Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 27 March 2020

Friday Filler: D-Day Dice

D-Day was a momentous event at the end of War World 2, marking the major assault by the Allies on a Europe which has been under occupation by the Nazis for four years. This single combined forces action has been the subject of numerous books and memoirs over the years, as well as films such as D-Day and Saving Private Ryan, television series like Band of Brothers, and boardgames such as D-Day and Axis & Allies: D-Day, both from Avalon Hill Games, Inc. Many of the board games which explore D-Day are simulations, typically hex and counter wargames. This means that they will only appeal to a certain type of gamer, the wargamer, and typically, they can only be played by two participants, each of whom commands numerous units, which depending upon the game can be squads, platoons, squadrons, battalions, regiments, and more. Yet modern gaming can and often does approach its subject matters with different mechanics and ways of playing. So it is with D-Day Dice, which combines co-operative play, dice mechanics, and a timing mechanism, all played against the board rather than another player. Originally published by Valley Games, Inc. in 2012 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, in 2019, Word Forge Games published D-Day Dice, Second Edition, again following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Designed to be played by between one and four players, aged fourteen and over, D-Day Dice, Second Edition can be played in roughly forty-five minutes, or less once the players get used to the mechanics or lose. In the game, each player controls a Unit of soldiers assaulting one of the beaches fortified by the Nazis as part of their Atlantic Wall. These Units come from one of four Allied nations—the USA, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada—and will be represented by a single die on the map and supported by a Reference Card and a Resource Tracker. Each turn the players will roll dice to generate resources and use to be able to survive on the battlefield whilst supporting each other and building up a force strong enough to get up the beach and breach the bunker. All this is against the clock and difficult odds. To win, every Unit must assault the bunker and survive—that is, have at least one soldier alive at the end, but if all of the soldiers in a Unit are killed or a Unit cannot advance up the beach before time runs out, then everyone loses and the Nazis win!

Open up the box for D-Day Dice, Second Edition and you will find an eighteen-page rulebook and a twenty-page scenario book; four Reference Cards and four Resource Trackers—one for each nation; six double-sided map boards providing twelve different scenarios; over one hundred cards, representing Specialist soldiers, items, vehicles, and award; thirty tokens; and thirty-two dice. Each of the map board represents a particular historical target, starting with Exercise Tiger, the Allied rehearsal for D-Day, through Omaha Beach and Pointe Du Hoc, up to Pegasus Bridge. Divided into various Sectors, they are marked with obstacles such as land mines and barriers. Many have certain conditions, such as Sectors where there is just room for a single Unit, have requirements to enter, and certain loses which need to be met—for example a Specialist or an Item—before they can be entered. Matching these conditions and maintaining enough Soldiers to keep going will challenge the players throughout D-Day Dice.

Of the thirty-two dice in D-Day Dice, Second Edition, four are black and are rolled when German weapons inflict damage on a Unit. Four are Unit Markers, used to track each Unit’s movement on the map and how much time the Unit has before it must move—either to an adjacent Sector or forward into a Sector closer to the bunker. These is a Unit Marker for each of the Units in the game. The other twenty-four—six per Unit and player—are ‘RWB’ or ‘Red-White-Blue’ dice and lie at the heart of the game. These dice are red, white, and blue, and each player has two of each colour. Each die is marked with six symbols that represent the resources in the game. Star symbols are used to Rally Specialists to a player’s Unit; Soldier symbols—single and double—add Soldiers to a Unit; medal or Courage symbols are used to draw Awards which grant various bonuses or to advance a Unit up the map; and Tool symbols generate Item Points with which to purchase Items. Lastly, Skull symbols cancel other die results if they appear in a player’s Final Tally.

On a turn, each player will roll his six ‘RWB’ dice. He must keep and lock two of them after this first roll, but can reroll or keep as many of the other dice as he wishes. After the second roll, he must keep and lock another two, but can keep more if he wishes. After the third roll, all of his dice are locked. This is his Final Tally used to generate the resources for that Turn, which are recorded on the Resource Tracker—which requires a little assembly before first game—and spent in that same Turn. Resources are not kept from Turn to Turn.

This is simple enough, but D-Day Dice adds a couple of twists to the dice mechanic. One is that is if a player rolls a ‘Straight’—one of each symbol on every die, he earns a free Award rather than purchasing it with multiple Award symbols. The other is if he rolls three identical symbols on different dice, so the same symbol on a Red, a White, and a Blue die. This grants a ‘RWB’ bonus. So three Skulls or ‘Dead Man’s Gift’ has a player’s Unit finds equipment on a dead soldier’s gear bag; three single Soldiers grants ‘Reinforcements’ which join a Unit; and three Medals or ‘Battle Cry’ inspires a Unit to go above and beyond the call of duty. Now it is not merely a matter of each triple combination granting a ‘RWB’ bonus, because the actual bonus is different for each nation. So for ‘Battle Cry’ for the USA either grants two Stars or enables a Unit to advance into a new Sector without meeting its requirement, but for the United Kingdom, it grants three Soldiers or it enables a Unit to advance into a new Sector without meeting its requirement. These little variations add flavour and variation to each of the Units.

A Turn consists of six phases. In Phase One, the players roll the dice and then do the Upkeep—recording resources generated in Phase Two. In Phase Three, they adjust Unit Markers, turning the die each Turn until the fourth face shows an arrow indicating that the Unit must move in the next phase. In Phase Four, each player can Rally a Specialist, Find an Item, or Draw an Award, depending the results of the ‘RWB’ dice that Turn. A Specialist adds an ability to a Unit, such a Runner which enables a player to give another Unit resources and Items no matter where they are on the map—otherwise they need to be in the Sector to either give or trade resources. Specialists are also important in the game because some maps require them to be sacrificed in order for a Unit to be able to advance. Such Specialists cannot be rallied again, that is, there are no replacements. Items are single-use items of equipment like the Flamethrower which reduces the Defence value of the bunker or the Despatch Case which lets a player copy the Final Tally of another Unit. Awards are again one-use cards and add a great effect to play, for example, the Bronze Star enables a Unit to stay in a Sector for one Turn longer, whilst the amazing Victoria Cross enables a player to determine every player’s Final Tally that Turn.

In Phase Five, each Unit which wants or to Move must do so. This is to a new Sector—either to the side or forward. A Unit cannot retreat or revisit a Sector. In Phase Six, Combat, each Unit takes damage according to the Defense value of the Sector it is in. Damage reduces the number of Soldiers a Unit has and if reduced to zero means that the Allies have lost. If a Unit can get into the Bunker, it will take a lot of damage, so a Unit will need to find Items which reduce its Defense value sufficiently for the Unit to survive assaulting it and so help win the game. This does not have to be done simultaneously, one Unit can successfully assault the Bunker and its player wait for the others to arrive. Once every Unit has attacked and held the Bunker, then the game is won. 

Physically, D-Day Dice, Second Edition is very well produced. Everything is done in full colour, the card stock is good, everything is readable in the Rule Book and the Scenario Book, and the dice feel good in the hand. Perhaps the map boards are a little small and they do not quite sit as flat as they should, but really, these are minor niggles. A better explanation of how the Bunker is assaulted might have been useful for less experienced players.

The rulebook for D-Day Dice, Second Edition also includes notes for solo play as well as adding Victory Points to the game. It ends with some advice on how to play too. The Scenario Book comes with three training missions on Tiger Beach as well as the other eleven maps. Pleasingly, each scenario comes with a dedication to the men and units who fought there along with the specific details about the map.

The twelve map boards and the four different nationalities—and then the addition of the Victory Point rules—give D-Day Dice, Second Edition a lot of replay value. As does its short playing time. It is also easy to set up again, so if one game is lost, it is not difficult to set up another and start again. Whether playing solo with a single Unit or multiple Units—which will take longer to play, but does keep the game’s co-operative element, D-Day Dice, Second Edition is tense and challenging to play. This is especially so on the later maps as you would expect, but it is not just because the players are relying on random dice rolls to determine how they plan and what they can do.

Throughout the game, the players are forced to think ahead and plan what they need on the route they are going to take up the beach, but this changes from map to map. Get that wrong and the game will be lost. So having learned one set of conditions to advance on one map, the players have to learn to prepare for a whole new set of conditions on another map. This is in addition to the game’s co-operative element which will often force Units to congregate in order to swap the game’s various resources. This may be an issue for the more casual player, but not for the experienced board or wargames player.

The ‘RWB’ dice and mechanics are not only clever, they also add some pleasing theme and variation to the different nationalities, though sometimes you wish that there was a little more of this national flavour and theme. That said, they form the foundation upon which a narrative can be told as D-Day Dice is played, as Specialists are Rallied, Vehicles and Items found, and Awards won, and a Unit makes its assault on the Bunker.

D-Day Dice, Second Edition is a clever implementation of modern game mechanics—dice rolling, co-operative play, timed play, and against the clock—to explore an old theme in a new way. 

No comments:

Post a Comment