Memoir '4407 Jul 2004 0
Old plastic army men never die; they just get lost under the couch. The army man is a resilient little figure that rarely fails to command the attention of young and old alike. Platoons of plastic have a way of drawing the eye and triggering an urge to make machine gun sounds; it?s practically a reflexive response for some.
It is thus no surprise that Memoir ?44, a D-Day themed boardgame from Days of Wonder, garnered the early buzz it did. Fistfuls of miniature tanks and soldiers slugging it out on rich, Frankish landscapes promised a sort of primordial experience for wargamers, a return to the day when battles raged in sandboxes and mud bogs. Images of playtest copies fired the fancy of many in the online forums, yet what really set the hook is that Memoir ?44 is the progeny of a proven crowd-pleaser, Battle Cry, from designer Richard Borg. Armed with solid good looks and a pedigree to match, every indication was that Memoir ?44 would be nothing short of an excellent game.
It is. Although Memoir ?44 plays crisply and quickly, sessions can wend into the wee hours of the morning. Time spent with this game is akin to an evening with friends around a billiards table at a favorite watering hole. There?s no shortage of people cheering the action, and there?s always someone ready to play ?just one more game.? When the mood strikes for some light-hearted fare that still tickles the critical corners of the player?s mind, Memoir ?44 delivers, and delivers absolutely. It?s a game to gather ?round, it?s a game to laugh about, and it?s a game to simply play.
Wargamers, meet the world of ?Eurogame? quality. Players who have not enjoyed a few rounds of titles such as Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan may not have experienced the tactile joys of ?Euro? components. It is safe to say, though, that they have a certain heft to them. They?re sturdy, artful, and designed to withstand exposure to the orange-colored gunk that Doritos leave upon fingertips: as if the designers of those components knew what really goes on at the gaming table. Days of Wonder gave Memoir ?44 just such a treatment and produced a sturdy package that is a pleasure to handle.
At the core of the game are the 144 Axis and Allied game pieces that model infantry, armor, artillery, and battlefield emplacements. The beauty of it all is that there is not a sprue in sight! The plastic figures are already separated for players, right down to the last grunt. Anyone who has cracked a fresh copy of Axis & Allies will understand what a boon this is. As a matter of fact, everything about lifting up the boxtop speaks to instant gratification. Little stands in the way of starting to play right away. Even the hexagonal tiles that are used to customize the double-sided map drop off the cardboard tree like ripe fruit. Once set up, every component seems ready to withstand years of tabletop melee, perhaps with the exception of the artillery pieces. They?re a bit wispy, yet I?ve found that the soft plastic from which they are cast bends rather than breaks.
The hard-mounted maps depict lush landscapes where the surf seems to roll across the beach hexes, and the oversized grid superimposed upon them makes manipulating units a breeze. One map depicts the French coastline and the other renders a country vista that can be customized into hedgerow hell or the outskirts of Paris with the aforementioned landscape tiles. Flipping through the scenario illustrations in the rulebook shows just how versatile this approach is in practice as these two maps cover a great deal of ground and deliver a genuine sense of place from game to game.
The rulebook has the feel of Life magazine in its prime. It?s big, it?s glossy, and it?s laid out with an artist?s eye. The game mechanics are presented clearly and cleanly, and the scenarios look like professional book reports with their historical backgrounds and supporting maps. There?s little doubt that the publishers of Memoir ?44 recognized the educational value of this title. It?s slick and thoughtful all at once, and any parent looking to impart a passion for history to a child should look no further.
Indulge in the beauty of the photos that accompany this review. With Memoir ?44, what you see is what you get.