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Subject: My First Impressions of M44 rss

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It's time for another review. This weekend it was just one friend and myself instead of the usual 3-4 for boardgame night, and like any good addict I made this my excuse to try something new. After a slew of fantasy and abstract games I decided some tanks and rifles were in order, so I picked up two prospects based on BGG recommendations: Conflict of Heroes and Memoir '44. I had never played a really complex wargame before, the closest I've come is perhaps the monolithic Warrior Knights games of last year. Though by some accounts CoH is a relatively simple game, it didn't look like something we'd be able to jump into right away, especially since we were already a bit loopy from beer and spicy food... so Memoir '44 it was!

*pop*

The Basics

Before buying M44, admittedly, I'd salivated over it a little bit. A visit to Days of Wonder's website had me a little excited, the game just looked good... with nice big figures and sharp-looking hex tiles. BGG reviews were generally positive but a little mixed, so I remained a bit skeptical, but there was no turning back.

M44 is an impressive package. Nice figures and cards, and a sturdy multi-layer five-fold board. I accidentally bent one of the folds backwards a bit when opening it, but it held together remarkably well against this abuse... the paper art only separated from the board a bit at one of the folds. A bit of white glue paste applied under the paper with a butter knife removed evidence of the tear quickly enough. Moral lesson: never unpack board games intoxicated! This was evidence to me enough that this game could withstand a lot of abuse. The tiles are thick, the cards attractive, and the plastic-mold men were already separated and ready to go. The wooden dice were impressively light, pristine and color-coded. The compartmentalized plastic holds everything nice and snug. Two thumbs up for presentation!

I can find few faults with the set, though some do exist. Of first is I really don't like the lightweight plastic stands for holding your cards, but its not a problem just to keep them in your hand. The other complaint comes from the plastic men themselves... like a bucket of army men, they were all jumbled together in the box, which makes setup take minutes instead of seconds. On top of this, some of the flimsier bits of the units (the tank and artillery barrels in particular) were a bit bent. These are really minor though, and easily remedied.

The biggest problem I have is fitting all these nick-nacks on the board... despite those hexes being big, some hexes can become rather crowded with multiple figures and sandbags and the like. The terrain tiles, though nice, sit loosely on the board, so its easy for things to get knocked out of place as other pieces shuffle around. Moving piles of figures is a bit clumsy sometimes too... we even resorted to stacking the tanks into a double-decker formation to facilitate easier sliding.

My friend also noted that the colors of the two forces were very similar, dark gray vs dark green. This didn't bother me at all, but my eyesight is admittedly better than his (at least without his contacts in).

First Impressions

After reading the rules and watching the demo video on the website, I was pretty sure I knew how it would play. It was easy to explain to my friend using just the reminder cards that came with the set. I have a rubber bin full of Heroscape pieces in my basement, and I'm a big fan of that game, so I explained it in those terms... the game seemed rather similar (with symbol dice and units of differing capabilities). In about a half-hour we had the first scenario queued up and it was time to start. We played Sword Beach, my friend took the allies and made his best attempt at landfall.

My first bit of skepticism was with the card system... I was not sure how much I'd enjoy picking my actions from a set of limited options. In practice, it was a lot of fun. Neither of us ever felt really crippled by our card-hands, and choosing which movement to use was rather fun in my opinion. The better cards in the deck gave each player chances to make devistating attacks, and regardless of which card was chosen there were always tactical decisions to be made.

When it comes to battling, units roll a number of dice based on the distance to the target and defensible terrain, with hits scored based on the upcoming die pictures. This is easily the most chance-driven element of the game, as attacks typically result in little damage at all, or utter devastation. Since close combat is so effective (especially with the help of certain cards) we often found ourselves using "dogpile" tactics, rushing forward to gang up on single units to roll maximum dice and score kills. Since eliminating units is the object of the game (and relatively few kills are needed to win) this makes the die results very important. Playing defensively and using stationary guns to deal damage was a much more difficult task, unless your side was in a position of a strongly defensive nature. It worked for me as the Axis in Sword Beach, but when it came to other scenarios this was much more difficult to pull off.

