A few months ago, I posted in the files section of this site a complete tactical variant called DOGFIGHT for use with the Wing Leader components. I have just posted a further small file of supplementary rules which expand the 3D element of the playing area, and add to the manoeuvre options available. I just played a couple of scenarios with these supplementary rules, and I detail one of them here to complement the two sample games which I posted earlier. (I describe the other new scenario on the companion BGG website for Wing Leader: Victories.) Please download and browse through the main DOGFIGHT rules to understand what is going on.
The key representational change from the previous sample games is that inverting the aircraft picture no longer signifies that the flight has been hit or is low on ammo. Instead, inverted counters denote occupation of new ‘far left’ or ‘far right’ blocks, on either side of the three blocks already overlaid within each 2x2 box. This increased lateral playing area allows diving fighters to weave sharply right or left, shifting 2 blocks sideways and perhaps reversing direction, at the cost of moving just 1 block diagonally ahead.
For this sample game, I chose to simulate an episode from the Japanese Kamikaze attacks of 1944-45. The Kamikaze aircraft themselves are two squadrons each of 9 old Ki-43 Oscars, and they use the fighter bomber rules, approaching at around 4,000 feet above the waves to help them identify the most lucrative targets. They are escorted by 3 flights each of 6 fighters, to help them break through to the US fleet. Two of the flights consist of A6M5 Zeros, and they are treated as ‘weak’ because of the poor quality of Japanese pilots at this desperate stage of the war. However, the remaining flight has better pilots equipped with the latest N1K2 George fighters, and it forms the mainstay of the escort force.
The US Navy intercepts with 4 flights each of 4 fighters, a mixture of Hellcats and Corsairs, and their task is to thin out the suicide attackers as much as possible in the few minutes before they reach the fleet’s formidable flak umbrella. Thanks to radar warning, the US fighters are allowed to deploy up to altitude level 11, the same as the Japanese escorts. Conscious that, if the Kamikazes were unescorted, it should be possible to down around half of the 18 Oscars without significant US loss, the US player agrees to give the Japanese a handicap of 2, meaning that the Americans must inflict at least 3 more hits than they receive in order to win.
On a die roll of 3, there is no nearby cloud cover and the sun is shining down from ahead and to the left of the Japanese, reducing its tactical significance. Knowing that the Americans will appear from ahead in this scenario, the Japanese deploy their Zeros above and in front of the Kamikazes as a forward screen, while holding back their precious Georges to await developments. The USN fighters eschew the mutual risks of a head-on attack on the Oscars, and instead exploit the expanded depth of the playing area to bring on all four flights at maximum altitude, ready to curve back round on the unprotected tails of the Kamikazes.
As in my previous sample games, the following pictures use two counters per flight, one showing its position and orientation at the start of the turn and the other showing it at the end of the turn. I have again added coloured graphics to show what happens in the 3 successive phases of each turn. USN moves in the Interceptor Phase are shown in RED, the backward shifts of all fighters in the Bomber Phase are shown in WHITE, and Japanese moves in the Escort Phase are shown in BLACK. In the game itself, the Kamikazes remain in the centre of the map while all fighters on both sides are shifted back in each Bomber Phase, but to avoid confusion, the pictures show the Oscars moving forward instead. Every alternate turn, they move forward 2 blocks rather than 1, to reflect their higher speed compared to normal bomber formations.
On turn 1, the Americans decide to concentrate their Hellcats up-sun in the far left blocks, and to climb them to get above the Japanese escorts. The Corsairs meanwhile fly straight ahead, and are soon almost above the fast closing Kamikazes. The Zeros turn smartly through 180 degrees as the US fighters flash past, but are not yet able to get directly behind them. The Georges pull up to match the Hellcats’ climb, determined not to forfeit the positional advantage.
On turn 2, the Hellcats and Georges complete their climbs, while the Corsairs turn right to avoid exposing their tails to the Zeros. The latter also reverse heading, but each Japanese flight turns in the opposite direction, leaving them in the far left and far right blocks bracketing the Corsairs between them.
