Reviewed by James Davis
D-DAY DICE: 2ND EDITION (Word Forge Games, 1-4 players, ages 14 and up, 45 minutes; £45/$60)
D-Day, the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control, began in the morning of June 6th, 1944 along the beaches of France’s Normandy region. The invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. D-Day Dice, by Emmanuel Aquin, is a resource-management multiplayer cooperative game that simulates this invasion. And it does so in a very clever way. The second edition of the game has recently finished a successful Kickstarter campaign. This follows the first edition of D-Day Dice in 2011, which was one of the most successful Kickstarter events of it’s day.
Players are a group of Allied soldiers who are attempting to organize their units after landing on the shores of Normandy. The players start on the beach, having just left the landing craft. You only have a handful of soldiers with you and a long, hard path up the beach to the bunker. You must gather the soldiers on the beach, collect tools and items along the way from fallen comrades, gain courage to advance towards the bunker and rally specialists to your side to gain their abilities.
The base game contains 6 double-sided Battle Maps that are used to show the location of the Allied forces as they make their way up the shore. There are 4 Resource Cards for each of the 4 players, containing 6 dials that each player uses to keep track of the resources that he or she will need to be successful. Each player will have a Player Aid for the nation they choose with a very good list of relevant information, such as the turn of play and the results of die rolls. Also, each Player Aid is slightly different for each nation. The dice results listed on each one is identical except for the exact numbers for a RWB roll. More on that later.
There are over a hundred cards. Each player has a deck of 6 Regular Specialists and 5 Reserve Specialists. There are also 16 Award cards, 6 Ranking Specialists 4 Unique Specialists 16 Regular Items, 12 Special Items and 6 Vehicle cards. And, unsurprisingly considering the name of the game, there are tons of dice. Each player has one die that is used to mark the location on the Battle Map. And everyone takes 2 red, 2 white and 2 blue dice.
To begin, the players should choose a battle map. The base game comes with 12 on 6 double-sided heavy cardboard mats. From N-01 “Exercise Tiger,” which is a simple practice run to learn the game, to N-12 “Pegasus Bridge,” a much harder slog where the players have to successfully conquer the bunker and then survive long enough to reach the bridge. There are also battle maps for Omaha, Gold and Sword beaches as well as other famous battle locations.
The battle maps are all quite different, but there are consistent similarities. They all have 5 or 6 rows from the beach to the bunker, and each row has 1 to 3 spaces, or sectors, to move into. Thus, you have strategic choices on how to advance from row to row. Within these sectors, or along some edges, are icons that determine what the defenses are, what requirements are needed, penalties, bonuses and awards you might find. The iconography is well documented in the separate Scenario Book and descriptions of the most common icons are also on the Player aid placards.
After choosing the battle map, and thus the scenario, the players should choose a nation to play. The choices are UK, USA, Canada or France in the base game. You will take the Specialist decks, Unit marker die, Player aid, and the Resource card matching that nation. The Unit marker dice are placed at the bottom of the battle map. Then, depending on the number of players (the game can be played solitaire), you will set up the resources and items as listed in the rules.
To give you an overview of the game, I’ll run through the turn sequence. Trading is allowed between players if their Unit marker dice are in the same location. You can trade anything except Awards and Specialists and you can trade at any time except for phase 6.
Each turn starts with rolling dice. As mentioned, each player has two each of red, white and blue dice. As with similar dice games, you get up to three rolls to gain the best result. After the first roll, you are required to “lock” at least two dice. Set them aside and don’t roll them again. In the subsequent rolls you are free to lock or re-roll any dice you choose. After the third roll, you have your final tally.
The dice, no matter the color, have one each of a Star (used to rally Specialist cards), a Badge (determines courage used to advance up the battle map and to draw Award cards), a Wrench (used to gain Item points), a single Soldier or a double Soldier (add either 1 or 2 soldiers to your unit) and a Skull (cancels another die). Except for the Skull and Wrench, you just add the roll results to your resource card by using the dials along the edges. With the Wrench, you gain Item points based on how many Wrenches you rolled: 1 Item point for 1 Wrench, 3 for 2, 6 for 3 and so on.
