The holiday earlier this month threw me off schedule, and I’m not sure which day of the week I should post Geekly Games. We could be looking at a semi-weekly post until we balance video games, tabletop games, and comics posts. Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about you guys. So, here we go with another Geekly Games.
I finally played one of the games on my bucket list: Memoir ’44. I stopped by Omaha’s Game Shoppe and played the introductory scenario, Pegasus Bridge, with my brother-in-law Tim. It wasn’t an auspicious start. My biggest problem was reading the rules aloud verbatim—something I hate doing—and the more I read the rules, the more I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The rules aren’t that involved, nor were they long. It’s been some time since I’ve had to read rules on the fly and relay them to others. I was out of practice. Don’t ever read rules aloud verbatim; you can see the life drain from the eyes of those who are listening. If you must, read the rules to yourself and paraphrase them. As soon as I switched to paraphrasing, the rules reading went smoothly.
Memoir ’44 was everything I wanted it to be. It’s earned its place as an accessible war simulation game. Memoir ’44 was released on the 60th anniversary of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy during World War II. Players command Allied or Axis forces and take turns reenacting key skirmishes of famous battles.
I could talk at length about how Memoir ’44 differs from the war games my father and cousin Wally coaxed me into playing when I was young—okay, I didn’t have to be coaxed. I won’t get into too many details on how Memoir differs from these war games. Let’s just say that Memoir ’44 has lightning fast turns.
For the most part, each scenario remains faithful to the moments they recreate. German forces may have advantageous positioning but the Allies are the historical winners, have numbers, and initiative (usually), since they’re the aggressors. As a result, most of the scenarios are slanted toward the Allies, but the inclusion of cards and dice in combat and maneuvering gives both players a chance.
During a turn players choose a card to play from their hand, and the card they choose dictates which units they can activate. This mimics what happens on the battlefield. You plan as best you can but elements outside your control can prevent you from doing something. For instance, you mobilize your troops on your right flank, getting them in position for an attack, but you don’t draw into any more right flank cards to execute the attack. This can be frustrating. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait long for the right cards, secondary options allow for creativity and they aren’t that bad of an option, and games are quick. We’re talking 30-45 minutes.
After your card resolves (you complete the action printed on the card), you draw a new card and pass the turn to your opponent. Play continues like this until someone accrues enough victory points for the scenario. You gain victory points for collecting a victory token (not every scenario has these tokens but when tokens are used, they represent strategic locations on the battlefield) or when you kill an enemy unit. And that leads us to Memoir ‘44’s combat.
Memoir uses specialty six-sided dice. I won’t get into “line of sight” and the variable number of dice you roll when attacking. These two concepts are the most dense, confusing, and easy to misinterpret. That said, they still aren’t that complicated. I’d just rather not discuss them here. Let’s get back to the dice.
Yeah. Those are the ones. I love Memoir ‘44’s dice. You want to roll the unit you’re targeting. If you’re attacking infantry, you want to roll infantry. Are you targeting a tank unit? You’ll want tanks. Grenades hit everything. Stars miss everything. Flags miss and you’re forced to retreat. Each unit has a number of plastic figurines to represent the unit’s health (4 for infantry, 3 for tanks, and 2 for artillery). Once all the figurines are gone, the unit’s removed from play and one of its pieces is placed on the victory point track. Someone wins when they have enough victory points for the scenario. It’s a simple concept but Memoir ‘44’s surprising deep.
Those older war games could be fun but they took forever to play (turns could last thirty minutes—the entire time it takes to play a full game of Memoir) and you had rules the size of a phone book (reference page 539, paragraph 21, sentence 5 for the effects wind has on mortar shots on the bottom right 1/3 quadrant of the Normandy map). I know I’ll get flak from “real war gamers”—there is a sizeable group of them who don’t consider Memoir ’44 a war game because it isn’t complicated enough—but Memoir boils down everything that makes those war games fun and presents it in a manner that’s digestible for a larger audience. There are other war games out there and many of them are great, but Memoir’s an excellent place to start.
It’s a lot fun. If you have any interest in a World War II game, I highly recommend it. I’ve already bought a couple of expansions—don’t tell Jen.
Behind the Game
Tabletop games—and American made tabletop games in particular—have received a bad reputation for taking hours to play, but that isn’t the case for most modern tabletop games. True. You can still find modern board games that take hours to complete—Twilight Imperium, and Descent come to mind—but most games speed up gameplay so you can play multiple, unique games or several rounds of a game you like in a single night. Many gamers who enjoy some of these longer games, like the old school war gamers who would claim that Memoir ’44 isn’t a real war game, might claim that the game’s length adds to the game’s depth. While no one would question the depth or immersion of longer games like Twilight Imperium and Descent, a shorter game like Memoir can provide an immersive experience.
Historical reference helps Memoir, but games like Arcadia Quest—I still need to write a review on Arcadia Quest—do a great job of building a background story and dividing missions into easily digestible, hour-long or less sessions. Story helps…a lot. Having a character or two who you can root for helps too, but tabletop games are a balancing act between story or theme and game mechanisms. Game mechanisms that fit with what you’re doing in the game not only help to make learning the rules easier, they make for better player engagement.
The right combination of story/theme and game mechanisms can also lead to greater depth of play. Even simple concept party games like Codenames (2016’s winner of the Spiel des Jahres and first party game to ever win the coveted German game of the year) provide wrinkles to their game play that players can exploit—or fail to do exploit in epic fashion.
So do you lose game immersion or play depth with a shorter tabletop game? As with most things, the answer’s complicated. Some games demand to be long. I couldn’t see Twilight Imperium taking 45 minutes to play, the game would lose a lot of what makes it work, but board games are getting shorter play times in order to compete with other mediums. That presents a challenge to designers to keep game play to a speedy 30-45 minutes, while maintaining the game’s depth and player’s investment. We’re in the middle of a board game renaissance of sorts and these shorter play times could be part of the reason why.
Well, I’m off to the game table. I’ll fit as many games as I can in a couple of hours each night, so until we meet again, thanks for reading.