Sunday, December 3, 2017

London Blitzpatrick

Last summer, I stumbled across an intriguing Kickstarter from The Plastic Soldier Co. in the U.K., proposing to remake TSR's well-received Battle of Britain boardgame from the 80s, but replacing the paper counters with small but detailed aircraft models.

Knowing Totty to be the biggest fan of Spitfires I know, I took pains to make him aware of the campaign, and he jumped on board right away. After a long a tortured production process, his kit finally arrived last week, and we got to play it last night.

Totty had upgraded to receive additional model planes, a much larger roll-up map designed for conventions and demos. Originally he was supposed to receive a set of what many consider to be the ultimate wargaming accessory: the pushy stick. Also know as rakes or croupier sticks, they are a fixture in many old war movies, as plotters move markers representing military units on map tables too big to reach across. Sadly there was an issue with the supplier, so PSC was unable to supply them. They are also planning to replace all the planes from the initial kits, as the plastic proved to be too soft, giving many of the aircraft warped wings or twisted tails.

By this point though, I found the idea of pushing fighters and bombers across a big map with only my hands, like some kind of caveman, actually disagreeable. So I set out to cobble together a set by myself.

A quick trip to Michael's for some doweling, a dip into the supply box for some bass wood, and a liberal application of both the Dremel tool and hot glue gun, and I had a reasonable facsimile in place.
DIY pushy sticks.

Totty was happy to see the sticks, and although they didn't work altogether well with the diamond-shaped bases of the aircraft, they were quite useful for moving counters and cards across the table during setup.

With a 3' x 5' mapboard to work with, there was just enough room for the two of us to set up our various flight displays, but once set up, it is a very good looking game, and it plays pretty well too.

Yes, THIS is what tabletop wargaming is meant to be!

The gameplay is quite a bit more random than I had expected. As the Luftwaffe player, I had a set of ten mission cards of which I needed to pick 7 to assign to my various flight groups. These could involve bombing a coastal radar station, destroying an airbase, or bombing a city. Once assigned, however, missions cannot be exchanged and targets of opportunity cannot be struck at. 

Likewise, the composition of each flight group is also random. 6 cards are drawn, each one representing one type of aircraft, so you get no say as to the initial mix of fighters and bombers in any given group. You need both, obviously, but when you need three successful hits on a city to complete the mission, but when you are only rolling 2 dice because the only aircraft to survive a savage intercept by the RAF is a couple of Ju-87 Stukas, well, your work is cut out for you, Jerry.

My 4' wide table is barely big enough to hold the enormity of this game!

Battle of Britain is more of a tactical than strategic game, since you only play 4 turns, but each turn begins with the RAF player choosing where to spend his precious air combat markers, as he has but 5 to spend. The turn ends with surviving Luftwaffe planes trying to destroy their targets and then determining if they have enough fuel to return home.

It's tremendous fun, and despite some missteps at the beginning as we navigated the rules, we finished our first game in around 3 hours. Although I'd heard some reviews saying that the victory conditions favoured the English, I managed to secure victory for The Hun; by the end of the game, Sheffield, Exeter, Preston, Coventry and even London were in flames. Totty's squadrons acquitted themselves pretty well though, and by destroying over a score of my aircraft, the final score was 38-28.

"Guten abend, Tommies!"

All in all, well paced and fun game to play, with almost precisely the right amount of detail and only the barest amount of logistics to impede scramble calls and death from the skies. I look forward to our inevitable rematch!

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