Review: Memoir ’44

Memoir '44 review

World War II was a terrible time to be alive. Although it has given us a lot in terms of entertainment; books, movie and games. Lots and lots of games. Memoir ’44 is one of these. It’s a tactical game that pits players against each other during different battles of the war.

First published in 2004 I have to say that this one slipped under my radar. The first time someone brought it to my house I thought “Hey cool, army men!” It looked really good, but once the game was explained to me it felt too light. Also it was a 2 player game and the 4 player version felt tacked on. So it was never played. Fast forward about 5 years and I found myself at Hobby-X at the Unplugyourself stand, where I gave the game another look and took a copy home.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box”

  • 2 players
  • +8 years
  • 30-60 minutes

There is quite a bit in the box. For starters there is a large double sided board along with a stack  of double sided terrain tiles. There’s a deck of cards for unit activation and special actions. Dice to resolve combat, tokens for marking special locations, units, bunkers and bridges. The last things in the box are 2 batches of plastic toy soldiers! There are tanks, artillery, infantry, tank traps and sandbags.

Memoir '44 review
The insert is functional. The board, placed on top, keeps everything in place.

They are like miniature versions of the green army men that I used to get as a kid. I’ve always invented my own games to play with them so this is great. They do come in these plastic inserts which I found rather annoying to re-pack. So I binned them an bagged the miniatures. I’m sure that’s not good for the artillery but I’ll find a better way to deal with them later.

The wooden dice are nice but the paint is starting to rub off. I’m going to have to touch them up at some point.

Sleeves

The cards need the euro sized sleeves. They are slightly narrower than standard sized sleeves.

mdg-Euro size 59mm x 92mm

Theme

I don’t know how much I can say about WWII. If you don’t know what it was then you were probably very sheltered 😉 What I really enjoy is that the missions are all historically correct. Each has a little write up explaining when where and who was involved in that particular battle. So you can learn some history trivia while playing some games.

Memoir '44 review
The artillery, secure in the bunker, have a commanding view of the approach.

Gameplay

Setup, the first few times feels like a bit of a chore. You select a mission and then lay out the board. Then you have to find the corresponding terrain pieces and place them on the correct hexes on the board. It sounds simple but it can take a few minutes. After a while, it does get easier and that’s the toughest part of the setup.

Each player gets his set of miniatures and then places them as shown on the board. Then the cards are shuffled and they each get their starting hand of cards. The number of cards and the miniatures vary from mission to mission. It’s entirely asymmetrical for each game.

Memoir '44 review
As you can see some of the dice are in need of some touch ups. Where did I leave my koki pens?

A turn consists of the following:

  • Play a card from your hand
  • Perform the actions based on the card
  • Draw a new card
  • Then the next player has a turn

During a turn you will play a card from your hand of cards and perform the action on the card. The majority of the cards will depict one of the sectors on the board Left, Center, Right and tell you how many units to activate in that sector.

Then you select which units you wish to activate. Next you can move any or all of them then any that are still able to can fire at the enemy.

Combat is an easy affair, you pick a target, check if it’s in range and line of sight (not hidden behind something else) and then roll die. Different units require different symbols on the dice for them to be hit. In addition to damage there is a roll that can force the enemy to retreat.

Memoir '44 review
You only need to read the rules once. The reference cards will remind you of everything that you need to know.

So you roll your dice and see the result. If there are the correct symbols to kill enemy units then you remove one of the models from the hex you are shooting at per symbol. If they have to retreat then they fall back according to the number of flags that you have rolled. If they cannot fall back anymore then they take more casualties. Once a unit has taken its last casualty that miniature is given to the opponent as a trophy, which counts as a victory point.

Each mission has a required number of victory points to determine the winner. The first player to reach this number wins! Often some missions will include other means of getting points, protecting a village or holding on to a bridge for example; it just depends on the specific mission.

Conclusion

It’s an incredibly simple set of core rules. You will be forgiven for thinking that it’s too simple. Yes it’s not a heavy game but there’s more to it than just that. Different terrain elements will impact the game differently, slowing down movement, offering protection etc. Special units are available for different missions, gorilla resistance fighters or crack tank units.

Memoir '44 review
A pair of regular commands. note the zones and number of units in each zone that can be activated.

Then there are the action cards. They are not all “Move X units in Y zone” Some are special actions which can prove to be a real boon in the correct circumstances. You need to plan your use of the cards carefully, hand management is very important. There are rules that cater for younger kids but they essentially say leave out the special actions.

All of these add up to a surprisingly tactical game. Luckily it’s not one that does not leave you brain dead afterwards. I’m actually going to get myself a 2nd copy of Memoir ’44 soon then the Overlord expansion so I can play big games with teams of players.

There are loads of expansions to choose from. The game has proven to be immensely popular and has won multiple awards. We even have a Memoir ’44 club in South Africa, I just wish they were closer to home 😉 Actually I wish I took up the offer of playing Memoir ’44 all those years ago.

I’ve got some catching up to do.

Memoir '44 review
These are Special commands. The Armour Assault will be very useful when the American tanks are in position.

Can I play this at a braai?

There’s no reason not to. There are almost no timing issues so you don’t really need to be present during your opponents turn, unless you don’t trust him 😉 I can only think of 1 card that you can play out of turn so for that you might want to stick around, just in case. Just don’t burn the meat.

Memoir '44 review
The Americans need to push hard to get through the tank traps and razor wire.
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