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RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940» Forums » Reviews

Subject: On fiddlyness... rss

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Jan Tuijp
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A review by an inexperienced war gamer. For details on game play, the three different games in the box and their components, see other reviews. I’d like to talk about some other aspects, like the alleged fiddlyness of the game.

I’ve bought this game together with D-Day at Omaha Beach (also by John Butterfield). RAF was delivered first and I started studying the rules. My approach to any game is to study the rules twice, sometimes more, with no more than an occasional glance at the components. For me that’s part of the fun of buying a new game. Foreplay in the literal sense.


Rules

The rules were a bit frightening for someone who’s accustomed to FFG-rulebooks with lots of pictures and examples, big fonts and plenty of spacing. The RAF-rulebooks will have none of these frivolities and just pour the rules on the pages, methodical, logical and rather intimidating, especially for eurogamers. But then, this isn’t a eurogame of course. This is a war game and he who considers buying this game does well to consider:

a. the amount of time he is prepared to spend on mastering the rules
b. the amount of time he is prepared to spend on the game
c. the amount of time he actually has to spend

On the rules, the news isn’t really that grim. There are very nice player aids available in the files section and especially the flip-book(s) are of enormous help for newbies (or for those who haven’t played for a while).


Time

The same cannot be said about playing time. The first plays will cost you. Dearly. Even with a flip-book. There are several reasons for this. First, there are lots of things to keep track off. In the right order. Things that impact the game in a way you don’t immediately appreciate. A fiddly kind of way.

Another reason why the first game(s) will take ages, is because by the time you're getting good at fiddling and you get it right, you’ll get creamed. And you’ll spent hours looking for ways to improve your performance, getting frustrated and bored in the process.

Well. At least, that’s what happened to me. I’ve played the introductory scenario once. It cost me hours. I’ve played the 2-player game with my son, which took us days. I liked it, but it took too long to repeat. Last week I started the four day scenario (The Hardest Days). That should have taken about three hours. Yeah, right.


The Hardest Days

I think I spent 12 hours on this one and the first raid day was devastating. The day started at 0600 and lasted forever. Time advanced slow and too often not al all, because of numerous follow-up raids. Approach and Target events seemed to conspire on hitting me when I was most vulnerable and all the time I was trying to cover too many bases. As a result the RAF got grinded by the Luftwaffe and VP’s were slipping through my fingers like water. This was getting tiresome and worse, repetitive.

I’ve read complaints about this game that there’s too much bookkeeping going on and too few moments of relevant decisions. By this time I could relate to that. I was beginning to feel the game was playing me. Alas, this was not a new experience. My previous games (both the introduction and the 2-player game) were not that different (yeah, I’m a slow learner).


Eureka!

Even someone of my limited intelligence couldn’t help but realize (after being pounded again and again) that intercepting a raid with too few squadrons almost always ends up worse than not intercepting at all. You might save on VP’s (if your lucky) but you will lose fighters, which is far worse. Light Losses mean you won’t be able to use those squadrons for the remainder of the day, while Heavy Losses mean you’re handicapped for another raid day.

I tried a different approach. Big wings. Not responding to every raid. Pay more attention to the Priority Table and how it effects both chance and impact of raids.

And slowly the tide turned. After some research on the geek (should’ve done that way before!) I invested in Replacements. I learned to appreciate them very quickly. You should always buy replacements, unless you’re on the point of losing or ending the game.

On top of things to keep track off, replacements added new agonization to the decision process. By this time I learned to value the differences between Spitfires and Hurricanes. The decision of what replacements to buy is a no-brainer, at least in The Hardest Days. Always buy the Spitfires in the 6/11 neighbourhood, since that’s where the most raids will occur. But how to deploy them? Spitfires are very useful against fighters, but against bombers Hurricanes are more cost effective (they are reduced from 3 to 2 in stead of 4 to 2 like Spitfires). When you can really hurt a German raid with a Big Wing, how many excess squadrons are you going to assign to bomber hunt, trying to account for the Approach and Target events?

Here's where the ingenuity of the design shines through. All these little things to keep track off, all these tables that seem so excessive and, well, fiddly, come together to make an awesome simulation. This becomes apparent only when the game sinks in and all the different aspects of the bookkeeping become so familiar you don’t need the flip-book any more and you can do with the Sequence of Play on the map. By then the just-one-more-turn-factor sets in and becomes an ever increasing threat to your night’s rest. The game begins to flow and bookkeeping will give way to time-consuming decisions which become less random but all the more agonizing as you’re getting better in weighing them.

