Board wargames is the most interesting way to learn military history through playing. But usually while playing face-to-face we become so hot-tempered, that any learning or research part of the history wargame goes on the back burner. More dice we roll, deeper we dive into the game, farer we become from history. That’s absolutely reasonable, as we gather to play in the first place, and due to respecting time of each other, we try to play as quick as possible to finish the scenario by the end of evening. Later at home we may put some efforts to check the history events behind the scenario, compare the OOBs and weaponry, thinking of what happened in the game.
But what if we’ve got the spare day at home, that we may spend with the favourite game without any haste? Solitaire mode is the great way to learn the game deeply, find out how it works: there’s no opponent to beat, no pressure for the result, so it’s possible to try out any possible ways for setup and moves without scare to lose due to ineffectiveness. History book may be also a great companion to such kind of playing.
Let me tell you how I spent such a day with my favourite tactical air combat game – Wing Leader. Although I played about 15 times, some rules were forgotten after a break, so I will recall them together with you.
Rulebook and scenario book are organized greatly! Rules are divided into basic and advanced parts, well rounded index composed in such effective way that you will always jump on the proper paragraph. Volume of rules you need to know is steadily growing from scenario to scenario, leading you from tiny air combats to full scale air operations with different types of bombing, Flak and branchy command system.
Lee Brimmicombe-Wood is well known air wargaming superstar. He also put great efforts into scenario creation. Scenario #6
«Let’s Go and Surround Them» from “Wing Leader: Victories” box is dedicated to one episode happened during the most hardest period of Battle of Britain (the 15th of August, 1940). It was easily found in chronology (see 17:00). Name of the scenario corresponds to the famous phrase of 87th Squadron commander Ian Gleed who instructed his flight: “Okay chaps… let’s go and surround them!” despite the odds against them.
Let’s take a look on the scenario card, which is very easy to use. The first thing that eye catches is the Order of Battle, that helps to quickly find corresponding counters and data cards and then setup them on the map.
After OOB you will find the rest of the scenario rules like starting map edges, doctrines, ground control, radio nets, sun/cloud positions and victory conditions. There are also several special rules that emphasize some historical flavor of the battle. In our case form-up between German fighters and bombers took too long, so Bf 109 squadrons operates at their fuel limits (starting with Low Ammo marekrs), one experienced British squadron may perform a tactical split even under rigid doctrine. Victory points assigned the standard way for the down in flames and bombers flown all the way to the opposite map edge.
At the very start of the scenario, the player faces an interesting task to place Spitfire squadron in any free space on map. German planes flies from east to west, “surrounded” by two Hurricane squadrons from both sides. So the player has an option to either reinforce any direction with free Spitfire squadron or throw it right into the battle. We know that in any good wargame (and Wing Leader is definitively a great one) terrain plays an important part. Preliminary terrain analysys may give a hint, where to put any war efforts. The most important terrain elements in Wing Leader are clouds, haze, contrails and, of course, sun position. More about positional advantage you may read in my history section.
Watchful reader will find that sun positioned in the top-right direction, so placing spare squadron higher and right from Messers formation will give British the chance to bounce the raiders. But much more important is the fact that literally couple turns after, German sweepers will be separated from bombers and escorts by thin cloud layer, and it will be harder for both groups to observe what happen beyond the clouds (so the attack may become quite a stealth). So I decided to concentrate the forces on the west side of the sky, to attack with two squadrons under the cover of clouds.
The last thing to do before the start is to prepare Wing Displays by setting there ID, mission and status markers. Let the battle start! The easiest way to start playing is to follow the Sequence of Play. It is very well done with rules references.
Set-up phase is skipped until some new units should appear on the map during the following turn. The last thing we need to do during the setup is to assign interception vector markers to all squadrons with Intercept mission. Vector marker determine the square the squadron must fly towards until redirected by GCI. Opposing side may roll the die for every such marker to try to move it in any direction for two spaces (it simulates initial interception control error, and 6 must be rolled). This time British got lucky and no errors were made.
Before we move further, let us recap what type of missions our units have and what can they do corresponding to the assigned mission:
- Bombing. Using the basic rules, bombers fly towards the opposite map edge, spending 2 Movement Points (MP) per turn without any altitude change.
- Escort. Escort fighters were setup in up to three squares from any bomber unit and fly the same pattern until reacted to enemy movements or switched to the sweep mission due to the tally of the enemy squadron.
- Sweep. Unalerted squadrons fly towards the opposite map edge spending 2 MP per turn without any altitude change. Alerted squadrons may: continue to move such way; spend up to 3 MP to the friendly squadron from the same radio net tallying the enemy using the shrtest route; spend up to 3 MP to follow the tallied enemy squadron; declare return to base and move towards friendly map edge spending 3 MP per turn; spend up to 3 MP to try to return into escort formation.
- Intercept. Squadron may move up to 3 MP towards its own vector marker and circle in place on arrival, until GCI redirect it to another point or it has tallied an enemy.
All British squadron starts with Intercept mission. “Upper” German Bf 109 formation perform Sweep, and Bf 110C escort Ju-87 bombers.
