Monday, February 17, 2014


The original RAF was published by West End Games in the 1980's.  I do not have that game, nor have I played it.  The game that I own, and have played is RAF: the Battle of Britain, published by Decision Games in 2009.  The new version of the is the original game, plus more.  Where the original game from the 80's is a solitaire game where the player controls the British air defenses while the game system controls the Luftwaffe attackers, the new game contains that game... and one where the roles are flipped and the player takes the role of the Luftwaffe while the game system runs the Brits... and a third game where two players play against each other, one controlling the British RAF and one controlling the German Luftwaffe.

So, there is quite a lot of "game" in the box, or more accurately, three games in the box.  The games use similar components, though the second game uses a different map and some different cards from the other two.  I have only played the original game, though, so I will describe the game from that perspective, as well as my opinions of it.

At its core, RAF is a resource management game.  As the British defender, you have a limited number of fighter squadrons, assigned to air bases around the map, that you have to manage.  The bulk of the game comes in deciding when to send squadrons on patrol, and when to have squadrons intercept Luftwaffe raids.  Depending on a roll of a six-sided die and modifiers depending on the weather, the state of your radar net, and the target, you may or may not have prior warning of the raid, and you may or may not know what is coming before you commit your forces.  Hard decisions must constantly be made.  Not responding to a raid at all will lose you a victory point all by itself, and of course taking damage to the target will have you lose victory points, but if you are badly outnumbered and you send up a small number of squadrons you will probably still lose victory points for the target taking damage, as well as losing victory points for your squadrons being shot down, and then you don't have those squadrons until you can repair them.  You can't cover everything, so you have to pick your battles carefully and hope for a bit of luck (which tends to elude me in this game).

In fact, the most interesting aspect of this game, which I didn't pick up on until after playing a couple weeks of the full campaign, was the fact that you aren't just managing your squadrons as a resource, you are managing the victory point track.  This starts at 0.  If you gain points, it moves up.  If you lose points, it moves down.  If the victory point track gets to 35 points, you win.  If it gets to -35 points, you lose.  There are other ways to lose/win, but those two numbers, especially the latter one, must be kept in mind.

You gain points by damaging Luftwaffe gruppen, one point for light damage, and two points for heavy damage.  You also gain points during the end of day phase for each day that passes before the next raid day.  You lose points by taking light or heavy losses to your squadrons (same as above), for not responding at all to a raid, for taking bomb damage to a target, and for bringing in reinforcements.  This last bit bites because you NEED to bring in reinforcements to have any hope of countering the larger Luftwaffe raids, but doing so pushes you closer to an instantaneous loss if things move away from you in a turn.  Nerve racking.

The game is pretty random, as it mainly consists of card draws and die rolls.  You draw cards to determine raid targets, random events during raids, and the amount of time that passes before the next raid that day.  You roll dice to determine the results of aerial combat and bombing, as well as intelligence prior to a raid.  But, that being said, you would have to have a LOT go really wrong from a luck standpoint to really blame the dice or cards if you lose.  As the player you have lot of decisions to make, and that is what really makes a solitaire game worth playing.  Without meaningful decisions, there is no game.  Sometimes the decisions in RAF are pretty obvious.  For example, if I can counter a raid with a couple squadrons, and the Luftwaffe is bringing 14 gruppen, if I send those planes up they are going to get shot down, almost guaranteed.  There really is no decision to make there unless I am hopelessly desperate (and even then, there isn't a decision as my actions a pre-determined).  Most of the time, though, you really have to weigh the risks and rewards of responding to a raid, which makes this game worthwhile.