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(I assume that readers of this review already know how to play Memoir '44)
I'll start out by saying that of the three current expansions for Memoir; if I could only get one, then Memoir '44: The Eastern Front (Days of Wonder, 2005 - Richard Borg) would be that one. I've always found the eastern front of World War II fascinating, and the game adds a lot of cool rules, terrain tiles, and most importantly - Russian plastic forces. Don't get me wrong - the other two expansions are essential, in my opinion, but this is the one that I've played the most and the one I've had the most fun with.
1.) Components: I'll quickly note that several on the internet have criticized the box and packaging, which is notably more flimsy than your typical Days of Wonder fare. But since a majority of people will store their expansion in the original Memoir box (isn't that what you are supposed to do?) I don't see this as a problem. The new Russian units are in a light brown unit and look really good when contrasted with the Allied and German units. I was especially enthralled with the ZIS-3 anti-tank guns. The piles of snow tokens (which practically require the third expansion - Winter/Desert board) add a fresh look to the landscapes. Piles of new badges and tokens are included - all of them well designed. A "political commissar" piece is also included, which is actually a large excellent quality poker chip with a fierce gentleman portrayed thereon. Lots of "stuff" in this expansion.
2.) Rules: Everything is explained in a very nice twenty-two page rulebook, with eight (!) new scenarios included. The new rules, of which are there are several, are marked; and a player need only consult the ones that are used in each scenario, allowing them to gradually ease into the game.
3.) Political Commissar: Most of the East Front scenarios include the use of "Russian Command rules", which utilize the Political Commissar piece. This simply means that the Russian player must choose their card they will play one turn in advance. They place the card face down under the Political Commissar piece, and on their next turn they must play it, placing a new card underneath it. This means that the Russian player has a distinct timing challenge when playing cards, as the situation can drastically change from turn to turn. A Russian player can play a few weaker cards (Recon 1) instead of the card under their chip; but they usually must play it the next turn, whether they want to or not. In our playings, this wasn't devastating to the Russian player, but more like a thorn in his side (like real life!). We found this simple mechanic an excellent idea and enjoyed it greatly.
4.) Minefields: One of my favorite new items/rules from this expansion (also found in the Terrain Pack expansion) is the minefields. A pile of tokens, numbered from zero to four on one side, is shuffled and placed face down in spaces as indicated by the scenario. If an enemy unit enters these spaces, they must stop, flip the tile over, and roll that many dice as an automatic attack against their unit. If there is a "0" number, then the mines are simply decoys. Minefields do not go away, although they stay face up; and players can only deactivate them with an engineer unit. Mines make the game much more interesting - will a player gamble and drive straight through the minefield, taking any casualties that might occur, or go the slower way around?
5.) Snipers: Snipers are cool - no doubt about that (in game terms, anyway). When a player uses a sniper (which is a single infantry piece), that unit can move quickly and still fire, fire five spaces away, and score hits when rolling the target's symbol, a grenade, or a star. When snipers are killed, which can only be done by rolling a grenade, they also don't count as a victory point for the other team. This may make them seem invulnerable, but they aren't overpowered. For one thing, they can't target tanks. Secondly, they can only kill one unit at a time and aren't too terribly difficult to take out. Their greatest use is pinning a unit down, and we found them to be a very interesting segment of the game.
6.) Cavalry/Ski Troops: The Finns are in the game (hooray!), and their ski troops and the cavalry units (which use infantry figures and a badge) are fast moving, although not very hard-hitting, units. These units are not as useful as tanks, but are still fun to use, and help recreate many of the battles more accurately. I may have to see if I can dig up some actual mounted plastic pieces to use, though, for visual effect.
7.) Terrain: Most of the terrain is a winter rehashing of the identical terrain from the original set, but with new terrain pieces added. The rivers, for example, can be crossed - but at a risky price (dice are rolled). Ravines are included (which only infantry can clamber through). Marshes, factory complexes, city ruins, and trenches are also included - each with a few minor details. Again, as I said earlier, the terrain looks best when used on the winter board.
8.) Scenarios: The scenarios included in this expansion are hands down the most fun ones I've ever played. Two that stick out to me are Stalingrad (in which snipers, a long embankment, and mines are used - it's one of the neatest defensive positions I've played with) and Kursk, the largest tank battle in history. Kursk is actually an Overlord scenario, which requires more tanks than come in the expansion kit (but I just made them up with some Allied tanks). Ninety-five tank models are on the board, and it's simply one of the greatest games I've ever played!! Loads of tanks moving and attacking.
If you like Memoir '44, then this expansion is a no-brainer, it adds new rules, new terrain, and an entire new army. The Russian rules, sniper rules, and fascinating scenarios are just begging to be played, and it gave a fresh new breath of air to the fascinating game which is Memoir '44. Richard Borg has given us an expansion that not only adds a new historical front, but one that retains simplicity while giving more options. So take that, Advanced Squad Leader!!!
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