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

Wild Blue Yonder

Wild Blue Yonder


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.

1 comment :

  1. Great to see you back providing excellent reviews.. Look forward to what you have in the pipeline.

    ReplyDelete