TSR’s battle of Britain is a simple (12 and up!) operational game of the famous air campaign. I played it several times in the late 1990’s and was surprised to see the comments on BGG labeling it as grossly unbalanced, although I notice some posters felt it favored the Germans and others the English!
So I recently pulled this out again and played through two games solo, in both cases hoping for a German victory. I mostly play solo and usually the good guys win, so I really wanted to test the unbalanced charge. In my first game, the Germans had accomplished 7 of the 9 missions they need to win by the end of turn 7, but had no more squadrons to fly the final tun 8 and therefore the English (just) scrapped out a win. What follows is an account of my second game, still making every effort to play both sides as well as possible.
The Germans have 3 Luftflotte’s, for which I’ll use roman numerals, II, III and V. They draw 5 mission cards and must allocate one to each Luftflotte. For this turn they decide to send II against the town of Bath, III against the radar installation at Furness and V, flying from Norway, against Sunderland. Aircraft losses are fairly heavy on both sides, the Germans losing 5,7 and 2 squadrons from their Luftflottes, of which the 2 lost to Luftflotte V are most significant. With only 9 squadrons to begin with, Luftflotte V will be out of the war on it’s next loss! However, both II and III accomplish their missions.
The British have four air groups, 10,11,12 and 13. Each air group is made up of between 2 and 4 flights, of 3 squadrons each. Because the battle is being fought over England, the British have the possibility of repairing their damaged squadrons (German squadrons are gone forever). After repairing the radar at Furness and rolling for the damaged squadrons, the British are missing 1, 6, 1, and 0 squadrons from their air groups, which means Group 10 will be short an entire flight for turn 2
Luftflotte II draws Canterbury, a town right on the coast, but is unable to score enough bomb hits and fails it mission. Luftflotte III goes after and destroys Exeter. Luftflotte V drew an airfield in the Group 13 area as it’s mission, which seems accomplishable as it only requires four hits. But the British fighters coincidentally positioned themselves over the airfield and the Germans did not want to risk losing that last squadron. Having Luftflotte V stay as “threat in being” seemed more prudent and they returned to Norway quickly.
With 3 missions accomplished, the Germans are ahead of the curve, though Luftflotte III lost several squadrons in it’s fight to get through to Exeter. Their primary British opposition came from Group 10, who are now short 4 squadrons and therefore will be missing 2 flights next turn. And Group 13, in the far north, lost 1 squadron to Luftflotte V and they will also be missing a flight.
The Luftflotte’s are assigned Ipswich, an airfield in Group 10’s area and Belfast. Belfast is a very hard target, far beyond the comfortable range for Luftflotte V. But the Germans don’t mean it as a suicide mission. While they know that Group 13 is badly depleted, and they’d really like to make a bombing run this turn, the mission orders worked against them. So by assigning Belfast to V, they know they can at lest eliminate it from the mission deck and hopefully draw better missions in later turns.
Both Luftflotte II and V consequently make no real effort to hit their targets. Both fly up to the radar line and then abort. The only important fighting occurs up north, where Luftflotte V loses 1 squadron, leaving them just the minimum 6 required to fly again next turn. Luftflotte III continues to carry the load. Bombing and destroying an airfield in Group 10’s area is a cakewalk with Group 10 missing 2 of 3 flights. No German planes are shot down in air to air, though 2 bomber squadrons are lost to AA.
The English repair rolls continue to be abysmal. Despite allocating practically all production to help Group 10, they fail to recover enough squadrons to staff either Flight B or C again.
The five missions drawn are in Group 12 and 13 areas. These are very difficult to reach and reflect the Fuher’s over-confidence in the air campaign. Especially with Group 10 so depleted, any mission there would have been welcome, but no luck. Instead the missions are assigned as, Radar in Group 12, Birmingham (the first long range mission of the war) and Luftflotte V gets lucky and is assigned a radar site on the coast of Group 13’s area.
Luftflotte II flies up the channel coast and fights a fierce air battle as the RAF tries to pin them against the map edge. The lose 4 squadrons, but they knock out the radar site. Luftflotte V is intercepted just off the coast and loses a squadron immediately. Knowing they’ll never fly again, the remaining bombers forgo their usual retreat to Norway and press on, destroying their target!
Luftflotte III drew the toughest mission, Birmingham. They have no trouble getting through Group 10’s area and decide to keep the planes in 3 separate flights to make it harder for the reinforcements of Group 12 to concentrate. On the third impulse, all three flights come together over the target and destroy it, three missions accomplished this turn! But Flight A is low on fuel, they had the longest approach flight and they now get cut-off by swarming RAF fighters. While the other two flights swing well west and escape, Flight A is forced into a low odds escape directly over the English countryside. The first big swarm actually costs the RAF more fighters than the Germans, but it can’t last. By the end of the 5th impulse the entire flight has been destroyed. Luftflotte III loses 11 of 18 squadrons send out this turn.
But the RAF loses were equally high, and the repair shops are overwhelmed. The British start the next turn short four flights, 3 from Group 10 and 11 who will have to bear the brunt.
Things are going so well that the Germans decide to withdraw all of their JU 87’s and send them east for the surprise attack on Russia. Those 6 squadrons will hopefully not be missed.
Luftflotte II is assigned an airfield in Group 11’s area, III gets the city of Weston in Group 10’s area. As noted, both British groups are severely depleted. Group II chooses the airfield at Hawkinge, right on the coast. Although the British fighters based there put a good fight, the airfield is destroyed on the first impulse before any other British flights can converge.
Luftflotte III keeps the flights spread out as they encounter the radar line, again confounding British hopes of predicating the target. Although Groups 12 and 13 race south to help, the Germans get to Weston first and destroy it.
With 9 targets destroyed in 5 turns, the Germans have won overwhelmingly. It is easy to see why some might think the Germans unstoppable after a game like this, it is well that my first game saw the English win in seven turns.
So what was different? Well, the Germans had good fortune with the mission assignments, lots of relatively easy targets in Group 10 and 11 areas, and lots of airfields and radar sites as targets which only require 4 hits to destroy as compared to 6 for most cities. Remember Luftflotte II’s failure to destroy Canterbury in turn 2? That was because they only scored 5 hits.
The other big factor was very poor repair rolls for the British. In my previous game the British Groups were only once forced to fight with a missing flight. In this game, Group 10 was missing at least one flight on every turn except the first. That just opened too many holes for the Germans and made it very difficult for the British to cut-off returning German flights for the kind of slaughter they did achieve only once (against Luftflotte III A on turn 4)
With Group 10 fighting short handed the whole game, that opened up southern England for Luftflotte III, who accomplished their missions on every turn. The combination of relatively easy missions and a big hole where Group 10 was supposed to be me made this pretty easy for the Germans. But take away those factors and the English are right back in it.
So, not a terribly deep game, and certainly luck plays a significant part, but it is not intrinsically unbalanced.