As is well documented, the early days of Operation Barbarossa were very, very bad for the Red Air Force:
By the afternoon [22nd June] fresh masses of aircraft, summoned with desperate urgency from the flying fields of central Russia, began to appear over the battlefield, though “It was infanticide, they were floundering in tactically impossible formations.” By the time Stalin’s restrictions against sorties over German territory had been lifted, the Russian bomber force (which had largely escaped the first Luftwaffe strike, owning to its bases being farther from the frontier) took off obediently in accordance with an already outdated operational plan. Over 500 were shot down. On 23rd June, Lieutenant General Kopets, commander of the bomber group, committed suicide, and within a week General Rychagov, the commander of aviation on the northwestern front, was under sentence of death for “treasonable activity” (that is to say, having been defeated). In the first two days the Russians lost over 2,000 aircraft—a casualty rate without precedent. The (numerically) strongest air force in the world had been virtually eliminated in 48 hours.
Alan Clark, Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45 (New York: Quill, 1965), pp. 49-50
How can we play the Drive on Kiev campaign if one side isn’t even present? Further historical study tells us that the Red Air Force, though severely mauled, was not totally beaten. The Red Air Force did resist, and the Drive on Kiev campaign shows us an example of that resistance. That said, designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood is actually up-front in telling players that while Drive on Kiev is framed in the opening days of Operation Barbarossa, his real goal is to teach about the challenges of sortie generation in an extended campaign:
Air forces tend to rot away during operations. When demand for air support is high, routine maintenance is deferred, eventually taking aircraft out of service. Accidents rise and become the largest source of losses, while battle casualties drain strength. Eventually, an air force can do no more than maintain a low level of activity and needs to be withdrawn and rebuilt. This campaign depicts how Fliegerkorps V, despite ideal operating conditions, exhausted itself during the invasion.
“Sortie Generation,” Wing Leader: Blitz, p. 3
Mr. Brimmicombe-Wood doubles down on his depiction by bending history, especially as it pertains to Soviet planning:
In the game the Soviets get the ability to predict German activity and react accordingly. This is not historical. This is a handicap feature designed to allow the Soviet player to optimise his response to the Germans. The effect we wish to create is that of an increasingly exhausted German force facing a seemingly endless supply of Soviet flyers.
“Soviet Planning,” Wing Leader: Blitz, p. 3
Does knowing that the Drive on Kiev campaign in Wing Leader: Blitz is not strictly historical make it less interesting to play? I have to say no. Understanding that the German side is playing a game of attrition against a determined Soviet opposition actually makes the game very interesting and drives home the importance of campaign decisions regarding choosing targets and allocating for attack and defense. One could argue that the game is more interesting under these “artificial” conditions than in would be otherwise. While the operational situation may have some artificiality, at the tactical level the game shines with set up and scenario campaign special rules:
Only the Germans have a Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) net (advantage Germans on defense)
Only the Germans have radios (advantage Germans)
German fighters use loose doctrine; Soviet fighters use Rigid (advantage Germans)
German fighters have tactical flexibility (advantage Germans)
To reflect Soviet desperation they have a Determination modifier in Cohesion Rolls (advantage Soviets)
Soviets can use ramming attacks—Taran (advantage Soviets?)
German fighters can use “Hunting from Cloud” (advantage Germans).
While tactically it may appear that the Germans have many advantages, the scenario set up also creates many Soviet challenges that, if a player is able to face and overcome, can create a very enjoyable experience. Facing those challenges and figuring out how to win (or at least how to lose the least) is the real charm of Wing Leader. Many aerial combat games tend to focus on the “nuts and bolts” of a dogfight, but Wing Leader approaches each battle at something more akin to a grand tactical perspective. Campaign Games like Drive on Kiev take that viewpoint up a level into operational planning. Taken together, it is yet another example of the versatility of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s design and another reason Wing Leader is one of my favorite wargames.
There are certain wargames in my collection that I just cannot get enough of. For these games I’m always looking for more to play with. This year three games got lots of new love. The candidates for my 2021 Wargame Expansion of the Year are:
Harpoon – The Expanded Critical Hit Tables are nice, but not necessary for play. The Naval SITREPs are always welcome content, but again missing them doesn’t mean game failure.
Tank Duel – The RMN Boys and myself like the Tank Duel system. It’s a very different game system that challenges the very defintion of a wargame. The North Africa expansion is very welcome, and one can never have enough tank “mats” to play with.
Wing Leader – One of my all-time favorite game systems. Legends adds depth and the Supremacy update keeps an already clean system that much tidier.
