NEMO'S WAR [2nd edition] from VICTORY POINT GAMES From one game based on a book from my childhood, namely War of...

NEMO'S WAR NEMO'S WAR

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NEMO'S WAR

[2nd edition]

from

VICTORY POINT GAMES


From one game based on a book from my childhood, namely War of The Worlds, I've here returned to another based on what is probably the most famous novel written by another favourite author from my younger days, Jules Verne.  If the title, Nemo's War, had misleadingly sent you off in the direction of a Disney cartoon, we are in fact heading, not for a fish, but for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Captain Nemo of the fantastic vessel, Nautilus. Just as with War of the Worlds, we're in solitaire mode with options for some cooperative play


A mere glimpse of the box and its artwork tell you that we're right at the top of Victory Point Games' output.  I've been a longtime fan of VPG's products, following them from their zip-lock bag days through the small slip-case packaged boxes to the upgraded boxed versions of their Napoleon 20 series.  But Nemo's War is right there at the very pinnacle of their recent output as seen in games like Dawn of the Zeds.  By this I mean a solid, deep box with insert, mounted board, superb quality counters and marker tokens, and a glorious, full colour glossy rulebook.



The box art you can see above and the insert is perfect, just what I like, deep enough to contain everything when separated out and, a huge plus that many companies overlook, the wells to hold the cards are designed to perfectly fit the cards when you have sleeved them.  All the cardboard components are thick and glossy, with rounded corners that punch out perfectly.  In particular, the many ship units used in the game are superb.  

Just a small sample of the excellent ship counters

They come in a variety of background colours that denote their growing strength and danger to Nemo's exploits, with a darker shading on the reverse which also indicates increased strengths.  With even more attention to detail, each individual ship silhouette captures its real life counterpart where possible and just to add a little extra flavour, a few terrors of the sea have been added in; such as a sea monster [though not the giant squid that Nemo did battle with - that is introduced through one of the Adventure cards]], pirates, slavers and the famous abandoned ship of mystery, the Marie Celeste. 

All the other tokens are equally colourful and first class, pressing out of their sheets with ease and not a cardboard tag in sight.


A colourful mix of the just a few of the game's tokens
The mounted board is every bit as impressive and given additional value because on it is unobtrusively printed handy tables - everything from the Sequence of Play and Combat Sequence to the key table on which most of your Actions will be determined.  
One or two are in rather small print, but frankly they are the ones you will most quickly remember, while the most important one is the clearest and easiest. Once everything is set up, the game just begs to be played and set up couldn't be easier with a clear guide at the start of the rules.
As you can see there's a lot to be laid out, but the guide takes you methodically through each step.  As Nemo you will roam the high seas from ocean to ocean in the fabulous Nautilus, here represented by a plastic model.  Your first choice is which one of the four Motive tiles [Science, Exploration, War and Anti-Imperialism] to choose.  Each one subtly changes the VP values you can gain from a range of fields.  Choose War and, as might be expected, sinking warships increases in value, whereas with Exploration the value of sinking warships is reduced.  Each Motive will have its enhanced areas and its diminished ones, resulting in influencing what actions you seek out in the course of the game.
Above are two of the Motive Tiles
[as well as the 6 Character Tiles that offer bonuses]
The flow of the game is controlled by a deck of Adventure cards and the order of its composition will be modified by your choice of Motive, while retaining some overall similarities in structure.  These Adventure cards provide an engrossing storyline, as each one has an extract of text from the original novel and an accompanying illustration.  They also contain a wide range of benefits and not a few disadvantages usually depending on a dice test.  

What I love here is that there is no simple Pass is good and Fail is bad.  Sometimes that is the case, but often you have choices to make.  With some cards, choosing to automatically Fail a test may bring an immediate benefit at the expense of foregoing  possible VPs at the end of the game from Passing the test.  Other cards may be kept until you decide to use them for their benefit, but again often relinquishing the VPs they bring if you manage to keep the card until the end.
Here are just four such Keep cards
These branching paths to the narrative you thereby construct for yourself lie at the heart of the game and, for me, provide the unique enjoyment and tension that draws me in over and over again.

While the cards make you feel that you are living the narrative, in your deck there will always be four cards that must always appear.  The fact that three of them are named Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3 also create the idea that you are living out the drama of Nemo's life.  You know you will always get to these points, but not exactly when, and the 5th card, the Finale, that brings the play and your game to its resounding curtain-call is drawn randomly at the start of the game from a group of 7 cards and shuffled into the last four cards in your Adventure deck.

As a result, this is a game that will stand up to countless sessions. Each game will use only half the deck and the order that events will occur in will always be different.  I've prayed for the Finale card to appear and had it be the last in the deck; at other times I've needed just one more ordinary Adventure card to be turned up and. of course, up came the Finale card!

The game begins with the oceans seeded with a set number of Hidden [i.e. unrevealed ships] and each Major Ocean possessing one Treasure marker and then a random die roll places the Nautilus in one of these oceans.
At top left is the deck of Adventure cards for the current game and to the right of the map of the world are the remaining Adventure cards that certain actions may allow you to draw from.  Along the top of the board runs the Notoriety track - and Notoriety is guaranteed to be something which you are destined to grow in! While below that track are three more: one for Nemo's state of mind, one for the Crew and one for the Hull of the Nautilus.  These three tracks are crucial to your play of the game, as most Actions will offer you the chance to wager one or more of their bonuses to help you gain the high scores you need on the many Tests you will undertake!  

