Tuesday, February 26, 2013

D-Day Dice - 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.

3/5 Stars

Learn more about D-Day Dice here:

You can download the print-and-play version here:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Quarriors! - Quality Bits, But What A Fuqued Up Quame

I first reported on Quarriors! a long time back, when it was first released at a GenCon 2011. Anyhow, I played it three times and I talked to a bunch of people who had just dropped fifty bucks on it; unanimous love and gushing praise was on their lips. Well, after a year of not playing it, I decided to get a copy of it so my kid would have a game that we could play together that wouldn't bore me to death. Turns out that not only does my kid not want to play it, it bores me to death.

Quarriors! is what Wizkids has termed "a dice building game (TM) (R) (C)" which amounts to a deck building game where you spend resources to buy dice instead of cards. There's a really great idea in this game, which is taking the shuffling out of deck building games. They also had a great concept in the fact that you roll the dice and each die can be one of many things after rolling, so there's a lot of variability in how the game plays. Tie that in with the fact that the game comes with a metric assload of cards so that you never really play the exact same set of dice every time, and it was a sure bet. Except for one detail: it's about as fun as MIG welding your balls to a chain link fence.

Before I get to what makes this game so incredibly dull, let me get to the mostly good stuff, which are the components. It has a ton of what I think are 16mm dice, 130 of them, in fact. It comes with four faux Crown Royal bags, some wooden cubes to keep track of score, a bazillion cards which are used to identify what dice are what, and a little cardboard scoreboard. Finally, the game comes in a tin with two smartly designed plastic inserts, and a rule book. The rules are well laid out and easy to read, and the game can be taught, from a "how to play" perspective, in about 10 minutes. All in all, it's great looking with truly lovely artwork, and the parts are all of very high quality. But let's get to the bad parts about the components, because there's a few "huh?" moments there.
First, the tin it comes in is probably the single dumbest thing about the game's physical design, sort of like how Forbidden Island and Panic Station have done: why make it a shape and size that makes it nearly impossible to find a shelf spot for it? Next, the wooden cubes are in colors that are impossible to tell apart in a darker room, so I immediately swapped them out for little Agricola bits that work tons better. I'd rather be the "carrot" or "reed" player than the "is that black, green, or blue?" player. Then there's the dice, which have writing on them that sometimes requires a Leica microscope to decipher. The writing is so God damned small that it makes you pick up the die and jam it into your face in order to see if it's a one, two, or three on it. I guess they knew it was a kid's game and that their eyesight would be better than a bunch of buzzed adults. The last complaint is that if you're color blind, like one of my friends, it's like trying to do Chinese Algebra; they look so much alike that it will take some time to learn what dice are what.
Anyhow, all in all these are minor complaints, in the grand scheme. What makes this game suck the fur off of a dog's jacobs is that it lacks many decision points. I mean, they are in there, especially early in the game, but beyond the first five turns, it's not so much making a decision as much as recognizing that there's only one really viable decision to make, and if you make a different decision, it's probably only because you're feeling randy or something.  Now, not all the matches I've played were like that, but it's a design problem in an otherwise pretty elegant design. Most of the "buy values" of each die are such that you'll not get many dice that cost the same, so when you get five currency units, which are called "quiddity" you spend as much of it as you have at the end of your turn. 

This is not to say that it's a bad game due to one major flaw, because that's not the case. It's a boring game due to the preponderance of many minor flaws. The real decisions are "do I buy the most costly item, or do I put monsters into play, then cull my worst dice, and then buy the most costly item" and this is not enough to sustain attention. Add to that the ridiculously stupid name, and the even more ridiculously stupid use of "Qu-" in virtually everything you do. It's as if some PR muppet who secretly harbors resentment against Scrabble wanted to add more "Q" words to the world's lexicon so he could win more often. I mean, the currency in the game is called "Quiddity", which sounds like some sort of a venereal disease. "Dude, look at my dick..it's like an eggplant! I knew that bitch had Quiddity!" or something. It's ridiculous. Seriously, I feel dumber just knowing the word.

