Recommend
28 
 Thumb up
 Hide
15 Posts

Whistling Death» Forums » Reviews

Subject: User Review - or, How to spend your winter vacation. rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Tim
United States
San Antonio
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Whistling Death is the Pacific theater installment of J.D. Webster's ongoing Fighting Wings series of tabletop WWII air combat simulations. It's a lineage that now spans 18 years of highly-regarded games including Over the Reich, Achtung: Spitfire!, and Buffalo Wings, with the next game of the series, Wings of the Motherland, in development for the last two years.


Photo uploaded by tathul

I had the chance to talk to the designer recently, and he introduced me to the system by way of the freely available Quickstart ruleset.

But let's pause now for a quick word about my experience with the game designer (because this is something I find very important). If there's one thing that you'll realize about JD from the first time you talk to him, it's how enthusiastic he is about the subject matter. It's immediately clear that aviation is both a personal and professional passion of his, and he has spent the better half of the last two decades trying to capture his experience on the tabletop. The amount of research that has gone into the game system, modeling flight characteristics of dozens upon dozens of aircraft, and balancing the precarious line between realism and playability, is a real testament to his devotion to the art. And on top of all that, he's a real nice guy.

Enough about the designer, let's talk about the game! Whereas many games in this genre abstract away most of what makes the genre unique, the Fighting Wings series embraces it full on. In most air combat games you just select a maneuver from a chart, or from a deck of cards, and those maneuvers impose certain restrictions about the next maneuver you can play; lather, rinse, repeat. While this is fun for a pickup game, and is easily accessible to everyone, it doesn't begin to capture the spirit of air-to-air combat or the tough decisions that a pilot finds himself faced with in the heat of combat.


Photo by BugDany

Instead, Fighting Wings does it's best to simulate the dynamics of flight. You gain acceleration by applying power from your engine throttle, and/or by pitching your aircraft's nose into a dive. The acceleration you gain is converted into speed in the next game round. Conversely, you lose acceleration (or in game terms, gain deceleration) by climbing and/or turning. Just how much acceleration/deceleration you gain is dependent on a number of factors including the pitch of your aircraft's nose, the intensity of your turn, and the characteristics of your aircraft. Yes, as I mentioned before, JD has meticulously researched and refined the aircraft in this game over the years, and each aircraft responds to stimuli as would be historically expected. Whereas a nimble Japanese A6M Zero may be able to make a break turn at the cost of only 3 deceleration, the same maneuver would cost an American P-51D Mustang twice as much in deceleration points, 6 points! There is obviously more to making a turn than just deceleration, though. It takes time to complete a turn. The time required to complete a turn is dictated by your airspeed. And planes perform turns differently, and the same plane performs differently at different altitudes. That same P-51D in the previous example would need an airspeed of over 400MPH at 31,000 feet to pull off that break turn, but only requires 250MPH below 6,000 feet. And of course, in order for an aircraft to turn in a given direction, the plane should be banked in the direction they wish to turn -- which also requires a variable amount of time dictated by the aircraft.

You should be getting the idea now that this is a pretty intense, and detailed game, and we haven't even scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. Just about anything you can think of regarding these warbirds has been modeled in their aircraft datasheet: Minimum and maximum speeds at given altitudes, maximum dive speeds, max flight ceiling, defense factors, endurance, blind spots, cockpit view, cockpit protection, sealing fuel tanks, engine plating, climb/dive bonuses, load limits, bomb and fuel droptank loadouts, etc, etc.


Datasheet photo uploaded by The Maverick, courtesy JD Webster.

Luckily, for as detailed as the flight system is, the combat system is an extremely straightforward percentile based system. Each aircraft datasheet contains a chart outlining the various weapon loadouts with their corresponding ranges, and their attack factor at that range. A simple pictorial chart gives you an attack value based on the deflection angle between your guns and your opponent's flight path, and the target's base defense factor is tacked on to that. A few modifiers are tossed in based on the vertical orientation of the craft, quality of the attacking pilot, whether or not the pilot is wounded, flying inverted, or has done any difficult turns recently, and even whether or not you've achieved "gun harmony" (being precisely the right distance to get the most stopping power from your weaponry). The final result after all modifiers are applied is a base percentage-to-hit number, against which you roll a percentile die and cross-reference a chart to find out how many "hits" you put on target.

