Understanding dogfights through Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 (@gmtgames, 2015)

AT FIRST GLANCE, Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 by designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (published by GMT Games, 2015) looks like an old side-scroll video game. My first reaction years ago when I saw the game was, “That can’t be a serious wargame!”

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Courtesy boardgamegee.com

How wrong I was.

The entire Wing Leader series focuses not on the intricacies of air-to-air combat but on the larger dynamics of air combat. If you want to see how a P-51 can turn against an Me-262 you will be much better off trying out the Fighting Wings series from J.D. Webster. Wing Leader is a maybe better described as a grand tactical view of air warfare. The most important lesson one learns from Wing Leader is not its not just airplanes that fight, but more importantly the aircrews in the planes.

My recent weekend play of Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 reminded me of this lesson. I played Scenario V03 Stalingrad Airlift where two flights of German He-111 bombers escorted by a flight of Me-109F-4 fighters are trying to deliver supplies to Stalingrad. Opposing them are two Soviet squadrons of Yak-1 interceptors. By the measure of most air combat games this should be a cake-walk for the Soviets; after all they have 18 interceptors against a measly four German fighters and eight sluggish bombers!

In Wing Leader it’s not that easy. In this case, the Germans have at least one Veteran flight and an Experte (Ace) to assign. The Soviet squadrons are inexperienced; Green in game terms. The Soviets do have an advantage with early warning and ground control (GCI – Ground Controlled Intercept) but there is also a dense cloud layer at low altitude. In this play the Me-109 flight was given both the Veteran and Experte.

The He-111’s started just above the cloud layer with the escorting flight a bit higher and between them. The Soviet squadrons started one ahead and one behind the German stream. The leading Soviet squadron got a Tally on the lead bombers and dove to attack. The escorting fighters reacted late (Late Reaction) and a fur ball developed between the bombers, fighters, and interceptors. Immediately, the difference in crew quality showed through as the German fighters mauled the Soviet interceptors and the bombers scooted away. Though they tried to pursue, the Germans engaged in a Dogfight and kept the interceptors busy.

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Mid-game – Dogfight in the middle.

Meanwhile, the trailing Soviet squadron, guided by GCI, bounced the trailing bombers. Poor shooting by the interceptors yielded no damage to the bombers but the intercepting squadron became Disrupted; that is, unorganized. The bombers dove for the clouds below (Note: Technically the bombers were not allowed to dive per rule 9.2.1.2 Transport. Oh well, a rules learning point!). The interceptors attempted to follow behind and engage again. They finally caught up to the bombers, but in the attack they caused no damage and instead lost cohesion and broke. Dropping to the deck, they raced for home.

The dogfighting interceptors did no better. In the Turning fight the Soviet Yak-1 pilots, now likely green with fear like their Green experience, were disrupted again and also broke. Like their brethren below, they left the fight and turned for home.

So just how did four German Me-109s hold off an entire squadron of 18 Yak-1s? At the dogfight altitude the Me-109 has only a slight edge in combat. The real telling factor was the experience and skill level of the pilots. The four Veteran Me-109s with that Experte just shot up the Yaks. The Green pilots got in one or two shots then broke for home.

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Soviets break off – supplies get through!

Cohension Checks, Disruption, and Broken Squadrons are probably the most important rules in Wing Leader. The real test of combat is not how many guns you have or how tight you turn, but the ability for a flight or squadron to stay and fight, or just run away. Wing Leader reminds us that it’s actually not the hardware of war that makes the difference, it’s the people.

In this game, the numerically-superior Soviets were simply outclassed by the fewer, yet more experienced, German aircrews. Using that advantage, the Germans were able to get supplies though, their true objective. The Germans didn’t need to shoot down Soviet aircraft (though it helps) but get the bombers across the skies. The really neat part is that Wing Leader allows one to explore this “squishier” side of aerial combat in an easy-to-understand model that delivers the experience without having to learn how to fly an airplane. This is partly why I rate Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 and the companion Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 amongst the top 10 games in my collection (that’s the top 1.5% of my collection).

