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Reviews - Memoir '44: Eastern Front
by Daron Patton

Memoir '44Memoir '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.

Memoir '44: Eastern FrontWe 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 battle.

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 the Russians.

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 future reference.

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 format.

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 units.

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.

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