Before my reintroduction to boardgaming many years ago, one game I had been introduced to digitally was Memoir ’44 by Days of Wonder. It was on sale on Steam and I’d played it a few times (didn’t care for the pay per game aspect of it), but enjoyed the concept. Little did I know then it was an actual board game as well. So in July of 2014, as this new hobby was opening up to me, I picked up a copy of the base game (and many expansions along the way). But the one thing I didn’t like was it’s use of miniatures. For me, the minis (aka tokens) violate all the rules that make miniatures cool.
- They aren’t to scale with one another.
- They don’t represent individual units (except perhaps in the case of tanks)
- They move only in groups and are not independent units (this may be different for true classic “wargaming”)
- They are pain to setup and move around.
- They add no value to the game (vs. counters, cubes, or pawns).
So immediately I tried to figure out a way to fix this problem with the game. I’d seen that some of the Command & Colors game from GMT used blocks instead of miniatures, but still annoyingly one block per piece, so groups were still moved about based on their current strength/health in terms of block count. So I carved out the best part of the idea (the blocks) and came up with a way to make them reflect their current health via rotation.
NOTE: When I come up with an “original” idea, I try to solve it on my own, in my own way. I don’t look to see if someone else has already done it. In this case, after I made mine and published on my former Board Game Gulag blog, I did a google search and found that none other than Mark Herman fanboi (and I say that with respect) Judd Vance had done something similar, albeit smaller. His solution from 2011 can be found at this link (WARNING: routes to BGG!)
So anyway, while I have the original article I wrote in 2014, I won’t bore you with all those details. Somehow I thought they were important before.
What I did was get some strips of 1.5″ wide, 0.5″ thick poplar from Home Depot. At the time this was sold in 48″ lengths. The SKU I bought then is no longer available, but they do have something somewhat similar, but it’s in a five pack for around $25 in the USA, so the price doubled in 7+ years. They are also only 36 inches long, so you’ll need to measure and cut down one board to give you the extra foot you need for each set. You might be able to find some blocks pre-cut on Etsy, Amazon, or even other board gaming sites. But they will be different sized. I was only able to find 1.5″ blocks that were too thin. A quick check today revealed the same lack of supply. So cutting was my only option then and would be now.
I prepainted each stick of poplar (48″ worth) in the colors I wanted (green, grey, and tan). I used spray paint on two of them at the time, but found a cheap bottle Ceramcoat Craft Paint worked much better. Paint the sticks before cutting down to size, then touch up the edges. I also used fine sandpaper on the sticks as well prior to painting. You may want to prime first, but it’s not necessary.
Next I used a chop saw to cut them down to 1.5″ square. I put a simple block clamped to the saw the right length so I could just mindlessly cut them down. You could easily use a handsaw and mitre box.
Anyway when they were all done, I had 26+ blocks from 48″ of wood (per color). For you math wizzes, yes, that’s only 39″ of actual wood, but the saw blade “eats” some of the wood AND I need to leave enough holding room to be safe with the power saw!
The base game contains (per army):
- 42 infantry = 11 units (of 4, rounded up)
- 24 tanks = 8 units (of 3)
- 6 artillery = 3 units (of 2)
…so 22 blocks were needed to replicate the available forces. I used 24 (one extra infantry and one extra artillery).
Using Photoshop I created stickers for each block. Forces are open in Memoir ’44 (no fog of war), so I wanted the current strength of each unit to be the upright number in the upper right corner of the block. For this to work, each side would require a different label scheme so that when the owner rotated from their side counter-clockwise to reduce the unit, the clockwise rotation on the opposite side would reveal the same number. I also purchased a clipart license for the purpose of these stickers as I felt anything “photorealistic” would just look cheesy. The default starting strength of the units is the bright green number, with the silhouette in it’s proper orientation. Some tank units I believe start with 4 strength in some cases, so the option is available for that.
On the downloadable sticker sheet, each set is “paired” together. So you can cut them in sets of two, then keep the sets in proper front/back combinations with ease. The second sheet is for identity labels which I put on the top edge of each block (in its default strength facing) and have the label read correctly to the owner’s side (counter clockwise reduction). The top labels also help with finding the right blocks when setting up a battle.
I printed these on removable mailing labels (1/2 sheet) and the gap is there to allow for the gap in the labels. However, I ended up needed to decoupage over them with some watered down glue, although Mod Podge would work better and seal them as well. 7+ years later, some of the stickers are still starting to lift, so going to have to go over them again I think. Likewise, you can just as easily print these on regular paper if you’re going to glue them down and seal them.
You will need to print one copy of the first page for EACH of the armies you need (two or three). You will then need to print only one of the top labels set (there are way more than you need on that page for three armies).
Since I’ve been using these, I’ve found them to make the game much faster to setup and more fun to play. When I select units to activate, I set a red token on each one. When I move them, if they can fire in the next phase, I leave the token, if not I remove it. After battle, I remove the token again. This way it’s easy to tell which units are activated and available in the different phases.
Memoir ’44 was my first introduction to Commands and Colors and so far, my favorite. Probably because of the WW2 theme as well as its ease of play and teaching to other players. My son and I played it several times while he was still at home. However, as a predominantly solo player, I created a way to play M44 alone and keep the excitement of the game still alive.
My variant is simple and borrows from the uncertainly of a chit pull in other games. Rather than hold a hand of cards for each side (and thus “know” what’s coming). I have a base draw of two cards per side, each round. One card gets used and discarded. The other card gets placed into a “re-use” pile. So I have three “decks”. A draw deck. A discard deck. A re-use deck. When the draw deck is depleted, shuffle ONLY the re-use deck to form a new draw deck. When the re-use deck needs to be shuffled a third time, instead shuffle together all the cards and form a new draw deck.
In scenarios where one side has a larger hand than the other side, then the side with the larger hand draws that many more cards each turn (the difference between the hand sizes). So in the case of mission 2 where the allies have 5 and the axis has 4, the different is 1, so the allies draw THREE cards each turn. Choose one to use and discard, and the rest go into the re-use pile.
This allows me to truly limit my options, eliminates any foreknowledge of the other side’s cards, and play each side to the best of 2-3 options each round. It works great and allows me to have the fun of playing the game and see who wins.
There are few cases where special cards allow for special actions and rules adjustments.
- The Ambush response card never gets to be used as the defender is never holding any cards. One way to solve this would be to remove the Ambush cards from the deck, then roll a die to determine if the defender can use one (roll star?). If they do, resolve the Ambush and then place one of the cards into the discard pile. Be sure to remove them when you do a full reshuffle of course.
- Recon — As you don’t draw cards until the start of your turn, make a note and on that side’s next turn, draw one extra card. Play one and discard. DISCARD one other card (as the Recon put the unused card in Discard), and then the rest of the cards go to the re-use pile. So a side drawing three cards normally, would draw +1, so four cards. One would be played and discarded. One would go directly to discard. Two would go to re-use.
- Medics and Mechanics, Their Finest Hour — These are based on the number of command cards you hold, which could be limited in the draw two method. So first decide IF you want to use that card and commit to it. Then draw your hand up to the stated size for the scenario (if you had a bonus from Recon, that counts). Use the new total of command cards for your action, then put the extra cards in the re-use pile. Finish the turn as normal.
- Finally, there MAY be times when ALL cards drawn are not eligible for play. For example both cards pertain to armor or artillery and you have none available. Play one an give an order to any one unit, similar to some of the infantry specific cards. This only applies if both cards are not eligible for use.
Of course any other judgement calls are up to you, but this give a basic framework to enjoy the game alone from time to time.
Let me know what you think of the block upgrade or solo rules! Looking forward to your opinions!