So, Badger finally came round last Friday so we could try out the new Memoir'44 stuff. We managed to get 4 games in: 2 of the new scenarios, taking turns at each side.
First we played Scenario 35: Nijmegen Bridges (click through and head for p.17 to see the map). This turned out to be a lesson in the power of artillery, the new big guns especially.
My first thought on seeing the layout as the Allied player was what terrible tank country it was. I had a force of 14 units, with 6 of them tanks, and there were no nice open spaces for overrun attacks. Tanks were going to be reduced to the role of mobile artillery in this game I thought.
I was still digesting this thought when Badger's big guns destroyed my artillery unit. Opening fire at long range, he took full advantage of the new zeroing-in rules- which give big guns an extra dice against a target previously fired at- to destroy my artillery unit with a single fortunate roll of the dice. I came to regret this.
As the game developed my attempts to move up on my right were hampered by Badger's damn big guns at least as much as by the terrain. I eventually managed to get some units far enough forward so as to be able to consider a rush at the road bridge and its valuable medal. In the centre I was manoeuvring armour around the pesky railway ready to try and make a grab for the railway bridge and its victory medal.
Painful as it had been then, the situation was shaping up nicely for a grab at victory. So I decided to launch my cross-river assault on the left as a diversion. This decision might've ended up costing me the game. My infantry took some fire as they crossed the river, then one of them disappeared under a Barrage. Some tough fighting ensued as I tried to clear the Germans out of the Fort Hof Van Holland- I even made some headway- but all of a sudden Badger got the inevitable 6th kill and it was all over.
I was game for another try, but Badger wanted to switch sides. He'd learnt the lesson about the power of artillery: as soon as my big guns ranged in on his own artillery, he moved them so that I didn't enjoy the extra dice which had proved so effective in the previous game. The artillery duel in this game was long and fruitless. I must have rained down around a dozen dice on Badger's lone artillery unit (he couldnt' move it every time I zeroed-in on it) and all I ever got were retreats, which were actually counter-productive since they stopped my big guns from zeroing-in on the target. Sheesh.
The survival of Badger's artillery made a huge difference to the Allies in this game. First the German's big guns were occupied trying to take out the Allied artillery unit, which meant that they weren't harassing the Allied advance. Second- and more important IMO: Badger was able to use his artillery to clear the Germans out of the south of Nijmegen. It wasn't that he was able easily to destroy the units located there; rather that he was able to force quick retreats with his artillery, which allowed his other units to advance into central Nijmegen without having to fight their way in. This was to prove decisive.
After this we played Scenario 37: Across the River Roer (on p.22 this time).
I was the Allies first again. My attack got off to a very quick start: I had an Infantry Assault card, so I spent 2 turns massing infantry into the leftmost section before throwing everything across the river in turn 3. I didn't have a properly planned follow-up (ie. I didn't have a sequence of cards ready to play to maintain the momentum), but I had gambled that Badger would find it difficult to react quickly enough to punish me for this. My gamble paid off.
Other incidents in this game included my attempt to grab the eastern village across the minefield- my unit suffered crossing the minefield but survived so that it was in a position to move on the village. Then Badger brought an armour unit in and blasted the infantry so that all thoughts of grabbing an easy victory medal on the right flank had to be forgotten.
Also of note was Badger's mad charge in the centre: as I ground my way forward on the left, he decided that sitting behind sandbags on the far side of a minefield wasn't good enough for the 2 infantry units in his centre. So they charged forward into the guns of my infantry and artillery around Linnich. Badger maintained afterward that this move might've been a good idea. I guess it might've, but in the event, the units had to retreat before I finished them off, so I'm less than persuaded.
I can't remember that much about the game that followed, other than the fact that Badger won it without much difficulty.
The new rules
The new rules that we tried out in this game were: big guns, roads and railways, fords, fortresses, minefields, and battle stars- collapsible assault boats.
By and large these rules proved logical and sensible expansions to the game.
Fortresses are strong defensive locations. Their presence serves to fill out the range of terrain types available in M44. The battle-star tokens have been added to designate units and/or locations subject to scenario-specific special rules. This is a handy addition to the game, and good encouragment for would-be scenario designers to bring in interesting unusual circumstances. Roads work by the hoary old mechanic of giving an additional hex of movement to any unit that moves entirely along the road. In the event, road movement wasn't a feature of the games in which roads appeared on the map.
Other new rules struck me as having a more significant impact on the game, or as perhaps being a bit less logical.
Big guns and minefields are rules that will have a big effect on your play I reckon. In addition to their extra range, big guns' zeroing-in rules make them more dangerous for harassing fire than basic artillery units. This gives you a real motive to get out from under the big guns when they've fired at you, something which can change the way you play your hand.
Minefields can similarly have a big effect on your game it seems to me. There are 10 minefield counters ranging in value from 0-4. The value of the minefield counter is the number of dice you must roll when you enter an opponent's minefield. In addition you must stop movement when you enter any minefield. By and large then, minefields are going to slow you down and leave you open to enemy fire more often than destroying your units themselves.
In addition to that, the effect of seeing a minefield in front of you is quite strong: you really don't know if it is worth risking running your units through those hexes. Sure, you might get lucky. But then again, you might not. As I said, the impact of minefields on play strikes me as being much greater than just filling out the range of terrain types represented.
The last new rule that saw play was the railway rules. Use by trains aside, these count as normal open ground except that tanks and artillery must stop when they enter a railway hex. I'm not at all sure why railways should slow tanks down so much. I can see why the designers might've wanted to have a rule that makes railways different from open ground- the effect of the rules in the scenario we played was reasonable enough I guess. But I have to confess that I can't really grasp why moving along railroads is just as hard for tanks as moving through towns and woods, and harder than going uphill.
That minor gripe aside, I thought that the effect of the expansions was just fine. Most importantly, I was pleased that the expansions didn't undermine the essential simplicity of M44, which was always a risk IMO. The other effect of the expansion I noticed was that it did increase set-up time: with three times as many terrain tiles to sort through it can take some time to find specific tiles. Noticeable and a tad inconvenient, but hardly worth complaining about. ;)