Pass and your marker on the track will return to its current position, Fail and it will drop to the next lowest position.  Usually as they drop lower the bonuses decrease, but [an inspired touch] as Nemo's mental state deteriorates, his bonuses increase!
In the bottom left corner of the board is the table on which you roll to SEARCH for treasure, to REST your crew, to REPAIR the hull, to REFIT [i.e. add an Upgrade] to Nautilus and finally INCITE [attempt to cause an Uprising in one of the many areas inked to the oceans] 
A glimpse of the Notoriety track 
Below the board are a number of markers and six character tokens, each of which can be sacrificed in dire need to provide one-off benefits. To their right are the two white dice you begin the game with, a single upgrade card for the Nautilus [there are four more such cards lined up to the right of the board that you may acquire as the game progresses].  Finally, two opaque containers [supply them yourself] hold, in one, all the treasure tokens and, in the other, the At Start ships.  So, you're ready to start your Adventure and the world is your oyster, but soon that will change.

Each turn begins as we've seen by turning up and executing an Adventure card.  This is followed by rolling the two white dice and placing new Hidden ship markers on the map.  The difference in score between the two dice gives you the number of Action points you have for that turn.  From that moment on, the pressure begins and rarely lets up.  At best 5 Actions, at the worst none [you've rolled a double and caused a Lull].

Choices, choices, choices! So many, starting with all those mentioned two paragraphs earlier, plus moving the Nautilus and most common of all bringing death and destruction to the oceans of the world: COMBAT - sinking shipping either for salvage which helps you attempt to buy Upgrades for Nautilus or for tonnage which provides VPs at the end of the game.  Do you choose a single Stalk Attack which gives you a bonus +1 DRM on the dice roll or a Bold Attack where you can push your luck and keep attacking providing you are successful, but racking up the Notoriety?  With the appropriate Upgrade you may even be able to make a Torpedo Attack.  All the time deciding whether to gamble one of your bonuses.  Every single time you roll the dice, there is the chance of Failure.

In the early stages, the tension is moderate, but as the game progresses one time bonuses get spent and some of your VP bringing Treasure tokens may need to be used for bonuses instead.  The Crew and Hull and Nemo bonus tracks start to decrease and need to be improved.  More and more ships crowd the seas.  merchant vessels give way to warships and ever more deadly ones are added to the draw cup! Nemo's War gives you action and excitement all the way.

The seas start to get crowded and dangerous!

There's a lot to do and a lot to learn.  So how does the rule book fair in preparing you for the task?  Well, this is the most lavish publication from VPG that I've seen.  It is part of their Premier standard of production level and can't you just tell. If like me you've been with VPG since their earliest zip-lock bag days when the few cards where in a perforated sheet and the rule book was a single sheet that folded out, then you'll be bowled over.  This is 32 pages of high gloss, full-colour glory! 

My one main concern is that the print is small and quite faint, especially against the parchment colouring of the paper.  A lesser issue is that the Table of Contents directs you only to very broad areas of the game. Finding the many finer details, when necessary, demands much closer searching within those areas.  Despite that, I soon found that I gained rapid familiarity with the mechanics of play.  In part, this was because each page has a side-bar of examples, plus numerous illustrations within the body of the text.

Having experienced many a set of rules where the examples blossom with inaccuracies that tend to mislead, Nemo's War is not like that.  These examples consistently complement and help understanding.   I would strongly recommend setting up the game and then read through a section at a time with the board and pieces in front of you.  Within no time I found that I could embark on a first full play through and I survived to reach the Finale - though it is possible to be defeated in a number of ways before that happens.

Then came scoring, with a lovely set of tokens that allow you to chart the individual scores in the many categories that bring VPs.  OK you can just do a running total, but there's a lot of satisfaction in seeing how well you did in each individual field and then adding them up to the grand total.  Though GRAND is not the word I'd use for my first attempt and many of my subsequent ones too.  There are five levels of victory: Defeat, Failure, Inconsequential, Success and Triumph.  The rule book does contain a simple little table that gives the VP range for each level, BUT there is one amazing booklet left to consult!
This booklet contains twenty sepia illustrated pages devoted to individual pictures and text that explains each of the five levels of victory for each of the four possible Motives that can be chosen at the beginning of the game.
Just two of those incredible pages
Almost as substantial in size as the rule book, I will leave you to decide for yourself whether this is a hugely unnecessary addition or something wholly in keeping.  In keeping with a game that begins with its first card entitled Act 1 : Prologue.  In keeping with a game that narrates a story just like the novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, did and finally in keeping with a game that bears the eponymous name of its megalomaniac protagonist, NEMO.

Whatever you decide about this last component of the game, there is only one decision that I can urge you to make.  BUY THIS GAME.

As always many thanks to Victory Point Games for providing the review copy.



WATERLOO 1815 :  NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE from Trafalgar Editions If my previous review Bloody Battles of T...

