Wings Over France AAR
The following are after action reports written after each gaming session. They cover three missions, all taking place, in the game, on April 1, 1917.
Mission #1: Dawn Patrol
"A" flight (in Pups) flew the dawn patrol on April 1st. The planes for this mission consisted of the top three Pup pilots and the top Strutter crew. The mission was to fly behind the enemy lines in all three sectors then get back to base to report what was seen.
Before even reaching the trenches, the flight had three encounters with enemy aircraft due to the nice weather and great visibility. The first planes encountered didn't see the flight. The second resulted in a dogfight with the Red Baron and two non-Jasta 11 planes. Two of the bad guys were driven off (including the Baron) and one was damaged. Immediately following that fight, in the next hex over, another dogfight got brewing with Richthofen (again) and two more non-Jasta 11 planes.
(It had taken my about two hours in real time to get to this point, but I noticed the procedures were taking less time than when I started. So far, I've played 12 game turns. A lot of my time so far has been spent reading the rules.)
The second dogfight had mixed results. Of my four planes, the Strutter was driven off, but has returned to the flight following the dogfight, One of my Pups was damaged pretty badly, and the flight leader has a jammed gun.
However, the two-seater's gunner drove off one of the EA, and the pup that wasn't damaged or jammed hit, and damaged, Richthofen and another EA. Those are some good victory points.
At that point, I had some choices to make. I could let the damaged pup make it to the emergency field three hexes away by himself. His engine had been hit and he was trailing smoke, but he was behind our lines and the emergency field is not far away. Alternately, I could have detached one of the other members of the flight to escort him back, but that would have left me with just two planes to try and continue the mission. My third option was to take the whole flight, and escort the damaged plane to the emergency field and then try to either continue the mission or head home.
Regardless of what I chose to do, I needed to get everyone (except the damaged plane) to a higher altitude so I have the option of not dogfighting when I encountered enemy planes. I had been flying at 5,000 feet and most of the Germans I encounter are at the 8,000 to 10,000 foot level.
The second dogfight took me about a half-hour to resolve (half as long as the previous dogfight). I may have been a little slow, though, because I was watching Master and Commander at the same time. So the game does go quicker once the rules become more familiar.
The Pup that was damaged during the second dogfight burst into flames and killed the pilot on the very next turn. A sad turn of events, but it did solve the dilemma of how to see him safely to the emergency field. The remaining two Pups and the Strutter spent the next two turns climbing to 15,000 feet before heading over the lines.
The weather stayed with me as I had unlimited visibility for the entire rest of the mission. The flak was not too bad during the trip over and behind the lines except for one hit that holed the wings on the Strutter and one hit that slightly wounded one of my Pup pilots. I had encounters with enemy aircraft for ten of the twelve turns spent behind the lines, but I was always at least 2,000 feet above them and was able to decline combat the whole time.
The survivors all landed safely with some fuel to spare. We damaged three enemy planes, including the Red Baron himself.
By any objective account, the mission was a success, but not a major success. I ended up with a positive 3 victory points. At the beginning of the mission I took up three Pups and one Strutter. At the end, I had two Pups, one with a slightly injured pilot, and a slightly damaged Strutter.
Overall, this mission was very enjoyable.
Mission #2: Defensive Line Patrol
The last mission I flew was the dawn patrol on April 1st. I got my orders for the rest of the day: I need to fly a defensive line patrol and a bombing run. I elected to start the day with the defensive line patrol, which involves flying over nine points on our side of the line.
Of my Pups, the varsity team got pretty shot up on the dawn patrol: one dead, one wounded (back in three days), and one plane out for the morning. That left the three relatively rookie Pup pilots, and a Strutter who hadn't been up yet. They made up the flight for the DLP.
In the words of our CO, Major West, "These fellows are not, exactly, the cream of the crop."
I think what he meant was that these pilots are very, very bad. At least the two-seater pilot and observer are pretty good, but their plane's not nearly as maneuverable as the Pups.
The DLP is a bit of a cake walk (thank God), and we're flying high enough, between 12K and 15K to choose our combats. On two occasions, our intrepid band had taken on a single German aircraft at four to one odds. The first dogfight broke up without any resolution.
The second dogfight was against a damaged Alb. D-2 (easy meat, I thought). Sure enough, my two-seater managed to score a critical hit, but the EA was simply driven off. Goodbye to fuel and victory points.
At this point, I had enough fuel to fly over the rest of the required points and head home to collect a few victory points.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the weather is absolutely clear. As pretty a day as you can imagine for finding Huns.
The rest of the mission finished without incident, but I missed one of the points I needed to over fly (an actual navigation error on my part after being a bit rattled following a dogfight), so I got 4 out of the 6 possible victory points. I landed with only 4 units of fuel left, so it's a good thing that I missed one of the points I needed to fly over. Of course, if I hadn't had two dogfights, I'd have had more fuel.
I again flew high (14K feet) and was able to accept or decline combat at my discretion. My flight was lucky to have some experienced leadership from one of the Strutter pilots. In fact, he was the only one to get a hit on either of the two enemy planes we took on (at 4 to 1 odds).
Needless to say, for these guys to survive, they're going to have to improve pretty dramatically. The biggest disappointment from this mission was that the hit from the Strutter on the damaged German plane resulted in the enemy being driven off and not damaged or shot down. Had the EA been damaged or shot down, the flight would have gotten double the victory points.
Oh well. Now we need to get ready for the final mission of the day -- a bombing run.
Mission #3: Bombing Run
Everyone is back safely from the morning's defensive line patrol.
This afternoon's mission is a bombing raid on a troop encampment in zone A -- the northern zone, and the one farthest from our aerodrome. A straight flight to the target is 15 hexes; a path that keeps us on our side of the lines for as long as possible is 18-19 hexes.
