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Subject: RAF "Lion": Full campaign game rss

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Hugh Grotius
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I finished my first full campaign of "RAF" yesterday, playing as the British in the "Lion" solitaire game. I had a great time with it. The entire campaign took me about a dozen hours, spread over about 4 days. Here's my after-action report.

August 11, 1940. Things got off to a bad start for the Royal Air Force. I set too many aircraft on patrol at 0600, and when 0800 arrived, most of the RAF was on the ground, re-arming. German raids pounded me, unopposed, at the Beachy Head radar station and at Portsmouth. Afternoon raids at Hornchurch and Tangmere added to my losses, and by the end of Raid Day One, the score was -8.

August 13. Again I had trouble at 0800, as a major raid at Hornchurch went largely unopposed. I had not yet learned to hold back a reserve! But in the afternoon I successfully intercepted raids at North Weald and the Poling radar facility, inflicting heavy losses to enemy bombers. German night-bombing was ineffective. I ended the day at -6.

August 16. A very hectic day, with raids at Beachy Head Radar Station, Southend, Kenley airfield, Southhampton, Weymouth, and a big raid at 1800 hours at Hornchurch, featuring 14 Gruppen. I won the air-to-air furball there, and while the Germans did land 1 VP worth of bombs on the runway, all in all it was a net gain for me. I also gained an Ace. Ended the day at score -3.

August 19. A series of punishing afternoon raids erased my VP gains from the passage of three days, and night bombers finally hit something, inflicting two VPs worth of damage. I ended the day at -4.

August 22. Perhaps a turning point. German priorities changed, and today I saw my first deep raid, on the industry at Brooklands. With no ME-109s to shoot down my interceptors, I inflicted heavy losses on the Me-110 escorts. I also won air-to-air engagements in the afternoon, and my score climbed dramatically. Even my Blenheims got into the act, successfully intercepting night-bombers for the first down, and inflicting light losses on one bomber group. A big turnaround in score: +12 at the end of the day, my first "positive" score of the campaign.

August 25. A bad day, as major raids on Hornchurch, Southampton, and Rochester took their toll. I lose my sole (Spitfire) Ace in the skies over Rochester. I have plenty of pilots and airframes, though, and so far I haven't been tempted to pay the victory points for reinforcements. I'm inclined just to "cash" them in for pilots instead. The German fighter pool is close to zero, but they have plenty of bomber replacements, and the Luftwaffe is still not "depleted." Score at end of the day: +5.

August 27. Bomber Command hits German industry, further inhibiting German fighter replacements, and the Luftwaffe depletion marker creeps up to 3. Here in Britain, our boys fight well, spanking German raiders over Debden and Biggin Hill. Score: +12, I think; my records here are a bit unclear.

August 28. The Germans decide to provide more escorts for their raids. At 0800 I encounter 13 Gruppen (including many escorts) raiding industry at Yeovil; 6 squadrons respond. I get lucky: the Germans take several losses, and I take none. Score: +17. German bombers do inflict light damage on the radar net at West Prawle.

At noon a German raid over Kenley airfield becomes unglued as bombers get separated and Me-110s decide to strafe the target rather than provide close escort. Score: +20. At 2 p.m., two successive raids. In the second one, over Weymouth, all six German fighter-escorts end up in the Close Escort box because of events. A massive furball ensues, the Germans take yet more losses, and all their bombs miss. Score: +25. But a follow-up raid on Weymouth catches me unprepared. I end the day at +21. I'm starting to hope I can force Hitler to cancel Operation Sea Lion on September 11.

September 2, 1940. My hopes fade a bit as the Germans storm back, bombing Southampton and other southerly targets, while my interceptors suddenly start missing everything. At night, the 600 Blenheim squadron successfully intercepts a night raid, completely disrupting it and inflicting a couple VPs worth of losses. Still, my score drifts back down to +14.

September 6. A big day for the RAF, as the Germans lose a number of aircraft while trying, unsuccessfully, to bomb North Weald airfield. At night, I get lucky again, inflicting still more bomb losses, though I do lose one Blenheim squadron.