…and the winner is…
Tank Duel Expansion Nr. 1: North Africa. Not only does this expansion take the game into a new theater, it also cleans up the rules. This expansion, along with Tank Pack Nr. 1 ensures Tank Duel will be on the table often this coming year.
Unlike my wargames and boardgames, I’m kinda poor at tracking my RPG collection. So this week I worked on organizing what I took in this year.
I finished watching the Apple TV series Foundation this week. Yes, I know Season 1 ended a few weeks ago but I needed to reset my approach to the show. I initially started watching the series expecting a story close to the books. When that wasn’t there I was a bit confused and, frankly, unaccepting. So I laid off watching for a few weeks and recalibrated my thinking. I decided I was going to watch Foundation “as-is” and try to set all my preconceived notions aside. It also helped that with all the episodes out now I could binge-watch the season. Much better this go around…am looking forward to Season 2. While I still think Foundation and the Traveller Role Playing Game are closely related, I am glad to see the Genetic Dynasty from Foundation which is very different from Traveller’s Third Imperium.
Speaking about throwbacks to old wargames, GMT Games announced this week that Jim Day’s next entry in the Panzer (Second Edition) series, Panzer: North Africa, has “made the cut” in their P500 program. Longtime readers might recall that Panzer (Yaquinto Publishing, 1979) was my very first wargame. I eagerly bought up the entire original series; Panzer, ’88’and Armor, and they still own a prominent spot on my gaming shelves. I am glad that after 40 years a “new” edition of ’88’ is coming.
I am very interested in getting Wing Leader: Legends to the table as it includes the “Decision Over Kursk” campaign system. Some readers may recall several “My Kursk Kampaign” postings from earlier this spring where I dove in-depth into that battle. At the time I wanted to explore the air war more:
As I start this exploration, my copy of Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) is “At the Printer” meaning it may deliver sometime in mid-2021. If it delivers in time I would certainly like to play the campaign system which focuses on the air battles supporting the Battle of Kursk. I really want to explore a point Glantz makes on page 63 in his book; “Red aircraft might be inferior to their German counterparts, but they were certainly sufficient in numbers to deny the Luftwaffe undisputed command of the air.”
Although you can’t see it in the photo of The Dark Summer, I am, frankly, a bit surprised the game shipped in a 1.5″ deep box. One can interpret this as a sign that the game is smaller, and with a single 22″x34″ map and two countersheets that appears true. I guess I thought a Normandy campaign game just “has to be” big but this one-mapper is already challenging my preconceptions.
Game of the Week
Now that I’m back to a pretty regular work schedule (office is basically 100% reconstituted) I need to work on getting back to a “regular” gaming schedule. Thus, I will be starting a “Game of the Week” approach to play. Basically, the Game of the Week approach gives me seven days to unbox, learn, play, and consider a game. I have a rough idea of how a week might progress:
Sunday – Unbox new game, start rules learning/review
Monday – Rules learning/review, set up first play
Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – Play
Friday – (Skip Day)
Saturday – Considerations/Clean up (Family Game Night?)
I have a backlog of games on the “To Play” shelf that I need to get to over the next few weeks of summer before getting to Wing Leader: Legends and The Dark Summer: I’m trying to play games in the order of their arrival:
While playing games I also am also committed to reading more. When possible, I like to mix a book with the Game of the Week but that’s not always possible as I have other books on the “To Read” pile. I finished up Meade at Gettysburg: A Study in Command by Kent Masterson Brown (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2021) and it will be the subject of this coming week’s “Rocky Reads for Wargame” column. I am pretty sure that 2034: A Novel of the Next War by Eliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis will likely be read in conjunction with Indian Ocean Region when it is up for Game of the Week.
One of my favorite online sources for plastic models closed due to bankruptcy late in 2020. Thanks to a new owner, www. squadron.com is back. The reopening has not been the smoothest, but they are trying to work out the kinks. Given how few good plastic model retailers there are online I hope they make it!
The RockyMountainNavy family tried a new-to-us restaurant this week. The Capital Burger bills itself as purveyors of “luxe” burgers. They use a proprietary blend of beef to make their burgers; I never imagined it could make a difference—but it does. Their Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts are my new favorite and a great replacement for french fries. Oh yeah, it all pairs well with a good ale….
