Jonathan Franklin: Review of Days of Ire

Review of Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 [#JonathanFranklin]

Days of Ire: Budapest 1956
Designer: Katalin Nimmerfroh, Dávid Turczi, Mihály Vincze
Artist: Sami Laakso, Kwanchai Moriya, Katalin Nimmerfroh
Publisher: Cloud Island, Korona Games, Ludonova, Mr. B Games
Players: 1-4
Ages: 12 and up
Time: 60-90 minutes
Times Played: 4
Game provided by Mr. B Games for review purposes.

The year is 1956 and the Russians have occupied Hungary for 11 years. The Hungarian resistance is trying to evict the Russians while surviving the local sympathizers. You need to hold them off while also dealing with the local sympathizers. In this co-op, you have to survive 7 days and deal with all but four of the events the game throws your way. If you like hard historical co-ops or one vs. many, this game will likely be in your wheelhouse. Go try it. If the theme is what turns you off, it might not be for you. If you don’t like generic co-ops or one vs. many, read on, as this game is a bit different from the run of the mill co-op/1v1/1vM due to its superb blending of theme and mechanisms. This could not be smoothly rethemed as Days of Ire: the Death Star.

Days of Ire is a simulation of a seven day period in 1956 when Russian tanks and militia were moving into Hungary, and Budapest in particular. Much like 7 Days of Westerplatte, you must survive a week as the Hungarians while being attacked by the Russians. If you survive, you have achieved enough to achieve a ceasefire and rekindled the flames of freedom for a short time. Let’s not talk about failure. The result of failure is even worse than what happened historically.

This is an extremely intelligent game in that it has a total of ~28 actions per game and each one feels important. There are levels of variability generated by event cards, phases of the game, and the special abilities of the fighters at your location. This means you will never be making the same decision twice. At the same time, the game holds together thematically, making it feel like you really are having to plan in the face of great adversity. Even more than that, your actions make a substantial difference to the situation, so there a sense of progress and that you are playing the game, rather than it playing you. There is palpable drama in the game, including highs and lows that are unexpected and truly change the way you play the next move and action. I will not make this a long rules explanation, but I have to do a bit so you can understand why it is a special game.

Each of the seven days is broken into three parts. If at the end of the 7th day you have 4 or fewer events remaining, you have tamped down the Russians enough to achieve a ceasefire. Remember, your goal is not to kill militia, snipers, or tanks as much as to resolve events that continue to pop up all over Budapest. The events are staged and historically accurate, so the events of the first few days come first, then the middle period, and finally the last two days. This might sound fixed, but the General cards will discard certain events and put others in play, so each game feels quite different.

The first part of each day is courtesy of General Zhukov, whom you will come to hate when playing full co-op. You may curse the General across the table when playing 1 v. many. He brings pain in the form of four cards per day. These cards have a trigger, Hungarian, Neutral, or Russian support), then if they trigger, something happens. Whether or not the trigger occurs, the General causes a major or minor event. This means that the game starts with three events on the board and the General generally adds 2-3 more per set of four cards.

Photo by David Castella showing the board with adjacent locations linked by the strings

After the board is seeded for the day, the players have a total of four actions, so if you are playing solo, you get four actions. If you play with 4p, each player has one action. Before each action, the player may move one space for free, as noted by the pins and string, so you must follow the string to determine if two locations are adjacent to each other.

The actions are simplified here – check out the rules for more detail. Players have cards that have symbols on them and sometimes special abilities. There are food, health, radio, ammo, molotov cocktails, and transportation. For one action, you can kill militia with ammo and tanks with molotov cocktails. You may trade cards with another player at the same location or draw a card. The other three actions are more interesting – activate a fighter, resolve an event, or use a special action.

The board is seeded with inactive fighters who help you, the players. If you activate a fighter, you gain that fighters special ability. It might be to heal for an action or move an extra space for free. There are 22 different fighters, so each game is quite variable as they are placed randomly. You can complete an event by paying cards that have the necessary symbols. This depletes your hand, but gets you a free card or two, and moves you closer to your true goal – resolving events.

