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Posted on Mar 5, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Nail Biting Solo Aircraft Action! – Fly an SM. 79 Torpedo Bomber in Quarterdeck International’s “278th Squadron – The Same 4 Cats” Board Game Review

Nail Biting Solo Aircraft Action! – Fly an SM. 79 Torpedo Bomber in Quarterdeck International’s “278th Squadron – The Same 4 Cats” Board Game Review

Rick Martin

278th Squadron – The Same 4 Cats Board Game Review.  Publisher: Quarterdeck Games  Designer:  Marco Campari  Price $16

Passed Inspection:   small footprint, innovative solo system, easy to learn, strong narrative, addictive game play, excellent value for the cost

Failed Basic:    final map size different from what the rules say, would like a chart detailing damage done to the target ships instead of just hit or miss

Our SM.79 flew at near surface level as we prepared to pounce on the British destroyer Fearless.  Bright sunlight and nearly flat ocean made this approach almost perfect.  The torpedo launched as we pulled up and banked slightly to port to avoid colliding with the destroyer.  All hell broke loose as black puffs of flak and machine gun tracers danced across our flight path tearing holes in our starboard wing.  Just then over the increasing drone of our three engines, we heard a roaring boom and our top gunner reported Fearless listing to port with smoke and flames billowing from her.  As long as we don’t encounter any British fighter planes, we should be able to make it back to our airfield intact.

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The Svaoia-Marchetti SM.79 bomber is one of the most iconic aircraft designs from the Second World War.  It is perhaps the most well known Italian aircraft.  It was a fast and powerfully armed medium bomber with both 50 and 30 caliber machine guns and so maneuverable that it could be looped by a skillful pilot.  With its three engines (one on each wing and one on the nose) and its dorsal machine gun hump, the plane cuts a unique silhouette.  The Italian crews nicknamed it the “Sparrow Hawk” or “the Damned Hunchback” depending on their mood at the time.  The plane was successfully used by the 278th Squadron to attack Allied shipping in the Mediterranean.  When the 278th Squadron was formed, there were only 4 SM79s in the squadron and very few pilots.  The aircrafts and the pilots and crew were worked to exhaustion and the squadron began to be known as “The Same 4 Cats” – which in Italian is a saying indicating that there are too few people to do a job.  The official squadron logo even shows 4 cats riding a torpedo.  The 278th was very effective in sinking allied shipping even though supply issues meant that the crew chiefs couldn’t always be sure of getting the parts they needed to keep the planes in top notch shape.

Now thanks to designer Marco Compari and Jack W. Greene’s Quarterdeck International, you can try your hand at flying the Damned Hunchback and join up with the 278th Squadron to see how you do in a campaign in the Mediterranean with  “278th Squadron – The Same 4 Cats”!  This solo game is not on the level of complexity of something like “Target for Today” but it does provide a strong narrative solo experience and is easy to learn and quick to play.

The game is packed in a zip lock bag and is so compact that it makes the perfect game to take on a trip or for those with limited space.

The game includes:

one 6 page full color rule book

1 damage card

2 experience cards

13 mission cards

9 resolution cards

14 ship target cards

20 event cards

4 decoration and awards cards

one 11 inch by 8 ¼ inch game board

Please note that the rules reference an 11” x 17” game board but this was changed late in the production phase to the 11 “ x 8 ¼” board.  Also two replacement cards are included to cure incorrect information on two original cards.

The components are very high quality especially for a game in this price range.  The cards have a sturdy, tactile feel to them which makes for a pleasurable gaming experience.  The rule booklet is easy to read, well organized and includes an extensive example of play.  Larry Hoffman expertly delivered great artwork and game layout.  The compact nature of the game makes it perfect to take on trips.  You can literally play it on the passenger tray on a commercial airline.

One entire ten mission campaign game can be played in an hour to an hour and a half.  During this campaign, you track your crew’s accomplishments and have the potential to be awarded medals depending on performance.

There are no dice rolls in this game as the cards control the narrative making for a unique solo gaming experience.  The randomness of events or attack results are all based upon the Resolution Cards as will be explained below.