If you really want to understand why air battles are fought and not just the technical how, one can’t go wrong with Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Wing Leader series.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com

 

 

#WargameWednesday – Battles in the Sky

In a previous posting, I discovered that three of my six least-liked wargames are air combat-related. This got me thinking – do I actually dislike air combat games? The answer I discovered is, “No, actually there are many air combat games I do like.” Here are my personal Top 10 Air Combat Wargames.

A comment on ratings: These games are ranked subjectively by me out of my personal collection. As such, this is my Top 10 Air Combat Wargames that I own.

#1 – Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 [My Rating 8.75 / Geek Rating 5.985 / BGG Wargame Rank 140]

At first look I denigrated this game as a side-scroll video game wannabe. WAY WRONG! This unique look at operational air combat just works and clearly brings out the “why” of a dogfight rather than the usual “how.”

#2 – Wing Leader: Supremacy: 1943-1945 [My Rating 8.5 / Geek Rating 5.762 / BGG Wargame Rank 285]

Many people see this as the same as Victories but the late-war combat was different enough from the early war that, although the game system is the same, the play is way different.

#3 – Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 [My Rating 8.5 / Geek Rating 6.099 / BGG Wargame Rank 105]

Operational-level campaigns of modern air warfare. As a former US Navy Squadron Intelligence Officer this is so much like real-life mission planning that I should dislike it as too realistic but I feel just the opposite.

#4 – RAF (West End Games, 1986) [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 6.133/ BGG Wargame Rank 156]

Solitaire, card-driven Battle of Britain. First design with many others to follow that may be more clean mechanically or graphically but unmatched in my collection.

#5 – Buffalo Wings [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.677 / BGG Wargame Rank 506]

Air war over Finland. Technically part of JD Webster’s Fighting Wings series, this one has a cleaner basic game that makes it worthy to be counted as a separate game in my thinking. Detailed air combat that takes a bit of dedication to learn, but once it “clicks” for you it is an easy, fast-paced game that seems realistic yet playable.

#6 – Whistling Death [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.859 / BGG Wargame Rank 200]

Fighting Wings goes to the Pacific. The last real iteration of the Fighting Wings series of games makes it the most refined of the lot and the topic of most interest to me. Maybe too complicated for many but I find it a playable level of realism.

#7 – The Speed of Heat [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.715 / BGG Wargame Rank 505]

JD Webster’s modern air combat game. Second generation of his earlier GDW Air Superiority and Air Strike games. Again, a playable level of realism.

#8 – The Burning Blue [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.979 / BGG Wargame Rank 172]

Another Lee Brimmecombe-Wood operational campaign (see Downtown above). Playing this gives one a whole new respect for the campaign fought out over England in 1940.

#9 – Bloody April, 1917: Air War Over Arras, France [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.740 / BGG Wargame Rank 487]

Another operational-level look at an air campaign. Makes one realize that the grunt work, like artillery spotting and photo-recce, are really important to air campaigns. Dogfights have a role but often in support of the others.

#10 – Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.578 / Unranked by BGG Wargames]

A solo wargame that plays out mechanically but, when looking back at what happened, tells a really dramatic story.

Honorable Mentions (all ranked by me at 7.75 or 7.5) but still ones I like:

It should be obvious that there are many air combat games I like, but just as obvious that tactical dogfighting is not my preference. Seven of my Top 10 Air Combat Games are not dogfight games but rather raids or operational-level simulation. Maybe that is the key; dogfighting games, which can be very technical (see Birds of Prey), tend to not catch my attention as much as sweeping campaign systems. This does not necessarily mean the games are bad. Rather, it probably reflects a change in my attitude towards gaming. When I first started in this hobby back in 1979, I think I was a simulationist. It is reflected in my favorite games of that time, Panzer and Star Fleet Battles. I thought that games needed to be technical (and full of chrome) to be “realistic.” These days, I think I seek more “design elegance” (however that is defined!) and desire playability with “just enough” realism.

Featured photo was taken this summer at the Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA. As a docent there says, “The Smithsonian’s might be prettier, but ours fly!”

Easing back into Wing Leader: Supremacy (Scenario S01 AAR)

 

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Climbing for the intercept!

I played the new Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games) today. I own and have previously played the original Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 that covers the early war years. Supremacy comes with new v2.0 rules that both clean up and clear up several rules issues from the earlier edition. The changes are few but enough that I went back to the “starter” scenario to relearn the system.

