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Subject: Review of 12th Anniversary Edition of Airships at War rss

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Franco
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INTRODUCTORY RAMBLE

I wanted something that I could play on my own but that wouldn't require me to sit in front of the computer. A search for such a thing turned up Sierra Madre Games, which publishes several interesting games, one of which is Airships. The game I ordered is the 12th anniversary edition, Airships at War 1914-1941, which combined earlier versions of Luftschiff and ZRCV. I'll say up front that I love the idea of this game and I thought it was a lot of fun to play. A lot of effort was obviously put into research and the mechanics show it. It's not a quick play, but once you've gotten a game or two under your belt it won't be all that slow either. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a complex and fun game, one that requires some thought.

THE CONTENTS AND SETUP

The game comes in a large zip lock bag (8.5x11), and it includes a 28-page manual filled with a lot of text in a small-type font, two scenario sheets (total of 17 scenarios), three map sheets (low, high, and very high altitudes), sheets for 7 unique Zeppelins, sheets for 52 planes, and a player's aid for when using advanced rules (which I have not done). These are all on regular quality paper, and only the front cover is printed in colour. You also get many coloured counters on good quality card stock (that fold into a V and sit upright on the ballast sheets and maps), and you get a stack of cards, a random selection of which will form the events and challenges of the scenarios. You have to supply: two dice; lots of pennies, nickels, and dimes; a big enough table to space out all the paperwork; and a few hours (free of children, which is the mistake I made the first time I set up the game!). I uploaded two photos of the setup for the introductory scenario. Pennies are used to track ballast (which you can drop to gain altitude), petrol (which occasionally gets burned), and leakage of hydrogen or helium out and oxygen in to the lifting cells.

The unfortunate part of this release is that the manual is not fully developed, and in fact could use a solid re-write. I must have read it five times before first playing, and things only became understandable as I made my way through that first game. Everything is undoubtedly in there, somewhere, but several times I came across seemingly important rules that were found in obscure and unintuitive locations. On the other hand, Phil Eklund, the developer, responded to all my questions fairly quickly, and he cleared up several rule ambiguities. He is very approachable. All that said, the manual was still an enjoyable read because of the amount of care put into the design of the game and the occasional historical tidbit, and it's capped by a section of notes from the designer and a nice glossary of terms.

Scenarios span the two World Wars, and there is a good amount of variation. Some involve bombing raids, others patrols. Each scenario has its own potential challenges, like clearing mountain ranges or a chance encounter with an aircraft carrier. All the games can be played singleplayer, but there are some scenarios with so many planes that two-player might be better (though I have not attempted this).

GAMEPLAY

Your counter for your Zeppelin always sits in the central column of the maps, moving vertically for altitude, but all other counters appear on the leftmost side of the map and shift to the right to indicate movement of the Zeppelin. At the start of a standard scenario, 10 cards are randomly selected from the stack and kept hidden. These will gradually be revealed as you traverse the maritime phase of the scenario. After the 10th card, another 10 are randomly drawn and, representing nightfall, these will be gradually revealed as you traverse enemy territory. Finally, the third phase (of a standard scenario) is comprised of another 10 cards, the last of which also indicates your home base and the successful end of the scenario (if you land intact). Cards bring on cloud cover, winds, enemy planes, hail, ground machine gun nests, naval ships, and a lot of other unpleasantness. Horsepower and airspeed shift all counters (save your Zepp) to the right and eventually off the map and out of mind.

Every turn allows you to perform several actions, depending on what crew you have available. For example, most turns will have you dropping some ballast and adjusting the elevators to gain altitude. You can shift fuel around, repair leakages, and do a host of other things. And, of course, you will eventually need to drop bombs and man the machine guns. As you change altitude you have to keep an eye on the air density, as it has constant influence on the Zeppelin's lift. Weather is also something to take into consideration, sometimes in your favour (clouds can prevent fighters from engaging) and sometimes not (they can prevent you from bombing your wartime target).

The game can proceed quite quickly and then can become quite intense if several fighter planes make an appearance on your horizon. Managing enemy and friendly planes involves an extra set of steps during each turn, and the 'book keeping' becomes much more involved. After the first game, though, it all becomes secondhand.

Victory is by the accumulation of points, such as safe touch-down at your shed, spotting and radioing in of enemy mines or fighter raids, sunk enemy ships, bombing of wartime targets, etc.

MY FIRST GAME

My first game was with the introductory scenario, the 1916 raid over London in a type-R Zeppelin. It was a slow affair, played over several sessions because I was learning the rules as I went. Historically, this mission was piloted by Heinrich Mathy, the (according to the notes) "boldest and most successful airship commander of the war. He would leap to his death from his burning Zeppelin in October, 1916."
Not satisfied with that, I fired him and took command of the Zepp myself: Captain Loquitur, which has absolutely no historical ring to it whatsoever. Be that as it may, I began with a nice and peaceful liftoff (wherein I admired the make-believe countryside), and I accelerated quickly to maximum airspeed.