For me the game really began to shine. The frustration when your carefully set up Big Wing deploys in vain, due to poor intelligence or a particularly bad event... The thrill when you’re ‘hunch’ pays off, German planes drop down like flies and 'Herr Meyer' is having a bad day. In the long run (and RAF is all about the long run) the quality of your decisions will matter.


Conclusion

So, is this game as fiddly as some say? Is bookkeeping a problem? Well, for many people it surely will be. Obviously this is not a game for hard lined eurogamers, but also many war gamers will be put off by the subtlety of the game and the long haul of the BoB that RAF seems to simulate so well (I’m curious btw for the opinion of an WO-II expert on this).

Is it worth the price? That, of course, also depends. I tend to relate price to hours of fun. In that respect RAF will give me more hours of fun than a grown man will care to admit in public and certainly worth more than the EUR 75 it cost me.

When you’re prepared to immerse yourself in this game, put a tremendous amount of time in it or when you’re a BoB-enthousiast, this game will not disappoint.


And that’s only Lion. I still have Eagle to play (Oh jolly!)


Edited for typo's



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Luke Hughes
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Very subtle and interesting review. Thank you
 
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Jim Ransom
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Thanks for your review, Jan. Been thinking about taking the plunge on this game. Sounds like most drawbacks are surmountable, and that there's fun eventually to be had.
 
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Morten Lund
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I'll echo Jim and Luke - very interesting perspective, and well written
 
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Jan Tuijp
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jpr755 wrote:
Thanks for your review, Jan. Been thinking about taking the plunge on this game. Sounds like most drawbacks are surmountable...


It depends on what you're looking for, I guess. RAF seems as much a simulation as a game. A good simulation (as RAF appears to be) can never be simple as it has to account for many variables. So the bookkeeping is a necessary evil. However, when all begins to fall into place, the bookkeeping takes considerably less time. Not only does it become a minor nuisance, it actually makes things interesting, because of the narrative it creates.


But this is very personal. The variables may change, the bookkeeping itself is repetitive. You basically draw cards, roll the die a few times, glance at tables and adjust markers. A a rough indication: at the start of my first games I spent (per raid!) about 20 minutes on bookkeeping, 5 minutes on Squadron deployment (since I didn't know what I was doing) and 10 minutes on resolving the battle. Those were long days.


As my understanding of the game play and the mechanics involved developed, the balance tilted. The last day of The Hardest Days I spent roughly 3 minutes per raid on bookkeeping (that is including deployment of the Luftwaffe), about 10-15 minutes on Squadron deployment (oh, the doubts, the fears - how many squadrons to deploy when you don't know the exact size of the raid - which squadrons to deploy when the numbers of A-, B- and C-squadrons are lopsided and you want to spread your risks - shall I pound this possible 2-plane minor raid or save my 6/11 Big Wing for the next one when and if it occurs) and another couple of minutes on resolving the battle.


From the outside there doesn't seem that many choices to make, but that's beside the point. RAF is more about decision quality than quantity. Advanced rules will provide more choices, but you shouldn't bother with them until you've mastered the basics. You're basically put in the chair of Air Chief Marshal Dowding. Based on careful analysis of often limited intelligence you have to outsmart the Luftwaffe by deploying your squadrons to the maximum possible effect.


Quote:
...and that there's fun eventually to be had.


Oh yes. Once you know what you're doing, it becomes very difficult to stop yourself from "just one more turn". devil



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John Falcon

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I have to be honest and say that I was scared straight off this game from so many of the things I have read, but your review manages to intergrate the shortcomings into an eventual winner...perhaps when the game is reprinted, I'll consider the plunge...thanks
 
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Very perceptive review.

At moment playing solo Hardest day scenario on first day, only 10am, 11th and 12th Group have been almost stripped bare defending with Radar and Airfields particularly badly hit.

0nly 7 squadrons between them and on minus 6 Vps.System feels like I'm playing a relentless Luftwaffe who's intent on pummelling me with follow on raids.

Taken me hour and half but I enjoy taking my time to relish been hammered.
 
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Jan Tuijp
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Yeah, it's not called 'The Hardest Days' for nothing. cool

Don't forget to buy reinforcements at the end of the day!

By the way: it's tempting to leave planes behind to defend their airfields, but when that defense isn't strong enough (as it rarely is), all too often it will cost you more than just lost VP's.

 
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Jan Tuijp wrote:

I was beginning to feel the game was playing me.


That's spot on. Part of the appeal of this game is being carried along in a story of the battle of britain. I think as a solo game it works well that way but when introducing new players requires a leap of faith from gamers whose natural inclination is to react against any kind of fettering.

Tally Ho!
 
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