Category Archives: Review

Scenario Review – Staraya Russa

Staraya Russa is an Eastern Front scenario from Campaign Book v. 1 for Memoir ’44.  It’s a Soviet counter-attack on German positions in the first year of the war, as the Germans were pushing towards Leningrad, and it’s interesting for several reasons.  First off, it’s incredibly balanced for an Operation Barbarossa scenario, and is interesting to play for both the Germans and the Russians.  Second, it’s a good example of a low-unit-count scenario, where neither side has an overwhelming force and must make real strategic decisions.  Third, it’s got a really good mix of open fields and forested cover, an just exactly the right number of tanks – one each.  Finally, it’s got Russian cavalry, and as I’ve said before, any scenario with cavalry is a ton of fun.

The Northwest Front, under the energetic Chief of Staff Vatutin, decided to attack the Axis forces south of Staraya Russa. It was hoped that this would divert Army Group North’s energies away from Leningrad. Indeed, von Leeb over-reacted to the Soviet attack and diverted elements of the LVI Panzer Corps to help stabilize the front. The LVI Panzer Corps met an attack made up largely of cavalry because the Soviets were increasingly reliant upon cavalry to provide mobility to their forces due to the rapid depletion of their tank forces.

Here’s my bad photo of the map.

Staraya Russa

Note the dug-in Germans on the Russian left flank, in front of the town with a victory medal.  In every game I’ve played, that has ended up the central engagement.  The Russians will move units forward into those forests to begin an assault, and the Germans will counter by moving up to flush them out.  On the Russian right flank, there is a much more favorable situation for the Russians, as only a few scattered German infantry protect the medal at the town of Staraya Russa.  However, the difficulties of moving standard infantry up that far tend to discourage the Russian player from choosing this route.  It’s far easier, and more fun, to dash up with the cavalry and go for the other town.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the Germans have much of a chance, as the force balance is so heavily in favor of the Russians.  However, this is a 5 medal map, and in these situations the total force size matters a lot less than where the first engagement begins, and who brings what to the fight.  Furthermore, the Russian cavalry units sacrifice firepower for mobility, and as a result the Russian force is not quite as strong as it may seem – at least against dug in units.  A few lucky rolls either way, especially once the tanks come out to play, can rapidly shift this map in either direction.

Like a lot of the maps from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in the first campaign book, this is not a beginner map.  This is a map for canny veteran players, who know how to use their units and know how to avoid the obvious, yet stupid, move.  I had good memories of this map as soon as I looked at it yesterday, having played it at least 4 or 5 times last year, and my most recent play session validated them entirely.  This is a great map.

Overall Evaluation – 5/5 – This is a balanced, tense, and enjoyable map.

Balance Evaluation – Even – Despite first appearances, neither side has a massive advantage.

First-Turn win possibility – None – Neither side has units that are ready and able to deal a major first turn blow.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – There’s just no incentive to sit and plink at distance, as both sides have only the one tank.

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Scenario Review – Moyland Wood

Moyland Wood is an official scenario for Memoir ’44 by the game’s creator, Richard Borg.  Set in Normandy, It’s a cracker of a map, and reliably offers an enormous brawl of mixed tanks and infantry right in the center of the map.  The Allies have a definite advantage, but it’s a fun battle with interesting decisions no matter what happens.

On the afternoon of the 16th the Royal Winnipeg Rifles supported by the 3rd Armor Battalion Scots Guards was ordered to take the hilly ground around Louisendorf. On its left the Regina Rifle Regiment with tank support was to clear the Moyland Wood.

The Winnipeg Rifles advance went well but the Regina Rifle Regiment ran into difficulties from the start. The wood had been reported clear but elements of 6th Parachute Division newly arrived from North Holland were deployed in a strong position along the fringe of the woods. As the Canadians moved to clear the wood, it was also shelled by German artillery. The failure to drive the Germans from Moyland Wood seriously delayed the 2nd Canadian Corps’ planned advance.

On the 19th, Battle Group Hauser and units from the 116th Panzer Division launched a counter attack. Throughout the night waves of Germans attacked the Allied infantry, as the Allied tanks had been withdrawn a few hours earlier to re-arm and re-fuel.

To recover lost ground, Brigadier Cabeldu ordered all uncommitted elements forward. Infantry and tanks moved out, preceded by a heavy barrage of artillery fire. The attack pushed the spent Germans back in less than two hours.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Here’s the map.