One of my favorite things about the combat system are the critical hits. Unlike some games, where critical hits are random and not-at-all related to anything, the various weaponry in Fighting Wings each have their own critical hits rating. This rating represents how many hits (per attack) must be scored to attain each critical hit. For example, the nose-mounted 7.7mm Type 97 machine gun of the A6M Zero scores 1 critical hit for every 4 hits landed, but the wing-mounted 20mm cannons score 1 critical for every 2 hits. When firing multiple weapons, you score critical hits based on the most powerful weapon fired. For each critical, a few dice are rolled and the critical hit table is consulted. This table contains everything from "no-effect" to "pilot killed" with plenty of nasty stuff in between.

You earn victory points not only by shooting down an enemy plane, but also by severely damaging it, and for each critical hit scored (whether or not the critical has any effect).

There are people who would say that this sort of detailed tabletop game has been supplanted by the rise of the PC flight sim, but I would have to disagree. As an avid PC combat flight sim player, I think games like this are a great supplement for the dogfighting enthusiast. Where PC flight sims strap you into the cockpit to test your ability and reaction times, the tabletop simulations allow you to dissect the tactics, devise specific scenarios, and *really* study Air Combat Maneuvers (ACM). I can totally see myself setting up a scenario based on situations I encounter in a flight sim and then examining them to find out how I might have approached the situation differently.

If you're a real fan of WWII era prop-powered aviation and combat, then you really can't go wrong with the Fighting Wings series of games. If you prefer, "Arcade" style air combat games on the PC/Console, then there are probably other games out there that play more quickly and have a more shallow learning curve, but if you are a true fan of air combat, those other games probably won't hold your interest for long.

If there's a downside to the Fighting Wings games at all, it's that in addition to being difficult to teach, it *can* also run a bit on the long side with inexperienced players. But, like most games, this becomes a non-issue when played with people who know the system. I'd say that with two players who have each played 3-4 times (and do not suffer from analysis paralysis) each player's turn should take around... 3 minutes. (In my plays against the designer, he was able to finish his turns in 30-45 seconds, but then he's been playing for 18 years). If you allow 3 minutes per player, a two player game should should take around 90 minutes *if* it goes a full 15 turns (the longest game I've played so far went to 8 turns). Allow for an average of 45 minutes minutes per player for basic dogfighting scenarios.

Fortunately, you can practice as much as you want to get that speed up, as there is a thriving online community for the game, with new play-by-email and Vassal games starting up daily and an outstanding community of avid fans who are just as passionate about JD's games as he himself.


Photo by BugDany

When rating a game, it's sometimes hard to decide what's in a number. Do I rate the game on how closely designer achieved the goal he/she set out to achieve? If so, then Fighting Wings/Whistling Death scores an easy 10. I personally refuse to rate any game a 10 unless I'm still playing it and enjoying it, after as many plays, which is the only thing that puts it at a 9. Then I knocked half a point off because I think there could be some way to track bank/pitch in a visual way using little stands for the counters rather than just depicting the counter art in various positions, and I think it would greatly assist in ease-of-play -- but mostly because I just didn't want to feel like I was over-inflating the score since the designer has been so amazing in helping me get into his game. If I get to 10 plays of this game, I have a feeling my rating will be changed to reflect it. The game does exactly what it sets out to do. It's a very playable simulation.

Highly recommend to any fan of WWII aviation.
26 
 Thumb up
1.55
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
J.D. Webster
United States
Unspecified
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
My humble thanks Tim.

Very kind of you.

JD
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
michael esposito
United States
morton grove
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Great review! cool

I left a message at CSW. I just purchased Buffalo Wings and I was wondering how I can obtain the full rules set. My local gamestore has Achtung Spitfire in stock and was wondering if this is the latest rules set I can get or should I try to get a copy of Whistling Death.

thanks
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Wulf Corbett
Scotland
Shotts
Lanarkshire
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
The Whistling Death rules are the most up to date currently.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
michael esposito
United States
morton grove
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Wulf Corbett wrote:
The Whistling Death rules are the most up to date currently.


Thanks. Would I be able to use the Achtung Spitfire rules? My local gamestore has it for only 25USD.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
oystein eker
Norway
Unspecified
sola
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
mike_espo wrote:
Wulf Corbett wrote:
The Whistling Death rules are the most up to date currently.


Thanks. Would I be able to use the Achtung Spitfire rules? My local gamestore has it for only 25USD.


Flying a Corsair or Spitfire is basically the same - so the main rules (called Fighting Wings) are not different.

Rules in W.D. (my copy) is ver 2.

Acht. Spitfire at $25 - I guess it is an old one with older rules version. But still -you should no doubt buy it!


2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tim
United States
San Antonio
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
mike_espo wrote:
Wulf Corbett wrote:
The Whistling Death rules are the most up to date currently.


