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Subject: Nothing Light About this Bomber - A Heads Up Review of a Promising Game rss

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Adam Parker
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Whether by day or night, the most efficient way of discouraging any attacking force is to destroy a significant portion of it and make the damage it causes, or the ground it takes, not worth the expenditure of men and material (sic). Against air bombardment this means shooting aircraft out of the sky or damaging them in sufficient numbers… The RAF turned to night bombing in the hope that underneath the cloak of darkness they would be able to penetrate German airspace relatively unmolested. They did achieve a measure of success but, perversely, the darkness which hid them from the enemy also hid the target.

- Operation Gomorrah: The Hamburg Firestorm Raids, Gordon Musgrove, 1981, p14.



Welcome to the world of Bomber Command 1943-45, the latest in a collection of air war titles created by designer Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, and published by GMT Games.

What it's cousin Nightfighter (NF) did for the RAF night bombing war at the tactical level of individual planes and sorties, Bomber Command (BC) portrays at the grand-tactical level of individual raids. What's more, is that both games will eventually tie in to one another by way of a future issue of GMT's C3i Magazine; players will be able to plot and fly raids to target in BC and see their combat fought out on the "battle maps" of NF. An interesting idea, in fact.

Basically, I'm truly excited by the promise of what BC plans to offer, however, it's not exactly action that I had been gearing myself up for. It pays - to pay attention - these days.

My receipt of BC has been a personal surprise in a number of ways. Let's talk components and theory for a little bit, and try to see what this all means.


A Heavy Box

My first surprise related to the weight of the box as I hefted it out of its delivery container. I knew that the maps inside were not mounted, but I had no idea what else could be supplying its mass.

The first thing I noticed before lifting the lid was some engaging box art; a preview of which I'd already seen in the game's various forums.

What surprised me here though, was the unexpected darkness of that box painting.

Depending on your eyes you really need to strain to make its Lancaster out from the background night sky. This didn't match the more vivid detail shown by game's preview graphic.

Obviously, a printing issue had occurred here. And I had a gut feel that there'd be more on this to come.

Well, I soon worked out what the bulk was all about. After you pass through 2 decks of playing cards, 2 large die (not the eerie coloring of those supplied with NF – a British red and a German grey this time), a roll of plastic baggies, a note from Josh the packer, a 28-page full color rule book, a 12-page full color Play Book, 2 GMT-regulation sized un-mounted maps, 2 unremarkable sheets of sturdy playing counters, and 6 card charts – the culprit revealed itself: a thick glue-edged, double-sided pad of Bomber Command Planning Sheets!

And I must say kudos on this last item, for so many games today provide just a flimsy, single, log sheet with the invitation to "please photocopy". Well, given this black and white baby, of a nice paper stock, it'd be hard to run out of record sheets for quite some time.


A Chat About the Charts

They're tan colored, grunge inspired, and excellently sturdy creations, with a satisfying semi-gloss feel.

Four of these charts will form the playing surfaces when conducting a scenario's bombing raids. Labeled "City Map" A through D, they generically depict, hand-drawn, top-down views of urban-industrial scenes, broken by a grid of hexes.

Most importanly, these charts are pleasingly rugged in feel, and will not need laminating in order to play. Their light coloring will ensure longevity too.


And the Counters

Like I mentioned, there's nothing to ogle about here. One counter sheet supplies the game's markers and play aid chits. Most of them are white so will trim up cleanly. The second, that with some more color (and with oversized chits) furnishes the game's maneuver pieces on one half - and target chits on the other. That's right; in BC you will not be moving stacks of units over your maps.

Now keep this in mind. Two scenarios come with the game:

1. Berlin – Autumn 1943 to Spring 1944, the Battle of Hamburg to the Battle of Berlin.

2. Downfall – Autumn 1944 to Spring 1945, the period of the Reich's "collapse".

Accordingly, though you'll find just 8 purple Raid counters for the British side, the remainder of the unit "half-sheet" comprises yellow night-fighters for use by the Germans in the Berlin scenario, and red night-fighters for use in the Downfall scenario.

Both counter-sheets are of a standard GMT quality and thickness. No die cutting or printing issues could be found out of the box.


