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Tom H
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DISCLAIMER – I have been involved in BA1917 playtesting and development for the last 2 odd year.

INTRODUCTION
Bloody April 1917, Air War over Arras is a new game from GMT published in 2012. It continues in the line of Downtown games designed by Lee Brimmicombe Wood, followed by Terry Simo with Elusive Victory, and leading to Bloody April 1917 (BA1917). The core rule set for BA1917 is however significantly changed to bring out the nuances of World War 1 air combat.


The game cover the months around April, 1917 where the fledgling Royal Flying Corp (RFC) tangled with the German Air Force (Deutsche Luftstreitkrafte or DLS) and their aces (including Manfred von Richtofen, Lothar von Richtofen, Werner Voss, Kurt Wolff, etc) in the skies over Arras, France. The RFC were led by Hugh Trenchard, who saw the role of the RFC to provide detailed reconnaissance and spotting for artillery, as well as bombing of key targets and engagement of the German aircraft to push them back over their side of the lines. The RFC, although outnumbering the DLS were technologically at a big disadvantage with obsolete planes against the superb German Albatross. For the Germans they were assaulted by an enemy that wouldn’t take a step back and had numerical superiority. The game also sees the introduction of new aircraft technology (SE5, Sopwith Tripe, etc) in a race to bring the machines up to date, and superpass the enemy.


Terry Simo was actually planning another game, but was captured by a book called Bloody April by Peter Hart. This tells the story of the birth of the RFC through this initiation by fire. As the classic lines goes, gold is purified by fire, just as the RFC (and later Royal Air Force – RAF) was born from this extreme hardship. From this we see many of the Allied legends such as Billy Bishop, Collishaw, Little, Dallas, Mannock and Ball. During the period around April 1917, the RFC lost 245 aircraft and 211 pilots and aircrew. Many of these young men had only flown a few hours before being sent up to face the Baron.

COMPONENTS
This game comes packed into one of GMTs big bullet proof, 3 inch thick boxes, which barely holds all the bits. Inside are –
• Four and a half counter sheets full of aircraft, markers, artillery, infantry and AA
• Card board of the area around Arras
• 32 aircraft data sheets
• Rulebook (40 pg)
• Playbook (64 pg)
• Lots of play aid cards
• 2 x D10
• Logsheets


The counters are lovely, with each aircraft shown beautifully drawn and coloured as per each pilots colour schemes. The aircraft counter sheets have individual counters for each pilot (in case they are separated) and in some cases with multiple planes, eg Albatros, Halberstadt, etc. The art was put together by Ian Wedge who is passionate about aircraft and this particular period. The map is lovely as well, and is based on real trench maps of the period – again thanks to Ian.


The Aircraft Data Cards (ADCs) are a change from previous games which used charts. The idea of these was to be something similar to the old tradeable aircraft cards, but GMT has taken these to new heights, made them bigger and bulletproof too. They include all plane data, as well a period pic. Personally I like them, and find them easier to use than combined charts.

The playaids are done in sepia and include all relevant charts and tables. There are some lovely images here, and they evoke the period.

RULES
As mentioned earlier the game uses a heavily modified Downtown engine as the core. For this level of combat simulation (ie operational with flights of up to 6 aircraft) this is a pretty good fit.


For those familiar with this system you focus on the movement and interaction of flights of planes (1-6 aircraft) and their missions. The combat is based on aircraft performance, pilot aggression, geometry, weapons, etc and largely follows along the path of rolling on the manoeuvre table for the number of shots, then rolling each shot to determine if an enemy plane is shot down, crippled, damaged or missed totally. The combat is largely mechanical with the decision only being whether to stay in a fight or flee. Again, at this level of simulation this is acceptable. The real tension in the DT system is the cat and mouse game prior to engagement to get advantage, as well as the completion of other missions such as bombing, recon, etc. For those looking for Wings of War dogfight action I would suggest you keep looking as this game will not satisfy you.



Some of the modifications of the DT system are –
Time to Climb (TtC) – basically due to aircraft performance the time taken to climb through a band, eg low or medium can vary significantly between planes, as well as the maximum service ceiling. In DT if you want to climb you just go up a level. In BA1917 you need to spend multiple turns climbing until you reach the next band. This listed on each aircraft data sheet, with each turn basically counting as a turn climbing. Eg. An RE8 takes 17 turns climbing to get through the LOW band to MEDIUM band. A Halberstadt takes 6 turns. The climb altitude is measured using counters that basically have numbers on each side, and as you climb you turn the counter – 3 to 4 to 5,etc. The TtC concept is critical for this period as a plane must be higher than its target to engage, so for the Germans they must quickly climb to meet the oncoming British hordes.

