Memoir '44 Online Review

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Memoir '44 Online Publisher: Days of Wonder
Developer: Days of Wonder

Platform: PC or Mac
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 500 MB RAM, video card with 128 MB VRAM, 200 MB HD space, internet connection, Windows XP or more recent operating system

Released to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II, Memoir '44 had players recreating simplified versions of the famous battles of World War II. With the official release of Memoir '44 Online, anyone with a Mac or PC can play the game, with the computer taking care of the hassles of set-up and keeping track of all the under-the-hood calculations.

Kyle Ackerman

Memoir '44 Online is a tremendous implementation of a clever World War II game that supports both tactical depth and breezy play. It offers a substantial free trial, tons of brilliant play and a robust community. While the basic play works splendidly, there are problems with the premium features offered and the game has surprisingly limited payment options, making it more difficult than it should be to give Days of Wonder your money.

Armchair Operation Overlord

A few years ago, Days of Wonder released Memoir '44 – a splendid game that simplified traditional hex-based wargames, transforming complex historical battles into something that could be pleasantly enjoyed in an hour or so. The game started off as a perfect compromise between luck and strategy, casual and hardcore – entertaining enough to satisfy grognards yet simple enough to play for more casual boardgamers.

Initially, Memoir '44's greatest problem was the set-up time. Over time, however, Memoir '44 added expansions, new rules, various national forces, complex terrains, scenario books and more. All the expansion content made Memoir '44 even more interesting to play, but harder to set-up and harder to keep track of all the various modifiers. That complexity wasn't beyond hardcore strategy gamers, but the strong luck elements conflicted with the growing complexity.

Now, Days of Wonder has officially launched Memoir '44 Online, and it's the perfect solution. It allows for the tremendous variety of scenarios from the board game, but the virtual set-up is instant and all the rules are tracked by the computer. It's even possible to play against an AI opponent. That makes it easy to learn (it's always more pleasant to learn from mistakes against a computer foe than to ruin a game with a human player), and easy to pick up and play at almost any time.

The Terrible Trichotomy

Designed by Richard Borg, Memoir '44 Online simplifies hex-based warfare and adds a substantial luck element. Occasionally frustrating for hardcore strategy enthusiasts, the influence of luck on battles means that spectacular turnarounds are possible, and players are usually in every battle until the very end.

The game board is divided into three sections, and each player gets a hand of cards (the size varies depending on the scenario). Cards generally allow players to give orders to a number of units on the left, center or right. This typically forces players to constantly give orders to different units around the battlefield rather than focusing on a few powerful units. At the same time, it keeps large battles moving quickly, since you don't move every unit each turn. This system can also foil a strong advance, if the cards you draw aren't for the portion of the battlefield where you've been moving your troops. The combined order cards and board sections keep the battle diversified, fast and interesting, but subject to substantial luck.

When units exchange fire, specialized six-sided dice are rolled (by the computer) that determine whether units under fire are lost or retreat. Infantry are more likely to suffer losses than armor, but they're also able to take advantage of more types of terrain. Terrain can block line-of-sight and tremendously influence the outcome of dice and the number of dice rolled. Fortunately, with Memoir '44 Online, all of that is taken care of automatically, so it's easy to sit back and enjoy wargaming-lite. The tremendous variety of scenarios keeps things interesting, and presumably more will be added (both by players and by Days of Wonder) over time.

Pay to Play(Test)

Your first few matches are free, and if you have the remotest interest in a World War II-themed turn-based strategy game, it's worth downloading and trying out. But exactly what encompasses the game and what does it cost? Each match (whether against an AI or human player) costs between two and four "gold ingots" (the game's currency). Most cost three, although a few scenarios cost two and some may be made in the future that cost four. While there's no guarantee that a match against a human opponent will be a pleasant one, most were for me, and typically lasted 20-30 minutes. So, the free initial ingots will last for quite a long time.

After that, more ingots can be purchased. 200 cost $8, 1,000 cost $30 and 2,400 cost $60. That's still less than the cost of the board game, and guarantees the cost of each individual game is negligible. That said, it's not pay-as-you go or a basic monthly fee, so if you pay for a big package and tire of the game, that's sunk cash you won't see again. It's more than a little annoying that the game won't take American Express or PayPal when purchasing ingots – if you want to play, it's only Visa or Mastercard. There are bigger problems, though.

The game's been in beta for a while, so the official scenarios work well, but purchasing the bigger packages enables "Expert Mode." That gives access to the scenario editor that lets players construct, share and play games against other players. That's where the problems are – the perks of Expert Mode aren't fully developed. The editor was designed for creating and printing scenarios intended for the board game. If a terrain tile or unit is in an official scenario, it's likely (but not certain) to work, but the editor still has a plethora of problems.

I couldn't always figure out what was causing an error when I imported a scenario, and sometimes it was a feature already present in active scenarios. For example, I made one scenario work by turning off U.S. Marine rules that are present in other online scenarios. The editor is easy to use, but not easy to make work, due to a lack of feedback from the Memoir '44 Online part of the equation. And even If you can construct a scenario, that doesn't guarantee players.

My biggest complaint concerning the editor is that every playtest costs gold ingots. Playtesting isn't necessarily fun, especially in the early stages, but it's necessary to construct a playable and balanced scenario. It would be easy to waste a few bucks just playtesting, and there's no real reward for that. Either there should be some allowance for playtesting, or players should be compensated in some way for quality scenarios (such as receiving a portion of the ingots other players spend on a map). The status quo seems like a real disincentive to spend time creating maps.

Memoir '44 Online still has issues to resolve, but it's a great play experience for causal wargaming. If only Days of Wonder would make it easier to give them money.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 17, 2011 6:27 PM.

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