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Posted on Nov 22, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Defending the Father Land.  Night Fighter Ace Board Game Review

Defending the Father Land. Night Fighter Ace Board Game Review

By Rick Martin

Night Fighter Ace   Board Game Review.  Publisher Compass Games  Designer: Gregory M. Smith and Joe Gandara   Price $99.00

 

Passed Inspection:   Stunning artwork, high quality components, extremely immersive role playing aspects, compelling narrative develops for each mission, excellent rule book

 

Failed Basic: index is not complete, the Event table is referenced by another table and not a standalone table – this needs to be referenced in the rules, no 20 sided die included but one is needed on at least 1 table, some rule references are incorrect and the Dark -1 modifier is not on the Moon Phase Chart.  (Many of these are corrected in the November 18th 2018 Errata Update from Compass Game’s website – ed)

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Oberleutnant Tomosite guided “Lola’s Dream”, his Ju88 R1 night fighter, towards the distant radar contact.  Rikard, the radar operator, was giving him slight directional changes.  The British bomber should soon be visible.  Rikard thought he had detected several contacts with the FuG202 Lichtenstein radar but if there were more bombers out there, Tomosite couldn’t be sure.  Suddenly the full moon revealed a dark shape through the clouds – it looked like a Wellington bomber!  A few days ago Lola’s Dream had claimed a Halifax and the crew was ready for a second kill marker to be painted on their aircraft.  The Ju88’s engines hummed as Tomosite slipped in behind the Wellington and sped up slightly to get in a short range burst with the front mounted cannons and machine guns.  Just as he got in range the rear gunner on the British bomber opened up and machine gun bullets raked the Ju88!  The bullets tore through the starboard engine which belched dark smoke and some flame then tore through the front of the Ju88’s weapon mount and then finally hit the port engine with a dull thud.   “Damn the full moon!” screamed Tomosite as he pulled the Ju88 in to a starboard dive away from the now corkscrewing bomber. “No second kill for us tonight but at least we’re alive.” Tomosite thought as he feathered his starboard prop and turned his crippled Ju88 towards home.  After a tense one engine landing, Tomosite and his crew climbed out to examine the damage as their crew chief and his men ran to the plane.  “What have you done to my plane?” screamed the crew chief as Tomosite and his crew looked at their mangled aircraft. “I brought her home for you,” answered Tomosite as the crew chief gave him a withering look.

 

So went one mission in Compass Game’s Night Fighter Ace, a new solo or cooperative World War 2 game by Gregory M. Smith, designer of the solo submarine games The Hunters and Silent Victory.  For those who have played The Hunters and Silent Victory, Night Fighter Ace’s game system will feel very familiar – it’s just modified to accommodate World War 2 air combat.

 

 

The game includes:

1 sheet of full color die cut counters

16 double sided aircraft display mats

4 player aid cards

4 different player mats

40 ace pilot cards

60 combat cards

1 rule book

1 pad of player’s log sheets

2 six sided and 1 10 sided die

 

 

Each night fighter is represented by an aircraft mat and a counter.  The following aircrafts may be flown by the player – Ju 88s, Bf110s, Do-215s, Do-335s, Do-217s, He 219s and the Ta 154A-1.  Of these planes there are multiple variations each with its own mat. In all, 32 different night fighters are represented in this game!

 

Each night fighter is rated for the month and year it came in to service as well as its: armaments, ammunition for each weapon type, speed, range, radar types, strength of wings, engines, controls, airframe, fuel tanks, landing gear and oxygen systems, crew positions and electronics.

 

Enemy aircrafts are rated for type of airplane (bombers or night fighters), speed, strength of various systems and, for British night fighters, initiate and initiative modifiers.

 

The following types of British aircrafts are modeled in this game:  Mosquito II, IX, XIX, Wellington, Stirling, Halifax, Lancaster and the British flown B17.

 

The rule book is expertly laid out and includes an index and designers’ notes and a history of the German night fighter campaigns as well as descriptions of the various types of airplanes.  While the index is nice and helps cut down on page flipping there are some omissions which proved somewhat frustrating.

 

As the game is both a “war game” and a “role playing game” the first thing the player will do is roll to see what airfield his or her night fighter is based at.  This will also indicate what type of night fighter the player will “fly”.  The starting night fighters are the Ju88 R-1, Bf110 F-4, Bf110 F-4/U1, Bf110 G-4/U1, Bf110G-4/U6, Bf110 F-4a, Bf 110 G-4/U5, Do-217 N-2/R22, Do 217 N-1/U1, Do 217 J-2, Do 215/B-5 and the Ju 88 C-6b.

 

When rolling for an initial air field, the chart says roll 1d20 but no 1d20 is included in the box.  Luckily, I am a gamer with tons of dice so it wasn’t a problem.  The November 18th, 2018 erratum says here is how your roll a 1 to 20 with the dice included in the game:

 

To roll 1d20, roll a 1d10 + 1d6, with 1-3 = add zero, and 4-6 = add 10.

 

Each pilot starts as a blank slate.  The player names the pilot and, if you want, the other crew members of the plane and then you track your missions, injuries, kills, skills, promotions, prestige and awards (ribbons and medals).  As your kills increase, so does your prestige.  The higher prestige you have, the more advanced types of night fighters get unlocked and become available for you to fly.  In addition, an optional rule adds pilot and crew fatigue to the game.  As you fly missions, your fatigue increases which decreases the effectiveness of your pilot and crew.  When you take days off for rest and relaxation, your fatigue decreases.  I chose this optional rule as it makes the game more realistic and increases the challenge of fighting the war.

 

A mat has been provided for ease of tracking skills, promotions, medals, etc.  It’s a great visual aid and works in conjunction with the handy campaign progress pad aka the “Sortie Log” which lets you track the success or failure of each mission.  It is very nice when a company provides a whole pad of a form to use instead of giving you one copy and telling you to make more copies.

 

Some of the skills that your pilot and crew can gain are skills that make your pilot’s aim better, increase the flight engineer’s skill repairing electronic or mechanical issues, increasing the radar operator’s skill with his radar, etc.  There are 14 skills in all that can be improved.

 

So now that you have your starting air base, aircraft and crew ready to fly, how does the game play?

 

The turn sequence is as follows:

 

  1. Roll on the Raid Chart using the proper Month and Year
  2. Enter the Results on the Sortie Log Paper
  3. Move your Air Craft Counter on to the Take Off Box on the Endurance Track of your Night Fighter Mat
  4. Check for the Weather and move the Weather and Moon Phase Counters on to their appropriate box on the Operations Map
  5. Upon Take Off roll on the Random Electronics Failure Chart. If you  roll a 12, roll on the Events Chart
  6. Move the Night Fighter Counter from the Take Off Box on the Night Fighter Mat and move it along the Endurance Track until you get to the Raid Location Box.
  7. Conduct your Sortie
  8. Check for Spoof Raids
  9. Attempt to Intercept (may be either a single bomber, bomber stream or British night fighter). If successful, go in to combat.
  10. Move to the Next Endurance Box on the Night Fighter Mat and go back to 9 until you fly back to your Base
  11. Return to Base and roll to see if you land successfully
  12. Debriefing – record kills, experience points, prestige, awards, promotions, update the fatigue of your pilot and crew, spend Prestige Points to change bases or change aircrafts

 

You can fly two sorties every week unless weather, fatigue issues or aircraft repairs prevent flying.  The rules for aircraft repairs were inadvertently left out of the rules but are included in the errata.

 

While the turn sequence may seem somewhat daunting, each sortie only takes from 10 minutes to 30 minutes to fly and the turn sequence very quickly becomes second nature.

 

Some elements of the turn sequence need to be explained in a little more detail so away we go!

 

The Endurance Track is, in reality, multiple tracks located on the side of each Night Fighter Mat.  Each track cleverly shows how far a fully loaded night fighter can fly from its home base to the target and then how far the night fighter can fly to get back to its base.  These tracks are a wonderful way to track the fuel use of the aircraft without resorting to cumbersome fuel tracking calculations.  I really respect this design aspect of the game as fuel tracking can become a real hassle using more traditional gaming methodology.

 

There are a multitude of charts used in the game.  The Raid Chart is broken in to month and year columns with the type of aircraft commonly flown by the British being represented based upon actual bomber command activities.   Some raiders encountered will be single bombers while others may be British night fighters on the hunt for you.  In addition, you may luck out and encounter a British bomber stream in which case you can enter the stream and have the chance of shooting down multiple targets!  With each kill you get a Prestige Point which can be used to move bases or get access to more advanced night fighters, armament and radar systems.

 

The weather and moon phases can either help you in your hunting or can hinder you.  If the weather gets really nasty, you may have to sit out the mission and get drunk in the pub while the rain or snow piles up.  The Dark -1 Moon Phase was left off the Moon Phase Track and this is addressed in the Errata.

