If there is one constant in wargaming it’s that players just have to tinker with a game. From homebrew rules to different scenarios, whatever came in the box just never seems sufficient. Players of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 by designer Douglas Bush from GMT Games (2019) are no different. Like many others, Howard James Rigg created new material for the game, in this case a set of NATO solo scenarios. But unlike many others Howard was given explicit permission by GMT Games LLC to publish an unofficial expansion, “as an at cost product in which no profit will be made.” Thus, we have Dark Blue Defection: Unofficial NATO Solo Scenarios.
The only loser in this entire situation is Howard James Rigg. Dark Blue Defection is a superior product produced to the highest quality standards that delivers deeply engaging, interesting, and most important fun set of scenarios. The fact Howard is not allowed to make a profit off this excellent work is shameful for if somebody deserves a reward for making a worthy effort one need look no further than Dark Blue Defection for some prime justification.
Kick the tires…
Dark Blue Defection is a zip-locked set of play aids. Ownership of Red Storm is required. As the Dark Blue Defection introduction states:
The main objective of this expansion is to provide a solo only experience in which each scenario can be set up and played to conclusion in one evening. The scenarios require no planning. The forces involved are pre-set to allow speed of play.Dark Blue Defection, Introduction, p. 2
Out of the bag, the first impression of Dark Blue Defection is QUALITY. The rulebook is formatted to look like a regular GMT game. The player aid cards are all printed on glossy, heavy cardstock. I constantly had to remind myself that this is a fan-made product. Now look, I love me the Roger McGowan, RBM Studios products in C3i Magazine but Dark Blue Defection gives Roger’s excellent products a real run-for-your-money. Seriously; it’s that nicely produced.
Dark Blue Defection has ten scenarios. Each is designed to be played in sequence as the difficulty ramps up with each scenario. Dark Blue Defection depends heavily on the Bot System in Red Storm, in particular rule 33.2 Full Solitaire Rules. The player in Dark Blue Defection plays as NATO and the Warsaw Pact player is controlled by the Bot System.
Each scenario of Dark Blue Defection has three player aids: a Scenario Setup Card, a Planning Map, and one (or more) Flight Log Sheet. Like I already mentioned, all of the Dark Blue Defection player aids are printed on heavy, glossy cardstock; this will survive your gaming table spills better than the base game! Other gaming material, especially the map and counters, come from Red Storm.
The Scenario Set Up card details your forces. The Planning Map does much of your planning for you. The Flight Log Sheet is pre-filled and makes getting started in each scenario that much faster. This is important because in these “air raid” wargames like Red Storm and predecessors Downtown (GMT Games, 2004) or Elusive Victory (GMT Games, 2009) planning the raid is important—but also time consuming. The Designers Notes in Dark Blue Defection comment:
One thing that struck me about the game [Red Storm] system was the amount of time it takes to get to the table. The planning aspect adds a lot of depth to the game but also a significant amount of time to each scenario before even setting a counter on the table. This set my mind in motion. I would love some Red Storm solo scenarios that I could pick out [of] the box, pre-planned with flight logs populated, a planning map and a scenario setup sheet that I could quickly place my counters onto prior to setting up and then get a whole game in one evening.Designer Notes, p. 22
…and light the fires!
Scenarios in Dark Blue Defection start simple. Mission 1: Red Dawn has the player defending with two flights of fighters against a Soviet strike package with close escort. As the campaign advances, air defenses and ground units are introduced as well as more advanced combat situations.
Playing a scenario of Dark Blue Defection is arguably easier than regular Red Storm. The rules for solo player found on Player Aid Card 5 (PAC5) in Red Storm are used and each scenario lays out the exceptions to the baseline. The Designer Notes comment, “How much would I need to change the current bot system to make it work? The answer was not much at all.” Dark Blue Defection is not a replacement for learning the rules to Red Storm, but the increasing difficulty levels of the scenarios make “getting back in the cockpit” of Red Storm that much easier.
The story behind Dark Blue Defection
One aspect of Dark Blue Defection that really sets this game apart and makes the whole package special is the story. Sure, Dark Blue Defection is a series of linked scenarios that form a campaign, but Howard James Rigg goes a step beyond just connecting the scenarios in terms of the combat shown, there is also a story thread throughout the campaign. At first I kinda ignored the story, but very quickly I found myself becoming invested in the characters as each scenario was played. In many ways it is the story behind Dark Blue Defection that brings out the most compelling aspects of the game; while each scenario has victory conditions one quickly finds themselves wondering not so much who won, but how the story progresses.
At the time I write this post, Dark Blue Defection is only available through Second Chance Games in the UK. For us American cousins across the pond this means we finally get a taste of what our European wargaming brethren experience in terms of currency conversion and international shipping. If you are a fan of Red Storm, or even if you are on the fence about the game and are still considering a purchase, Dark Blue Defection should be the no-brainer deal-maker for you.
I’ll also add that when you order Dark Blue Defection you also get access to a free expansion, The Four Horsemen, which includes another two scenarios. Unlike Dark Blue Defection where the scenarios are planned to be shorter, The Four Horsemen goes big:
For these scenarios I wanted to do the opposite of my previous scenario designs in Dark Blue Defection and create large scale solo scenarios for players already familiar with the system using the tweaks to the bot system I implemented in the last scenario pack and still have each scenario entirely pre-planned for the Player.The Four Horsemen, Designers Notes, p. 11