WATERLOO 1815 : NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE WATERLOO 1815 : NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE

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WATERLOO 1815 : 

NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE


from



Trafalgar Editions




If my previous review Bloody Battles of The Crimea took us to a seldom gamed conflict, here we are back in the thick of one of the most famous and frequently gamed battles of history.

What I found intriguing was how two games both aiming for a tactical representation of conflicts separated in time by a mere 40 years can take such distinctly different paths to simulating the combination of infantry, cavalry and artillery tactics.  From solidly hex and counter routines, we turn in Waterloo 1815 to that granddaddy of wargaming: the kriegsspiel blocks.  Their origins were in military training for Prussian and German officers and the traditional blue and red suits well for the two armies at Waterloo.

Perhaps the best known, recent manifestations of this format have been Rachel Simmons' Napoleonic games on Marengo and Austerlitz [and the ACW game Guns of Gettysburg].  However, these latter games did little more than use the blocks with a whole slew of innovative ideas on how to manage terrain and engage in combat.  Trafalgar Editions' product is much closer to its historical origins.  

Its dynamic box art depicting Ney's cavalry charge in the last hours of Waterloo has an immediate visual impact.  Opening the box reveals a very good mounted map in two sections providing a splendid impression that focuses attention on the basic contours of the landscape.


The four key fortified locations immediately stand out [even in my somewhat faded photo!] as do the string of hamlets and villages.  In muted shades of green it serves to create an excellent image reminiscent of the historical map sketches typical of the period.  Each player has an A4 cardstcock copy of the map with the set-up for their units printed on, while the Allied player has an additional copy to be used for the optional hidden deployment variant.  It is small bonuses like this that testify  to both the quality and care taken by Trafalgar Editions.



The blocks themselves are plain wooden ones to which adhesive labels have to be applied to opposite sides and this is a lengthy process that needs considerable care.  Personally, I've never had concerns about these sort of tasks, but I am aware that for some it can be off-putting.  The task is particularly fiddly  because the blocks are the slim rods typical of the game's kriegsspiel influence and the labels fit exactly to the blocks' different sizes that identify the three arms of infantry, cavalry and artillery as well as leaders.  I soon found that trimming the merest sliver off the end of the labels made a surprising difference to ease of application, but you will still find it a lengthy process.



However, the results look magnificent, once completed and the units have been deployed on the map.


The central focus of the battle




A closer look at the Allied deployment
The choice for one side to show the unit in line and the other side in column works admirably, making formation changes an easy element of the game.  Nevertheless there are markers needed to indicate such things as disorganisation and rout, as well as the single step loss that units can take before they are eliminated.  This combination of slender blocks and cardboard markers has definite drawbacks and makes for potential problems, especially when units come into contact for melee or are picked up to change formation or move.  It's very easy to start a cascade of markers and to displace units, especially when the supersize infantry square marker is placed!.

Though it adds to initial preparation time and  then time checking when playing the game, I've found it worth the effort to create roster sheets for the units on which the markers can be placed.  Moving from the aesthetics and practicalities of the map and units to the engine that drives them, namely the rules, these are very much drawn from a miniatures-influenced world.  But before looking at them in more depth, I have to say that I struggled with the very small print-size and the equally small examples of play, all in black and white.

Fortunately you can download a copy of the rules from BGG [BoardGameGeek] and these proved very serviceable and especially helpful in allowing me to make notes directly on to them, while I've been working on playing the game and preparing this review.  Unlike many gamers who are perfectly happy to annotate and highlight rule books, I just cannot bring myself to do this.

My first surprise and slight disappointment was that there is no orders system and that essentially we are in an igo-ugo format, where one player moves and attacks and then the other player does the same.  Leaders provide little more than a morale boost to the unit they are attached to.  However, the fairly close proximity of the units and the very obvious historical aim of both sides to ultimately survive and annihilate the other really renders an orders based game unnecessary.

As for the lack of such things as chit-pull systems and initiative die rolls that tend to be de rigeur in so many current board wargames, these were soon forgotten in the simple pleasure of manoeuvring the wooden units and enjoying the visual delight of the experience.  If you look at the handy reminder of the turn sequence below, you'll also see the typical intermeshing of attacker and defenders' actions that mean that both players are engaged in the action throughout the turn.

It was interesting to find that Combat [i.e. hand to hand combat/cavalry charge] is the end of a player's turn and that a player reorganises at the beginning, attempting via a morale test to recover from Disruption or Rout while automatically recovering from being Shaken.  Rather surprisingly a player also attempts to disengage from hand to hand Combat in the Rally Phase.

The Artillery Defensive Fire Phase and the following Artillery Fire Phase is an excellent rendering of the artillery duels familiar in the Napoleonic period.  This fire is conducted by units at range from the enemy and is a very straightforward process.

Movement follows with all units that you want to come into contact with the enemy having to decide whether to engage them in melee at the beginning of their move.  I like this element of planning and decision making so simply built in.  By these means preparation for both melee and cavalry charges are handled smoothly and then executed after the next Phase which is Musketry Fire.  Movement itself is carried out using a series of small cardboard measuring sticks called UMs [standing for Unit Movement].  


French units in line formation about to make a simple movement forward
In essence a good idea, as they can be laid in sequence allowing a flexibility of gradual turning that the old style rigid measuring sticks of miniature gaming always made so difficult.  I've found them most useful for the wider sweeping moves of cavalry or the arrival [timely or not] of the Prussians.  However, as the armies rapidly close in battle, you're more likely to be using them to check infantry firing distance.

