September 6 1940
A hectic day with half a dozen raids, mostly focused on John's gaming shed near Canterbury. The Luftwaffe has been gunning for that shed since the start of their attempt to grind the RAF into the ground and pave the way for Operation Sealion. It was a good day for the RAF. Losses were low and enemy losses were high. And the shed was still standing despite a month of attempts to bomb it.
September 7 1940
I used to own the original version of this game many years ago, about the time it first came out. I played it a bit but never finished the whole campaign, and can only assume that I sold it somewhere along the way, although it is possible my mother's dog ate it, like it did to my copy of Hornet Leader. With the new version of the game in hand, and more time for gaming, I sat down a week ago to first learn the rules and then to play the campaign from the perspective of Fighter Command.
The rules were easy to follow, and it was simple to set the game up and learn by following the sequence of play. I then set up again to try the shorter campaign covering the first four raid days of the campaign (days on which raids happened). Things were looking bad after just those few raids but not hopeless, so I decided to continue the full campaign. As I gained experience with the game, things started getting better. I stopped trying to stop every raid, and started focusing on those where I thought I might do most damage. The Luftwaffe started getting worn down and my new approach paid dividends in fewer of my own planes getting shot down. Suddenly, the two factors led to a snowballing of victory points and on September 6th 1940, I reached the critical victory point score. I had won the game. This took me about a week and ten raid days.
The game is quite repetitive in that you draw a target card and roll to see whether this is a real raid, a minor raid or a major raid. Then you dice to see what warning you get of the raid and how accurate that warning is. The point at which you deploy your fighters and find out what the raid consists of depends upon what level of warning you get. Which of your fighters you can deploy depends upon how early the warning is. It is possible to get no warning, where only fighters actually on patrol on the raid's flight path can deploy against it, to very early warning so you can call in the fighters from all the surrounding airfields.
With both fighters deployed and the raiding aircraft identified, you have to fight your way through the fighter screen before you can attack the bombers. There are random raid events along the way and much of the narrative is driven by card draws for events on the approach, at the target and at the end of each day. With the raid outcome determined for good or ill, you start all over again with the same process, only this time some or all of your pilots could be refuelling and rearming their planes and unable to respond. It is also possible to have multiple raids happening at the same time, either as follow-up raids or in different areas. I think my record in this campaign was four follow-up raids on John's gaming shed, or RAF Hornchurch as the cards called it. By the end of all this action in the one place, I had no fighters left able to respond from any of the surrounding areas and the bombs were falling thick and fast around the shed.
I've seen some complain about the sheer repetitiveness of the game but I found that it was not an issue. I played a raid day or two every night and was soon looking forward to returning to the table and seeing what would happen next. The relentness repetitiveness of the raids was what built the tension in the game as I tried to work out where the next attack would be and which fighters I needed to send up on patrol. If I sent the wrong ones up now, they would not be available in an hour's time if there were a raid over their sector then instead. Likewise, do I send supporting fighters from a neighbouring sector, or will I need them for the next raid? It's very much a resource and risk management game, and I enjoyed it a lot.
I also like that the new edition allows you to play as the Luftwaffe and to play it as a two-player game. I don't particularly have any desire to play the Luftwaffe in this, having grown up thrilling to the sound of Spitfires and Hurricanes at air shows and on a diet of movies like The Battle of Britain and Angels One Five, but I do like having the option. The two-player option offers an interesting challenge too, because a human player is unlikely to manage resources in the same way as the game's AI.