"In Soviet Russia, Hungary is YOU" - Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 Review
I’ve had the pleasure of helping playtest Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 the last month or so, and since they’re about to launch on Kickstarter I figured I would help some potential backers out by describing the gameplay in a bit of detail.
Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 is a game that takes place during the week of revolution in October 1956 in Budapest, Hungary. In the first decade of the Cold War, Russia attempts to expand their influence by rolling into Hungary with their tanks and asserting their dominance over the small nation. But of course, you as a rebellious youth aren’t going to let some foreign power take over your country without a fight! Rally your fellow countrymen to make a stand against the soviet and pro-soviet forces invading the capital and ensure Hungary maintains its independence!
The game can be either a solo or co-operative 3 player game where the revolutionary players fight against an AI deck, or a one-vs-many 4 player game where one player controls the Soviet and Pro-Soviet forces against up to 3 revolutionary players.
I’ve played both the solo/co-op game and the 1-vs-many game, so I’ll try to give a solid picture of each.
In either mode, the revolutionary players play the same; their goal is to ensure there isn’t more than 4 soviet events in play by the end of the 7th round, or if they’ve managed to completely drive out the pro-Soviet forces from Budapest. The demise is the same as well - the Soviets will win if any revolutionary player takes too many wounds, or the morale of the Hungarian forces drops to 0.
Revolutionary players are given 4 actions to divide evenly among themselves (at all player counts - a solo player would get 4 actions and a 3 player game would have one player with two actions), with which they can resolve events, rally the sleeping masses to join their side, attack the enemy forces, construct barricades, and perform some general hand management.
Of all these things, “resolving events” is probably the most important since having more than 4 events on the board in the 7th round is a loss (and since resolving an event usually results in a bonus). An example of an event may be “Soviet Red Star installed on public buildings”. Obviously as a revolutionary trying to kick the soviets out you probably don’t want all your infrastructure marked up with soviet propaganda, so to resolve this event you’ll need to gather two “Information” and two “Ammo” - let’s say you need the information in order to co-ordinate a graffiti campaign and the ammo to back you up in case you do get caught. If you can gather those resources and move to the location where the event is taking place, you’ll remove the event (discarding whatever cards required to satisfy the resource cost) and get a bonus for removing it (in this particular case you’d get to increase your morale twice).
Resolving these events can be done with cards in your hand - some of the cards are just straight up resource cards, while other ones may double up as both resources AND actions you can do on your turn. You can also pay the cost to resolve an event using fighters - there’s two “inactive” fighters on each location on the board, and activating them gives you access to their particular abilities, whether it’s just extra (permanent) resources you can use to resolve an event or a unique ability you can use once per round. Not only are they a permanent resource supply, but you can also move them around the board as well, using their abilities as needed.
Of course, it’s not that easy to overthrow a military superpower - there will be soviet tanks and your own pro-Soviet countrymen getting in your way. Tanks and militia are controlled by either an AI deck (referred to as General Zhukov, an actual general in the conflict) or a Soviet player, doing their best to inhibit your movement and actions while also inciting new events that you’ll have to deal with if you hope to win and repel the red menace.
In a one-vs-many game the Soviet player also controls the media - deciding which headlines are actually released to the public (and by extension, which events are actually executed throughout the game). In a style similar to Twilight Struggle, the Soviet player has two classes of headlines; pro-Soviet and pro-Hungarian. The Soviet player can use the pro-Soviet cards as either headlines (evaluating their event) OR for their command value, not both. The pro-Hungarian cards can either be evaluated which will cause an event that will help the revolutionaries, but also give the Soviet commander some precious Command Points to work with. There’s also another cool Twilight Struggle-esque mechanic where certain headlines and events can trigger different effects on other cards going forward if/when they’re played; a headline you played in the first round might make a card you play in the 5th round more (or less) powerful than usual.
Once the headlines are resolved in a turn, the Soviet commander uses their pool of accumulated Command Points to put those events we talked about earlier into effect, generally getting some sort of bonus or hurting the revolutionaries as a result of putting events into play. The Soviet player can also use CP to deploy more tanks to the board, increasing the odds of players getting injured while performing actions.
In addition in a one-vs-many game, the Soviet player also controls the “State Protection Authority” - the militia and snipers tasked with quelling the civilian uprising. Using a clever discard mechanism the Soviet player has access to 8 or so action cards that allow them to deploy, move, and attack with militia to hurt and terrorize the revolutionary players.