On turn 3, the leading Hellcats turn left to come alongside the Georges, while the other Hellcats follow cautiously. One Corsair flight weaves down to make the first attack on the higher Oscar squadron, but on a roll of 1 there is no immediate effect. The other Corsairs weave to avoid the Zeros threatening them from either side, but this exposes them to the Georges, which swoop straight down onto their tails and on a lucky roll of 5 inflict first blood without even depleting their own ammunition. The Zeros meanwhile weave inwards to add to the pressure on the leading Corsair flight. The odds on a US victory have just lengthened considerably, unless the Hellcats can swoop down from their now dominant position and turn the tables.
On turn 4, the survivors of the higher Corsair flight break formation and disperse, while the leading Corsairs abandon their attack on the Oscars and turn left and down to avoid being targeted next. The trailing Hellcats turn back forwards as quickly as possible, while the other Hellcat flight swoops down on the leftmost Zeros in search of vengeance. On a roll of 4, it narrowly fails to score. The hapless Zeros weave right, while the other Zeros and Georges turn back left to face the threatening Hellcats.
On turn 5, the remaining Corsairs turn back forward to pursue the Oscars, while keeping a wary eye on the Zeros circling overhead. The foremost Hellcats continue to attack the other Zeros, but on another roll of 4 they just fail to score a hit. Meanwhile the higher Hellcats weave sharply right to try to retain a dominant covering position. All three Japanese flights reverse their heading yet again as they seek to escape attack while gaining a positional advantage in this classic turning fight.
On turn 6, the US fighters decide to break away from the swirling dogfight and to pursue the fast-receding Kamikazes which are their main quarry. All three US flights move forward 2 blocks and end in a dive so as to gain as much speed as possible to catch the Oscars before their escorts can regain contact. The Japanese fighters match this tactic as best they can, and they too all end in a dive as speed becomes of the essence.
On turn 7, the leading Hellcats scream down in a 3 block dive and engage the lower Kamikaze squadron, but on a roll of 3 they fail yet again to hit. The Corsairs also race forwards 3 blocks thanks to the energy gained by diving to just 2,000 feet above the sea, but the trailing Hellcats weave sharply left to prevent the Georges regaining the dominant position which they forfeited to attack the Corsairs on turn 3. The Georges counter this by weaving sharp right, thereby setting up a classic scissoring contest as each flight tries to get behind the other. The Zeros meanwhile dive rapidly forwards to try to counter the two leading US flights before they can massacre the Oscars.
On turn 8, the US fighters finally have some luck as the Hellcats roll a 6 and knock down 2 Kamikazes. That leaves those Hellcats short of ammo, but the Corsairs zooming up ready to take over the attack need to score just one more hit to avenge the earlier Corsair loss and secure a draw. The trailing Hellcats continue to jockey for advantage with the Georges, while the higher Zeros weave left to avoid attack and the lower Zeros use the same dive and zoom tactics employed earlier by the Corsairs to race to the aid of their comrades.
Turn 9 proves to be the climactic moment of the contest. The Hellcats and Georges continue their scissors manoeuvres in the rear, while the Corsairs take over from the other Hellcats but on a dismal roll of 1 fail to hit any more Kamikazes. To make matters worse, the lower Zeros promptly zoom up onto their tail and roll a 6 to knock down a second Corsair despite the weak fighter penalty. Although the Zeros themselves are also out of the fight due to their profligate ammunition expenditure, only one American flight now remains active as against two Japanese escort flights.
The US player soon realises that it is hopeless to send his surviving Hellcats forward against the Kamikazes, since they will be caught by the Georges and Zeros before they can get into range and may well suffer a further hit for no purpose. Hence, the Hellcats break formation and end the contest, leaving the Japanese with a clear victory by 4 points to 2, having downed 2 Corsairs for the loss of only 2 of the 18 Oscars. The escorts have done an excellent protective job, albeit thanks in part to much better luck in their attack die rolls than the USN experienced. The US fleet had better hope that it has better luck with its anti-aircraft fire, or this kamikaze attack could prove devastating!
The sample game showcased well the provisions of the 3D Expansion. The new far left and far right blocks were used on multiple occasions, and the scissoring contest between the Georges and Hellcats illustrated the utility of the new sharp weaving manoeuvres. I recommend that players integrate the Expansion into their scenarios as a simple way of adding further depth to this tactical variant. Now that Wing Leader: Blitz has been published, there are even more of Lee’s beautiful aircraft counters to use!