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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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Posted in Down in Flames, Gaming this weekend, Historical Games A-Z | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review: Empire of the Sun

Posted by Denny Koch on July 14, 2010

Game: Empire of the Sun

Publisher: GMT Games
Published in: 2005
Designers: Mark Herman, Stephen Newberg
Era: World War II, Pacific War
Game Type: Hex based consim, card-driven
Players: 2
Scale: Strategical level. 1 hex=250 miles, 1 turn=4 month.
Contents: 1 rulebook, 280 9/16“ and 88 5/8“ counter, 2 strategy decks (82 cards for the Japanese player, 83 cards for the Allied Player), map (not mounted, 55×86 cm), 2 Player Aid Cards, one 10-sided die

HFC Game-O-Meter:B


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 6
Playability:
8
Replay Value:
10

Overall Rating: 8

PRO Interesting combat system, variety due to the card-driven mechanics, strategically challenging, interesting to both sides until the end of the game
CONTRA It’s difficult to get into the game in the first place because of a somewhat confusing rulebook

Introduction

Empire of the Sun (EotS) is a strategic game of the Pacific War of World War II. It is a complex hex and counter consim with a card-driven mechanic.

The most interesting aspect of PTO games is the approach to the Japanese victory conditions and how to keep the game interesting in the endgame. Pacific games often suffer from the fact that the Japanese historically couldn’t win the war and were heavily outgunned in the late war by the US, strangled by supply problems, and their ships and aircraft fleets almost destroyed.

US invasion in Japan

So there is always the danger that a game dealing with the PTO becomes quite boring for the Japanese player after his first (and last) initial strikes because he cannot react to Allied actions. A good example for this is Fire in the Sky (FitS) where the Japanese player is damned to watching the US “god fleets” take one island after another while the Japanese suffer from heavy oil shortages, unable to react to the US fleet movements. In the end game of  FitS, the game gets even boring for the US player because his attacks are made on such ridiculous odds with utopian dice roll modifiers that he cannot lose a combat even if the Japanese spends his last valuable oil reserves to counter one of his attacks. This doesn’t mean that the US win all FitS games (they don’t, because their victory conditions are very sharply timed), but it’s always the US against the clock and not the US against the Japanese.

Therefore, our main intention for playing Empire of the Sun was to see how this game deals with the Japanese end game issues and the question how a Japanese player can win the game – even if Japan couldn’t win the war historically. The designer’s notes of EotS admit that Japan couldn’t ever have won the war – but the Japanese player nevertheless can win the game by preventing  US victory. And this works!

Empire of the Sun is interesting and intense for both sides, up to the very last turn and last-minute of the game – there is always enough to do for the Japanese to take an active part in the game and throw obstacles in the US path.

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Posted in Empire of the Sun, Historical Games A-Z, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Visiting battlefields: The Bridge of Remagen – a field trip

Posted by Denny Koch on July 5, 2010

The Erpeler Ley and Ludendorff Bridge

Andreas and I used a prolonged weekend to visit the Bridge of Remagen which is located in western Germany, about 50 km (=31 miles) south of Cologne in the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate. The Bridge across the Rhine river was destroyed in World War II on March 17th, 1945 after 10 days of heavy fighting between German and US troops.

After the destruction, the Ludendorff Bridge was never rebuilt but remained ruined as a memorial. Today, the bridge towers at Remagen (on the left bank of the Rhine) house a famous war museum, telling the story of the Remagen bridge. On the opposite bank, high above the medieval town Erpel, the volcanic basaltic rock “Erpeler Ley” offers a great overview of the Rhine valley, the bridge and the Eifel region. This mountain was called “Flak Hill” by the advancing US forces due to its strategic position and flak emplacements.

Denny at Remagen station

We went to Remagen by train. The town was founded by the Romans 2000 years ago (celtic name: Rigomagos, latin: Rigomagus). First, we visited the town and went to the tourist information. Remagen was partly destroyed during the War, so the town consists of the typical ugly mix of medieval townhouses and modern eyesores, mainly built in the 50s, supplemented by modern ambitious and less ambitious buildings.

Nevertheless, there are some places of interest besides the bridge, such as a Roman museum, the infamous POW camp “Golden Mile”, and the Apollinaris Abbey located on an old Roman sanctuary. This church, located on the Apollinaris hill, was unaffected by the war.

After a short stroll through Remagen we went down to the Rhine promenade. The weather was good, mostly sunny, sometimes cloudy but no rain. The remains of the Ludendorff bridge are widely visible because the black towers are quite high. The bridge is a famous tourist feature and quite popular among US and British tourists as well as other foreign and German tourists visiting the Rhine valley.

The Towers of the Remagen bridge, containing the museum

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Posted in HFC On Tour, Museums, Visiting Battlefields | Tagged: , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Review: The World at War (Xeno Games)

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 7, 2010

Publisher: Xeno Games
Published in: 1990
Designers: Frank W. Zenau, William Kendrick
Era: World War II
Contents: > 200 plastic playing pieces, a new map, rules, new set up charts

HFC Game-O-Meter: E


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 2
Rules: 1
Playability:
3
Replay Value:
1
Overall Rating:
1,75

PRO Perfect gift to enemies and annoying people; educational value as a deterrent
CONTRA Too expensive, too horrible. Horrible rules, miniatures, map. Scary. Terrifying. Highly explosive.

