Not having done a lot of pre-product research with this one I hadassumed the book would be a cheap softbound and so I was surprised andpleased to find that it’s actually a top-quality hardback book whichincludes some new markers needed to play the campaign system and someof the new scenarios, as well as some new reference cards in the back.The reference cards fit in with those from the Air Packexpansion and so aren’t any use if you don’t own that, but theproduction quality is still top-notch. The whole thing is laid out tolook like a stack of military briefing papers and while it’stext-heavy, the illustrations are good and there’s some solid historyincluded in the notes.
The campaign rules themselves are very simple. A campaign is asequence of linked scenarios, usually around 4 games in length. Eachplayer keeps the same side through each game in the campaign ratherthan swapping as is the case in most one off M44games. The system introduces two new dice rolls to each scenario, onebefore the scenario begins and one at the end. First there’s a “reserveroll” which allows players to add units matching dice symbols rolled totheir forces for this game, although doing so drains a strategicreserve pool each player has for the campaign. Afterward there’s an“event roll” which has adverse effects on your opponents’ startingforces for the next game. The winner of each scenario gains a smallbenefit to carry in to the next scenario, as well as an extra eventdice with which to torment his opponent. In some campaigns there is atree of scenarios with different games being played depending on whowon what earlier on. At the end of the campaign you total up all thevictory medals earned by each side during each scenario and add a fewbonus points for objective medals (i.e. medals earned from holdingterrain rather than killing units) and the player with the higher totalwins, although there are degrees of victory from a draw to a decisivewin. If you want you can link shorter campaigns together into a grandcampaign with its own special rules and determine an overall winner.
Those rules only take up around six pages - the remainder of the bookconsists of descriptions of the campaigns and the scenarios of whichthey comprise. A few of these scenarios are from existing sources suchas the base game rulebook, but most, pleasingly, are completely new.There are three grand campaigns in the book. The first is based on theNormandy campaign, though excluding D-Day, which requires only the basegame set to play. The second comprises the under-gamed German invasionof France and Belgium in 1940, and this also requires the Terrain Pack.The third and longest campaign covers aspects of the German OperationBarbarossa against the Soviet Union in 1941 and this needs both the Terrain Pack and the Eastern Front expansion. Many of the scenarios also feature optional rules for using the Air Pack if you own it, and one states that the Air Packis required, although I’d say you can muddle through without it: Icertainly managed. The requirement for two expansions to make full useof the third campaign is, I think, a mistake, as it will seriouslylimit the potential audience for this book. And that’s a shame becausein terms of play experience, this is undoubtedly the best Memoir expansion yet.
One of best things about Memoir has always been its easygoing nature: it’s a game to break out any time with virtually anyone,to start and evening or to end it. But that accessibility has also beenit’s downfall in the sense that a stand-alone game of basic M44is essentially a forgettable, throwaway thing. The “front” expansionsadded a lot of strategic depth and flavour to the game but this didn’tsolve this basic problem. The campaign book at long last addresses theissue without taking anything away from the value of Memoir as an accessible game because of course you don’t haveto play campaign games: one offs are still perfectly viable and as funas ever. But suddenly the game has become one which can take up anentire evening, instead of just bookending it.
There are multiple aspects as to why I think the campaign system isso compelling and, perhaps surprisingly, very little of it has to dowith the inter-game mechanics of reserves and events. They have acertain charm, and I do like the way the reserve rolls force a generalinto agonising choices over such things as whether to use a lucky roll- say for an elite armour unit - and burn a reserve token now, or saveit for later and risk getting nothing but basic infantry in your rolls.What really does it for me in mechanical terms is the absurdly simpletotaling up of victory medals across the campaign to determine anoverall winner. Not only does this address the oft-quoted problem of afew lucky rolls determining a sudden victor in a single game (becausenow you have a comeback chance) but it means every medal - every singleone - is worth fighting for. If you’re facing a certain defeat afterten turns of play no longer are you simply going through the motionsuntil the game end but you’re fighting tooth and nail to try andsalvage every medal you can out of the debacle. Better yet, thoseoft-ignored objective medals now give you bonus campaign points and sosuddenly become extremely attractive - and exciting - to attack anddefend. During a test of the “flanking Caen” campaign the finalscenario saw an absolutely thrilling bloodbath over the single medalobjective, Hill 112, because the side that got it would clinch theoverall campaign. In a nice twist a couple of the 1940 Blitzkriegcampaigns have other bonus points on offer based on the historicalimportance of destroying tanks and denying mobility to the enemy.
History is the other key to what makes the campaign system feel sorewarding. Each campaign is given a historical preface in addition tothe historical notes for each scenario. Regardless of what you thoughtabout the simulation aspects of the base game, there was certainly aproblem with putting individual scenarios in their historical contextbecause they tended to be modeled on small-scale actions unfamiliar tomost players. With the campaigns this is no longer the case - the grandcampaigns themselves are based on history familiar to most high-schoolstudents and the smaller campaigns and individual scenarios are put intheir proper place within the larger framework. For gamers keen ontheme there’s an added bonus here: the chance to use a quick, simplegame system to actually re-create a wholly imaginative version ofhistory. Memoirmight not feel like much of a simulation, but if you’re playing the1940 campaign and taking the role of a French general has a chance tohalt the Blitzkrieg and avert the entirety of the second World War,that won’t detract a jot from how good you’ll feel if you pull it off.
The scenarios that make up the campaigns are, for the most part,very good and a notch above the bulk of those found in the base game.The fact that most of them are brand new is really the icing on thecake and explains in part why this book was so long in coming - therelooks to be a lot of design hours in this product. As we’ve come toexpect from M44scenarios, most are not balanced and favour one side (usually thehistorical victor) over the other although there are very few one-sidedsetups here: most offer both players a realistic chance to win. Sinceyou’re no longer swapping sides you might think this would lead to aseriously unbalanced experience in playing campaigns but, of course,care has been taken to ensure that the overall campaign arc is roughlybalanced. So in a campaign of 4 scenarios you’d expect 2 to have alliedbias, 2 to have axis bias. This overall balance factor has even beenexploited for variety: at least one campaign offers the choice of anadditional scenario to play - altering the overall balance - to thevictor of one of the mandatory scenarios in the campaign.
Which brings us on to balance in terms of campaign rewards. One ofmy opponents during the course of my review games stated a markedreluctance to try this game out because, he said, campaign systemsalways end up rewarding early victories too much and the later gamesbecome too one-sided. It’s a fair criticism. But again, the design teambehind the M44campaign system seem to have realised this and compensated for it - after actually playing a campaign my opponent agreed it was a very well balanced system. Themost straightforward solution is the short scope of the individualcampaigns which means there’s not too much time to build up momentumbefore a reset, but the points system used in the Grand Campaign meansthat the victor in a single campaign gains his just reward withoutmaking the task impossibly for his opponent. The additional event diceare also a clever idea: forcing your opponents to lose single figuresfrom his units has a far bigger impact on the emotions than it does onbalance. Seeing your enemy gleefully tossing one of your tank figuresback into the box hurts - but of course your unit is still at fulleffectiveness until it dies.
From the point of view of the Memoir system as a whole,this expansion is hard to fault. The individual scenarios are great, itoffers a whole new play experience with added depth and theme, and theexcitement that can be generated by confrontations over single victorymedals can be tangible. But of course most gamers don’t own the wholesystem, which brings us back to the unfortunate fact that to use twothirds of this book, you’ll need to own the Terrain Pack. Ifyou already have that expansion then I highly recommend you get thisone: it’ll inject a whole new lease of life into your play experience.If you don’t then the questions of whether it’s worth getting the Terrain Packjust to play the campaigns, or indeed if the base-game only campaign isenough alone to make the book value for money are rather more thorny. Idon’t have an answer for this: I guess it depends how much money youhave to spend and how much time you’re really likely to spend playing Memoir,although I guarantee that the book will certainly increase your desireto spend time on the game. That’s why I think it’s such a pity that somuch of the book has an absolute requirement for one expansion.
As far as I’m concerned, the existence of the Campaign Book is the final nail in the coffin of all the other Commands & Colors games. They might offer their individual advantages but frankly, who cares now that Memoircan basically do it all? Given how good this supplement is I’m rathersurprised how little attention it seems to have received outside of thehardcore M44 playing community. At the risk of repeating myselfto the point of tedium I can’t help wondering if the limited reactionto this brilliant book isn’t at least partly a factor of its relianceon the Terrain Pack, which must have limited the scope of itspotential market. Here’s hoping that any possible Volume 2 of campaignsisn’t so tied to a single supplement, but in the meantime I hope thatthis review might make up some of the lost fanfare that the Campaign Book richly deserves.