History to #Wargame – Harrier 809: The Epic Story of How a Small Band of Heroes Won Victory in the Air Against Impossible Odds by Rowland White (www.silvertailbooks.com, 2020)

An aperiodic look at books and wargames that go together. The wargames and books presented here are both drawn from my personal collection and do not necessarily reflect the best of either category…but if I’m showing them to you I feel they are worth your time to consider!

Harrier 809: The Epic Story of How a Small Band of Heroes Won Victory in the Air Against Impossible Odds by Rowland White (Silvertail Books, 2020)

Photo by RockyMountainNavy

I remember the Falklands War on TV. I was a student in middle school at the time and absolutely enamored with the weapons of the Cold War. Here was a “major power” taking on an upstart South American country. Even after nearly 40 years, it is good to see that more of the history of the Falklands War is coming out, in the most recent case in the form of the book Harrier 809 which details the life of 809 Naval Air Squadron which was formed after the war started.

There is lots of goodness in the pages of Harrier 809. My personal favorite parts include the story of how 809 Squadron stood up. It really is a good lesson in trying to put together a unit in a “come as you are” war; lessons that I hope the US Navy and Air Force don’t ever have to face (but in reality, it could very well be the reality). I also love the factoid that the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough built several 1:24 scale Airfix models of the Harrier to test new camouflage schemes. I use this to show my boys that their “little hobby” can actually make a real difference!

At the time of the Falklands War I was big into playing Harpoon 3rd Edition (GDW, 1981). As much as I wanted to, the only real air combat games I owned at the time was Foxbat & Phantom (SPI, 1977) which was NOT a very good game to play around with too much. It would not be until 1987 that JD Webster and GDW published Air Superiority that was much better suited at depicting air combat during the Falklands (including rules for the famous VIFF -vectored in-flight- maneuvers).

Over time more games on the Falklands War came out. I own a few like the Harpoon 3rd Edition supplement Harpoon: South Atlantic War – Conflict in the Falklands/Malvinas, 1982 ‐ GDW first edition (1991) or the later Harpoon 4 version South Atlantic War: Battle for the Falklands – Scenarios for the 1982 South Atlantic Campaign ‐ Clash of Arms second edition (2002) that included a ground combat module for the Harpoon system. Not long after the actual war I acquired the Wargamer Magazine ‘zine game Port Stanley: Battle for the Falklands (3W, 1984) that I remember being disappointed in as it focused more on the ground combat over the glamorous air and grueling sea battles I so loved. (My perspective over time has changed as I have come to better appreciate the very challenging ground campaign).

More recently I acquired Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands (White Dog Games, 2017). Being a solo game it is much different than other games that look at the war. It also focuses at something between the operational and strategic levels of war with the air battles treated in a more abstract manner.

Over the years I have occasionally seen rumors and hints that Lee Brimmicombe-Wood might make a Falklands version of his raid game Downtown (GMT Games, 2004). As often as I hear the rumors they are crushed. I’ll admit, this would be an insta-buy for me!

One game that everybody points out as a really good take on the Falklands War is Where There is Discord: War in the South Atlantic (Fifth Column Games, 2009). I don’t own it, and given the market prices for the game -between $150-200- I don’t think I’m going to be acquiring that title anytime soon.

At the end of the day I feel the Falklands War is an under appreciated topic in wargames. There certainly is fertile ground for tactical Land/Sea/Air games with the interaction of the many weapons systems. I also feel that the operational level game, from the level of the Task Force Commander has not really been explored. As more recent scholarship has revealed, there was also much more going on at the strategic level than I think is generally understood. Harrier 809 has certainly whetted my appetite for playing some Falklands War scenarios – I’m just going to have to go a bit retro in my wargame selections to do so!

My Personal Least Liked #Wargames

Last week I gave you my Personal Top 10 Games. This week I am looking at the wargames I least like in my collection. This does not automatically mean they are bad games. The truth to the matter is these games have either not aged well or I have a very hard time connecting to them.

Ground Rules – I only have six games on my list. These are all games that I give a BoardGameGeek rating of 4.0. To arrange these in the order below, I compared my ranking to the BGG Geek Rating and arranged the list in decreasing order of the difference.

The RockyMountainNavy Least Liked Wargames

1. Birds of Prey: Air Combat in the Jet Age (Ad Astra Games, 2008) [My Rating 4.0 / Geek Rating 6.289 / Delta -2.289]

Billing itself as “The most realistic non-computerized flight simulator on the market” may be genius marketing, but I feel so stupid when I try to play this game. I tried to learn this one several times and just can’t wrap my head around it. Seemingly lots of promise that I am unable to connect to.

2. Manchu (3W, 1998) [My Rating 4.0 / Geek Rating 5.520 / Delta -1.52]

A two-player wargame covering the Taiping Rebellion in Manchu China between 1850 and 1868. Insert game in Strategy & Tactics magazine #116. A Richard H. Berg design means it “should” be decent (if not maybe a bit pedestrian). Maybe it was the messy rules that keeps me from enjoying this one.

3. Foxbat & Phantom (SPI, 1973) [My Rating 4.0 / Geek Rating 5.44 / Delta -1.44]

A real granddaddy of aerial combat games. Bought more for collection than to really play. Surpassed by more modern games (though Birds of Preyshows how one can go too far). The BGG Rating is 4.9…not that different from my 4.0.

4. Sixth Fleet(SPI, 1975) [My Rating 4.0 / Geek Rating 5.439 / Delta -1.439]

Another game bought more for my collection than to play. Looking at the rules I feel that the designer is trying to explain naval combat in terms that are more appropriate for  land warfare.

5. Operation Cannibal: Burma 1942-1943(Avalanche Press, 1996) [My rating 4.0 / Geek Rating 5.260 / Delta -1.26]

Maybe it is the hard-to-read rules and the impulse chit system that I just didn’t grok. Apparently I am not alone in my feelings about this game; the BGG Rating is 4.9!

6. Air War: Modern Tactical Air Combat (TSR Edition, 1983) [My Rating 4.0 /  Geek Rating 5.216 / Delta -1.216]

Another air combat game? Maybe I rank these too harshly? Or is it that making a good air combat game is hard? Realism vs. playability? Difficulty learning? I long saw Air War as realistic but very difficult to learn making it near-unplayable.

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This is supposed to be easy! Birds of Prey (Courtesy BGG.com)

  • I find it interesting that three of my six least liked games are air combat games. Maybe I expect too much of aerial combat wargames?
  • Three of the games are from the 70’s (I count Air War as 1977 based on the SPI edition) and probably suffer from being “early” designs.
  • The presence of Manchu is not totally a surprise to me; I recently have been going through older magazine games in my collection – and not liking what I am discovering. Manchu could be joined by a few more titles in the near-future….