London's Burning

London's Burning

Author: Lutz Pietschker
Version: 2002

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London's Burning: A Solitaire Wargame


For more information about all sorts of wargames, do not omit to visit the Grognard's web page!

History: The Battle of Britain Experience

In May 1940 the stage was set: Britain had refused to make a separate peace with Germany, and in consequence Hitler had decided to invade Britain. While the German Marine (navy) arranged an odd assortment of vessels that should, hopefully, ferry the Heer (army) units across the Channel, the Luftwaffe (air force) had the task to gain complete air superiority as a vital precondition for the amphibious invasion. The situation was well understood in Britain, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) was feverishly building up its Fighter Command. One preparation whose impact largely escaped the German intelligence services was the installation of the "Chain Home" RDF (radar) stations and the Fighter Command system of directing its efforts largely based on this RDF information.

It is the 13th of August, 1940.You are in the Group Headquarter of 11 Group, RAF Fighter Command, waiting for incoming sighting reports. Tension is high in the control room. You have been expecting the beginning of massive raids for some days now and you are thankful for every day the Germans let you build up your forces a bit more, but your resources are still awfully slim. You just consider to take another cup of tea and have a chat with that nice WAAF girl in the kitchen when a report comes in: RDF sighting of airplanes near Dover. Seconds later, the sighting is confirmed and flight altitude, course and raid size estimates pour in. Is this a diversion, or a real raid? Shall you tell your squadrons to scramble and intercept? The decision is yours!

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The Game: Abstract

AH's magazine the "General", Vol. 30-5 (Sept. 1996) gives a short description of this game and contains templates for log sheets, "General" Vol. 31-1 (January 1997) features the "Defiant" variant rules and a replay, and "General" Vol. 31-2 gives a Beginner's Guide, Strategy Tips and ten Micro-Scenarios which can be played in as little as 15 minutes. The Defiant variant counters were included in the subscription edition of "General" Vol. 30-6 and can be ordered separately but can also easily be home-made for a try-out of this variant. Anyway, there are only 3 LBG variant counters on the whole counter sheet.

Note: Another boardgame that covers the "Battle of Britain" topic is "Battle of Britain" (TSR, 2-player, out of print).
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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Game concepts

LBG is a solitaire boardgame simulation of the Battle of Britain where the player controls the Royal Air Force and the game system controls the German Luftwaffe. You gain victory points for the destruction of German aircraft, and the Germans score for destroying British aircraft and for ground targets that are still damaged at the end of play.
Both sides have a limited supply of airplanes, and the British have a limited number of pilots, too. On each of the four daytime turn phases you decide if and where to fly patrols, and draw a chit for raid appearance in this phase. Raids do not disclose their exact composition, altitude and target immediately: This information only becomes known in the moment of interception or of bombing a target. Each raid follows a random path to bomb the first valid target it encounters.
The night phase is used for resting pilots and for repairing aircraft and bomb damage. You start the game with 4 pilots; replacement pilots become available at a rate of one per week only.

LBG takes a two-level microscopic view at the events: On one level, you are a section commander and decide if and where patrols are flown. Once a raid comes in you decide whether to intercept and how to guide your two fighters towards the enemy. On "Tallyho!" (meaning your fighters and the raid have met) you slip into your second role: You control the two British pilots in a dogfight, trying to blast the raiders out of the sky and avoid being repaid in kind.
Bomb damage to RDF stations delays reaction to incoming raids, damage to your home airbase increases pilot fatigue, and once London is burning the German raids increase in size. Your task as Group Commander is to trade-off between unacceptable losses of aircraft and pilots on one hand and damage to ground installations or to the capital itself on the other.
Once in combat, your chances depend upon the relative performance of aircraft, pilot status and relative altitude with possible bonuses for attacking out of the sun or for ace pilots. A German plane you shoot down will not take part in further raids today (or even for some days), but you have to shoot them down at a high rate to win the attrition race.

Optional rules like random weather conditions (as opposed to the historical weather table) allow to play a few "what-ifs" but do not change the flavour of the game very much.

The two-player-version comes in 2 variants: Either you let the game system play the Germans and you compete with a second "British" player for the most downed German planes, or the second player takes the German side, making the decisions of the Luftwaffe HQ even more inscrutable.

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Game play

You start the game with two manned fighters as well as two fighters and pilots each for reserve. On each of the 4 phases of a day, you must decide either to stay on the ground and scramble only if a raid appears (with a chance that your fighters will not reach it in time), or to patrol preventively with the chance that you have tired your pilots needlessly (if no raid appears). A damaged RDF system slows your response, so the status of the RDF stations will influence your decision.

Raids appear at a random position at the map edge and also move randomly, though in the general direction towards London. A raid will bomb the first undamaged target it encounters on its path. If your fighters are in a good position you may be able to intercept before the bombing. As an attack out of the sun (obviously, that direction changes with the time of the day) gives you a bonus you may decide to do some manoeuvring before the attack and take the chance that the next move of the raid will take it to a target.
Once you move in to attack, the real altitude and composition of the raid is revealed. You may find that you have a couple of sitting ducks right before your guns, but more often you will encounter a raid accompanied by fighters flying overhead cover, or even a raid composed solely of Me 109's just waiting to blast a rookie like you out of the sky. You may even miss the raid completely, which is hard because you only have one try to intercept each raid.
Since a German plane you shoot down will not take part in further raids that day it may even be worthwhile to attack a raid on its way back. In this case, you also got the advantage to know the composition and exact altitude of the raid (which is revealed during the bomb run), so your chances to do damage increase. On the other hand, this strategy gives the Germans a 100% chance to hurt you! This conflict is the exact mirror of the historical debate amongst air strategists (though for obvious reasons they did not discuss it publicly, before the ears of the "targets").

