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Title: MiG Alley: Air War Over Korea 1951
Basic information: Designed by Joseph Miranda (Decision Games 2015). This is the third game in the Air War Mini Game System.
Overall Evaluation: This is a very good game in the Air War Mini Games System and I see a couple good improvements since acquiring and reviewing Cactus Air Force which is one of the first two games in the Air War Mini Game System. These points will emerge within this review. This game was designed to be simple, easy to learn, and easy to play. MiG Alley is the third of three games (along with Eagle Day and Cactus Air Force) in the Air Wars Mini Game System. Thus, it was designed to be small, inexpensive, and simple utilizing a system that could apply to many aviation games which would include their own unique modifications of a page for two. “One size does not fit all” in the world of gaming. Some gamers prefer monster mega-simulations; some want medium complexity; others desire low complexity; and there are gamers who demand ultra low complexity (think the classic “Battle Ship”). Thus, there is room for games on the same topic but of different complexities. Personally, I prefer low and medium complexity games while I respect those who demand the mega-simulations with their attention to detail and complexity. I do own some of the latter and deeply enjoy them (Bloody April and Downtown by GMT games are two examples) but do not play them frequently due to time. I really enjoy the complexity and size of the aviation games in the Air War Mini Game System and look forward to future additions.
Background Theme: MiG Alley covers the air war component of the Korean War -- specifically between October and December 1951. The object of the UN player (essentially US and UK) is to successfully bomb strategic sites (bridges, strategic industries, and hydroelectric plants) while combating the attempts of the Communist player (North Korea, China, and Soviet Union) to intercept and destroy the raiders.
Format and Components: The game is packaged in a zip-lock style and includes rules, an 11”x17” playing map, 18 player cards (9 for the UN and 9 for the Communist), and 40 counters (aircraft, mobile AAA units, and administrative markers). UN aircraft include the B-29, B-26, F-80, F-84, F-86, F-51, F2, F4U, F9, Sea Fury and Meteor; Communist aircraft include the Mig-15, La-11, and Yak 9. The counters separated more easily than they did with Cactus Air Force so I see improvement in this physical aspect of the game system. The map is divided into a series of square grids with 12 squares along the top and 15 squares running along the length of the map from each top square. In other words, the map grid is 12 x 15 squares and covers most of what is now North Korea with a small section of South Korea and China. Aircraft holding boxes, turn marker boxes, and a terrain key chart are located along the edges of the map. I find the map quite good in terms of graphics and layout for administrative boxes and support. Players provide their own six-sided die.
Counter Issue: The counters do have one probable major error. The North Korean mobile AAA units have the same front and back sides -- Surely this must be a printing mistake as it makes zero sense to me. I have re-checked the rules and cannot find any logical reason for having duplicate front and back sides. The foundational System rules state that AAA counters are flipped upon a decision by the defender to fire them at attackers. Thus, it makes more sense for them to have blank back sides like Communist aircraft. This permits the Communist player to place them (five in number) on strategic targets without the UN player guessing where their attack values lie between 1 and 5 -- a major difference when each increase in number adds a die to the AAA roll in raid! I declared a House Rule and glued an opaque piece of paper on the back side of all five AAA units.
Rules: The basic Air Wars Mini Game System rules book is 4 pages (8 ½ “ x 11“ inches) and the MiG Alley special game rules are 1 page with a second page of unique charts, victory conditions, and scenario set up guidelines. The rules are fairly easy to follow and the game is easy to learn.
Abbreviated Play: The game consists of five turns ranging every two weeks from 1 October to 15 December 1951. There are 8-10 hourly periods within each two week turn (based on daylight). Still seems a bit odd to have a single 8-10 hour period (Operations Phase) within a single two week game turn. Each two week turn begins with a Planning Phase with players selecting the number of campaign cards equal to their current command level. The Operations Phase is next. Very briefly, each hourly period involves an attacker conducting movement, air to air combat, anti-aircraft fire defense, and then bombing. This is followed by the other player and lasts for up to 10 cycles to complete a two week turn. The number of ‘hourly’ turns decreases from 10 in October to 9 in November and then to 8 in December. The campaign cards play a significant role in driving the game. Some initiate historical events that require mandatory action by one or both players. The cards also provide air reinforcements for the UN player and the repair (“refit”) of damaged units for both players. Aircraft are rated on their range and air to air and bomb attack values. The range factor becomes very important in the game since some planes are not able to remain airborne beyond a single hourly period (actually take off in one and mandatory landing in the next). Combat is an abstract comparison of attack vs defense values and resulting rolls of dice compared to a chart. Bombing of ground installations is similar. Two aircraft carrier icons are marked on the map for UN carrier borne aircraft. UN land based aircraft are theoretically based in Japan and South Korea at airfields not on the map. There is a box on the map to place them between missions or after refit.