Blenheim replacements are at zero, but Spitfire and Hurricane replacements are at or near the max -- making me wonder if I'm doing something wrong. I have been assessing replacement losses following bomb hits over occupied airfields, and when I replace light and heavy losses. I think I just haven't taken that many losses. Even the pilot situation is pretty good. I decide to take no reinforcements at all, which lets me move my pilot total to the maximum following September 8, when the British Stablization program kicks in.

Score at the end of the day: +23. My highest "day-end" score yet. I did reach +25 at one point in the afternoon of August 28, before losses sent that day's total lower.

September 7. Just as I start thinking "pfft, this game is too easy," I take my worst pasting of the war. A big uncontested raid at Dover spanks me for 4 VPs as my planes rush to re-arm on the tarmac at airfields around London. A follow-up raid at the same spot hurts even worse, for 5 more uncontested VPs. Another raid at Hornchurch adds damage. At night, German bombers finally hit something, but they take an operational loss on landing, negating their VP gain. Still, it's a great day for the Germans, who gain 14 or 15 VPs in one day. Score: +9.

September 12. A five-day time advance brings my score to +14, enough to delay Operation Sea Lion -- but not enough to cancel it! So no decisive win for me. As mentioned, I had reached the magic number of +25 at one point on August 28, but I haven't gotten back to that level since. Now I have to focus on getting Hitler to cancel Sea Lion before September 22, in order to win an "operational" victory. The requisite score decreases gradually as time goes on; e.g., my current +14 isn't good enough today but will be good enough by September 18. So I just need to stay "even".

At 0600, we trade blows in the skies over Southampton. I scramble everything to try to get an early lead on the day, and this works in the short term: I inflict 6 VPs of losses, and the enemy hits the target for only 1 VP. But a follow-up raid on the same target produces exactly the opposite result: 1VP for no RAF response, plus 4 VP (3 VP for bombing the primary target, 1 VP for hitting the secondary target of Portsmouth). So no net change after the first hour of fighting.

This pattern repeats itself through the day. We exchange wins and losses over Biggin Hill, Portsmouth, Hornchurch, Kenley, Middle Wallop, and (lastly) at Hornchurch again. Final score on the day: +15.

September 15: After a 3-day advance, I'm at +18 -- one point short of operational victory! Hitler delays Sea Lion once again, this time until tomorrow (Sept. 16). I just need another "break-even" day to win. And in fact I do slightly better, aided by German confusion over non-essential targets and the German's inexplicable insistence on conducting raids out of Me-109 range. By the end of the day, the score is +19.

September 18: After a 3-day advance, the score is +22, and Hitler cancels Operation Sea Lion. Britain is safe! I win an operational victory. Hip hip, hooray!

Here's a rough graph of my score. If I get the energy, I might update it to include hourly fluctations in scores, but even as is it's interesting.



Some reflections.

I had great fun with this campaign. It plays fast, and it's addictive. I'd finish a raid, then say "OK, I'll just tidy up and then go do some work." Then I'd reset the counters and say, "Well, it won't hurt just to peek at my Advance Warning." Then: "Well, I suppose I might as well set my patrols." Then: "Heck, another raid will only take a couple minutes." Once you get to know the system, the ratio of administration to game-play goes down. I still don't think I'd want a much lower "ratio," though.

Strategic decisions?

Sometimes when I play solitaire games, I get the feeling that the game is playing me rather than the other way around. For the most part, RAF doesn't feel that way. There are just enough interesting decisions to keep me interested. Strategically, a couple come to mind: do you take reinforcements, or save them for pilots? How much do you commit to night interception? I kinda wish there were more such "strategic" decisions; perhaps there are in "Eagle."

Tactical decisions?