Thanks. Would I be able to use the Achtung Spitfire rules? My local gamestore has it for only 25USD.


As Wulf said, the current rules are more up to date. I'd definitely go with Whistling Death or Buffalo Wings (Buffalo Wings is simplified a bit). From what I understand the system has changed quite a bit over the years... but the Aircraft data cards are compatible between systems, so picking up ASP for a good deal is probably not a bad idea. Lots of scenarios, counters, and data cards...

If I were in your situation, I'd pick up Spitfire for $25, Buffalo Wings for $35, and play Spitfire scenarios / planes with Buffalo Wings rules.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
michael esposito
United States
morton grove
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
One thing I noticed with BW: No rules at all regarding: Spotting the other guy. There must be some rules as the AC data cards have blind spots and cockpit views.

Would ASP have these rules and/or charts?

thanks
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
oystein eker
Norway
Unspecified
sola
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Upper left.

Very simple rules. As far as I remember it is all about including partial hexes or not.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ethan McKinney
United States
El Segundo
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
tofarley wrote:
Then I knocked half a point off because I think there could be some way to track bank/pitch in a visual way using little stands for the counters rather than just depicting the counter art in various positions, and I think it would greatly assist in ease-of-play -- but mostly because I just didn't want to feel like I was over-inflating the score since the designer has been so amazing in helping me get into his game.


Do a mash-up with the system from Birds of Prey: Air Combat in the Jet Age and you've got a 100% winner. BoP's box miniatures and tilt-blocks are a huge step forward.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tim
United States
San Antonio
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
elbmc1969 wrote:
tofarley wrote:
Then I knocked half a point off because I think there could be some way to track bank/pitch in a visual way using little stands for the counters rather than just depicting the counter art in various positions, and I think it would greatly assist in ease-of-play -- but mostly because I just didn't want to feel like I was over-inflating the score since the designer has been so amazing in helping me get into his game.


Do a mash-up with the system from Birds of Prey: Air Combat in the Jet Age and you've got a 100% winner. BoP's box miniatures and tilt-blocks are a huge step forward.


Yeah, when I was trying to settle on an air combat simulation, Birds of Prey was really, really tempting. What pushed me toward this one was just the WWII setting. I'm not much into all the modern planes with all their target locks and guided missiles... so buying BoP just for the plastic stands would be a bit much (Their website doesn't say what exactly is included with the different editions of the game... so I don't know if you'd have to buy the $100 deluxe set to get those things...)
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
patrick hildreth
United States
Colorado
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
You had me at "ACM" nice review!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ethan McKinney
United States
El Segundo
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
The plastic stands (tilt blocks) are included in all editions. You can also buy them as spare parts at reasonable prices. Buy two bags of altitude tiles at the same time. They work like a charm. Another of those things you have to try to understand the value of.

http://estore.genreconnections.com/ProductDetails.asp?Produc...

http://estore.genreconnections.com/ProductDetails.asp?Produc...

One set of tilt blocks and two bags of stacking tiles are enough for 8 aircraft per side.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mauricio de Souza Fonseca
Brazil
flag msg tools
I nly think the Iniative rules are awkward and really slow the game. They
should be better, I think. AS for the rest of this game, I have only high praise,
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Chad Lunceford
United States
Arizona
flag msg tools
Just a couple of comments:
I appreciated the original post's comment on how a game like this compares with the PC sims. I'm an avid fan of military aircraft from all generations, but the PC sims just lack the slow methodical analysis of motion that you get with the fighting wings games. Every move you make is a puzzle that sets up the next puzzle. I'm currently not very good at the puzzling, but the process has been a lot of fun. I wish there was a group in Phoenix.

I struggle with the initiative too. When I played Air Superiority a lot (another great JD Webster game--actually what got me into hex and counter simulations), we would go aircraft by aircraft giving initiative to anyone in a position of advantage against anyone else. Almost like tailing in Fighting Wings, but less defined. i.e. if you were aft of me with a 90° difference in facing, almost any position, you'd be able to see me and react to what I do. So you'd automatically have the initiative. If I had a second aircraft aft of you, he would fly after yours. So we developed an initiative pecking order, so to speak. This seems realistic enough and we only had to roll in neutral situations, but was frustrating in 1-on-1 engagements because it becomes almost impossible to shake the pursuer. It seems like there could be something in the middle of these methods, like modifiers based on the position of the target aircraft, but then you have to select a target for pursuit and might be messy.

This game is great and I am excited about WotM--that's why I keep replying to many-year-old posts. blush
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.