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Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972» Forums » Reviews

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Nicolò Blotto
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Loosen your grip, opening each palm, slowly now – let go.
I've been gaming thru anything that life has thrown at me, and all I got was this avatar.
Downtown is an air combat lover dream come true. Not only this, but it is also one of the more modern, accurate and all in all fun wargame produced in the last years.
Downtown depicts air war in Vietnam during two big operations launched by the US over Hanoi, one at the beginning of the war, and the other in the last few months of the war. The scale of the game is unique: while many other air war games have concentrated in trying to recreate dogfighting (which is a subject not really that easy to recreate well on paper, expecially when there are so many good computer flight sim rivalling with paper wargames), Downtown looks at the conflict at an operational scale, but without looking at all the supply and organizational details typical of that scale. The scale is defined "raid scale" by the designer, which is a perfect definition of what we get with this game: each single sitting recreate a single raid, from its tactical planning to the post execution target photo flight, leaving multiple raids and more "operational" details to the campaign game.
Every raid starts with both sides planning the "hidden" infos needed for the raid: the US plans the route followed by bombers, while the NVA player chooses where to place its defensive units (Migs, SAMs and Flak). The addition of the planning of the bombers route may looks like an unnecessary complication since it seems to add a lot of bookkeeping to the game, but after having done this thing a couple of times, you'll do it fast, and you'll love the fact that your raids are tied to this pre-plan so much... because without this preplanning phase, the NVA often won't stand a chance: this is because NVA player has much less aircrafts, and so it has to guess well the planned route to achieve the more aborted bombers results as possible to win.
When the game mechanics are simple, but there are many deeply interwoven factors to consider while executing the raid. Detection in example is very easy (kinda like "roll a die for each flight each turn"), but it considers a lot of factor, from altitude, to the heavier radar coverage of NVA forces over the territory, to naval radars of the US and the radars mounted on F4 jets. The same "easy to do, hard to factor everything" approach stands for many mechanics of the game: from air combat, which is very abstract, but which favours good maneuvering before the actual combat more than having the better plane involved, to Sams, which are very detailed (you have to turn on their radar to work, you can use anti-sams missiles on them if you have a particular flight tasked on sam suppression etc.), but which are in the end very fast to resolve. The real winner of this game is this: there are a lot of details, but it plays fast and it is very intuitive, so you can concentrate on what to do, instead of thinking of how you did this or that particular thing.
The presence of two different US campaign at two different times of the war allows you to see the evolution that jet combat had during the war, and it also allows you to see the different approach the US took to general raid strategy, with the late war operation using big, scary packages which looks terribly good on the map. As usual for recent GMT works, graphics are soooooooo good you'll drool all over the board when you see the game "in motion".
Support from GMT is usually good, but in this case we have also a terrific support from the game designer: Lee Brimmicombe-Wood has a great page devoted to this and heis other upcoming games on air war, and here you can find a lot of downloadable thingies, from tactics, to "consumable" record sheets, to full blown solo rules which are actually VERY good IMHO. If you add to this a VASSAL module... well, you have got one of best wargames ever released, and you can actually play it against living opponents too. Run and grab it, you won't regret it.
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