Let’s return to the Sequence of Play. The next step is the Tally Phase. During this phase squadrons attempt to find visual contact with the enemy. To make a successful tally, one need to roll more than distance from tallying squadron to the target on one die. Germans didn’t find anyone during the 1st turn, because there’s no rear view mirrors on Bf 109, so they got a -2 penalty to look behind. Hurricane J squadron (eastern one) rolls 6 against the lagging Ju-87 squadron and finds it, so vector “J” becomes Tally “J” and the hunt has started!
The next phase is Movement. Movement should be performed in strict sequence: Dogfights -> escorts -> bombers -> unalerted fighters in the initiative order -> alerted fighters in the initiative order. The squadron that moves last has an advantage over the rest of units because it may react on the widest range of situations. Initiative order corresponds to the altitude of the squadron. The lowest move first. If the squadrons share the same altitude, one with the lower basic speed moves first. If the speed is also the same, die roll determine the order. This sequence has an important exception: tallying squadron should move right after its tallied squadron (this may create a chain of tallying squadrons activations).
After the first movement phase situation became more compact. Squadrons are relatively close to each other and will roll for the tally with better chances next turn.
Notice that squadron “J” stays in the sun for the whole bombing group and also keep a safe distance from the Bf 109s that have a problems with rear view.
There’s no combat this turn, so the Combat Phase is skipped. So is the Administrative Phase, as no squadrons want to return to base or be redirected from the ground.
On the second turn German sweep group missed the action again and impended over the clouds. “West” British squadrons closed up with Germans but still didn’t found them. One Bf 110C squadron noticed the upcoming Hurricanes, but too late, as they jumped out of the sun.
Here comes the first combat! Ju-87 and Bf 110C squadrons defend against Hurricanes. Bf 110C will be leading squadron to use its parameters. British considered attacking, so they choose the type of combat between Hit & Run or Turning Flight. They take Turning Flight to use Maneuverability instead of Speed which give them +2 advantage on the current altitude, and +1 for fight against Green squadron for total +3 Combat Differential and +1 dice modifier for bounce (out of the sun). Germans will retaliate with -3 column and +1 dice modifier (-1 for being bounced and +2 for defence rating in Turning Flight).
British roll is 2 + 6 + 1 = 9, that corresponds to two hits on +3 column. Every German squadron should take one hit. To confirm every hit, one need to roll more than target Protection. First roll 1 – auto miss! Second roll 2 + 1 for Firepower = 3. Only a Straggler! Very unfortunate!
Germans roll 5 + 4 + 1 = 11 – one hit on -3 column! Roll to confirm 2 + 2 = 4! Straggler, too!
After the fight, every squadron should check its cohesion. Every hit to cohesion approach the breaking of formation which will result fighters to return to base and bomber will simply lose their effectiveness (less VP).
British rolls 6 + 4 + 1 (for being attackers) = 11. Passed! German Bf 110C: 1 + 4 – 1 (for Green) = 4 – Disrupted! Bombers: 2 + 6 = 8. Passed! Every fighter squadron receive Low Ammo marker after the combat, so the chance to return home after next combat increase, as Ammo marker works as negative modifier to Cohesion Check.
As Hurricanes has an edge in Maneuverability, they try to bind Bf 110C into a Dogfight. It will allow to lure the victims from the cover of bombers defensing fire. Both sides rolls modified 2, so Dogfight begins.
Next turn, Tally Phase. The last chance for German “sweepers” to notice the battle below. It’s important to plan the Tally rolls sequence. If one squadron will find the target, it may inform the rest by radio, allowing them to roll with +1 modifier or follow the fellow squadron. In that case, it may be wise to start with Veteran squadron (“B” in the middle), as they have the maximum Tally chance. They try to find Hurricane “K”, as Spitfires still hiding behind them. The roll 2 is a miss! Squadron “C” misses too! Squadron “A” tries to find Spitfires and also misses – roll 5 is not enough due to clouds!
British Ground Control worked perfectly, so now fighters will punish the helpless “bottom” group. Two Stukas down!
German sweepers finally noticed the fire below and dived right into the action. After the short and fierce battle most fighter squadrons turned to their bases leaving partially disrupted bombers to finish their mission.
Here how the both Wing Displays look at the end of the scenario:
Broken bomber squadron gives only 1 VP, so let’s count the totals. Germans got 13 VP (6 + 1 + 1 for bombers and 5 for shot down fighters), British got 8 VP for killed planes. Difference +4 (Germans – British) means Allied victory. If one more Ju-87 squadron made it unbroken, the game would end in a draw, so that was a closed one!
A short summary after the play:
- Solitaire play is the great non-competitive way to deeply immerse into the hobby. You do this with your own tempo, no need to rush. You may model how it was in history, just taking back your moves (which an opponent usually would not allow) and replay any part of the scenario not worrying about winning.
- Wing Leader looks like a perfect way to become aquainted with air combat of WWII on tactical level. And I see no alternative game for today.
- A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s possible to learn every wargame, no matter how complex it is. Rules reading is one of the interesting parts in our hobby. Moments like “I got it!” and “I made it!” are priceless.
- Play wargames! With friends or solo, it doesn’t matter. just play them. All the efforts you put into a hobby will pay off with a deep satisfaction.