PLAYlist 44: Memoir '44 and New Flight Plan expansion | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 17th, 2019  

PLAYlist 44: Memoir ‘44 and New Flight Plan expansion

Aug 05, 2019 By Austin Trunick
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It’s not often I have the chance to write about one of my old, all-time favorite games. Fortunately a new, big-box expansion for Days of Wonder’s classic WWII game Memoir ’44 has arrived to give me a proper excuse to gush about a game system that’s continued to grow and find its way into the collections of new fans since its release in 2004. It takes a special game to receive continued support and new modules fifteen years after it first hit shelves, and Memoir ’44 is nothing short of a modern classic.

Designed by Richard Borg, Memoir ’44 takes the idea of a historical war simulation game and streamlines it down into a package that’s easy to learn and moves quickly, but is immensely customizable. It feels wrong to call it “Wargaming Lite,” but the moniker fits. Memoir ’44 the same great taste as a bigger, more complex war game, but with… fewer calories? Er, rules. We meant fewer rules.

The board for an M44 match is divided into three equal portions: a left flank, right flank, and center. One player will take on the Allied forces and the other the Axis Powers. Both will draw from the same deck of cards and take turns playing them from their hands. Most cards will allow you to command a number of a certain unit type in one or more of those three sections. You’ll be planning your moves and attacks with straight-forward hand management. For example, you could use a right flank card to advance your tanks toward your enemy, or wait until their infantry moves into range and use the same card (which you saved) to launch your counter-attack. At least 75% of Memoir ’44 is deciding what cards you’ll use when.

Combat itself is equally simple. Instead of numbered sides, your custom dice will have images of soldiers, tanks, grenades, and surrender flags. When you engage in an attack, you’ll take a number of these dice dependent on your unit, distance measured in hex spaces, and terrain. If you roll a grenade symbol or a side that matches your enemy type, you’ll score a hit that destroys one of their units. Roll a flag and you force them to retreat back towards your opponent’s side of the board.

Having read those last two paragraphs, you now have the basic grasp on how to play M44. Heck, you could probably sit down at the board and learn the rest as you go. Everything about Memoir ’44 is extremely user-friendly. Even the terrain rules, which are arguably the hardest-to-remember element of the base game, are displayed near the board on easy-to-read cheat cards. Memoir ’44 is truly a war game for the masses.

The box itself recommends it for ages eight and up, but you could easily modify the deck by removing a small handful of the more complex command cards and then teach the game to someone even younger. If you’ve got a kid who’s into WWII or history and want something you can play with them, this is the very first game we’d steer you toward.

Which leads us to a great argument that must be made for Memoir ’44’s educational value. Personally, the thing I like most about the game is that the scenarios – the variable setups included in the game’s booklet – were inspired by real WWII battles. The scenarios give one side or the other advantages and objectives based on the historic firefight, alongside a short paragraph explaining the battle’s significance within the War. It’s not always a race to wipe out an opponent’s units first; sometimes a winner will be determined by whether or not you can hold a location, capture a bridge or town, or destroy a specific unit. While the game absolutely simplifies the historic battles down to 1% of their real-world complexity, it does an incredible job of helping interested players understand the broad circumstances of its featured military engagements. It’s something that will excite both those with a deep understanding of WWII history, or inspire the lesser-versed to seek out documentaries and history books and learn more about specific battles or campaigns. There are things here to fascinate those who’ve seen all 22 hours of The World at War multiple times, and those who only vaguely remember watching the first 22 minutes of Saving Private Ryan back in high school.

If the idea of an easy-to-learn, light- to middle-weight historical wargame grabs your attention, there may be no better choice than Memoir ’44. Games don’t stick around for 15+ years in our current board gaming environment unless it’s some level of a masterpiece, and M44 fits that bill. The base game retails for $59.99, and includes nearly 150 plastic figures, eight dice, a deck of cards, big stacks of dual-sided terrain tiles, and 21 scenarios—which is more than enough to keep any casual M44 player busy for a long, long time.

But what if you want more, you ask? Oh, goodness… there is so much more for Memoir ’44, if one chooses to seek it out.

