Memoir ’44 – Review

Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 45 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 2 players

Just to take that two player review to a whole theme, I thought it might be time to talk about a really interesting two player war game – Memoir’ 44. If you haven’t played it… then imagine those little green and grey soldiers of your childhood are back, and this time you can actually beat someone with them! If that’s not exciting enough then time to grab some specially marked dice and roll them…

This game is a simple command and roll game – you use a card each turn to move units and then any units you activated can shot. This movement all gets a bit more complicated by the fact that each unit has different movement rules and each card has different conditions. Most importantly each card, typically, only moves things in one third of the board – left / centre / right. So you can architect a push on one flank, but a full attack is quite hard to master.

The shooting is also a little bit more complex than it sounds – rolling the dice to see if you hit is simple and whilst the icons in this game make the rolling clear there are a couple of tricks! Firstly, it’s not just hit or miss. If you roll the icon of the unit you are shooting at (or the grenade) you hit. If you roll a different unit or the star you miss. The other option though is the flag. The flag is basically a chance to break the morale of your opponent and push him back. This can break your opponents structure, push him back from terrain or indeed push him out of the fight entirely!

If that’s not enough, then it’s time to talk about objectives. They are asymmetric and offer you options for how to achieve them. Most games come with multiple ways to win – a number of medals required, but 50%+ more medals available. Of course, as it’s a war game the most simple way to win medals is to kill your opponents units. Each unit killed provides a medal. The other medals come from strategic land grabs on the map or difficult achievements. If you can complete these you can rush to victory even if the enemy is pressing in from all sides.

So, if you are a thematic player, you are probably going to guess that this is not thematic. There is no effort here to make the game look anything other than a sunny day out where pieces on the board disappear. It’s tense and strategic, but with a limited number of pieces on the board the game hinges on strategic decisions and careful planning and not the war of attrition you might find in other games.

Also, if you are a miniatures war game (Warhammer et al) then be aware that this is not quite the dice rolling and statistical puzzle that you might be used to from those games – there are a good number of rolls, but a few key bits of luck could move the needle. Plus, you likely won’t likely this for the more limiting card selection at the start of each turn.

However, the reason this game sacrifices attrition / statistical balancing of mass dice rolling / larger scale fights, is so that it is QUICK. Thankfully the game achieves this brilliantly. It makes this a light two player filler to enjoy a tense but short show of muscle across a small board. In other words, if you can’t bring yourself to an 8 hour marathon axis & allies, perhaps it’s time to put the kettle on and try a short round of Memoir ’44.

It’s not that there aren’t strategies to be considered here or indeed that the additions of scenery don’t build this game into a challenge for each player. Or even that there isn’t vast replay-ability driven by the multiple scenarios. Also, you can make the game longer / more balanced by playing both axis and allies in sequence. So in other words it’s not that it’s BAD. It’s just short and light – and that’s just the way it was made to be.

Overall, I would commend this game for what it is. I think it’s an exceptional quality game and personally I really enjoy it. Endorsing though to others is more tricky – with many war gamers enjoying longer, more incremental fights across many more turns or decisions. If you aren’t a war gamer, then you may actually enjoy this – but do you really want a short war game for only two players? If the answer is yes – great, this is a great choice. If you have that other friend who likes to pick up the pieces and reset the board and go again; this is a GREAT game.

Last notes:

  • If you like two player games, and want a short and punchy war game – this is that hole in the games shelf
  • If you like a war game, but you want to really recreate history or build an incredible campaign to victory – you will not get that feeling from this game
  • If you win at this game then turn the board, and try playing it as the other player – the lack of symmetry can make it very hard to play the other side.

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