In addition to the basic resources you get from the dice, you also get the chance at RWB (Red, White and Blue) bonuses. If you roll identical results on the 3 different colored dice you get these bonuses:
- Three RWB Skulls is a Dead Man’s Gift that gives you a significant amount of Item points.
- Three RWB Stars is a Leadership roll that add a virtual dice to your Final Tally or gives Item points to other players.
- Three RWB single Soldiers is Reinforcements that adds bonus Soldiers to your Unit and some to another player.
- Three RWB double Soldiers is called Fresh Troops and it adds even more Soldiers.
- Three RWB Badges is a Battle Cry. This gives you more Soldiers, or you can choose to advance up the battle map without needing to spend the required Courage.
- And three RWB Wrenches is a Special Find that allows you to gain an Item card, or additional Courage.
It is with the RWB bonuses where the Nations are different from each other. The amount of Item points, bonus Soldiers, etc. are slightly different on each Player aid placard. And there is one additional rare result you can achieve. If you roll a straight (one each of the six results on your six dice) then you are allowed to choose a card from the very powerful Award deck.
The next phase is Upkeep. You simply collect the resources that you rolled and add any RWB bonuses to your Resource cards. These resources are Soldiers, Items and Specialists that your Unit finds or encounters as you work your way up the beach.
Then you adjust your Unit marker dice on the battle map for the third phase. There are six icons on these dice used to mark your location on the map. This die is never rolled, it is instead a marker on the battle map. There are three chevron icons in increasing numbers, from one to three. These are used to keep track of how long you have been in one location on the map. You are only allowed to stay in a location for three turns. And so, during this phase you adjust your die to show the next chevron. If you started the turn with the last chevron then you turn it to a red arrow that shows you need to move your Unit this turn. There is also a double green arrow that you use to show you rolled a Battle Cry RWB (three Badges of different colors). This reminds you that you can advance towards the bunker without spending Courage. And lastly there is a black Shield you use on certain sectors on the map that show the same symbol. This means you can only stay on this map space one turn.
Phase 4 allows each player to do these three things: Rally a Specialist, Find an Item and Draw an Award. There are four kinds of Specialists: Regular, Reserve, Ranking and Unique. The first two are in your hand of cards, the second two are placed on the table as a pool that anyone can choose from, the number and types of which are determined by the scenario. You spend Stars to rally Specialists. Each card shows the number of Stars you need to play that card in front of you. All of the Specialist cards give you a unique bonus that changes the rules for you. For example, the Corporal allows you to re-roll one die in your Final Tally. Or the Sharpshooter allows you to ignore one Skull result in your Final Tally. Or the Minesweeper allows you to ignore Land Mine icons on the battle map. You can have as many Regular Specialists as you can afford, but you can only have one of the more powerful Reserve Specialists at a time. The Ranking and Unique Specialists work similarly, but there can only be one Unique Specialist in the game at any time.
To find an item, you spend the Item points you’ve accumulated to purchase your choice of a card from the Item deck. The Item cards work the same way as the Specialists except that Item cards are one-use cards while the Specialists are not discarded when used. And the last thing you can do during this phase is to purchase an Award card. These are very powerful one-use cards, and you can only get them by spending 6 Courage during this phase or by rolling a straight during phase 2. Vehicles can also be purchased using Item points, but they act like a Specialist card in that you don’t discard them.
In phase 5, the players move, or if possible and desired, they remain in place. As I’ve said, you can only remain in one place for three turns. It is not possible to move diagonally or backwards and you can’t visit the same location twice. You can move left or right on the same row at no cost, but if you want to move to the next row, towards the bunker, you need to spend Courage points. It is one Courage from the beach to the next row, then two for the one after that, then three, and so on. Some locations have a requirement to move into, such as losing a Specialist card or having a certain Specialist or Item on the table in front of you.
The 6th phase is Combat. Every unit, whether it moved or not, will take damage. Each location has one or more shield icons with a number inside. You lose that many Soldiers from your Resource card as casualties. This simulates the Nazi defenses in that location on the map. Some Items or effects can mitigate this number. If the location has an icon that resembles a target, it means your Unit is exposed to Machine Gun Fire. If this is the case, you roll a (normal) six-sided die and subtract that number from your Soldiers, in addition to the number shown in the shield icon. If needed, you can discard a Specialist card instead of subtracting a Soldier on your Resource card.
And that’s it. You continue to run through these phases until every player’s Unit marker die is in the bunker at the end of the Battle map. You need to have at least 1 Soldier remaining. If one or more Units are not able to do this then all players lose the game. The game will also be lost if any Unit is wiped out (you have no more Soldiers and Specialists to lose), or if someone is forced to move to the next row and is unable to.
As you can tell, D-Day Dice is quite simple once you understand the flow of the game. Turns can go by quite quickly, and a game typically takes around 45 minutes to play. While the game is a simulation of the D-Day invasion, it is actually much more of a resource management game than a complicated war game. But considering the abstraction of the simulation, it is still very thematic. There is a great deal of tension and many hard decisions every player needs to make as you fight your way to the bunker.
The base game is very enjoyable as it is. The 12 battle maps allow for many hours of engaging play. But why stop there? Fortunately, D-Day Dice has some amazing expansions that expand the game in many surprising ways. These expansions also add new Nations to play, which allows for more than 4 players.
The Way to Hell expansion ($40) adds 5 new battle maps, including Utah and Juno beaches which completes the historical Normandy landings. There are also new Specialist, Vehicle and Award cards. It also includes five Modules that you can choose to add to the base game.
- The Way to Hell: It adds sea battle maps that you need to traverse before you even get to the normal battle map. Your Unit is a landing craft trying to survive the bombardment from the bunker. You desperately try to lose as few Soldiers as possible before you hit the beach. You start the normal game with what you were able to salvage from the sea battle map.
- Gold Dice: You can use these dice in many ways, such as rolling one in addition to your normal 6 dice, or using it as a wild die.
- Special Missions: These are new cards that list resources you need to gather and then sacrifice to gain an Award card and other benefits.
- War Heroes: These are replacement Specialists that represent historical soldiers during the World War II.
- SHAEF: A new Nation you can choose. This represents the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).
The War Stories expansion contains 6 new battle maps, more Specialists and Awards. And these modules.
- War Stories: Players choose a War Stories card that alters the rules of the game.
- Legendary Units: Instead of the normal deck of Specialists, you can choose a historical unit that fought in the Normandy landings, such as the 101st Airborne Division or the 29th Infantry Division.
- Servicemen: A deck of cards that represent individual soldiers you encounter on the battlefield. You gain them as an option when you roll a Special Find RWB.
- Last Man Standing: This is an alternate way to play. Instead of gaining Soldiers, you start with a full Unit of Soldiers and will lose them as you play.
- Poland: A new Nation to play.
The Atlantikwall expansion turns the game from a cooperative game to one person, playing the Germans, against the rest, who play the Allied forces. It can also be played solitaire with an automated Allied Unit. It adds 6 new battle maps, Vehicles and Awards. It also adds a Battle Conditions deck that is drawn each turn to simulate unpredictable battle conditions. And a Badges deck from which you can draw when you roll a Battle Cry RWB. These cards affect your die rolls and your Final Tally.
And if I have sold you on the game and you want to take a deep dive, then I recommend getting D-Day Dice Overlord (£30). It transforms the game from cooperative to competitive and adds a campaign book that allows for up to 3 teams of 4 players on huge battlefields that use up to 9 battle maps. It also adds Greece and Norway as new Nations you can play.
With these expansions, D-Day Dice becomes a game you can play over and over again, with no single game like any other. And with the possibility of playing solitaire to 12 people at a time, it can fit pretty much any gaming group’s numbers. I am quite impressed by how the expansions extend the base game in exciting ways, while still retaining the simplicity of the original rules.
If you asked me for any downside to the expansions it is that I had a great deal of difficulty in separating the cards into their respective modules and decks. The graphic designer did not add numbers or any form of iconography to distinguish the cards from each other. And so a Specialist card from the base game, except for the name, looks identical to all of the expansion’s Specialist cards. An icon or number in the corner of the cards would make it so much easier to sort. But that’s a niggling detail, and easily overcome once I figured out how to sort them.
I hope this helped you gain an overview of this excellent game. D-Day Dice is a very solid and expansive simulation of this important historical event. The theme is not tacked on as an afterthought, but is baked into the system. And so, if you are like me, a person who loves history and simulation, or if you simply enjoy a good resource management game, then I highly recommend checking out this game. – – – – James Davis
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