Just as the artillery fired before movement, infantry now engage after the movement phase in musketry fire with the Defender's Phase again preceding the Attacker's Phase.  A very good idea is that Defending artillery can decline to fire shot in the Artillery Phase in hopes of firing more deadly canister during the Musketry Phase.  Such fire takes place between units that are within half a UM or in contact, but not marked for subsequent melee .  

Finely, musketry fire between units that are in contact and marked for melee is the fore-runner to executing the melee or what the game dramatically calls bayonet assault.  Overall, fire and combat is well conceived with a definite logic and verisimilitude.  As units approach, there is the decision whether to engage in musketry duels and for how long or plunge in swiftly to attempt a bayonet assault.  Whatever you decide, the fire and combat chart is remarkably easy to use with each dice result's outcome being contained on a single line, with the non-highlighted result being applied to fire combat and both non-highlighted and highlighted being applied to melee.  This is a method that I've not experienced in any other game and works very well.



Similarly, movement whether at close quarters or over greater distances is easy to accomplish and the game has probably one of the simplest terrain charts with minimal detail.   

Central to all these elements of the game is morale and unquestionably morale is the heart of this game, being the stand-out feature on infantry and cavalry blocks.  Virtually all other data is on separate small, handy Army cards for the Allies, Prussians and French.  These give tables of modifiers for all three types of units referenced by such things as formation, full-strength and half-strength units, infantry in squares, unlimbered artillery etc.

So far so good, only the organisation of the information in the rule book brings an element of complexity and difficulty.  In part, I think this is because of a real desire to be thorough, but the outcome is that details tend to be repeated or amplified and sometimes aren't quite where you might have expected to find them.  

A good example of this is the section on the capabilities of the three different arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  Understandably we get quite a significant amount of information about such things as line and light infantry, guard infantry elite and, of course, the French Imperial guard, as well as three types of cavalry and foot and horse artillery.  But there is also considerable depth supplied in the section on artillery dealing with canister fire, artillery concentration and line of sight which you would expect to find appearing in later sections of the rules.
Shot and canister templates
The outcome is a game that has quite a substantial amount of detail to master, yet surprisingly easy systems to apply for all the most important and essential factors of a Napoleonic simulation.  Initially I did not worry too much about acquiring some of the finer details differentiating varieties of unit type, but focused on just mastering the basics of the three arms.

A further help is having the patience to play through the two additional mini-scenarios that are presented on very attractive glossy card.  Both provide partial elements of the big picture with small unit density and a limited play area.  




Scenario 1: The Prussians Are Coming in fact gives an object lesson in what the French player is likely to face in the later stages of the game and a good exercise to prepare  for that.  Scenario 2: Attack on the Allied Centre is another good lesson both in learning the rules and experiencing a focal point in the big picture.


Scenario: zooming in on La Haye Sainte

I know how hard it is to hold back from plunging in to the whole shebang at one fell swoop, but it is worth applying yourself to these smaller sections so that when you do move on to the full scale battle, you should be ready to gain maximum enjoyment with minimum rule checking.


Allied right flank about to undergo bayonet assault

As is expected with any game today, there are a selection of additional elements.  For me cards introducing Random Events always appeal. I know the old style Random Events tables used to do a very acceptable job, but the very attractive artwork of cards, plus there extra flexibility in using them is always an added draw. 



A very small section of Optional and Advanced rules complete the rules, among which I rather like the introduction of messengers allowing for a multiplayer session which may be as simple as a three-player game with the great commanders, Wellington, Napoleon and Blucher or extending to additional players acting as Corps commanders.


Messengers for multi-player participation
There is  a very substantial set of counters to mark the various states such as Disorganisation, Shaken and Routed and many other elements.  As these are all in Italian, there is an early acclimatisation needed.  By and large there is a fairly obvious correspondence, but perhaps a simple capital letter might have served better.

All in all, this is a strong addition to one of the most famous and much gamed  battles.  The rules do take time to be comfortable with, but working through them with either a few units or using one of the mini-scenarios is well worth the effort.  The visual aspect of playing the game is excellent and the designer has married elements of a miniatures system with a boardgame approach with an ease of execution and clarity of systems.  This a game to be enjoyed.

I would like to thank Trafalgar Editions for providing my review copy and I look forward to exploring soon their equally fascinating take on the most famous naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars - what else, but the company's namesake: Trafalgar.








Skies Above The Reich by   GMT Games    "Against twenty Russians trying to shoot you down or even twe...

Skies Above The Reich by GMT Games Skies Above The Reich by GMT Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



by










  "Against twenty Russians trying to shoot you down or even twenty Spitfires, it can be exciting, even fun. But curve in towards forty Fortresses and all your past sins flash before your eyes" ("Fips" Phillips 200+ victories).

 This is only one of the myriad of quotes from various German fighter pilots about the fear that engulfed them facing the Flying Fortresses. The USAF decided that daylight bombing would allow precision attacks on German industry. This also meant that that the Luftwaffe was able to throw everything they had at the American bombers. This sets the stage for GMT's new game, Skies Above the Reich.


