Warfare Is Fun As An Army Of One
Anyone who has read my articles for any length of time knows that I’m not a huge fan of solo games that don’t involve an electronic device. Long have I held the stance that board games are made for people to get together, have some fun and conversation, and really, the game is the centerpiece for a social gathering more than the sole purpose of just playing a game. So, when I recently traded for D-Day Dice in the Fortress: AT “Arms Trade”, knowing that it was highly attuned to the frequency of solo gaming, I was a bit skeptical that I’d like it, but I kind of had to see what it was about. My thoughts boiled down to, “Killing Nazis and lots of dice? What could go wrong?” But let’s get to the basics before I explain how I feel about the game.
The whole idea of the game is that you play Australian, French, American, and British forces attempting to storm a beach and take out a Nazi bunker. This is accomplished by rolling dice every turn in order to gain resources which will allow you to progress through the mine-laden terrain. You can “find” items by spending one type of resource, you can advance up the beach by spending another resource, and you can gain specialists which give your unit special powers with another. The last resource you can roll for is the most important: ground-pounders who will keep you alive, because if any unit runs out of troops, it’s game over for everyone. To forestall that, players in the same space can freely trade resources, which is the only player interaction in the entire game.
D-Day Dice is, quite simply, a rather mechanical resource management game that uses Yahtzee style set collection as the core progress mechanic. Now, as exciting as storming a beach and wasting Nazis sounds, in D-Day Dice, it’s not. It’s very dry, repetitious, and doesn’t provide a ton of tension, except in small doses at very irregular spurts. It just lacks that “special something” which makes you want to play a game; maybe it’s excitement, maybe it’s interaction with other players, I don’t know. It just didn’t tickle my pickle like I had hoped when I envisioned a dice game about invading Normandy. It felt more like a game that put the focus on accounting arithmetic rather than excitement. The real crime in this is that you don’t actually get to kill Nazis; in fact, the only thing that dies in this game is your troops.
While it works pretty well as a solo game, when playing with more than one person, the game is quite chaotic in that each player takes their turn at the same time, independent of one another except during the “trading/buying” phase of a turn. So, really, the only thing that has players “playing together” is the fact that you can trade things, and since many of the special resources are from a pool, one person’s actions can limit another’s. In essence, each player is an army of one, so to speak, that just happens to be on the same beach at the same time.
With the interaction amounting trading resources to keep others alive so that you all don’t lose, it’s a lot like Witch of Salem. Unfortunately, I’d argue that Witch of Salem is a better multi-player game, in fact, because it’s less of a static puzzle to be beaten as much as a dynamic, situational puzzle. Plus, it executes theme better from a mechanics-integral-to-theme standpoint than D-Day Dice, I think. This is really a multi-player solitaire experience, and because you don’t really get to kill anything, and you’re just collecting resources and moving up the ladder, it’s just not that exciting. Not bad, just not exciting.
The real strong point in the game is the bits, because they really did an exceptional job with everything that comes in the box. I mean, the one thing Kickstarter proves is that people are willing to throw handfuls of money at something if the bits are appealing. The first, and most important thing, is that the game comes with resource trackers in the form of dial-laden cards. Each card has six dials, two of which track up to 99 using two each, and the other two being single-dial trackers. They really did a good thing here, because you’re using those trackers constantly during a game, and had they gone with chits or something, it would’ve been ~the fiddliest game ever~.
There are also four double-sided maps which represent eight unique terrain sets, with some missions being much longer than others. These are loaded to the hilt with icons, so the art isn’t really all that important, although it’s pretty good, because you’re really just moving from icon-filled area to the next as you advance. There’s also 24 custom red, white, and blue resource dice, four unit dice, and some D6 dice with red six pips that I have already re-purposed for another game. It’s got lots of nice half-size cards in there, with no art to speak of on them, but I like the fact that you can actually read them, and the icons make sense. The rule book is also very nice, easy to read, and does a far better than average job of getting you into the game quickly and without much need to go back to it. It’s also got quarter sheet sized cards that have a very nice rules summary.
The maps are quite unique, and give a lot of variability between sessions, with each of them having attached scenarios which generally limit what special resources, such as commanders and items, are available for that game. So, there’s a lot of replay value, but due to the design, it amounts to essentially having eight unique puzzles to solve. My copy came with a stretch goal: a canvas messenger bag, which my daughter immediately annexed for her own purposes. I don’t entirely know why they didn’t spend that stretch money on something that made the game better, such as more maps, more players, or whatever, but hey, people paid for it so it must’ve served a purpose. All in all, the whole production is incredibly impressive, and if you’re a bits whore, you’re going to absolutely drool over this.
Getting back to my opinion on D-Day Dice as a game, I’ve played it seven times now, three solo and the balance with three and four players, and I have to say that it just seems to work better as a solo game. There’s great solo rules built right into the game, so it’s not like it’s tacked on. I will say that it’s easier to win with one player, without a doubt, but the difficulty and complexity don’t scale from two to four players. If I had to point to one overriding complaint about the game, it would be that it’s a little ~too~ simple, lacking any sort of nuance, and the real driving force in the game is the push-your-luck aspect. That’s fine, but it’s just not all that compelling, and the gameplay doesn’t evoke any feeling like I’m storming a beach, or really, doing anything but rolling some dice, doing some math, and spinning little dials in the wrong direction for the twentieth time to update my resource count.
It’s absolutely a puzzle game, but I’m not looking at that as a bad thing. It’s a neat little game that I think is great to whip out when your wife wants to spend some quality time watching Terms of Endearment; just get some felt so that the dice rolls don’t bother her and you can sit and play, pretending you’re interested in the movie. If you’re expecting an epic battle or something, or if you’re expecting that it’s an instant-classic Ameritrash co-operative, you’re likely to be a bit disappointed. I almost think it was designed as a solo game with the co-operative part tacked on as an afterthought.
Why D-Day Dice Is Victorious:
- – Truly remarkable production values for such a small game
- – Plays very well as a solo game, one of the few I don’t abhor
- – In 45 minutes, you’ve probably played twice
- – One of the most clear rule books ever made
- – Super replay value with huge differences in the scenario difficulty
Why I Should Probably Be Speaking German:
- – Multi-player solitaire is an understatement
- – Middling art and cluttered playfield
- – Just not that exciting or fun
I never thought of D-Day as something that could be effectively demonstrated in a Yahtzee-style resource management game, and it turns out that I was correct. There is a disconnect between the theme and the mechanics, I think, and I think that detracts from the game’s shine. That said, it’s not completely boring or anything, it’s simply not very exciting. It’s a bit on the dry, mechanical side, but it’s not without merit; it’s simply a puzzle game that has very little player interaction, nice bits, and that has a little more math than I’d like. Personally, I’ll almost certainly play it a bit more before giving it up in trade, but I can almost guarantee that I’ll never play all eight scenarios, and I’ll probably not play it with other people.
Learn more about D-Day Dice here: http://www.ddaydice.com/
You can download the print-and-play version here: http://www.ddaydice.com/ddaydicetrial.zip