Memoir '44 Online

By Chris Mohon 08 Jul 2011 0

We were soldiers once, and young?

Memoir ?44 Online is a new release from Days of Wonder Games, the folks who produced Ticket to Ride, Mystery of the Abbey, Cargo Noir, Mystery Express, and a number of family board games. If you are not recognizing many wargame titles here, that?s because Memoir ?44 Online is the only one. Some titles, like Memoir ?44, have made the transition to computer gaming. Memoir ?44 was originally released in board game form to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

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The game itself is lifted practically verbatim from its board game predecessor. Indeed, the first lines of the instruction manual state, ?This manual assumes that you are already somewhat familiar with the rules of the board game this online game is based on.  If you are not familiar with the board game, we recommend you take a quick look at video tutorial to familiarize yourself with the game?s basic concepts.?  They?re not kidding. In one scenario involving paratroopers I found this gem among the instructions: ?Hold four infantry figures in your hand about 12 inches-roughly the height of the box- above the battlefield. Drop the figures.? Fortunately, I did not need to throw little plastic paratroopers at my computer monitor. Despite the oddity of the directions, once I started the scenario the paratroopers were ready to airdrop digitally.

?Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to?.Steelgrave.? -Winston Churchill

The computer version faithfully incorporates the elements of the board game, with infantry, armor, and artillery represented by plastic-looking game icons. Gameplay relies on action cards which dictate which units may be activated, which tactics may be employed, or special tactics to exploit, while the actual battles are resolved by dice which are digitally thrown across the board before the results are applied. Memoir ?44 is a turn-based game, in which you drag a card from your hand, apply the card to certain of your units, move your units, fight, and then take another card. Victory tends to involve accumulating victory points (called Medals) either by taking objectives or killing a certain number of opposing units. Games tend to play out fast, with 10-20 minute scenarios being common. Your opponent can be a decently competent AI called ?Johnny?, or you can test your luck skill against a waiting pool of online players.

Combat and maneuver are very much dictated by the cards you hold. The gameboard is divided into three sections, or flanks, and you might find that you do not have the proper card to initiate an attack utilizing the flank you wish, or the flank which has most of your troops. While most wargames utilize some variation of allowing each unit to either move, shoot, dig in or maybe do a little of each, in Memoir ?44 Online the only units which can do anything at all are those which are activated by the card you play. In practice, I found this to reinforce the ?game? part of Memoir ?44 Online and minimize the ?war? part, since on any given turn the majority of your units might do nothing at all, even if next to an enemy unit. There is definitely a strategy involved in deciding which card to play, since in doing so you are not only choosing which units move and fire, but also which units will be passive observers.

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The AI puts up a decent fight, and seems bound by the very same rules and restrictions that the human player has, meaning that it does not cheat. There were several times when I anticipated my digital opponent would do one thing, only to have it strike a different flank. This is in part because, like me, the AI is limited by what cards it holds and must dictate attacks to reflect this. Since victory often went to the side killing the most units, the AI tends to focus relentlessly on wounded units. There was a time or two when I was able to use a damaged unit as bait for a counterattack, but it?s a dangerous tactic. Lose too many units and its ?game over, man, game over!? Also, damaged units seem to retain their original firepower, so a four-step unit that you?ve just demolished with three hits might bite back surprisingly hard the next turn.

Online, human opponents were numerous. The game uses a colorful ranking system, awarding Officer Insignia, achievement badges and titles for matches against live opponents. These are not only items of pride but also allow you to match up with an opponent of somewhat known ability. A nice touch made nicer by the fact that you can be represented by US Army rank, or chose British, Russian, French, German, Japanese or Italian titles and insignia. Some cat named Napoleon once remarked that ?A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon?, and  ?44 Online takes good advantage of our vanity here. Unfortunately, it?s one of the few pieces of chrome afforded by the game?

It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it?.

My impression of this game is one of missed opportunities. While the boardgame is very popular and has a strong following, the conversion to a computer game failed to take advantage of the platform, beyond animated die rolls and movement. A case in point is the unit icons. The icons are meant to resemble little plastic toy tanks, or plastic infantrymen, but unlike the classic computer game, Army Men, there is no charm in their representation. The icons simply aren?t much fun to look at. Sadly, the same can be said of the battle cards. The cards are dull, functional components which add very little visually to the game. When compared to gems such as Magic: The Gathering or Cryptic Comets? Six Gun Saga, Solium Infernum, or Armageddon Empires, all games with dynamic card artwork that are a joy to play with, Memoir ?44 Online falls terribly short. It practically goes without saying that the game board, the field of battle, is the same...functional but dull.

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The sound is a little stronger point. I tend to relentlessly beat on computer game music and sound effects, but Memoir?s soundtrack is a notch above the average. You?re still going to turn it off after a few games, but it is clear to see that they put some effort into it, with the theme music changing to reflect the nationality of the player whose turn it is.

Another positive is the point and click nature of the interface, with each unit, card and terrain yielding details with a right-click of your mouse. This is a nice touch, somewhat like Civ but easier to use. Also, each scenario provides a historical review of the battle about to take place, to give you some idea of what actually happened during the real battle.

Memoir ?44 Online is relativity inexpensive, at least initially, with the game being free to download. The game is fueled by Gold Ingots, which allow you to fight battles, with different scenarios costing anywhere from 1-4 Ingots to play. You will start off with enough free Ingots to fight several battles and decide if the game is for you or not. After that, packages for purchasing Ingots range from $8 to $60, with the upper end being reserved for true fanatics of the game.

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In terms of complexity and gameplay, Memoir ?44 Online is more of a Risk or Axis and Allies level strategy game rather than a true wargame. As such, it has very limited appeal (if any) to grizzled grognards or perhaps even to casual beer & pretzel wargamers, but if you are looking to ease into the wargaming hobby or to introduce a young person to gaming, it is an easy to understand, uncomplicated game wrapped in WWII packaging.

Review written by: Chris "Steelgrave" Mohon, Staff Writer 




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