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Gaming this weekend: Down in Flames (GMT)

Posted by Denny Koch on October 20, 2010

Module 1: The Rise of the Luftwaffe, unfortunately out of print

This weekend, a classic returned to our gaming table: Down in Flames by GMT Games, a card-based game series depicting World War II air warfare.

Down in Flames consists of 4 modules and several expansions, but we wanted to play the dogfight variant this weekend, not one of the larger campaigns, so we only used the first two modules “Rise of the Luftwaffe” and “Eighth Air Force“.

“Dogfights” are the basic game variant where your leaders and their wingmen fight against the other players’ fighters. The “Campaigns” are the advanced variant, they add special rules, bomber formations, and historical scenarios, for example “Invasion of Poland” or “Battle of Britain” with several sub-missions, like bombing raids on railway stations or supply depots.

This isn’t meant to be a review or anything like that, just some short random impressions and general thoughts that occurred to us while we were (re)playing this game which had spent a long time on the shelf (you know the problem… too many games, too little time… ;)).

Down in Flames – more than a series (actually, two series)

Module 2: Eighth Air Force, adding more fighters, more scenarios and replaces the Luftwaffe rules

“Rise of the Luftwaffe” was the first module of the GMT game series, published in 1993. Ownership of this module is the prerequisite of playing the second module, 8th Air Force. Unfortunately, both modules (Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force) are out of print and GMT Games doesn’t plan to reprint them. The other two modules which depict World War II air combat in the Pacific theater (“Zero” and “Corsairs and Hellcats”) are still available. GMT announced that they are planning a “Down in Flames Deluxe European Theatre Game” named Wild Blue Yonder which will replace Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force, but it is still in P500 status and whether it will ever be published in the foreseeable future is unknown.

At the same time, game designer Dan Verssen re-booted the series and published DiF in his own company, DVG (Dan Verssen Games) with revised expanded rules and new modern artworks. The first module of his new Down in Flames series was “Aces High”, published in 2008. The second module “Guns Blazing” was just released this autumn. His new DiF games are not compatible with the GMT DiF series, however.

So getting into the “classic” GMT version of the game is somewhat more difficult than jumping into the new DVG version because especially “Luftwaffe” is hard to find, at least for a reasonable price. In addition, if you own Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force, there might be some slight rules confusion because the 8th Air Force rules supersede the Luftwaffe rules whereas you have to stick to the Luftwaffe rulebook if you want to play any Luftwaffe campaigns.

We are in the lucky position of possessing several copies of the GMT modules as well as the Dunkirk variant from the C3i magazine (the house zine of GMT), so when we decided to bring back the classic DiF to our gaming table, we could jump into our dogfights immediately. We also decided that it would be an interesting task to compare the classic GMT Down in Flames with the brand-new DVG DiF series and to write some impressions about the differences between both series. Since many gamers are confused by the old series vs. the new series vs. the Wild Yonder P500 module, some information about both series could be helpful. We know about the confusion because we fell into the same trap… so you can expect more about both games in this blog – stay tuned!

Dogfights on the table

There is almost no setup time - you select your fighters and off you go!

So this weekend, we returned to the classic GMT version (we will play the DVG version next weekend). We hadn’t played Down in Flames in years, so we actually had to re-read the rulebook and almost start from scratch (although we quickly remembered why we always liked the dynamics of this fast card-driven wargame!).

Since we did a review reset when we relaunched our HFC website, we took the chance to read the rules with a fresh perspective as a new player would read them. And don’t get me wrong – we really love the game, it’s certainly one of the coolest air combat games ever made and the flight and fight dynamics, the speed, the feel of being a pilot are unmatched. Nevertheless, some random aspects, negative as well as positive ones, shall be mentioned here.

The 8th Air Force rules supersede the Luftwaffe rules, so when you are playing the dogfights variant, you only need the 8th Air Force Basic game rulebook. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe rulebook has more illustrations as well as card explanations which are missing in the 8th Air Force rulebook, but this becomes more problematic in the campaign game (for example when you want to know what a “spoiled attack symbol” looks like – which is only illustrated in the Luftwaffe rulebook). For dogfights, the 8th Air Force rulebook is sufficient and you can leave the Luftwaffe rules in the box.

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