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Great tabletop games for video gamers: Memoir ’44

This ongoing series covers tabletop board or card games that video gamers should dig. Check here for more.


Memoir ’44

Video games that Memoir ’44 reminds us of: Advance Wars

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • # of players: 2 (expandable to 8 with multiple sets)
  • Cost: $60
  • To learn: Simple. The instruction manual is short and easy to read, but the line-of-sight rules, while not difficult, may trip some people up.
  • To play: Very easy, with quick turns. Setting up, however, takes a little time.
  • Noteworthy: Memoir ’44 commemorates World War II with scenarios based on real-world skirmishes.

You might’ve played war with little green army men when you were a kid. You might’ve seen gamers pushing around and battling cool figurines on detailed 3D landscapes at the local board game store but thought that was just a bit too much for you. Or you might be a fan of light tactical-strategy games like Nintendo’s Advance Wars series.

Well, then, do I have a board game for you.

Memoir ’44 is not a new release — it’s been around for nearly a decade now. But it has remained prolific in its class because of its accessibility, ease of play, quick turns, and short sessions. And because you get to play with little green army men.

This wargame simulates various real-world skirmishes from World War II and boasts historical accuracy, if you care about such things. But if learning isn’t what you’re here for, that’s fine. Memoir ’44 simply uses history for its backdrop and settings, and as such, it has an amazing amount of variety. The base game alone comes with 16 replayable scenarios for an Allied player to go head-to-head against an Axis counterpart, including “Omaha Beach” and “The Liberation of Paris.”

These different missions use unique setups between the available units (infantry, tanks, and artillery — including elite versions such as the U.S. Rangers or British Airborne), the two different sides of the board (one beachfront, one all grasslands), and various terrain tiles or plastic pieces that modify the field (rivers, villages, forests, hills, bunkers, barbed wire, sandbags, etc.). It may seem like a lot to keep track of, but handy reference cards and streamlined rules keep things simple.

Battles are as simple as they are in Advance Wars: Just roll a few dice and apply the damage to the defending squad (each plastic figure is, in essence, a hit point). Terrain, distance, and unit types matter, but the math is never complicated. (It’s almost unfair to call it “math” because it’s so easy.)

In fact, the most intimidating part of playing Memoir ’44 is just setting it up. It’s easy and quick to play, but placing all the tiles and troops is a little more time-consuming and will remind you why video games still do some things better than their board game counterparts.

Memoir '44

Above: Different WWII scenarios call for different board setups. One even has you “paradropping” infantry pieces down onto the board to determine their starting spots.

Image Credit: Days of Wonder

These customizable maps combined with the different terrain tiles and obstacles are ambitious enough, with endless possibilities for player creations if they don’t want to use the included scenarios. Going back to the Advance Wars connection, it’s like using that game’s map maker, only easier with physical components.

Publisher Days of Wonder, however, didn’t stop with one base game and currently offers an impressive 17 (!!) add-ons for the Memoir series. These cover different theaters of war (such as the Pacific or Mediterranean) and offer more terrain (winter, desert, etc.) and different military units (check out the awesome Equipment Pack in the image gallery below to see the ultimate in fulfilling those childhood army-men fantasies). Crazier still, Days of Wonder has released hardcover books with new scenarios for existing sets. Who knew that World War II could supply so much material for one game series?

Bottom line: Memoir ’44 is fast-paced and won’t intimidate anyone looking to explore the world of tactical-strategy games. Expansion opportunities seem limitless, too, which is trouble for anyone who enjoys playing “war.”

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