Moyland Wood

The map is really divided into two major zones of engagement – the forest around Moyland, and the open area in front of Louisendorf.  Smart Allied players will try to move up tanks as quickly as possible so as to engage the numerically inferior Germans in the open center, and minimize losses near Moyland.  The Germans need to attack hard and fast in the center, knock out forward elements before the Canadians can move them to safety, and avoid the overwhelming counter-attack in the center which is always a looming possibility.  It’s always possible to pick up a medal or two near Moyland by pounding the Allied forces on the baseline, but unless the Canadians are pushed towards that sector by their cards, it’s more likely than not that better moves will be available in the center.

This map is a bit unusual in providing an opportunity for such a large brawl with fairly little preliminary movement on either side – that’s what makes it so fun.  It also has a more or less perfect artillery setup.  The German guns give them the ability to punish the Allies for being slow on the attack, but are in no way decisive given the huge forces that both sides can bring into the fray.

The Canadians have a definite numerical advantage, but need good cards to bring this into play.  The Germans are outnumbered but concentrated, and are in a good position to create localized fire superiority right at the beginning.  Both sides will suffer from a bad opening hand, and both sides will benefit from a hand full of assaults.  With over 400 battles played, Days of Wonder online has this at exactly 50/50.

This is a really, really good map.

Overall Evaluation – 5/5 – Few maps allow both sides to bring in so much infantry and armor all at once, and few maps are able to do so in such a balanced way.  Fun and interesting for both players.

Balance Evaluation –  Even – My gut tells me the Allies have the advantage just because of the forces available to them, but I know all too well how a bad opening hand can leave many of those units stranded near the baseline while isolated front-line infantry are mauled by a concentrated force.  Good cards will give the advantage to the Allies, but good cards are far from guaranteed.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Low – The Germans are in a position to damage some Allied infantry early, but only if they are left in place by the Allied player in his or her first turn.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – This is a battle that will be decided by massed tank and infantry combat, not long-distance shooting.

Scenario Review – Battle of the Bridgehead

Battle of the Bridgehead is an unofficial Normandy scenario for Memoir ’44 by forum poster brumbarr44.  I’ve played a few scenarios by him in the past, and they are usually solid.  This one features a few Canadian units versus the Hitler Youth and a SS panzer-grenadier element.  This is a fairly old scenario, and can be tough for a weak German player, but nevertheless provides an interesting battle for two players who know how to maneuver their tanks.

On D-Day +1 the Canadians sought to achieve their final D-Day objectives and push through to the airfields at Carpiquet.

Elements of the 9th Brigade consisting of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and armour provided by the Sherbrooke Fusiliers advanced on Buron along the Buron-Authie axis toward Carpiquet. At Authie the Canadians ran into the first major German counter-attack against the allied bridgeheads.

The 12th SS Panzer Division consisted of HitlerJugend. Young, fanatical but inexperienced soldiers. They were however commanded by NCO’s who were hardened veterans of the Eastern campaigns. Among the lead elements was Standartenfurhrer (Colonel) Kurt Meyer and his 25th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment. Meyer’s orders were to strike at the beaches, his first task was to recapture Buron and Authie.

The Germans moved quickly on the unwary Canadians who had already lost men just in the taking of the villages. Casualties on both sides mounted as the North Novas proved to be a match for the HitlerJugend. The same cannot be said of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers whose out-gunned Shermans and green crews were not equal to Meyer’s skilled command. Nevertheless, many panzers were left burning on the field as well. Although the 9th Brigade pulled back to entrench the 25th SS was largely eliminated as an effective force.

The next day, elements of the 26th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment moved in on the 7th Brigade to the right of the 9th. Storming the beaches on D-Day left the 7th under-strength. The 26th SS although attacking piecemeal were able to force the Winnipeg Rifles into a difficult retreat. The Regina Rifles also found the enemy starting to show up in strength. Were it not for the timely arrival of tanks from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, disaster would have surely ensued.

Kurt Meyer had out-fought the Canadians and the fierceness of his attack had left them uncommonly wary of tangling with SS units. Carpiquet, virtually in view of the lead Canadian elements, would not be reached for another month. Which was the next time that the Canadians saw major action.

Here’s the setup.

Bridgehead

First off, as this is a rather old scenario, it does not specify the use of Commonwealth Army rules for the Canadian forces in this battle.  I suppose that one could play with them, but that may have odd unintended consequences.  Then again, Stiff Upper Lip isn’t nearly as much of a game changer as is the Gung Ho ability of the US Marines, let alone the Banzai charge of the Japanese Army.