One of the Map Boards

 The first thing you notice when it is delivered is that it's in a large 3" box that weighs a good deal. Upon opening, you find it contains a cornucopia of gaming goodness. The box is filled to the brim with booklets and charts and two mounted maps. It is a solitaire game that can also be two player (both playing the Germans). Played as a single player game, you are in command of a Staffel of German fighters trying to stop your country from being bombed to dust. The game starts in 1942 and ends in 1945. 


A collage of all four Map Boards



  Where to begin with this Santa sized box of wargaming? Let us list what you actually get:
Boards: 22x34, 17x22 (both double sided)
Pursuit Maps: 2 @ 8.5x11 (double sided)
Roster & Log Pad: 8.5x11
Stickers: 8.5x11 sheet
Blocks: 50 black, 12 blue
Cards: 24 Nose, 24 Tail, 16 Oblique, 32 Continuing Fire
Countersheets: 1 @ 1 inch counters, 1 @ 5/8 counters
O Map Panel: 8.5x22
Player Aids: 1 @ 11x25, 2 @ 11x17
Rule Book
Advanced Rule Book
Situation Manual
Two Dice (ten sided, one red, one black)



Some action from the game

 This is the sequence of play for a mission:

Move - Fighters enter, exit or move from one box on the periphery 
   of the Formation Map to another.
Return - Fighters shift from a Return Box to a High/Low Position  
   Box, or from an Evasive Return to a Return Box.
Escort - Skip this phase unless escort markers are present, or arrive
   this turn.
Recovery - Check each fighter to determine if the hit is trivial or 
   severe.
Blast & Flak  - Fire rockets, drop bombs, and Ju88/ME410 may 
   fire cannon; then, if Near Target, check for flak. 
Cohesion  - Check each element for cohesion.
Attack  - Skip this phase unless one or more fighters are in an
   Approach Box. There are several steps to this phase.


Another GMT picture of game play

 As mentioned, the game also comes with advanced rules for you to delve into. The base game is about your fighters trying to knock down Flying Fortresses or just knock them out of the formation. The Advanced Game is where your fighters will attempt to destroy bombers that have been knocked out of formation. The game uses four maps to show the difference in the Flying Fortress formations during the years of World War II. Map 1 is the easiest to deal with and shows how the Allies experimented with bomber formations. Map 4 comes into play after Flying Fortresses were equipped with 'chin turrets'. Until this time the favorite attack of Luftwaffe fighters on these bombers was to attack straight at their noses. The chin turret made these attacks much more dangerous for the German fighters.


This is a collage of the Advanced Game Map Boards


 These types of games have a bit of a double-edged sword to them. You actually play with named units/counters instead of just 'pilot A' or Bf109_, fill in the blank. So, you are bound to get attached to the different pilots. At least I do in a game like this. In Wargames I do not get attached to divisions or corps, but in games with individual soldiers etc, I do, especially if I am playing a campaign and have to husband them through different battles. You will have some of your pilots get lucky to survive numerous battles only to fall at the last minute or just when you thought they had made it safely through another B-17 formation. 



Counters

1" Counters

 The rulebook is fifty-eight pages long, but don't let that scare you. It is written in large letters and every page has an illustration or two on it. The rules are very well done and hold the player's hand while teaching the game to them. The rulebook, situation manual, and the player's aids are very easy to read and absolutely full of play examples. The map boards are also very well done and 'clean'. There is a lot of information on them, but it is not jumbled up or seem too close to each other. The components just seem to be very well thought out, along with being very well done visually. Even the artwork on the box is excellent. Some of the counters are 1", so these are easy on old eyes. The counters are done to the standard of the rest of the game. I have older GMT games that were nicely done, but this game blows them away as far as visually and component wise.


Front of the Card Decks


Rear of the Card Decks


 Game play is very easy to get into. After your first mission, you will probably only have to glance at the rulebook every now and again. The game is set up so that you play out campaigns. Each campaign is a season. You can play campaigns of one season or up to seven. You will use the Mission Set-Up Table to start the campaign and to set-up each mission. Then you will use the Situation Manual to set-up each mission. You will either roll die or us the Staffel Commands to determine various things about the mission such as sun position etc. So with this game you get the best of both worlds. It is a deep game with a lot of options and heavy thinking for the player, but it also plays quickly and cleanly. The game's use of a die roll for Mission Type and Operations Points helps to keep the player always guessing and thinking. Do you add armor or cannon to your Staffels planes, or do you try to have your auxiliary planes drop bombs on the Fortress Box? The availability of escorts for the Fortresses also increases dramatically with time.  To give you an idea of how tough the war becomes, we will use this example. In 1942 you are given six Experten (Aces) for your Staffel. In late 1944 you are given eight green pilots to start with. Your pilots that survive and are lucky also get to grow through the game. A pilot earns Experte Skill points from successful missions. These can then be used to buy, at a cost of five per, skills such as timing, aim, luck, and break anywhere. On the other hand, your green pilots are penalized by one of these three: erratic, panic, and zeal. You can spend three Experte Skill points to remove the penalty during the game. The game also uses four decks of cards. Three of these are for different attacks: Nose, Tail, and Oblique. The fourth one is for Continuing Fire. These are as well done as the rest of the game. The cards are easy to interpret and there is little actual reading to be done on them. The game has blocks, that you have to sticker, to represent your Staffel's planes and auxiliaries. One thing about the game, you do have to keep a written log. You have to fill in a 'Pilot Roster' log, and a 'Staffel Log'. I am not really a big fan of these. However, I understand why you have to, and I admit that it does give you a sense of filling out the paperwork of a Staffel leader after each mission. There is so much in this game that I am only touching on a few points, and I feel as if I am only scratching the surface. I have been waiting for this game for a long time. It is a hackneyed expression, but in this case is very true.



