I play quite a lot of air wargames - miniature, boardgame and computer game - and I was looking forward to giving these a go. In most periods, I have a go-to set or two that I know will give me a game that I enjoy. Despite the virtues of the many different air wargames I play, I certainly haven't reached a "settled" view yet. I guess my current favourite miniature/boardgame set is Lacquered Coffins, although I have a couple of reservations about the way manoeuvring is done and the lethality of combat. Anyway, this set is much simpler, in line with the rest of Bob Cordery's rules.
The rules simply classify all aircraft as 'single-engine fighters', 'light bombers' and other such broad-brush descriptions. All aircraft within a type have exactly the same capabilities. Altitude is ignored. Combat is very simple - deflection and such things are ignored.
Combat One: For the first game, I played the rules as written - any deviations are purely errors on my part! I used the first 'real' scenario from the Achtung! Spitfire boardgame, which is in turn based on Paul Richey's memoir Fighter Pilot. The hex sheet and the counters are from that game too.
Date: 29 March 1940
Luftwaffe: 2 x single-engine fighters (Bf109s)
RAF: 3 x single-engine fighters (Hurricanes)
|A vic of Hurricanes and a Rotte of 109s spot each other at the same time|
|The Luftwaffe win the initiative and the leader immediately gets in behind a Hurricane|
|The 109 wingman also gets in position to damage the Hurricane|
|The Hurricane leader manages to get round onto the tail of the 109s and get some damage done|
|The second Hurricane (left) gets round but cannot quite get into firing position|
|and the third Hurricane is in a similar position|
|The 109s get onto the tail of the Hurricanes in their turn, causing further damage|
|But once again the Hurricane leader turns the tables!|
|And this time his wingmen get in some shots too|
|The 109 wingman breaks hard left to draw a bead onto the Hurrican leader|
|Who evades and manages to fire into the 109 leader|
|.303 rounds smash into the Rottenfuhrer's 109...|
|which is felled from the sky (left); the last Hurricane causes some light damage to the 109 wingman, but the combat time was up and the 109 was able to break away|
The positives first: the mechanisms are simple but effective and easily memorized. The game, considered abstractly, was engrossing and the two things together made for a good experience. The rules were very clear and easy to follow. They are definitely a good basis for further experimentation. In some ways, treating broadly similar fighters as the same is more accurate than depicting them as different (depending upon the granularity of the game).
The structure is very simple: the sides roll a d6 for initiative - one side moves and then the other side moves. Aircraft can spend some of their move allowance on turning. Basically it is move 1 or more hexes, then spend a point turning (and not moving) and so on.
The thing that I didn't particularly like as a recreation of history is that the game mechanisms felt more appropriate to WW1 than WW2 and even then had some obvious quirks. The most basic one is that a fighter can turn through 360 degrees every game turn, so a fight has to end up as a swirl. I think the main issue here is the number of turns possible per game turn, which obviate the advantages of getting on the tail of another fighter.
I think there is a fairly serious error in the rules too. The rules say that 3d6 should be thrown per machinegun when firing. A fighter has four fixed forward-firing machineguns, which would mean 12d6. A damage point is scored by rolling 5-6, so on average, a fighter should be able to knock another fighter (fighters have 4 strength points) out in one pass. However, the worked example has 1d6 being thrown per machinegun. This felt much more like the author's intent, and would give much more realistic results.
Anyway, despite these reservations, I felt that they were a pretty solid set of rules as a condensed essence of WW1-WW2 air war and decided to persevere and see if I could make a couple of modifications to make it more to my taste.
Combat Two: For the second game, I just continued using the (excellent) scenarios in Achtung Spitfire. this one features Paul Richey again, this time chasing a Dornier Do17 at low-level.
