Memoir 44 was already one of the great tactical board games, stripping the rules of war down to their barest bones and emphasising speed and fun over rulers and fine print. Now, with the release of an expansion that adds aircraft miniatures to the game, it’s even more fun.
If you’ve never played it (and we’ve been recommending it for years now), it’s a hex-based wargame where two players deploy armies full of little plastic men, tanks and artillery then command them with a hand of cards. This is what both simplifies Memoir 44 (you can only do one of the moves/commands listed on your cards) and makes it so enjoyable (random card effects mean you’re constantly having to adjust your strategy).
New Flight Plan is an expansion that adds little (and sometimes enormous) plastic aircraft to that mix. While the game has always featured some types of aerial attack, these have been abstract, applied as effects to targeted units without ever physically reflecting the unit doing the damage. Now, though, if you want to bomb or strafe your opponent’s troops, you need to actually deploy aircraft and do it manually.
Each player can have one aircraft deployed on the map at a time, and can choose one of three types when doing it. There are fighters (useful for scouting and shooting down other aircraft), fighter-bombers (for when you want a little bit of dogfighting and a little bit of ground-pounding) and strategic bombers (for when you want to absolutely flatten the enemy).
The game’s five factions gets one of each, while the Americans get a bonus fighter (a Corsair and a Mustang, to cover both European and Pacific scenarios). The miniatures, while unpainted, are fantastic; the fighters are great little recreations, but the larger aircraft are to scale, meaning the Lancaster and B-17 models are colossal things, bristling with detail.
Once deployed, aircraft operate the same as any other unit, with movement points and a combat value. Attacking ground units works a bit differently though, as you’re able to strafe and perform bombing runs, attacking multiple units in a row. Here’s a B-17 dropping bombs on a number of German armoured divisions:
New Flight Plan integrates seamlessly with Memoir’s existing rules, and after only a few minutes feels like it’s been part of the game forever. I really like how the use of aircraft is so thematically perfect, in that they feel just about right in terms of how valuable and important they are on the battlefield, at least when it comes to small-scale tactical engagements like Memoir covers.
It would have been easy to have aircraft come in and be massively overpowered, seeing as they’re a shiny new toy for the game. It would also have been understandable if they’d been underpowered, so as not to mess with the game’s existing and near-perfect combat rules.
New Flight Plan does a good job of getting them right into the sweet spot in between those extremes. They can be devastating if used correctly, but that’s fiddly and takes some work (and luck) to get there. Aircraft are valuable, in that you can only have one out there and they’re difficult to replace, but they’re also vulnerable because a lost aircraft is a precious victory point for your opponent.
The expansion is expensive, but you are getting a lot of stuff, from new command cards to a rulebook full of new scenarios made to take advantage of aircraft to the miniatures themselves. And while it’s a big initial investment for an expansion, at least you’re getting everything you need all at once, rather than having each faction be split up and sold individually.
So yeah, I really like this! I mean, I really like Memoir 44 anyway, but this is an expansion that adds a very different way of playing to the game, yet which feels completely natural for both the game’s rules and the setting itself.