B17 Flying Fortress Leader Hits Its Target! Review of the New Game
B17 Flying Fortress Leader Game Review. Publisher: DVG Designer: Dean Brown Price: $89.99
Passed Inspection: Tense game play, dynamic campaigns, tons of detail, great replay value for the price, excellent enemy AI, on-line support
Failed Basic: Some slight rules confusion (fixed with downloadable 2nd edition rules). The single bomber supplement could be expanded for more options. Needs a complete index not just a table of content.
(Editor’s Note – In The Interest Of Full Disclosure – Dvg Has Published Tiger Leader And The Upcoming Sherman Leader Games – Both Of Which I Co-Designed With Dan Verssen. Dean Brown also helped design elements of Sherman Leader.)
While not all of Dan Verssen Games are solitaire games, it is certainly truthful to state that DVG has cut its teeth on the solitaire game market place. From ancient Greece to the campaigns of Napoleon, from the sands of North Africa to the oceans of the Pacific and from the skies over Vietnam and beyond, DVG has consistently designed high quality solo games with challenging AI. B17 Flying Fortress Leader is no exception!
B17 Flying Fortress Leader is a solo game which focuses on the American daylight strategic bombing campaigns over the skies of occupied France, the Low Countries and the Reich from 1942 to 1945. An optional speculative war campaign introduces B29 Super Fortresses and P80 jet aircrafts in to the war over Europe.
Upon opening the gorgeous box, you will find:
5 Counter Sheets
1 Commander Counter Sheet
1 33″ x 17″ Mounted Display Board
1 Player Aid Sheet
1 Mini Campaign Sheet
1 Single Bomber Sheet
11 Campaign Sheets
1 DIF Crossover Sheet
1 Player Log Sheet
The player controls one or more groups of a bomb wing of either the VIII Bomber Command or, after February 22nd, 1944, the 8th Air Force. In addition, either British or American escort fighters are also available and are much needed to fly cover for the bomb groups as are photo recon planes for after mission bomb damage assessments (if using the optional rules).
Each group is represented by a card showing either a named B17, B24, B25 or other aircraft. You have a card for many of the most famous bombers of the war including the Memphis Belle (currently under restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force which is just down the street from me as I write this review). Each card presents data of from 1 to 48 aircrafts. For each card, there is one counter which represents on the group on the map board.
Each nicely illustrated group card lists the number of the bomb group, a named aircraft from the group, the aircraft type of the group and the version of the aircraft (for example – B17 F or B17 G), the years that the group was in service, the cost in Special Operations Points, whether the group is a bomber or fighter group, the average skill rating of the group (which can increase based upon successful missions), the experience points needed to advance the group’s skill rating, a reassignment value to see if the group is reassigned at the end of the month, the stress level of the group showing how the abilities of the group are affected based upon the number of losses the group has suffered and many other ratings including the group’s average ability to hit ground targets or defend against enemy aircrafts. In addition, the cards also tell you if the group’s commanders influence how the group acts in combat. The cards are a treasure trove of information and are at the heart of the game.
The Luftwaffe is controlled by the game system itself. The technology used by the Luftwaffe is based upon the time period of the campaign you chose to play. As the years progress, the Germans gain the use of advanced jet powered Me262 interceptors and other deadly technology that could shorten the life span of your bomber crews. In addition, different Luftwaffe commanders will take over bomber intercept operations. Some of these commanders are more aggressive while others have a more defensive mind set. Also the state of the war in the Mediterranean and the Russian Front will effect fighter operations in the West. It’s all of these different factors plus random events which give the players the feel of a fully formed, dynamic world in which their bomber crews are an active part.
To start the game, the player picks a campaign. From targeting U Boat pens in 1942 (a difficult but short campaign which can be played in several hours) to decimating the German aircraft industry in 1943 even to supporting the D Day landings in 1944, a plethora of campaigns dictate the difficulty of the game. After picking a mission, the player builds his bomber groups and escort groups by spending Special Operations Points. Each aircraft group, commander and bomb load out costs a specific number of points. These points are replenished throughout the campaign and you get extra points for successful missions. More advanced bomb types and specialty bomb types are also available as the game years progress.
Most campaigns will take from 3 to more than 20 hours to play. Luckily the game is set up so that only a few counters are on the board at once so with a few notes, the game can easily be set up on another day in less than 15 minutes.
Each campaign is divided in to days, weeks, months and years. Usually, each week the player picks one or two missions from a card deck of missions which have been fine tuned to the campaign you are playing. Missions are usually strategic but in some cases could be tactical support of Allied armies. Luftwaffe units are stationed at various air fields around the Europe. The player must pick his aircrafts flight plan and decide whether a decoy flight should attempt to draw fighters away from the true target of the attack. Based upon the target, the player outfits his bombers with specific load outs and plans on how to deploy his fighter escort based upon the range to the target and escort type. P51s are a Godsend later in the war as they have the range to escort your bombers to Berlin and back, if necessary. Sometimes the little friends just won’t make it to the rendezvous point and things can get messy if enemy fighters are encountered.
Event Cards are drawn at the start of each mission and then on the return trip of each missions. Sometimes these events can help the player and sometimes they definitely hurt.
Assuming the bombers get past enemy interceptors, the player will have to deal with the Reich’s deadly flak batteries. Then, during the bomb run, the players roll dice for each bomb load dropped. If the target isn’t destroyed, Axis engineers can rebuild the infrastructure. I have found it imperative to hit targets hard and hit them again in the same week in the hopes of knocking them completely out. Airstrikes on aircraft factories and the destruction of enemy fighters can impact the number of enemy aircrafts which are available to attack your bombers over the next weeks or months. During the campaign, you track losses to your groups and if you push your crews too hard for one or two weeks, they will suffer from degraded performance and bomber attrition unless you give them some much needed rest and relaxation.
The rules are easy to follow but, at least in the first edition rules, it can be difficult to find a subject quickly and some rules were not particularly clear. The downloadable second edition rules help this immensely. Still a complete index would be most helpful for faster rule checks.
Optional rules are included for limited target intelligence, weather, enemy pilot skill and forming bomber wings. Optional rules also cover a more detailed mission for one aircraft of your bomber groups and tracking the individual crew members of that one aircraft. I think this individual bomber rule set could be expanded to create a new side game reminiscent of the classic B17 Queen of the Skies game.
Crew experience plays like a role playing game with experience points raising crews from green to experts. When a crew is wiped out, the player feels the stings.
The rules also feature pictures and descriptions of all the allied planes in the game. A guide to the Axis planes would have made a nice addition.
For Down in Flames fans, B17 Leader features an expansion to link the two games.
This review barely captures the depth of this fine and immersive game. B17 Flying Fortress Leader is a must for every World War II aviation enthusiast and is one of the best games of 2017.
Armchair General Rating: 95 %
Solitaire Rating: 5
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!