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The Burning Blue» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The Burning Blue - a new obsession? rss

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Neil Amoore
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I don't generally write reviews of games that I've played, because I don't think I have the nous to critique a game effectively, but largely because I couldn't actually be bothered. What follows is the result of finally being charmed enough by a game to do so. It's hardly a review in the proper sense, truth be told, more of a postcard from your favourite holiday spot saying "Wish you were here". Only rather longer, and less succinctly put.

I bought TBB almost two years ago and have just never found the time to get to the games on that particular shelf. Until three weeks ago, that is. I have to confess up front, though, that I've always been more taken with games involving ground-pounders and that air warfare has always been a second-choice for me gaming-wise.

A month ago, though, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Richard Overy's book on the battle and I was hooked once again. Not that I'm suggesting that Overy's work is a masterpiece, but it certainly awoke fond childhood memories of Battler Britton comics.

With that, my regular gaming buddy and I - he being rather fond of all things propeller-driven - set about learning the rules. I have always liked the narrative that games like ASL provide, and have never quite found that same level of immersion in an air game. Perhaps I've just been too close-minded to allow other games to show me what they can give narratively, but my experiences have not been fruitful in that regard.

I wish I could say that, after humping my way through seemingly endless pages of ASL rules, that the TBB rules fell oh-so neatly into place in this addled brain of mine. They didn't, and that worried me for a few days. I realised, after much introspection and irritation, that I had been going about it all wrong. I'd anticipated complexity and what I found instead was common-sense. Where I expected to discover unnecessarily technical terminology (Do I REALLY need another acronym after ASL??) I found an elegant blend of the technical and game mechanics.

Once I relaxed (with the help of a whiskey by that point, admittedly...) and realised that a lot of the work had already been done for me, the game started to flow.

Still, it has taken a fair amount of reading, highlighting and re-reading to get a good grip on the rules. Well, good enough to have a competitive and fun game at any rate and that is what has surprised me the most about this game. I'd expected it to be complex, and yet it wasn't overly so. What was there instead was necessary to allow me to feel like the counters weren't stuck on a paper map but moving through the air. I'd also expected it to be dull and dry (No reflection the game or the designer, rather more indicative of my own infantry-bias!), and yet it has been remarkably rich in narrative.

I'll not forget the heroics of 111 Squadron, their venerable Hurricanes bullet-ridden but unbowed, throwing themselves against a HUGE Luftwaffe raid. The courage and determination they displayed in then landing, re-arming and chasing the same raid out of British air space still has me grinning.

The same can't be said, however, for my countryman, Sailor Malan, and his direction-challenged minions in 74 Squadron. Blundering around the sky and making a nuisance of themselves, they failed to tally anything and were then chased home by a marauding Luftwaffe Channel patrol.

Further indication of the near-addictive nature of this game has been the way my gaming buddy - and oldest friend - has thrown himself into learning the rules. No mean feat for a rules-phobe, I might add.

As with Lee Brimmicombe-Wood's other game in my collection, Nightfighter, I have found TBB easier to learn than it is to master. We've only played the first two scenarios (we're working our way through all four chronologically), but already I can see the nuances for both RAF and Luftwaffe player in the timing of raids, intercepts and the subterfuge employed by the Luftwaffe player.

The latter has got to be one of the best incarnations of its type in a game system that I have played. No "Saving Throw vs Hidden Raids" here....

Our first foray into the system, playing scenario one, was necessarily a learning experience and a lot less fluid than yesterday's crack at scenario two. We have decided, rather more because of a gaming rivalry that goes back almost 40 years, that we'll stick to particular sides (I'm the RAF, he the dastardly LW) while playing the scenarios in the early phases. Yesterday gave me a victory as crushing as it was for the Luftwaffe in the first scenario.

Of course, no rivalry (the Ashes spring to mind...) would be complete without some form of trophy to play for. Henceforth, and on a quarterly basis, the "Sailor Malan Floating Trophy of Fiery Testicle Death", will be the object of much desire...

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Martí Cabré

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I have this game on my list. Seems complex... Now i'm enjoying Dowtown after some previous trials. I think the mechanics are similar.
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Jack Smith
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marticabre wrote:
I have this game on my list. Seems complex... Now i'm enjoying Dowtown after some previous trials. I think the mechanics are similar.


Great review Op and I agree with everything you said.

It's a surprisingly easy game but with depth of game play. I prepare all the LW planning the day before the game session and that is a lot of fun in its own right. The rules are well written, the best of any game I have, and logical.