Note the 5 Canadian tanks on the field, to only 3 German tanks.  Combined with the wide open spaces, this gives the Allied player a significant advantage – IF he or she can get those two tanks out of the hedgerows in the right sector.

Also note that the battle is to 5 medals.  By the time the Allied player is closing in on the victory location at Carpiquet, the battle will be mostly over.

The hills and open spaces give both players a lot of room to maneuver around, leading to some interesting tactical decisions.  Infantry combat will fill out the medal rack for both players, but the real meat of this battle is going to be the tank duel.  In my opinion, the German player will need a little bit of tank luck for the battle to go his or her way, given the distinct firepower superiority the Allied player enjoys.  However, with a few lucky rolls the German player just might end up with the last tank on the board, especially if he or she can strike first, knock out an Allied tank right away, and take advantage of the hills for cover.

I rarely have the tank luck, so this isn’t the sort of map that I’ll ever fall in love with, but it’s not a bad map at all.

Overall Evaluation – 3/5 – The combination of open spaces, cover, fortified infantry, and mismatched armor makes for an interesting battle, but the potential for an Allied romp is high enough that I can’t rate this higher.  Less experienced players will also get slaughtered no matter who they play – there’s a lot of finesse to this one.

Balance Evaluation – Allied Favored – 5 tanks to 3 on a mostly open map is a pretty powerful advantage.  Days of Wonder Online has it at 51/49 Allies, which is a much tighter spread that I would expect.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Low – I suppose that if the Germans managed to knock out two Allied tanks on their first turn it might be hard for the Allied player to recover, but the chances of this happening are incredibly low.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – This is an open brawler map, and there is neither the right unit mix nor the right terrain for a plink-fest.

 

Scenario Review – Panzer Attack on Hill 140

Panzer Attack on Hill 140 is a Normandy scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.  This is not a bad scenario, from a gameplay perspective, but for a map with the subtitle “Massacre of the British Colombia Regiment,” something seems off.  It stands to reason that a “massacre” scenario should be somewhat imbalanced.  This scenario is a tad imbalanced – in the wrong direction!

By August 9, 1944, Operation Totalize had lost its momentum in the face of stiff resistance from German troops, now busy establishing a new defensive line on the Laizon river. Then tragedy struck for the British: lost in darkness, Worthington Force, a group of Algonquin Infantrymen in half-tracks and tankers from the 4th Canadian Armored Division, missed their objective, Hill 195, and ran smack dab into German defenses on Hill 140. Under withering fire from Flak 88s and the German Tigers and Panthers, the force lost 43 tanks out of 46, 250 men, and Lt-Col Worthington himself.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

This is an official scenario from the Equipment Pack, and as such the map is not available online.  Here’s my bad photo.

Hill 140

The key thing to note is the dramatic imbalance in forces on the British left flank.  The have two tanks, an infantry, and an artillery facing off against a heavy German Armor unit that’s pinned against the baseline and the river, and a single infantry.  Thanks to their artillery and their 88, the Germans have enough firepower in the center to make things hard for the Brits, but without a strong hand full of multi-regional cards it’s not going to be easy.

The British Armor superiority is really striking on this map.  If the Axis player brings his or her armor out of cover to attack, it can get quickly stomped by the superior British force – especially if the Brit has been holding an Armor Assault in his or her hand, as happened to me!

This map is not TOO imbalanced, really.  Days of Wonder online has it at 47/53 Allies, which seems a bit close to me.  However, tank battles can go that way sometimes – one player gets on a roll, and in a single attack completely destroys the opponent’s entire tank army.  Given the tough German units, and the completely unpredictable nature of the stock Tiger rule, the Germans do have a reasonable chance to win this battle.

However, a reasonable chance to win a tough fight is not a massacre!

Overall Evaluation – 3/5 – This is an interesting battle, but nothing special.  Its failure to match the theme hurts it a bit.

Balance Evaluation – Somewhat Allied Favored – With normal luck, the British player should be able to clear out the German tanks and take this map thorough sheer weight of numbers.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Possible – There is the potential for a monster German opening – a General Advance or Finest Hour and some hot dice can gut the entire British Armored corps on the opening move.  It’s not very likely, but it could happen.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – If both players are stuck with bad hands, there might be incentive for both sides to try to win at range, with tank plinks and artillery.

