by Daron Patton
Memoir '44: Eastern Front (2005)
Published by Days of Wonder
Designed by Richard Borg
Components: Game board (double-sided for beach landing/countryside
battles), 144 Axis and Allies army pieces (42 Russian soldiers, 24 tanks, 6
artillery guns, and 4 obstacles), 44 double-sided Terrain tiles, & scenario book.
Even though Days of Wonder's base Memoir '44 game
alone is enough to give you months or even years of fun, several
expansions have been released to give it even more variety. These
expansions add extra scenarios, different terrain and backgrounds for
the boards, and often provide new army pieces to represent different
nationalities in the game. One such expansion is Memoir '44: Eastern Front.
Eastern Front expansion comes in a small box with a removable
sleeve reminiscent of old VHS movie packaging. The box contains two
rulebooks (one in English, one in French); two storage trays filled with
terrain hexes, new badges for troop units, the commissar "chip", and a
nice plastic army set of Russian tanks, soldiers and anti-tank guns all
in brown plastic.
Exploring Mother Russia
The rulebook starts by listing the terrain included in the kit and
explaining its effects. Some of the terrain in the expansion is new,
like the city ruins, which is treated as a town & village hex from the
base game (with the additional rule that a unit occupying city ruins may
ignore the first flag rolled against it). Trenches, ravines and marshes
also join the terrain pile, adding new effects. And we even get a nice
winter forest that has the same effects as a regular forest but looks
cooler on a snow terrain game board (included the Memoir '44:
Breakthrough expansion - it looks great on the table!).
The Commissar (Political Commissar officially) is one of the most
interesting concepts introduced by this expansion. The person playing
the Russians picks a card from his hand and places it under his
commissar chip, a nice Vegas-style, weighty pog of a thing displaying
the image of an unamused Commissar staring back at you. That card, with
the exception of a couple of other specific cards, must be what the
Russian player uses on his next turn.
Every turn, the Russian player has to repeat the process of picking a
card he'll use next turn and placing it beneath the Commissar's watchful
eye. This is a really neat way of reflecting a rigid command structure
with a simple mechanic.
We also get a new medal, Hero of the Soviet Union, to help keep the
theme going. Snipers (complete with their badge) are introduced as
well. Instead of a unit of four infantry, a sniper is one guy in a hex
able to reach out and touch enemy units up to five hexes away. He only
ever rolls a single die, but he hits on grenades, stars, or the target
unit's symbol (though he cannot target tanks). Snipers are harder to
target since only grenades have an effect, but the fact that they are a
lone piece as a unit means a single hit wipes them out. To make them
even more frustrating (or cool, if you are fielding them), snipers don't
count as a medal for your opponent when he eliminates them.
Blitz Rules are also provided to represent tactics seen during early
war. Axis players can use Recon 1 cards as though they were air power,
launching a potentially devastating attack on up to four enemy units
adjacent to one another. Axis tanks are also more mobile, able to move
up to 3 hexes and battle while Allied armor is limited to 2 hexes and
Finnish Ski Troops are special infantry units with only 3 infantry
figures (marked with a Finnish badge to help ID them in the game). They
are more mobile than regular infantry but have shorter ranged
capabilities. Two of the scenarios specifically pit Finn forces against
Minefields are another great addition to the game. They are two-sided
markers placed per the scenario. Their strength is 0, 1, 2 or 4. To
add an element of uncertainty, the owner of the mines has to shuffle the
counters face down before placing them in the correct locations, hiding
their numbers. Friendly units entering friendly minefields must stop,
but they do not activate or reveal the mines. An enemy unit entering a
minefield is stopped, the minefield token is revealed, and then a number
of dice matching the minefield's strength are rolled against the
affected unit. Zero strength minefields thus revealed are removed from
play (they were dummy fields set up to confuse the enemy). Grenade
symbols and the affected unit type's symbol cause wounds. All other
symbols are ignored. Once a minefield has been tripped, it remains in
play, and the counter showing the field's strength remains visible for
Engineers are masters of terrain, obstacles, and minefield clearing.
They ignore terrain defense (reduction in attack dice) for their target.
They can clear barbed wire fairly easily and can also attempt to disarm
a minefield. Failure to clear the minefield causes it to detonate just
as for other units.
Cavalry units are represented by infantry pieces and a cavalry badge.
They activate as infantry but are far more mobile, able to move up to 3
hexes and still fight. Their ranged effects are more limited than
standard infantry, shooting one hex away at 2 dice or two hexes away
with one die. They are also awesomely tank-like, being able to do Armor
Overrun Combat just as if they were tanks. In case you can't tell, I
likes me some cavalry.
There are eight scenarios in this expansion, numbered 38-45. As
always, there is a detailed board set-up diagram, showing location,
types and numbers of required terrain tiles. Each scenario includes a
brief few paragraphs, explaining what forces were involved, their
general motivations and the outcome of the original battle. Victory
conditions, numbers of command cards, who goes first plus any special
rules are also covered and are very easily referenced in this smaller
The first scenario, Russo-Finnish War Suomussalmi, takes place in 1939
and pits elite Finnish ski troops against a larger Soviet force. The
Finnish ski troops are more mobile than their enemy's infantry, but they
are also outnumbered and (because their elite units only start with 3
infantry figures) more fragile. Both sides are trying to wipe out six
enemy units OR the Finns can also pull a victory by displacing the
Russians from 3 of the 4 town hexes on the map. It can be a real
nail-biter when you get down to a single Finnish skier in a couple of
I have not had time to play all the scenarios, but just reading them is
a blast in itself. There's enough information presented to get your
interest up, and you'll want to break the game out whenever you can.
This expansion not only adds several great new battles to the game but
it also brings some really well thought-out mechanics into play. One of
the things I like is the way the authors have managed to convey broad
concepts in real world forces using only simple tweaks to the base
rules. Memoir '44 is definitely not a simulation, but it gives
enough flavor (especially in this expansion) to get across the abilities
and limitations of the units that really fought in World War II. If you
want to play WW2 with Russians in the equation, this is an excellent way
to get your fix.