Tactically, there are a couple important decisions in each raid cycle. Where do I patrol, and what do I keep in reserve? And, once you intercept, do you focus attacks on the hunters (fighters) or the bombers? Focusing on hunters improves your air-to-air kill ratio but lets more bombers through; focusing on bombers means you lose more to enemy fighters. I tended to focus on hunters, relying on some of my aircraft to win their dogfights and then get to the bombers. This seemed to work well for me. After a while, it became rather automatic for me, so mostly my decision-making focused on where to patrol. That's fun stuff, but it's a minority of the time one spends at the game board.

Still, even the administrative stuff is fun in its own way. For some reason, I found it fun to move RAF squadrons from "patrol" to the "land" squares, and from "land" to "re-arm," and from "re-arm" to the map. (Moving the Germans is less fun -- just a matter of putting them in a single airbase box.) There's an undeniable tactile pleasure to pushing counters around. And, as I mentioned, it helps that the admin stuff goes pretty fast once you know the system.

Conclusion

This campaign was great fun! I might take a short break now, just for a change of pace. In particular, I've ordered a couple other solitaire wargames: "D-Day Omaha Beach" and "Where there is Discord," so I want to make room for them. I ordered "Omaha" specifically because it's by the same designer, John Butterfield, and I was really impressed with the innovative mechanics in "RAF." (Playing "RAF" has also made me wonder whether I might enjoy the computer game now out on the same subject, Gary Grigsby's updated "Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich." Anyone tried that?)

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be back to "RAF." Great stuff!
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Conor Hickey
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Very good session/review and reflects a lot of my feelings about the game too.

[quote]I had great fun with this campaign. It plays fast, and it's addictive. I'd finish a raid, then say "OK, I'll just tidy up and then go do some work." Then I'd reset the counters and say, "Well, it won't hurt just to peek at my Advance Warning." Then: "Well, I suppose I might as well set my patrols." Then: "Heck, another raid will only take a couple minutes." Once you get to know the system, the ratio of administration to game-play goes down. I still don't think I'd want a much lower "ratio," though.
[/quote]

I have felt this a LOT with RAF, it does have the 'one more turn' feel to it that has kept me playing for a couple of hours beyond when I meant to on several occasions.

[quote]Tactically, there are a couple important decisions in each raid cycle. Where do I patrol, and what do I keep in reserve? And, once you intercept, do you focus attacks on the hunters (fighters) or the bombers? Focusing on hunters improves your air-to-air kill ratio but lets more bombers through; focusing on bombers means you lose more to enemy fighters. I tended to focus on hunters, relying on some of my aircraft to win their dogfights and then get to the bombers. This seemed to work well for me. After a while, it became rather automatic for me, so mostly my decision-making focused on where to patrol. That's fun stuff, but it's a minority of the time one spends at the game board.
[/quote]

I have found that concentrating on defending radar and airfields at the start and paying less attention to industry/port/city raids seems to be a good way to go, also I would defend somewhat lighter in the mornings and respond to minor raids or deeper major raids, then hopefully in the afternoons even major raids become smaller/have less 109 hunters as the Luftlotte does not have enough Gruppen to fill the entire raid so raid size is reduced.

Those are the ones to hit hard and try and rack up VPs against as the German bombers are terrible in combat - they are also the ones that can do the damage to VPs.

[quote]
Still, even the administrative stuff is fun in its own way. For some reason, I found it fun to move RAF squadrons from "patrol" to the "land" squares, and from "land" to "re-arm," and from "re-arm" to the map. (Moving the Germans is less fun -- just a matter of putting them in a single airbase box.) There's an undeniable tactile pleasure to pushing counters around. And, as I mentioned, it helps that the admin stuff goes pretty fast once you know the system.
[/quote]

There's a very good VASSAL module for RAF Lion out, which can cut down on a lot of the admin part of it by automating some of the movment functions etc., worth checking out. The same author has just produced the first version of his Eagle module.
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Hugh Grotius
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Thanks for your reply. Glad to hear you're enjoying it too.

I haven't had to worry too much about radar because the Germans don't seem to target it too often. Maybe I've just had lucky card draws or unusual German priorities.

I didn't know about the VASSAL mod; I'll check it out.
 
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