But I Really Want to Talk About the Maps

I suppose as an artist, if you want to depict night, especially from the sky looking down, you kind of don't want your maps to be 1970's cream, or for that matter a grass-green, or an earth brown.

In NF, I voiced some criticism about the mood-inducing decision to print its 17 x 22 inch and 11 x 17 inch paper maps on a field of purple-mottled black, because, though small as they were, each time you unfolded and folded them back up, their dark colored creasings would begin to wear away to white.

I was therefore, so hoping that this feedback would hit home this time, but alas, though BC provides two larger, 22 x 34 inch paper maps (one for each scenario), what color has been chosen this time?

Deep, dark, black.

WARNING: Once you unfold your maps, you will not want to fold them back up again.

Pristine, out of the box, mine each already showed really noticeable whitening along the entire left crease, the two central fold points and along the right crease too, though to a lesser extent. I can only imagine what would have happened had GMT gone ahead with its original plan to back-print a single map.

I thought about touching both up with a black felt tip pen (note: avoid at all costs the Sharpie if you do – otherwise, you'll end up with a maroon-blue shine where you won't want one), but after a timid try, I gave up. I just blotted out the major white spots I could see.

My solution right now? I've got my maps hanging in A1 clear acrylic poster pockets on a wall. There they will stay before and after each play. I found these pockets when looking for something to pair up the maps of Fighting Formations last year on my gaming table. They form a fantastically rugged playing surface. But the trick to using them is hanging them up when not in play. Storing them rolled up or flat against a wall (my idea a year ago) didn't work too well. Hey, if you've got one of those large chests of drawers used to store blueprints, architectural drawings, or treasure maps – that'll work fine too. And more the luck to you!

That said, there is something else that doesn't bode too well about the maps.

Remember my observation about the unexpectedly dark box art? Well, it has unfortunately carried through to the maps too.

Though each map is meant to show a coast line of Western Europe and an off-black landscape underneath, something has gone wrong in the CMYK conversion or color registration processes, because without staring, and indirect light, all I can see at a glance is a 22 x 34 inch expanse of blackness, superimposed with a very colorful hex grid and iconography.

The effect here is two-fold:

1. Yes, you can suspend your disbelief and feel like you're flying into the deep dark with danger beckoning at every on-map icon.

2. Yet, you'll also know that you are meant to be seeing something else there.

Nonetheless, in a future print, this coloring can be addressed. And to avoid wear and tear on a black map, why not mount it as done recently with GMT's Space Empires? Its linen-feel maps of blackness are holding up fine for me. Yes, Space Empires sold oodles of boxes, but we're talking a decision to use black maps in both. Maybe another color would have worked after all, if paper mapping had to be the mandatory choice for BC?


A Word on Game Play


At twenty-four minutes to eight in the evening of 23 August 1943, a Lancaster bomber took off from an airfield near Lincoln. A further 718 aircraft followed from their airfields, carrying 1,800 tons of bombs. Their target was Berlin.

- The Berlin Raids: The Bomber Battle Winter 1943-1944, Martin Middlebrook, 2010, p1.



This is the type of action I was expecting to see with Bomber Command unfurled, and whilst I have not yet had a chance to take the game for a spin, there are a couple of things worth mentioning with the prospective gamer in mind.

Whilst BC talks about two scenarios covering an enormous span of time, each play session in fact, only games out a single bombing raid.

I don't know where I developed the impression that I'd be running a series of raids over months of gameplay within a single scenario's sitting – and on this expectation I alone – must take the blame.

I likely put this down to familiarity with two other titles covering the strategic bombing war – both on the PC: Twelve o'clock High Bombing the Reich by Talonsoft/Matrix Games, and Defending the Reich by HPS Simulations.

The latter specifically, covers the RAF night bombing war, and in it players run months if not years of simulation developing bomber forces, managing flight crew readiness, selecting multiple raids for each week, plotting them out, and then watching them unfold against the Luftwaffe's reaction. The game could also be played as the Germans versus an Allied AI. However, the fun for me was always in running the Allied air war.

