During a brief fit of insanity a few weeks back, I decided that beyond a doubt I needed to take yet another miniatures game for a test drive. I don’t know what it is about “figure gaming” that appeals to me, but sometimes I see a game or read about it and I realize that I’m not going to get it out of my head until I give it a whirl.
So I sucked up my retail courage and bought “Day of Days”, the starter box set for the Sergeants Miniatures Game published by Lost Battalion.
When I ordered it, I understood that it wasn’t your normal miniatures game. It’s part of a gaming sub-genre that’s a cross between a miniatures game and a board wargame. Some of the elements of the game are familiar to every miniatures gamer: 20mm figures, pre-fabricated bases and a ruler for measuring distance. In place of a large tabletop strewn with model terrain, however, the game is played on a highly stylized board and uses cards — no dice — to drive the action and resolve combat.
The game board is assembled out of backprinted jigsaw-like tiles, enough of them to make a game grid measuring 6 tiles by 4 tiles. Double-sized tiles are called Landmarks, while smaller tiles are simply Squares. There are 10 hand-painted miniatures in the box — five American paratroopers and five German landsers. The miniatures get mounted to a plastic stand that matches one of the named soldiers in the game.
Yep. Each of your tiny troopers gets a name. The name is printed on a ‘dog tag’ section of the plastic stand, and it matches both a Soldier Card and one of the 7-card subsets that make up your Action Deck during play. The Soldier Card provides all of the game-related information specific to each soldier. The 7 action cards that match each of your soldiers get shuffled together at the beginning of play to build your Action Deck.
The Action Deck pretty much controls everything in the game. At the beginning of each turn you use a hand of cards drawn from the deck to lay out your orders for the turn ahead. As each turn progresses, you use cards drawn from the top of the deck to determine combat results and wound effects. Simulation? Not exactly — it’s more cinematic than anything else — but it’s a clever system that can make for an interesting game.
Note the use of the word “can” above. “Orders” — your objective for the scenario — are drawn randomly. With a fairly confined playing area and only five guys a side (at most), it’s inevitable that some games are going to be clunkers. Situations arise where both sides may fulfill their orders without much conflict; at other times, the first action phase might see one side nearly wiped out. I’ve only played a few scenarios so far, so I don’t know how often games like that pop up.
SMG is obviously a “skirmish” level game. Skirmish game systems can sometimes get complicated, but this one barely makes it to moderate complexity. The rules are straightforward and don’t require tons of measuring or line of sight tricks. Movement rates and “Close” weapon ranges are measured in inches, but everything else is measured in squares. There’s not any blocking terrain as such — sighting and hiding are determined by adding up modifiers printed on the terrain and comparing the results to ratings on the soldier cards. It keeps things simple, but it also leads to oddities like shooting attacks that pass through a large building illustration without any problem.
Of course, there are expansions available for the base game. Sets like “The Road to Carentan” add enough terrain tiles to double the area of the playing surface, while also adding new scenarios and missions (Orders). With more space to play in, then, who wouldn’t want to have more guys as well? So there are also expansion boxes of miniatures — typically four-man teams or single leaders.
The hand-painted miniatures with individual soldier-customized bases and cards push SMG’s price point into the “pricey” range. Day of Days rings the register around $90. An expansion like Road to Carentan (which includes no miniatures) pushes $70. Team boxes are nearly $40, while individual leaders — which come with extra cards to represent different ranks — are $20.
Miniature wargaming in general isn’t a cheap hobby, so all things considered Sergeants isn’t priced out of range. The figures are painted to a nice hobby quality and the rest of the components are well done, although nothing extraordinary. I’ve noticed that the game board’s tiles tend to work their way loose unless they’re on a perfectly flat table or once they warp a little bit, but that problem is easily addressed through the old wargamer trick of sticking the whole thing under a big sheet of plexiglass.
All that said, my biggest sticking point is how big of a bite of this system does a player need to take to get a feel for the bigger picture of how Sergeants is really supposed to play? Finding a game at a convention or in a similar group setting would be the best solution — but not everybody has access to such fine social events. By the time you total up the costs for a map expansion and the extra figure boxes needed to field nine troops a side (close enough to a squad), you’ve got nearly $250 invested in the thing. Ouch.
‘Starter’ boxed sets have to walk a fine line between affordability and delivering a look into the system’s game play that’s good enough to hook new players.
The situation with Day of Days invites comparison to Dust Tactics — which is also a hybrid of miniatures and board gaming. The original Dust Tactics core set was a big box o’ stuff that was definitely capable of showing off all the game’s features. The system’s revised core set cut back on the number of components, but still gave you enough room to swing all the rules around your head, if only just barely.
I don’t think Day of Days achieves the same effect. I’ve played a few scenarios now, and I’m not sure the line of sight rules work as an effective wargaming mechanism. The terrain ‘sample size’ in the box just isn’t big enough to give the system a good workout. Because everything is played at such close quarters, it’s impossible to get a feel for how any sort of maneuvering would work in the game.