To honour the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004, Days of Wonder released a game called Memoir ’44. The purpose was to give players a sense of the history behind the battles in France at that time while also being accessible to anyone who wanted to play. Mission accomplished.
Memoir ’44 as a wargame manages to perfectly straddle the line between historical and accuracy and enjoyablility. It may not have the battles down to each detail like many of the extensive wargames out there, buts accurate enough for what it’s trying to do. But the rules are easy enough to follow that you are able to play it without getting too bogged down by these details and focus better on simulating the battle.
What’s really cool about this game is how it manages to both educate and entertain at the same time. Each battle scenario provides a write up about the actual WWII battle, and the map set-up does as good of a job as it can to recreate the same conditions and objectives. This is the perfect wargame for those who want to play games based on real-life war scenarios but don’t have the time or energy to be a full blown wargamer with room-long tables full of accurately detailed boards and millions of chits. Memoir keeps it simple and helps us remember.
Memoir ’44 has a very basic and rather simple structure behind its battle mechanics. Each side has groups of four soldiers called units. To engage in battle, simply roll dice (the number depends on how far away you’re attacking from) and for each hit indicated by the dice, the other unit loses that many men. Once a whole unit is destroyed, one point goes to the attacking team. Pretty straight forward.
The variability comes in the details centered around these battles. Your units could be made up of infantry, tanks, or artillery, each of which have different ranges. Different terrain hexes can also affect the battle slightly; for example, you will have to reduce the number of dice you roll if you are attacking a unit who is hiding in the forest or in a town.
Because the objective usually involves the defeat of a certain number of units, this allows for a lot of free reign for each player. They can really go wherever they want around the board (terrain allowing) and attack the units of their choice, so long as they have the proper attack cards. These cards tell you how many troops you can move and where on the board you can move them, providing just enough control over a full out blood bath. There is still a lot left to the decisions of the player himself. This allows a lot of room for strategy while the dice are able to give the illusion of the unknown factors of battle where you can never be sure of what will happen despite your best laid plans.
If the goal of Memoir ’44 is to put the players into the battles, the components only make that goal so much easier. There are so many great details here, from the army action figures to be used as troops, to the hexagonal tiles to show the terrain. It is all high quality craftsmanship.
The terrain hexes and board are probably the best part of the game. The artwork shows everything from a birds-eye view which is really quite neat. On town hexes we see the roofs, on forest hexes we see only the treetops, etc. What’s really great is that the rules for these different terrain hexes make sense in the physical world; for example rivers can’t be crossed without bridges, and hills block line of sight. Very thematic.
The plastic figures also add a lot of aesthetic value. The soldiers for the allies and the axis are different colour of course, but also have different designs befitting actual soldier outfits of the period. Sure they may look pretty close to those plastic army men we used to strap to rockets as a kid, but why wouldn’t they look like that? The tanks and artillery are also very nicely crafted, but what’s really cool are the D-Day beach hedgehogs, sandbags and barbwire, which do a great deal to make the board look as authentic as possible.
A lot of respect and admiration for the veterans of WWII went into the creation of Memoir ’44. This shows through the level of detail added into the components and the rules for each type of component. This is also shown through the battle recreations and how each scenario is given a page write up on the real history behind each battle.
Not only that, but playing the battles can usually give the players a strong respect for the soldiers in the war. Playing as the allies during the Omaha Beach scenario for example is incredibly difficult, and makes you appreciate just how tough of a task they would have had to take that beach.
Now don’t get me wrong; Memoir ’44 is a very fun game, but not in a disrespectful way where you are excited about warfare and killing. Its focus is on strategy and using your environment and surroundings and putting yourself in the mind of a military tactician. And as you’re playing, you may just learn something along the way about a very important period in our history. Not bad for a simple two-player board game.