In this way, you could see damage accumulate in cities and industrial targets. It was a hard game to win, but you could easily monitor your progress as cities turned from green to red with percentages of damage generally known.

Step back now to BC – and the rules specify that in the Berlin scenario, the Allied Player gets to run one Main Force raid, whilst in the Downfall Scenario, two (in addition to these, three to five Mosquito raids can respectively fly, and in the Downfall scenario, a single Decoy raid).

In other words, whilst you may be running the bombing war as it unfolds on a nightly basis, just remember that in BC:

1 scenario = 1 night.

With that down pat, there's quite a bit inside the BC engine, to then enjoy.


Some Game Play Elements to Look Forward To


23/24 August 1943: Berlin – 23 Halifaxes, 17 Lancasters, 16 Stirlings – were lost, 7.9% of the heavy bomber force. This was Bomber Command's greatest loss of aircraft in one night so far in the war…

The raid was only partially successful. The pathfinders were not able to identify the centre of Berlin by H2S and marked an area in the southern outskirts of the city…

Casualties in Berlin were heavy considering the relatively inaccurate bombing. 854 people were killed: 684 civilians, 60 service personnel, 6 air-raid workers, 102 foreign workers (89 of them women), and 2 prisoners of war. 83 more civilians were classified as missing. The city officials who compiled the reports found out that this high death rate was caused by an unusually high proportion of the dead not having taken shelter as ordered… when Doktor Goebbels, who as well as being Minister of Propaganda was also Berlin's Gauleiter, received the report of the number of people killed outside their shelters, Goebbels "nearly went nuts".

- The Bomber Command War Diaries an Operational Reference Book 1939-1945, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt, 2011, p425.



BC squares itself around a number of deliberate design paradigms. The most important of which being, that without the greatest of effort, it is offered as a two-player game.

In a nutshell, and I apologise for any over-simplifications here:

- The Allied player selects a target chit for each Main Force raid for the scenario, and keeps its information hidden.

- The Allied Player then secretly plots access and ingress routes for each raid. Remember that there are Mosquito raids here too. These can act as escorts and break off to target cities of their own (that do not have to be preselected as with a Main Raid, but do need to be secretly pre-plotted nonetheless). The Decoy raid exists only in Downfall.

- Raids are moved secretly on the plotting map, 2 hexes per turn. Various technologies come into play to generate detections, as do the card decks, with both sides selecting from a starting hand of 8 (each player has a deck of 55 cards, with some only applicable to one scenario), with which to influence a myriad of happenings as the sides come to clash.

- Anti-air and air-air combat inflicts cumulative "Depletion" on the bombing force that impacts bombing performance over the target. "Losses" on the other hand, generate victory points for either side.

- Which brings up the point: that as opposed to the historical narrative above, players aren't concerned with the numbers and types of bombers and fighters in the air. Yes, losses are measured one by one, but the exact combat forces themselves are not at issue – which I suppose is where NF will come in, once the two games are joined up. But a 700-plane raid gamed out in NF? This was a huge surprise for me. How many Lancs do I have up there tonight? It doesn't matter in BC.

- Once over target an interesting and interactive sub-system of combat and bombing resolution takes over. BC makes no bones about the fact that inflicting civilian casualties is a legitimate, and in game terms – valuable tactic in gathering victory points for the Allied Side – particularly in the Berlin scenario. Those who buy this game should have no qualms about the epoch of history that they are attempting to portray.


Which Brings This Sortie to a Close

With the dark maps of BC hanging on the wall to admire, and a very manageable looking set of rules beckoning for a close read through after my initial scans, I really am excited to give BC a try.

The deep map and drab counters are fully functional as is – it's just a shame that the topography doesn't jump out as much as it should, against a playing surface of garishly delineated, oversized (I mean gloriously huge) hexes on which to play.

Otherwise, the components of this game are first notch out of the box.

However, how will I play this solitaire – which is how I aim to give it a whirl? How much variety will a single raid per outing supply? Will there be a role-playing element or a sense of force husbandry that the operational PC games on the subject, of the past, have furnished with ease? Can raids be strung together to provide a sense of historical narrative? And what will it mean if my Main Force loses 10 planes tonight? What am I actually flying with to start?

