Wargames To Go 7 - Battle of Britain games/notes
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Episode 7 (actually a series of episodes, 7.1, 7.2, etc) of Wargames To Go will be about the Battle of Britain. My first interest in history was in military aviation, and as a kid I built plastic models and studied illustrated books about Spitfires, Messerschmitts, Junkers, and Hurricanes. (Not to mention Flying Fortresses, Thunderbolts, and Mustangs...that's for another time.)

There may be some games about the Blitz that work their way in to the list, though my focus is on the Battle of Britain.

Comments welcomed in the game listings below, and/or my discussion thread for this episode.
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1. Board Game: Battle of Britain [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:4873]
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Another oldie from 1990, after the time when TSR took over SPI and was still making some wargames. In this case, it's Richard Borg (and others), who designed a light wargame with miniatures. Sound familiar? It's not a euro-wargame hybrid, though. This is 100% wargame, just a lighter variety. It has some unusual mechanisms & high level modeling of the strategic situation, with plastic planes representing entire flights of aircraft (fighters & bombers), whose contents are determined by a stack of cards. Custom dice, and simple (strange?) rules for movement & fuel limitations. The plastic planes are nice, but the cards are terribly cheap & disappointing, reminding us what American hobby boardgames were like before Mayfair & Rio Grande showed everyone a better way.

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2. Board Game: London's Burning [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:2539]
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This was one of Avalon Hill's last games as the publisher we all grew up with. I should've purchased it then, but instead got Princess Ryan's Star Marines and Starship Troopers. Those two left my collection long ago (though the latter wasn't too bad), and I've since acquired London's Burning.



Wow, I had a great time with this one. It's a giant dicefest solo game about the Battle of Britain. Took some time, but I had that over a weekend. By playing the full game I was able to see the longterm error of my early decisions, which meant Britain was NOT saved by The Few. I should've prioritized the preservation of my pilots over the defense of targets, because that's how you win the long game.

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3. Board Game: Eagle Day: The Battle of Britain [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:8772]
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When I got back into wargaming a few years ago I picked up a few of these little games by Decision, including this one's sequel, Cactus Air Force. To be honest, I wasn't a big fan of CAF, but figured I'd still give Eagle Day a try.



I played a quick solo game over lunch in my office today. It's not really that quick of a game, but I called it on time when lunch was over. Probably if I'd played it out the Luftwaffe could've done even better, since they had done some real damage to Britain. I liked it well enough. Notably, it seemed to work better than Cactus Air Force, which is another game using the same core rules. For a game with such minimal rules & components, it's still lacking in smoothness and polish. I'm not sure what's missing, but something is. It's just fun & realistic enough to be worthwhile, but I don't plan to play it more often. Not a bad intro game, though. There's differentiation of Spitfires, Hurricanes, He 111s, JU 88s, Stukas, Me 110s, 109s, and even a few oddballs like a Defiant and Me 115.

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4. Board Game: Fight for the Sky [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:10195]
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The Attactix games are a good fit for me. Even though they have top shelf wargame production (for the 1980s), with mounted maps, bookshelf boxes, and good counters, they're actually small games in their duration & gameplay.



Aw, too bad. This one was a disappointment. It was one of those cases where a simple ruleset and modest count of hexes & units doesn't mean it's a quick game to play. Which doesn't mean it's complex, either. It's just kind of tedious, with big counter stacks for interceptor squadrons and (especially) Luftwaffe raids. Then add some table lookup and damage record-keeping, and I lost interest. Again, not that the table lookup is outrageous, or the record-keeping is excessive. It's just not smooth-playing.
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5. Board Game: Rise of the Luftwaffe [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:2003]
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Just as I did in the Month of Infamy episodes (where I got to play the Pearl Harbor, Philippines, and Malaya air campaigns), I'm really looking forward to this classic Down In Flames edition and its Battle of Britain campaign.


Here's my experience from a recent playtest of Wild Blue Yonder, the new edition of this game.