Pilots that scored 5 or more kills gain "ace" status (improving their performance). This is a valuable bonus, but maybe you will experience some moments of apprehension afterwards. Is it really worthwhile to throw that newly-won ace against that German ace fighter pilot? Shouldn't you spare him for future need? This game is a crash course (literally) in decision making!

Destroyed planes may be repaired by night (by spending repair points for the British, 2 planes each night automatically for the Germans). Replacement for incapacitated pilots, though, will only appear after the first week- and only one pilot per week. It may well happen that the Germans get one or the other "free" raid if you have no pilots or planes to send against them- because you "wasted" them by mismanagement or bad luck.
Damages will mount from day to day, you can not prevent that. Your decision is where to spend your very scarce repair points: Bring the fighters back to regular strength? Repair the RDF "eyes" to win reaction time? Repair airfields to give your pilots a full night's rest and to gain flexibility? Do some firefighting in London to reduce raid sizes? These are hard decisions indeed (as they have been in reality)! If you play with the historical weather table you will long for that week where no raids will occur because of bad weather, if you play with random weather you will have a one more reason to hate the dice.

Remark: One point that is less than perfect from a simulation point of view is that the chit draw system to determine raid appearance lets you make probability guesses from the remaining chits. A possible variant would be to create a die roll table for the task (chances being 6/12 no raid, 2/12 each for raids of 4, 5 and 6 aircraft).
Also, the German targets are predictable in the sense that a raid will always unload its bombs over the first undamaged target it encounters. Thus, the targets near the Channel are likely to become damaged before the destruction spreads to the inner space of the sector and ultimately to London. Though this is historically correct, it gives a predictability to the German objectives that the RAF did not enjoy in 1940. I did not try it, but perhaps this could be improved by drawing, at the moment the raid is over the first eligible target, one of the target chits the game provides for the two-player variant. The chit draw then determines what the real target type is (ignore target coordinates). The exact manner of chit-/ target type- relation remains to be worked out. Any ideas? Tell me!
To be sure, both of the above points are for purists. The "flaws" mentioned do not reduce the fun or the feeling of the game.

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Game components

The mapboard is functional, and small enough to fit on a normal (even a small) table since the two mapboard sheets are independent of each other. In my eyes, they are not a real masterpiece of graphics but not bad either- obviously, this is a matter of taste.

The counters are square 1" counters for the planes, containing all the necessary information. British pilots are represented by 1/2" counters, and there are a lot of 1/2" markers to keep track of damage, victory points, pilot status etc.
There are very few tables to look up, and most of these are printed on the map. Why the combat modifiers are missing on the map will probably remain the secret of the designer, but after a few dogfights you will know them by heart anyway (the modifier table is printed on the back of the rule book).

The game uses 6-sided dice for combat resolution and chit draws to determine the appearance, size and composition of raids. For those (like me) who do not like the "place-in-a-cup-and-draw" procedure it is no problem to replace the chits by playing cards or even by a self-made die roll table.

The rulebook is a definite improvement over the older AH solitaire games- it is organized to mirror the sequence of play. It is complete and quite readable, but you still have to read carefully or you will miss important information. The layout and style are similar to the other current AH games like "Breakout Normandy" or "Hannibal". The "Example of Play" and the historical and technical section are really worth reading, and a bibliography is given for further reading.
Since playing solitaire always carries the risk of misinterpreting rules and thus cheating the game system (and oneself), I would highly recommend to read the "Example of Play" section of the rulebook thoroughly, and perhaps the replay in "General" Vol. 31-1 to get around the first snags and crags. All in all, you get playing very fast.

As usual with AH games, the material fits nicely into the box without leaving to much space. Alas, AH's state of the art of punching counter sheets is still close to deplorable (compared to the standards of many European game manufacturers). A definite improvement are the dice AH now provides: They have nicely rounded edges and do actually roll!

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History: The Battle of Britain achievements

The German attacks pushed the British defences close to the breaking point. While the British industry managed to keep up a sufficient supply of fighters, guns and ammunition, things soon began to look bleak regarding pilot replacements. The fighter pilots had to fly beyond the usually accepted levels of fatigue and exhaustion, and replacement pilots were thrown in that had little or no fighting experience. In later stages of the battle the British even overcame their reluctance to use the foreign (Polish and Czech) pilots that had found their way to Britain. Incidentally, once unleashed those pilots performed quite outstandingly.
The Germans failed to notice just how close they came to breaking Fighter Command, and they also failed to appreciate where they really did the most crucial damage- the Chain Home RDF stations, the command HQs, the British airfields. Instead, they switched to terror bombing the British capital, the "fat cow" London (quote Churchill). London did take a lot of damage, but the bombs that fell there could not destroy the vital air defence installations of Britain, and Fighter Command got some space to breathe just when it scarcely knew how to carry on. London was burning indeed, but this did not help the German invasion plans one bit.
In the second week of September it became clear to both sides that the Germans had failed to gain the air superiority, and on the September 17th Hitler postponed the invasion indefinitely. London and Britain as a whole would still have to suffer terribly, but the threat of a German invasion was over.

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Written and published by Lutz Pietschker. Please send comments about technical problems to the site master.
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, last change 2011-03-12