Somewhere in the last year I can across a recommendation to not miss the book The Secret Horsepower Race: Western Front Fighter Engine Development by Calum E. Douglas (Tempest Books, 2020). Fortunately, I landed a copy of this coffee table size (and weight) book and I don’ regret it for a moment. Not only has is shown me more of the technology behind fighter engines in World War II, it also has shown me how those very same engine designs influence Formula One racing engines of today. It also has given me a deeper understanding of various air combat wargames, and in particular designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader series from GMT Games.
“What?”, you say. “Formula One and WWII engines are related?” Yes, and in the most interesting ways as author Calum E. Douglas explains in The Secret Horsepower Race:
Today’s engines are now bearing the fruit of the work done during the Second World War, sometimes through a ‘second discovery’, sometimes through an old idea being rekindled. All Formula One motor-racing engines have the axial swirl throttle which started as a radial design in France and was designed by Daimler and then Mikulin in axial form. It is now normal practice for Grand Prix engines to run at over 130OC coolant temperature, for exactly the same reasons as Professor Messerschmitt complained so bitterly to Milch in 1942, and the water-cooled exhaust valve-guides of the Jumo 213 are to be found in the design of many Formula One Teams.
Calum E. Douglas, The Secret Horsepower Race, p. 458
In The Secret Horsepower Race there is an image on page 425 that shows a German Jumo 213 J connecting rod in a 1945 sketch just above a sketch of a “modern” racing engine connecting rod. Just how similar the two look is very striking and brings home the lesson of just how “advanced” the fighter engines of World War II actually are.
The Secret Horsepower Race is certainly a more technical read than I normally undertake. After all, I’m a History major, not an engineer! That said, Mr. Douglas spins a fascinating tale that, though full of technical detail, also has enough history and espionage that it really entertains. I found myself drawn in and slowing to carefully read the account.
Book to Wargame
As I read The Secret Horsepower Race I found myself thinking of several air combat wargames I’ve played. In the late 1970’s when I started playing wargames, I acquired copies of designer S. Craig Taylor’s Air Force and Dauntless (Battleline, 1976/1977). These were my first introduction to the world of air combat wargames. If there is one rule I remember from those games it’s that inline engines were more vulnerable to damage than radial engines. In the 1990’s I moved to J.D. Webster’s excellent Fighting Wings series of games where engine power was a key factor in helping one “maintain energy” while in air combat (I highly recommend the latest version of Buffalo Wings from ATO Press). In the late 2010’s it was Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and his Wing Leader series from GMT Games that caught my interest.
The Wing Leader series uses a very different air combat wargame design, most noticeable from it’s side-view of battle. It is also, perhaps, the design most closely based on the secrets of The Secret Horsepower Race:
Speed. The grand thesis of Wing Leader is that victory in air combat usually went to the swiftest. Manoeuvrability turned out to be less important than power and speed. The pre-war biplane fighter advocates lost that argument, though in the right conditions these aircraft proved to be a handful. The division of aircraft into 50 mph bands is crude, but works to define generational improvements. As the war dragged on, leaps in performance tended to be in increments of 25 mph or more.
Although I read The Secret Horsepower Race to learn more about aviation history, I was pleasantly surprised by the connection to Formula One racing. It also taught me more of the engineering history and mathematical basis behind the designs of several wargames. More importantly, Calum E. Douglas teaches some real life lessons that go beyond history and wargame and are most applicable to my wannabe engineer youngest. To quote Mr. Douglas’ conclusion at length:
The blood, sweat, and tears which went into making a basic engine such as the Merlin into a war winner is not manifested in some magic gadget, but is concealed in hundreds of thousands of hours spent on fundamentals of engineering; making new drawings; machining parts with precision; organising the manufacturing in such a way that parts are of high quality and are checked properly; rigorous testing; chasing faults down as soon as they emerge; and all the time pushing incrementally forward.
That is how real high-performance engine projects are conducted, and those who were not there, or who have not done it themselves, can never understand the strain a designer faces watching an engine they have been responsible for start for the first time. In this moment their entire reputation stands fragile – a failure can mean disaster and the expense of tremendous sums of money and time. The engine designer is pleased when the engine runs and does its job.
This small pleasure is not enough, as those who devote their careers to engines know just how extraordinarily difficult it is just to reach that ostensibly simple plateau. Even one tolerance written incorrectly on a drawing, one missed particle of dirt during assembly, or a simple decimal point being out of place in a calculation can spell ruin.
That these engineers were able to make hundreds of thousands of state-of-the-art engines at all during the chaos of total war is a demonstration of the indelible lesson that success depends on focused effort and above all a deep level of mathematical understanding mated to pragmatic organisational thinking. Engineers today who see the power which was wielded with only a slide-rule and pencil and adapt the same mindset to use their computers instead of being used by them, will achieve spectacular success.