We now have added a few optional rules to add some more flavour and they are great fun.

While the game focuses very much on historical accuracy I found there was still a highly enjoyable game there which really shows the issues and decisions both sides had to face.



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oystein eker
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marticabre wrote:
I have this game on my list. Seems complex... Now i'm enjoying Dowtown after some previous trials. I think the mechanics are similar.


No - very different.

You find similar mechanism in Elusive Victory and the new Bloody April 1917
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Rick Herrick
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Nice little opinion piece on the game. I remember seeing this game when it first came out, but also thought to myself that it looked complex. I mean when you see "40 page rule book and a 48 page scenairo book" you tend to think that it's going to be a bit of a bear for an old gamer like myself.

I'm glad you did this piece on the game. It's making me want to take another look at it. The air war has always fascinated me and I love reading books and watching movies or documentaries on it, but it aways seems like to make a game over it would be hard as you'd have to make it very complex (Air Force / Dauntless) or make it very simple to be able to play it quickly or get non-hardcore friends to play (like Wings of War).

A big rule book does tend to put me off, but when I hear someone say that the rules are very well written and are mostly common-sense then I start to relax and think that maybe I could tackle such a game after all.

The Battle of Britain has always been of great interest to me and to that end I've purchased several games over the years. Need I say that I've yet to play any of them, but somehow, that doesn't seem to stop me from buying more. Right off the top of my head I've got London's Burning, RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940, and I just picked up from eBay The Battle over Britain (it looks like Mr. Butterfield likes the battle too!). I also own Dawn Patrol, Wings of War, B-17:Queen of the Skies, and Mustangs.

Now, thanks to your enthusiasm for The Burning Blue, Neil, it looks like I'm going to be on the hunt for yet another air war game! Great. When the heck am I ever going to stop buying these things and start playing them?!

Oh perfect, now I sound like my wife.
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Chris Stimpson
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OP, nice comments. TBB is my favorite of all games, and largely because of the excellent work done by the designer in replicating the BoB operationally as well as he did.

You say you've only played scens. 1 and 2. What I find so engaging about scens. 3 and 4 is that the raids get more interesting; the LW has to penetrate further inland, and the air battles are more interesting when they take place over the London suburbs and even in 10 Gp airspace. Scen. 5, I find, is tedious. The battle was winding down and consisted largely of fighter-bomber raids darting in at high speed, doing very little damage and running back to base. Again, LBW models this so well in his game that he reproduces this 'wind-down' effect very well - unfortunately!

Re other BoB games:

*I've never really liked 'RAF', although I only have the original version so can't comment on the most recent iteration. It seems that you have to get 'gamey' to give the RAF a chance to win. (I believe I am in a minority in this opinion).

*London's Burning: If TBB hadn't existed I might have liked this older game better. I bought it because I thought it would be a more detailed, tactical plane-on-plane game than TBB, and to an extent it is, but I was disappointed in the level of play - too simplistic. Sold it.

*Never tried Battle over Britain - it looks a big game, but the photos of the board didn't much appeal to me.

Enjoy the 'deeper' scenarios! Opportunities for second launches of squadrons!
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Roger Taylor
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cstimpson wrote:
Scen. 5, I find, is tedious. The battle was winding down and consisted largely of fighter-bomber raids darting in at high speed, doing very little damage and running back to base. Again, LBW models this so well in his game that he reproduces this 'wind-down' effect very well - unfortunately!

LBW is something of a completist regarding scenarios, so we get history lessons like Scenario 5 that we'll play only once. It reminds me of Scenario 1 in Nightfighter, featuring a Hurricane equipped only with the Mark I eyeball and rated "Impossible".
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Chris Stimpson
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The only good thing that happened to me in scen 5 was when I genuinely selected the Italians bombing the Butlins Holiday Camp at Clacton... That was fun...
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Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
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One of my friends flew with Malan in the battle, as part of 74 Squadron. A great pilot and fighter but a thoroughly unpleasant person according to my friend's account. 74 Squadron was, overall, a very successful unit. One of the few to adopt improved tactics against the Luftwaffe. Though even they had their off days, I'm sure.
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Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
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If you like the style of game, I highly recommend my Bomber Command title. It's even more cat-and-mouse and you can zap through a game in around 2 hours.

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/27101/bomber-command
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Greg S
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I've had this game since it was first released, but after a mind-numbing perusal of Downtown's rules book, I was afraid of trying this one.

I've just recently taken it off the shelf, and have begun the punching and clipping in anticipation of finally getting it to the table.

Thanks for your insight on this game!!!
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