Introduction

A World at War is an expansion to the well-known Axis & Allies game. It was published by Xeno Games and its intention is to bring “more depth and strategic options” to the game. It isn’t too successful, though, because it does everything plainly wrong.

Axis & Allies certainly belongs to the most played games of all time and the game eventually developed into a series of games using the same mechanics and the same WWII background. Today you can play Axis & Allies Revised, Pacific, Europe, Battle of the Bulge and many more offshoots:

* Axis & Allies – the Game
* World at War 1st Edition
* World at War 2nd Edition
* World at War 3rd Edition
* World War II – the complete Game
* Axis & Allies Europe
* Axis & Allies Europe 2nd Edition
* World War II – the Expansion
* World War II – the Expansion 2
* World War II – the Expansion 3
* Europe at War
* Russia at War
* Axis & Allies Accessory
* Central Powers
* New World Order
* Axis & Allies East & West
* Middle East Combat
* Dateline: World War II
* War to end all Wars
* Battle of the Falklands
* The great War in Africa
* Axis & Allies Trade
* Europe 1483
* Africa 1483
* Asia 1483
* North American Update
* Max Advanced Rules 1
* Max Advanced Rules 2
* Spanish Civil War
* Axis&Allies Enhanced Realism Rules
* Game Plastic Pieces
* World War II in the West
* Axis&Allies Pacific
* Enemy on the horizon
* Risk 2042
* Operation Barbarossa
* Axis & Allies von Nova-Games
* Eastern Front
* Modern Units for World at War
* More Units your World at War
* Rise of the Red Army
* Battlecards
* Conquest of the Pacific
* World War I
* WW II in the West
* Pacific at War

and much more. Some of the offshoots are really nice and of a very high quality. Some are plainly horrible – and the worst of all is Xeno’s World at War.

Graphic Presentation

TWAW contains a new collection of rules, a new game board, as well as additional armies, markers and chips.

see that ugly light blue? Armies with that colour are doomed to lose...

The colors of the partaking nations of the original A&A are similar but not quite the same which is very disappointing (Germany (grey), Japan (yellow), USA (green), England (beige) and Russia (brown)) plus France (blue) and China (white or light green). It is important to mention that there are mainly new armies (France & China) included and only few of the original nations are supported, i.e. without the pieces of the original Axis & Allies game, TWAW is rather useless. So it’s really an expansion and not a stand-alone game.

The contents’ quality is sub par if you want to use a friendly word. Everyone buying TWAW as an expansion for his A&A game has certain expectations about the map graphics or the plastic figures – because these are of a very high quality in Axis & Allies. It’s certainly not too harsh to say that these expectations will be heavily disappointed when you open the game box! The map – made of paper, simply folded four times and carelessly put into the box – looks ugly and obtrusive. The borders between the countries (which have a comic like color) are far too bold and in too loud a red so the map is really hard to look at. As already mentioned in contrast to A&A, the map isn’t mounted but is a simple print on glossy paper and cannot be compared to the A&A Map’s quality.

Without laminating this map, playing on it is also quite difficult since it’s rather thin and tends to tear. The playing pieces are extraordinarily low in detail and not of a good quality, produced in a sloppy way and again their colors don’t even match the original A&A colors. Besides the fact that it doesn’t look that good, depending on the illumination sometimes it is hard to differentiate the colors of the respective nations which is not really increasing fun.

The material of the reference cards for the countries is not cardboard (as in A&A) but they are made of simple paper and lack any color or improvement.   Although the national markers look-alike, those of A&A are much higher in quality (the symbols are often lopsidedly printed onto the markers in TWAW). Also the stacking chips are different in thickness and color compared to those in A&A.

Rules

The map is plain ugly

You will be surprised to hear that the rules are even worse than the presentation of this game… Xeno included a sloppy produced rule”book”, which is intended to be used as an add-on to the original A&A rules. Alas, it is almost impossible to play a game with these rules – inconsistencies, black holes, relevant and basic things not even mentioned etc. leave the player alone in a sheer rules chaos, forcing him to develop house rules in order to make this game playable. Nothing seems to be playtested by Xeno, and the additional rules slow the game down in a very boring manner without enhancing the game quality of the original A&A at all.

Despite these flaws a lot of A&A players swear by especially this extension due to the new political aspects and the slight differences regarding maneuver due to a map with more areas.  The problem of the inappropriate additional rules has been solved by semi-official House Rules within the A&A community. Thus the extension is made playable and allows for an application of some innovative ideas, compared to the limited options you get in the base game. Although it should be mentioned that the A&A series introduces some of these mechanics and units with the later games, so TWAW had some use before the newer A&A games were published, but seems now completely obsolete, at least the version we played.

Playability

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Posted in Historical Games A-Z, Misc. Histor. games, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »