Boardgame publisher Days of Wonder released this month a new expansion for their lite wargame Memoir ’44. The New Flight Plan Expansion brings aircraft into the mix for Memoir ’44. The original Air Pack Expansion (now long out of print) actually won the Dice Tower Awards in 2007 for Best Game Expansion. I never owned or played it so New Flight Plan is our first foray into air warfare for the Memoir ’44 series of games. My initial reaction to New Flight Plan is that of cognitive dissonance; I like the introduction of aircraft into Memoir ’44 but find some of the abstractions very jarring.
The first abstraction that jarred me is the model colors – or lack thereof. Although I looked at the ad copy several times, when I first opened the box I was confused by all the aircraft being the same molded color. I had not seen this in a DoW game since Battlelore 1st Edition. Granted, production cost is probably driving DoW to this decision; nonetheless it was jarring seeing all the aircraft in the same, neutral, off white. The model details are acceptable but even the aircraft recognition nerd in me has some issues immediately recognizing which plane is which on the battlefield. The aircraft stands have a place for a Nation Marker but honestly, the lack of color variation was unexpected and diminishes the play experience.
The second abstraction that jarred me was the choice of aircraft. In New Flight Plan, each nation gets a bomber, a fighter-bomber, and a fighter. For example, the Americans get a B-17 bomber, a P-47 fighter-bomber, and two fighters (P-51 for European Theater and F4U Corsair for the Pacific Theater). When I saw the selection of aircraft, I asked myself, “what about the other aircraft” quickly followed by a rueful comment about a new DoW money-grab with different models. However, after reading the rules I discovered that the actual models are purely representational; all bombers have the same qualities, just like all fighter-bombers or all fighters. At first, this coarse level of abstraction jarred me until I got my head wrapped around the concept of gaming for effect. Thus, the choice of air unit models is not indicative of the capability of that particular aircraft, but a very broad-brush abstraction of that class of aircraft.
The next jarring abstraction that hit me was in the rules. Specifically, air units blocking line of sight and other interactions with ground units. Amongst the rules that I found challenging:
- “…an air unit occupies the hex it is on and will therefore block line of sight.”
- “An air unit may move through a hex with an enemy or friendly ground unit. It cannot end its move on the same hex as another unit though.”
- “An air unit may not move through a hex with an enemy air unit.”
- “A ground unit may move through a hex with a friendly air unit. However, it may not move through a hex with an enemy air unit (this is called ground interdiction).
Although it makes no sense to me that an aircraft blocks line of sight, I have to remind myself that the effect of the air unit can be practically translated as blocked line of sight even when the strict reality is otherwise. As far as the other rules, I have to constantly remind myself that Memoir ’44 has a very loose definition of scale, both in distance and time. Like the abstraction of models, I have to remind myself that it is more important to game the effect of air units, not to strictly simulate them.
It will probably not be until later this month that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself get New Flight Plan to the gaming table. When we do I believe I will enjoy it, but I will also have to prepare the Boys (like myself) to set aside preconceptions. Yes, that model is a P-47. Yes, that plane could, and could not do, some things better than others. But the model does not represent a P-47, it signifies the (broadly defined) capabilities of a fighter-bomber are available to the player. Abstractions are not automatically negative; but some need to be understood to avoid overthinking a game.