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August 1940: The Royal Air Force has been awaiting massive German air raids since Churchill refused to make peace with Germany. And they did not have to wait long- in fact, far too short to build up the RAF to a strength that would be able to match the German Luftwaffe. But besides its fighters, the RAF has other weapons to help deal with the "Huns": A chain of RDF (radar) towers along the British coast, and an elaborate system of communications, signal evaluation and fighter control and guidance. If those are used skilfully, the resulting economy of Fighter Command operations might just be able to offset the sheer power of the German Luftflotten ("air fleets").
You are in command of all four RAF Fighter Groups to match them against the incoming raids. Can you deny the Luftwaffe its objective to weaken the British air defence system beyond the breaking point?
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Another boardgame that covers the "Battle of Britain" topic is
(Avalon Hill, solitaire or 2-player).
I'd also like to mention the excellent game "RAF" (West End Games 1986, out of print now), another solitaire game that puts you in command of the British fighter squadrons.
For more links covering history, technics and circumstances of the battle I compiled see the related section on my Web Link page.
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"Battle of Britain" (BoB) is a 2-player boardgame simulation of that battle (not suited for solitaire play) where one player controls the Royal Air Force and the other controls the German Luftwaffe. The Germans win by successfully completing 9 bombing missions in 8 game turns.
The basic and advanced game rules differ in figures, playing time and complexity but not in the underlying concepts. The basic game is mainly for inexperienced or younger players. If not noted otherwise, this review deals with the advanced game which is certainly the more interesting of the two without being really complex.
Both sides have a limited supply of airplanes, organized in "Squadrons", "Flights" (= 2 to 6 Squadrons) and "Luftflotten" (resp. Groups, for the RAF) (= 1 to 4 Flights). RAF Flights and German Luftflotten that can not be fully manned stay on the ground for that turn. Squadrons are represented by cards that show the type of aircraft, its performance and (for bombers) its bomb capacity. Each Squadron is assigned to one Luftflotte resp. Group and may only fly for that unit. Destroyed German aircraft are lost, while British aircraft (and other installations) may be repaired after each turn using the industrial capacity of those cities that are undamaged.
A game turn starts with mission assignment, where the German assigns randomly drawn mission cards to his units, and continues with up to 5 movement steps.
The Germans move first in each movement step. They have a fuel limitation, and fighters must be dismissed if the raid takes too long or flies too far. The Germans have to stop when they enter an undamaged section of the radar chain, granting some more reaction time to the British.
After that, RAF fighters move. They have no fuel limit but decrease the number of Squadrons useable for dogfights if they intercept over long distances. If enemies meet in square, a dogfight occurs: Players roll a number of dice dependent on the performance values of their aircraft, and the symbols shown on the dice indicate the damage both sides take. Note that the German knows immediately after assigning missions to the Luftflotten what type of Squadrons he has, but the British only learns about his own once a dogfight starts!
Whatever is left of the German Squadrons may bomb a target now, or move again in the next movement step. This sequence is repeated until the turn is over. Victory conditions are then checked, and if the game continues the British may repair some of the damage they took.
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The German must assign his missions without knowing what aircraft he has available. His task then is to feint moves and to conceal his real objective as long as possible, forcing the British to disperse his fighters and perhaps to intercept from long range. The British at this point still does not know what aircraft he has in his Squadrons, and he will try to assemble his Squadrons to intercept in force and from short range to maximize his chance of success.
There is definitely an element of poker play in this game as players try to out-wit each other, taking decisions based on incomplete data. And of course Lady Luck is strongly present all the time. If you think that war should be an exact science you'd better play chess, but if you let yourself be carried away by the ghosts of the past you might well experience a chill running down your spine when you recall Churchill's words: "...The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us... Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties..."
Once the excitement about the exquisite material has worn off, dedicated wargamers might experience some uneasiness about one or the other game mechanism; I must confess that on the first few sessions we did not really "catch fire" with BoB. If you lead the "Bomberverbände" (bomber units) you may feel that it is hard enough to assign mission targets to the randomly drawn aircraft mix that is available for the day, even if you knew exactly which planes you have. Fighter Command, on the other hand, would probably not be content to randomly match its fighters against incoming raids. In the original rules, there are a lot of random factors for which you are hard pressed to come up with real-life explanations. Of course, meddling with the rules carries the danger to destroy game balance. Fortunately, balance is easily restored in BoB: Just change the number of missions required of the German, or the time available. We usually play the game with randomly dealt Squadron cards, but both players may inspect their cards (but not re-arrange them) immediately after that.
One more remark: Astonishingly, there is no limit to the times the same RAF Squadron may intercept in one turn. I do not know if this is an oversight or if the simulation is kind of abstract here. I would like to try alternatives, like pulling out RAF Flights that fall below regular strength or landing Squadrons that have intercepted, but so far I did not get around to do that.
So you played the British, and ended up with all targets knocked out inside less than 8 turns? There is one BIG advantage you have, compared to the British in 1940: You may just give your opponent a cold look, re-shuffle the cards, open another bottle of Guiness, set up a new game and try again. Given that option, it is fairly easy to keep a stiff upper lip!
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The mapboard is impressively large, and with its sort of economical graphics it resembles the command room maps used in the Fighter Command control rooms.
On the map the flights are represented by plastic playing pieces: Beautiful little 1" airplanes mounted on clear plastic stands which are marked with a unit designation. I confess that it was the combination of the mapboard and these "counters" that made me buy the game in the first place, because it immediately called to my mind the pictures I knew of RAF control rooms, grim-looking officers judging the situation, WAAFs moving raid and squadron markers, commanders taking decisions, and fighters scrambling from their airfields. (For the remaining two weeks of my travel through Britain I was the "running gag" of our group, struggling with the big game box through train doors, Underground entrance crosses and other obstacles.)
In fact, when you have played the game a few times you note that the map gets very crowded indeed sometimes, and at times I was near to replace the pieces with self-made cardboard counters... but no, I just could not do that.
The game uses 12 special and very solid 6-sided dice for combat and bombing resolution. The rulebook is organized in turn sequence order, and it conveys the idea of the game pretty fast if you just set up a game, read every chapter and do what it says. To give an impression of the rules volume: The advanced rules take up 5 pages (A4, or letter, size) including graphics.
The box is functional and contains small cardboard compartments to store the flight pieces safely. Impressive box cover graphics!
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, last change 2011-03-12