(Alternate) History to #Wargame – Apr to June 1947 Flight Log of Hauptmann B – or – #FirstImpressions of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (@compassgamesllc, 2020)

The following is a lightly edited transcription of the Flight Logs of Hauptmann B, assigned to KG 300 in the Azores. Hauptmann B was part of the first group of Amerika Bombers that flew missions against the continental United States starting in April, 1947….

April 2, 1947. First mission today! I have a brand new Heinkel 277 bomber to take us to Amerika. Target is a brass factory in Connecticut. Fought 2x P-80 fighters just before bomb run; no damage taken. Light AA into target area, good bombing [30%] but Medium AA on way out causes much damage and light wound to Flight Engineer. No fighters on way home. Landed safely but repairs will take a week to fix.

April 17, 1947. Anxious to get back in air. Target is Chrysler in Detroit. Amerikans are more awake now; encounter 2x F8F over water shortly after launch but escape with no damage. 2x P-80s find us as we near target but they are driven off without damage. On bomb run 2x P-80 try to interrupt but are driven off again. Our electronics and chaff protects us from AA in target area. Good bombs on target [20%]. On way out Tail Gunner shoots down a P-80; first kill by the aircrew! Rest of way home uneventful and land safely.

April 24, 1947. Another trip to Detroit to hit General Motors. Lose Engine #1 shortly after take-off but press on. Looks like we surprised the Amerikans today as no fighters find us on way to target. Medium AA on bomb run but Bombardier says not sure we really hit target [0%]. On way home jumped by 2x F8F but Ventral Gunner gets two (!) of them. Safe landing again. We also get good news that from now on we will be flying with an Improved Lofte Bomb Sight.

May 1, 1947. May Day visit to Corning Glass Works in Corning, NY. Fought 4x F8F enroute to mainland; Ventral Gunner shot down one. Nearing target tangled with 3x P-80; all shot down (Ventral Gunner-1, Tail Gunner-1, Flight Engineer in Top Turret-1). Medium AA to target, no damage. Bombardier reports very good conditions and good hits [91%]. Egress AA was heavy. Bombardier severely wounded. Encountered 2x P-80 just after feet-wet; fire in Engine #1 put out. Safe landing but Bombardier will be out for maybe 8 weeks. Repairs to airplane means no mission next week. Kills to date: Ventral Gunner-4, Tail Gunner-2, Flight Engineer (Top Front Turret)-1.

May 13, 1947. Today we visited Westinghouse Electric in Philadelphia. The Amerikans are getting lazy as we found no fighters until target area. Ventral Gunner shot down a P-80 for his 5th kill – he’s an Ace now! AA in target area bad, lots of damage. Dropped bombs but Bombardier not sure they hit [10%]. Chased off 2x F8F on way home but landed safely. Bad news is we will have to sit out next week’s mission for repairs. Good news is aircraft will be fitted with new, Improved Kettenhund 3 AA Jammer.

June 1, 1947. Glad to be back in the air again. Target for today is Colt Manufacturing in Hartford. I always have preferred my trusty Mauser! Shortly after launch got jumped by 2x F8F but Tail Gunner shot down one. As we neared Newfoundland 2x F8F got the jump on us from above. Their bullets caused a leak in Fuel Tank 3 and we were getting ready to turn back when a last burst jammed the bomb bay doors anyway. After landing maintenance officer tell us that the Amerikan bombing campaign that Goering claims cannot hit the Fatherland has somehow managed to cut off our supply of spare parts.

June 22, 1947 – Barbarossa Day. Target folder is for Heinz Foods in Pittsburg. No opposition enroute to target area. Jumped by 2x P-80 as we near target; Tail Gunner gets another (1 more and he’s an ace). Heavy AA at target; Bombardier severely wounded but heroically dropped bombs [30%]. Worried about all the hits to the airframe. Almost home- jumped by 2x F8F. Bailing out….

Army Air Corps Intelligence Comment: Flight Log of Hauptmann B found on dead body by PBY Catalina aircrew floating west of Azores early on 23 June 1947. Uniform included an Iron Cross, 2nd Class and Amerika Shield patch on shoulder.