The plan right was to take the whole flight, get as high as possible, then glide down to 5,000-7,000 feet above the target (no cost in fuel), bomb the heck out of it, and get over the lines as quickly as possible.
I needed to do some fuel calculations prior to the mission to know how close the fuel situation will be for the fighter escort. The two seaters have much more fuel than the fighters, so they could go it alone, but with the clear weather, enemy fighters will be sure to run into my flight. An escort seemed to be a prudent idea.
The standing orders for this mission were that protecting the two-seaters is paramount! That means that they would escape from dogfights when possible. The escort should do the same if they can, but the less-experienced members of the flight probably won't be able to get to an advantageous position from which to exit the fight. That means that the better pilots would probably stay in the fight to look after them.
I'm took the whole flight, minus the one dead and one wounded pilot. Six planes in all: two Strutters and two Pups.
Three turns after takeoff, the flight was cruising at 15,000 feet. I like to have the height as a safety measure, but the weather is closing in. Depending on how it changes as the flight progresses, I may have to get as low as 4,000 feet to do my bombing runs.
Early in the mission, one of the Pups developed engine trouble and had to land at the nearest emergency field. Luckily, the flight was heading toward one, and it's only three hexes away. He was able to land safely at the emergency field in hex N5. He had a partial escort there for the first four miles (one hex), and then straggled his way to a safe landing after experiencing one more bit of engine trouble just after the rest of the flight turned north.
(The rules say to resolve the fate of lame duck stragglers after the rest of the mission is over, but with the emergency field so close, it was a simple matter to roll through three turns just for the lame duck).
After seeing plane A5 safely off (they hoped), the rest of the flight tightened up its formation and headed to the target area. The weather varied from being overcast to light showers. A combination of excellent navigation and maybe some luck got the flight to the target area despite the bad weather. At 15,000 feet, the ground was all be invisible. On the plus side, Archie and enemy airplanes couldn't spot the flight!
(Visibility is abstracted in the game and being able to accurately navigate over the clouds with the ground invisible is a side effect of that abstraction. I'd think about a house rule to make navigating in weather more realistic, but so much in the game is abstracted, that play balance could be severely affected.)
The next step was to swoop down out of the clouds and set up for the bombing runs.
... and swoop they did!
The bombing mission finished well. Everyone dove from 15K feet to 5K feet. The Strutters stayed in the target hex for two turns, each dropping two salvos of six bombs, and getting five hits (at 10 victory points a hit).
The trick was getting away from the target area. The poor weather helped, but the flight still had a couple of close calls with enemy aircraft. The closest was when I rolled a six on a hex behind the German lines with an encounter value of six (one has to roll better than the encounter value to avoid an encounter). I rolled for the encounter and that produced the Red Baron and two other planes! Then I remembered the modification to the encounter value for weather that reduced the EV to 5 -- encounter avoided. Whew.
The rest of the mission was uneventful and everyone landed safely. Failure to undertake any mission involves a penalty in victory points. If a mission is undertaken, one still has to subtract that penalty from the mission total. In this case, I had 50 VPs for the bomb hits, minus 3 for the plane that had engine trouble and had to land at an emergency field, minus 10 for the mission penalty. That totals to 37 VPs for this mission. That gives me 44 for the whole day of 4/1/1917.
End of the day paper work involved rolling to see if anyone's skills increased or their bravery increased or decrease -- there was no change. I also need to roll for two replacement pilots: one to replace the dead pilot from the dawn patrol, and one to replace the wounded pilot from the same mission. He will be back on 1/4/1917, however.
So that wraps up the first day of Bloody April for me. Each mission took more than two hours for me to play, and the pre-mission planning took about an hour. Much of the pre-mission planning consisted of figuring out the best routes and altitudes for the mission. My basic strategy so far is to take a lot of planes on a mission, and fly as high as possible. That allows me to avoid most dogfights and choose when to engage.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable game. The rules get easier after the first two or three plays. I think the enemy aircraft encounters are too frequent, even given the historical situation, but there are ways to manage them. The game seems to reward careful planning and wise decision-making. Not everything is dependent on the roll of the dice.
One very nice feature of this game is that it's easy to make a few small notes, and then put the game away for a while, mid-mission, and pick it up again right where you left off. I appreciate that because I seldom have three whole, consecutive hours for playing the game.
Now that I've finished a day's worth of missions, I have a few observations:.
1) Encounters with enemy aircraft seem far too frequent. I understand that each hex represents 16 square miles, but seeing enemy planes for an entire 48-mile stretch of area behind the enemy lines, not to mention how frequently they were encountered behind Allied lines, is far too high a concentration of German planes compared to the real-life accounts I've read. As it was, with weather modifications and archie puffs pointing out my position, I had to roll a 10, 11, or 12 to avoid an encounter (with two six-sided die).
One easy, but still realistic fix, is to reduce the modifications to the encounter value due to weather by two. That way, the weather will still modify the chance of an encounter, but only down, and not up.
2) I really like the way flak (archie) is handled in this game, but I wonder why there is no penalty for accuracy when trying to hit planes at 17,000 feet compared to 4,000 feet.
My suggested fix would be to reduce the result of the archie effects die roll by one if the player's planes are between 10,000 and 14,000 feet; and by two if the planes are between 15,000 and 20,000 feet.
For the time being, I am going to continue to play without the suggested variants mentioned above. Subsequent missions may prove my misgivings unfounded.
- Last edited Tue May 17, 2005 2:30 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon Nov 15, 2004 8:21 pm
Li'l Ronnie Post
Excellent session report/review! Please report back after subsequent playing regarding your tweaks.
I'm glad you enjoyed the AARs. I'll continue to post them as I continue the game.