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Monday, July 17, 2006

Memoir'44: completing the set #1

A satisfying pile of components

As I've already noted, recent trips to Static have netted me the Eastern Front and Pacific Theatre expansions for M44 to add to the Terrain Pack to complete my set of this favourite game of mine.

And what a set it is when you've got it all:
  • Command cards, battle dice, card holders and reference cards
  • 5 rulebooks, including 36 scenarios
  • 2 mapboards- giving beach, countryside, desert and winter maps
  • 4 complete armies, comprising infantry, tanks and artillery- American, German, Soviet, and Japanese
  • 198 double-sided terrain tiles
  • 36 obstacle pieces
  • 141 assorted counters for obstacles, unit badges, victory medals and other things too numerous to detail
  • the Commissar chip
This pile is going to cost you something in the region of £90, but it is certainly good value for money if you compare what you get for that sort of money if spent on other typical forms of amusement, eg. around 40 pints of beer, 18 trips to the cinema, 3 or 4 video games, or even 2 or 3 other boardgames. However you choose to add it up, the replay value of a complete set of M44 is sufficiently high to make it a worthwhile investment.

Meanwhile, what do the Eastern Front and Pacific Theatre bring to the M44 game?

The Eastern Front expansion

The most obvious new addition to the game in the Eastern Front (EF) expansion is the Russian army. This is lovely, without doubt the nicest army in the M44 set. The tank models in particular are delightfully chunky, and are my favourite models in the entire range. The artillery models too are solid pieces that don't suffer from the frailty that was a common complaint aimed at the artillery models in the basic set.

Beyond adding a new army, the M44's EF expansion follows the Terrain Pack (TP) in providing rules for new terrain tiles, new medals, new obstacles, and for new unit badges.

New rules
The new rules in the EF expansion are twofold- special Russian command rules, and Blitz rules.

The Russian command rules make use of the Commissar chip- it seems that Richard Borg can no more resist the colourful lure of the Commissars of the Red Army than can anyone else! This rule aims to represent the way that the Russian command structure discouraged initiative on the part of junior commanders, and is very simple to use: the Russian player must select the Command card to be played 1 turn in advance. This is a nice simple rule whose effects I can see being quite acute in those situations in which you are trying to set up a good use of cards such as Close Assault or Armoured Assault.

The Blitz rules are a fix to represent the superiority of German armoured units in the early war years. Under the Blitz rules Allied armour units may only move 2 hexes. In addition German players can use 'Recon 1' cards to call in airstrikes.

New terrain tiles
The terrain tiles in the EF expansion are all themed to match the winter board. Some of them are simply winter-themed versions of tiles from the basic set or from the TP. Others are brand new terrain types. The latter category includes trenches, city ruins, ravine, hill with forest or village, frozen river, and factory complex.

Each of the new terrain types has simple variations on the rules with which regular players will already be familiar. For example city ruins are based on the rules for towns/villages, with the additions that they are only accessible to infantry, who may ignore the first flag in addition to the normal rules. Among all the new terrain types, a favourite has to be frozen rivers. A frozen river is passable, unlike a regular river, but at a risk: you have to roll 2 dice when a unit enters a frozen river hex. For each star that comes up, the unit loses a model!

New medals
Most of the new medals in the EF expansion are either completely obvious, or repeat material from the TP. The one completely new rule is the rule for camouflage, which is a nice addition to the range of options available to scenario designers.

New obstacles
The new obstacles added are field bunkers and dragon's teeth. The field bunkers are simply bunkers which can be used by either side. Dragon's teeth are the concrete anti-tank obstacles with which many readers will be familiar. These are both perfectly sensible additions to the range of obstacles available in the game. My only quibble is that I can't really understand why dragon's teeth don't offer flag protection to infantry units- hedgehogs do after all. Perhaps the designer was looking to differentiate the 2 obstacle types, although whether or not this makes sense I don't know.

New unit badges
Some of the more interesting additions the EF expansion provides to M44 are the unit badges. The new unit badges are: snipers, combat engineers, cavalry, and Finnish ski troops.

The sniper rules give a neat take on this unit type which was important on the battlefield, but which you might immediately think would be difficult nicely to represent at the scale of M44. Combining rules from a variety of sources, snipers are an infantry unit which can: move 1 or 2 and battle, including when they enter terrain that would otherwise prohibit fire by an infantry unit (special forces and French resistance, respectively); retreat up to 3 hexes per flag (French resistance again); have 1 battle dice- not against armour, and not reduced by terrain- with a range of 5 hitting on a symbol, grenade, or star (air strikes), with flags counting as normal. Snipers in turn can be hit only by grenades.

So that's 1 dice killing an infantry model 2/3 of the time and an artillery model 1/3 of the time. Add in that range of 5 and I can forsee cries of frustration as snipers zip around the board picking-off your artillery or finishing-off weakened units!

Combat engineers are another nice addition, representing units with flamethrowers and other special equipment. They don't suffer battle-dice reduction in close assault for the opponents' terrain, can battle and clear wire at the same time, and can clear minefields. All of which are capabilities I already wish I'd had at my disposal in previous scenarios!

Cavalry work as regular infantry units with the move and fire capabilities of armour- move up to 3 hexes and battle, but with reduced firepower- 2/1 dice at 1/2 hexes, as opposed to regular infantry's 3/2/1 at 1/2/3. In addition they can advance and battle again after a close assault just like armour. These rules nicely place cavalry between infantry and armour in terms of firepower and mobilty.

Finnish ski troops are even better than cavalry. They enjoy the same option to move 3 and battle, but with 3/2 dice at 1/2 hexes, and they can still battle after entering terrain that would normally prohibit infantry from battling. In addition ski troops can retreat 3 hexes/flag instead of the normal 1. The one serious weakness these highly mobile troops suffer from is that they only have 3 models, making them that bit more fragile in an extended firefight.

That's it for the new contents of the EF expansion. I'll be back soon to take a look at the PT box. ;)
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