Memoir ’44 has to be one of the most expanded and customizable games on the planet. Over the years we’ve received numerous expansions which include new units and scenarios and focus on specific theaters: Pacific, Eastern, and Mediterranean. These add new armies, such as the English or Japanese, and include many of the most famous battles which played out in those territories. Winter Wars also introduces new units and rules for playing in harsh wintry conditions, and focuses on the brutal Ardennes Offensive in the Christmastime season of ’44. There are new boards, such as the desert/winter board, which adds a more realistic look to certain battles. (The base game’s board is two-sided, with a grassy side and a beach side.) The Breakthrough kit expands your playing fields to much larger proportions. The terrain and equipment packs add new tiles and miniatures, respectively, increasing the game’s cosmetic appeal and layout options. Two campaign books add a new mode to the game in which the results of your battles carry over between sessions. Operation Overlord unlocks a new way of playing with up to four players on each side of the battlefield, and uses special, oversized maps for staging far more epic warfare. And then there’s the truly crazy, wonderful D-Day Landings expansion, a special pre-printed set of six maps which, when connected, allow a large group to play out Operation Neptune on a board that requires an incredible, whopping 14 feet of table space. 

And that’s not even including the hundreds and hundreds of free, online scenarios you can find hosted on Memoir ‘44’s official website. (Many of these are created by the same folks designing the ones included in the packs sold at retail.) It wouldn’t be uncommon for a gamer to get a taste for Memoir ’44 and look online for add-ons, only to come away with a nosebleed on first glance at all of their options. It’s a lot to consider all at once—I carry my own M44 collection around in a large, wooden trunk and a military olive backpack, and that’s still barely enough luggage to contain it all. However, most pieces of Days of Wonder’s M44 line go in and out print from time to time, meaning that you’re likely better off buying whatever expansion is readily available at the time the urge hits, rather than paying inflated secondhand prices for stuff that's waiting on its next printing.

If you’re an owner of Memoir 44’s base package and looking for ways to shake up your game, the recently-released New Flight Plan expansion would be a pretty good place to start.

In a nutshell, the New Flight Plan adds airplanes to the mix. Retailing for $60, the box includes 16 plastic planes of varying sizes and molds, a deck of air combat cards and all of the tokens you’ll need to implement them, a book of rules describing how to use the planes, and another booklet with 21 new scenarios.

The basic gist of the planes is easy enough to grasp. When you use them, both players will share a deck of air combat cards between them. You’ll draw and play these cards from your hands much like the regular command cards, and they’ll work in conjunction with your turn’s regular orders. If the plane you’re deploying or commanding matches the type on the air combat card you played this turn, you’ll also get to use that card’s special ability. It’s similar to the M44 hand management you already know and love, but you’ll be juggling two hands of cards instead of one.

Planes move at different rates and carry different amounts of bombs. You can drop these on enemy ground units when you fly over them, or engage in a dogfight with another air unit. Small planes, such as fighters, have natural speed advantages in dogfights; what the big planes lack in maneuverability they more than make up for with large loads of bombs. A lucky bomb run can put a huge dent in your opponent’s forces, but be careful: you can be shot down by your enemy’s ground forces.

Using the New Flight Plan adds another level to your Memoir ’44 battles, and there’s a lot of strategy in balancing your aerial with your ground assaults. One of the coolest things is that you’re able to add air combat to pretty much any pre-existing scenario, with maybe a little bit of fiddling needed here and there. (The booklet includes a chart that breaks down the War into years and theaters so that you can determine which side had air superiority at any given time.) This may lead to a lot of battles where planes don’t make historical sense, but it’s definitely fun.

The only downside of New Flight Plan for those newer to Memoir ’44 is that a high percentage of the new scenarios included in the box call for other expansions. This isn’t a problem for the fully-indoctrinated M44 player (like myself) who’ll see it as a cool way to play with all of their toys at once, but for somebody starting out it could be a little disappointing that they can’t immediately play everything in the booklet. Still, that’s somewhat mitigated by the fact that you can use these new rules and minis with all the scenarios you already own, and many more you can download free online.

In short, the New Flight Plan is a really fun addition to the game, with an unmatched versatility that makes it an easily recommendable expansion to any level of Memoir ’44 gamer. And if you haven’t played Memoir ’44 yet, what are you waiting for? It’s stuck around for good reason.

We found assembling this column’s playlist to be one of the most interesting ones we’ve ever done. With a few exceptions where a song wasn’t available on Spotify, we’ve collected every single to hit #1 in the United States from when the U.S. entered the war on December 7th, 1941, through its effective end with VJ day on August 15th, 1945. The playlist runs chronologically and contains a lot of Glenn Miller and Harry James, but it makes for a fascinating musical journey which shows us one way how Americans tried to keep their spirits up back home while loved ones were away and dying during such a dark period of history.

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Previous PLAYlist columns: Bubble TeaUndoGizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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