The night bombing campaign ran a relentless path across Europe for more than half the war. Progress was measured in terms of Bomb Damage Assessment percentages, and those of force attrition.

Bomber Command – the GMT game, offers this war now at the individual raid level as opposed to the plane-on-plane action of Nightfighter, its predecessor.

Yet, Bomber Command does so with a wide degree of abstraction, though by the same token, a high serving of player interaction.

And this may be its intent, in focusing gamers away from the fact that they'll never know the squadrons at their command or the crews directing them.

The night bombing campaign was a time combining the mundane with the furious. The days when only a handful of Mosquitos would fly, to the massed incendiary raids of 1943.

As one of the almost nonchalant entries in its annals describes:


23/24 September 1944: Dortmund-EMS Canal - 136 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes of 5 Group to bomb the banks of the 2 parallel branches of the canal at a point near Ladbergen, north of the Munster, where the level of the canal water was well above the level of the surrounding land… breaches were made in the banks of both branches… 14 Lancasters – more than 10 per cent of the Lancaster force – were lost.

- The Bomber Command War Diaries, p588.



Fourteen crews.

Wishing you many a moonless night,
Adam.
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Tim P.
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Nice overview of the game.

Quote:


....
MAPS
Pristine, out of the box, mine each already showed really noticeable whitening along the entire left crease, the two central fold points and along the right crease too, though to a lesser extent. I can only imagine what would have happened had GMT gone ahead with its original plan to back-print a single map.

I thought about touching both up with a black felt tip pen (note: avoid at all costs the Sharpie if you do – otherwise, you'll end up with a maroon-blue shine where you won't want one), but after a timid try, I gave up. I just blotted out the major white spots I could see.....


Opened my copy on Saturday and noticed the same thing about the creases, one map being worse than the other and I had not even unfolded the maps yet.
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Paul Borchers
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Not that creases bother me much, but maybe dark maps they should be printed on dark grey paper to help eliminate this problem. The next problem would then be that the colors used in printing wouldn't show up as well.
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Ben Mangus
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Adam, where did you get the sleeves?:shake::whistle:
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Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
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Thanks for the review, Adam. In response I'll just post the comments I made on CSW.

Quote:
I've seen some comments on the Bomber Command components and thought I'd step in.

Firstly, responsibility for the box art is mine. Now, I don't actually have a printed copy yet, and so it's hard to judge the game as published. There's always a little pot luck involved when getting a piece of work back from the printers; colours and shades might err slightly from what was expected. However, I'd spent time with the cover artist trying to get the image right for print. It was always going to be a challenge because of the night-time palette, which is a tricksy thing to balance in art as well as in film. Get it wrong and it will look very unreal. If I didn't get it right then blame my lack of skill.

Second, the maps, which are also my responsibility. It's difficult to know what to do about this. Again, we are playing with a night-time palette. I recall comments about the creases on the Nightfighter maps after last year's release, but the only way around that would have been to make the backgrounds light, like daytime, which would have not looked very nightfightery. I'm not sure there's a way to win on this one short of fully-mounting the boards in a manner less likely to generate creases. Maybe if enough folks clamour for them mounted boards could be offered for P500, as they have for other GMT games.

Finally, the background on the maps. Again, bear in mind I have yet to see the final printed work, so I'm unsure how the contrast between the land and sea worked out, but it was always my intent that the backdrop be put as as far into the background as possible. It has no effect on gameplay and the light foreground information should stand out crisply from the dark grounding. If the gameplay elements function correctly, the dark backdrop shouldn't matter. That said, I could have always miscalculated the contrast in the background and made it too murky.

Hopefully a copy will arrive here soon and I can check for myself.
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Robert Wilson
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pilotofficerprune wrote:
, which would have not looked very nightfightery.


lol, nice!
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Adam Parker
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jerodx wrote:
Adam, where did you get the sleeves?shakewhistle


Hi Ben, from one of the big local office supply chains. I'd expect Staples or someone similar to have them in the States. They open on one side to allow things to slide in and out, and have holes along the top for hooks.

I recall discussing them with folks when Fighting Formations was released, and they seemed to be around!
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Lewis Goldberg
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pilotofficerprune wrote:
Thanks for the review, Adam. In response I'll just post the comments I made on CSW.