First you set out the game board.  Using this board you’ll track your missions, accomplishments, aircraft damage and special events.  All the charts you need are conveniently laid out on the game board as well as in the rule book.

First you set out the Crew Experience and Damage Cards to their zero edge and put them as trackers on the top right of the game board.

Then your shuffle your different decks of cards you’ll be using and create your Event Deck to one each of the Sun Card, Clouds Card, Waves Card, two Fly Cards and two AA Cards.

Then you draw a Mission Card.  This will tell you were the mission takes place i.e. the Mediterranean or North Africa, etc., what Event Cards to add to your Event Deck such as extra Wave Cards, AA Cards, Enemy Fighter Cards, etc. and what mix of ships are possible targets.

You then draw one or more Ship Cards.  You pick one ship as your target and the statistics on that Ship Card tell you want other Events to add to the Event Deck, for example, a battleship may have up to three AA (Anti-Aircraft Gun) cards or a carrier may have extra Fighter Plane Cards to put in the Event Deck.

You shuffle your Event Deck.

You then start your attack run by drawing an Event Card and placing it on the game board.  That Event Card may be an immediate attack from AA or a fighter plane (if it is you resolve the attack by following the instructions on the charts as to how many hit or miss Resolution Cards you put in your Resolution Deck.  Then you draw a Resolution Card to see if the attack was a hit or miss.  If it was a hit, rotate your Damage Card to the next highest damage level and note any effects on your aircraft.)

If you get a Sun Card, Clouds or Waves these will either have an effect on the enemy’s attacks against you or make it harder for you to hit with your single torpedo.

If you get a Fly Card, you just keep closing with the target ship.

If you have survived, you then decide whether to get closer before you launch your torpedo or whether you launch it from the range you are currently at (if applicable).  The range to target can affect your chances to hit the enemy ship.

If you decide to get closer to the target ship, you start by drawing another Event Card and following the steps outlined above for that Event Card.

When you decide to attack, you cross reference the range you are at to the target with the chart showing the mix of hit or miss Resolution Cards.  Then you draw a Resolution Card and note if the torpedo was a hit or a miss.

Then as you leave the target area, you draw one more Event  Card.

When you get back to base, you increase your Crew Experience and note any effects on your future performance and then you see if your crew qualifies for a decoration.

If your plane needs to be repaired, you cross reference the repair chart with the mission number you are on (as the war progresses, Italian supply lines are being degraded by Allied attacks) and then you draw a Resolution Card.  If you get a hit, your crew chief has parts to repair one damage point off your plane. If you get a miss, he’s waiting on parts.  The precarious supply lines add a whole new level of non-combat tension to your game.  Do you wait out the next mission in the hopes of getting parts to make much needed repairs or do you fly the mission anyway knowing that your aircrafts performance is suffering and you may just get shot down?

I was very impressed by the amount of playability and replayability that the designer packed in to 6 pages of rules.  I would love to see an advanced set of rules which add more detail to this game.

My only complaint is that the Hit or Miss nature of the torpedo attacks takes away somewhat from the immersive narrative that this game delivers.  I really wanted to know if I sunk the ship or just damaged it.  For my own satisfaction, I house ruled a “Hit Result Chart” which relies on a 6 sided die roll. (Being a game designer myself I can’t resist adding tweaks to the games I play – I hope you don’t mind Marco.)  Here is my chart:

ROLL RESULT

1          No visible torpedo damage – it may have been a dud or near miss

2          Some smoke and flame visible

3 to 4   Explosions witnessed – ship is listing and will probably sink if not repaired.

5          Ship is sinking and burning

6          Ship explodes

I can’t say enough good about “278th Squadron – The Same 4 Cats”!  It makes for a unique and fun solo gaming experience!

Armchair General Rating:  96% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

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 video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

rule booklet
squadron logo
components
mission card
sinking the Fearless
game board and cards
decoration experience and damage tracker
aircraft carrier sighted
a battleship’s AA fire misses my plane
a successful campaign of 10 missions

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