Finally, you can resolve an action, which will be on a card you hold, such as “Heal” or “Build Barricade”. Healing is critical, as we will see. Barricades are strategically important, but beyond the scope of this summary. Soviet tanks are generally placed at locations by General Zhukov or an event card. They don’t disrupt actions except that they injury you, kill fighters, or destroy barricades, so you might find yourself without the fighter you had planned to use during your next action. The tanks are one of the two ways dice are used in the game. Tanks normally hit half the time, rolling a d6. After the four actions, the players get more cards based on their morale. Some events can help your morale while the bad guys crush it.

Photo by Jason Godinho showing the green tiles (Hungarians) adjacent to a barricade, tanks, snipers, and troops to the southwest.

After General Zhukov’s four attacks and your four actions, the third part of the day is the State Protection Authority, who are only slightly less destructive to you than General Zhukov. The SPA moves militia and snipers towards the player locations. Then they spawn at fixed locations. Finally, they attack you. Each militia is worth 1 and each sniper is worth 3. You total the militia and snipers, then roll a pair of dice. You take a hit if either die is below the total (1+1+3 = 5) You take another hit if the total on the dice is less than the militia+sniper total. Things can get even worse. If the militia + sniper total is nine or greater, morale swings to the Russians. Don’t let this happen. At the end of the SPA phase, the calendar moves to the next day and you start the cycle again.

Based on that description, as a reader, I would say it sounds fine, but not amazing.

Theme – I was really impressed with the story the game told. Ignacy Trzewiczek wrote several books on the theme of Games That Tell Stories. Win or lose, this game tells a story, The events are so specific and the locations are concrete that you do feel you are there. In addition, the game is not fiddly, so you you generally move and take an action, then the next player goes. At the same time, the General, the SPA snipers, and the Russian tanks all felt distinct and not at all ‘pasted on’. There is a sense of dread when the snipers are moving towards you, the militia are gathering where you are, and you might lose the fighter with the special ability that you need to live to achieve your next goal.

Image of the Molotov Cocktail card by sabee

Art – I love the art in this game, in the same way that I love the art in Kolejka and other thematic Eastern European games. The board has stains, an ashtray, photos, and pins with string connecting locations. The whole artistic experience is gritty without being violent and clearly enhances the theme. I am not saying you have to love The Grizzled or 7 Days of Westerplatte to like this game, but if you like those, you will likely enjoy the game more.

Rules – They did a great job on the rules. I opened the books and learned the game cold. The mistakes I made in the first play were my own. There are some points I was a bit unclear on, but they were edge cases and the designers are extremely accessible. In addition, there is a wealth of history included in the setup rulebook and if you read that, the game as a whole feels more immersive.

Congratulations to the designers on creating a game that truly tells a story.

My favorite aspects of the game were the combination of the theme and mechanisms. Tanks in a city are cumbersome, so tanks are either devastating or ineffective. In addition, getting the third Molotov Cocktail to destroy the tank is quite satisfying. It is somewhat skewed in that all the Hungarians have names and abilities while the Russians are generic tanks and the SPA are nameless snipers and militia, so dispatching militia is easy and losing a fighter is hard.

The game plays quickly, so although you will likely make it to at least Day 5, from there to the end of Day 7 is touch and go. It feels well balanced and crafted as a game, but it makes games like Ghost Stories feel like an abstract puzzle, whereas this is an event of import.

If I had to find an issue with the game, it is that, similar to The Grizzled, it will not appeal to everyone. Someone seeking dragons or spaceships might not appreciate the history or the muted colors and graphics. I am not sure this is a game you would play multiple evenings in a week, but is enjoyable and also appropriate for a classroom history lesson.

I have not played it 1 vs. many, so I cannot comment on the “conflict mode”, but the designers strongly suggest this is the most impressive mode. In the near future, I hope to play it 2p., with one player as the General and the other as the Hungarian resistance. As such, Days of Ire would fit neatly between 13 Days and Twilight Struggle. Regardless of whether you prefer full co-op, 1 v. 1, or 1 v. many, I strongly encourage you to try Days of Ire: Budapest 1956.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Jonathan F.
Not for me…

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1 Response to Jonathan Franklin: Review of Days of Ire

  1. Paul Grogan says:

    Nice review. I was approached to do the rules overview video for the Kickstarter campaign last year. It arrived at a time where I was already piled high with work, so I would struggle to fit it in. However, I then took a look at the game and really liked the sound of it, so I pulled a few evenings and weekends and managed to fit the work in. I was glad I did as I think its a very good game.

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