Quote:
I've seen some comments on the Bomber Command components and thought I'd step in.

Firstly, responsibility for the box art is mine. Now, I don't actually have a printed copy yet, and so it's hard to judge the game as published. There's always a little pot luck involved when getting a piece of work back from the printers; colours and shades might err slightly from what was expected. However, I'd spent time with the cover artist trying to get the image right for print. It was always going to be a challenge because of the night-time palette, which is a tricksy thing to balance in art as well as in film. Get it wrong and it will look very unreal. If I didn't get it right then blame my lack of skill.

Second, the maps, which are also my responsibility. It's difficult to know what to do about this. Again, we are playing with a night-time palette. I recall comments about the creases on the Nightfighter maps after last year's release, but the only way around that would have been to make the backgrounds light, like daytime, which would have not looked very nightfightery. I'm not sure there's a way to win on this one short of fully-mounting the boards in a manner less likely to generate creases. Maybe if enough folks clamour for them mounted boards could be offered for P500, as they have for other GMT games.

Finally, the background on the maps. Again, bear in mind I have yet to see the final printed work, so I'm unsure how the contrast between the land and sea worked out, but it was always my intent that the backdrop be put as as far into the background as possible. It has no effect on gameplay and the light foreground information should stand out crisply from the dark grounding. If the gameplay elements function correctly, the dark backdrop shouldn't matter. That said, I could have always miscalculated the contrast in the background and made it too murky.

Hopefully a copy will arrive here soon and I can check for myself.


Lee, I saw Joel Toppen's box opening video for this game, and I could see the details of the artwork just fine even in that medium.
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Adam Parker
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I want to smell the gunpowder and hear the cannons roar in my games even at the operational level.
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I suppose this is what I'm trying to illustrate (a picture is worth 1000 words).

Apologies for the terrible photography but you can see the colour palette of the greys and blues, and the cloud patterns, have been completely lost to a the brown/oranges of the printer:



For a cover it doesn't matter at all except for store shelf presence, but I wonder what it meant for the maps? (Remember this pic is IIRC supposed to be of a moon-lit night.)
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Adam Parker
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Here's a pic of the A1 poster sleeve I'm using, from my office store's catalogue.

They're called Jasart Plastic Sleeves and note, with the standard GMT map and the A1 sleeve, there's just under a half inch overhang on the open side. With Bomber Command, there's nothing on that part of the map. It could even be trimmed away for a perfect fit.

(The black shown is actually a piece of paper that can be discarded if using the full sleeve capacity).

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Rodger MacGowan
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F.Y.I.

Printing CGI Art vs Displaying Art on a Computer Screen

The printed game box illustration by Mark Davies (right) was based on the final, approved computer file (CGI) submitted to us by the artist. His main objective was to capture the darkness of the night. You'll note also that the game's Title Logo with the British symbol and aircraft is dark -- all of this was intended and on purpose.

When I posted the "Shipping Now" notice on the web for the game, as pictured (on the left) on the iPad screen, I adjusted the cover art for viewing on a computer screen. In fact, I think I lightened the image too much -- you'll notice the British symbol is now Cyan (light blue) which is wrong and shows the art too brightly.

Hope this helps,

Rodger
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M. Kirschenbaum
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Just got my copy, here's my quick take on the artwork.

The box: I actually like the box art *more* for its being darker. The original illustration as posted online struck me as garish. I still prefer the moody and evocative Nightfighter cover to the action scene we get here, but it works a whole lot better in person for being darker and more subdued.

The maps: here I see no problem whatsoever. Yes, there's some breakup of the finish on the folded edges, but I have to assume that is unavoidable given the materials. The maps themselves are striking and unique and appear highly functional--no small feat for the depth of information they are burdened to convey.