Calum E. Douglas, The Secret Horsepower Race, p. 458
Like the title says, didn’t get much gaming in this week as I return to basically full-time in the office. After a year of semi-telework it’s a bit of a shock to the system but, honestly, I love to be back at the grind.
I’LL BE HONEST, I WAS NOT GOING TO MAKE IT TO GENCON THIS YEAR ANYWAY. Moving to a new position made taking an extra non-family vacation dicey so I passed. Of course, it doesn’t matter now since COVID-19 changed everything. As a result, GenCon 2020 was held online and in homes this year. The RockyMountainNavy household did our part.
Here are the games played this GenCon 2020:
Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016): Friday night we picked up on our Scythe: The Rise of Fenris (2018) campaign playing Episode 4. We used the Scythe: Invaders from Afar (2018) and Scythe: Encounters (2018) expansions. Sunday night we continued with Episode 5, which unveiled [REDACTED]. I continue to be impressed how The Rise of Fenris campaign introduces new modular expansions that will be playable in any game going forward. Rather than just “open a box of options” the campaign introduces them gradually and provides a ‘reason’ for the new options to exist in the game universe. Brilliant marketing technique!
Here to Slay (Unstable Unicorns, 2020): This game already is officially the most-played game this year in the RockyMountainNavy hacienda and it shows no signs of slowing down. We are so familiar with the rules and speedy that the game takes no more than 20 minutes to play – a great filler before dinner or while waiting for something.
Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 (GMT Games, 2020): Played solo through Scenario O05 “Operation Zet” which depicts Nationalist Chinese flying I-16s’, I-15’s and Hawk III’s defending against a Japanese raid of G3M2 bombers escorted by A5M4 fighters. Takes place over Wuhan, China. Somewhat fitting in these days of coronavirus….(Note: I actually played it three times with the third play forming the basis for a long AAR).
Rhode Island (GMT Games, 2020): New arrival this weekend. Spent some time sorting and trimming the counters before pushing the cardboard around. I really enjoy the Battles of the American Revolution Series and this one doesn’t disappoint delivering insight into a lesser known (Battle of Rhode Island) and even a hypothetical one (Battle of Newport).
There were more than a few deals online for games so I took advantage of a few:
In the first months of war Chinese losses were so severe that the Soviets initiated Operation Zet, a secret plan to dispatch aircraft and volunteer pilots to the Guomingdang. Soviet pilots flew operations immediately on arriving in China, but were unable to prevent Nanjing from falling in December 1937. The Japanese had supposed the Chinese government would collapse, but Chiang Kai-Shek simply relocated his capital west to Wuhan–the ‘triple-city’ of Hankou, Wuchang, and Hanyang. The Soviet volunteers, now famous after their Nanjing exploits, focused on the defense of the new capital against Imperial Japanese Navy Raids. (Scenario O05 Background)
The scenario begins with the Japanese Raider bombers at Altitude, or Flight Level (FL) 6 and just about to enter a series of Broken and Wispy clouds. The two squadrons of G3M2 ‘Nell’ bombers are escorted by two squadrons of A5M4 ‘Claude’ fighters. The fighters set up one just above the lead bomber squadron (FL7) and one just below (FL5).
The Chinese Defenders (actually Soviet ‘volunteers’) are climbing to intercept the bombers and start with a single squadron of I-16 Type 5 ‘Ishak’ (Donkey) at FL4, two squadrons of I-15 ‘Chaika’ (Seagull) at FL3, and one squadron of Hawk III (export BF2C Goshawk) at FL2. One of the Chinese squadrons in Green Quality; assigned the Hawk III because it is the least capable fighter type, the lowest, and the least likely to get into the battle anyway.
In Wing Leader, the map is a side-view of the battlespace. In this scenario, the Japanese bombers start about in the middle of the map and must exit the enemy side, or the left-edge of the map. Given the distances and movement rates, they can be expected to exit on Turn 8. Every squadron that exits scores 6 VP; if it is Disrupted it scores 3 VP. Per the scenario Special Rules if a G3M squadron suffers 3 or more Losses (bombers shot down) it aborts its mission and returns to base, trying to exit off the right-edge of the map.
Set up presented the first interesting decision for the Chinese side. The set up dictates the altitude of the defenders, but not their square (location on map). The defenders have to climb to reach the Nells, in some cases as many as 4 levels (Hawk III). Squadrons which are Alerted in Wing Leader, like the defenders in this scenario, have a basic 3 Movement Points (MP). In the case of each fighter type for the Chinese, Climbing cost 2 MP for each level near the bomber’s altitude. Unalerted fighters, like the Japanese escorts, as well as the bombers, have 2 MP each turn. So where to set up?
