Game Review: Memoir ’44 Campaign Book, Volume Two

Any review of an expansion is, by definition, aimed at those who’ve either already played the game or are interested in seeing if they’re willing to invest in a game system that’s popular enough to spawn an expansion or two.

In the case of the Memoir ’44 Campaign Book (Volume Two), this is actually the 16th published expansion for this particular version of Richard Borg’s Command & Colors system… so I’m guessing that the vast majority of you reading the review already have some level of experience with Memoir ’44 and mainly have a few questions about the book.

What is a campaign?

The Campaign Books (along with the additional web-released campaigns, The Vercors Campaign & The Audie Murphy Campaign) offer a way to chain Memoir ’44 scenarios together in order to experience a series of battles or, well, campaign. Two added game mechanics (Reserve & Victory Rolls) combine with scenario & campaign specific effects to give a unique feel to each series of battles & reward the victor with some “spoils of war” to enhance his chances in the next battle. Some of the campaigns offer optional “What If?” rolls that can vary the campaign in more drastic ways.

Campaigns vary in length – usually 4-6 battles… and there are Grand Campaigns as well, which tie together multiple campaigns to cover larger sections of World War Two.

What expansions do I need to use this book?

Obviously, you need a copy of the Memoir ’44 base game. Beyond that:

  • The Island Hoppers Grand Campaign (which consists of four campaigns: Guadalcanal, Marshall Islands, Marianas & Palau Islands and Home Islands) requires a copy of the Pacific Theater expansion.
  • The Bicycle Blitzkrieg & Fall of Poland campaigns require tiles from the Terrain Pack expansion (though you could do without those in a pinch). Of course, the Bicycle Blitzkrieg campaign would look nicer if you had the Japanese troops from the Pacific Theater expansion.
  • The Break Through Normandy Grand Campaign requires the Breakthrough map boards (which could also be the paper Breakthrough map from the Campaign Bag) as well as tiles from the Terrain Pack (in such quantity that would be a bit tougher to “fake” your way through). Though not required, it would also be great to have a copy of the Winter Wars expansion for the Break Through command card deck – the extra fluidity of movement makes the Break Through scenarios flow better.
  • The Air Aces campaign requires the Air Pack expansion.

Wait a minute, I thought the Air Pack was out of print… why did Days of Wonder include a campaign in a new book for something that’s difficult to acquire?!

Eric Hautemont explained in the Memoir ’44 forums on the Days of Wonder website:

No, we have no plans to reprint the Air Pack (in this form or any other), as the costs to do so would be prohibitive.

The reason we went ahead and included this (small) Air Aces campaign at the end of Volume 2 is because the other campaigns in the book ran longer than initially planned, so we had to increase the page count in this volume 2 from 112 pages to 128 pages (due to the way pages are bound, the page count in a book like this go up in 16 pages increments).

The Air Aces campaign was short enough to fit in the few remaining pages we had, so we added it in as a bonus for people that own the Air Pack.

For those of you that were not able to acquire the Air Pack while in print, we will post a free PDF of the Air Rules on our web site at the same time the Campaign Book volume 2 ships.

Do I need the first Campaign Book (Volume One) in order to use this one?

Nope… the Campaign & Grand Campaign rules work the same way in both books. What you’re getting is 46 new scenarios tied together into 11 different campaigns.

So, what do you think?

I’ve managed to play portions of the Break Through Normandy, Bicycle Blitzkrieg & Air Aces campaigns before writing this review – and the only thing keeping me from playing more of them is willing opponents & free time. So far, all of the campaigns have interesting challenges to offer new & experienced Memoir ’44 players:

  • the parachute drop scenarios at the opening of Break Through Normandy have some of the “wonder where we’ll land?” craziness of the earliest paratroop scenarios – but when played out on the Breakthrough mapboard, the scattering of forces becomes a more difficult challenge. (Take a hint from my son’s mistakes and consolidate your forces before lunging for victory point objectives. My German forces easily cleared out lone paratroop units for the win.)
  • the Bicycle Blitzkrieg throws an overwhelming number of Japanese troops at beleaguered British defenders… and only by careful management of your limited resources can you hold them off long enough. (I did not manage to do this… my other son is stomping me in this campaign.)
  • the Air Aces campaign is not like any other campaign previously published – the focus here is on either completing feats of derring-do with your air ace or, if you don’t have the ace in the scenario, ending the battle as quickly as possible so as not to allow the ace to accomplish his mission. I have some questions about the balance of some of the scenarios… but they are undeniably fun to play.

