Two board games promise World War II adventures — Memoir ’44, from Days of Wonder and Tide of Iron: Stalingard from 1A Games. Just how much fun are the tactical battles these games offer? Let's take a look.
The D-Day invasion of France is the setting for Memoir ’44, a light war game that re-creates epic engagements like the 1944 battles for Omaha Beach, the Pegasus Bridge and Operation Cobra. Two players take on the role of either the American Army or the German Wehrmacht in a host of scenarios. The game board is two-sided, representing green fields on one side and the beaches of Normandy on the other. Additionally, per each scenario, players place hex tiles over the hex board spaces to simulate terrain like hills, forests and towns.
The board is also divided into three sections, a center and each player's respective right and left flanks. Per scenario, each player is dealt a number of command cards that allow players to move units in one of these sections, or tactic cards with special abilities such as an artillery barrage or airstrike. Units are comprised of infantry (four plastic models), armor (three models) or artillery (two models). When units are activated by command cards, they can move and fire and roll a number of dice based on distance to the target and any other mitigating factors like terrain.
Rather than being numbered, the dice feature pictures of the specific units, and if that picture comes up, a hit is scored, and one of the models is removed from the defending unit. Units retreat one space for every flag rolled. When the last model in the unit is destroyed, the opposing player claims it and places it before him as a victory medal. When a player reaches a set number of medals per scenario, he wins the game.
Memoir ’44 is an extremely light war game that effectively integrates its World War II theme, though designer Richard Borg's engine has been successfully used in other war games such as GMT Games' Command and Colors and Fantasy Flight Games' Battles of Westeros and Battlelore. Experienced war gamers may be turned off by Memoir ’44's simplicity and the limitations that the cards place upon tactics.
Nevertheless, Memoir ’44 is undeniably a lot of fun. It is a relatively quick combat game that leaves players on their toes from start to finish. Players who don't have the time and inclination for heavier war games or those new to the hobby will love this game's straight-forward mechanics and engaging historical theme. Memoir ’44 is the kind of game that builds tension and, like all great games, forces players to make decisions, often choosing the best of many bad options.
The scenario setups at the back of the rulebook also offer historical overviews of the battles, allowing players to learn important history as they play the game. It's always cool when you can learn something from a game, and you will walk away from Memoir ’44 a little bit smarter than when you started. You will also walk away with a big smile and great gaming stories to talk about with your opponent.
Team play can also be used in Memoir ’44, adding to the fun. Recommended for ages 8 and up, playing time varies with scenario.
Tide of Iron: Stalingrad
A bit more complex than Memoir ’44 is 1A Games' Tide of Iron: Stalingrad. Originally released by Fantasy Flight Games, Tide of Iron is a grand World War II tactical game that spawned three expansions from North Africa to Normandy to the Russian front. Last spring, 1A Games acquired the license to print Tide of Iron and its existing expansions, and now 1A Games has released its first original expansion, which covers the horror and drama of the Second World War's largest battle.
TOI: Stalingrad takes the core rules from the original TOI and offers new, inventive scenarios and game play. To simulate the gritty city fighting of the battle, TOI: Stalingrad introduces elevations (floors) for buildings, movement through sewers, snipers and more. Railroad tracks, collapsed buildings and bombarded terrain all add to the theme of the desperate battle.
The TOI system allows two players to place plastic infantry units such as riflemen, machine-gunners, mortar crews and officers upon bases as they take on the role of the German Wehrmacht or Soviet Red Army. Players can also specialize units and turn them into assault engineers, mounted troops and political commissars, each with their own unique abilities. This squad creation aspect is a lot of fun and comes in useful during combat. Players also have the ability to draw special cards to aid them in combat.
In battle, players have a certain number of actions each turn, selecting units to move and fight, and must pay attention to range, line of sight and terrain. Dice are used in combat, with attackers rolling for hits and defenders rolling for cover, if any. TOI: Stalingrad's unique scenarios are where this game really shines. “The Iron Horsemen” offer a mad dash to the center of the board for both sides with only infantry units, while “Shot for Shot” and “Terminal Station” offer heavier battles with armor units and varied infantry. Additionally, TOI: Stalingrad offers a campaign mode with evolving units over the course of several scenarios.
Not only is TOI: Stalingrad a worthy expansion to Fantasy Flight Games' original game, it may be the best TOI expansion yet. The new units, abilities, terrain and scenarios will suck players in, and like Memoir ’44, they will walk away with a better appreciation for the men who fought the Second World War.
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Also, 1A Games has announced that in addition to a reprint of the original TOI in a smaller package (the Fantasy Flight Games version was offered in a long box), future TOI expansions are in the works. An expansion pitting the U.S. Marine Corps against the Japanese empire is up next — a cause for celebration considering TOI: Stalingrad's achievement.
Tide of Iron: Stalingrad is recommended for players ages 13 and up. Like Memoir ’44, team play is also an option and play time varies with each scenario.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages, including Hale Centre Theatre and Off Broadway Theatre. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org