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Posted on Mar 1, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Bomb Alley – Boardgame Review

By Brandon Neff

Overview:

From 1940 to 1943, the Italian and British navies struggled to control shipping lanes in the Mediterranean. The Italians benefited from nearby ports and the British from a larger armada. A superior force prevailed and the Italians conceded control of the Mediterranean Basin and eventually joined the Allies in the fight against the German Kriegsmarine.

Components:

Inside the box you will find: a 24-page rulebook, a 76-page Scenario booklet with 50 scenarios of varying length and ship records used during game play, a 25" x 25" tactical map, two (17"x 23" and 17" x 17") operational maps, two task force cards, three airbase cards, a player aid card, a player log sheet and 840 counters.

The rule book is for the entire Second World War at Sea series and is divided into Basic and Advanced rules. The Advanced rules cover the use of Aircraft and Submarines as well as Optional rules. The rules are well-organized into sections and subsections which is a boon during the first few sessions when the rules are frequently referenced.

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The scenario book contains nine Battle Scenarios played solely on the tactical map. Each session lasts 1-4 turns and simulates a particular sea battle. The remaining 41 scenarios are Operations Scenarios which range from 36-108 turns and involve large-scale movement and particular missions based on historical events. The scenario book also contains two pages of Air allotment tables and 23 pages of ship records. The records are used during game play and will need to be photocopied. The scenario book also details the rules specific to Bomb Alley (as previously mentioned, the rulebook is for the entire series of games).

The tactical map is used during surface combat and represents ships locked in combat. The map is nothing more than a cluster of numbered light and dark blue hexes with several key damage tables printed on either side for the benefit of the players. The operations maps depict the Mediterranean Basin and are used in Operations Scenarios only to track movement of Task Forces (clusters of ships). These maps are more colorful and consist of hundreds of squares (similar to a massive chessboard) that represent 36 nautical miles per square. Much of the map is taken up with land (most of which doesn’t come into play during a Naval combat game), but due to the size of the region, this was necessary. The maps also contain a weather track and minefield tables for each player. Oddly, the larger map does not fit in the box when folded. It is slightly longer than the box and rides up the side during storage. It is certainly a minor issue that could result in map damage and should have been caught by Avalanche Press.

The task force cards are used to keep track of the fleet composition of each Task Force. This information is kept private from your opponent. They also track the various flight of aircraft used throughout the game. The airbase cards are used to track aircraft from both land bases and aircraft carrier. The player aid card lists the various modifiers used during different phases of the game as well as sighting ranges and the Air Search Results Table. The player log sheet is used to plot movement on the Operations Map for each Task Force and will need to be photocopied.

The counters are divided into 280 1" long pieces and 560 ½" pieces. The long pieces depict major ships (battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers) while the small pieces represent aircraft steps (each step is 6 aircraft), smaller ships (transports, etc) and markers used during game play. The markers are colorful and include several important numbers used during play. For example, the HMS Hood Battlecruiser counter lists the nationality (Britain), the ship ID number (BC03), the movement allowance (2+), the primary/secondary/tertiary gunnery factors (10/0/2), the antiaircraft factors (2) and the torpedo factors (1). Some ships will have a float plane indicator as well. Additional information for each ship can be found in the ship records section of the scenario book.

It deserves mention that the game did not come with any six-sided dice. This game, as with certain other Avalanche Press games, relies upon a Bucket of Dice system for combat. It is not uncommon to roll dozens of dice at a time to determine the outcome of combat. It is my recommendation that at least 10 dice are brought to the table for this game.

Rules, Mechanics and Game Play:

Ships are organized into Task Forces and are assigned a mission for the following mission types: Bombardment, Transport, Intercept, and Escort. Once the missions are assigned, the first turn begins. Each game turn of Bomb Alley represents 4 hours of real time and is divided into 12 phases.

The weather is determined by the Axis player rolling one die. The weather is decreased one level towards Clear on a 1-2 and increased one level towards Gale on a 6 (in scenarios taking place from October to February, the weather is increased on a 5-6). The current state of the weather affects how ships and aircraft can move and fire and is tracked on the Operations maps.

The Air Patrol phase involves three types of patrol: CAP, search and ASW. CAP (combat air patrol) flights target incoming planes, search flights fly over open sea looking for enemy task forces and ASW flight are engaged in Anti-Submarine Warfare. In this phase, aircraft are assigned to one of these three types of patrols.

The mechanics of Bomb Alley rely upon secrecy and careful pre-movement plotting. The units comprising task forces are hidden and their movements are plotted for each turn on the player log sheet according to their missions during the Orders phase. Fuel supplies are also evaluated during this phase.

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