The Chinese elected to place the I-16 at FL4 below the leading bomber facing the same direction. The two I-15’s were set up ahead of, but below the bombers at FL3 facing the opposite way along with the poor Hawk III behind them and below at FL2. This set up was intended to minimize the time to intercept and (hopefully) avoid tail-chases.
Each turn in Wing Leader starts with a Tally Phase where squadrons attempt to sight each other. Raiders tally first, followed by Defenders. The Japanese low escort squadron attempted to tally the I-16s below and behind them but fail. The Chinese I-16 and the lead I-15 squadron both tally the lead Japanese bomber squadron successfully.
[At a range of 1 square the Japanese squadron needed to roll a 2 or higher on a single D6 to Tally. However, a roll of 1 resulted in no tally.]
Next is the Movement Phase. The Move Order saw the escorts move first (straight ahead 2 squares) followed by the bombers (straight ahead 2 squares) followed by the Alerted defenders. The I-16 climbs to FL5 and ends up behind the low escort and below the trailing bomber squadron. The I-15’s both climb to FL4 (the Hawk to FL3) with the bombers still in front of them. There is no combat this turn so play proceeds to Turn 2.
In the Tally Phase the Japanese high squadron fails to Tally anybody; it had a choice to try and tally the climbing I-16 but they are behind them (-2 modifier) or to try and tally an I-15 through Wispy clouds (-1 modifier). Likewise, the low escort would have trouble to tally the I-16 behind it. Instead, they try to Tally the climbing I-15 squadron in front of them. After a successful tally, the Japanese low escort squadron is now Alerted (3MP) and use their Tactical Flexibility to split the squadron into two flights of 4 aircraft each.
In the following Movement Phase, the Unalerted high escort and bombers plod on ahead 2 squares. The Alerted fighters move in Initiative Order:
Lowest Altitude – Hawk III (ahead 2 spaces because of the -1 Speed from the Climb the previous turn). Likewise the I-15’s also move straight ahead 2 squares.
Same Altitude: The I-16 and low escort flights are both at FL5. Lowest Basic Speed moves first. The Claude has a Basic Speed of 3 at FL5 whereas the I-16 has a Basic Speed of 4.
The first of the two low escort flights moves and dives into the lead I-15 squadron.
The second low escort flight stays at the same altitude but moves 3 squares ahead.
The I-16 moves ahead 2 squares, ending up behind and below the trailing bomber flight at FL5.
In the Combat Phase, the lead I-15 and diving Japanese escort flight (now on a Sweep Mission) are in the same square. Both have a Tally on each other, making this a Mutual Attack. Per the rules, the squadron/flight that moves last is the attacker. Additionally, since the Japanese flight entered the square from ahead of the I-15, this is a Head-On Combat.
The first step in combat is to determine the type of attack. A Turning Fight will use the Turn Factor (Claude=4 / I-15=4). A Hit-and-Run Attack uses the Speed Factor (Claude=3 / I-15=2). However, in the case of a Head-On attack Hit-and-Run MUST be declared.
The attacking Claude starts with a Speed Factor of 3. It gets +1 for Diving but -1 for being a Flight. Final combat factor is 3. The I-15 starts with a Speed Factor of 2, but since it the defender using Rigid Doctrine they is not as flexible to respond to threats and get a -1 modifier. Final combat factor is 1, for a Combat Differential of +2 for the attacker and -2 for the defender.
The attacking Claude, rolling on the +2 Column, rolls 2d6 getting a 6. Attacker Die Roll Modifiers (DRM) are -2 for Head-On and -2 for fighting in Broken clouds for a final total of 2; no Losses.
The defending I-15 rolls on the -2 Column rolls a 12 (!). There is a DRM of -2 for Head-On and -2 for Broken skies making the final total 8; 1 hit. Each hit must be immediately confirmed against the Protection Factor of the Claude (3). Each hit is a roll of a single d6 and a roll of 6 confirms 1 Claudes is a Loss (shot down).
Each squadron/flight must now make a Cohesion Check to see if they hold together.
The attacking Claudes get a +1 DRM (attacker) but also a -1 DRM (1 Loss) and another -1 for not having a radio. Their 2d6 roll of 3 (modified to 2) means 2 levels of Disruption. This is enough make the flight Broken. A Broken flight loses all tallies changes its mission to Return to Base. The defending I-15 rolls a 9, modified to 8, and passes its Cohesion Check.
Both the attacking Claude and defending I-15 are given a Low Ammo -1 marker.
[Not the result the Japanese wanted. One aircraft shot down and a broken flight effectively taking 25% of their fighters out of the battle – for no enemy losses. Some gamers might scream ‘its unrealistic’ that the Claudes simply drop out of combat so quickly. But that is the real genius of the Cohesion Check. As designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood tells us:
“Fighter squadrons break apart due to high-speed maneuvers. a broken squadron is an expanding bubble of aircraft, with aircraft heading home in ones or twos due to loss of contact, damage, or a failure of nerve.”
“Put simply, a broken fighter squadron has shattered and gone home, while a broken bomber squadron has ceased to be an effective fighting formation.”]
In the Tally Phase, the high escort squadron once again fails to tally a threat squadron. The low sweepers keep their tally on the lead I-15 flight. The I-16 still has a tally on the trailing bomber and the lead I-15 successfully transfers its tally to the low sweeper. The trailing I-15 tries to acquire the sweeper and is successful. The Hawk III, although lower and further away, somehow successfully acquires the lead bomber squadron even though the target is ‘in the Sun’ and they are of Green quality!
High escort moves 2 squares ahead.
Bombers move 2 squares ahead.
Unalerted fighters move; the Broken Claude flight dives to the deck and turns for home.
Alerted fighters move in Initiative Order –
Hawk III climbs ahead to FL 4. It is still two levels below the lead bomber.
The trailing I-15 squadron climbs to FL5 and turns to the same heading as the bombers ending up one square ahead of but still below the lead bomber. The lead I-15 does the same but ends up one square below the lead bomber.
The low sweeper Claude flight moves next, moving two squares ahead then turning (circling) in the square to end up with the I-15 flight it has tallied.
The I-16 climbs to the bombers altitude but is still one square behind the trailing bomber.
The sweeping Claude flight and I-15 squadron engage. The Claude is the attacker. They elect to use a Hit-and-Run attack for a Speed Factor of 3 against the I-15’s Speed Factor of 2. After modifiers the Combat Differential is Attacker +1 / Defender -1. On the Air Combat Table the Claude scores no losses, but the I-15 scores a single hit that causes a Straggler. The Claude passes its Cohesion Check but gains a Low Ammo -1 marker. The I-15 rolls a 6, modified to 4 (no radio and Low Ammo) and suffers 1 level of Disruption. Their ammo is now also Depleted (-2).
Next, it must be determined if a Dogfight begins. The Japanese want a Dogfight (to slow the fighters from getting to the bombers) but the Chinese don’t. Both sides roll 1d6 and add their Basic Speed Factor. The Chinese roll a modified 6, the Japanese a modified 5; no Dogfight begins.
[The Japanese low escort, having already lost half its force, desperately needs help as that single flight of 4 Claudes face off against several Chinese squadrons (8 aircraft each).]
Tally Phase – The high escort tries to tally the climbing I-16 but fails. One I-15 successfully switches their tally to the trailing bomber squadron; all else is as before.
High escort moves 2 squares ahead.
Bombers move 2 squares ahead.
Unalerted fighters (i.e. the broken flight) move; the Claude continues towards home on the deck.
Alerted fighters in Initiative Order –
Hawk III climbs vertical to FL 5. It is one level below and one square behind the trailing bomber.
One I-15 squadron climbs into the square of the trailing bomber it has tallied.
The high escorting fighters can React. They roll for a Successful Reaction which tallies the enemy and changes their mission to Sweep. Using Tactical Flexibility the squadron splits into two flights. A successful reaction also stops the enemies movement before it enters the bombers square. Both reacting flights now dive to the enemy square.
The second I-15 climbs into the square behind the trailing bomber. The Claude flight follows.
The I-16 moves ahead 2 squares, ending up in the same square as the I-15 and Claude.
Reacting Fighters vs Climbing I-15 – Attacking Claudes chose a Hit-and-Run attack. Attacker rolls on the +4 Column; the defender on the -4 column. Attacker scores 1 hit, confirmed as a Loss. The defender miraculously rolls a single hit, confirmed as a Loss. In the following Cohesion Checks the Claude takes 2 levels of Disruption and is Broken! The defending I-15 passes their Cohesion Check; both combatants gain a Low Ammo -1 marker. The Japanese try to start a Dogfight but the Chinese successfully avoid a it.
