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

Skies Above The Reich by GMT Games

Skies Above The Reich by GMT Games



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  "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."

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