These days I usually find my RPG reviews on my Twitter feed. This is because I follow on Twitter many folks or sites that offer RPG reviews. There are a few forums I follow but often I am pointed there by my Twitter feed. I have also been expanding my use of podcasts and YouTube subscriptions to find more reviews.
I also use DriveThruRPG but am hesitant to fully trust the reviews there. Too many of them seem to not be “reviews” but rather “product descriptions.” I myself have been guilty of this – describing a product instead of honestly assessing it.
Recently, I was reading old back-issues of The Space Gamer online and found their requirement for a capsule review. I liked it so much I saved it and have started using it to frame many of my reviews. I don’t want to slavishly follow it – but it serves as a reminder that a review should not only describe “what” the product is, but also the “good” and the “bad.”
The game uses the Air Wars series rules. Aircraft are rated according to type. Fuel consumption is factored into the plane types, so a player must manage the available forces to ensure enough combat power is ready when needed. Each player has a unique set of campaign cards generating movement, combat bonuses, historical events, and reinforcements. Playing the right card at the right time is crucial to winning.
Each game is packaged in DGs Mini Game Series format. These introductory games come with an 11″x17″ map, 40 (small) die-cut counters, 18 (small) campaign cards, four-page series rules, and two-page scenario rules. Each game is of Very Low complexity and can be played in 1-2 hours.
The timescale is most realistic in Eagle Day(Days-Hours) but more abstracted in Cactus Air Force(Months-Hours(?)) and MiG Alley (Partial Months- Hours). Working past the non-sensical timescale, each turn consists of a Planning Phase (Days/Months/Part Months) and Operations Phase (expressed in Hours). Each Planning Phase consists of Campaign Card draw (and occasionally play), Replacements, and Reinforcements. In the Operations Phase, players take turns using Campaign Cards, moving, fighting, and bombing.
Each game is a simple representation of an air campaign, a level of warfare notoriously difficult to game/simulate. In my collection, Eagle Day occupies a similar game space to John Butterfield’s solitaire RAF and Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s The Burning Blue. Eagle Day, and the others, easily falls at the lowest end of the complexity spectrum – like the Mini Games series intends to do.
Of the three games, I think the abstractions in the Air War series make Eagle Day the weakest game. There is no game mechanic for scrambling aircraft meaning as the Intruder Player the German often can catch British fighters on the ground. In Cactus Air Force, the small unit count (limited by the 40-counter game limit) leads to a very balanced combat situation, and I don’t find the “desperate struggle” like that related in Lundstrom’s The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign or Prados’ Islands of Destiny: The Solomons Campaign and the Eclipse of the Rising Sun. On the other hand, MiG Alley seems to evoke the right feeling of the air campaign with few North Korean and Chinese jets beating up on hapless lumbering B-29s while the new American jets – never in enough numbers – try to take over the bombing campaign.
Each game is very affordable ($12.99 retail). This is both positive (affordable) and negative (limited components). Decision Games is also what I term these days a “classic” wargame publisher. The Mini Game Series are classic hex-n-counter wargames. The only real innovative feature beyond a “classic” wargame is the use of Campaign Cards to create scenario variability and fog-of-war.
(Which makes me think just how great a candidate these games are for the simple “block” treatment. The game is already two-player, and most counters are double-sided with a generic “Based” on one side (representing the planes on the ground) and the actual aircraft on the other. If the board was enlarged and blocks used it would avoid the inevitable ‘gotta flip the counters to see what I really have there’ syndrome by allowing the counters to be stood on edge with the “Based” side facing the opponent while still allowing the owner to see the aircraft. When flying, the block is placed aircraft face-up. Of course, this would raise the price-point of the game but….)
As much as I sound negative, I actually am very happy I bought these games. The games will serve as good “filler” or introductory (teaching) games and are small enough to travel easily. If one desires simple, small, easy to learn and short to play classic wargames with just a few “innovations,” the Air War series of Mini Games from Decision Games are good candidates to put on your wish list.
RockyMountainNavy Verdict: BUY and PLAY for travel games but manage expectations.
The Appearance: Both books are soft cover, full-size (8.5”x11”) with 144 pages. The cover art for each is taken from the Timothy Zahn book covers making for instant recognition (at least at the time). Interior layout is double-colum, black-and-white text with light blue text for chapter headings and major subheadings. Art work is a somewhat cartoonish rendering of the Star Wars Universe. At several times the art covers entire pages. There are several recognition guides that do a wonderful job of portraying scale and size.
The Setting: Each sourcebook is based on one of the three books in Timothy Zahn’s Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy of books. The trilogy was the first serious literary success in what later became known as the Expanded Universe for the Star Wars license. For those not familiar with the setting, it takes place five years after the Battle of Endor as the young New Republic is forced to face off against a resurgent Empire led by a mysterious Grand Admiral who has returned from the Unknown Regions.
The Content: Both books are very similar in layout. Let’s start with Heir to the Empire:
“Introduction” (1 page) which is half Star Wars fandom speak and half teaser for Heir to the Empire
“Prologue Between Jedi and Heir” (4 pages) covers the basic timeline between the end of Return of the Jedi and Heir to the Empire; two of the pages are the New Republic Declaration
“The New Republic” (24 pages) focuses on elements of the New Republic including the political organization, key character (many from the Star Wars series, and even a 1-page short story
“The Force” (15 pages) has background on the Force as well as stats for key force users present in this era; it is here that the early Expanded Universe canon presented here starts to separate from canon that is later established
“Remnants of the Empire” (13 pages) discusses the background politics and key members of the remnants of the Empire; also includes are two short stories (1-page each) and a nice graphic depicting Grand Admiral Thawn’s armada
“The Fringe” (13 pages) talks about the organizations and characters present in the book but not part of the New Republic or Empire; again there is a short story and maps for key locales
“Planets” (20 pages) covers locales in the series as well as several very short stories and maps
“Aliens” (7 pages) provides “typical” stat blocks for new alien races
“Equipment” (11 pages) is commentary and support focused on new equipment introduced in the book
“Vehicles” (4 pages) and “Starships” (26 pages) cover both iconic and new vehicles and starships; many pages are devoted to recognition guides and scale comparisons as well as an occasional short story thrown in.
The Dark Force Rising Sourcebook follows a nearly identical organization with one additional chapter on “Droids” thrown in. It also has fewer short stories.
The Verdict:BLUF: I like these books although they do show their age and several portions have been retcon’ed by George Lucas (curse him!).
Like the authors of the books say you should read the Thrawn trilogy first so the story doesn’t get spoiled what is here. On the other hand, if your players have never read the Thrawn series then as a GM you need to be judicious as to what you let the players see. Unfortunately, this book is not divided into a GM and player section.
Although many of the illustrations of people or aliens appear cartoonish to me, the illustrations of ships and maps are top-rate. The recognition guides are especially handy and very well done. I also like the short stories embedded in the books as they serve as adventure seeds or good examples of what a RPG adventure could be like. I also like how many of the chapters are written “in character” as though you are reading a contemporary accounting of the events or history and not an RPG sourcebook.
As I put this review together, I wanted to compare these sourcebooks with the Star Wars Saga Edition series. Interestingly, I now realize there is no New Republic Era sourcebook! The Rebellion Era Campaign Guide ends at the Battle of Endor and the Legacy Era Campaign Guide picks up nearly 100 years ABY. You can find Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Saga Edition, but in the Force Unleashed Campaign Guide with stats as he was during that time. This gap in coverage makes these sourcebooks even more valuable as they may be the only “game-ified” versions of the New Era present. This seems like a gross oversight for the Saga Edition as Timothy Zahn’s trilogy has always rated highly in ratings of Star Wars fiction. Maybe this is a testament to how good the Thrawn trilogy is; though some aspects have been superseded by later canon, the story is too good to mess with. These sourcebooks are a wonderful tribute to the series and worthy of any Star Wars gamer collection.