We're probably not supposed to say much about playtesting, but I can talk around this one. It was one of my two scheduled "events" for the weekend. WBY is going to be the latest version of Dan Verssen's Down In Flames series of WW2 air combat card games that he first launched with GMT over twenty years ago. I have those originals & still love them. I don't really need a new version, but Brian does. He preordered WBY some time ago (using GMT's P500 system), and when we learned that some late playtesting was happening at the warehouse, we signed up. Better still, the testing was on the Battle of Britain campaign, which syncs up perfectly with my latest wargame podcast series! Hurray!

I didn't read as many of the new rules as I should've, so the developer's goal of just sitting back to watch us play on our own didn't work. We needed his guidance to remember how to play everything. We still had a good time, and I hope it was still useful for him.






It had never occurred to me to play Down in Flames (or any card game) solo, but I read comments elsewhere that wargamers do it. Why not? I broke out original Rise of the Luftwaffe to play its original BoB campaign by myself. That made me understand how the work developer Chris is doing on Wild Blue Yonder expands on the campaign, as there was definitely more going on in the above game than in my solo outing. Yet I still really enjoyed the story that the RotL campaign told, and learned something playing it. Both are recommended.
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6. Board Game: 303 [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:5165]
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Now we'd played one Battle of Britain game. When we first arrived the previous day I watched two other wargamers play The Burning Blue, one of the heavier games on the topic. Now I pulled out what must be about the lightest Battle of Britain game ever. 303 is a small game commissioned(?) by the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej) to commemorate the role expat Pole and Czech pilots played in the famous battle. I played the online/flash version a few times, and happily ordered a physical copy (along with two other games made under similar arrangement).

This is REALLY light. It's got close cousins in checkers/draughts as much as wargames. One player attempts to move a single German bomber from a starting hex near the Pas de Calais to London. If he makes it there, he wins the game. He also has a few escorting Me-109s. There aren't many hexes to begin with, and there is no stacking. Attacks are rolled with custom dice, which have 50% hits for the Germans, 50% for the RAF. The defenders have some Spitfires/Hurricanes, a couple more than appear mid-game (these are the Poles of namesake 303 Squadron, plus Czechs), and similarly simple move & combat rules. That's it! Makes good sense as a game you might buy in a museum gift shop, and actually play it a few times, even if you aren't a gamer.
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7. Board Game: Battle over Britain [Average Rating:7.75 Unranked]
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Interesting. Another high-level, abstract model of a wargaming event by Gary Graber and Minden Games. Just when I figured I never needed to play another tactical air combat game (they're just so tedious--wargames are NOT the medium for this subject), here's this oddball. It uses a deck of cards to model the energy-based combat of WW2 fighters, where relative position is important for firing, but height/energy advantage is the real key for winning a dogfight. So here I was, playing 13 consecutive contests of Spitfires vs 109s, Hurricanes vs 110s, and even a Defiant and Stuka or two. Playing the game feels generically like a hand-management card game, but it still involves differentiated stats for the planes, and rolling on a combat results table. Even critical hits are represented. Did it feel like I was just playing a traditional card game? No. Did some Battle of Britain shine through? Yes, I'd say it did.

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8. Board Game: Angels One Five [Average Rating:6.44 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
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I'd like to check out the VPG game, but I already own designer Sabin's book that includes this. So I'll probably just do it as PNP.



My actual enjoyment of the game, and desire to play again would rate lower, but I'm just so impressed with some of the design/modeling ideas that I give it 3 stars. The bold way that differentiation between fighter types and bomber types is almost entirely stripped away is one. Sabin's previously-noted ideas about including uncertainty (a die roll) in MOVEMENT, not just combat, is another. Last, the way energy/altitude is modeled makes a lot of physical sense. Unfortunately for me, the actual gameplay sucks most of the fun out of it, leaving an excellent classroom example but a so-so entertainment. The best wargames can do both. I also think the noble ideas about different-sized counters for altitude, as well as counter-substitution for speed, is fiddly. I realize he's done this to greatly reduce record-keeping, but the net result was the gain in ease of gameplay that it promised. Likewise for the combat die roll modifiers--tables are actually easier. (I'm no fan of tables, but many stacked DRMs are worse, I guess.)