Game Statistics

  • Aircraft Flown: He 277
  • Tech Advancements: Improved Lofte Bombe Site, May 1947 / Improved Kettenhund 3 AA Jammer, June 1947
  • Six missions [181% Bombing] in 12 weeks / Best – Corning Glass 91% /  Worst – GM Detroit 0% / Colt Mfg aborted before bombing due to jammed Bomb Bay Doors
  • Fighter Kills: Ventral Gunner-5, Tail Gunner-4, Flight Engineer-1
  • Crew Status after Bail Out: Pilot KIA (Game Over), CoPilot KIA, Flight Engineer Rescued by U-Boat, Ventral Gunner KIA, Tail Gunner Rescued by U-Boat (Light Wound), Navigator KIA, Bombardier KIA on Bail Out, EW Officer KIA, (Original Bombardier 8 wks convalescence after Severe Wound on May 1, 1947)

So ended my first Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) campaign game. For true grognards, designer Gregory M. Smith cheerfully admits that the game is a ripoff of B-17: Queen of the Skies (Avalon Hill, 1981) but from the other side. As the Compass Games ad copy states:

Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies is a solitaire, tactical level game which places you in command of a hypothetical, yet historically-based bomber aircraft during a frightening look at what might have been in World War II. Each turn consists of one sortie, during which the player will fly a mission to bomb the mainland of the United States. As the player progresses, he may choose to upgrade to even more advanced bombers in this alternate history game. Amerika Bomber is based on the popular, action-packed B17: Queen of the Skies system and pays homage to Glen Frank’s original system, but with streamlined routines and a few twists. It builds a strong narrative around the pilot as you look to earn skills, rise in rank through promotion, receive awards and survive a dangerous year above America.

Impressions

Components – Functional. Counters are simple and mostly used as information markers. I wish the boards were on slightly heavier cardstock given the amount of handling they take during a game. I note that two charts, B1 Interception and B7 Landing Chart were updated on BGG due to layout errors. I also wish a few charts were laid out a bit differently. For instance, chart B2 Position Chart has the Friendly Fighter Cover and To Hit (fighter or bomber) tables placed third and fourth whereas you need to roll on these tables before the Damage to Fighters by Bomber Defensive firepower (FP) table which is placed above them on the chart.

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Courtesy Compass Games

Game Mechanics – Having never played B-17: Queen of the Skies or any other Gregory Smith solo air games I cannot compare them to one another. I did find the rules in Amerika Bomber flowed well. After the first few plays there is little need to consult the rule book. That said there are occasions where the game gets in the way of itself. For instance, on Chart B9 Landing in Water or Bailout Over Water (2d6) one modifier is, “-4DRM if radio inoperative (no mayday call.” As I looked at my aircraft display, I couldn’t find the radio until I realized the “FuG 29 R/T” is the “FuG 29 Radio” listed in B4 Aircraft Damage Listings. Consistency, please! Which lead me to…

Errata – I’m the sort of grognard that plays the game out-of-the-box first; I usually don’t look at BGG or YouTube for aids until after I play using the rules-as-written. After play I discovered an official errata/clarifications file available on BoardGameGeek. Most of the “issues” seem to do with proofing. None of the issues make the game unplayable; it’s just really annoying.*

Playing Time – A full campaign game will carry the player from April 1947 thru March 1948. That’s 12 months and potentially 48 missions! Truth is the player will fly fewer (assuming they survive that long) but I cannot see how this is a 2-4 hour game. Maybe I am too casual a gamer because each ‘turn’ or sortie takes me about 10-15 minutes to play – or about one month of game time every 40-60 minutes.

NarrativeAmerika Bomber builds a story within every sortie mission. I mean, look at the AAR above – the game writes the story (although if you want to record it you take more time playing). Over time, you can get promoted, get new aircraft, skills, and technology. This is helpful because it breaks up the repetitiveness of executing each sortie.

10912135Alternate History – The Designer’s Notes in Amerika Bomber is followed by An Alternate History Leading Up to Amerika Bomber written by Frederick Ellsesser. As a piece of alternate history fiction it is OK, but I feel that a more historically focused article would be more educational to the reader. Yes, I’m funny in that way; I like my wargames to teach as they engage me. In this case an opportunity to discuss the real Luftwaffe Amerika Bomber program was missed. I have a book on my shelf, Target: America – Hitler’s Plan to Attack the United States by James P. Duffy that provides very relevant background to the game. A short summation of Chapter 3: The Plan to Bomb America and Chapter 4: The Race to Build the America Bomber would in my opinion fit this need. If this topic really interests you and you want to read the history and not the fiction, then this book is a must-read!

