand


Artillery (ZIS-2 Gun) (6) – These are perhaps the coolest looking of the new figures, if for no other reason than they are so superior in quality compared to the artillery offered in the base game. The harder plastic ensures that the barrel is not as flimsy as a Russian Soldier’s eyelash (one of my few component complaints with Memoir ’44) and the design ensures that the artillery point at the enemy in a threatening manner.


Image Courtesy of matthew.marquand


Terrain

The Eastern Front offers 10 new terrain tiles to freshen up the gaming experience and offer realistic situations found on the Eastern Front.


Image Courtesy of matthew.marquand


Trenches – The artwork on these tiles is functional at best and at worst, a little confusing as to what it is meant to be. Either way though trenches are a welcome addition.

Movement – Infantry and Armour must stop when entering a trench and Artillery cannot enter trenches at all.

Line of Sight – No effect

Battle – Infantry and Armour that attack a unit in a trench suffer a -1 dice penalty. Armour may not battle when in a trench.

City Ruins – The artwork is spot on here being visibly obvious as to what it is. The effects for City Ruins are identical to that of a standard town or village from the base game (-1 for infantry firing in and -2 for Armour firing in or out). But ruins offer the added advantage of allowing units protected by the cover to ignore the 1st flag rolled against it.

Russian Villages – These have the exact same effect as standard towns and villages (see notes under City Ruins) but they have been illustrated to reflect the winter conditions endured on the Eastern Front. These look great when used on the Winter Board and is a quality addition for the gaming perfectionist.

Winter Forest – See Russian Village entry. Purely added for effect and to complement the Winter Board.

Ravine – A new addition that plays an important role in Scenario #43 – Breakout to Lisyanka. The geographical feature is evident in the artwork.

Movement – No restrictions for Infantry, no access for Armour or Artillery.

Line of Sight – No effect.

Battle – No dice restrictions, Infantry can ignore the 1st flag rolled against it.

Marshes – Interestingly these do not feature in any of the scenarios provided with this expansion. This leads me to think that there may be plans to use them in future expansions or they had some tile backs not utilized and they figured that the great Memoir community would make use of them in fan made scenarios.

Movement – Artillery may not enter Marshes. Infantry and Armour units that enter Marshes must stop immediately and when they leave they can only move to an adjacent hex.

Line of Sight – No effect.

Battle – There are no restrictions for Infantry Units. Armour may not battle the turn it enters or leaves a Marsh Hex and if it takes ground into a Marsh it cannot carry out an 'Armour Overrun'.

Hill with Forest, Hill with Village – These are provided for visual effect only and are a nice touch. In both cases it is the Forest and Village effects that are applied.

Frozen River – This is perhaps the 1st real cool terrain inclusion that helps reflect the geography of the theatre. Any unit that moves onto a Frozen River Tile (by choice or retreat) must roll 2 dice. For every Star rolled a figure is lost.

Factory Complex – These tiles allow for some interesting objective based scenarios to play out and are well illustrated. They act as per Towns and Villages by default but a given scenario may have special rules governing their effect.

Tokens - The Eastern Front offers a good number of new tokens and badges that cover everything from Winter Field Bunkers to Combat Engineers and Mines. The quality of these is up to the DoW standard and include insignias and special unit designations where appropriate. Most of these offer new rules so I will cover them in that section.


Image Courtesy of Znapperhead


Packaging - All of this gaming goodness comes in a neat sized box that I like to think of as similar in size to a field survival kit that may have been carried by troops. Of course I have absolutely zero knowledge of details like this. Inside the outer cover (which slides off) and holding box are two equally sized plastic containers. One of these holds the Russian Figures and the other holds the new tiles and tokens. The packaging is functional but the cardboard is a little flimsy. Bring on the Carry Case I say (dare I mention it)? ninja


Image Courtesy of Capitaine_Grappin


Expansions – Separating the Good from the Great

As an avid game fan I welcome expansions, especially to systems that I enjoy immensely. But that said, there are good expansions and there are great ones.

For me an expansion is only good when it can deliver more of the same elements that made you love the base game in the first place. There is nothing ground breaking about it but it gives you more of the ‘warm and fuzzies’ that we all crave.

In my opinion, a great expansion has to do the above but it has to deliver something new and fresh that can help the expansion stand out as a memorable experience on its own. The play should feel unique to the base game in some significant way and hopefully reflect the theme or reason for the expansion in the first place.

