Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bombs Away!

This time as we walk through my game collection we come across Bombs Away!, an operational-level game of the air war over Europe during World War II. This game originally appeared in the magazine GameFix, but my copy was purchased as a separate package back when I was still living in Springfield, in mid '96. I had never played the game until now, so this one should be interesting. The game is for two players: one plays the Allies (Britain and America), while the other plays the Germans. The game is a card game. There is a common deck of Event cards, and each side has a separate deck of Armament Cards. These represent flak and aircraft available to each side, and they represent various historical aircraft. All aircraft have dogfight ratings (used to attack the other player's planes), while bombers also have a bombing rating (used to attack ground targets).

The game also comes with a stylized map of Europe. This map highlights nine different targets that the allies can attack during their bombing raids. There are three each of the following types of targets: Political, Economic, and Military. One of each of these types of targets is designated as "key," and successfully attacking those targets earns the Allies extra victory points. Each type of target has different effects. Bombing Political targets doesn't earn many victory points, but there is a small chance that the Germans will surrender after a successful attack. Bombing Military targets gets you the most victory points, but no other benefits. Bombing Economic targets minimizes the German player's ability to build new flak guns and aircraft.

The game runs for a total of nine turns, each representing roughly 6 months of wartime activity. During each turn, the German player has his hand of armament cards, and he plays them face down, however he wishes, on any or all of the nine targets on the board. Thus, the Allied player can see how many cards have been played on each location, but not what the cards are (though there are a few Event cards that allow peeking). At this point I will also note a very ingenious mechanic; the German player starts with nine decoy cards in his armament deck. Every turn, another one goes away, representing how Allied intelligence improved as the war progressed. So, early on, the German player has a lot of cards (most of which are decoys), with which to defend himself and confuse the other player. Near the end of the game you have almost no decoys, so it becomes much harder to defend all of your targets. The way this is handled is very simple, but it adds to the strategy a lot and makes the game more interesting.

After the German player places his cards, the Allied player assigns his planes to the targets he wants to attack. The actual combat is pretty simple. Each event card has a number on the bottom, and you draw these cards to determine if attacks succeed. To shoot down another plane, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the attacker's Dogfight rating. To bomb a target, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the Bomb rating. To shoot a plane down with flack, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the number of Flak cannons. It's a simple mechanic, but it works. Statistics nerds can have fun checking out the total number of each result available on the cards and come up with a statistical spread for each possibility, but I'm not that into statistics, so I'll let others handle it. The numbers do seem to be slanted toward the high end, but I can't say exactly how much.

At the beginning of the game, the Allied player can't do much. However, he keeps getting more planes, and by the end of the game the German player is scrambling to attempt to cover his key targets and to minimize the damage as the Allies swarm him with many different planes. The game is assymetrical in this respect, and I liked that quite a bit. Playing one side was very different from playing the other side. There is a lot of strategy in determining how to defend your positions as the German player, and how to make raids as the Allied player. Do you go after mostly Economic targets to keep the German player from building more cannons and planes; do you go after mostly Political targets to try to luck into an early surrender; do you go after mostly Military targets to get lots of victory points; or do you spread yourself thin, trying to get all at once? It's very interesting.

I have previously mentioned Event Cards. These cards have two effects for players: they all have the names of aircraft on the bottom, and you can use these to get that aircraft card for free if it has bene researched and is currently undeployed. However, the main use is that each card represents a historic or "almost historic" event that changes the game in some way. For example, one card represents the Italians providing resources, so the German player can build stuff for free. Another card lets you adjust a result draw. Another card makes it harder for the Germans to hit Allied planes. Stuff like that. You have to buy most of these cards, so you'll rarely have a lot of them, but they add to the game nicely.

The game also comes with a number of optional rules: night fighters, high altitude bombing, etc. I didn't play with any of those, so I can't say how well they work. In the end, though, this is a game that annoys me. It annoys me because it was really fun and interesting to play, and I've owned it for 12 years without every playing it before. I definitely made a mistake by not breaking this one out sooner.

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