Ethan Van Vorst
If there has been one constant in my life it has been a love of all things relating to military aircraft. Don't get me wrong, I think Boeing 757's and L1011's are nice and have their uses and all, but until they've got tailguns, ball turrets, and 10-racks of AAMRAM missiles they just don't interest me that much. So what's a boy to do when it's 1987 and the only air to air action he has is a copy of F-15 Strike Eagle on his Commodore 64? Why, buy "Screaming Eagles" at the local K-Mart of course!
Now you have to remember that Screaming Eagles was released shortly after the fighter jet movie craze of the mid-80's, typified by "Top Gun" and "Iron Eagle", the latter of which being my preferred of the two. Actually "Top Gun" would have been better if they took Val Kilmer's character from "Real Genius" and put him in Iceman's position. But alas, Hollywood never listens to me. But I digress. Screaming Eagles was obviously aimed at air to air combat enthusiasts and built upon the popularity of the "Top Gun" and "Iron Eagle" craze. I seem to recall playing the game perhaps 7 or 8 times after I got it, usually with my brother, whom I'd conned into playing a match. Coincidentally he had absolutely no interest in jet fighters but ironically ended up as a crew chief for F-16's when he joined the Air Force several years later. I'd love to say I helped nudge him into this career course via the use of Screaming Eagles, but that'd be one helluva stretch...
If you find yourself humming "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister at some point during this review, then you'll be in the right mindset.
The game comes with 1 wacky looking gameboard, 4 fighter jets (2 blue plastic F-16's, 2 tan F-18's) and their stands, 4 red dice and 4 black dice (each with their own specific numbers and use), 4 cardboard battleboards (1 for each jet), 9-each Command Cards for each jet, and
a slew of tan and blue pegs that appear to be otherwise identical to the type used in older versions of Battleship. It is worth mentioning that each jet fits snugly onto it's respective stand and can swivel/tilt from side to side, simulating banking (that's turning the airplane left or right for those of you not in the know )
The gameboard is among one of the most unique I've ever come across. It is rectangular and features a latticework of diamond shaped spaces, roughly in the shape of a very elongated hexagon. The outer "borderline" spaces each have numbers assigned to them. The 4 corners of the board depict portions of the cockpits of the various fighters being flown in the game and each corner is assigned to a specific plane.
Image courtesy ot B. Perry/BGG
The game is set up for 2-4 players. Each plane is part of a two-jet team and the goal is to destroy the two opposing fighters. We'll proceed at this point in assuming that the game is being played by 4 players so that it's easier to understand. The 2 and 3 player games differ only slightly but the 4 player game explanation will make the most sense. Each player picks teams and puts their respective planes on the gameboard in it's own start area. These are shown on the image above as the colored diamonds. According to the instructions the Blue team (F-16's) moves first (blue jet, tan, blue, tan for Turn 1. Tan jet, blue, tan, blue for Turn 2, etc.) and the "initiative" will change over back and forth each turn until someone gets fragged.
Players are given their 9 Command Cards. These Command Cards display various maneuvers that each player may make during that turn. Players each in turn select which card (or "maneuver", if you will) they will be using that turn. The card is placed upside down in their specific corner of the gameboard until it is their turn. When it's the players turn they flip their card over for all to see and make their respective move. Below is an image of the 9 Command Cards for the Eagle Squadron plane (F-18) and the maneuver each lets the player use.
Picture courtesy of Chad Rutt/BGG
Players can use any of the 9 cards they so choose to maneuver during the game. The one they select for that round is turned upside down on the board and then revealed and used when that player's turn comes up.
In addition to this the Battle Boards for each fighter are set up. Each plane has it's own arsenal of Long Range missiles (2), Medium Range Missiles (3), or Cannon (8). A colored peg representing that team is placed to fill in each one of these ammo slots, as well as two holes at the bottom marked "Flares".
Picture courtesy of Ninjabob/BGG
The perforated jet diagram above the ammo area is used to mark damage administered to the plane in one of several specific areas. More on this later.
How it works
Players are allowed to "break left", "break right", or "go straight" across the board. As a result the game moves in generally one direction, from the bottom up, and never turns around in the other direction. Listed on each card are the numbers of Black Dice to be used in calculating the distance to be moved in that direction (left, right, straight). The Black Dice are not typical d6 dice with pips, but rather are arranged with a pair of 1's, 2's, and 3's on them. Players can play cards using 1 die for slight maneuvers, 2 for moderate ones, or all 4 Black dice for all-out afterburner action. Players who reach the edge of the map on their trip up the board will match the number on their edge diamond with one on the opposite end of the board. Further moves in that direction result in what the game refers to as "looping". In effect your jet passes through the top of the gameboard and reappears at the bottom on the specific numbered diamond. This is a pretty nifty gimmick and allows for some unpredictable maneuvers on your opponent's part.
Hey, this is what it all boils down to, right? Throwing lead or self-guided missiles at your opponent and waiting to see that gratifying explosion. Well, in this regard "Screaming Eagles" doesn't let down. As stated before each fighter is allowed to carry 2 Long Range missiles, 3 Medium Range Missiles, and 8 Cannon shots. Each fighter has a "firing cone" it is allowed to fire at opponents in (not at all dissimilar to the method used in "BattleTech") and must essentially position themselves roughly to an enemy's 6 o'clock position (that's behind the enemy, for those of you not in the know ) at which point they are given the option to fire weapons. A player can choose to fire their weapons before or after they make their move (albeit only once per turn), which comes in very handy. This is where the Red Dice come into play. Shown below are the Red Dice and Black Dice. Red Dice have 3 values they can display, each listed twice per die; 0, 2, and 5. This will give you an idea of how rolls will work.
