WW2 Dogfighting is one of the Holy Triumvirate of unachievable games, along with “The Perfect Set of Napoleonic Rules” which have eluded generations of war gamers, and, well, insert your particular option here.
Blood Red Skies is another attempt to step up to the mark. Written by Andy Chambers and due to be released in the New Year by Warlord Games, it faces a lot of rather difficult hurdles.
The problem is many fold. The first hurdle is all that three dimensional stuff. Wargamers really can’t handle heights well. Our playing surfaces are flat, and we think in two dimensions. Any and all efforts to model heights and height differences just results in either ridiculous telescoping stands that make playing the game a chore, or lots of paperwork and counters. In the end we usually just shrug and go back to good old 2d – Mick Spick’s excellent “Air Battles in Miniature” is well worth a read if only for the great writing style and the fact he tries something a bit different.
The next problem is time. An awful lot happens in a few split seconds of air combat. That tends to impose a level of micromanaging on players, which in turn means only a few planes in the sky. It also tends to mean a lot of pre planning – ie order writing. If you are not careful you can end up spending a half hour working out a few seconds worth of action.
Then there is tactics. Air warfare isn’t a thing you can just “do”. Although we like to think of it as a great solo effort the truth is there are some pretty important tactical concepts in there, learned from hard experience. The Dicta Boelcke is about as relevant now as when it was written (ok maybe not in the missile age but certainly in WW2) and formations such as Pairs and Finger Four do make a hell of a difference.
Lastly there is training and skill. Those magnificent loops, Split S’s and the like require a high degree of skill and experience that in war is usually not there. Moreover some manoeuvres simply do not translate well to a tabletop game or to the casual gamer. Some games try and get around this by having the manoeuvres pre-set – so Check your Six (and the Canvas Eagles\Blue Max predecessors) for example allow you to choose from a menu of manoeuvres based on the plane type and pilot skills, usually at the expense of order writing and a hex mat.
So back to Blood Red Skies. Firstly a caveat. I’ve only read through the basic rules and the stats for Spitfires and Me109Es, so what follows contains a whole load of assumptions, so I reserve the right to look red faced later when proven wrong but…
Andy Chambers has taken another look at the whole picture, and decided on a fairly novel solution. Rather than reams of paper, hex grids, lots of counters and the like he has simplified the whole thing down to a fairly straightforward concept – “Advantage” (pretty much energy conservation and positioning), which much harks back to the good old Dicta Boelcke. Planes are moved to achieve advantage. Rather than trying to choreograph the whole process of one plane half looping to counter a split S then the opponent reacting with a scissors or hard break to get into a firing position, Andy Chambers has assumed all that just happens and the result is either advantage, disadvantage or neutral. Players can choose to improve their advantage status by sacrificing manoeuvre or shooting options, or convert advantage to additional move distance. 3d is out the window, and now planes are simply in better or worse tactical positions. Pilot skill is represented too, with better pilots moving and shooting first. Crucially that can mean a better pilot manoeuvres around a less skilled one, changing the advantage status relative to both and getting a shot in before the opponent can react. Advantage status is very fluid – you may have it in your turn but the actions of an opponent can cancel that out or even put to down to disadvantaged, in which case you need to do some fancy flying or you will be in trouble, as you can only normally fire on targets that are in a worse advantage position than you. This feels much more fluid that the rather stale hex based movement of other games. I’ve seen something similar before in a computer\card game but that failed to get the toys on the table feel. He's also gone straight for the idea that this is a team game - each player has a six plane unit and the rules encourage "proper" wingman tactics by allowing wingmen to cancel out opponents advantage that result in a tail on the leader - IF the wingman is in the right place.
The "official" Warlord planes will be in 1:200 scale - which is a bonus as there are plenty of other sources for the stuff Warlord wont be doing initially.
The more I look at this the more I think he may just have cracked it. Suitably enthused and because the “official” product isn’t going to be available til Christmas I’ve ordered some 1:700 Spitfires and Emils from Tumbling Dice with the aim of trying out the game concepts to see how they work. I could have tried printing up some counters but the total outlay was £7 including £3 p&p so I figure it is worth a try. I’ll report back in due course.
Comments and equally wild speculation welcome!
Comments and equally wild speculation welcome!