Silk for Calde!
Well, I finally bought the game, and after spending a few evenings trimming the counters, it was time to go. It was clear that my great experience as a Hornet Leader driver would not help me much in Vietnam, but there was only that much one can learn from reading the manual and studying the counters and cards, so I decided to dive in, and would see how different the ballgame was in reality.
In other words, apart from the two session reports here in BGG, I had little clue what would be the best weapons and aircraft/pilots. Also, I did not want to spend too much time selecting the pilots, so I went for random selection.
Of course, this would be a Navy campaign, and because I wanted some air-to-air action, I chose Rolling Thunder, and medium length.
Random squadron selection gave me a decent mix, but I think it is far from optimal.
Veteran: A-7/Freight Train. Fast and a good bomber.
Skilled: F-8/Scar. Great, I love Crusaders!
F-4/Showtime (glad to have this legendary callsign in my team!)
And here we go.
I get to select between Airborne Support and AAA Sites. I take AAA sites, and after beginning the arming process, realize that killing five sites (three S-60s and two ZU-23-2s) with three planes will be hard, because there are some additional approach-area sites with wide fields of fire on the board. Also, I spend four points on Sparrows and Sidewinders on Showtime's Phantom, even though there is only one center bandit drawn. Maybe it's intuition. So, armed with mainly Snake-eyes and rockets, Freight Train, Midas and Showtime fly in.
My air-to-air preparedness is rewarded as I draw Bandits!-event and spend three missiles on it. Later, Showtime kills a MiG-21 with his last missile, for his first actual kill in the war.
The mission itself is a clusterf**k. I kill one target ZU-23-2, but then Freight Train is damaged and Midas is shot down. Fortunately Sandies are in the area (A-1 Skyraiders home-bound event) and the pilot is rescued. Two of my pilots are now unfit.
I have learned little. I select Large Convoy, and arm my four planes with mainly zero range ordnance. Napalm seems a good idea, and I still take a lot of Mk.82 Snake Eyes, mostly because I love Rockeyes in Hornet Leader.
I fly Scar and his Crusader as an air-to-air specialist (no way to disgrace the hot plane with atg ordnance!), and Peewee, Taxi and Showtime will perform the strike proper. Or not.
Again, heavy AAA fire and one SA-2 force stress down my pilot's throats and before I know it, planes are perforated and Scar drops from the sky (after bagging one bandit). Bomb sights are way off, as one M118 misses altogether, and I score only one hit on the target. Leaving Scar behind, the rest of the package escape, only to face AAA-Site! -event. Not surprisingly, Batdog is shot down, and only half of my initial force gets feet wet.
My incredible luck with SAR continues, as I roll ten for both pilots, and they are rescued. Everyone ends up with spectacular stress scores, however, with 11 being the lowest, and Scar tops the list with 14 stress.
Truck Park will be targeted, and I still have intact pilots left. Showtime will fly again, escorting two greens and a newbie into the indian country.
This mission goes a lot better, maybe because I finally mount ECM pods on my planes. I manage to evade/suppress most of the threats, and drop napalm and retarded bombs on the convoy and destroy it totally. Barbarian was damaged, but he was not a good bomber anyway, so the ordnance lost was not missed.
As the home-bound event I get Sierra Hotel, which means steak barbecue for everyone. The fact is that I have only one OK pilot left, so I will have to rest tomorrow, or take rest and recreation. I will see.
In these three days I have learnt something. I need to carry Bullpups or other missiles for long-range destruction of sites. Also, random selection gave me only two fast pilots, which means I take a lot of flak before I can do anything. It's hard to live without Situational Awareness, which solves these problems in Hornet Leader.
All in all, the start was dismal, but that's what I kind of expected. I'll put more thought into how to deal with individual threatening sites in the future, as this far I only took a general glance and loaded out pretty carelessly. I won't get a good rating out of this campaign, but maybe I will rise above Dismal.
It's certainly a different experience to HL-CAO. No Pheonix missiles, no SA, and bandits are a much bigger problem.
I always play with random pilot selection, and apart from the bugbear that most of the pilots are slow with poor AtA skills, you can also get too many crap planes like the Freedom Fighter, that can hardly lift a bag of chips, let alone a decent payload. The one advantage of random selection is that it does give you a lot more SO points to play with, so you can use some for pilot promotion in order to get more fast pilots, and you can use the tanker option almost every turn, so at least you can carry a full payload irrespective of the distance to the target. Now if only the politicians would stop exacerbating my problems by sticking their noses in, the better I can run my squadron!