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9. Board Game: The Hardest Days [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:6834]
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I would really like to try this, because I appreciate the scope of a magazine wargame and its accompanying historical or strategy articles. Trouble is, this is a highly prized and OOP issue of World At War magazine, and I can't find one.


Update: Hurray! I managed to trade for this. Anxious to give it a try.


Memorial Day Weekend was a good opportunity to finally try Butterfield's magazine wargame about the Battle of Britain. It's obviously compared to his other solo wargame on the same topic, big brother RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940. I understand that game covers the entire campaign lasting several months, while this magazine game adaptation(?) has a few different scenarios that model what happened on a single day. In my case, I tried the Eagle Day scenario, which has a different bombing target table (closer to the coast), and still has the Stukas in the fight.

It was a good experience. A little tedious in the mechanisms, though really that's mostly because the game doesn't have a reference chart or flow diagram. I kept flipping back & forth in the rulebook to remember what to do at each step. After the game I sketched out my own notes to make something quicker & more practical as a game aid. If they're legible enough, I'll see about typing them up to share here (on the game page).

I thought I'd managed a minor win, but a recount of VPs showed that it was a minor loss. I think I made the mistake of sending too many "penny packets" of just one or two squadrons to take on a Luftwaffe raid. As I've learned in other BoB games, it makes better strategic sense to wait until you can get a more advantageous situation to attack the raid. It doesn't need to be a full blown "Big Wing," and it might not happen until after the raiders have dropped their bombs, but you have to avoid losing too many Spits & Hurricanes while the Luftwaffe's fighter strength is still high.
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10. Board Game: Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:2049] [Average Rating:7.98 Unranked]
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Wargame designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood is probably the hobby's foremost authority on the Battle of Britain, so I knew I should play one of this games for my wargame podcast on the same topic. The only trouble is that most of Lee's games are longer, and more complex than I like to play. With Wing Leader, though, I could play a single raid. That was enough to showcase the very deliberate design/modeling decisions he has made, based on his extensive research about the history. I'm not sure how much I'd want to play the game over & over, but as a topic of study I thought it was amazing. I haven't played another game that put such emphasis on the vertical space (energy) and location/identification (tallying) issues of the conflict. It's given me a whole lot to think about.
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11. Board Game: Operation Sea Lion [Average Rating:6.41 Overall Rank:9710]
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This is one Sealion game I might get to. Update: yes, now I plan to. I acquired the magazine, and you know how I appreciate games that are accompanied by historical magazine articles.



Another game I played a bit of, then had my fill. It's actually a pretty small game in terms of map size & counter mix. The rules said about 6 hours to play, and at first I wondered how that would be possible with such a small game. Then I started playing, and I see why. Counters stacks can be 4 units high, and often will be that many at the German beachhead. Each combat between hexes involves an artillery attack, then defensive & offensive frontline fire. Each counter fires (rolls dice) once per step. That means several die rolls for each side to resolve a single hex's combat.

On the flip side, there's often only one combat per turn, as the game is divided into many small turns. (I've heard this called the Victory in Normandy system, a game I'll someday revisit.) It was ok, after about 10 turns it was clear that expanding the beachhead was going to be a difficult chore, and I didn't care to grind it out. There's a minor & abstracted role for the Luftwaffe in this game, but no navy.
 
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12. Board Game: Operation Sea Lion [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Hurray! Some digging around found that this magazine wargame is freely downloadable from the (new) publisher's website. I contacted them and was able to provide the link to BGG. Even though I've been unable to find a print copy of the Spanish wargame magazine from 2009, the publisher does sell PDF downloads for under 3 euros. Even better, this electronic edition is in English!

Should be a simple PNP job to get this one to the table.



This is one that rose a little in my estimation, by comparison to the (slightly) larger Command magazine game. This one is very small, particularly the map. I'd printed it on B-size (11x17") paper, but since all the action happens in the south, it would benefit from being double this size. My PNP counters were serviceable, but nicer ones would enhance the experience.