Log Book

Situation Manual

1/2 of the Turn Record Track and Fate Boxes

Stickered Plane Blocks



 This is an excerpt from the rulebook:
" Although a staffel was likely to conduct hundreds of “missions” in any of the Seasons depicted in this game, scrambling into the air more than once a day when the action was particularly desperate, Skies Above the Reich condenses that action in order to present an impression of that bloody history. Here we reduce the life
(and probable death) of a staffel into a game box.
We only present a part of that “life.” A staffel would have endured a variety of missions, not just bomberbusting attacks like those depicted here. We kindly ask the player to suspend disbelief just a little and forget about missions to intercept enemy escorts or missions to protect ground-attack bombers, or other mission
types that would have occupied your staffel from time to time. For those enthusiasts who demand to see the eroding effects those missions would have had on his staffel, they are welcome to partake of the Staffel Erosion Table. You can find it on the back of this Rule Book. It is intended to be used after tallying points at the
conclusion of each Mission, but if you choose to use it for your campaign, know this: it will make your campaign harder. The Luftwaffe lost the war, the ceiling over the Reich caved in, and over the course of a prolonged campaign the results of the Staffel Erosion Table makes that fact clear."

Offical box art from GMT Wild Blue Yonder is a WWII aerial combat game from GMT Games. The game has been resurrected from the plethor...

Wild Blue Yonder Wild Blue Yonder

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Offical box art from GMT
Wild Blue Yonder is a WWII aerial combat game from GMT Games. The game has been resurrected from the plethora of rules and campaigns that the Down in Flames turned into. The designer, Chris Janiec, has spent considerable effort in consolidating the rules and updating the entire game. Unfortunately, I  never had the privilege of playing the long-out-of-print Down in Flames games but from a cursory examination on ‘the geek,’ it appears there were 20 different expansions and add-ons, indicating how popular this game is/was amongst its audience.

As ever, I have absolutely no issues with the quality of components in games published by GMT Games. They are all (cards and chits) of an extremely high, industry-leading (in my opinion) quality. You get four decks of cards that are made from the resilient and inflexible card stock that GMT usually uses. The cards are all stored in the plastic insert, (the first I’ve ever seen in a GMT box) which has such deep wells and close fitting wells that getting the decks out with my ol’-sausage fingers, proved problematic. I resorted to just tipping the box out as carefully as I could to retrieve all of the cards.


The contents of the box

Unusually for a tactical wargame, you’re not limited to just two players. You can accommodate 8 players and you also don’t have to have the same number of players on each side either. I have only played it with two but I expect that anything up to 6 players would be great fun when playing the dogfights. You can achieve strength parity with uneven player numbers by equating each side’s total Balance Value that is printed on each Aircraft Card.

There are really two games in this box. The first is a quick to teach and moderately simple tactical dogfighting game. The other is a relatively complex resource management campaign game that has some dogfighting. Okay, there’s arguably a lot more dogfighting in the campaign games but the rules overhead outside of the dogfights seems to take more time than the core of the game, i.e. bombing targets or destroying enemy aircraft.
Action Cards
If I had to relate the two games to my military experience, the more-simple dogfighting game feels like a gash-shag pilot on a squadron attempting to stay out of trouble, without a care in the world; other than being shot down occasionally!  The campaign game feels like you’re the Squadron boss managing the entire squadron’s resources and trying to appease the higher-ups with a good performance to win the campaigns, whilst still jumping in the cockpit at every opportunity.

I preferred the dogfighting game, over the campaign games but I can’t deny there’s an awful lot of game in the campaigns. You get twelve campaigns in the box, I’ve only played 3 of them and only one to completion…(The solo Buzz-bomb campaign). The campaigns come in two flavours, Land and Progressive which each have their own campaign rules and then each campaign has campaign-specific rules as well. To say that I played my games without any forgotten rules would be a vast exaggeration.
The beginning of an early War dogfight.
The reason I preferred the dogfighting game, other than that there are far fewer rules to remember, is that it is the best attempt at representing aircraft in a dynamic and contested 3D environment that I have experienced. This game is far more abstracted than others e.g. Check Your 6! or even Star-Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game (Wings of War/Glory et al) which represent more accurately the combatants own position on a map; Wild blue Yonder models the relationship your aircraft have with the enemy at any given time. Perversely, I think that it is this abstraction which makes it feel more realistic. After all, dog-fighting pilots are trying to outmanoeuvre one-another, not the ground.

The system accommodates for altitude changes, ignored in X-Wing (there is no up or down in space) and an optional rule in Wings of Glory, by simply preventing any engagement between aircraft at different altitudes. You must choose at the start of your turn whether you climb, descend one step of altitude or stay at the current altitude. If your enemy isn’t at the same altitude then that round of the game will pass with no combat between the opposing aircraft. Although once you're locked into combat there are mechanisms to make it costly to either withdraw or escape from the fray.
The Messerschmitts have positional advantage
In fact, there are mechanisms that cover nearly every conceivable aspect of aerial combat. They all are quite simple to implement but because there are so many, I often forget which aircraft attribute is being modified for different circumstances, i.e. height change, leader loss, following etc. If there's one thing missing from this game it would be a good player-aid reference card. My play did speed up but I found myself continually referring to the rulebook to see how my card draws were affected or my hit rating.

All in all, I think this is one of the best dogfighting games that uses historical combatants. The gameplay feels like a Collectable Card Game, where you're facing off against an opponent with asymmetric decks, tapping cards and using resources.  I imagine it would be easy(ish) to tempt a die-hard CCG-er into trying this bonafide wargame based on the gameplay alone. I can't say I've tried that yet as I don't have any hardcore Magic or Android Netrunner players in my groups but to me, it felt like previous games that I've had of Magic, albeit slightly simpler - unless you ventur into the Campaigns.
The Hurricanes fight back
If you're a bit of a 'spotter' or like WWII wargames and don't have a good dogfighting game in your collection then I would heartily recommend this. The base game is very accessible and there are so many different campaigns that start adding extra rules in as your own familiarity with the system increases that there will be new experiences and fresh challenges for a long time playing this game. 

I've played few tactical wargames that allow more than 2 players and when they do, you're just dividing different areas of the battlefield amongst the players on one side. That has never really increased my enjoyment of a game, although it certainly does add more enjoyable social elements. In Wild Blue Yonder that division makes much more sense and significantly increased my enjoyment of the game. With 2 or 3 to a side, it felt like we were part of a Squadron and the game shone.

I would like to thank GMT Games for providing this review copy of Wild Blue Yonder and Chris Janiec for consolidating the system to (probably) its best edition yet.

World in Flames Deluxe Collectors Edition by Australian Design group Review Part One   So, this game is like a ...

World in Flames Deluxe Collectors Edition by Australian Design Group World in Flames Deluxe Collectors Edition by Australian Design Group

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


by


Review Part One






  So, this game is like a kid getting a life-sized chocolate rabbit for Easter. We are going to have to gnaw on this critter for a while. This beast comes with 1600 counters for the basic game! We do not have as many of these monster games as we once did. It seems like we do not have the time or the space anymore for them. This is the  end all and be all of games, especially with all of the add-ons, about the entire Second World War. This not only throws in the kitchen sink, but also adds in the plumbing and the bathroom sink to boot. A word of warning, this is not for the newbie. If a newbie were to just see the contents of the box they would run away screaming to their Risk box. This is grognard territory. Hoary old and gray grognard territory. Sorry, but that is what most of us are :). We will have to go back in time a bit to underscore exactly what you get within this fifteen pound game box:

1) Four Large (574mm x 830mm) full-color hard-mounted maps of the world
2)One (297mm x 420mm) full-color hard-mounted map of the Americas
3) One (297mm x 420mm) full-color hard-mounted turn record chart
4) One (297mm x 420mm) full-color hard-mounted Task Force display
5) 4800 (12.7mm x 12.7mm) full-color counters of all of the armies, navies, and air forces of World War II (Including Planes in Flames, Ships in Flames (Including Cruisers in Flames, Convoys in Flames, and Carrie Planes in Flames), Divisions in Flames, and Territories in Flames).
6) Full-color rule book
7) Full-color campaign book
8) Five x A3 full-color games charts
9) Two ten-sided die





 This is a link to my unboxing:



  Now we have to get a few things out of the way. I am not someone who sets up a board game and analyzes every move or combination to figure out the best strategies to win within the system or rules. I try to play historically, as much as I can, any game that I am playing. The other point is that my gaming habit is almost always driven by my reading, and I am a voracious reader. So, I might have an ancients game on the table one week and a World War II naval game the next. I know there are more than a few World In Flames aficionados that have analyzed every move and have had the game up for years on end. My apologies to these people right off the bat. I could never equal your knowledge of the game. I am just not put together that way. World in Flames is one of those games that some people do get caught up in and have sometimes built there lives around. So with that out of the way what are the scenarios you can play in World in Flames? Here is the list:

 There are five one-map campaigns ranging from:

Victory in the West: May/June 1940 - Jan/Feb 1941, to
Battle of the Titans: The Russian Campaign: May/Jun 1941 -
 May/Jun 1945     

 There are four two-map campaigns ranging from:
  
Fascist Tide: War in Europe Sep/Oct 1939 - May/Jun 1945
Rising Sun: Tojo's War: Jul/Aug 1937 - Jul/Aug 1945

 There are six four-map campaigns ranging from:

Missed the Bus: The end of the beginning: Jul/Aug 1940 - Jul/Aug
  1945
Decline and Fall: Allied Ascendancy : May/Jun 1944 - Jul/Aug
  1945
If you have the add-ons Days of Decision, America in Flames, and
  Patton in Flames there are a few more scenarios to add to the mix:



 It has been about six years since I played World in Flames and that was the fourth edition. So, we are going to take baby steps and start with the one-map campaign Victory in the West. Germany is already at war with France and the Commonwealth. To get down to gaming we have to envision the situation the Allies and Germany are in. The Maginot Line covers almost all of the border of France and Germany. Historically the Western Allies sent the bulk of their better forces into the Low Countries when Germany attacked them. This resulted in Manstein's famous 'sickle cut' that chopped the Allied forces in half. No one in their right mind is going to play that gambit in a wargame, unless they are forced to by the rules. This game starts before the invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands and also gives both sides freedom of setting up their counters/units where they want (mostly). What usually happens in most games that replay this campaign is pretty much a hoplite shoving match or a repeat of World War I on the Northeastern French border. This is pretty much the introduction scenario. It really only deals with land and air units, with very little naval units or rules (for my second part of the review I will play the campaign for Guadalcanal).




 So we have to start by setting up the map and units. The map is the one piece that has Western Europe on it. The units, well that is a bit of a different story. Because the game pretty much gives a player the chance to set up his units anyway and where he wants, it is  more involved than most games. Most games have hex wxyz printed on the unit so you know where they were set up historically. This game separates the units of a country by the year. What this means is there might be too many units for a given year for say Germany in this scenario. The scenario calls for two armored units, but there are actually four in the counter mix. There are also two that are being built and will be available later in the year for Germany. Now, this seems simple. Unfortunately the units have different strengths and movement numbers listed on them. You actually have to read both the rulebook and Campaign and Players Guide to find out how to deal with this situation. Then you will see that in this case the owning player simply draws them out of a cup chit style. I assume that the missing other units are actually defending on the Soviet border. I would have liked the setup to say, and think it would be easier, that x, say forty-five, infantry strength steps are needed in Western Germany for this scenario. Although in this instance it might lead to cherry picking by the owning player, because said units have different movement speeds. So I do think that setup could have been handled differently, and possibly easier. As of now, you check the Campaign and Players guide for the scenario and then cross-check the list for setup in the back of said book. You will have to remember to check that against anything about setup in the actual rulebook. Let's go back to the actual scenario. Now because the scenario is very dependent victory point wise on Paris, there is not much incentive to defend the Low Countries. Paris is worth three victory points whilst Amsterdam, Brussels, and Antwerp are worth five total. This is compensated by the following cities being worth one victory point each Lille, Lyon, Marseilles, and Metz. So if the Western Allies player can keep the Germans at the French border in the North, he will have seven to five victory points to start with. It is only tilted more to the Allies' non-intervention because the Western Allied player receives points for delaying the game to the Jul/Aug turn to the tune of this amount per turn: Jul/Aug - one victory point, Sep/Oct - three victory points, Nov/Dec - six victory points, Jan/Feb 1941 - ten victory points. You do also get points for destroyed HQs and armored and mechanized units. Thus you can see that the German player has his work cut out for him. It is possible that Barbarossa would have to be postponed or forgotten about if the casualties in Northern Europe are too high for the Germans. In retrospect I think this helps the Allies a lot in the bigger campaigns. Sacrificing French manhood to bleed the Germans more than France was willing at the time would be the opportune strategy for the Western allies player in the longer games. Now there is one rule that I really like that is important here. That is, units of different countries even if they are allied cannot stack together. There is also another rule that does help the German side of the equation. The Commonwealth Lord Gort can only command two units in France. So the scenario description does recommend that you put your Commonwealth units into Belgium. This allows you to have two units in both Belgium and France with the caveat if your Commonwealth units are pushed back into France, any units above two will have to be eliminated. Realistically the French nation had lost so much blood in World War I, it was inherently not ready for another blood bath on its Northern border. I think that a house rule could be added that if France loses x amount of units something happens. Perhaps the loss of another unit picked by the French player to represent morale loss?



 So what are the main points we are taking from this game and scenario? The scenario is tough for both sides. Setup, Setup, Setup is the biggest rule of thumb on both sides of the border. The Germans not only have to get to Paris, they have to get there fast. This is 1940 and the Luftwaffe is as strong as it ever was. You have a whole Air Force that is built to destroy and hamper enemy ground units; use it. The Allied player has to stop them at the border of France and fight for every hex to the teeth. The game complexity for this scenario and the other one map ones I have set up and played or set up and looked at is about the same. They are no harder or more intricate than others in the same ilk of game. I think there is the rub. I have not played a real monster game in a while. I am probably making the rules and setup seem harder than they really are. The scope of the game means that the rules etc. have to have the same sort of scope. By design, World in Flames is meant to make you think and possibly pull your hair out, if you have any left. The rules are long and the Campaign and Players Guide at times is somewhat arcane, at least to me. This is one of the games that I recommend that you get a cup of coffee or three, and set aside a few hours to read through the rules before you even think about cutting a counter out. This is not a knock on the game; we have longed for this game, and dreamed about this game for exactly this reason. Tune in to the same bat time and same bat channel for my third part of the World in Flames Deluxe Collectors Edition review.


Harry's setup of Victory in The West

  The above is from the Vassal mod for World In Flames that is on Australian Design Group's website. Here is the link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/y93vgnnoxxdltin/WiF%20CE%20Fall%20of%20France%20Vassal%20scenario.zip?dl=0


Robert