Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Days of Ire from Mighty Boards.
What is this game about?
Days of Ire is a board game set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It specifically focuses on the week when the Hungarians successfully, if temporarily, managed to push the Soviet armies out of Budapest. This is an asymmetrical game in which one side represents the Soviets—who attempt to overrun the revolutionaries and throw challenges at them in the form of event cards—and the other side represents the Hungarian revolutionaries, who attempt to hold the Soviets back and resolve event cards at various locations. If enough units are taken out, the game can end in a decisive victory for either side. But the game more frequently ends after a certain number of turns (reflecting the actual number of days this conflict historically took). If the Soviets have managed to keep enough event cards on the board, they win. If the Hungarians have managed to clean up enough event cards and clear the board, then they are the victorious side.
Mechanically, Days of Ire is like a mashup between Twilight Struggle and Pandemic. To advance their ultimate goals, the Soviet side must play cards—based on real historical events—that sometimes benefit the Hungarians. Meanwhile, the fight to either put events on the board or to clear them up creates a Pandemic-like rush for the revolutionaries as they race to extinguish fires the Soviets have started. To resolve events, the Hungarians must gather cards with enough required resource symbols, which can be a challenge. Throughout the game, both sides are also battling for public support, resulting in constant tension beyond just combat.
How does it play solo?
Days of Ire can be played as a one-vs.-many game, where up to three players can challenge another human player who controls the Soviet forces. However, there is also a solo-specific deck that allows a single player to battle the Soviets alone. The Zhukov deck, named for a Russian general, puts cards out on the board that affect support levels and morale. It also causes events to be added to various locations on the board. Additionally, there are rules that cover the actions of the SPA, which will send militia units and especially-dangerous snipers against the revolutionaries.
Days of Ire is a good game, but I admit I was hoping for it to be great. The theme is extremely compelling—the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is a tragic and tragically understudied event, and that historical backdrop is woven into every aspect of the game. The locations on the board, illustrated with authentic photographs from the time, are actual key locations. The event cards, also featuring contemporary photographs, are actual events that I found myself looking up and learning more about. When it comes to historical games, you can't ask for much more from a theme.
Gameplay wise, Days of Ire is perfectly good, but not as high-octane as I might have liked. So many of the game's mechanisms feel very familiar, without adding enough that felt new and fresh in terms of gameplay. The solo deck largely worked well, but sometimes the Soviet cards were swingy enough to cause drastic changes in board state, which was frustrating at times. During the Soviet turn, you resolve four event cards, which means things can change a lot between Revolutionary turns and there is very little you can do about it. Also, the need to constantly put out fires all around the city of Budapest created a challenge, but not as much tension as I wanted from a game about such an intense few days.
Overall, Days of Ire is a good game, but I am a lot more in love with the theme than I am with the actual gameplay.
Do I recommend it?
If you are particularly interested in this period in history, or if you love Pandemic but want to try it with a more historical twist, then Days of Ire might be a match. But I don't consider it a must-buy.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.