Fit in Collection – I think Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies will land on my gaming table in monthly chunks. Execute a month of missions then take good notes and come back to the game later. I just can’t see playing this game beginning-to-end in one session. That’s not as negative as it sounds; Amerika Bomber in many ways acts as a ‘filler wargame’ that allows me to play in smaller chunks of time.


*I know many of you will tell me, “It’s a Compass Games product! What do you expect!” Yes, I expect better from them which is why I usually avoid buying direct at full price and look for pre-order discounts, sales, or discounted retailers. I also humbly offer my services pre-publication, not that I have any special qualifications.

Feature image courtesy Compass Games

 

#WargameWednesday – #HistorytoWargames in Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

This weekend I got Gregory M. Smith’s Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2018) to the game table for another run thru. I started the game in 1941 but this time paid more attention to the narrative of the game versus the game mechanics. Happily, I discovered that the two are actually quite tightly coupled.

I categorize Pacific Tide as a “waro”-style wargame because it uses game mechanics beyond the traditional hex & counter with CRT* found in classic wargames. In Pacific Tide, each player (US or Japan) has cards which dictate movement or attack or reinforcement or the occurrence of events. Cards are arranged by years and broadly cover situations that historically happened in that timeframe. What I really came to appreciate in this play thru of Pacific Tide was how the cards drive a historical narrative that is close to history but not necessarily locked-in by the past.

Here is how my Pacific Tide 1941 played out. The game starts with the Japanese player holding the Pearl Harbor, SNLF Marines, Air Operations, and Yamamoto cards in their hand. The US has only Emergency Evacuation and Air Builds. The Year Card designates Japan as the first player and notes that all Japanese Naval and Land-based air roll 2 die per attack for each unit. On the other hand, US Naval and Land-based air roll only 1 die per unit. This is a nice way to show the relative combat power of the combatants at this time; a period where Japanese naval and land-based aircraft outclassed their American counterparts.

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Courtesy archives.gov

Like history, the Japanese started out with the Pearl Harbor attack. The attack uses the Special Pearl Harbor Attack card which is a 2d6 roll against a table. The US player will be able to strike back using the one Land-based air in Hawaii, but after the one attack the LBA is destroyed. Of the five US Fleet units present, three are sunk outright with a fourth damaged. The US LBA does better than historically and is able to down one of the five Japanese Naval air units. The rest of the Pearl Harbor card allows three areas to activate for MOVEMENT and for ATTACK or AMPHIB attacks in two areas. All these attacks add one extra die (surprise factor?). The Japanese attacks generally track with history; the US Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines is destroyed but the ENTRENCHED infantry remains while Borneo and it’s precious oil falls.

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Courtesy pinterest.com

The Pearl Harbor card allows the Japanese player to either PASS the turn to the US or PLAY another card. Being on a roll (literally and figuratively) Japan follows up with the SNLF Marines which adds infantry for an AMPHIB attack – again at a +1 die in combat. In this timeline, the SNLF Marines land in the Philippines and defeats the Americans there. The turn (finally) passes to the US.

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USAAC Photo

The US is totally defensive this year with only two cards to play – neither of which have an ATTACK or AMPHIB action. Historically, the US used Emergency Evacuation to pull out of the Philippines and save the Army. However, this timeline is different with American forces in the Philippines already defeated. So the first play is Air Builds which adds a Land-based air to Midway. Maybe the US was spooked by the Japanese CVs staying in the Northern Pacific areas? Regardless, the card is played after which the Japanese play Air Operations to beat up on Force Z in Singapore.

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HMS Prince of Wales (IWM.org)

Now the US has the Emergency Evacuation card as the only possible play; but what to evacuate? Again, not fully thinking the situation through, the US uses the card to withdraw a damaged Force Z from Singapore. A very sub-optimal use of the card for sure. The poor choice is made all the more apparent when the Japanese play their last card, Yamamoto, to invade Singapore (seizing its oil reserves) and strengthen their defensive perimeter by taking Wake.

The end of 1941 in this timeline does not look that different from reality, but there are a few differences:

  • The US Pacific Fleet has lost the bulk of its surface force but its carriers remain untouched
  • Japan has seized the Philippines and ejected the US Asiatic Fleet and the US Army in the Far East
  • Japan control the oil-rich areas of Singapore and Borneo (control adds bonus Build Points in later years)
  • Wake has fallen
  • In the South Pacific, a damaged Force Z has retired to Fremantle but Japanese Land-based air is in New Guinea while Commonwealth Land-based air and fleets lurk in the Solomons and Timor Sea.
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End of 1941 (Credit: Self)

The biggest mistake I see is that the US failed to save any infantry units. This could cause a problem; looking at the cards ahead for 1942 the only way to rebuild infantry is the use of Marine Builds which adds three infantry. On the other hand, Japan gets Fortifications and Garrison Forces and Banzai Attacks as well as Tokyo Express; all cards that build up infantry or make their movement / attack deadly.