Once out over water I spotted and radioed in the location of some enemy mines. I then spotted a submarine and was about to bomb it, but couldn't because I was rising too rapidly (note to self: read bombing rules a few turns in advance of an attack). Two separate RNAS strike forces, on raids, then followed one after the other, which struck a note of fear in my heart (that my game would come to a premature end), but I was moving sufficiently fast and had sufficient height and lift to keep out of reach of those little planes so far below (points for radioing in a warning, though). Some clouds, head winds, and tail winds marked a pretty uneventful passage over the English Straits.

With nightfall came clouds at 2000 feet, which I decided to climb over, but a blacked-out target (some buildings) appeared earlier than I had expected, so I started to descend below the cloud cover to make quick work of those buildings with some of my bombs. Of course, that's also when a freak storm of hail struck, causing widespread damage to about seven cells of my Zepp. Damnations! Crew hustled out of their cozy stations and made for the damaged cells in order to repair them.

Before leaving cloud cover, I temporarily lost my bearing (adding three more cards to my draw pile, effectively extending my stay over hostile territory).

I descended out of the clouds at 2000 feet, practically on top of the buildings I intended on bombing (imagine my mammoth Zepp materializing out of the clouds over the city, striking fear in the hearts of everyone ... well, everyone still awake at that ungodly late hour of the night). My target was a war factory, and there was a nice headwind that slowed my speed a bit and ruffled my hair - it would provide me with a slow enough speed to drop a couple of turns worth of bombs but still retain use of my elevator control (*rubs hands maniacally*). But in my haste to send crew all over the ship to repair cell damage (this is the only way I can rationalize it), I again lost my bearing (four more cards!!) before once again acquiring the war factory. This whole time I was venting hydrogen to bring me down closer to a satisfying bombing altitude. My first two bombs went awry and (I imagine) landed in an empty parking lot somewhere away from my target. Before I could drop another set of bombs, a fighter squadron of Fe2b on a CAP mission flew over me, but due to clouds they didn't spot me and just sailed on past. Which was a good thing because I just then succeeded in bombing that factory to smithereens on my second attempt.

My intention then was to rise to unheard of heights and make for home. But before I did, a big 13 pounder anti-aircraft gun came into view. Luckily, I was below its range and it couldn't fire on me. Unluckily, I noticed some light AA flak guns close by, and they opened fire on me ... missing, largely because it's dark and I guess I'm hard to spot. Now, this whole time I'm badly leaking hydrogen from damaged cells (allowing oxygen in) and I run the danger of slowly descending into the ground in enemy territory. I will soon need to start dropping ballast and petrol and stuff, because my repair crew are pretty useless: in a dozen turns they've managed to fix two of seven damaged cells. To say nothing of the danger I'm in if something incendiary-like hits one those leaking cells.

But I'm moving fast and with the heavy AA almost out of the way, I contemplate that meteoric rise again, above the maximum range of the light AA. On the next turn, however, (wouldn't you know it) that light flak gun hits my Zepp in a cell with some oxygen contamination ... and kaplooee. I go down in a blaze of glory. I knew I should have let Heinrich Mathy pilot this mission.

Okay, so it's not a happy ending. Nevertheless, my points sum as follows:
-30 (Zepp destroyed)
+10 (bombing a war target) * 2 (factory) * 3 (successful bombing)
+3 (sighting and radioing in some mines and two strike forces on a raid)
= 33

Not sure if that's good, but I died so I guess I can't take any pleasure in that score.


DENOUEMENT

I highly recommend this game. Lots of fun, but also probably only for those patient types that like some complexity. I imagine just reading the title of the game is a good guage as to whether you would be
interested in playing it. Not too many airship 'simulators' out there. I wish more time had been taken to polish the manual; it would have saved me several hours. But in the end, that shouldn't be a deterrent to getting this game -- help was available to me when I needed it. Furthermore, given the complexity I see no reason why house-rules couldn't easily be developed. For example, I have been experimenting with weather effects that 'appear on the horizon' and that only take effect once your Zepp advances into them, in some sense giving me time to ride above or duck below or what have you. But maybe that makes for an easier game.

Highly recommended.
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(Mr.) Kim Beattie
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Nice review. I have this game (how could I resist such an interesting historical topic?) but have not played it yet. Good to read a comprehensive review.

One nitpick... lifting gas would have been Hydrogen, not Helium, right? IIRC Helium is not flammable and I believe the United States had a monopoly on Helium, which forced other countries to use Hydrogen...

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Eric Quintero
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Great Post, this game has been on my want list for a long time. I think I'm going to make it make next purchase. Thanks for the review
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Franco
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Nice catch on the helium/hydrogen. You're certainly correct that the scenario I described would have employed a Zepp with hydrogen (for the reason you described). I'll edit my review accordingly. Of note, there are several scenarios played from the American side too, and in those it would be helium in the lifting cells ... and I might not have come to so quick a 'blaze of glory.'
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Guy Riessen
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Nice review! I too have this game, but haven't tried it yet--this really got me interested again though, thanks!

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Kevin Eagles
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Fantastic review and blow by blow first game! I'm buying this at my first opportunity, and have to thank your review for that.
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