Memoir ’44: Eastern Front is a Great Expansion thanks to the addition of the New Rules and in particular the Political Commissar and Russian Command Rules. These require a player to alter their approach to each game, they demand more careful analysis of the battlefield, they require a player to consider the plans of the enemy more carefully and they certainly add to the theme in question.

Let’s take a closer look at the unique elements of the Eastern Front. That is not a request, I am your Political Commissar and yes this gun is loaded. robot

Unique Game Play Additions

Russian Command Rules - To reflect the paranoia of Stalin and the effect this had throughout the Russian Military, the influence of the Political Commissar is represented by the Russian Command Rules.

After the starting cards are dealt out in the set-up, the Russian player must select 1 card and immediately place it under the Commissar chip (a nicely illustrated chip roughly the same size and weight as a quality poker chip).

This card then has to be played on the Russian Player’s next turn. The only time a card can be played from the Russian player’s hand is if they hold a Counterattack card or Recon 1 card.

The effect of this rule is serious as it limits the Russian player’s ability to respond to threats and surprises on the field and replicates with great effect the rigidness of Russian Command.

Playing as the Russian player is a challenging affair to say the least but for me it is one of the joys of this expansion because it is fresh compared to the original game and it raises the difficulty factor somewhat.

Blitz Rules – A total of 4 Scenarios feature the Blitz rules that help replicate the conditions of the early war.

Blitz rules allow the Axis player to use any 'Recon 1' card as an Air Power card. The effects are exactly the same as they would be if the Axis player played the real Air Power card. The only restriction is that the attack must take place in the section of the map that corresponds to that of the 'Recon 1' card just played.

Blitz rules also affect Armour units. The Germans suffer no impairment but Allied Armour units can only move 2 hexes per turn. This nicely reflects the German superiority in the early war.

Minefields – To my knowledge mines were first seen in Memoir thanks to fan based scenarios. The Eastern Front introduces them officially and provides 5 mine tokens. The front of the tokens offer an image of a wooden sign with the word Minefield, whilst the other side contains a number from 0-4.

Mines must be placed as per the scenario set-up map and they should be randomly selected and placed on the designated hexes. Any unit that enters a Minefield hex must stop before turning the token over to reveal a number, which represents the density of mines laid in that area. The active player must roll a number of dice equal to the number on the token and for each matching unit symbol or grenade a casualty is suffered.

The ‘zero’ valued token represents a decoy and is removed from the game if discovered. All other tokens must remain in play and can only be removed by engineers.

Minefields also have no effect on retreating units and although a friendly unit (outlined by the scenario notes) must still stop in a minefield hex, they do not reveal tokens or roll dice to suffer potential damage.

Camouflage – If a scenario denotes that a unit is camouflaged, they should be marked with a Battle Star token. Camouflaged units cannot be targeted by enemy troops unless they close to Close Assault range. A unit that moves or attacks will lose its Camouflaged status.

No scenarios in the Eastern Front expansion use this rule. So it was either included for fans to use with their own scenario designs or for the sake of completeness in preparation for future expansions or official scenarios released by DoW.

Winter Field Bunkers – These are identical in effect to standard bunkers but can be claimed by either side and still bestow their benefit.

Dragon’s Teeth – A hex containing this token will block access to Armour and Artillery units. Any Infantry units that enter Dragon’s Teeth must stop immediately. There are no battle or line of sight restrictions. Again this token is not used in the official scenarios found within the Eastern Front expansion.

New Units

Several new units are included with Eastern Front and come with unit badges of the same style used for the original game.

Snipers – A Sniper unit only consists of a single figure but it may move 1 or 2 spaces and even enter a hex containing terrain before battling. They must still abide by terrain movement restrictions however.

When forced to retreat they can move up to 3 hexes for each flag rolled. Snipers have a range of 5 hexes and always roll 1 dice in battle, however their attack is never reduced by terrain restrictions. Snipers are highly efficient so even a ‘Star’ dice result will inflict a hit in addition to the usual grenade or unit symbol.

A Sniper unit is only hit by the enemy on a Grenade result, which I guess represents their highly skilled and elusive nature. When a Sniper is killed it does not count as a victory medal. Sweet!

Combat Engineers – These units move and battle like standard infantry but with a few additional perks. If engaged in a Close Assault battle, they can ignore defensive terrain bonuses normally afforded the enemy.

If an Engineer unit enters a hex containing barbed wire and has the ability to fight, it can remove the wire and still fight at a -1 dice penalty.

An Engineer unit that enters a Minefield and is able to battle must clear the minefield instead of attacking. If an Engineer exhausts all movement to enter a Minefield it will detonate as per the standard
Minefield rules.

Finnish Ski Troops – These units only contain 3 figures and can move up to 3 hexes before battling. They roll 3 dice in Close Assault and 2 dice at a range of 2 when attacking. Like the French in the original game, Finnish Ski Troops can enter terrain hexes and still battle but they must still stop upon entering a terrain that requires this movement restriction. For each flag rolled against them, they may retreat up to 3 hexes.

Cavalry – Although not used in this expansion, several Cavalry tokens are included. Cavalry units contain 4 figures and can move up to 3 hexes before battling. Two dice are rolled when in Close Assault and 1 dice at a range of 2. Cavalry can take ground and battle again as per the Armour Overrun rules.

Russian Elite – Badges are used to denote Elite Russian Troops and they have much the same effect as the Panzer or Panzer Grenadier tokens used in the original game. Only 1 scenario (Breakout to Lisyanka) makes use of these tokens to denote Armour units with 4 figures instead of the standard 3.

Scenario Analysis

All stats featured here come from the Days of Wonder Battle Reports Web Pages and are accurate as of the 3rd of January, 2008.

Soumussalmi (Russo-Finnish War)

Number of Battles Logged - 203

Russian Win % - 60%

German Win % - 40%

Notables – Finnish Ski Troops, Frozen Lake, Russian Command Rules

Victory Conditions – 6 Medals

Impressions – This is a great opening to the scenarios as both sides have immediate strengths and weaknesses to deal with. It’s the first real scenario that doesn’t have obvious lines of engagement and starting with troops behind your enemies lines from the outset is quite exciting. This battle can really go either way and the challenge of playing the Russians, who need to counter the Finnish Ski Troop threat on the left and attempt to break through the German defensive line on the right, is nerve racking. This is a dog fight from the word go.



Gates of Moscow (Typhoon)

Number of Battles Logged - 180

Russian Win % - 38%

German Win % - 62%

Notables – Russian Villages, Bridge Objective, Russian Command Rules, Blitz Rules

Victory Conditions – 7 Medals

Impressions – Another early war scenario, this is a real case of ‘The Thin Russian Line’. Essentially it is up to the 3 central Russian units on the ridge to hold the strong German central column at bay. If they have some early success then it is possible to bring the Russian Armour from the rear into play. As the stats suggest it is very difficult and this scenario is often a case of ‘losing with style’ as the Russians, so you can be in a good 'Medal Position' on the reverse play.



Breakout at Klin

Number of Battles Logged - 111

Russian Win % - 18%

German Win % - 82%

Notables – Factory Complex, Trenches, Frozen River, Russian Villages, Villages on Hilltops, Russian Command Rules, Blitz Rules

Victory Conditions – 6 Medals

Impressions – I suspect that the lower than expected play rate is due to the one-sided nature of this battle. The Russian Infantry is well within range of the German Artillery and Special Forces German Armour units from the get go, making life tough. The village of Golyadi is also a crucial strategic objective that the Russians have difficulty holding. Despite the one –sided results thus far, I still enjoy the challenge of playing the Russians and trying to hold the Germans at bay.



Red Barricades Factory Complex (Stalingrad)

Number of Battles Logged - 180

Russian Win % - 57%

German Win % - 43%

Notables – Factory Complexes, Sniper Units, Minefields, Combat Engineers, Russian Command Rules, Blitz Rules

Victory Conditions – 10 Medals

Impressions – This battle is a blast from start to finish. There are so many new elements in this scenario! The Snipers are exciting enough but then you have to think about how best to negotiate the Minefield. If that weren’t enough, the objective of controlling the Factory Complex is excellent and really introduces a new strategic element to the game. To cap it all off, this scenario requires 10 medals for victory giving it a real epic feel. There will be much blood on the snow before this day is over – one of the truly great scenarios that have been officially released thus far.



