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Subject: Commanding the Bomber Boys Just Like Curtis LeMay rss

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Tim Korchnoi
United States
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My Little Man's first real wargame play: Barbarossa Solitaire
B-17 Flying Fortress Leader is a strategic level solitaire game of the American Air Campaign against Germany from 1942-45. In the game the player must make all the critical decisions ( what targets to hit, which squadrons to fly, how to arm them, etc…) to maximize the efforts of the 8th Airfare which he commands and try to hep bring Nazi Germany to her knees. Once all the planning is done, the planes are launched and the game system reacts sending up fighters and hammering the gallant Army Air Corps boys with flak over the designated targets. Random events also figure into the mix keeping the player on their toes. Each consists of a campaign of a set number of turns. Success or failure is determined by tallying victory points for targets destroyed and comparing the total with the victory level chart provided for that particular campaign.

Playing Time: This can be quite long as campaigns can last several months with each month consisting of between two and four weeks. My last two games took me. Thus far, shorter campaigns have taken me around3-4 days while the longer ones have taken around a week to finish. This is a game with a heavy time investment unless you play one of the short one months campaigns.

Map: The map is very interesting with a lot of information all around. The actual map where the missions is flown is fairly small but very functional. There are also tracks for the Mediterranean and Eastern Fronts, a turn record chart, and several areas dedicated to German activity. There is also space for target and event cards as well as the secondary missions that must be addressed. All in all, it is a busy(but not crowded) map and, once you get the hang of the game, it all fits together well.

Playing Pieces: The game comes with both counters and cards. The cards cover a variety of topics such as American Airplane Squadrons and German commanders. The cards are nice, well organized with type that is small but still easy on these old (45 yrs) eyes. In the revised rulebook (more about that revised part below) each card has it’s own section with each piece of information assigned a key to help the player figure out what each section means. This makes for easy checking when you are unsure of something.

The counters are the typical thick heavy counters one finds in a DVG game. Again they are easy to read and have their own reference section just like the cards. I particularly like the commander counters. Any game that has a counter representing a great American military leader like Curtis Lemay is awesome in my book thumbsup

First off I want to say that if you have any experience with the other DVG Leader series of games be aware that this game is very different from the other titles. While there are some similarities, you cannot just dive into B-17 FFL. The other games are either tactical or operational (like Phantom Leader) but B-17 is strategic so while some things will be familiar (arming planes with bombs and taking into account weight and Special Ops points) others (such as the Mediterranean Theater) while be brand new.

The other big point I want to address is the technology and secondary targets. Unlike other leader games, the Germans can develop tech that can be a “game changer”. The secondary missions are also different and if have ever wondered what it feels like to be an overloaded commander, just wait until you have to blast all those airfields and factories while at the same time having to send bombers off on missions which, if you ignore them, will come back to bite you in the butt(and probably get you relieved of command).

Now about that revised rulebook mentioned above. I know there are a lot of people who have been very frustrated with the original rulebook. I must say that I found myself flipping through it way too much but that is more of an organizational issue as opposed to something being “broken” with the game. While I agree that the 2nd edition rulebook is ten times better, I think it is bit harsh to classify the original rulebook as the wargame equivalent of opening the Ark of the Covenant with the reader playing the role of Dr. Rene Belloq.
So with that out of the way, let’s briefly outline the rules.

Movement: Bombers fly in groups moving on hex at a time where they encounter the enemy. German squadrons can launch planes from either same hex or one hex away.

Combat: Combat consists of having German bandits (and over the target flak) attack the American bombers using a “to hit” system. Hits are determined by a die roll and inflict from one to three hits of damage on a squadron. B-17 get to fire back but have a fixed number (10) needed to score a success. B-17 units can be fast or slow which determines when they fire at the Luftwaffe.
The other part of combat is the US bombing runs where damage is assessed again using a “to hit” format.

Supply: This is handled differently for each side. For the USA it is done through the use of Special Operations points which are allotted at the start of the week. The player can spend them to buy new units as well as arm their bombers with a variety of weapons. The better the weapon, the more points it costs.
For the Germans supply is done through the building of new squadrons which is directly related to German factory production.

Stacking: The only real limit is how many bombers can be assigned to one mission. The Germans have no limits so some spaces can have a huge concentration of Luftwaffe squadrons which can be good or bad depending on what targets are available.

Reinforcements and Replacements: Player gets reinforcements via Special Ops points only. For replacements, he has a monthly allotment and can convert SO points to replacements if he saves any.
Germans get their units via factories. Destroy there factories and you limit their ability to produce squadrons.

Things I like about the game

1 Very high replay value. Between the event cards, what targets are available, how the Luftwaffe will respond, and who the Germans have in command, I feel very confident that no game will ever be the same twice.
2 The integration with the other theaters. I like how the game simulates the impact of the air war on the other fronts as well as how the other fronts (by drawing away squadrons) can influence the air war.
3 The feel. You really feel like Eaker or Spaatz. And also a little like LeMay
4 There are 12 different campaigns. Some are very short while others stretch on for months. So there is literally something to fit the playing time of everyone.
5 Challenge. This game makes you work to win. Now granted sometimes the flood gates burst (like the oil campaign when you reach the point where the Luftwaffe is basically crippled) but even then you have to think everything through carefully. Every turn brings big decisions and things can get intense especially if you really immerse yourself and think of all those squadrons as your boys.
6 Choices. One of the really cool things is you can choose how complex you want your game to be. Don't want to mess with secondary targets? There are scenarios without them. Want to go the whole nine yards? Then add in the weather rules.

Things that can be annoying angry

1 The layout of the original rulebook.
2 The technology and secondary missions. This can take some getting used to at first but follow the (revised) rulebook and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
3 This next one may be petty but, quite frankly, I need more squadrons and events! There should be an expansion pack solely made up of new squadron and event cards.

Overall Evaluation: d10-9 =wargamer heaven d10-1 = I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! yuk

Map= d10-6 The map is fairly bland but super functional. Given the level of command (strategic) one could argue that the simple map works just fine. But there is a lot to digest and keep track of at any given moment.

Playing Pieces= d10-9 Cards are nice and easy to read. Counters are thick, easy to manipulate and durable.

Deployment of Forces= d10-5 This will take some time as you have to shuffle around 5-6 decks of cards each game. And if you randomly draw B-17 squadrons (like I do) that adds to set up time.

Solo Play= d10-9 This is a solitaire designed game.

Final Evaluation= d10-8 This is another winner in the DVG leader series. First, it is strategic which gives a different perspective with new challenges and experiences. Second, the replay value is through the roof. Is the German commander a hero or a zero? What? The Germans are about to get jets!?!? Dang it, the Allies are stuck in Normandy are but a sample of the variety this game offers. Third, the number of campaigns is great (although a few more would be nice ) Fourth, the designer offers great support. Finally, the feel. You feel the intensity as you try to win the war and save your boys. And if you have the 305th among your squadrons (and have ever read anything about Curtis LeMay) you can almost feel the great warrior gazing at you encouraging you to inflict maximum damage at all times.

Bottom Line: This is a fun, intense, solitaire experience. Unlike some other solitaire games, there are a lot of meaningful decisions to make and you must be ready to react to the changing situation at all times. I have always enjoyed games like B-17: Queen of the Skies but FFL takes that experience to a whole new level. The only other game I have played that comes close to this commander like experience is RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940. B-17 FFL is a great role playing experience wrapped in a awesome game system. Few other games strike that balance so well.
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mark dempsey
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Many thanks for the review,I am into the last couple of months of The Air War Begins campaign,the learning cure is steep but manageable. The second edition rule book and the designers excellent support here on the geek have made learning the game a pleasure.I pretty much agree with what you say,the play time is long but very immersive so I haven't really noticed the time passing-it is an excellent addition to the Leader series.
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