 

When you do try and take off, the advanced electronics in your night fighter may not work as planned.  Rolling on the Electronic Failure Chart may keep you from flying or even generate a random event not related to the electronics on your plane.  The only way to roll on the Random Event Chart is by rolling a 12 on the Electronic Failure Chart.  This is not made clear in the rules and I spent some time on my first play through trying to figure out when to roll on the Random Event Chart.  Eventually I had to post a request for help on Facebook and someone immediately told me how it works.  It would have been nice if the Random Event Chart had a small caption on it saying something like “only roll here if you get a 12 on the Electronic Failure Chart”.  In addition, the reference number in the rules for the damage chart is incorrect.  This too is addressed in the Errata.

 

Combat is elegantly handled.  If you manage to spot the target bomber or British night fighter, you determine how close you go to the target before opening fire.  You then decide whether you fire a normal or long burst.  Long bursts can do more damage but may jam up your guns or use up the ammo.  Ammo counters help track ammo use for forward mounted cannons, schraege music cannons and such.  Machine guns are considered to have “unlimited ammo” for the purposes of the combat.

 

After you close to your chosen attack point, you draw a card from the Combat Card Deck.  There are a variety of different outcomes listed on the card – from a complete miss and the bomber going in to a corkscrew to a total destruction of the bomber or a number of hits rolled on the Bomber Mat or maybe the bomber will attack you first as happened to me. Combat is fast and furious.

 

If you don’t destroy the bomber and it doesn’t destroy you, you will have to try and either track the bomber or reacquire it.

 

If you encounter an enemy night fighter, then you may become the hunted instead of the hunter.

 

I had a little trouble finding the chart for seeing if a damaged British bomber crashes later and if you get credit for it.  The chart is included in an example box instead of being under rule 7.2.20.

 

I think one more editing pass by an editor not directly involved in writing the game would have prevented these issues to begin with.  I do wish more gaming companies would do this.  As a game designer myself, it is far too easy to miss things when you are reading the rules for what must be the 20th time in order to fine tune the game.  An outside editor or an editor not directly involved in the design of that particular game can quite often catch things that the designer or play testers can’t.

 

The flight and damage models are very impressive and any type of damage imaginable is found on the damage tables in this game.  From minor electrical and control issues to a fuel fire or immediate explosion can ruin your night’s hunting and the damage models don’t just apply to your night fighter, British bombers don’t just blow up.  I had a great hit from close range on one bomber and I rolled nothing but inconsequential damage.  My target corkscrewed and I ended up losing the contact.  I rolled to see if it crashed later and their crew kept it in the air all the way back to Britain!

 

As with their submarine games, the designers have done extensive research on the subject of these night fighters and bombers.  Different fighters behave differently depending on their type, model number and aircraft variation.  The different radar systems and jammers behave differently too and influence how you fly and fight!  These rules are monumentally complete without being horribly complex.  The rule book is only 17 pages long and the rest of the pages are designers’ notes and a history of the night time air war.  Plenty of optional rules can be added for additional realism.  There is even a rule for if you win an extraordinary medal and are brought before Hitler – you can chose to try and assassinate him which influences not only your character but the course of the war!

 

A deck of Ace Cards is also included.  These cards allow you to add historical night fighter ace pilots to your plane and see how well they fair during your missions.

 

The few issues with the game, the incomplete index and the incorrect table references and rule clarifications, are mostly addressed in the on-line errata.

 

But, please, don’t get me wrong, this is a fine game and one I’ll be playing for years to come.  It really captures the player in to the immersive narrative of becoming a night fighter pilot.  You begin to care about your pilot, crew and aircraft and it really hurts when you lose the mission and die or are permanently wounded.

 

In addition to being perfect for solo play, rules allow your buddies to take up a night fighter in a neighboring zone so you can both fly different missions.

 

Up until I played Night Fighter Ace, GMT’s 2012 game Night Fighter (reviewed here at Armchair General:  http://armchairgeneral.com/nightfighters-boardgame-review.htm  ) was my favorite game on the war in the dark skies of World War 2.  While GMT’s fine Night Fighter game puts in you in the sky flying from 1 to 5 night fighters for Germany, Japan, America and the UK, Night Fighter Ace puts you in the cockpit of one fighter as you try and survive the war.  It’s this intimacy which really draws the player in.  In the future, I may try and combine both games in to the ultimate night fighter simulation.

 

So to wrap it all up Night Fighter Ace belongs on the shelves of all World War 2 aviation enthusiasts.  It’s just a fabulous game!

 

Armchair General Rating:  95 % (1% to 100%)

Solitaire Rating: 5 (from 1 to 5 with 1 being not solo at all while 5 is perfect for solo)

About the Author

 A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in board game design, video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

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