On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 troops, supported by 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft, took part in the D-Day invasion. By day’s end, the Allies gained a foot hold in Normandy, but the cost was high — more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded. Their sacrifice was not in vain, as more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.
That very familiar bit of history is what sets the stage for D-Day Dice by Valley Games. In D-Day Dice, players fight their way through a variety of beach landings and terrain in order to take out the dreaded German machine gun nest situated inside a bunker at the top of each map. Survive the bunker with all units, and you win. Lose any unit along the way, you lose.
Working in tandem or alone in a solitaire game, each player controls a unit, rolling a dice pool of six dice each turn in order to accumulate soldiers (for dying), item points (for buying), courage (for moving) and stars (for recruiting specialists). There are two red dice, two white dice and two blue dice in your pool.You get to roll the dice pool three times, but are required to lock two of them after the first roll. After that, roll away as you wish for the next two rolls. Bonuses are given for achieving three-of-a-kinds, but not just any three-of-a-kind. It has to be accomplished with one red, one white and one blue die, also known as an RWB bonus. Bonuses are for things such as extra soldiers beyond the one-and-two-soldier icons on the dice themselves, extra item points and a handful of other things to help you survive.
After rolling you tally up your totals, and record them on your unit resource cards, which have little dials with numbers. It’s a handy way of recording everything in concept, but you have to be very careful – at least with my set – to make sure not to inadvertently bump or turn another dial when adding or subtracting resources during gameplay. Adjusting these dials is something you’ll be doing often, and it is more fidgety than I would like it to be.
Once your dials are set, it’s time for each player to buy an item and/or recruit a specialist, which are depicted on cards. Items and specialists are essential to tipping the odds in your favor, and some are even required in order to advance. Generally speaking, the more expensive the item or specialist, the more useful it will be. Each scenario map spells out which specialists and items will be available for purchase, in addition to a pool of regularly-appearing items.
The board itself — on which you are advancing into deadly machine gun fire using accumulated courage — is partitioned into sectors, some of which contain little resource bonuses, and most of which contain deadly defense and machine gun icons. Some sectors even require a specific specialist, either as a sacrifice or as a requirement to advance.
But it’s the defense and machine gun icons that will test your luck, patience and skill as you progress. The defense of a sector is simply a number that tells you how many soldiers you lose. Dial your soldier resource backward. This can be as few as three soldiers and as many as 25, and that’s each turn you remain in a sector, which is usually limited to three turns maximum. Some sectors force you to move on immediately. As for machine gun fire, roll a six-sider and subtract another 1 to 6 soldiers from your unit. If you passed through a minefield, lose yet another 1d6 soldiers. All of these results can be mitigated with specialists and items, and items are one-time use.
The strategy in this game boils down to a balancing act of resource management — acquiring enough soldiers to handle the increasingly deadly defense and machine guns, while accumulating enough “star” and “tool” results to recruit specialists and buy items. This balancing act hinges heavily on the luck of your die rolls each turn and the selection of which dice to lock, re-roll or keep. Do you go for the RWB bonus and risk losing valuable soldiers? Can you hold out for just one more turn in a sector taking casualties while trying desperately to roll stars and item points so you can purchase a much-needed item card or specialist?
Thankfully, in games with two or more players, you can generously give and trade all manner of resources with units in the same sector. I think multi-player is where this game shines. It’s fun to roll dice pools simultaneously, ascertaining needs across units and going for what helps the group. Many of the expensive items you can acquire are also most helpful in group situations, as multiple units in a sector can benefit.
Overall, this game can be brutal, relying as much (or more) on luck as strategic game play. So far, I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and I am looking forward to many games in the future. So far, epic failure is the general theme of the games I’ve played solo. Having 20 soldiers to sacrifice at the final bunker at Omaha Beach, or being able to afford a flamethrower after purchasing other essential items on the way to the bunker, can be tough nuts to crack. Like I said, it is a balancing act, but you need the die rolls to do it. I’ve found that good decisions alone will not win a scenario. (As I caveat, I’m not too proud to add that it’s quite reasonable to suspect that my so-called “good decisions” may at times be sub-par decisions in the eyes of others!)
Given the theme and pacing of this game, the one thing I would have liked to see is a more proactive approach to combat. As it stands, you simply lose a set number of soldiers based on the defense of a sector and machine gun fire. A mechanic that would have allowed for a unit to fire back at the bunker on a regular basis would go a long ways toward feeling like you are actually fighting your way toward the bunker. Off the top of my head, I envision a 1d6 roll against the defense of a sector for every 10 soldiers in a unit (lessening the damage a bit, and recognizing that there is strength in numbers). As the game stands, soldiers are depicted as cannon fodder. They are accumulated in order to lose them.
As Patton said, “[n]o bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
My criticism in no way diminishes my enjoyment of the game, but at the very least, it is a recognition of just how difficult it is to run a group of soldiers into a bunker firing relentlessly down on a heavily defended approach. But still I say it would have been great to at least give players the opportunity to feel like they are firing back at the bunker, suppressing the Nazi bastards inside, saving a few more soldiers in the process. If that meant a slight re-balancing of the defense numbers, so be it. I just can’t let go of the feeling that fighting back in some way would thematically enhance game play.
Next time you have your gaming group together, pull out some D-Day Dice, because as Patton also said, “Now, an army is a team – it lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap.”
The Board Game Show podcast