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Posted on Dec 4, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Reaping the whirlwind – Fortress Games’ 8th Air Force  Board Game  Review

Reaping the whirlwind – Fortress Games’ 8th Air Force Board Game Review

Rick Martin

8th AIR FORCE  Board Game Review.  Publisher: Fortress Games  Designer:  Bob Phaneuf  Price $65.00

Passed Inspection:    easy to read map and counters, engaging game play, strong solo play, easy to learn, very challenging, many ways to win and lose

Failed Basic:      a little rule confusion as to Luftwaffe set up, would like to see an optional rule for historically accurate Luftwaffe squadron set up, I didn’t understand the use of Squadron counters.

“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind. “

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Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris.

“Offense is the essence of air power.”

General H. H. ‘Hap’ Arnold, USAAF

Box Cover

8th Air Force’s designer, Bob Phaneuf, himself, sent Armchair General a prototype copy of this fine game to review.  The published version of the game should be coming out in the next few weeks so I may add some pictures later of the final components.

8th Air Force is a solo game of the strategic bombing campaign conducted by the 8th Air Force to win control of the skies above the Reich.

The game description from the designer is perfect so rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll reproduce it here.

In 1943, the US Army Air Force (USAAF) began a strategic bombing campaign with a small but growing number of aircraft. By 1945 it had, for all practical purposes, swept the German air force (Luftwaffe) from the skies, and was bombing targets throughout the shrinking Third Reich almost with impunity. But getting to that point was no easy task…

You, as commander, 8th Air Force, have a very full plate! Early on, insure victory in the Battle of the Atlantic by bombing submarine bases in western France, then support the eventual Allied invasion of occupied France by bombing railroads and river crossings throughout France and western Germany. Failure in these critical bombing campaigns is not acceptable. Long-term, you’ll need to pulverize Germany’s aircraft factories and oil facilities to reduce the Luftwaffe’s aircraft production and support, and win the war by blasting Germany’s heavy industry. There will be more challenges along the way, from providing heavy support for the D-Day invasion and Normandy breakout, to suppressing the demoralizing V1 and V2 attacks on England, to assisting your Soviet ally by attacking German army staging areas in the east. In the meantime, the Luftwaffe is developing advanced jet and rocket technology that may tip the tide of the air war if you have not crippled their industrial capacity.

The game components include:

281   5/8” glossy counters

13 page rule book

28” x 22” game board

2 Player’s Aids

2 Dice (one red and one green)

Map

Each counter represents one bomb group or fighter group and each group is identified on the counter.  Each group is rated for its air combat factor, aircraft type (B17, B24, B26, P51, etc.) and what its range is.  Heavy bombers can fly deep in to Germany while medium bombers can’t penetrate as deeply.  Fighters are listed for the range band they can escort the bombers to before turning back to base.  When the P51s come in to play, watch out Luftwaffe!

The rule booklet is organized in to a “play as you read” approach which gets you right in to the game.  Overall it is very well written with plenty of examples although I did find the “Squadron Counters” use to be somewhat confusing as are the Luftwaffe set-up rules.  Apparently in my review game, I set the defending Luftwaffe counters up wrong and they were just supposed to be defending all of the selected initial tracks on the map.  I set them up per sector.  I actually prefer my method because it felt less abstract.  I would also have liked to see an optional rule for historical set ups of Luftwaffe groups.  It would take longer to set up but would please hardcore grognards.

The map is a beautiful beast to behold and I can’t wait to see the final production version.  It represents France, Belgium and Germany laid out horizontally.  There is a staging area on the bottom of the map broken in to track numbers.  This is where you note your target for a given raid and assign your bombers and escorts.  Next are the coastal areas, then the interior areas and finally the deep (as in deep in to Germany) areas.  Primary targets are printed on the map as are their anti-aircraft defenses and visual representations of the target (industry, oil refinery and production, air craft factories, V1/V2 launch sites for missions later in the war, etc.).  You place counters for the targets on their appropriate locations and when you attack the targets, you move the target counters down to the staging area for any easy way of showing what’s going to be the primary target of the mission in that particular numbered track.

Also on the map are victory point trackers which you put counters on and slide these counters as you then add or subtract victory points based upon the following criteria.  The Allies subtract victory points from the track when they successfully bomb targets and disrupt production facilities in Berlin.  The Germans add victory points when they keep production facilities open, rebuild them or take out bomber and fighter groups.  So, in this game, a low victory point total is what you are looking for to win.  If the Germans get over 130 victory points then you are fired from your position as commander of the 8th Air Force.  If you can bring the German victory points down to zero, you have soundly defeated them.

Defending the Reich

A players’ aid card helps track the turns (each turn is one month starting in 1943 and going to April of 1945) as well as how successful special bombing campaigns against targets such as sub pens, railroads and bridges.  Special missions are also tracked based upon the month and year you are in.  These special missions include V1/V2 terror weapon attacks, Allied breakout support after D Day, and groups assigned to help the Soviets as they push in from the East.

During each turn, you are instructed as to what American units become available or what German fighter training squadrons become proficient in Me262 jets or Me163 Comets later in the war.

A second player’s aid card has the combat results tables, Luftwaffe Group Scramble tables, Luftwaffe new fighter unit placement and RAF night bombing tables.

The turn sequence is as follows:

  1. Luftwaffe assigns extra anti-aircraft guns to a sector and reinforces fighter groups  
  2. USAAF adds groups based upon the date and refits and manages existing groups
  3. Plan bombing campaigns
  4. RAF night bombing campaign results for the month
  5. Execute bombing campaign missions (escort fighter group interceptions, Luftwaffe attacks on bomber groups, AA fire and then if anyone survives, the bomb run and bombing results)
  6. Score campaign and over all victory points
  7. German retreat phase (date specific) and convert squadrons to Me262 and add Me163 experimental squadrons (all are date specific)
  8. Luftwaffe refit and addition of new manufactured fighters to fighter groups
  9. German bomb damage repair phase

Since the game’s artificial intelligence is reacting to the bombing campaigns, the AI rules are not as detailed as you might find in other solo games but, that being said, the AI is both challenging and engaging.  Rules and tables control the placement of squadrons as well as the placement of reinforced anti-aircraft capabilities.  Tables provide the chance for German industrial capacity to repair bomb damage and put units back on line.  Once you play through a few turns, the turn sequence really becomes second nature and lets you focus on trying to beat the Reich.

targets and Luftwaffe groups

If your bombers penetrate the interceptors and survive the flak, you’ll bomb the target by pulling bomb chits out of a cup.  The number on the chit has to be rolled by the Germans later in the game to attempt to repair the bomb damage.  Try as I might, I couldn’t keep the sub pens in Brest and St. Nazaire off line for longer than two or three months at a time which seems to accurately reflect what happened historically.

Attacking Sub Pens in Brest

You will find yourself constantly balancing different priorities in this game.  Number one, you must be aggressively attacking the specific mission target tracks so as to not lose the game by, for example, letting the U-boats remain unchallenged by not attacking the sub pens;  trying to do enough strategic damage to the Reich’s infrastructure to keep the Reich from accruing too many victory points which means you’d lose the air war; trying to not lose too many bombers and bomb crews to avoid being removed from your position in the USAAF  as Commander of the 8th Air Force (as I was for too aggressively striking German aircraft factories to disrupt the production and delivery of new fighters to the fighter schools and fighter groups early in the game).  There are lots of ways to win and many ways to lose this fascinating game.

Attacking Hamburg

As the months go by, you’ll get access to new technology such as the P51 Mustangs which can escort your bombers deep in to German territory or more medium bombers for harassing the coast and freeing up your heavy bombers for deep strikes.  But the advance in technology also helps the Germans who get access to jet and rocket fighter technology and get access to more high altitude interceptors such as the Focke-Wulf Ta 152.  The Germans also start activating their V1 and V2 long range missile systems which will then need to be taken out.

There is a lot of beautiful complexity hidden under the hood of this game and there is tons of replay-ability as you go back to try new strategies in order to win the air war.  Bob Phaneuf has written very helpful designer’s notes which I really should have reviewed before I played and lost my first game.

Target All Sub Pens

This game really has it all if you are interested in the strategic air war over the Reich.  It is a well thought out and executed board game.  Fortress Games is also releasing a version of this game to cover the Pacific Theater’s bombing campaign.  I hope to review that as well in the coming months.

Armchair General Rating:  93% (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 and wrote the solo rules for Forsage Games’ Age of Dogfights.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

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