Scenario S01 Climb the Matterhorn recreates an August 1944 B-29 raid by XX Bomber Command against Kyushu. Defending are two squadrons of Ki-84 (Frank) and one squadron of Ki-61 (Tony) fighters. The Americans have to get across the board (exit the edge) before losing too many of their numbers.

The lead B-29 squadron took the brunt of the Japanese attacks and suffered three losses (out of a 9-ship squadron) and had a straggler. The squadron also ended up disrupted before it could exit the battle space. The second B-29 squadron also lost a bomber and had another straggler. This day the vaunted defenses of the B-29 did not appear up to the task for they shot down just one Tony. The Americans were actually pretty lucky for their loses could of been worse. The second Ki-84 squadron (with Green pilots) broke after their first attack and left for home without shooting down a single bomber. The Ki-61 squadron was hapless; scoring several hits but only shot down a single B-29 (and made a straggler out of another) before it too broke and headed home. Amazingly, the lead Ki-84 squadron hung around the entire fight and attacked each B-29 squadron at least once. This Ki-84 squadron refused to break for home even with depleted ammo and when fighting in a disrupted condition. It eventually accounted for three B-29s going down.

In the end, the Americans scored 16 VP (6VP x2 for each unbroken squadron exiting, 3VP for the disrupted Squadron, 1VP for the shot-down Ki-61). The Japanese scored 12 VP (3VP x4 for each B-29 shot down). This +4 differential for the Americans was not enough to avoid a Japanese victory. Given the fact that one Ki-84 squadron broke early, and the second was hapless, this loss is certainly not as bad as it could of been!

Wing Leader is more fun than I remember. I also really like the fact Supremacy comes with a mounted map. As I ease back into Wing Leader it will be interesting to go back to Victories and try out some of the early war scenarios and eventually move onto Supremacy with its late war aircraft (Me-262!). I really like the Wing Leader series because it gives context to air combat. Each side has a mission and keeping that mission focus is important even as planes flame down out of the sky and squadrons break for home after losing cohesion.

 

#WargameWednesday My 2016 Wargame Revival

I have been a grognard wargamer longer than I have played roleplaying games or family boardgames. However, in recent years I have fallen off in buying new wargames, partially because of the prices (generally expensive) and partially because I have spent more time and money on RPGs and family boardgames. With the rise of the online publishing industry, RPG games and supplements are way more affordable, and my family boardgames included game series like Star Wars X-Wing, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Memoir ’44, and more recently Tanks: Panther vs Sherman. These “light wargames” favor playability over complexity/realism, and in the case of X-Wing or Tanks are more akin to manual video games. These games sorta scratched my wargaming itch, mostly because I used them to introduce the RMN Boys to the hobby.

But although I was scratching the itch, I was not making it go away.

So in 2016 I made a concerted effort to return to true grognard wargaming. Looking back, my modest effort appears to have paid off.

pic1559499_mdBreaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea (Compass Games) [Naval Combat/Modern-era/Operational-level]. My effort to explore modern naval combat. Moderately successful; the game is a bit too simplified for my taste. Looking forward to the next (upgraded?) version the refines the combat system.

pic3090467_mdDawn of the Battleship (Admiralty Trilogy Group) [Naval Combat/Pre-WWI-era/Tactical-level]. A continuation of the Admiralty Trilogy-series and the first published after the break-up with Clash of Arms.

pic3163917_mdEagle of Lille (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWI-era/Operational-level]. Expansion for Bloody April, 1917: Air War over Arras, France. I personally love operational-level air combat games but the prior planning and time needed to play is immense.

pic2958247_mdMBT Second Edition (GMT Games) [Ground Combat/Modern-era/Tactical-level] Jim Day‘s  Panzer (1979 Yaquinto Press) was my first-ever wargame. Love this implementation of his armor combat system to fight the Cold War.

pic2999397_mdPacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 (Revolution Games) [Naval Combat/WWII-era/Operational-level]. A unique game that got to my interest in WWII naval combat.

pic2838345_mdPlan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935 (RBM Studio) [Strategic Pre-WWII-era]. Aligns with my interest in alternative naval war in the Pacific. Great use of the card-driven game (CDG) mechanic.

pic3236903_mdWing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWII-era/Large-scale Tactical-level]. A different, and very interesting, look at air combat. A nice mix of tactical and operational-levels of aerial combat.

