Remembering 1944 – Memoir ’44

memoir 44 boxJune 6th, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, better known to many as D-Day. It remains the largest seaborne invasion in history, mounting up huge numbers of casualties on both sides. In honor of those who participated in the event, and to honor all veterans during Memorial day, I felt it appropriate to mention here two of the best and most accessible boardgames focused on World War 2.

It may seem strange to some to honor veterans by reviewing games based around the battles of World War 2, perhaps belittling or lessening the importance and impact of those battles. However, for most wargamers, playing scenarios about famous battles helps one to understand the history of the events. Some might find it to be particularly appropriate, as wargames are a way to preserve in memory the heroic actions and personal sacrifices of the men and women involved.

For those interested in having a deeper understanding of some of the events and battles of World War 2, I will go over two game systems that consistently rise to the top of the crowd for easy to learn rules and engaging play. Today we’ll look at the Memoir ‘44 series, published by Days of Wonder, which has more streamlined rules and some very eye-catching plastic pieces. Tomorrow we’ll check out the Conflict of Heroes series which has heavy duty cardboard pieces and slightly more detailed rules, such as flanking and interrupting movement.

Memoir ‘44

In the basic game of Memoir ‘44, troops are limited to infantry, tanks, and artillery. A group of troops occupies one hexagon on the board with 4 infantry figures, three tank figures, or two artillery figures. A unit that takes damage removes one of their figures, but still fight at full strength until the last figure is removed. Each unit has slightly different abilities (infantry can move through more terrain, tanks are more mobile, and artillery can attack at greater distances.)

The game is played on a wide game board consisting of large hexagons. The board is also divided into three sections. Players use a deck of cards to recreate the difficulty of command communications during the heat of battle. On one’s turn, a player chooses one of their cards for their action. These actions typically allow a number of units to “activate” on a specific section of the board, although there are special cards that cause all infantry to “activate” or similar special effects. Activated units can then move and fire on the opponent. For each attack, a number of dice are rolled based on several factors including: terrain, range, and the type of attacking unit. Symbols on the dice represent each of the three types of units (including one wildcard symbol) – rolling a symbol matching the type of the defending unit will cause the defender to lose one figurine, possibly eliminating that unit. At the end of a turn, a player draws a new card and then waits for the counterattack.

Players take turns playing cards until certain conditions are met. This is typically achieving a set number of victory points – either by occupying strategic hexagons or by eliminating units. Other scenarios may have a set turn limit. While Memoir ‘44 is admittedly a very simplified wargame, it does a remarkable job of simulating many of the more famous battles in World War 2.

Memoir 44 Base Game

The base game – on the beachhead side of the board

The “basic” Memoir ‘44 game box is required to play any of the many scenarios or expansions, and gamers can derive many good hours of play going through the learning scenarios (which slowly introduce new units and terrain types to the mix.) However, players wishing to delve more deeply into areas of the war or want a more detailed simulation of specific battles can acquire one or more of the many available expansions.

Before mentioning the expansions, it would be good to point out one unique style of play – an Overlord scenario. These are games where two of the basic game boards are placed side by side to create a double-wide, giant battle. To best experience these battles it is handy to have either a second copy of the base game or some of the army pack expansions (or both). For those on the economy side of things, there is a less expensive Operation Overlord supplement that contains many cardboard stand-ins for the various units so that budget gamers can still play some overlord scenarios.

Army Packs:

Several expansions consist primarily of new plastic pieces to represent either new figures or forces fielded from new countries. (The core game has figures representing most common German and American forces.) Each of these expansion Army Packs contain about 60-80 figures, new counters to label variations on the basic unit figures, and new rules for both the units and their associated country. The available Army Packs (running $25-$30) include:
Eastern Front – This expansion focuses on battles between Russia and the Axis forces (although there is even a Russian vs Finnish scenario and a giant overlord tank battle centered on Kursk.)
Pacific Theater – As one might expect, this contains a set of Japanese figures as well as rules and cardboard markers to designate some figures as special units such as US Marines or Japanese Special Forces.
Mediterranean Theater – This is a set of figures for the British army as well as scenarios and special terrain and unit markers specific to the desert theater.
Equipment Pack – Larger (186 figures total) and more expensive than the others, the Equipment Pack doesn’t contain country-specific forces. It contains a large number of more unique units in a generic white colors. Most of these units are represented in other add-ons to the game as cardboard modifiers, but this expansion lets players use physically accurate figures instead. Included is a set of scenarios that heavily feature many of the units in the expansion.

memoir 44 equipment pack

The pieces in the Equipment Pack

Other expansions:

These expansions (in the $20-$25 range) focus on new rules, cards, and tokens rather than additional plastic figures. Both the Terrain and Winter Wars packs also contain new scenarios that take advantage of the new additions.
Terrain Pack – The first Memoir ‘44 expansion published focuses almost entirely on new terrain options with a wealth of new hexagons that can be placed on top of the hexagons on the board to create new battle layouts.
Winter Wars – As one would expect, new winter themed troop tokens, terrain, and scenarios with a winter flavor. Also contains a set of winter-themed combat cards that can be added to the main order deck. The scenarios focus on Christmas in the Ardennes and a large layout of the Battle of the Bulge.
Operation Overlord – As mentioned, this is a relatively inexpensive expansion that can be used (if one has a second game board) to play many of the overlord scenarios. Cardboard tokens are provided to substitute for entire units if you do not have access to a second base game. Also included is an updated set of rules for overlord scenarios and two sets of order decks redesigned for Overlord style games.

memoir 44 operation overlord

Operation Overlord tokens and cards

Game Boards:

While the provided game boards can be easily modified with many extra hexagonal terrain tiles, there are several game board maps available to help add realism to one’s game. The Winter/Desert Map (about $15) has yellow desert on one side and white snow hexes on the back. Several scenarios take advantage of the two settings including a set of linked campaign scenarios to be played in series. The Breakthrough Kit (about $25) is actually two double-sided maps (featuring desert, snow, grass, and beachhead) that are taller than they are wide. This allows for very “deep” games where players battle much longer distances than in the standard maps. Releasing in the very near future is the D-Day Landings (about $30) set of maps. This expansion contains six of the extra-long maps representing six areas of the D-Day landings. They can even be combined in twos, threes, or even all six maps to make an unreal sized giant D-Day battle. (Depending on your collection, you may need some stand-in figures…)

memoir 44 d-day mega game

All 6 D-Day expansion maps combined.


The final set of maps are the Battle Maps (about $20 each). These are large color maps (Overlord style) each representing a single specific battle. They’re printed on paper (rather than standard boards), but the best thing about them lies in the pre-printed terrain and even the locations ofhte starting units. This makes setup a breeze (compared to slightly more fiddly setups using other large maps and terrain that has to be placed on the board.) While not exactly a quick game (expect an hour or two) having everything preprinted on the map makes it seem like there’s hardly any setup time at all. Each map typically has something “extra” either via special rules or even new unit figures in some cases. The maps available include: Hedgerow Hell, Tigers in the Snow, Sword of Stalingrad, and Disaster at Dieppe. I highly recommend them to players who can fit them in their budget (or perhaps have more money than time…)

memoir 44 disaster at dieppe

The preprinted Disaster at Dieppe layout.

Additional Scenarios:

Finally, we come to the extra scenarios. There are many user-made scenarios (some “approved” by powers that be, and others just floating out there) that are available at the Days of Wonder web site. However, the most intriguing set of new scenarios are those found as part of a “Campaign”. These are a series of linked scenarios where success or failure in one battle will go on to affect the starting conditions of the next. Some of the fancier campaigns may even have a branching structure to them. Players keep track of their performance across all the battles to determine an overall winner at the end of the series. Several “mini-campaigns” are available for free download at the Days of Wonder site, but those looking for more substantive campaigns should check out the Campaign Volumes (1 & 2). Each has several different campaigns, complete with new rules for running campaigns – the campaigns contained in the book include a wide variety of units and battlegrounds. Volume 1 contains 12 campaigns, many of which can be played with only the base game, while other (Russian battles) require the Eastern Front and the terrain pack. One smaller campaign requires the Air Pack expansion, but that’s out of print and hard to find. Only 1 in 12 is not a bad deal. Volume 2 has campaigns that include the Pacific Theater expansion and many of the campaigns require access to the Terrain Pack. A few campaigns require the extra-long “breakthrough boards” and one requires the Air Pack again. However, since that is hard to find, the book contains a link to find the Air Rules online.

Examples from Campaign volume 1

Example campaign tracker from volume 1

Air Pack – As mentioned, there is an Air Pack expansion that brings in special events and situations for the use of Air Power into scenarios. This expansion had a master rulebook of many of the previously published scenarios (in the base game, etc…) with slight improvements. I also contained some plastic airplane miniatures as well as a large number of air-attack related cardboard counters for use in the game. It is no longer in print, so it is hard to find and rather pricey on the secondhand market.


Memoir ‘44 is a very easy to learn game system for modeling individual WW2 battles. In fact, when it was first published there was a raging debate on whether it was a true wargame or a more general boardgame. I don’t have an opinion either way, but I am frequently amazed at how such a simple game system can manage to faithfully recreate such a large number of WW2 battles. As a gaming dad, I appreciate the straightforward rules and the fast playing time. While he usually won’t win if I’m playing aggressively, my 1st grade son has a firm enough grasp of the rules to have fun following the rules and moving his pieces around. I expect in a year or two he’ll be able to be a significant challenge. I look forward to the day when I can con his friends into a 6 or 8 man Overlord game. I can’t give the game much higher marks than that.

One Response to “Remembering 1944 – Memoir ’44”

  1. I seldom comment, however I read some of the remarks on this page GamerDad: Gaming with

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