Ponyri (Kursk)

Number of Battles Logged - 111

Russian Win % - 59%

German Win % - 41%

Notables – Classic Field Board, Minefield

Victory Conditions – 7 Medals

Impressions – This one looks a little dull at first glance, using the original board and having few new features from the Eastern Front. However this is one of the more balanced scenarios and sets up a classic Tank on Tank battle on the Russian left. Experience also highlights the importance of taking the village Ponyri but just how to do that and keep it is another matter all together.



Breakout to Lisyanka

Number of Battles Logged - 106

Russian Win % - 51%

German Win % - 49%

Notables – Ravine, Russian Elite Units, Combat Engineers, Frozen River, Distance Objective

Victory Conditions – 7 Medals

Impressions – This is the most evenly balanced scenario from the Eastern Front and it is a real test of one's nerves. The Russians main forces are positioned poorly on the left, whilst the Germans are all centre column. For added spice the Germans can gain additional medals for every unit that crosses the Gniloy Tikitch River but this requires making it across the entire board and the river itself. Long may those brave Russians on the ridge hold firm.



Prokhorovka (Kursk) – This is an Overlord scenario based on Kursk. I will review Overlord scenarios at a later date.

River Bug (Barbarossa)

Number of Battles Logged - 78

Russian Win % - 19%

German Win % - 81%

Notables – See Impressions below

Victory Conditions – 5 Medals

Impressions – This is an unusual inclusion as it requires numerous components from the Terrain pack as well as Russian figures. I suspect this is the reason why it has relatively fewer plays as many folks wouldn’t have purchased the relatively unneeded Terrain Pack. Requiring 5 Medals, this battle is often over before you feel like it has even begun and although the Supply Train seems like a cool concept, it can often play little part. The Germans rely heavily on creating Armour Overrun opportunities and priority one has to be the Field Bunkers. This is short intense action.



The Final Word

If you've made it this far I embrace you on behalf of the mother land.

In short this expansion is a winner and extends the Memoir system in new and exciting ways. Rather than replicate more of the same from the original, Eastern Front gives players new considerations and the battles feel unique in how the sides engage one another and in how they play out.

If you are a Memoir fan then this expansion is a ‘no-brainer’ for you.

If you’ve only been considering Memoir ’44, then this expansion should be the ammunition you need to take the plunge.

Time for the Pro's and Con's -

Strengths

d10-1 Think Fresh - This expansion is fresh offering something significantly different from the original game.

d10-2 Modified Game Play - It doesn’t stop at offering new tiles and units, it adds new rules that change the nature of each player’s strategic thinking. Hand management becomes tougher still and the ability to read the intentions of the enemy becomes paramount when playing the Russians.

d10-3 Authentic - The scenarios reflect the nature of the battles in the Eastern Theatre. There was no time to draw lines and carefully engage the enemy, both sides were in a constant state of engagement. The result is game play that feels ‘down and dirty’. In summary there are too many threats and not enough resources to contain them.

d10-4 Epic - With four Victory Conditions demanding 6, 7, 7 and 10 Medals for victory, Eastern Front feels Epic in scope. Not only is the death count high here but it also allows for one and maybe two tactical errors without necessarily meaning certain defeat!

d10-5 The Buzz - Eastern Front just feels like more of an adrenaline rush than the original. Everything (rules, components, scenarios) combine to create a real excitement and that is what I am after in a game. It's important to note too that the Axis player goes first in every single scenario. This reflects the aggressive push by the Germans into Eastern Europe and it helps add that 'siege mentality' feel when you play the Russians. The pressure is always on.

d10-6 Value - On the whole, Eastern Front really does offer great value for money. Perhaps they could have bundled the Snow/Desert Board in with the expansion for a few extra dollars, but that grumble aside I regard it as one of my more valuable expansion investments.

Weaknesses

d10-1 Set-up Time - Due to the large number of units involved and the need to grab figures from two different boxes, the set-up time is a good 5-10 minutes longer than the original. It doesn’t irk me at all but it could get on some people’s nerves.

d10-2 More Demanding - Whilst you can play these scenarios with the original board, it really doesn’t feel right without the Snow/Desert board and that means an additional outlay. Factor in that the Terrain Pack is also needed for the final scenario and Eastern Front begins to rear its money grabbing head.