Silk for Calde!
And, now to the second part of our report on the bombing campaign. The pilots have enjoyed a well-deserved R&R, and some of them are actually fit to fight. Two are still unfit, thanks to the hairy AAA activity earlier, and three are shaken. I forfeit the chance to send the unfit ones home, and hope that they recover enough to fly a mission later in the campaign (as it was clear I have no chance of good results, I don't want to spend time choosing new pilots).
It's obvious that the targets we've been hitting are not intimidating enough. How about shutting down the lights of Hanoi, then? Our target for the day is Power Station.
Now, I bring some Bullpups for the AAA sites, and load enough (I hope) Sparrows and Sidewinders for those MiGs. On the way to the target area, I draw SAM Sites!, but previously drawn Show of Force allows me to discard it and draw another one. I get Down Time, for 2 SO points. The leadership is finally getting things done!
There are three MiG-17s and one MiG-21, which prove to be a nuisance, alhough Showtime kills the Fishbed and one Fresco. The two remaining bandits survive to the end and chase our asses out of the area. Not before the strike package has unloaded its bombs on the power station, though. Sadly, it is only damaged (10 hits, one short of being destroyed), but it's better than coming out empty-handed. Bullpups are nice, although Batdog manages to miss with one (yeah, a roll of one). In all, they are great for killing nasty sites, if only one has SO points and weight allowance to spare.
I'm forced to give the guys a day off, as I'm too short on SO points to give them R&R. I will need points on the last two days for refueling and maybe a Bullpup or two. After the rest, three of my pilots are shaken, the rest OK. I'll need six VPs on the last two days to get a poor evaluation.
I attack a Minor Bridge, which has weak defenses. The sole SA-2 is in a bad position, and other sites are mainly low-level guns.
Showtime gets his fourth kill as the sole MiG-21 vectored to the area is splashed by a sparrow. The way in is very easy, but Taxi still gets almost damaged, but keeps his nerve. He is just below Shaken range, which is nice because his +2 AtG modifier is essential to the mission. The bridge is accurately bombed, and the defenders greet Barbarian with a sharp burst of 57mm shells, and he is shaken. While flying over the gun, he drops his bombs (a Mk.83 and a Mk.84, which he didn't need to drop on the bridge, because other guys finished it) on it. A bit of an overkill, the others think, but at least that gun was terminated with extreme prejudice.
Now, Barbarian is promoted to Green, the first promotion in this campaign, which shows how hard it is in the Southeast Asian theater. I have four OK pilots, but I'm determined to fly shaken Showtime, because he needs his fifth MiG kill.
I draw two 5 Politic targets, which are off limits. Then, I use 2 SO for more targets and get two small ones, with not enough VPs to get me out of this Dismal situation. Anyway, I decide to do some Armed Recon, so I still have five SOs for refueling. Maybe I'll learn something from this last useless mission.
Again, enemy defenses are numerous, but badly placed, so I will mostly be facing low-level flak when I'm doing the bombing. This mission requires me to stay low all the time, so the SA-2 is no problem. There is one MiG of every type, and the politicians are concerned about collateral damage (-1 on attacks and suppression on sites), so it will be interesting.
Showtime gets his fifth kill, which is simply great! Scar drops the rest, but having been out of action for a while, his total is only three kills. The bombing is a success, and even though the sky is full of lead, all we get is a lot of sweat and panting, and everyone is out safe.
The bad news comes as we egress. The Intel was Bad, and we bombed mostly bamboo. I get only one VP, but considering the total (8 VP), it's all the same.
Showtime becomes skilled, and Martimer average. That's the end of it. The learning curve was steep, but as I intended, I got the grasp of it during these few missions. The attack angles and flight paths are interesting and make this game quite different from Hornet Leader, and overall sites and bandits (as Stephen noted above) are much more of a problem. What seems to be the biggest problem is the lower carrying capability of the planes (compared to HL:CAO), but it's only right. All these obstacles are made to be overcome, and I hope I can see a better result in my next campaign.
Link for the win!
At this point, if I manage to score Dismal, I consider it a win.