As small as the game is, the historical situation depicted is pretty broad. Not only do you have the amphibious invasion--the German player has some choice in which beaches or other locations to attack. The stacking and dierolling (with modifiers) isn't my favorite kind of wargame, but it's not too bad here. More important, that tedium is offset by some good, high-level simulation of the air & naval elements. The Kriegsmarine puts up a token resistance in ships & mines, but once the Royal Navy reacts, there's almost no stopping them. They'll reach the channel with minimal damage, and then start interdicting the German supply source. The Luftwaffe can divert from its air superiority and ground support roles to take on the Royal Navy, but they will struggle.

In my game, the Germans sunk a bunch of supply points into getting some early armor across. That worked, and they blitzkrieg'd their way up to Bristol, but then were cut off. German paratroops were equally forward & wiped out. I didn't even get to the several interesting variants offered with the game, everything from increased German navy to contributions by Mussolini to the invasion (at least some more air power).
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13. Board Game: Also Ran [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
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Below this title are the ones I consider "Also Rans" for my podcast. In other words, ones I don't think I get to the table unless something changes.
 
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14. Board Game: Göring's War [Average Rating:4.75 Unranked]
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These creative Minden Games titles in Panzerschreck (or Panzer Digest) have proven to be some of my favorites. Their unusual treatments and minimalist production aren't for everybody...but they sure work for me.

I finally figured out this is just an earlier, more limited version of Minden's Battle Over Britain, which I've played & enjoy (for what it is). No need to play this version, too.
 
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15. Board Game: Duel in the Dark: Baby Blitz [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
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Expansion to the base game adds a Blitz option. (Generally, I'm happy to include games about the Blitz, since I don't yet see any sharp distinction to the Battle of Britain.) Now I get it!
 
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16. Board Game: RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940 [Average Rating:7.97 Overall Rank:992]
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Listed here for completeness, because this is probably the Battle of Britain game most wargamers think of in 2016. It's a recent revision of Butterfield's original (from West End Games), but too large in scope/play duration for my tastes.

I understand the 1980s original edition is a little more manageable, so I COULD try that...but I'd rather find a copy of Hardest Days, above.
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17. Board Game: Down in Flames: Aces High [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:3038]
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This one is a maybe, only because I don't own it yet. If I get it in time, I may try this one. Though I understand this later edition of the Down In Flames system made changes that improve(?) the dogfighting rules, but sacrifice something in the campaign rules...which is the part I like best.
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18. Board Game: Battle Over Britain [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:5103]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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The game often confused in online listings with the Battle OF Britain, above. Both are by TSR, but this one (another by Butterfield) is the big hexmap game. I'll pass.
 
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19. Board Game: The Burning Blue [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:2075]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Too big for me, and I can't imagine I'll get to it.
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20. Board Game: Seelöwe [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:6776]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Only after I started reading about the Battle of Britain do I see how I probably should include something about Operation Sealion. I don't know if I can pull it off, though.
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21. Board Game: Britain Stands Alone [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:5675]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Sounds very cool (particularly the air & naval rules, not just ground combat), but it's too big for me.
 
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22. Board Game: Sealion: The German Invasion of England, September 1940 [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Well, if I take long enough for this series, maybe this World At War magazine will be released in time.
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23. Board Game: Wings of Glory: WW2 Battle of Britain Starter Set [Average Rating:8.49 Overall Rank:6015] [Average Rating:8.49 Unranked]
Andrea Angiolino
Italy
Rome
European Union
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Starter set with 4 pre-painted, ready to go miniatures: 2 Spitfire Mk,.I and 2 Bf.109E (one is a Jabo, so it can be used as a bomber). Released at the same time 4 Squadron Pack: eacjh with a plane (Spit, Bf.109E, SAtuka or Hurricane) and decals to make several of them belonging to the same squadron if you buy several.
You can also use previously released minis with BoB colors as Bf.110, Beaufighter, He.111, Fiat Cr.42.


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