Dogfight – in DT combats are resolved in 1 turn – in BA1917 they can go for 10 turns, with aircraft trying to escape, or “bouncing” into a dogfight to help their defending pilots.


The groundscale and timescale have changed from 2.5 nm to 1nm, and 1 minute to 2 minutes respectively. There are also no SAMs, radar, etc - just good old eyes and telephones.

For visual sightings aircraft must now be tallied, and these maintained to get an advantage.

The weather plays a big part now, with winds of up to 60 mph blowing the balsa an paper planes around in the sky. There is also fog, clouds, etc which plays havoc with aircraft without proper instruments.


One of the key differences for me is the change in focus from a single mission (or maximum two missions) which are integrated – ie fighters, wild weasel, escorts, bombers, etc to having lot of different missions and little real co-ordination between them. This is how they flew, but it is really different. It is also interesting to see the evolution to the first patrols which flew close escort for bombers, recon, etc.
In the game there are lots of mission types such as line patrol, offensive patrols, reon, bombing, balloon busting, arty co-operation, etc. Each has its own criteria for success, and different victory points. For example the RFC get more VPs for a successful arty co-op mission or photo recon than shooting down huns. This is a good way to focus the RFC on their historical jobs.

The Scenario Book is very FAT at 64 pages and filled with 30 different scenarios. These range from patrols with 4-8 flights, to shows with up to 20 flights, to full campaign days that join together 3-4 periods over a day. Terry Simo has put a huge amount of research into these and they are all interesting to read. There is also a very good example of play in the scenario book. All are based on real historical data and give a picture of life for the airmen during this period.


PLAY
BA1917 plays like no other WW1 air combat game. Because of the operational (grand tactical) feel of the game and system, it allows you to see and be involved in the “big picture” of operations over Arras. There is real tension in the missions and as you approach the lines.
The game also plays relatively quickly and shows some of the critical aspects of combat for this period, such as weather, aircraft performance, etc. The outcomes are also pretty close to historical outcomes and this fidelity and accuracy helps you feel some of what the RFC and DLS pilots felt. For me it is a good game, but also very educational. Before started playing I knew nothing of the battle or period and the game encouraged me to read and discover what happened.

Play is pretty procedural, ie you follow the turn sequenc and if required look the appropriate rules up until you are familiar enough to play on. No major dramas and all pretty clear. There are a few hazy areas that require a bit of common sense, or just taking the rules lawyer glasses off. Its not the rule that are for complex, more the concepts and the actual numbers of planes, missions, etc. Its like watching an air traffic controllers screen for the bigger games.

There are a couple of downsides in play. I feel that the system is actually a bit more complex than DT. This relate to the new concepts like TtC but also because of the lack of cohesion of missions. There could be 4-10 different mission underway on the board, and keeping track of them is hard. Also, for me, the board is a little cluttered with counters. This is because of the TtC markers, tally markers, AA, planes, arty, etc. When I play I take a lot of these off the board and put them on the logsheets, and use the logsheets to keep track of who has moved. I feel that this could have been “distilled down” and made simpler.


Saying that I do enjoy the game, and it does give a good appreciation of the period and the conflict.

CONCLUSIONS
In conclusion, the game is pretty solid and definitely a player. It gives a good understanding of WW1 air combat, the issues, problems and tactics as well as having a lot of historical detail and background.

Some of the new concepts such as TtC are elegant and well handled, capturing the essence of the combat, however others such as tallying are a little clumsy, and for me could perhaps have been simplified. Also some of the larger missions look scary, with too many planes and too much going on. I would have a heart attack trying to keep track of it all.

The rules and playbook do have a significant errata, largely correcting minor errors, and explaining some rules aspects which although not tricky are sometimes not 100% clear. Terry is working on a living rules set to be released soon and doing a good job keeping up to everyones questions to date. The errata can be found at BGG and consimworld.