I’m extremely pleased with variety of theaters of operation – it’s nice to have both Pacific & European campaigns. (And, much as I’m loath to admit it, it’s good to have a break from Russian scenarios. I always end up being the guy having to struggle with the Comissar.)

I especially appreciate the suggestions in the rules for “making do” if you don’t have a particular expansion. (Example: the paratroop drop scenarios both use the Night rules… but offer an alternate way to have the same effect if you don’t own the Night rules board.) This is a nice touch for those who don’t have 28 lbs. of Memoir ’44 in the collection. (Yes, that’s how much my collective pile weighs. I count taking Memoir ’44 to game night as exercise.)

Do I need to own this?

For the Memoir ’44 collector, this is a no-brainer. There are 46 new scenarios stuffed into a nice hardbound book – what’s not to like?!

The barrier to entry for this campaign is actually lower than Volume 1… owning the base game as well the Pacific Theater & Terrain Pack expansions will enable you to play 6 of the 11 included campaigns. And anything that encourages more people to try and/or invest in the Breakthrough maps is a good thing – I continue to stand by my earlier reviews. If you enjoy Memoir ’44, you’ll love the Breakthrough scenarios (esp. with the use of the Breakthrough deck in the Winter Wars expansion pack).

Finally, while I am enjoying the Air Aces campaign, I don’t think it’s necessary to pay the over-the-top OOP prices for a copy of the Air Pack in order to make Volume 2 a worthy purchase. It’s an excellent addition even without it. (I do hope, however, that Days of Wonder sees fit to print the reference cards in some other format for new players.)

A review copy was provided by Days of Wonder to this reviewer. Some of the information in this review comes from a game preview for BGN written by this reviewer.

Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I was really well impressed by this Campaign book. I’m not still been able to play all the campaigns enough to offer a real review but the impressions are at all positive. I really liked the Break Through Normandy Grand Campaign: I think breakthrough maps and scenarios are one of the best expansions to Memoir’44 offering a much more deep and strategical experience and this first campaign using these maps is excellent. The breakthrough deck in the winter wars exp. is something you need to get the best experience. Of course this book is a must buy for Memoir’44 addicted but also something challenging for gamers trying to make the first steps in Memoir’44 Campaign rules.
A review copy was provided by Days of Wonder to me.

Matt Carlson:  I suspect I’m even more time-limited than Adrea and Mark, so have also not played through the entire book (or even as much of it as I have expansions for… I don’t have a complete collection)  however I always appreciate access to more campaigns.  Linking battles together over time adds to my enjoyment and allows me to play a “larger” picture game in smaller time increments.  Campaign book 2 is 16 pages longer than book 1, so diehard fans should consider it as “Now, with 15% more book!”.  Given the time and opportunity to play, I welcome any new campaigns to try out.

A Memoir completist will obviously pick this expansion up, but what about those of us who are picking and choosing components?  I have neither the breakthrough maps nor the breakthrough deck (which, strangely, comes in an expansion separate from the boards) since breakthrough scenarios eliminate one of the biggest strengths of the Memoir system – its short playing time.  (I have the Overlord bits, as they add a new dimension when played with more players even though the game length is extended.)   The three key expansions required for the game seem to be the Pacific Islands, Air Pack, and Breakthrough boards (w/ optional deck).  For gamers with at least two of those three expansions, I feel the book gives good value.

Personally, if I hadn’t been been provided a review copy, I would have been satisfied with the first Campaign book.  I consider Memoir ‘44 to be one of several games on my short-list favorite games, and simply don’t have the time (or money for all the expansions) to invest in another campaign book.  It is great for what it does, but I suspect more moderate Memoir gamers will get plenty of value out of just one of the two campaign books.  For me, my collection seems to fit better with the campaigns included in the first book.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!…Mark Jackson, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
I like it…  Matt Carlson
Not for me…

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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