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I have been a WW2 air combat aficionado since my Dad bought me a 1:72 plastic Spitfire Mk V (in Turkish AF livery!) when I was 7. It was all downhill from there: I have read as many books as I could on the subject, and have played several games, including the Fighting Wings series, and several squadron/operational level games including Battle of Britain, and The Burning Blue. While the former is an excellent hardware simulation at the single aircraft level (and one I have played to death), in my opinion, the system gives the player too much control and leads to unrealistic outcomes. On the other hand, the latter are raid-planning and interception type games that don't really give one the flavor of squadron-level combat.

So, I have been waiting for a game like this -- one that incorporates the factors that most of the books I have read seem to focus on as being important in WW2 air combat: pilot skill, situational awareness, morale, and, most of all, the importance of height. After I watched Lee's video clip, where he announced the game, its theme and general outline, there was no hesitation: I pre-ordered the game immediately. After it arrived, I managed to find the time play a scenario despite the arrival of a new infant in the household.

I am not going to go into any more detail on the system or the rules, since many others have already done so, and this is not meant to be a review. On to the scenario!

I picked V09 since it seemed to be a fairly small scenario that also allowed me to use all the rules. Also, it had Italians! I was able to play it to finish over four 15 minute sessions (all the time I could scrape up in a "normal" day). I took pictures as I went along with my phone camera. While nowhere near top quality, they serve to illustrate the state of affairs adequately.

Set-up and initial thoughts

This scenario has two G.50 (Freccia) squadrons intercepting a couple of Blenheim squadrons that are bombing Italian supply dumps in Greece. One flight of Gladiators is on free hunt (sweep) while another escorts the Blenheims.

Here's a shot of the scenario set-up.

Though it's a bit hard to see, the Italian ground targets (the supply dump, protected by a wimpy Lt Flak) are on the lower left corner, with the Freccias in position at low altitude above them. There are some broken clouds starting just to the right of the Italians, with the British coming in above the weather further to the right. You can also see the vector markers I set for the Italians in the middle of the map (more on those later).

Italian initial thoughts

Here's a zoom-in of the Italian position:

The Italians are in an unenviable position. First off, while the Freccias look good, they are handicapped by being equipped with popguns and being fragile. In fact, their stats are identical to the Gladiators in terms of firepower and protection.

Here are the data cards for the combatants.

While the Blenheims are no Flying Fortresses, given the Freccia's firepower value of 0, they may as well be, since it will take a roll of 5 or 6 to shoot one down. (Note: I missed the fact that these Blenheims are an earlier variant with a slightly reduced protection value, but I don't think it would have made that much of a difference since I rolled fairly low numbers for the Italians when they did manage to score hits.)

Moreover, one of the Freccia squadrons is Green, which makes half of the Italian force even less effective.

Besides their planes' dashing looks, the Italians' only advantage is their speed, which brings us to what is perhaps their greatest disadvantage:

Both Italian squadrons start lower than the enemy (altitude 2 and 4 versus altitude 7 for the Brits (and the escorting Gladiators can set-up at 8). Therefore, it is likely that the trailing squadron will still be climbing when they engage the British, which takes away the Freccia' speed combat advantage of one. (N.B. one option would allow one of the Freccias to start at a somewhat higher altitude while the other starts even lower, but I did not exercise that option, because it seemed that it would really take the second squadron out of play for all intents)

Given the above, I made the lower Freccia squadron Green, thinking that they were least likely to be in an effective attack position by the time that they engaged anyway. I also placed the vectors for the Freccias in front of and higher than the Brits, hoping that they would be able to climb above and at least attack from a dive. Note also that since the Italians lack GCI Control, these vectors cannot be moved. It turned out that the Green Freccia squadron was the one that managed to make a meaningful attack on the Blenheims. Of course.

In conclusion, on first glance, the Italian player can be forgiven to think that this is clearly a scenario designed by a Brit!

British initial thoughts

Not much to say here, except that we notice that there's a staircase of Broken weather between us and the target, which we could use to screen our approach. We would thus make the Eyetie fighters' jobs even more difficult on the approach (tallying and combat are both penalized in clouds). We also note that the puny flak that "protects" the target can't shoot above altitude 4! So, we would pop out of the clouds just before the target, bomb them at altitude 5, right in the how's your father, and laugh all the way back to the mess tent! We'd then enjoy a good cuppa and some well-earned banter.

While we thought about the Stairway to Target strategy, we decided to stay high and descend to altitude 5 only before we get to the target. Not only would it not be sporting of us to hide in the clouds, we also thought that the we would give our Gladiators a chance to bring down some of Mussolini's "best". And that's best done in clear weather, as the wing leader would say!

(If playing competitively, I would wait to see where the Italian places their vectors (recall that they can't be changed). If the Italians go high, I would sink beneath the clouds. If they stay under the clouds, I would stay high. That way, I would ensure the worst possible modifiers for tally attempts in the hopes that I give the the spaghetti-eaters only a few (or possibly just one) pass before we arrive over the target.)

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I intend to tell of the merge and how the Gladiators fared against what turned out to be fairly useless Arrows.
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