Replay Value: Good. The utilization of the campaign cards and the variety and number of strategic targets alters the flow of every game. Gamers will see “similarity” after a few plays of this game. However, each play of this game has its differences due to the above factors. I still find it fresh...but must admit I’m an aviation game enthusiast. Kick the tires and light the fires...
Solo Play: Good. MiG Alley is designed for two players but is easy to solo due to its simplicity and game system. If playing solitaire, the solo (UN) side must play both sides to the best of his/her ability. I did make several House Rules to adjust the game to solo play as the UN side. To me these make the game more solo friendly. They are posted in the Forum section for this game on BGG under “House Rules to Increase Solo Playability of MiG Alley.” My House Rules are certainly not perfect and certainly do not replace an AI system to make MiG Alley a true solo game. However, I have found they greatly aid the solo playability of the game and even greatly increase the general replayability of the system.
Evaluation: I found MiG Alley to be an overall good game.
Here are a few points I like:
a. Easy to learn and easy to play as a game in the Air War Mini System. Can be played anywhere due to size and each game can be completed in less than two hours.
b. I really like the utilization of Campaign Cards to alter the flow of the game. These add to the replayability since different options will appear at different times in each game. As I commented in a review of Cactus Air Force, I would like to see more than 9 campaign cards for each side -- perhaps 12-15. I do agree that the ‘reshuffle’ rule for many of the cards does help add to variability when drawing. The desire for more cards is a personal thing. However, the next paragraph offers a very good alternative to more cards from Decision Games.
c. OK...having said I’d like more cards in a game, I must offer two kudos to Decision Games for the campaign cards in MiG Alley compared to Cactus Air Force. THANK YOU! -- for increasing the font of the print on the campaign cards! I need reading glasses (literally...but no pun intended...) to figure out the directions on the cards in Cactus Air Force. The cards for MiG Alley are much easier to read due to larger font. Second, kudos to Decision Games for increasing the variability of the cards while keeping them at 9 in number. For example, the Communist campaign cards include four that offer alternatives to the player who can select one of two options. I really like this as it actually adds more card options and provides more decisions to the player without increasing cards. Good Show Decision Games!
d. I like the victory point conditions with varying points for the UN player related to successful bombing of strategic objectives...and a special bonus for hitting all four hydroelectric plants in North Korea..with one sitting in the heart of Mig Alley! This adds to replayability and the “fun element” as the UN player struggles to successfully hit as many targets as possible within the three month period covered in the game...as the North Korean player collects points for US aircraft sitting in the ‘damaged box’ at game’s end. Lose a couple B-29s late in the game and the North Korean player can negate a string of successful UN bombing missions.
e. I really like aviation games and we simply cannot have too many of them out there - especially solitaire aviation games or those that are easily played solitaire. Biased opinion? Of course...see my avatar and list of microbadges... Enough said.
f. Good basic series system that leads to a potential for more games covering the air components of other campaigns. MiG Alley is the third game in the Air War Mini Game System. I was playing my first game of MiG Alley within approximately 10 minutes after sitting down with it. I just needed to re-look at a couple sections of the System Rules and check out unique game rules additions.
Here are a few points some gamers may not like about MiG Alley:
a. Some gamers do not like card driven or card aided systems. Cards are an important element of this system.
b Normally utilizing boxes instead of hexes on the map is not an issue for a game of this scale but the inability to move diagonally does lead to an interesting problem for aircraft -- two vs. one movement point required to enter a box that lies diagonally to the box in which your aircraft is located.
c. Some gamers are not into “micro games” such as the Decision Games Mini Series. Thus, one should expect an element of simplicity and abstraction in this game. This is a small game with a small number of counters. Yet, I must add a caveat for those gamers that for its size, this game packs a big punch. Everyone has their preference for large vs. small games and I certainly respect that point.
d. Related to the above point, combat is fairly abstract due to the game scale and level of complexity. This is a natural trade off as one decreases in game complexity.
e. Some gamers have complained about a lack of decision making in earlier games in the Air War Mini Game System. I agree with them that decision making is minimal compared to more complex games (think Bloody April or Downtown by GMT games). However, MiG Alley is more of a lower complexity strategic game. Decision making, due to lower complexity, is based more on setting offensive targeting and laying out defenses. However, I should add that the new style of campaign cards do provide an added measure of decision making for each player.
Bang for the Buck: Excellent. This game packs a very good punch for its size and is an excellent value due to its price.
c The Swamp Hamster
- Last edited Sun Dec 27, 2015 10:04 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Dec 27, 2015 5:38 am
Recently acquired and played MiG Alley. Totally agree with your points (both positive and negative). Kudos for offering your comments up for the community!