The object of the game is to score victory points, which usually happens one of two ways... either holding marked points on the map, or more frequently eliminating the enemy. Of all the games we played, only a single point was scored the former way, as these objectives were on distant corners of the map and conflict was much more natural. Often only 4 or 5 such points are needed to win, which can make some scenarios end too quickly in our opinion. It's a shame that on many scenarios the game will end in a handful of turns, before even half of a player's forces have needed (or even had the chance) to move. One such scenario of note is #9 - Operation Luttich, which was our favorite of those we played, but with only 4 points needed to win it ended way too quickly for our taste. Conversely, we never had any scenario that we felt ran too long or forces became too thin. This is a game of dramatic attacking chances moreso than complete control of the battlefield, especially since damaged units still attack at full strength and it is often too time-consuming to retreat. We agreed that this fact combined with the highly-randomized combat results of the dice made some scenarios a total crapshoot, which kindof hurts a game whose subject matter might better lend itself to precision play.

To speak on the scenarios some more: I like the way they are presented, and even in the core game it looks like there is plenty of variety. This is an abstract game, so these WWII skirmishes are likewise abstractly represented, but I'm no big war buff so this doesn't bother me one bit. I would have been equally happy with generic, fictionalized scenarios. Most scenarios pit forces of different composition and advantages against one another, which seems to result in relatively few games being perfectly "fair". Such is the nature of a scenario game, I think, and I'm fine with that, but it might have been nice to see some more obvious equal-footing scenarios to see the game play out solely on the merit of its tactical depth. Of course, there are plenty of additional scenarios for purchase or download, and we have not even tapped those yet... and we already have a few favorites despite not playing all the core game yet. In short, I'm quite satisfied with the battle scematics in the book, and will no doubt exhaust my interest in the game long before I run out of scenarios to play.

The Verdict

For my first several plays, I must concede I had a great deal of fun. This is a well-made, well-thought-out game, and it is a shining example of an accessible board game with high production value. In this regard, it was well worth the price of admission. I can't wait to play more.

This game is great for novice and tactical gamers alike, because it lets you make key decisions while keeping things simple and organized. Days of Wonder made very clear what my expectations of the game should have been, and I felt it met them well.

For people who take their games seriously, though, this isn't the perfect game. There is an immediate and obvious influence of random chance on the outcome of each game, as conflicts are short, brutal and influenced a great deal by dice rolls. This, combined with the often easily-obtainable win conditions, make this a very loose game, which to me is at odds with its prevalent themes. Those who enjoy games where sound tactical play is paramount will sometimes be left with a sour taste in their mouth, as games can be won or lost by lucky draws or rolls. This happened to both of us, several times each, with our fist visit to the game. This makes it a fun, themed beer-and-pretzels experience, but those looking to cut their teeth on a deep tactical wargame will have to look elsewhere. However, if you're in the mood for something light, M44 is as solid as they come. Its a slick system that's easy to get into, and you'll be hooked as long as you can tolerate the occasional bad-beat. I can't wait to try my next game, I think playing some sort of sequential campaign would be very thematically appropriate.

I'd recommend it for families and regular players alike, especially if you're looking for a pick-up-and-play wargame. The most grognardian tacticians among us will soon want to move on to something meatier, I think, but stopping first to enjoy M44 for what it is would certainly yield an evening or two of fun at least.

Grade: B+

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Hint : Stuff some plastercine into the hollow underside of the card racks, you don't have top fill it. This gives them some weight and helps keep them upright a little.
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Mark Jackson
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wiseman207 wrote:
I think playing some sort of sequential campaign would be very thematically appropriate.


Agreed.

Memoir '44: Campaign Book Volume 1

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I saw that, in fact my hobby store has one right there on the shelf, but it looks like you need some extra expansions to use all of it, so that'll be something for down the line I think.
 
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M.J.E. Hendriks
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wiseman207 wrote:
I saw that, in fact my hobby store has one right there on the shelf, but it looks like you need some extra expansions to use all of it, so that'll be something for down the line I think.


you don't have to have them to play some of the new scenarios, but yeah, you would want some expansions, if not all, to fully profit from the book
 
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