This isn’t the Memoir ’44 after-action report that I’d hoped to pen tonight, but it will have to do.
As disappointed as I was to cancel our weekend M44 event, it was the right choice — while I am on the mend I had very little energy today, and it rained, too, which would have cramped my plans to set up our games outdoors. But not wanting to completely surrender, I set up a game with Jack out on the garage … and it was all I could do to play it to completion. This illness has still got its hooks in me.
“Breakthrough to Gembloux!” is the single scenario provided with the hideously overproduced Memoir ’44 Campaign Bag, and I’ve wanted to try this setup for some time. Not because of the situation, which sees a bunch of German tanks rolling over the Frenchies (fun as far as that goes, but nothing we haven’t seen before), but because this is a “breakthrough” format scenario, which means it alters the layout of the map (being narrower and deeper than a standard M44 scenario), and requires that the attacking side get off the far end of the map if they are to win. My hope was that a deeper play field and a maneuver victory condition would introduce new dimensions to a game that can be kind-of “bang, you’re dead,” thanks to flag-hunt victory conditions that require a lot of boom-and-zoom that doesn’t always feel like World War 2.
Did it succeed?
My first impression was that Breakthrough format isn’t superior to base M44 so much as it is longer. Longer to set up (even with pre-printed terrain on the map, there are still a pile of units), and longer to play — our game pushed ninety minutes, roughly twice as long as we usually go.
The first part of our scenario was familiar stuff — attritional combat all along the line, with the Germans getting off their baseline and sticking it to my French but good. I pulled back as best I could, setting a new defensive line with my infantry thanks to “Dig In” while bringing up my tanks to form a reserve.
Now, wait a second. There are a couple things you don’t see in this game all that often — things like reserves, retreats, and multiple phases of the game. The deeper board gave shattered defenders a place to run away, and the larger scenario immediately implied there would be more than one “part.” In fact, our game had three acts — the initial period where the Germans were coming and I was running, a middle act which saw a massive tank battle in the open plains in the middle of the board, and a final act where the last, exhausted remnants of the German advance tried to knock aside the hasty defense my infantry had thrown up in front of the exit hex.
the Memoir 44 Breakthrough expansion adds mounted breakthrough maps and new scenarios
That third act is worth looking at in detail. It happened only because of the exit dependency in the victory conditions, which awards victory to the first player scoring twelve medals, one of which (for the Germans) must come from exiting the map. Jack got to twelve just with kills but he had to keep going to get off the map. This freed me up to attack with a lot of one-strength units that I had been harboring in the back of the map — I couldn’t lose the game due to unit losses no matter what happened — and so we had a unique endgame where shattered survivors of the initial attack “rallied” and got back into the fight, which doesn’t often happen in this game. As it turns out, that was the difference, with my ragtag armor reserve sweeping in to save the day while Jack pressed against my last, dug-in infantry unit.
the Memoir ’44 Winter Wars expansion adds (somewhat confusingly) more breakthrough scenarios and a tweaked breakthrough card deck
In final assessment, I liked the breakthrough format, and I think I would still like to pick up the breakthrough-specific expansions that Days of Wonder has released, but the length of the games is a little discouraging for Jack and I. The maps slightly overhang our game table, which makes things a little bit of a pain, too … but probably worth it for a change of pace. I will likely talk myself into the purchase sooner or later. What I really need is an excuse to do it, like a Memoir ’44 weekend for a bunch of kids. I’ll have to get to work on that …