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  Skies Above Britain by GMT Games  It is 1940 and Britain stands alone in Europe against Germany and Italy. So many books have been written...

Skies Above Britain by GMT Games Skies Above Britain by GMT Games

Skies Above Britain by GMT Games

Skies Above Britain by GMT Games

 Skies Above Britain


GMT Games

 It is 1940 and Britain stands alone in Europe against Germany and Italy. So many books have been written about Churchill's 'Few' that I would be surprised if any grognard hasn't read at least a few of them. To either soften Britain up before Operation Sea Lion or to win the war all on its own, both have been put forward as German plans. The Luftwaffe is ready to take on the Royal Air Force. From Norway to the French coast Heinkel 111's, Dornier 17's, and Messerschmitt 109's are starting their engines to start flying over Britain. It starts with Aldertag (Eagle's Day) which was August 13th, 1940. The Battle of Britain actually started in July. Aldertag was the start of a massive German attempt to bring the RAF to its knees. Luckily for the free world the British won the battle. In actuality the Germans lost so many aircraft that they had to switch to night bombing at the end of the blitz. By the end of October 1940, the Germans had pretty much given up on anything more than nuisance raids. The British Spitfires and Hurricanes had won the day.  

 This is what GMT Games has to say about the game:

 "Skies Above Britain is a solitaire game depicting a Royal Air Force squadron of Hurricanes or Spitfires waging a desperate effort to disrupt and destroy German daylight bombing raids over southeast England in the summer of 1940. The player’s individual aircraft—each represented by a stickered block—must locate the incoming raid, intercept it, and evade or defeat swarms of escorting German fighters that usually outnumber you and whose pilots have superior experience and tactics. The game simulates the dogfighting and fighter-vs.-bomber action at an individual aircraft level using a card-assisted system that simulates key tactical decision-making without losing the feel of fast-paced aerial combat. A player can fly scenarios representing an individual patrol or use the patrol generator to create an endless variety of realistic individual patrols, multi-patrol campaigns, or larger campaigns covering the entire Battle of Britain. Each patrol will take a half hour or more to play, while a campaign can last anywhere between 6 and 28 patrols."

 So, the game follows in the footsteps of 'Skies Above the Reich' and 'Storm Above the Reich'. It is a solitaire game where the player tries to stop the German bombers at all costs. 

  This is what comes with the game:

1 Interception Game Board
1 Squadron Display Game Board
1 Me-110 Circle Display
4 Counter Sheets
1 Rules Booklet
1 Situation Manual
1 Optionals Booklet
3 Player Aid Cards
200 Playing Cards
1 Pad of Roster Sheets
2 Historical Log Sheets
1 Sheet of Stickers
38 Wooden Blocks
10 Wooden Cubes
1 Wooden Cylinder
2 Dice

 So, compared to the last two games in the series you now get to fly for the good guys. You also get to tackle bombers that are much less dangerous to your fighter than B-17s and B-24s were to the German fighters. Of course, your weaponry in 1940 is nowhere near the strength of the weapons on a 1944 German fighter. Your planes are mostly armed with eight .303 caliber machine guns, essentially the size of a rifle round. 

 The games in the series have two things in common. One, you are flying fighters against enemy bombers. Two, the boxes are heavy enough to start a curling routine with. Once opened, a cornucopia of items seem to come spilling out of the box. Looking quickly at the six decks, pilot logs, and all the other components might lead you to think "what have I gotten myself into", or "this is too much of a game for me". Then you get a glimpse of the three different rules/manuals that come with the game, and you are certain you have bitten off more than you can chew. Just relax and sit back and take a few slow breaths. It is nowhere as bad as it seems at first. 

 The first thing that you will look at upon opening the box are the above stated three rules/manuals. The Rulebook is sixty pages in length (remember to breathe). Even though it is the same size as most rulebooks it just seems larger to me. It is made with glossy paper, and it comes with wonderful extremely large printing. Everything about the Rulebook is big. On every page is a beautiful full color example of play or illustration to help you learn the rules. Next up, we have the Situation Manual. This has the different scenarios and is also chock full of example of play. It is fifty-one pages in length and is also made of glossy paper and has large print. The Optionals manual is produced the same as the other two and is nineteen pages in length. It comes with the optional rules and a historical pilot roster which can be copied and used. I think this is a very nice touch. Then comes a page and a half of Designer Notes followed by a nice sized bibliography. 