Breaking it down, of the seven wargames purchased this year:

  • Plurality are Naval Combat (3 of 7)
  • Majority are Operational-level (if one counts the large-scale tactical of Wing Leader as “operational” (4 of 7)
  • Plurality are are WWII-era (3 of 7)

Interestingly, I bought no space/science-fiction games this year. That is, unless one counts my pledged

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Courtesy Ad Astra Games

Kickstarter for Squadron Strike:Traveller (Ad Astra Games) that was to deliver in July but I am still waiting on.

I have to say though that my biggest wargaming achievement of 2016 was introducing Little I to miniature-style naval combat using my old copy of pic253396_mdBattleship Captain (Minden Games, 2007). This is the game that really started Little I on the path to grognardia. He had played, and enjoyed, Memoir’44 but with Battleship Captain he started seriously studying the history behind the game. This Christmas season, his attention has been seized by  the Gale Force 9 Tanks game and he is seriously studying WWII armored combat now.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is a year of many more wargame experiences.

All images courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.

Christmas Gaming 2016

Here is my gaming haul for the 2016 Christmas season:

pic3236903_mdWing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games)Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s innovative “side-scroll” air combat game for the later half of World War II. Like its predecessor Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 this again made air combat games fun and interesting for me. The box is HUGE and very heavy – a welcome change from so many “light” games with a “heavy” price.

pic2999397_mdPacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942 by Revolution Games. Originally published in Japanese and now translated into English. Emphasizes planning by using a very different system of assigning units to Task Forces and then resolving combat in sequence. Suffers from some production issues (very DTP-publishing feel) but nonetheless an interesting exploration of naval combat in and around Iron Bottom Sound.

pic3238660_mdThe Space Patrol (by Richard Hazelwood, published by Stellagama Publishing). A 2D6 OGL Sci-Fi/Cepheus Engine RPG book for playing Space Patrol characters. Includes a very detailed discussion of legal terms and interstellar law. An interesting look at yet another career option. I try to support the Cepheus Engine system as much as possible since I disapprove of the direction Mongoose Publishing has taken the Traveller RPG rules.

pic3293444_mdShips of the Clement Sector 16: Rucker Class Merchant from Gypsy Knights Games. Another in a great line of outstanding ship sourcebooks. Includes multiple variants highlighting the “odd job” characteristics of the ship. Topped off by evocative fiction this book will be very useful in the Clement Sector setting or any 2D6 Sci-Fi/Cepheus Engine setting.

We wouldn’t be the RockyMountainNavy family without the kids getting games for Christmas too:

pic132447_mdRMN A got Command & Colors: Ancients (GMT Games). This is technically A’s first wargame that he “owns.” He is studying history and very interested in the period. Looking forward to facing off across the battlefield from him (but first he needs to put all those stickers on)!

pic3239100_mdRMN T got Endless Vigil: A Sourcebook for Sentinels for the Force & Destiny segment of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG line. Looking forward to exploring the Star Wars RPG universe of urban settings and encounters for the Force.

pic2933710_mdRMN Little I got Tanks: Panther vs Sherman (Gale Force 9). This starter-set game plays to two of his interests; WW2 armor and models. The price entry point is very low ($19.99) but he will surely be spending a good deal of his earnings over the next year on the expansions (i.e. models). He already has several 1/100th scale Zvezda armor – look for him to make his own stat cards soon!

pic3105185_mdAlmost forgot – RMN T also got King of New York: Power Up! (iello). This is an expansion for King of New York OR King of Tokyo (which we own). Beware Mega Shark!

pic691901_mdRMN Little I also got Memoir ’44: Breakthrough (Days of Wonder). Just remember, the battle always takes place at the junction of two maps! Between Memoir ’44 and C&C looks like the younger gamers are fully-involved in Richard Borg war games.

(All images courtesy BoardGameGeek/RPGGeek)

Merry Christmas and Happy Gaming to all!