08th Jan2020

‘Memoir 44’ & ‘New Flight Plan Expansion’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

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If you’ve seen a hobbyist board game collection in the last four or five years, chance’s are that you’ll have seen at least one copy of Memoir ’44. This Days of Wonder game is a beautifully produced collection of plastic and cardboard that uses the well-trodden Command & Colours system created by the late Richard Borg. We’ve already reviewed the Command & Colours: Napoleonics game from GMT Games, and whilst the Napoleonic Wars are some of the most interesting for me personally, there’s no denying that Memoir ’44‘s exceptional production makes it a mouthwatering prospect.

Because Memoir ’44 has been out for quite a few years now, we thought that it might be useful to spice things up a bit with the most recent expansion, which is actually a remake of an older one. So, for at least half the plays we’ve undertaken whilst producing this review, we’ve been playing with the New Flight Plan expansion. In New Flight Plan, each side gains access to fighters, bombers and fighter-bombers, as well as a new deck of air combat cards that do various things relating to the planes in the battle. New Flight Plan also includes a host of new scenarios, some of which actually require other expansion content.

Broadly speaking, regardless of whether you play the base game or one of the expansions, Memoir ’44 simply aims to recreate individual battles from World War II at roughly a squadron level. Each battle takes place on either side of a board showing grass or sand terrain, with other maps available via the existing expansions should you want them. These maps are more or less completely plain by default, with only grid lines showing the outline of each space showing up on the board. Each scenario will show a range of terrain (forests, rivers, villages, swamps, craters etc) that should be set up at the beginning of the game, and this is done by placing hexagonal shapes pieces onto the board.

With the board laid out and any terrain placed upon it, the players will set up the two sides. In the games we’ve played, these sides will always be Axis versus Allies, or more specifically, Germany or Italy versus some combination of British, French and American forces. There are only two sides to every battle, making Memoir ’44 a strictly two player game unless you happen to invest in the rare and sought after Overlord expansion which we don’t happen to have. There may also be other forces represented in further expansions, but again, we haven’t seen those.

During setup, the players will again normally follow the scenario book, placing units in groups of three to four plastic figures depending on the kind of unit in question. As a rule of thumb, tanks will appear as a unit of three, whilst infantry units will have three normal riflemen and then either a fourth rifleman for a standard unit, or some other unit like a mortar or machine gun. One of the issues I had in playing New Flight Plan was actually that the scenario book assumes players have access to some of the special unit figures that don’t come in the base game, yet it doesn’t list which other expansions are needed – this was a little frustrating.

On the other hand, one nice inclusion is that of card stands to hold the command cards that each player has. You see, the Command & Colours system is card driven, which each side having access to a hand of cards as dictated by the scenario book. A bigger hand is always better, and the game uses this to demonstrate various thematic effects and to balance the game. For example, one side might be obviously larger than the other, but due to a strong defensive position and a determination to succeed, the smaller force might have a bigger hand of cards.

The objective for each player will differ from mission to mission, but in general the players will be competing to reach a certain number of victory points. Each victory point can be obtained as per the scenario, but examples include capturing certain locations (such as villages or bridges) or destroying units. Ultimately, defeat enough units and you’ll almost always win, but that’s as much about ensuring that both players enjoy themselves for the bulk of the game than it is about the thematic objective. It’s often much more fun to focus on achieving the strategic objective that was the focus of the real life battle in any given scenario.

Gameplay in Memoir ’44 is very straightforward, with the players simply taking turns to play a card and then resolve the effect shown on it. Most cards state that the active player can simply move and/or attack with units in either the left, central or right hand sections of the board. Again, in general, the more units that a card allows the player to move, the more limited it will be. For example, a large number of units moving in one section is common, as is a small number of units being moved in any section. Cards that allow multiple moves in all sections are rare and powerful.

As you will probably have guessed, the various bits of terrain in the game can change the movement and combat properties of the units in play, and line of sight plays a role with most units, so it’s important to think about how terrain will affect your forces. Again, whilst some missions begin with what seems like overwhelming odds favouring one side, a smaller, well placed force that digs in on the other side of the battlefield and simply needs to hold steady can be tough to break down. All combat is based on dice rolls with modifiers for what type of unit is attacking what other type of unit, and what kind of terrain the attacked unit is in.

With the planes from New Flight Plan thrown into the mix, there’s a whole new dimension (and complexity) to the gameplay. Firstly, players will now receive a second hand of cards that relate purely to their aeroplanes. These will be used to perform strafing and bombing runs, to compete in dogfights with other planes and, often, to perform anti-aircraft actions with ground troops. Usually the number of types of planes on each side are limited, effectively demonstrating the amount of air support available to each side during that part of the way.

I liked how New Flight Plan changed the rules up a bit and certainly introduced an interesting way to help break down tough, entrenched enemies or decimate massed armour, but I also found the aerial units a bit jarring to use in the game. Because air units move at a completely different pace to ground units and, effectively, won’t be hit except by specific counter cards, New Flight Plan feels a bit like a separate game that is overlaid across the original – essentially forcing the players to fight two separate battles that do occasionally influence each other via either a bombing run or an anti-air card.

That said, nothing can detract from Memoir ’44‘s status as a classic game, and perhaps even the most iconic war game of the modern board gaming era. The plastic miniatures and glossy build quality bring a touch of class to a game that is deceptively simple to learn, yet deep and rewarding to master. New Flight Plan meanwhile might simply be one expansion among many, but where it lacks the tightness of the original game and the expansions that simply add to it, it makes up for that by bringing a new dimension to the gameplay that is more often than not exciting and tense in its own right.
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Memoir ’44 Rating: ****½ 4.5/5
New Flight Plan Rating: ***½ 3.5/5

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