I understand that people buy games for different reasons and for some the pleasure is to be had in obsessing over the minutiae of materials--and discoursing about them online--but there is absolutely nothing here that is an issue as far as game play is concerned, or even (for that matter) basic aesthetics.
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Adam Parker
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I want to smell the gunpowder and hear the cannons roar in my games even at the operational level.
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mkirschenbaum wrote:
I understand that people buy games for different reasons and for some the pleasure is to be had in obsessing over the minutiae of materials--and discoursing about them online--


I rely HEAVILY on such opinions and research them voraciously whenever buying a game. I particularly look for any information regarding glitches, errata, historicity, learning curves, and evidence of fun! You'll regularly find me in my favorite store game box in hand and BGG on iPhone .

It is a device that helps gamers like me with their caveat emptor, adds to the excitement of buying a game, and gives them a heads up to compare apples with apples. Most importantly, it helps designers and publishers make better games. As a beta tester I'd never hold back on a heartfelt opinion.

For this reason I thank all of my fellow hobbyists who've ever taken the time to post a review or give an .02 like yourself, on such great sites as BGG and Consimworld.

Long gone should be the days of the always glossy magazine review that either never looked at a final retail version of a game, or was paid to say nothing but good things.

Bomber Command as outlined I my first post offers immense potential. So much so, I've just ordered a second box for an idea of mine.

Napoleon at Quatre Bras is making way this weekend for some air raids over Germany.
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Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
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My copy of Bomber Command arrived today and so it was my first chance to look at the printed components.

If truth be told the box cover and the maps did come out a fraction darker than intended. I'm not sure how much of this is me or the printers, but I'll nut up and accept responsibility. By all means lob half-bricks at me if you don't like the result.

FX: THUD! Ow!

On reflection I don't have a problem with the way things have turned out. In the case of the cover it won't pop from the game shelf quite as planned, but it does look suitably night-timey. My fear was that it would come out looking too bright and instead the final result is subdued but undoubtedly nocturnal. Could I have gotten a better contrast? Probably. I'll chalk this one up to experience.

As for the maps, I think I prefer the ones that came back from print. The gameplay information pops out crisply from the background and I rather like how dark the landmass is. The maps are perfectly usable and I'm pleased that the focus is on the night geography (cities, beacons, Himmelbett) rather than the physical geography.

Of course, I have a vested interest in giving my own work a pass, so feel free to blow raspberries or launch a swift kick in my direction.

FX: Man running away...
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Kevin Davidson

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I found the review well written and honest, and even echoed some of my thoughts about expectations in what I thought was coming and what did. I must say the surprise was a good one, and I am satisfied with the components and colors of the mapsheets. Though if offered on a mounted board I would certainly sign up for one for wear sake.

Though I've only briefly gone over the rules, I look forward to giving this one a go. If it's anything like all the other flying games from Lee, I know I won't be disappointed.

Cheers
Kevin
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sloop hmsstarling
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I've been swamped this week and just now catching up with the web sites … Bomber Command arrived here in South Carolina on Wednesday, 21 March, and I've taken a brief look at it, can't wait to play!!

Very fine review Adam, and I'm even more encouraged now to get a raid up and going in!

It will be a while though before I can fit in a whole monthly campaign, what with many real life challenges on my plate along the lines mentioned by Lee in the post on campaigns, although that might come about quicker if Professor Sabin, or others, might be working on a solitaire version. The intricate card play and deceptive raid planning and execution makes all that pretty hard to do solitaire, but still, there might be some aspects of "artificial" intelligence that could be built into programmed procedures that would unfold almost as if a live player were on the other side of the table, hopefully not being too smart as my intelligence level itself has often been accused of being mostly artificial.

Many thanks for another great game Lee, and I'm hopeful you have another one in the pipeline for us!
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John Kantor
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Hasn't anyone ever heard of a press proof? (Which shouldn't be necessary in the first place if your printer's pre-press man is doing his job.)
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Kevin Goodman
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I just received my copy of Bomber Command today and if you ask me the box art looks amazing. The comparison picture above makes it look much redder than it really is - but camera exposure, white balance, etc. can easily explain why the picture doesn't exactly match the real life. My box looks in real life about half way between the very bright one shown on the left and the dark/reddish one on the right, perfectly evoking the feeling of a night raid.

I wouldn't normally chime in like this but it was something that made me hesitate to buy the game which is a shame because - in my opinion - the criticism is both undeserved and overstated.
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