 

Scenario Review – Operation Seydlitz

Operation Seydlitz is a scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.   This is a battle on the East Front, taking place during the German drive towards Stalingrad.  As with many of the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, it has its problems, but manages to be a bit more fun than many of the others because it is quick, and has lots of cavalry.

July 1942 – Having survived the Soviet winter offensive, the Germans set about eradicating enemy forces far in their rear. Assembling a formidable collection of Infantry, Armor and Mounted units near the River Luchesa, they opened the attack with an intense Artillery bombardment on the dug-in Russian defenders. The German Cavalry brigade, assembled from reconnaissance battalions, used its superior mobility to outflank the Russian line, while German Armor and Infantry were able to successfully negotiate the Russian minefields. Caught in the middle, the Soviet forces soon began to collapse.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Like all the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, the map is not available online.   Here’s a bad photograph.

Seydlitz

There are two important things to note about this setup.  First, the Germans have a nearly overwhelming firepower advantage against an enemy in fairly fixed positions.  The German artillery and mortar can plink the Russian front line to death with minimal risk.  The second thing to note is that the German player has three cavalry units on his right flank.

Cavalry is one of my favorite units, because they can do absolutely nothing but charge.  Thanks to their 2/1 attack rating, Cavalry are totally useless at range – but the itch to use them is so great that many players will throw them forward at the enemy even if that’s really not the best idea.  I’ve played this map a few times, and have not once seen the Cavalry held back.  Furthermore, they can actually accomplish quite a bit, all on their own.  With a little bit of support, the German cavalry can roll up the Russians on that flank, and go straight for the artillery.  With our House Rules in effect, Cavalry are the single best unit for killing Artillery, and knocking out the Russian artillery will almost guarantee a German victory.

So, this map can go one of two ways.  A cautious and serious German player will slowly move up units in the center, and plink the Russian front line to death.  A crazy German player will open up with a Cavalry charge.  In either case, the Germans are likely to win.  It’s just horribly imbalanced.

However, the odds are so obviously stacked against the Russians, especially given the 5 medal victory count, that there’s little incentive for the Russian player to be conservative.  Any map that creates a situation where both sides are crazily aggressive is bound to be fun, and this map delivers.

Operation Seydlitz is a quick and silly refresher between more serious maps.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This can be a quick and fun map, or it can be a painfully brutal slog of attrition.

Balance Evaluation – Strongly German Favored – The Russian player has little prospect for victory no matter what the Germans do.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Minor – I suppose that the Germans could open with a Direct from HQ, take out the Russian bunker with their cavalry and artillery, and start the game with 2 medals.  But that’s pretty unlikely, and there are no other quick winning moves available to either side.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – A boring German player could use his mortar and artillery and tank to slowly batter the Russians to death, and there’s little the Russian player could do about it.

Scenario Review – Canal de la Haute Colme

Canal de la Haute Colme is an early-war scenario for Memoir ’44, and was published in the Equipment Pack.  Like many of the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, it has some problems.

In conjunction with an evening attack by the 11 Schützen, the SS-Regiment “Leibstandart Adolf Hitler” moved forward to try and break the French line around Dunkirk, splitting the 225th and 341th Regiments. But crossing the Canal de la Haute Colme turned out to be a nightmare: although stretched thin, French forces had deployed along all possible crossing points. The spirited German assault was blunted as night fell.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn and you are in Command. The rest is history.

As an official scenario, the map is not available online.  Here’s a bad photographCanal de la Haute Colme

The Germans have a distinct advantage on their right flank, where the French only have two dug-in infantry units to defend a river crossing.  If the Germans can push through at that point, then more than likely the game is over since the entire French baseline is an exit zone. However, the battle is not likely to start on that flank, as the Germans have a number of vulnerable units jammed up on the baseline on their left lank, within easy fire range of the French.

This is a very challenging map for the German player, because their force is just not quite enough to really force a crossing.  Given average cards and hands for both sides, the French should mangle the Germans on the approach and easily pick off any stragglers that make it across the river.  This doesn’t mean that a German win is impossible – it’s just really unlikely.

Many unbalanced maps are still fun.  Omaha Beach comes to mind.  I’ll play Omaha over and over as Americans, because every time you play, it feels like victory is just out of reach.  This map does not really capture that same feeling, because the nature of the obstacles and the force disposition is such that the scenario never really feels possible for the Germans.  Furthermore, the French player doesn’t really have all that much to do.  Most of his or her units can sit right where they until the end of the game, and fire upon the Germans as they advance.

It’s not broken, but it’s also not all that interesting.

General Evaluation – 2/5 – This map left both of us with a distinct feeling of meh.

Balance Evaluation – French favored – DoW Online has it at 60/40, which might be a bit generous for the Germans.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – This is a slog map.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – As crossing the canal is so dangerous for the German, he or she may be tempted to use Armor and Artillery to wear down the French before committing to the engagement.  The German player may also be tempted to pull back after a failed attempt at a crossing.  Neither of those scenarios would result in a terribly interesting game.

 

 

Scenario Review – Pavlov Hero of the Soviet Union

Pavlov – Hero of the Soviet Union is another grueling Stalingrad map for Memoir ’44‘s East Front expansion.  The Germans have to fight through a ton of rubble, but the promise of a ton of medals makes the fight worthwhile.  Pavlov’s House was one of my favorite maps on Red Orchestra, so I was super excited to try out this map – and it was a worthwhile experience.

The fighting for control of downtown Stalingrad raged on for days. Battle lines vanished. The armor-supported mobility that the German soldiers had been accustomed to during their rapid progression across the Russian steppe soon degenerated into the utter chaos and madness of urban combat as Soviet troops “hugged” their enemy to death. Each street leading to Red Square became a battlefield… and each building surrounding the square a fortress.

The ?9th of January Square?, just north of city center, was one of these lethal, vicious hot spots. Soviet troops, under the command of Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov, barricaded themselves in a four-story apartment building – surrounding themselves with minefields and barbed wire. Each time German infantry or tanks tried to cross the square, Pavlov’s anti-tank gunners laid down a withering fire, beating back one assault wave after another. After each German attack, his men had to run out and kick down piles of German corpses to keep clear firing lines across the square. Sgt. Pavlov was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for his actions and, months after the battle, Chuikov would still joke that “more Germans died trying to capture Pavlov’s House than died capturing Paris”.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

This scenario was originally included in the Sword of Stalingrad battle map pack, and as such is not available online.  Given the incredibly limited print run these scenarios had, and the fact that they’ve been out of print for years, Days of Wonder should really make them available online.  Here’s my bad photo of the layout.

Pavlov's House

The Germans start out with a moderately superior force, but it’s jammed up against the baseline in fire range of the Russian artillery and snipers.  The German left flank is in a particularly ugly position, with a number of units in the second row that cannot retreat.  If the Russian player is rich in multi-regional cards, he or she can tear the German force to pieces before the attack even begins.

However, a strong assault by the Germans on their right flank can quickly turn things around for the Germans.  They have the units and the firepower to quickly push the Russians out of their front-line positions.  Once that happens, the German can leverage their superior firepower to wear down the Russian forces around the square, and then move in to take a number of victory medals.  In particular, if the German player can take out the Russian artillery unit fortified behind the square, then he or she is quite likely to win.

On the other hand, if the German player suffers from bad dice or a bad hand at the start, things can quickly turn ugly.  Every turn the Germans are stuck engaging the Russian front-line forces, their chance of victory pulls further and further away.  It is entirely possible for the Russian player to beat the Germans on their baseline.

We played this game three times, the first time with me playing Russians, and the second two times with me as German.  A video of that first game will go up shortly.  I lost all three games.  The first game was very tight.  The German player made substantial progress on the German right flank, but I took a serious lead in medals.  However, the German player moved up with his tanks to take medals in the Russian backfield, and my bad hand didn’t allow me to either repel the Armor advance, or to get the final winning medal off long-range artillery plinks.  The second and third were pathetic humiliations.  My German forces had decided to pack rubber bullets, which did minimal damage to the Russian forces.  Both games were brutal Russian romps, where were not in doubt after the third turn.

This is a good map.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – If the German player does not have at least average cards and dice in the first two turns of this game, he or she will likely lose in a slow and humiliating manner.  This super-critical early game prevents me from giving this otherwise excellent scenario the highest marks.

Balance Evaluation – Slightly Russian Favored – For the reasons explained above.  DoW Online has this at 55/45 Russians, which sounds about right.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Moderate – As I said, a bad German opening makes victory almost impossible.

Plink-Fest Danger – Mild – Russian artillery and snipers give the Germans an incentive to move up quickly, but in the late game it’s quite likely for the deciding move to be a long-distance plink given the ability of both sides to pull back and hide behind terrain.