All things being said though, this is a beautiful game and deserves to be played. If you have any interest in WW1 aviation get it. BA1917 gives a real understanding of the develpment of air combat, as well as providing a tense and stimulating game which has been lovingly crafted by its designer. I give it an 8.5/10.
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Paul Johnston
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Thanks Tom,
that was a good and comprehensive review,in fact exactly the sort i've been looking for since i first heard about this game.I have not played Downtown,Burning Blue,or the Arab/Israeli game the name of which temporarily escapes me,but may now give these a second look.
The main reason being that due to job/life constraints,finding time to play a face-to-face game is tough,and on that rare occasion i think it would be difficult to induce my opponent to play an air wargame,much as i love 'em.
So my question is, how does it solo? is it even suitable? Does it perhaps have a set of solo rules,or failing that,do you know of any that might exist? i think somebody cobbled together a set for Downtown,but then again my memory's not what it used to be,lol.
Thanking you in anticipation of a reply.
Paul.
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Charles Lewis
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There are solo rules with Bloody April, but it plays well solo without them, too.
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Jim Patterson
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This review is timely, as I was reading some of the rulebook Saturday and thinking today about how I might want to spend my limited time and more limited energy in war gaming. Having never played either of the predecessor games, I probably should have heeded the rulebook's advice to read the playbook's example of play first because I think it's pretty easy, at least for me, to get lost in the details and fail to see, or see fully anyway, the big picture. This review helps with that a great deal, and I'm back to reconsidering putting BA back on my metaphorical and literal table.
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jpat wrote:
This review is timely, as I was reading some of the rulebook Saturday and thinking today about how I might want to spend my limited time and more limited energy in war gaming. Having never played either of the predecessor games, I probably should have heeded the rulebook's advice to read the playbook's example of play first because I think it's pretty easy, at least for me, to get lost in the details and fail to see, or see fully anyway, the big picture. This review helps with that a great deal, and I'm back to reconsidering putting BA back on my metaphorical and literal table.


From personal experience I would say that this is a game that really is one of those 'just put the chits on the map and start playing and it will make sense' kind of games. Some of the mechanisms I found difficult to understand in the written form. As soon as I started pushing the cardboard around though, I had several 'light bulb' moments.
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Tom H
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Paul,

The game plays ok solo. There are solo rules included to launch the Germans while you control the RFC. This perhps captures the tension best.

You can also play both sides pretty easilly and get some interesting situations.

Cheers,
Tom
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Terry Simo
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Solo play out of the box was designed to be played from the British side.

Where I have found the game to be really fun is with multiple players on a side. I am currently on my second multi-player scenario with 11 players currently playing Scenario 1 - all three blocks. We are playing the game through the excellent Vassal module (props to Torsten Spindler and Al Cannamore).

Don't worry about not having opponents. You can easily find an opponent for a PBEM game with vassal.

Another fun way to play is a moderated game where only info that would be known to your side is shown. Would require 2 players and a Ref but adds to the tension.

Thanks Tom for the review.

T-Mo
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oystein eker
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Very well done review! A good read with excellent points.
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Tom H
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Thanks for the comments guys. Been meaning to do this for a while and finally put pen to paper.
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Tom Duensing
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Petdoc wrote:
jpat wrote:
This review is timely, as I was reading some of the rulebook Saturday and thinking today about how I might want to spend my limited time and more limited energy in war gaming. Having never played either of the predecessor games, I probably should have heeded the rulebook's advice to read the playbook's example of play first because I think it's pretty easy, at least for me, to get lost in the details and fail to see, or see fully anyway, the big picture. This review helps with that a great deal, and I'm back to reconsidering putting BA back on my metaphorical and literal table.


From personal experience I would say that this is a game that really is one of those 'just put the chits on the map and start playing and it will make sense' kind of games. Some of the mechanisms I found difficult to understand in the written form. As soon as I started pushing the cardboard around though, I had several 'light bulb' moments.


Very true. The game is easier to play than I expected after first seeing the rulebook. It's not as complex as it may seem initially.
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Tom H
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In terms of complexity - once you have a handle on things, it easy is pretty easy as it is so procedural. A lot like Close Action which can be played with rank beginners as long as you have a competent person who knows the rules.

The game also develops a wonderful narrative as it goes along. Something similar to (again) Close Action or The Gamers' brigade level ACW games such as 3BOM. This can be frustrating though when things don't go to plan...

Not a cut and dried competitive game, or a gamey game, but more a simulation and a bit of history.

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Jason Rimmer
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Great review, my copy should be here before Xmas. Can't wait!

Was thinking of using it as a Strat layer and do the tactical combats with Wings of war...
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Brad Malet-Veale
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Excellent review, thank you.

Like Jason, I plan to use my favorite WWI Tactical game to play some of these battles. It's now flying my way in the mail... :-)
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Dave C
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This is one of those reviews that drags you from "thinking about it" to "must have."

Fantastic review!
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