I have had some solitaire games for a long while. The first that I owned was a gift to me from my wife when we first got married. Part of the Ambush! family, she bought Battle Hymn and it’s expansion Leatherneck, these basically being Ambush! in the Pacific. I played them a few times and got demoralized when my teams were repeatedly wiped out. Since then I acquired Ambush and a couple of it’s expansions too. I have also dabbled in B-17 Queen of the Skies and Patton’s Best, but foolishly sold those years ago.
I recently purchased D-Day at Omaha Beach and D-Day at Tarawa. I have played the introductory scenario from DDOB and will soon get it rolling on VASSAL and make reports here.
Wanting to get further into the solitaire wargaming hobby, I started searching for more. I was shocked to see how much there is available in this niche of a niche of the boardgaming hobby, and when I had the opportunity to pre-order Skies Above the Reich, I took the dive.
I have had a fascination for the old War Birds since I was a kid. My dad got me interested in them, and I actually went a bit further back with a WWI aircraft obsession. For years, the gift I would buy for my dad for Christmas was a War Birds calendar. After he passed away, we found he had kept them all. His favorite was the F-4U Corsair and I remember watching Baa-Baa Black Sheep over and over and over. Oddly enough, I have only been on an airplane once in my 52 years.
Skies Above the Reich flips the script for wargames a bit. With the player in charge of a Staffel of BF-109s as they attempt to break the B-17 Combat Box. According to the game, the Combat Box was the result of the effort of the Allies attempt to find a better way to preserve Flying Fortresses during the trip into, over and back from Germany. As we are mostly people interested in Military History, we all know that those bombing runs were extremely dangerous, especially early in the war as the Allies had no fighter escort that could make the full run and be able to make it back. So the bombers were on their own during the most dangerous parts of the run. The Luftwaffe knew this, and would often wait until the Allied fighters had to turn and go home before engaging the bombers. As the war went on, the Combat Box evolved into an extremely lethal place for Axis fighters to do their deadly work. German pilots knew the risks of engaging large formations of B-17s. Green pilots most often didn’t return home from encounters with the bombers and of course we all know of the surprise when the Axis pilots first encountered the P-51 Mustang which, with it’s drop tanks of fuel, could make the entire run in and out of Germany with the B-17s.
Late in the war, German fighters were rare in the skies. I found out that an old guy I used to work with had been a waist gunner on a B-17 in 1945. I asked him if he had any encounters with the Luftwaffe and he said “no, I never saw an enemy plane”
Skies above the Reich takes all of this into account. Early in the campaign, the Combat Box is less effective as the Allies experiment with modifications to it. As the player makes his way through the war, things get significantly tougher. The maps get larger and more lethal, the Allied fighter cover is better and the B-17 itself got tougher to deal with as the later models added chin guns and ball turrets on top and bottom. This is in addition to the loss of German Pilots, which were easier to replace in 1942 and ’43, and which are mostly green and there are fewer of them as play progresses into 1944-’45.
Allied escort pilots avoided the Combat Box whenever possible, they knew how lethal it was. This is what German fighter pilots had to deal with, there was no good way to attack it.
I decided to play a practice mission to get ready for the campaign. After I was finished, I realized I had made some basic rules errors at setup that actually worked in my favor. The 1942 scenario starts the player with 6 “experten” pilots and when I rolled for my operation points (receiving 4) I thought I could use those to purchase more green pilots, giving me 10 for the mission. Actually the 4 operations points allowed me to fight the mission with 4 pilots, but I missed it, and played with 10. I rolled up map 2, which is the tougher of the three early formation maps and got started. It went badly. Not knowing what I was doing, and dreadful dice rolls got 5 pilots killed, and two of them were from colliding into each other. Bad news.
Well, with that experience in hand, I started my campaign. Campaigns are played in seasons. The 1942 season has 6 missions. To avoid losing I must first ensure I don’t lose more than 6 pilots or have fewer pilots than the minimum of 16 (starting and replacements). If I score 15 or more VP, it’s a win. If I score less than 5, it’s a loss. these numbers change as the campaign proceeds through 1945. If I win 4 seasons (not necessarily in a row), I win. If I lose even 1 season, I lose the campaign.
Mission 1, 1942.
This mission did not go according to plan. I rolled up map 1, formation B.
One bomber started the mission with existing damage in this formation which was inbound. Seven turns, 3 tactical points and escorts which will leave on turn 3.
Unfortunately for me, my OP roll was for 2 points. So only two fighters will be attacking this formation.
My pilots entered the map on turn 1, entered the formation on turn 2 from the low tail position, fire cards indicated damage to my fighters and no damage to the bombers. Continuing fire was ineffective from the bombers and when checking my damage during the recovery phase, both fighters ended up in the fate boxes, essentially ending the mission in three turns with no damage done to the formation.
Both pilots survived the mission but overall it was a complete bust.
Mission 2, 1942
My second mission went somewhat better as far as gameplay went. An outbound mission on Map 2 which is somewhat more difficult as it’s a larger formation.
7 turns, 2 tactical points, escorts arrive on turn 5 as the bombers head home. Dahl and Obleser begin with a tail attack, Puttfargen and Kremler from the nose, and Heller and Richter from the flank.
On turn 2, Obleser and Puttfargen sustain engine damage and have to exit, ending up in the fate box, Richter is hit, but shrugs it off. 2 bombers take hits, but have no immediate effect.
Heller attacks from the high flank on turn 3 and suffers a hit in the cockpit. The damage is severe enough to force him out of the fight and ends up in the fate box.
So, three turns and three fighters out of action, not looking good for the Luftwaffe again on the second attack.
Turn 4 Dahl is hit without any damage to any enemy planes, but the hit isn’t serious, keeping him in the fight.
Escorts arrive on turn 5, protecting the formation from the front, but that doesn’t stop Kremler from attacking an already damaged bomber. Scoring a catastrophic hit on a wing and causing it to fall out of formation.
Dahl runs afoul of Spitfire escorts in turn 6 and is shot down……. there was no bailout.
Kremler takes a rudder hit on turn 7 and can’t shake the damage, landing him in the fate box also.
A costly mission. Obleser’s 109 explodes from the engine hit taken earlier in the battle and did not survive. As the rest of the Staffel limps home, Heller, Kremler and Puttfargen head to the hospital with wounds, possibly unable to fly the next mission. Richter is the only pilot that made it through without a scratch.
Kremler earns 2 points for the fallen bomber and surviving the fate table. Heller and Puttfargen each get 1 point. And the Staffel earns 1 VP towards the 5 VP I need to move on to the next season. But I am a long, long way from the 15 VP I need to win the 1942 season.
This mission was better for me as I learned a few things both to do and not to do. I need to attack in a pack and pick a single element to keep the pressure on. Try to avoid escorts as they will almost always outnumber you and they are bad news.
Just ask Dahl.
More mission reports coming.
Thanks for reading.