Friday, March 20, 2009

Memoir '44 and Tide of Iron scenario books, a comparative component review

A comparative review of the new scenario books for Memoir '44 and Tide of Iron.
Back in the good old days of wargaming companies such as Avalon Hill and SPI directly competed for the money of wargamers with similar offerings, much to the benefit of gamers.
So it's nice to see a similar dynamic taking shape now as wargame companies go head-to-head with each other in manly competition. Memoir '44 from Days of Wonder and Tide of Iron from Fantasy Flight Games have considerable overlap in their appeal, both being depictions of tactical World War II combat using neat plastic pieces, stunning euro-style graphics and approachable game mechanics. They are wargame-enough to capture a significant number of grognards while gamey-enough to appeal to a wider gaming market as well. Tide of Iron is the more complex of the two, but not by a lot.
Within the past few months both companies have published remarkably similar products as expansions to their respective game systems, lavishly-illustrated hardcover scenario books, styled as "Volume 1" of what is evidently hoped to be a continuing series of such offerings.
First out of the gate was FFG with it's "Designer Edition" for Tide of Iron. This handsome 96-page full-color book is basically a collection of standalone scenarios for the tactical game system, which has included relatively few scenarios for that sort of game so far. In an interesting twist the scenarios have mostly been designed by famous wargame designers such as Richard Berg, Frank Chadwick, Don Greenwood, John Hill, Dana Lombardy, John Prados, Ted Raicer and Vance Van Borries, as well as a dozen others.
The scenarios follow the same format as all previously published scenarios, with two pages of designer's notes, a background brief, objectives and player hints each, a page with the scenario order of battle and a page with the map and scenario details. They have a good mix, running from a couple of short, 4-map mini-scenarios to one massive 24-map, 20-round epic that will take two copies of TOI to play. Most of the scenarios just use the base game and all can be played if you have a base game and the Days of the Fox expansion, except for the aforementioned giant battle. One pair of scenarios can be played as a mini-campaign.
One complaint about the base game was scenario balance and we've been assured that these scenarios were all extensively playtested for competitiveness.
Time will tell about that, but many of them do provide some interesting tactical situations such as night fighting, rescuing beleagured troops, all-vehicle and no-vehicle fights and more.
A handful of the scenarios do have some vital errata and can't be played without visiting FFG's Web site for the information.
The book also includes thumbnail bios of all the designers.
Days of Wonder's Memoir '44 game already has an extensive line of expansions so a lack of scenarios isn't a problem for them. Instead the 112-page full-color Campaign Book offers a new kind of game experience for jaded Memoir '44 players with a dozen sets of campaigns, each of which will require 3-5 games to resolve. The campaigns, in turn, can be played in a linked series as part of a Grand Campaign. The Normandy Campaign group only requires the basic game, while the Blitzkrieg in the West and Operation Barbarossa campaigns will require some components from the Terrain Pack and Eastern Front expansions. One campaign requires the Air Pack and it's recommended for use in all of them. It's nice that the book doesn't require any more than the basic game to start, but I doubt too many players who will buy this product haven't already got most of the other stuff already.
While it's possible to play the scenarios as just some more stand-alones, the book is best used with a regular partner for campaign play.
Besides pages of scenarios in standard Memoir '44 format, a number of the pages outline the campaign flow with places to record the scores ad well as Grand Campaign score pages, but there's no need to actually write in the book because all the score sheets are available as downloads from the Days of Wonder Web site.
I haven't had a chance to try the campaigns yet, but they look very interesting.
Both books look like great additions to their respective game systems and are definitely worthwhile for anyone who has already bought most of the expansions.

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