Friday, May 21, 2010

Game Review: Memoir ‘44: Breakthrough

Memoir '44: Breakthrough
  • Designers: Richard Borg & Jacques David
  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Players: 2
  • Ages: 8+
  • Playing Time: 60 minutes
  • Rules Language: English & French
  • Price: $30 retail
  • Version played: Comped review copy
  • Times played: Five, against two different opponents
Let’s start this review by making sure that my bias towards Memoir ‘44 is clear – I own two copies of the base game, plus a copy of every expansion (two copies of Eastern Front) ... and I even own a Campaign Bag. I am, frankly, the bull’s-eye of the target audience for the Memoir ‘44: Breakthrough expansion, so it’s probably not a surprise that I consider getting 15 new scenarios, plus two huge, double-sided mounted maps to enable me to play larger battles a very positive step for the franchise.

With that established, let’s get on to some important questions about Breakthrough

Will Breakthrough make me like Memoir ‘44 more?

That depends on your opinion of Memoir ‘44 and Richard Borg’s Command & Colors system before you play with the expansion:
  • If you don’t like Memoir ‘44, this is not going to change your mind. The scenarios are a bit longer and offer some new tactical and strategic considerations, but you still play orders from a limited hand and roll a lot of dice.
  • If you love Memoir ‘44, this will simply add to your admiration for the system. The greater depth of the boards gives rise to meatier scenarios.
  • If you’re on the fence about Memoir ‘44 – if you like the idea but have been put off by the short scenario length or the “race to X medals” method of victory – Breakthrough may well change your mind. The expansion includes multiple scenarios with victory conditions based on objectives rather than medals, and the larger board means that battles have more time to develop. (I would suggest that fence-sitters also check out the Campaign Book Vol. 1, which connects multiple scenarios together to deal with these same issues.)
Do I need to own a bunch of other expansions to play this expansion?

This has been a subject of much debate as information about the game and the included scenarios has become public knowledge. Thanks to Stig Morten’s post over on BoardGameGeek, there’s a comprehensive list of which scenarios require particular pieces. If you want to use the “correct” figures, unit badges & terrain, you need to have two copies of the base game and of Eastern Front, plus one copy of each expansion other than the Sword of Stalingrad map, the Overlord boxed expansion & the Campaign Bag. (Remember I said that I was the dream customer for this expansion.)

However, if you are unwilling or unable to fork out the cash required to obtain roughly 25 lbs. of WWII gaming goodness – yep, that’s what my Campaign Bag weighs now – you can still play most of the scenarios included in the expansion. Two base games and a Terrain Pack are enough to allow you to play 7 of the 15 scenarios. The Overlord map figures are needed for only three scenarios (two with the supply trucks and one with the Tiger tanks).

What do I get?

It’s pretty straightforward: two double-sided nine-panel boards and a book of 15 scenarios. The quality of both is (as usual for Memoir ‘44) excellent, though there will be some clarifying done on the Days of Wonder site for some of the scenarios due to having only a half-page per scenario for description and special rules. (The scenario book is printed in English & French side-by-side.)

There is a specific warning about the boards on the cover of the scenario book; because this is as large as they can print given current technology, the boards are not reinforced along the edges and so require careful handling. I’ve played five games with my copy and haven’t experienced any problems.

Are the scenarios balanced?

That’s an excellent question… and not one I’m qualified to answer after playing five of them one time each. We did play two amphibious landing scenarios, and both of them seem to lean toward the defenders. (Of course, that’s true of most of the beach scenarios throughout Memoir ‘44.) One of my gaming partners – he and I have played 30+ games of Memoir together – was on the losing end of three Breakthrough battles. He commented that he wasn’t sure about the balance, but that the scenarios were a blast to play even when things went entirely wrong for him.

Other miscellaneous thoughts
  • Most of these scenarios have a longer set-up time than the average Memoir ‘44 scenario, which isn’t surprising with the board being roughly equivalent to two base game boards.
  • Hand management is, if anything, even more important than in the base game. With the longer board, it’s much easier to strand units.
  • While only one of the scenarios requires the airplanes, they are an option in about half the scenarios – but the increased size of the board makes using the planes effectively more difficult.
  • I really like that they included scenarios like Operation: Crusader (the British attack to reconnect with Tobruk in North Africa), which is on a scale similar to the Market Garden Overlord scenario (in the Tigers in the Snow map pack).
My recommendation

I believe that this expansion is aimed at the hardcore Memoir ‘44 player. There are scenarios here that finally put roads to real use (since traversing the battlefield is much more important with the larger board), in addition to incorporating a greater use of the Terrain Pack and various special rules from the troop expansions.

However, I think that the Breakthrough expansion may prove to be a “gateway” of sorts for those with a background in wargaming to give Memoir ‘44 a second chance.

The real strong point of the expansion is that Jacques David and Richard Borg (and Days of Wonder) have managed to create an expansion that adds tactical and strategic depth without adding undue complexity.

I look forward to playing the rest of the scenarios and enjoying the ones that Days of Wonder posts online.

This review (written by me!) is reprinted from BGN with the kind permission of the editor, W. Eric Martin. You should click through to the site & read a lot more stuff about this wonderful hobby of ours!


Paul Tevis said...

I'd love to play some of this at Meeplefest this year, if we get a chance.

Alfred said...

Better put than mine on the subject, and with the same conclusion...clearly brilliant!