Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Game Review: Memoir '44 Winter Wars

Memoir '44 – Winter Wars
  • Designer: Richard Borg
  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Players: 2
  • Times played: Six, against three different opponents
  • Price: $24.99 (pre-order from CoolStuff)
I am not an impartial reviewer when it comes to Memoir '44 – in fact, I'm not sure how anyone who hadn't played the game before could adequately review the newest expansion of this WWII Command & Colors game system. (If you need my curriculum vitae, you can read the opening paragraphs of my review of Memoir '44: Breakthrough from May of 2010.)

In short, I'm a huge fan of the game.
That said, even the long-time fans of Memoir '44 want to know whether the Winter Wars expansion – which focuses on the Battle of the Bulge (Unternehmen "Wacht am Rhein" to the German army) – is worth their hard-earned dollars...

In order to do that, I'll borrow the format from my previous Memoir '44 review and answer a number of questions, hopefully giving you enough information and opinion to make a good decision regarding Winter Wars.

Do I need to own a bunch of other expansions to play this expansion?

There are ten new scenarios included with this expansion:

  • Six standard scenarios that require only a single base game and Winter Wars to play... though the Winter/Desert Board will make them look a great deal nicer. (An aside: the Winter/Desert Board is possibly the least important expansion offered in the Memoir '44 system – it's purely cosmetic. Still, I find myself really enjoying that the board looks right and am glad I picked it up.)
  • Four Breakthrough scenarios that require a single base game, the Breakthrough maps expansion or the blank Breakthrough map from the Campaign Bag, a copy of the Eastern Front expansion (for more needed winter terrain) and, of course, Winter Wars.
What do I get?

The first thing you notice when you open the box is the chunk of terrain (80 double-sided tiles!) and the required badges and markers needed to play the scenarios in the booklet.
Then you realize that there's a lot of cards in there:
  • The 80-card Breakthrough command deck to be used specifically for Breakthrough scenarios (much like the Overlord specific deck found in that expansion)
  • The 20-card Winter Combat deck (which is similar to the urban combat deck that game with the Sword of Stalingrad battle map)
  • Various terrain, troop, action & special weapons assets rule cards
Are the scenarios balanced?

We played three of the regular scenarios and three of the Breakthrough scenarios and had only one complete blowout – which can be blamed mostly on the dice hating my opponent. The rest of the scenarios were nail-biters, usually won by 1 or 2 medals.

Another card deck? Really?

Actually, there are two more card decks.. Let me explain why I think both are wonderful additions to the game.
  • The Breakthrough deck changes both the card mix and adds a new type of Section order card: "On the Move." Those cards (Recon, Prove & Attack) allow you to do your normal move/attack for the stated number of units while also allowing you to move 1-3 other units anywhere on the board but without attacking. With the longer boards, this fluidity of movement allows you to bring units into action (or retreat them to safety) while still maintaining your offensive... a welcome addition to the Breakthrough method of playing Memoir '44 that I and the other players liked a great deal.
  • The Winter Combat cards are additional cards that are played alongside your Command card (or in response to events on the board) that add some interesting twists to the game. You receive two to start the game and receive a new one every time you play a Recon card. (This mechanism for bringing these special effect cards into the game means that players with lots of "slower" cards get Winter Command cards as a way to level the playing field while making the cards more rare for players with "better" hands.)
A Few Stray Thoughts
  • The "Reduced Visibility" rules are brutal... and yet do a great job of reflecting the reality on the ground in December of 1944. When these are in effect (in most of the scenarios here), unit symbols rolled do NOT count unless you are in Close Assault, requiring you to engage at close quarters in order achieve maximum fire power.
  • The Breakthrough deck cards have the same back as the original Command deck, allowing you to seed them into regular scenarios. (I think this is unwise, as it would allow too much freedom of movement on the smaller boards, but your mileage may vary.)
  • The rulebook does an excellent job of clearly defining the various objective-based victory conditions – and adding some we haven't seen before. (Sudden Death victory, anyone?!)
  • I haven't had the opportunity to try the Breakthrough deck with the scenarios from the original Breakthrough expansion – I'm looking forward to it, though!
My recommendation

While the Breakthrough expansion is aimed at the hardcore Memoir '44 player and a lion's share of the cards included in Winter Wars are specifically for Breakthrough scenarios, I think Winter Wars has an appeal beyond the hardcore fanbase. Since more than half of the included scenarios can be played with the base game and this expansion, players less invested in the system can still get a lot of bang for their buck with the scads of new terrain and Winter Combat cards.

At the same time, as a long-time Memoir '44 fan, I've been most excited about the Breakthrough deck and think it ratchets up my high opinion of the Breakthrough maps expansion even more.

Once again, Richard Borg (and Days of Wonder) have managed to create an expansion that adds tactical and strategic depth without adding undue complexity. I should not be surprised – this is a game system that has been lovingly and carefully expanded. Thanks, guys!

This review appeared originally on BGN & is republished w/the kind permission of W. Eric Martin, my long-suffering editor.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Heroscape: It's Been a Great Six Years

Here's what I wrote back in September of 2004, not long after Frank "Moo" Branham dropped me a line & told me to go see what Hasbro had put out to the mass market.
There's a lot more here than just pretty bits - but it's still easy to get lost in the "shock & awe" of the massive brick of terrain and the great figures. Under girding that, however, is two solid game systems (basic & master), fast gameplay, a perfect sense of playing to it's audience (throwing together LOTR, the Matrix, Viking hordes, dragons, the Terminator films), and the ability to create a wide variety of interesting scenarios.

This is what Duel of Ages or Epic Duels want to be when they grow up.
Heroscape was all that & more... and now it's dead.

Well, as Mark Twain once (purportedly) said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Because, unless Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast has manufactured the terrain out of some kind of special plastic that they can detonate by remote control and/or they've hired the Taelord & the Minions of Utgar to swoop down on game rooms 'round the world and steal back the stacks of miniatures, we can still play this wonderful game. (BTW, this would be the most effective use of Taelord & the Minions. In other news, Taelord & the Minions would make a great rock band name.)

Don't get me wrong - I'm sad to see it go. I'll be getting one last box (D&D Heroscape Wave 3) in a couple of weeks & then the new stuff will stop rolling in. My oldest son & I had a wish for figures that needed to be created (pirates! cowboys & Indians on horseback! gelatinous cube! biker gangs! civil war squads! more scary bugs for Aquilla!) that will only see the light of day now as fan-created mods.

Still, it was an amazing run:
  • 4 Master box sets
  • 13 waves of small figures
  • 3 boxes of large figures
  • 4 boxes of special terrain

I even got to have a small part in it - I was one of the playtesters for "hot lava death" and the surrounding figure waves. (That was fun - although the NDA [non-disclosure agreement] Hasbro required myself & my game group to sign is literally the ONLY legal document I've ever signed for playtesting.)

Thanks to Craig, Rob, Stephen & a host of other folks for creating & shepherding this wonderful game along. You can read more about them and about the "death" of Heroscape in an excellent post by Truth on his site,

Anyone want to play? Braeden & I are trying to figure out how to build a swamp map with two Marro Hives!