Memoir '44 is an entry-level WWII board game, and most every board gamer I know has a copy gathering dust in a closet somewhere. It's a difficult game to judge. It's so easy to teach and learn that it earns an automatic recommendation for anyone interested in getting into wargaming, but it's also a game that players outgrow very quickly.
It costs board gamers $60 to find out whether Memoir '44 is their kind of game, but PC gamers can now play it for free online via Steam . I spent part of the weekend trying it out, and so far it's an excellent adaptation.
Memoir '44 is more, "The first hit is free," rather than free-to-play. Its in-game currency is the Gold Ingot (GI) and each match costs a few GIs. You start with 50, which comes out to sixteen games. However, they're dirt-cheap and publisher Days of Wonder will sell you 200 GIs for $8. That's an awful lot of games for just a few bucks.
Memoir '44 is fast-paced and straightforward. There are only three unit types (armor, artillery, and infantry) and their attack strength depends on terrain and distance. You win victory points be wiping out enemy squads.
The major twist is that the board is divided into three zones (left flank, center, and right flank) and you draw a hand of cards that determines what kind of orders you can issue. You might have an overwhelming force of tanks in the center, but if all your cards are for infantry or flank units, those tanks remain parked.
The cards make you dependent on the luck of the draw, and then the luck of the dice rolls. Inevitably, there will come a moment when you feel like the game just decided that you will lose, no matter what you try to do.
As unfair as the game can feel at times, most matches I've played came down to the wire, with victory being decided by a single point. Besides, even if you do suffer from a terminal case of bad luck, the games are short. It's easy to pop-in for 15 minutes and play a complete game against a human opponent.
While the basic rules are almost too simple, individual scenarios introduce special rules and units that allow for very different experiences. Again, board gamers have to buy expansions for access to Eastern Front or North African scenarios, but Memoir '44 Online lets you play the fully expanded game.
Memoir '44 Online seems like a great, casual wargame for those of us who are pressed for time and want a quick-and-easy match against another person. I doubt it will win over serious wargamers, but it's a lovely little distraction and a great way to dip your toes into wargaming. Hopefully we start seeing more good board games making appearances on Steam, so that players ready to graduate from Memoir '44 will have somewhere to go next.