In 1942 Japan retains the initiative (first player) but there is tactical parity as both the US and Japan roll 2 die per Naval air unit and one die for each Land-based air unit in attacks. Most dangerously, Japan also has the Midway card for an extra maximum-effort attack. This is important as the Japanese achieve an Automatic Decisive Victory if at the end of 1942 they control their home areas (Japan and Okinawa) as well as Singapore (check), Borneo (check), the Aleutians, Wake (check), and Midway.

Pacific Tide may not be a “traditional wargame” but it certainly builds an interesting historical narrative. There is alot of depth – both narratively and mechanically – in this “simple” game. I also appreciate the fact the designer is very active on the BoardGameGeek forums. His BGG name is Sturmer and he answers many questions – often quickly – and has posted helpful clarifications for the game. This level of attention to his game and engagement with players is a great example of the best the wargame hobby has to offer.


* Combat Results Table (CRT), usually odds-based

Feature image courtesy Compass Games.

#Wargame head-to-head – Victory in the #PacificTide (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

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Compass Games

With a winter storm forecast for Saturday, it was a good day to stay in and play some wargames. The latest arrival in my collection is Pacific Tide: The United States versus Japan, 1941-45 (Compass Games, 2018). This game, by designer Gregory M. Smith, is a “compact. strategic-level game covering the struggle betweent he United States (including some Commonwealth forces) and Japan in World War II.” The game “features a card-based combat/build system.” The game can also be played solo using a “personality-driven solitaire bot system.”

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Avalon Hill

Besides playing Pacific Tide, I also worked on my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge. As luck would have it, the next game in my queue was Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977). VITP is a strategic simulation of the naval war in the Pacific starting with the Pearl Harbor attack and going into 1945. Thus, both Pacific Tide and VITP cover a nearly identical gamespace and therefore gave me a good opportunity to not only explore Pacific Tide but to think about how far the wargaming hobby has come since 1977.

Both VITP and Pacific Tide are nearly identical in their degree of complexity and how they portray the war and combatants:

VITP

Pacific Tide

Complexity

2 out of 10

3 out of 10

Time Scale

2 turns/year

Yearly Turns

Map Scale

Area

Area

Units

Individual carriers or ships, air groups, infantry

Individual carriers or ships, army-level infantry, air groups

Average Play Time

5h

2-4h

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Sample Map (Compass Games)

Pacific Tide needs less table space than VITP. The 17″x22″ map and 5/8″ counters for Pacific Tide are make for a smaller footprint than the 22″x28″ map and 1″ counters in VITP. Further, the large reinforcements entry cards in VITP are absent in Pacific Tide. I have said before that I think VITP could use a graphical refresh. If that ever happens, I hope they look at Pacific Tide and the nice artwork by Ilya Kudriashov for inspiration.

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Sample Cards (Compass Games)

What really sets Pacific Tide apart from other wargames like VITP is the use of the card-based combat/build system. It really is a card-driven game. During each yearly turn in Pacific Tide players play cards back and forth to Move and/or Attack in order to Control areas. At the end of the year players Repair fleets under certain conditions, get new cards for the coming year, and earn Build Points. The Build Points are used to purchase previous year cards and place those cards into the deck for the coming year. In effect, there is a bit of a deck building mechanic in Pacific Tide.

The rules in both games are remarkably similar in volume. My 1981 2nd Edition rule book for VITP is eight pages long. The actual rules are on six, triple-column pages. The Pacific Tide Rules of Play is a 16-page booklet but the actual rules are covered on the first 12 pages. The Pacific Tide rules are written in a very conversational style (not the every-paragraph VITP formal 1. / 1.1 / 1.1.1 pattern) which is both a blessing and a curse. In the boardgame segment of the gaming hobby there is a definite trend for a more conversational tone of rules. However, for wargames (outside of some waros) I don’t think it really works. To me, wargame rules are more structured by nature and cross-referencing is often necessary making a more formal layout (and tone) necessary.

In the case of Pacific Tide, the writing of the rules is sometimes wonky. For instance,

“INF and Guerrilla units never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. They only attack other ground units.”

This seems backwards to me. I understand rules better when they state the positive portion first and the negative/exception second. Thus, the above rule would read,

“INF and Guerrilla only attack other ground units. They never roll dice against Fleets, CVs, or air units. Exception – See AA FIRE.”

In Pacific Tide, each combat factor rolls one or two d6 roll each. There are only a few other modifiers like naval gunfire support adding a die in infantry combat. Hits are scored on a roll of 4-6 with a 6 giving damage priority to CV units if present. One hit will destroy a CV or Air but two hits are needed to destroy a Fleet. Infantry are usually one hit per point unless they are Entrenched when the first hit is negated. This combat mechanic is not that different from VITP where units roll a number of d6 equal to their Airstrike or Gunnery Factor with hits on a 6 (unless they have the Attack Bonus which adds +1 to the die roll). Each hit then rolls a d6 for the amount of damage inflicted. In effect, combat losses in Pacific Tide occurs more often but each hit is less swingy than VITP.

I am actually having a hard time figuring out how to determine victory in Pacific Tide. I am going to quote 2.0 Victory Conditions in total as well as the text on US card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB so you can (hopefully) see what I mean.

2.0 VICTORY CONDITIONS

The US player wins if he controls all areas on the map, with the exception of Okinawa and Japan. The Japanese player wins if he prevents this.

2.1 Decisive Victory

The US player wins a decisive victory if he drops the Atomic Bomb. The Japanese player wins a decisive victory if he controls Okinawa and one of these 3 areas: Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians.

The Japanese player also wins an automatic decisive victory if he controls the following areas at the end of 1942:

  • All starting Japanese areas plus the Phillippines, Singaore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway.

US Card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB

If, after playing this card, the US player controls all starting areas except Japan, the game ends and the US Player wins a Decisive Victory. Otherwise determine victory normally.

If I’m reading this right then:

  1. The US wins a Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb (2.1)
  2. US wins Decisive Victory if they drop the Atomic Bomb and controls all starting areas except Japan (US Card 24)
  3. US wins a normal victory if the game ends and US controls all areas on the map except Japan and Okinawa (2.0)
  4. Japan wins an Automatic Decisive Victory at end of 1942 if they control all staring Japanese areas plus the Philippines, Singapore, Borneo, the Aleutians, Wake, and Midway (2.1)
  5. Japan wins a Decisive Victory if at game end they control Okinawa plus one of three other areas (Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians) (2.1)
  6. Japan wins a normal victory if at game end they control Japan, Okinawa, and any are other than Iwo Jima, the Philippines, or the Aleutians (2.0)

Conditions 1 and 2 look almost the same but are not. So which is it? In condition 5, does Japan also have to control the Japanese starting area? It seems logical, but unlike the other conditions its not explicitly stated. So what is it? This confusing wording appears to be the result of the too easy-going conversational tone taken in the rules. Yet another example of where tighter wording could be helpful.

Overall, and contrary to the complexity ratings above, I feel that Pacific Tide is actually the less complex of the two games. This in part may be because Pacific Tide does not have the different Patrollers or Raiders movement nor the Day or Night Actions combat distinctions found in VITP. The use of cards and unnamed ships and fleets for reinforcements means Pacific Tide is a level of abstraction above VITP. For a fast-play, strategic look at World War II in the Pacific that abstraction is perfectly fine for me.

One note about the solitaire bot in Pacific Tide. The bot here is very simple and really guidelines on how to play cards based on a die roll-determined “personality” that can shift every turn. For wargamers more familiar with the various bots in the GMT Games COIN-series the Pacific Tide version will likely be a bit of a disappointment. Not that it doesn’t work; it’s just not very complicated. Yet another simplification that tries to make Pacific Tide more accessible in spite of the sweeping topic.

Pacific Tide is a relatively uncomplicated (rules-lite?) and fast-playing strategic wargame view of the Pacific War. The graphics and components help players immerse themselves in the game and convey the theme more than adequately. The card-driven mechanic introduces the right amount of fog-of-war and helps the game run like, but not identical to, history. The game is very enjoyable to play but the conversational tone of the rules book leads to some problems. Nothing a really good reformat and careful editing couldn’t take care of. I just wish that happened before the game was released.


Afterward

One may be better off comparing Pacific Tide to Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005). EotS is a card-driven, strategic hex & counter wargame of the Pacific War. Be warned though, EotS is rated 7 out of 9 in complexity and needs more like six hours of playtime to fight the whole war. I don’t own EotS so I cannot make a further comparison.