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Posted on Oct 8, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“Speed is life, altitude is life insurance” New Wing Leader Board Games Review

“Speed is life, altitude is life insurance” New Wing Leader Board Games Review

By Rick Martin

Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 and Wing Leader: Blitz 1939 to 1942 Board Game Review.  Publisher GMT  Designer: Lee Brimmicombe-Wood  Price $79.00 For Supremacy and $36 for Blitz

 

Rick Martin

Passed Inspection:   interesting and unique perspectives on World War 2 air combat, beautiful components and artwork, tons of replay value, complete index

 

Failed Basic:   needs a complete random combat generation system

 

As many of you loyal readers have picked up, I love aviation games.  I am a diehard addict . . . er . . . player of Wings of Glory, Target for Today, Hornet Leader, Night Fighter, Ace of Aces and many other air combat games.  From easy to play games such as Wings of Glory to intermediate games such as Check Your Six and to the very complex Squad Leaders of air combat games – Over the Reich, Achtung Spitfire and Whistling Death, I love playing these things!  I guess I was a pilot in a past life!

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Back in 2015, I reviewed Wing Leader: Victories 1940 to 1942.  While the game earned a very respectable 91%, I didn’t find it as compelling as other World War 2 aviation games namely because I found the lack of an index contributed to unneeded page flipping and I had trouble getting emotionally invested in the pilots as I could in games which focused on individual aircrafts such as Wings of Glory or Fighting Wings.  Since then the game has grown on me and I do enjoy playing it more than I did.

 

Fast forward to 2018, two new Wing Leader games are out in the market place and designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood has struck aviation gold!  Wing Leader: Supremacy and Wing Leader: Blitz are fantastic and have fixed the few issues I had with the previous release.

 

Wing Leader: Supremacy covers the World War 2 air war from 1943 to 1945 and adds 48 more mid and late war aircrafts including the Me163 Rocket Fighter and the Me262 jet!  The scope of combatants added is very impressive. There are airplanes from Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Romania, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

 

Wing Leader: Blitz covers from 1939 to 1942 and adds 16 new planes including French, Russian and more Japanese aircrafts, 10 new scenarios and a Russian campaign system.  Wing Leader:Blitz is an expansion and is not a complete game; you must have either the original Wing Leader or Wing Leader: Supremacy to play it.

 

Wing Leader: Supremacy contains so many high quality components that the box alone could be dropped from a bomber and take out a target!  The game includes:

 

  • Two Wing Displays
  • 48 Aircraft Data Cards
  • Four Counter sheets
  • Mounted Map Board
  • Rules & Scenario Book
  • One Battle Display
  • Three Player Aid Cards
  • Two six-sided dice

 

To put the concept of the Wing Leader games simply, the rules focus on a side view of aircraft combat with different levels of altitude (from 0 to 19) displayed on the game board.  Level 0 is the ground and each band of altitude represents approximately 1640 feet or 499 meters.  Each aircraft type has a double sided data card with the stats of the plane on one side plus a history of the aircraft type on the other side.  Each aircraft type also has a double sided counter showing the side view of the plane and whether the airplane represents a squadron or a flight.  A squadron is from 7 to 12 airplanes while a flight represents from 2 to 6 planes.  A counter may also represents a single aircraft.  One side of the airplane counter shows the planes facing right and the other shows them facing left.

 

Counters are also included for different levels of clouds and haze, ground targets such as tanks and trucks, ships, hit markers and straggler markers showing aircraft casualties, flak, defensive maneuvers, dogfights, climbs and dives, whether the squadron is led by veteran or green leaders, etc.

 

Each aircraft is rated for performance at different altitude levels, whether it can carry bombs or rockets and how that affects the aircraft in terms of altitude performance, its firepower, defensive ratings and protection such as self sealing fuel tanks, type of gun sight and bomb sights and the planes years of use and victory point worth.  Scenarios can be created and balanced by the victory point worth of the planes involved.

 

Unfortunately no random scenario generator is included but it is easy enough to generate a random scenario on the fly. (he he he … see what I did there?)

 

The rules are expertly laid out and written and contain plenty of examples and a complete index.  The rules are written in a programmed manner so that the basic game can be played after reading the first 30 pages and then intermediate and advanced rules follow.  A scenario book is also included and it even contains solo scenarios.

 

The game features a unique system in which bombers and unalerted fighters move up to  2 squares and alerted fighters may move up to 3 squares.  Jets may move up to 4 squares.  Aircrafts lose at least 1 square of movement when they climb (based upon their Climb Value on their data card) and gain 1 when they dive.  The ratings for Speed and Turning come in when aircrafts are in the same square and are engaged in combat.  The main thrust, so to speak, of the game system is how the aircrafts use altitude to gain the advantage in combat and how well the squadrons and flights perform in regards to their situational awareness aka spotting the opposing aircrafts or targets.

 

The turn sequence is as follows:

Set-up Phase. (Not played on the first turn.) Set up squadrons that enter play this turn in their set-up square or on the map-edge next to the square they enter. Place a vector marker for each intercept squadron entering play

Tally Phase. The raider player does the following in any order: squadrons attempt to tally enemies (squadrons with tallies must drop their tally before rolling a new one); unalert squadrons become alerted if warned by radio; Wing Leaders issue orders; fighter-bombers that tally must jettison their bombs. After the raider player has completed all tallying, alerting and or­ders, it’s the defender player’s turn to tally, alert and issue orders.

Movement Phase. Squadrons move; jettison bomb loads and drop tanks during movement. Escorts react to ene­mies moving into the same squares as bombers. Resolve barrage fire attacks

Combat Phase. Resolve direct fire flak. Resolve bombing attacks, then remove bomb load markers from targets. Re­solve air combats in an order determined by the raider player. Jettison bomb loads and drop tanks following combat.

Administration Phase. Squadrons roll to escape; the raider player rolls first, then the defender player.

Place Escort markers on eligible squadrons. Change vectors for squadrons under GCI (Ground Controlled Interception) control. Change escorts to sweep

Place flak barrage markers.

End Turn. The turn ends; move the Turn marker up one altitude level. Proceed to the Set-up Phase of a new turn.

 

Now if it looks like there is a lot going on there is but the beauty of this game design is that once you get the basics under your belt, the rest just flows almost organically.  This game is best when you have lots of aircrafts and the beauty of this game is that you can have 40 or 50 planes in a battle without tons of record keeping.  The handy squadron sheets (called Wing Displays) have places to track the number of destroyed or damaged planes for each squadron as well as a place to track ammunition expenditures, pilot and crew quality, weapons add-ons, etc.  Every counter has a purpose and these status counters just get placed in the space for each squadron or flight. No muss and no fuss.

 

Air to air combat is elegantly handled.  When two opposing squadrons are in the same square, combat usually occurs.  This is where the aircrafts ratings in firepower, turning, speed and such come in to play and while combat is abstracted more than usual in an air combat game, the result of the combat on the large number of the aircrafts in the formations can help you gauge the qualitative comparison of the opposing forces.  It more or less gives you a macro view of the performance characteristics between, let’s say, an Me109F and a P51.

 

In addition, rules are included for attacking out of the sun and different levels of clouds and inclement weather.  These are factors that many games simply ignore.

 

To battle with basic machine guns and cannons, the attacker declares whether he or she will be conducting a turning dogfight or a hit and run attack.  For a dogfight, the attacker uses his squadron’s Turn rating for a modifier. For a hit and run attack, the attacker uses his Speed rating.  Plus there are modifications for the type of gun sight on the attacker’s planes, whether the attack was made from a head on aspect, and other factors.  The attacker subtracts the defender’s number from the attacker’s numbers and this creates a differential result which ranges from + 4 to – 4.  A die is rolled and the results cross referenced on a Combat Table under the appropriate differential column.  Results range from complete misses to damaging planes (which create “stragglers”) to shooting down one or aircrafts from the squadron.

 

After figuring damage, put either straggler or damage markers on the squadron sheet.  When a squadron’s downed planes exceed the number of planes in the squadron, the squadron is removed from combat.

 

As stated above, this system works very well for large numbers of aircrafts but doesn’t really give you the feel for one on one aircraft combat – but that is not Wing Leader’s focus.

 

For real fun, try taking squadrons of Me109s against huge formations of B17s or B24s.  You can really feel the action!

 

Wing Leader: Supremacy uses a 2nd edition rules set.  What are some of the rules that have changed between Wing Leader: Victory and Supremacy?  Most of the main rules remain but have been tweaked through years of playing.  The great thing is that the designer has sidebars which explains the rational for a rule change so for those who know the original rules well, you can easily see what has been updated.  Some examples of rule changes are:

Lufbery maneuvers now offer less positive defensive modifiers so they are more realistic in their affect but they can still save your butt!

Some heavy weapons and rockets rules have been changed.

United States heavy bomber formations rules have been streamlined.

Jet and Rocket Aircrafts (such as the Me163) rules have been rewritten and are now more realistically simulated.

A complete index and cross references make any rule easy to find.

Also the map is now mounted on heavy card stock instead of the paper map found in the previous edition.

 

And these are just a few of the changes.  The game play is fantastic not that the original was broken to begin with, it was very good too.

 

 

Wing Leader: Blitz includes a campaign game called “Drive on Kiev – Operation Barbarossa June to July 1941”.  The campaign game demonstrates the asymmetrical aspects of constant combat which the German and Russian air forces had to endure.  As your squadrons are constantly forced to participate in action after action, the campaign reflects the stress on men and materials, dodgy supply lines and the seemingly unlimited manpower of the Soviet Union.

 

The campaign map shows possible targets, the location of the shifting front lines,  the number of squadrons each side gets to purchase at the start of the campaign and then modified amounts based upon losses in battle and the length of the supply lines.  Each side also has a specific number of elite and green pilots who must be assigned.  This amount also changes based upon attrition and success in battle.

 

Each turn of the campaign appears to be equal to a week or so.  For each turn of the campaign, players assign their squadrons to offensive and defensive flights.  If flying offensive flights, targets are picked.  In addition, each player sets defensive chits face down near targets they wish to protect.  When an airstrike occurs, if a chit is on the target, that chit is flipped over to reveal how the enemy will react – from flights of fighters protecting the target to deadly ambushes used to draw the enemy bombers and rip them to shreds; these chits are a nice way to add the fog of war in to the game.  I found this chit system adds to the ability to play the campaign as a solo game.  Just shuffle the counters for the side you’re not playing and put those on the map face down.  Now you don’t know what the other side is doing and how they will react until it happens.

 

Tables are provided to see if the fighters meet up with their assigned bombers for escort missions – they can miss the formation entirely which happened to a formation of Russian bombers in one of my games (resulting in the  loss of 14 Russian SBs and DB3s out of 27 bombers to my squadrons of Me109s and Me110s), show up late or show up timely.

 

There are also tables which provide for random flak level determinations and an abstract table which gives you bombing results if you don’t want to use the detailed bombing rules from Supremacy.

 

If there is anything frustrating about Wing Leader, it is lack of a random scenario generator but in speaking with Lee Brimmicombe-Wood about this, he stated that he found random scenario generators to be problematic and would rather present well designed and balanced scenarios in his games.

 

Wing Leader: Supremacy and the Wing Leader: Blitz expansion make for some great gaming experiences and provide a very unique view of mass air combat during the Second World War.  This system is a must have for air war enthusiasts.

 

Armchair General Rating:  96 % (1% to 100%)

Solitaire Rating: 5 for solo scenarios, 4 for all others (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)!

3 Comments

  1. I’m not fond of scenario creation systems. Having tried several, they tend to generate balanced matchups based on a comparison of force strengths, rather than take in the totality of position, terrain and starting deployment. As a consequence, they rarely deliver satisfactory games.

    Wing Leader scenarios focus on the interaction between a bombing raid and interceptors and are inherently asymmetric. One of the things I’ve learned, from the many dozens of scenarios I’ve created, is that scenarios are susceptible to great variation, even from minor changes to the order of battle and deployment. It’s a game where altering the set-up by just one square can make a huge difference to play. Scenario generators are a clumsy tool compared to well-crafted and tested scenario content.

    If anyone wants to create a scenario generator, they are welcome to try. However, I will continue to focus on building a critical mass of great scenario content. Currently you can pick from 95 scenarios, and when GMT publishes Wing Leader: Eagles, the second expansion, that total will hit 117, plus two complete campaigns and a mini-campaign.

  2. To the review author (Richard):

    Isn’t Blitz only compatible with Wing Leader: Victories? I believe you need some of those Victories planes for the Blitz scenarios, while Wing Leader: Supremacy has late war planes instead…

    The upcoming Eagles is then an expansion for Supremacy (late war).

    • Good point. You do need some of the planes from Victories with Blitz but it can either use the Supremacy or the Victories rule set (rules versions 1 or 2).

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