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Monday, 2 May 2016

"Action this Day" - multi-squadron WWII air combat

Being interested in generalship and big battles, I have been tempted for a while by the idea of wargaming WWII air battles at a larger scale. Almost all air wargames seem to be at the 1 model = 1 plane scale, at which a turn is only a few seconds. At that scale it is hard to recreate a larger mission and the many factors that can affect it.

I was involved in the development of Scott Fisher's award-winning "Check Your Six!" WWII air combat rules. Regular readers of this blog may remember I tried just scaling those up, and had an abortive attempt at a playtest in June last year. Since then my scale-up has lain dormant, but the idea lodged in the brain of my opponent on that day, Bruce. He has now painted up his own collection of Battle of Britain aircraft (1/600 from Tumbling Dice) and devised some really excellent rules, which we gave their second playtest last week.

The Luftwaffe approaches the Kent coast.
Lego flight stands - ingenious and effective.
Fuzzy photo not doing justice to Bruce's beautifully painted planes.

Provisionally entitled "Action this Day", each model represents a squadron of 9-12 planes, a game turn is about 5 minutes (I think - or maybe 10 or 15?), and an inch is maybe a couple of miles. A key concept in the game is "dispersal" - the idea that most combats end with one side or both just heading for home because of low ammo, low fuel, or simply being scattered post-dogfight, rather than with many actual casualties. Bruce has kept movement really simple, so that the decision set is just large enough to be interesting without being so large and complex to be mind-boggling (as can sometimes be the case with 3D air games). Situational awareness and reaction / interception play an appropriate role. The combat mechanism is innovative,  capturing the important factors in a cleverly nuanced way, without painfully long lists of modifiers.

In our battle, as it was ANZAC Day I took the role of the New Zealander, Air Vice Marshal Park, sending the Spitfires and Hurricanes of No.11 Group RAF into action against Bruce's assorted Dorniers, Heinkels, and escorting 109s and 110s. Bruce had scenario rules restricting the German fighters' movement according to their Loose Escort / Close Escort roles. I desperately threw my squadrons piecemeal at the Germans, splitting my efforts among enemy formations to try to disrupt them before they reached potential targets. This proved to be a mistake. Bruce manoeuvred his formations cleverly to throw a dense fighter screen between me and the bombers. Although I received reinforcements nearly every turn, they were only arriving at about the same rate as those I had were being dispersed by the enemy's superior numbers (and superior skill, altitude, and dice ...). Canterbury and Faversham both took a pasting. When we totted up victory points at the end, I had been well thumped about 60:30.

I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It was great to see a major air operation develop on the tabletop - representing about 60 actual bombers with as many or more escorting fighters, against my 100 or so RAF fighters - and to get some insight into the operational-level choices that had to be made, and the pros and cons of different decisions. I'm really looking forward to playing more of these games as Bruce refines his rules and paints up more planes.

My average takes another hit. My updated score for 2016 is now:

Played: 14
Won: 7
Drawn: 3
Lost: 4