I-15 vs ‘low’ Claudes – Attacking Claudes chose a Hit-and-Run attack. Attacker rolls on +1 column; defender on -1 column. Attacker scores 1 hit, confirmed as a Loss. Defender score nothing. In the following Cohesion Check the Claude passes but the I-15 takes another level of Disruption, making it Broken.
[Now half of the initial Japanese fighters are out of the battle, but at least one squadron of Chinese is also leaving.]
Tally Phase: ‘Low’ Claude now tallies the I-16. The I-16 moves its tally to the ‘low’ Claude flight. The unbroken I-15 tallies the attacking Claude flight. The Hawk remains fixated on the lead Japanese bomber….
Bombers move 2 squares ahead.
Unalerted fighters (i.e. the broken flight) move; all dive or move away from the battle, effectively escaping.
Alerted fighters in Initiative Order –
Hawk III climbs to FL 6 and is 3 squares behind the bombers.
I-15 climbs to FL6 and is 2 squares behind the bombers.
‘Reacting’ Claude circles and climbs with the I-15.
Both the ‘low’ Claude and I-16 move into the same square as the I-15 and reacting Claude (it’s really busy there!).
‘Reacting’ Claude vs I-15 – Combat Differential is 0. No losses for either side. Cohesion Check for attacker is passed; defender is is Disrupted. The Japanese successfully begin a Dogfight.
‘Low’ Claude vs I-16 – I-16 is the attacker and chooses a Hit-and-Run attack. Combat Differential is +3/-2 (Claude has the Edge* whereas the I-16 doesn’t so it shifts one column right on the Air Combat Table). I-16 scores 3 hits, confirmed as one Loss and a Straggler. The Claude fails to score any hits. In the following Cohesion Checks the I-16 passes; the Claude fails miserably and becomes Broken.
[Now 75% of the Japanese fighters are out of the battle.]
In the Dogfight the the I-15 gets the best of the Claudes and shoots down the two fighters of the flight; the flight then becomes Broken. However, the I-15 fails to maintain Cohesion and also becomes Broken.
The I-16 jumps the trailing bombers. In the Turning Fight the I-16 shoots down a bomber for no losses. Both the I-16 and bomber squadron maintain Cohesion.
[All the Japanese fighter flights are Broken or shot down. The Chinese fighters are free to savage the bombers.]
The I-16 and Hawk III attack the trailing bomber squadron. The bombers suffer another Loss against one Loss for the I-16. The I-16, with no radio, Depleted Ammo, and suffering a Loss becomes Broken and heads for home. The Hawk III, Green and with no radio, somehow holds together. The Japanese bomber squadron is Disrupted.
[The Japanese bombers are almost to the edge of the map. As it stands right now, if they exit they will get 9 VP (+6 for the lead undisrupted squadron and +3 for the Disrupted squadron. The Japanese will also get +3 VP for shooting down Chinese fighters for a total of 12 VP. The Chinese right now sit at 10 VP for shooting down six fighters and two bombers. The differential of +2 is a narrow Chinese Victory.]
It all comes down to one final combat between the Green Chinese Hawk III and the Disrupted trailing bomber squadron. The Hawk III scores another Loss, which forces the bomber squadron to return to base. Both squadrons pass their Cohesion Check; the Hawk III now has Depleted Ammo but the Disrupted bomber has a long way to go before they are safe.
[The remaining Japanese bomber is really in a bad place. Forced to turn back near the exit-edge of the map, safety lies at the other edge – a long way across the board. The Hawk III, although Green and with little ammo and no radio, has somehow held it together. Maybe they’re too scared to get separated. Maybe they are true heroes. Such is fate – or Cohesion Checks.]
The lead bomber squadron exits the board (6 VP) but the trailing bomber suffering losses and now Disrupted turns for home. The Hawk III follows and gets another chance for blood. In the combat they create a Straggler for the bombers against no losses. However, in the Cohesion Check, the Hawk III is Disrupted whereas the bomber becomes Broken.
The Hawk III attacks yet again but scores no hits. The defending bombers, although unorganized, cause a Straggler to fall out of the Hawk III squadron. Somehow the Hawk III holds it together and passes their Cohesion Check (they have to roll a 7 or higher, with a -4 modifier, to avoid a another level of Disruption and become Broken).
How lucky can the Hawk III get? Apparently very lucky since they shoot down another two bombers. In return they lose another fighter, take another level of Disruption, and are finally Broken.
Subtracting the Chinese from the Japanese VPs, the -6 is a decisive Chinese Victory.
After Action Comments
Wow! What a battle. I actually played this scenario twice earlier in the day ending once with a Japanese Victory and once in a Draw. Both of those games didn’t go past Turn 7. Here the Japanese fighters just seemed unable to catch a break, literally ending up Broken rather quickly. Then there was the heroic actions of the Chinese Hawk III; the Green squadron that was flying the lowest-performance fighter that ended up shooting down the most bombers. Historically both the Chinese and Japanese lost four aircraft apiece; this time it was a bloodbath for the Japanese losing almost an entire squadron’s worth of bombers and fighters!
This battle was so different, and once again I am amazed at how fickle fate – or Cohesion Checks – can be. Wing Leader, while being a somewhat coarse simulation of air combat, certainly captures the essentials and essence of situation. In Wing Leader: Origins the impact of no radios and rigid doctrine combined with slow aircraft with less firepower is easily understood.
Most importantly, it’s also fun to play! What do I mean by fun? Wing Leader delivers, in my opinion, the right set of interesting decisions. Wing Leader scenarios are battles and the players are charged with fighting the battle, not flying the airplanes. Sure, you move them and fight them, but you don’t ‘set the flaps’ or the like.
Instead, players of Wing Leader must manage the impact of doctrine – the doctrine that went into the development of a particular aircraft or doctrine that limits how it can fight. Most importantly, the players must ‘manage the chaos.’ For instance, the Claudes in this scenario outclass the Hawk III and are a good match for the I-15. Against the I-16 the Claude’s Edge may be enough to make it the better fighter. Defenders are further handicapped because they fight using a Rigid Doctrine. With 2020 hindsight we know this was stupid but at the time it was all they had.
Most interestingly, once the fighting begins the real measure of a fighter becomes not how fast it is or what guns it mounts; instead the measure is a squadron’s ability to hold together. This means combat losses, being the attacker, not having radios, low ammo, and weather as well as experience are the difference.
The key interesting decision is not how to fight, but when to fight. Are you set up from the beginning in the best way? When is the right time and place to commit your forces? From the above it sounds like game turns are very procedural, but in play it simply flows from decision point to decision point. It also doesn’t hurt that one can easily find a narrative emerging through play.
*What is Edge? Because of the coarse combat model, some aircraft are given an edge to represent that little extra combat potential.
It looks like the boardgame/wargame publishing industry is coming back, but at a bit of a slower pace. Let’s look at my forecast and then discuss the reality.
One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered. UPDATE from July 8 – “August 11, 2020 Arrival Date: Jacksonville, FL, USA. Note, that shipping to Florida takes 10 days longer than to our normal shipping destination in Cleveland. To Cleveland, the product is shipped to Seattle, WA and then transported by rail to Cleveland. Whereas to Florida, the ship needs to steam to Panama, cross through the Panama Canal, and them make its way up to Florida. USA and Canadian pledges will be shipped from Quartermaster Logistics, which is based in Orlando, FL.”
Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately. UPDATE: Delivered July 17.
The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020) – Kickstarter Waro. Coronavirus delays have pushed this one back from April, but it looks like July is seriously in play. UPDATE from July 21 – “My post-pandemic expectation was that our print run would be ready to ship from China in early July. Because of a bottleneck at one of the factories (our manufacturer, Panda, uses three different factories for our game – one for the dice, one for the wood pieces and one for the printing and final assembly), the games will not be ready to ship from China until mid-August. The slow boat from China takes five to six weeks, so I am looking at alternatives – mainly, having enough copies airmailed to our distribution points (we are using Quartermaster Logistics and their overseas partners) so we can ship to all of our backers before the end of August. If it is not cost-prohibitive, that is the plan. But if it is cost-prohibitive, then we are looking at delivery in late September. Ugh, I do not even want to contemplate that. As I know more, I will keep all of you updated.”
Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013) – Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
It appears to me that shipping, not actual production of games, is a new long pole in the tent. Not surprising given the lack of air transportation worldwide. I know that many games are not airshipped, but the maritime shipping, rail, and truck industries are picking up other cargoes that air shipping used to handle leading in turn to a general slow down of those transportation modes. If you look close even Amazon Prime is sometimes backordered.
How about the look ahead to August? Here are what games may be in play (pun fully intended).
First, my Preorder & Kickstarter GeekListsits at 23 games. Of the three carry-overs from July (One Small Step, Shores of Tripoli, and Undaunted: North Africa) there is a good chance that all but Shores of Tripoli will deliver in August. Of the remaining 20 games:
French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update– “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York Auugust 13. We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag. Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as eight or nine of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList could deliver. Like I said before, that would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.