Both teams of players have their draw limit controlled by either the Soviet’s Supply rating or the Revolutionaries’ Morale rating, making manipulating those tracks extremely valuable for both sides.
I’ve only got a print and play version so I can’t say much about the component quality of the game, but I can comment on the artwork - and it is amazing. It really captures the Soviet Propaganda era of graphic design on all the cards in the game. The headline cards, which feature actual headlines from the era, look like 1950s newspapers and the event cards use photographs from around the time of the Hungarian revolution. The board itself looks like a strategic planning session you’d find in the bunker of a hidden revolutionary base, with a map of Budapest and the particular areas of interest highlighted with photos of the location and tied together with pins and red string (which actually illustrate adjacency in a clever way). The additional trackers for game length, morale, and support are all incorporated in a aesthetically pleasing way, and it looks great on a table.
To be honest, when I was first approached to playtest this game I didn’t think much of it - the title and pitch of the theme makes it sound like a war game which doesn’t really tickle my fancy. Then the mechanics were explained to me as “Twilight Struggle vs Pandemic” and I was intrigued. I do feel that is a good description of how the game plays.
The Twilight Struggle part comes into play with the Soviet player, really having to make a trade off with every card played; do I use this card for its really good effect, or discard it for it’s excellent Command Point value? With the pro-Hungarian headlines, it’s a debate of “I don’t really want them to have access to this powerful event, but it does give me a bunch of CP I can use to play events…”
On the other side, the revolutionary players follow the point-to-point movement similar to cities in Pandemic, as well as having to do some critical hand management. Resolving an event plays very much like curing a disease in Pandemic; needing the right set of cards and having to be in the right place, except that you’ll be doing it constantly throughout the game and with militia shooting at you. Revolutionary players also have the issue of deciding whether their cards are more valuable as resources to resolve events, or for the actions on those cards; they can’t be used for both. This is where that careful hand management comes into play.
I’ve got about 6 games in now, at various player counts and with both modes of play. I’d have to say for one and two player games I really prefer the co-op mode, and three & four player games I prefer the 1-vs-many mode. The co-op mode is quite challenging with a cleverly written AI deck that follows similar patterns to what a Soviet player would be doing. Because there is no player controlling the militia units, the AI is slightly more aggressive with those units, but in a challenging and fun way.
The 1-vs-many mode becomes a mind game between the team of revolutionaries and the soviet player, and doesn’t play like your standard 1 vs many where the “gm” is encouraged to go easy and make sure everyone is having fun - this is a legit head to head strategy game where both sides don’t feel like they have to pull any punches. The only reason I didn’t prefer it for two players is that it’s fun as the soviet player to listen to the banter between the revolutionaries and try to take their strategies into account; playing against one revolutionary player has a bit too much downtime between each player’s turn and doesn’t encourage active discussion between the teams. I guess if you’re into intense player-vs-player gameplay that would work for you, but I prefer a bit of socializing in my boardgaming.
One of my favorite things about this game is the fact that I didn’t even know there was a Hungarian revolution (blame my standardized Canadian education). This game brought to life an entire chunk of history I was previously unaware of, and did so in a memorable and interactive way. The artwork definitely helps with that, evoking memories of cold war propaganda, and the actions of the revolutionaries rallying their countrymen and banding together to take out soviet tanks and overcome terrible events adds a sobering tone to the game while still providing an engaging experience.
In summary I’d give this game a solid 8 out of 10 - Enjoy playing and would suggest it to others. The only thing that might be a miss with some of my gaming groups is the theme - despite the amazing box art it does come across as a wargamer’s game even though it’s pretty far from the truth. Only other thing I might like to see is a bit more content in some of the decks like the Event and Headline deck (and who knows, maybe that’ll be a stretch goal). It’s not that it’s been an issue in the 6 games I’ve played so far, but you do go through the majority of those cards in every game and I could see that getting stale at some point. The cards themselves do have a bit of flexibility in the order and placement that they may get played, but there’s only so many times you can cut down Stalin’s statue before it starts getting old
That said, I think the artwork and history lesson alone are great reasons to own this game, and luckily it also has a fresh blend of mechanics from other popular games which makes for an engaging and fun experience every time.