 One difference from the other games is that the German bombers come on large tiles, as counters, instead of them being on the game board. There are two full counter sheets of these large tiles. These represent the Heinkel 111, Junkers JU-88, Dornier Do-17, and Stukas that you will be trying to shoot down. Then come two more counter sheets. These are mostly 5/8" in size with some being as large as one inch. These come with either nicely done pictures of different fighter pilots, or the different control markers needed for the game. They are very artistic in their style and are some of the most pleasing to the eye counters I have seen. Next comes a small sticker sheet which are used on the wooden blocks that come with the game. These are just as artistic as the counters. The thirty-eight wooden blocks are mostly black squares that the stickers will be attached to. A small amount of dexterity is needed for this, unless you have some freeloaders (sorry, I meant children) around to do this for you. There are six decks of cards: Escort Reaction, RAF Advantage, Luftwaffe Advantage, Bomber, Tailed, and Head on & Tailing. These are heavier than usual cards that do not feel flimsy to the touch. The front of the card has one of the names above while the back shows you one or more example of how it is used. Then comes two card stock Pilot Rosters. On one side is a squadron with names and on the back are Squadron Logs. These Pilot Rosters are also historical for the 303 and 54th squadrons. You also get a pad of the same with no names of pilots or a squadron number on them. As I mentioned above, the addition of some historical names really helps with the immersion and is a great addition. There are three large folding Player Aids that are made of card stock. They are for the Interception Sequence, Pilots, Raid Vector Sequence, RTB Sequence, Intercept Bombers, Intercept Escort, Sequence of Play. So, everything is right at hand without having to peruse the Rulebook each turn, at least in the beginning. There is also a 'Circle Display' for the defensive maneuver that BF 110s used. Next is a small, mounted map with the Squadron Display on one side and the Advanced Squadron Display on the other. Last, but not least, is the mounted Game Board which is mostly taken up by the Interception Map. It also has some other charts and tables on it. These are exactly the type of manufactured components that we have come to expect in a GMT game. The heft of the combined components has already been mentioned for those of us who still give some credence to the weight of the box and its worth.

 Apparently, the idea of a Skies Above Britain for a game was not received by some as actually a game that could be designed. Here is a quote from Gina Willis, one of the designers:

"Call me stubborn, but the cold water that Mark and Jerry (Jeremy White and Mark Aasted designers of Skies Above the Reich and Storm Above the Reich) tossed on wishes for a "Skies Above Britain" only made me more curious to see if and how such a game really could be made to work."

 These two quotes from Gina Willis are about the design itself:

"Since German bombers depended more on escorting fighters for protection than their own armament, a Battle of Britain "Skies" would need to move the fighter-vs.-escort aspect of combat more to the foreground than it was in the earlier volumes."

"One new wrinkle was putting the bombers on moveable tiles instead of printing them in a formation on a board. Tiles on a tabletop could be removed or pushed apart to show disruption and attrition effects on bomber formations in a direct, spatial way."

 Some of the Optional Rules are:

Confirmed Kills - Bomber kills are recorded one for one. However, to show how many times claims were not accurate, four fighter kills equal one kill.

Weave - One section will fly above and behind as a lookout. This costs more fuel.

Random Events - Self-explanatory, and too numerous to list.

Cratered - Your aerodrome has been damaged and you must fly from a nearby one. Parts and replacements are not there, and no one can return from hospital.

Graduated replacements - This replaces the one pilot replacement after every patrol. It is done by die roll now.

 Some of these can only be played when using the Advanced Squadron Display. The Advanced Squadron Display adds more rules to the game. It is much like playing with basic and advanced rules.

 As far as my opinion of the game: do I like it? No, I love it. This next information will tell you exactly how the wargaming community in general viewed the game:

2022 Charles S. Roberts Awards Winners Announced
Best Solitaire or Cooperative Wargame:
WINNER: Skies Above Britain, GMT Games, designers Jerry White and Gina Willis

 That pretty much sums up my feelings as well. One of the best parts of the design is the fact that the Rulebook actually tells newbies "You don't have to read the whole Rulebook to start playing." Even with the number of things in the box and the three different rules/manuals, it is still an easy game to learn and to start playing. You can start the dogfighting pretty much right away. The way that the designers have added so much historical flavor to the game is also a wonderful bonus. Let us not forget the RPG part of the game. You actually feel for your small fighter pilot friends. To be able to, hopefully, follow them through a campaign let alone a single sortie is a sign of a great designed game. The tension in the game is palpable. Do you break off with your ammo getting low, or do you choose to go for that one lone bomber? Each of your decisions can be found to be the wrong one by the game's highly, (I cannot say intelligent), evolved matrix of choices the designers have given it. Just like in reality ditching your plane over Britain is usually followed by a safe parachute flight. However, woe to the poor pilot who has to eject over the Channel. This is one of those games where you look at the clock and see four hours have passed but you still sit and play a few more sorties. 

 Thank you so much GMT Games for allowing me to take Skies Above Britain out for a spin. I knew the history more from the German point of view rather than the British. This game has made me read some books that deal with the British side of the Battle of Britain. If that is all I got from the game, it is worth playing but there is so much more than that in this box.


GMT Games:

Skies Above Britain:

Link to the Rulebook:

My review of Storm Above the Reich: