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Bloody April, 1917: Air War Over Arras, France» Forums » Sessions

Subject: Pre-pub game observations and review rss

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Mike Metcalf
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Raleigh
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The game is still 'on'; the machines still flying (those with intact wings and struts) and the pilots still sweating. I can write this session report because my last remaining flight is on 'autopilot' for its home aerodrome having aborted because of wobbly knees.

I started the game with a flight of scout machines and a single army-cooperation aircraft from a different squadron. I received the pick of the British squadrons and chose SPAD VIIs because of their sturdiness and level/diving flight speed. When you know that you are going up against experienced German pilots with twin forward-firing machine guns versus your single Vickers, you have to look for any advantage you can get. I ended up with 4 planes in my flight whose pilots were particularly not noteworthy (few British pilots are - given the times). My army co-op machine was the ubiquitous BE2c.

My Corps directive was to perform a line-patrol in German territory with the scouts and a trench photo recon with the BE2. My plan was to climb, climb, climb with the SPADs (height is power in air games) while the BE2 was to hit the trench recon line as quickly as possible. We did not know the positions of the German flights so I figured to get in and out as quickly as possible.

My observer stuck his lucky mascot 'Mingo', the Flamingo in his pocket and off we went. While we knew where the German AA guns were located, as an army co-op machine, my 10 hexes of trench to photograph were pre-ordained; no dodging the archie. As my SPADS climbed, crossed the lines and saw nothing but blue sky, my intrepid BE2 fliers reached the first trench hexes. The first four hexes were duly photographed but looming ahead was an AA gun. To complete the mission, several further AA guns would also get their shots in but it only took the first to knock a strut off my wing and end my mission. So, the lumbering damaged BE2 turned for home. By this time there were other flights of both sides in and around my location. I could only hope that my small, insignificant machine would not be noticed. Alas, not to be so. BE2c's are slow; German scouts are faster. Not 5 hexes back into British territory and in swarmed a flight of Albatros scouts. One shot and it was all over. Mingo was found - still in the pocket of Sergeant Toomer.

Well, revenge would have to come from my SPADS. Interestingly, while height is power and height is flexibility of manuever, height also sometimes places one so high that no enemy flights can be spotted. And so it was, searching and searching yielded not one inkling of the enemy. I completed one half of my line patrol which garnered the British side some paltry amount of VPs (my only contribution as it turned out) and I turned to retrace my steps the other direction to complete the patrol. Lo and behold, the enemy finally appeared well below me. I turned and dove trying to place myself in a sun-up relation to the Germans (more Albatros scouts). Of course, I misread the rules regarding the sun-in-their-eyes procedure but I tried. I had speed, I had height and, of course, I had British stiff-upper-lip courage. I sent my orders to Terry Simo regarding the upcoming fight and waited with quiet (or not so quiet) optimism. Result? My SPADS blast through the Germans so quickly that everyone misses their shots. Unfortunately, then comes the gut-check phase. Do we re-engage or not? Not, in my case. With the SPAD's speed, my flight both aborts our mission and gets clean away to zoom for home with not a single intention of looking back over our shoulders. At least our guns were hot for a moment or two.

And what are my impressions of the game itself? The heart of this game will be 1) the recreation of the historical April 1917 conditions over the Arras sector of the lines prior to and during the British ground offensive of the time and 2) the mission(s) preparation prior to actually flying your planes. I'll cover these separately.

Peter Hart wrote "Bloody April 1917", a book that covers this air campaign as seen from the pilot's perspective who participated. It is truly a wonderful companion book to Mr. Simo's game or vice versa. As Terry has indicated before, the book has been a major part of his design. The book and game dramatically show the difficulties the British faced over Arras in April 1917: the need for constantly changing ground intelligence, artillery suppression and photo-recon all the while flying poorer performing aircraft and near-obsolete army co-operation machines. In fact, I see my enjoyment playing this game of seeing if I can return those poor BE2's and Sopwith one-and-a-half strutters to base better than what occurred historically. All the big names in British and German WWI air combat history are here, Von Richtofen, Ball, Voss and Bishop. But also, a bunch of almost-hapless lesser pilots and observers manning the planes that really counted (those BE2s).

Mission planning will be the key. Can you properly place your inferior scout flights to protect the co-op machines or search out and engage the Germans before they slaughter those two-seaters? That will be the problem. Weather will interfere. Aborted flights/planes will interfere and, of course, the Germans will never cooperate with your plans. The British score more points for successful co-op missions than for German machines shot from the air. Your planning of those missions will determine much of your success or failure.

This game is NOT about tactical flying as previous WWI air games. Aircraft capabilities are slightly different, altitudes will change those characteristics to a small degree and pilot's experience will also modify the flying. However, it is more of who gets what plane(s) to the proper place at the proper altitude with the proper protection (or distant distraction) that will determine the victor. Actual aircraft interaction will be heavily dice-determined with the major German advantage of twin machine guns and experienced pilots likely taking a heavy British toll. Still, there's always that lucky observer shot. According to Peter Hart, the British scout pilots did not much worry about archie (AA fire) since the scouts were maneuvering and usually had height but the army co-op pilots and their machines made excellent AA targets with their low-altitude and need for stable flying. This certainly seems to have been borne out in our game.

The participants of this pre-publishing game had few charts so I can not comment on the chance factor in the game with any certainty. And, with Terry serving as moderator/judge, we flew mostly blind - always an excellent gaming experience. But, the feel of the game came over well enough to give these comments.

1. Excellent for those gamers wanting to 'campaign' a game.
2. Excellent for solo play (though I have not seen the actual solo-scenarios).
3. Excellent to recreate or understand this period of warfare. This is one of the best simulations I've ever seen and I've been gaming since 1961.

Thanks, Terry for running this game. Awaiting my copy!
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Terry Simo
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Mike,

Thanks for excellent write up!
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Richard Jackson
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This was a fun read! I had thought I had heard the solitaire capability was low but glad to hear it isnt. So....ordered from GMT.
Rick
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Daniel T.
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Thanks for the review. Took me some time to realize that "pre-pub" means you played this game before publication and not before you went out for a couple of beers.
 
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