Date: 11 May 1940
Luftwaffe: 1 x medium bomber (Do17)
RAF: 1 x single-engine fighter (Hurricanes)
|The starting position|
|The Hurricane gets on the Dorniers tail - both aircraft damage the other|
|The Hurricane keeps the Dornier in its sights...|
|The Dornier throws off Richey's aim|
|Richey makes another pass...|
|The Hurricane takes a little more damage, but has the Dornier in his sights...|
|...and down it goes!|
For this game, I halved the movement allowance for each side but doubled the maximum length of the game: so the bomber could move 4 hexes per turn, the fighter 6, and the game could last for a maximum of 12 turns. It seemed to work very well, although a fighter vs bomber clash isn't the perfect test of this.
Two factors make it a bit harder than it looks to fly the fighters well. There is no acceleration, so sometimes an aircraft has to slip off the tail and then regain position. There is also a point of deceleration if firing fixed guns, which means an aircraft will naturally slow up and lose position.
Combat Three: The next scenario from the Achtung! Spitfire boardgame is a particularly interesting one, featuring a rare clash between Bf110s and Blenheim IF fighters. Putting both aircraft in the same bracket seemed to be pushing it a bit though, so I classified the 110s as 'twin-engined fighters' and the Blenheims as 'ground attack aircraft'. It seemed more fair than not.
Date: 10 May 1940
Luftwaffe: 4 x twin-engine fighters (Bf110s)
RAF: 3 x ground attack aircraft (Blenheim IFs)
The aim of the RAF in this combat was more to escape than defeat the opposition, given the disparity of fighting power.
|The 110s close in on the Blenheims (bottom-left)|
|No use running away, old chap! The Blenheims turn head-on into the attacking 110s...|
|The 110s use speed and agility to get into position to fire...|
|...concentrating on one of the Blenheim wingmen|
|But all the Blenheims take some fire, with damage being done to two of them|
|Bf110(2) (bottom-right) overshoots...|
|Having done a little damage in their pass, the Blenheims take this opportunity to turn and run for home!|
|The 110s are not going to let them get away that easily...|
|And the 110s cause a little more damage, although the Blenheims are proving surprisingly sturdy|
|The Blenheims open their throttles and run for home|
|Trying to eke out a bit of distance|
|The 110 that originally overshot is still in touch however, and causing more damage...|
|The 110s slowly gain on their fleeing prey...|
|It is a stern chase, with everyone trying to bleed the last ounce of speed from their machines...|
|The leading 110 has overshot its original target, now severely damaged, and sets its sights on the Blenheim flight leader..|
|The next 110 does the same thing!|
|The rearmost Blenheim (centre) is taking heavy blows - it cannot stand much more...|
|But home is in sight and all the Blenheims are still in the air...|
|The 110s make another pass..|
|The trailing Blenheim gets the full force of the attack...|
|...but is miraculously still up! The 110 again has overshot and must go against the next target|
|Surely the last Blenheim must be doomed?|
|No!! Still flying (just)...|
|Okay, the last 110 pass before the Blenheims will escape and the 110s must RTB|
|The 110 makes no mitake this time|
|The next 110 completely misses the Blenheim leader (bottom) but takes some damage in return...|
|This last Blenheim appears to be a collection of non-essential parts...|
|Another 110 pilot fails to impress with his gunnery|
|The 110 leader moves into position...|
|Blenheim leader: "...almost there...almost there..."|
|However, the 110 leader waits until the Blenheim is big and fat in his sights...|
|and makes no mistake this time!|
|Two Blenheims down, but the leader makes it back. Whew!|
I used two major changes in this game. the first was the half-move distance, doubled game-length which I referred to previously. It worked fine and I believe that it works better. The second major change was to introduce an altitude mechanic. I didn't want to start recording altitude or anything like that, since that would of necessity introduce complexity and extra bits and pieces and/or paperwork. My solution couldn't quite avoid that altogether, but I decided that my solution was simple enough to be more fun, rather than more headache. Because the 110s started at higher altitude, I decided to give them an "energy chip", which could be cashed in at any point for an additional point of movement. And this seemed to work very well, I was very pleased! Although in many respects totally wrong, I felt that in a fashion keeping with the spirit of the rules, it got to the essence of the matter. Obviously, feel free to disagree!
Expect more of this in the near future...