They had the Star Trek license, so why didn't they make it a Star Trek game? Geeks in red shirts, smelling like Red Shirt, would've stood in line to get their hands on it, sort of like those iPhone freaks do. And it wouldn't have sounded so utterly stupid. All in all, it was an epic fail on a wide array of levels.

There is some good news in all of this, though. The cream of the gaming crop, Fortress: Ameritrash users, developed some house rules that make the game worth playing, and after trying them out last night (just before watching Dark Knight Rises, which sucked ass) I can tell you that the game is, in fact, redeemable. Here's the skinny:
- You can buy two items per turn.
- You only score points from monsters if you cull the corresponding die after scoring.

These can be used together or separately, and to be honest, I favor just using the two items per turn rule. It profoundly changes the way you play the game, to the point that it actually becomes a game rather than a pattern identification and eyesight test. Using both, though, adds a tremendous amount of actual strategy to the game, and I cannot emphasize enough that you should be playing with at least one of them, or you do so at your peril.

It's a shame that they didn't think that through and put it in the rules, but as usual, F:ATties are the best in the world at making lemons into lemonade. They literally saved the game for me. I think that if you were on the fence about the game, I'd pass on buying it, even with the house rules, but if you were one of those who were wooed by the internet peddlers who touted this as the second coming of Obama or something, these simple rules changes go a long way toward redeeming your otherwise questionable purchase. I'm sure there's people out there who will yell me down and tell me just how stupid I am, how I just didn't "get" it, or whatever. Well, go get your own blog, because this game, as designed, was like a prom date: It may have started out looking elegant, but when the night's over, it's screwed hard, disheveled, and you're left with a bag full of nasty to dispose of.

Why Quarriors! Is Rolling Well:
- Really nice looking production values and very nice art
- A bazillion dice and cards make this very replayable and varied 
- It can be saved by simple rules changes

Why The Inventor Of These "Qu-" Words Should Be Cockpunched:
- The tin is an odd size and hard to store
- The dice symbols are WAY too small for human eyes
- Saying any of the game terms may lead people to think you're mentally disabled
- The most important decision is whether to play it, or close your balls in a car door
- If you're color blind, you're going to have a hell of a time playing this

It's not a bad game as designed, it's just a really boring game. I'd argue that it's not so much a game as an opportunity to put something in your hand and shake it repeatedly when you're tired of masturbation. It has very few decision points, and almost none of them that do exist matter. It's really just hoping that you roll better than the next guy, and identifying the most expensive monster available that you can afford. Between the stupid names in the game and the stupid game play, it's just not something that can be categorized as anything but a filler, and a filler of very little merit. The real magic to this is that the concept of the game, replacing dice with cards and using several disparate cards for each die style to add replay value. That's stunningly smart, and I hope that other people, or even Wizkids, does something of merit with it. I guess I just hope the mechanics aren't remembered by the game alone, because the mechanics have merit.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you must be stupid for liking Quarriors as sold, but I am saying that it's not beyond the realm of the probable. The good news is that the game is transformed by simply changing a few rules around to add actual decisions that matter to the game, and it is a salvageable product. I've never played any of the myriad expansions, so maybe they fixed a lot of stuff in it. I got this in a trade, and there were a ~lot~ of people trading it, so maybe I'm not alone in this. Maybe they don't hang with the cool kids, so they don't know about the house rules. What can I say, the game really blows, but it can be fixed. Don't buy this game, and if you have it, but don't play it because it's so ridiculously dumb, try the house rules. They go a long way towards redemption.

2/5 Stars

To learn more about this game, go to the Wizkids site:

It was brought to my attention that the house rules are included in expansions, and that the tin is only shown the first edition. Later editions have a cardboard box, which I haven't seen, nor can I comment on them. In any event, I wanted to get that in the article before too many people have seen it (453 at this point...) and make sure that people know about this stuff. ~The Editor

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SFC: Taking A Stand Against Hate

As evidenced by the state of the US, there are still ongoing racial tensions and age-old hatreds that the dinosaurs simply can't let go. The fact that we still need programs like Affirmative Action here indicate that there's still a problem, and there's still the dinosaurs who still think a black man is two-thirds a man (or less) or somehow less qualified or intelligent based solely on their ethnicity.