d10-3 Lack of Scenarios - As enjoyable as the scenarios are, Eastern Front only delivers 8 of them. Reduce this number by 1 for the Overlord Scenario (which few people play) and then possibly take out the last scenario if you don’t have the Terrain Pack and you could be down to as few as 6. For me a game like Memoir lives and dies by the quality and variety of its scenarios and 6 really seems like about half of what it should have been. Sure the fans have created many more, but if you are like me, I want the official juice! I have since noticed that there are an additional 4 scenarios on the DoW website, created by Eric. This is close enough to official for me but it’s a shame they weren’t included with the expansion. I’m guessing they were created for a DoW tourney somewhere.

d10-4 Packaging - I’m getting picky now but the outer cardboard casing for the boxes is really a little flimsy for my liking. I had a not-too-careful mate pack mine away one day and he tore the box quite easily. Bring on the Carry Case I say.

d10-5 Game Length - The game can take longer to play due to the higher medal count required in many scenarios. This may turn some people off but personally I didn't even notice the time as I was too engaged in the action. Several scenarios also offer bonus medal tokens for capturing objectives, so this can help.

d10-6 What Could've Been - The inclusion of so many additional tokens, badges and terrain tiles that did not ultimately feature in the official scenarios can become a little maddening. Why weren't they used? I take my hat off for offering a system that allows fans to tinker with it, but if I put on my cynical cap for a second I can be lead to thinking that DoW were just a little lazy. Let's hope they have plans to use those elements in official scenarios down the track.

One final grizzle is that no snow covered hill tiles were included, meaning that green hills from the base game must be used in several scenarios using the Winter Board. This looks rather silly and seems to be a glaring oversight. Thankfully the new Air Pack supposedly includes them to ensure that the visual effect is maintained.

Links

For a full list of my 300+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Links to other Memoir '44 Reviews

Memoir '44 - A Detailed Review

Memoir '44: Pacific Theater - A Detailed Review

Memoir '44: Campaign Bag + Breakthrough Scenario - A Detailed Review

Memoir '44: Winter/Desert Board Map Expansion - A Ridiculous Review

Links to Memoir '44 Strategy Articles

Such is my love for this system I thought I would write some strategy articles for various scenarios.

Pegasus Bridge - A Strategy Guide

Sainte Mere-Eglise - A Strategy Guide

Sword Beach - A Strategy Guide

Pointe-du-Hoc - A Strategy Guide

Omaha Beach - A Strategy Guide

Mont Mouche - A Strategy Guide

Vassieux, Vercors - A Strategy Guide

Operation Cobra - A Strategy Guide

EDIT -
Updated the visual appeal of the review and added the release data and designer credits.
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John O'Haver
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Re: Memoir '44 (Eastern Front) - A Detailed Review
Excellent review. This expansion is my favorite and the Red Barricades scenario is my favorite within the expansion. Yes, the Air Pack provided the Snow Hills so you can keep you green ones in the box.

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Jim Marshall
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Re: Memoir '44 (Eastern Front) - A Detailed Review
Very nice review.

I've picked up this (and the terrain pack) second hand from a friend, but have yet to play any of the scenarios.

It's a purely cosmetic thing, but I'm trying to find a copy of the winter/desert board, as playing the snowy scenarios without it just wouldn't look right, as you note. However, it seems to be unavailable (in Europe at least) at present.....

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Patrick Ward
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Re: Memoir '44 (Eastern Front) - A Detailed Review
Amazingly I found a winter map on Ebay a few days ago. Look up IGUK as they may have more.
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Re: Memoir '44 (Eastern Front) - A Detailed Review
Does one need the terrain pack to be able to play the scenarios?
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Re: Memoir '44 (Eastern Front) - A Detailed Review
Howitzer_120mm wrote:
Does one need the terrain pack to be able to play the scenarios?


I haven't played for a while but I think the answer is no. My only concern is that last Scenario 'River Bug - Barbarossa' as it features train track on green fields. I'm pretty sure no green tiles come with the Eastern Front, so that track may be in the Terrain Pack.
 
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Another very good review. Thank you for the time put into this.

Are there scenario updates included in the expansion for the ones in the original game, that you can now play Operation Cobra or Pegasus Bridge for example with Combat Engineers?
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Vryburger wrote:
Another very good review. Thank you for the time put into this.

Are there scenario updates included in the expansion for the ones in the original game, that you can now play Operation Cobra or Pegasus Bridge for example with Combat Engineers?


No there is not to my knowledge.

When they released the Airpack Expansion (now out of print I think), they did release updated scenario outlines for battles from the base game to include Air Support rules.
 
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