It’s a personal tradition that around US Thanksgiving (when I know I will not be traveling for business), I run a big air game for our group. This year was no exception, but this year I decided to use the Blood Red Skies rules not the normal Check Your 6 game. I have shown all the planes that I have done so far for this game but have not done a review of write up of a game so thought I would do that here. I also too this game as a trigger for painting some extra planes. This was the Boulton Paul Defiant pack from Warlord – again 1/200 scale planes used for this game.
This is a plane which I have known about for a long time and was an ‘odd idea’ when created in the 1930’s. The idea was to have a rear/side powered turret in a fighter to take out bombers. In combat, the Defiant was found to be somewhat effective at destroying bombers, and fighters which did not identify it so attack from the rear, but was very vulnerable to single-seat fighters who knew it. The lack of forward-firing armament proved to be a big issue as was it’s relative lack of agility in daylight combat. It was withdrawn early on in the Battle of Britain and used in night defense and training from then on.
However, being an iconic Battle of France/Britain plane I had to have some, and now do. The Warlord model is in metal which is a bit of a shame as it makes it very heavy for the stands. You actually use the large plane stand for them – which impasses their poor maneuverability as well as their stats. The Warlord planes are a little hit and miss generally and one of my major complaints on them is their connections to the special stands used in the game. The original plastic models are not too bad but the others – such as the 110 can have issues with that.
For these planes I used the transfers which Warlord provided with this box set. They are not bad, but did not include any roundels for the underside of the plane. That seems odd, as I assume they would have had them but I am not going to worry too much about that.
So to the game. We had 8 players (and me as the GM). It was simple matter of each player running 4 planes. With a smaller number of players I’d have played – I have done in 4 player games that I have run before. With 8 players though you really need a GM. Most of he guys had never not played the game, which added to the need for me to GM the game.
I simplified the rules a little (we did not use the advanced traits/cards) and the 110’s were treated as a single engine plane without a rear turret vs using the twin engine and turret rules. The traits and cards just add an extra level of control for players in a 2 player game. They allow you to do extra special moves/ability or have minor advantages. Different planes get different cards and some ace pilots get special cards as well. This is just an additional wrinkle in 2 player games and a nice aspect to make those games more interesting (tactical?). Those would add too much extra complexity for this game though. Other than that, we used the full rules and it worked with 8 players. There was a little chaos at time, but the players picked up the basis’s with ease and the game played well really even with 8 players.
The game started with the Germans and British planes starting on different sides of a 4 x 6 table and headed towards each other at speed. The key mechanic in the rules is advantage. That’s shown by the stands with planes pointing up in an advantage potion, neutral is when the plane is level and if pointing down then the plane is disadvantaged. Basically this allows a simulation of height and momentum in a 2D board game. Although it means that some of the visuals of the game can look a little odd (you can see it in the pictures here) the mechanic actually works well in the game.
You can only shoot at planes at a lower disadvantage and you use your advantage to do ‘complex moves’ – such as gong further in a dive or turning much further and at any point in the move vs at the end only. Pilots can also get an action to reduce the advantage of opposing planes – outmaneuvering them. The other actions they can do is to shoot or climbing for advantage. The rules have special features and cases to cover tailing and the reason to have wing-men support other planes, so this simple mechanism actually generates a stylistic but actually quite tactical air game.
Planes move in order of advantage – the better advantaged planes with the higher pilot skill go first and then lower skilled planes go, then neutral planes and finally the disadvantaged planes. So again this emphases the advantage level mechanic and pilot skill. The skill of pilots effects everything in the game. It determines the number of die you roll for a plane as much if not more than the plane in many ways – which highlights the factor of it’s as much the man as the machine in air games. This agrees with much of what I have read and even other games like Check Your 6!
In our game the planes headed towards the center and soon ended up in a wild melee in the center. Lots of head to head shots were made. Few if any of the player’s planes ‘held back’ which meant that once they passed there was a set of spinning and turning battles for them to try to continue the fights. The die rolling mechanic in the game is pretty much that the stats (usually pilot skill plus a score from the aircraft) determines the number of dice to roll. Then you roll those D6 looking for a 6. Any 6 is a success. This is a simple mechanic but again works, creating a good amount of randomness (but not too much) without needing tables etc. If you shoot and hit with multiple 6’s then the opponent saves with one less die in their save roll.
In our games this is where the fight initially broke down into 3 fur-balls – with planes fighting in the middle of the table in each 3rd of the table. What is interesting though is these were interconnected. Planes moved between the various fights with ease. In the game for the first 2 hours I had planes reincarnate – i.e. if they were shot down then they came back at the player edge next turn. That way no one was left out for long on in the game. Surprisingly there were not too many initial shot downs. I think only 3 or 4 planes were downed in that time frame.
One of the interesting aspects of the game is the ‘Boom tokens’. You get those when your plane is hit (even if it saves that hit later), and another when it is shot down. When hit you get to save the hit, which means that a plane does not lose an advantage. If disadvantaged and a hit is not saved then the plane is shot down. This system though means that you can win without actually shooting down opposing planes – but just getting them scared enough is ok. This is unlike many games where the aim is to just shoot down opponents. This boom chit systems is like a morale system in the game has an effect – after all all the planes at this time would have radios. In a normal game if you have more boon chits than active planes on the board then you lose – your planes withdraw. This is a clever mechanic IMO and although you may argue not that realistic I think it works well in the game. For this game though we just kept count of the boom chits gained and would work out the winner/loser at the end of our 3 hour game.
At the end of our game the Germans had caused just a few more boon chits on the Brits than they have received. So they came out the very slight winners. The last period they really managed to get some good moves on the Spitfires on one side of the board and shot down a few of those. The British did manged to shoot down one of the best German pilots in the game as well.
Overall, everyone had fun and seemed to really enjoy the game. I have to say Blood Red Skies give a fun and fast WW2 air game where people are heavily involved in the game. I really like this game and system. It’s effective ad you have a good amount of decision points without a lot of book keeping. Also, in game tactics work – the advantage system is an interesting compromise for the 3D environment of air combat on the table. You can validly argue that the tactics are not a direct reflection of real air combat tactics but this is a game not a simulation. The planes are also a nice size for fighter games – although people have been doing it to me the scale is too big for anything other than light bombers.
As a last point, if I was to compare Blood Red Skies to Check Your 6, I would say I like both games but each gives a very different gaming experience. Blood Red Skies is a fast and quick moving game with an interesting but highly stylized model for air combat. It works and feels like an air game, but you know it’s not a wonderful simulation. It’s firmly in the game camp. Check Your 6 on the other side is slower more analytical game, with more statistics and more realistic controls given to the player. It also has a better model of real flight and emulates real planes in a much better way. With it’s plotted movement it gives a much more thinking game in ways. So Check Your Six makes you feel much more in control of a real plane in a more controlled planned way. So they are very different games, but both fun – just in different ways.