Picture courtesy of Chad Rutt/BGG
Players roll Red Dice to calculate the distance to hit the enemy plane, and each weapon will let you use an increasing number of dice. For ease of explanation when a player rolls the Red Dice they are essentially rolling to see how far their projectile will travel, rather than if it will hit. Here's a rough breakdown of one's options:
Long Range Missile: Can be fired using 4 Red Dice. This increases both it's range and the chance it has to hit.
Medium Range Missile: Can be fired using 3 Red Dice. Slightly lesser range and chance to hit.
Cannon: Can be fired using 2 Red Dice with a very difficult chance to hit. Restriction: Can only be fired in straight lines, which makes it even harder.
The caveat here is that missiles are able to "track" onto an enemy's plane, and provided they're in your cone of fire, you can launch as many as you want at the enemy fighter. But one effectively has only 5 shots with this, and only 2 precious Long Range Missiles. Once the missiles are gone you'll have to attack using only Cannon. Cannon ammo is much more plentiful but requires that you maneuver in a straight line with the enemy fighter, meaning 1+ diamonds directly behind the enemy, or 1+ diamonds directly diagonal of it.
With all the maneuvering that takes place in the game Cannon shots can be very difficult to do, and if the game stretches out and players only have cannon left, expect 6-7 turns to pass before one even gets a chance to make a shot. Ammo is tracked by removing pegs from your Battleboard and laying them on the gameboard, so as to "represent" your shot. If the missile/cannon shot hits the target plane that player takes it and places it in the appropriate area (more on this later). When your ammo section is starting to get sparsely populated by pegs you'll have to plan your shots more carefully.
The lesson here folks is "conserve your missiles", especially the Long Range types, until you absolutely need them to win. When Cannon ammo eventually runs out (as it will occassionally do) the instructions allow for "reloading", which means that roughly every turn after you run out you receive a single Cannon shell, but you can only fire every other turn. It's weird, but hey, it's in the instructions . Personally I call this the "Doug Masters Option", although if Doug Masters was playing Screaming Eagles he'd have 20 Long Range Missiles and would never need to reload. The player is not allowed to do this. However they are, at any time, allowed to strap a Walkman to their thigh and listen to raucous 80's hard rock music.
Each fighter has the ability to launch up to 2 flares in response to missile attacks. It works like this:
Player A (Tan) fires a Long Range missile at Player B (Blue) from a distance of 7 diamonds. Player A rolls 4 Red Dice and gets a 0, 0, 2, and 5. Statistically Player A only needs 7 total for his missile to reach the enemy plane, so this is a hit. However Player B uses one of his flares and is allowed to pick the highest die and remove it from play. In this fashion Player A, with his highest die removed due to the Flare, has rolled a total of 2, and thus misses. If Player B had been out of Flares this would have been a hit. Flares are absolutely precious and must be conserved until needed. They have no effect against Cannon shots.
When one's plane is hit a simple system is used to deduce where the hit was made on the plane. The player making the shot uses the 4 Black Dice (the ones used for movement) and tallies up the total from all 4 to determine hit placement. Rolling 4 or 12 (Cockpit and Fuel Tank, respectively) are considered Critical Hits and will kill the plane in one shot (again, not too dissimilar from BattleTech), while all rolls in between land on the Wings, Engine, or Tail Section. To successfully kill the plane one must either hit the Cockpit/Fuel Tank once, the Tail Section/Engine twice, or the Wing 4 times. Most of the time I find that hits will land on the Wing, but it's not uncommon for planes to receive several hits before they finally blossom into a fiery cotton puff.
This is a very, very fun game. I recently pulled it out and played it after 20 years and was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the experience. Trying to position oneself for a shot is tricky, and given the frenetic maneuvers your opponent is likely to make to put him or herself on your tail (figuratively speaking) Screaming Eagles plays out like a "Hunt or Be Hunted" type of game, and the "Looping" action only intensifies this. If there are two fighters left at the end of the game and both are relying totally upon Cannon to make the kill, expect the game to really stretch out interminably since lining up Cannon shots requires advanced planning, prognostication, and a whole lot of luck with the dice. This is a fun game for 2 players and I can only imagine it'd be a real hoot for 4. One may find themselves outnumbered and clutching the Battleboard of their deceased squadron-mate and quietly intoning, "Talk to me, Goose". A great game that can be played in an hour or less and allows for great socializing during play.
I rate "Screaming Eagles" a solid 7. If you don't agree with me, well then I challenge you to run "The Snake" against me. And don't even think of screwing with my oil cap!
Excellent review! Just played this last night with my son. There is a bit of strategy involved along with the chance of hits/miss and damage to aircraft. Worth the investment of time for sure.
I agree, excellent review. My wife surprised me and bought this for me for Christmas. We have been having a blast playing it. I love the cat and mouse aspect of guessing where your opponents are going to end up. Good stuff!
Nice review! I just got this game back from my parents and can't wait to break it out with my Air Force brat friend. This was a little too involved for my brother and I when we were kids but now we should be good!