Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Memoir '44 as a war memorial

We are in the midst of a new round of remembrances as the 70th anniversaries of various World War II events have started occurring since Sept. 1 of last year. In a few weeks we'll see the 70th anniversary of the campaign that resulted in the Fall of France in 1940, for example.

It just so happens that there are quite a few scenarios from that campaign represented among the official scenarios of Memoir '44, including a campaign in the Campaign Book and as I pondered that fact it occurred to me that Memoir '44 is, in many ways, a war memorial in game form.

Among grognards there's a lot of debate about whether Memoir '44 is a "true" wargame and while I think it qualifies, I admit that critics do have some legitimate points. It's clearly not much of a simulation. It has a highly abstract game system, a very ambiguous treatment of scale and some debatable design decisions on the interactions between weapons and troop types.

But looked at from another point of view, Memoir '44 succeeds immensely as a memorial to that war, being one of most played wargames on Boardgame Geek and widely popular even among players who don't otherwise play wargames. The name of the game, itself, hints at the game's true purpose of being a memorial or memoir of the war. Indeed, the game was first published in conjunction with the "Mission for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings & Liberation of France."

So long as there have been wars there's been the need to memorialize the fallen. The loss is always felt so profoundly and every era and culture use whatever forms of cultural expression available to it to remember those losses. Norse sagas, Assyrian base reliefs, equestrian statues in the local park and Saving Private Ryan all speak to the same impulse. I think Memoir '44 is, perhaps, more akin to Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers or The Pacific than might be realized. If your typical wargame is similar to a History Channel documentary, then the analogy may very well hold up. Memoir '44 is a work of fiction, but like a good work of fiction it may reveal truth more powerfully than a straightforward history.

It's a truism that World War II was fought by "The Greatest Generation," but like many truisms it's also a fiction. It takes nothing away from the sacrifices of the World War II generation to observe that they were ordinary men and women, no greater or lesser than every generation's soldiers. World War II is likely to stand as the "Greatest" war in history, because in a nuclear-armed world there can never again be a battle of survival between the great powers of the age. Should a war between nuclear powers occur it will undoubtedly be the greatest slaughter in the history of mankind, but it will stll not be the greatest war. It will be over in minutes, or at best hours, and then the Rider of the Red Horse will say "my work is done here" and turn the rst of the work over to Famine, Pestilence and Death. There will be no general mobilization of populations and industry, no vast fleets or enormous armies battling ferociously across every continent and in every climate. World War II will stand as the greatest war of that sort.

And for that reason World War II is an appropriate stand-in for every war in history and Memoir '44 an appropriate memorial in game form for all those combatants who have suffered and died in every war. The game is remarkable eclectic in its presentation. Sure, the main combatants such as Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy, the United States and the British Commonwealth are well-represented. But there are also scenarios depicting France's brief war and its long Resistance. Smaller powers such as Brazil, Finland and the Philippines make an appearance and the game system is flexible enough that any country can and probably will get a chance to have its moment in the sun.

So as the 70th anniversaries come up I know I'll be taking out Memoir '44 more than once.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed 100%. This game is the one that helped me get into wargaming. Easy enough to learn for a new guy, and each scenario was a whole subject that could be studied. It truly brought me into the board game/historical fanatic I am right now.
    Im not sure if my wife appreciates it as much though :)