A lingering symbol of white supremacy is the Confederate Battle Flag, the flag held aloft as Southern states seceded from the United States over slavery. Many died in the ensuing civil war, and I cannot envision a greater reason to shed American blood than for the purpose of spreading freedom and equality. In my estimation, aside from self-defense, there really is no justifiable cause to die for. Freedom is in man's heart, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, or background. People yearn for it. And yet, even today some states still fly this flag over their statehouses and public buildings. It's just a little bit sickening to me.

Several states' courts, such as Louisiana, have ruled that the flag is, in fact, offensive and have ordered these flags removed from public buildings. I am all in favor of freedom of expression, as you can surely imagine, but in the case of imagery, one must weigh the use of the image against the impact that it can have on people, as well as the reasons for displaying it. In the case of the Rebel Flag, it is almost universally abused by racist organizations for the sole purpose of inciting racial hatreds.  There are few legitimate purposes for the display of this emblem, in my opinion, and the bar with which to display it is set very high due to its inherent nature.

A few months ago, in a heated discussion (read: dust-up) over the new game, Tomorrow, which is all about trying to save the planet from overpopulation, I noticed that a user had proudly displayed his Rebel Flag microbadge. I was surprised that such an emblem would be so causally displayed, especially with a "Thought Criminal" icon as his avatar. In any event, I was given a couple months off in the form of "user moderation" for being a little bit disruptive and pointing out some things that made people uncomfortable. I know, shocker.

Shortly thereafter, I contacted the admins about removing the micro-badge, because it doesn't represent "Southern Rock" as much as "Redneck Racist Values", despite Lynyrd Skynard using it as a backdrop for years. In fact, in 2012, Skynyrd dropped the use of the Confederate Battle Flag specifically because it recognized that it had been appropriated by racist factions and wanted no part of it. When the guys who popularized its use take a step back and realize that it was harming people, there's just no real argument to be made that it's valid anymore.

So, after two months of back and forth, I was sent the following by the admin responsible for microbadges:

Badge is now unpurchaseable, and the creator has been contacted to update the image.

superflypete wrote:
Hey there,

I was looking for the discussion of the Southern Rock microbadge, but all I could find was this: http://boardgamegeek.com/article/11000473#11000473
...where you recognized that the Confederate Battle Flag might be offensive.

I still stand by the fact that it's an egregious double standard to have a moratorium on Swastikas (which, incidentally, some US troops used to wear before the Nazis began its use) but none on the Southern Rock Microbadge.

The Louisiana Supreme Court just found the flag to be insensitive and offensive a few years ago. This isn't some "sidebar", this is a real issue. I'm dead serious about the idea that you're literally defending 5 people's "right" to own a racist flag on their profile. And you just approved a Red "X" for 'No More Slavery' not too long ago. I mean, seriously, does that seem right to you?

That microbadge needs to go, and Confederate flags need to be removed. I know that more white people play games than black, I know this is a pocket issue for a lot of white people who don't know what the big deal is (or look at it as a way to push their racism).

I implore you to reconsider.



cscottk wrote:
Thanks. I will be considering this soon. I am just back from holidays, and I expect I may bring this to the microbadge community for discussion in the Microbadge boxing ring.


superflypete wrote:
Hey there,
Scott "Skelebone" sent over something about that Confed battle flag issue, where I formally requested that it be removed.

In the microbadge thread, you noted that "even a portion of a Nazi swastika is dicey".(*) I'd like you to consider that a swastika is as offensive to Jews as the rebel battle flag is to blacks.


There are plenty of other insignias that someone can use for southern rock; musical notes, a pic of Skynyrd or something. It doesn't have to be that.

I thank the admins at BoardGameGeek for taking this issue seriously, and most especially "skelebone" and "cscottk" for understanding that this wasn't just me being a dick, as usual, but a much more important issue.

In short, there's now one more place where people can't hide behind a racist symbol.