Buffalo Wings – World War II Tactical Air Combat Over Finland – Boardgame Review
Buffalo Wings – World War II Tactical Air Combat Over Finland. Boardgame Review. Publisher: Landsknecht Publishin Services. Designer: J.D. Webster and Lembit Tohver. $34.95
Passed Inspection: Beautiful map and counters. Tons of solitaire scenarios. Great background information. Tons of detail.
Failed Basic: Game rules are overwhelming. Too much detail and chart flipping. More examples needed.
It was the mid 1990s and I was yearning for a nice World War II tactical air combat game. At a local gaming store, The Tin Soldier, now long since gone, I found two amazing looking games by Clash of Arms Publishing – both were part of a series called Fighting Wings – Over the Reich and its sequel/prequel Achtung – Spitfire! The games looked daunting in terms of their detail but I thought, “what the hell?” I was a long term Starship Battles and Dungeons & Dragons player who prided himself on how quickly he learned to play a game. Well, the level of detail in the games made for long nights of study and I had trouble finding friends who wanted to invest that amount of time in learning “an airplane game.” The rulebooks were over 65 pages each and each plane had its own data sheet. There were pages after pages of charts and tables. The games ended up on my shelf for years next to my copies of Air War and Advanced Squad Leader. I always told myself, “I’ll learn to play these monster games someday,” but I never could invest the time.
Flash forward 18 years, Armchair General assigned me to review a game called Buffalo Wings. As I read the rules, I thought “Man, this sounds an awful light like a simpler version of Over the Reich and Achtung – Spitfire!” I pulled those two dusty games off my bookshelf and, lo and behold, Buffalo Wings is designed by the same person (J.D. Webster) and, in fact, uses a simplified version of the Fighting Wings rules! Now I have a reason to finally learn that game system and, while frustrated by some aspects of the simplified Fighting Wings rules, I am not disappointed and have found my heart ready to tackle Buffalo Wings more-difficult-to-master parent game system.
Buffalo Wings is the feature game presented in the 29th issue of the wonderful gaming magazine Against the Odds. Its rules are a tight 32 pages (air craft data sheets, charts and scenarios included) and have sacrificed elements such as aircraft roll rates and aircraft wing positions which made the original rules a record keeping nightmare.
The game focuses on the air war over Finland as the Finns fought off the Soviets from 1940 to 1944. The Finns were in a unique position in that their air force was made up of planes from France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Sweden, America, and Germany. One could find Messerschmitt 109s escorting Gladiator biplanes while Brewster Buffalos, Fokker D.XXIs and Hurricanes attacked Russian bomber formations. In fact, it was during these air battles that the American Buffalos (which suffered miserably against Japanese pilots) really shone when modified and flown by highly trained and motivated Finnish pilots. The Finns actually achieved kill rates of 20:1 against the Soviets. The magazine provides several insightful articles covering this background.
Each unit is one airplane or ground target. Each plane is rated for elements such as gun number, caliber and position, performance, power output at speed and altitude, defense factors including protection such as armored fuel tanks, speed, etc. Some of the elements in the data sheets are only used in the full Fighting Wings game and are not used in this easier-to-play version. Each turn is four seconds and each hex on the stunningly illustrated map is equal to 300 feet.
Each turn the players must plot their airplanes’ speed, altitude, position, nose position (up, level or down) and acceleration/deceleration as well as turn rate on an aircraft spreadsheet. They then move their units on the map with the player who rolled the lowest initiative moving first. While the hex movement is not preplotted, players are still somewhat limited by how they have allocated their engine power, speed, turn rate, and nose position. Combat involves the number and type of weapons each plane possesses matched up with range and attack position. Then a percentile die roll is made and the results matched against a table. If a hit occurs, the type of weapon dictates the number of damage points done by the attack plus chances for a critical hit. The critical hit charts provide a realistic feel to the attacks and definitely help to build the tension.
For example, I was flying one of the solo missions and attacked a formation of Soviet SB-2 bombers with my Brewster Buffalo. In the first 12 seconds of my attack, the SB-2 bomber I initially targeted was ravaged by my Buffalo’s 50 caliber machine guns. The first rounds caused a major fuel leak and as the bomber veered out of formation and dumped its bomb load, I attacked again and started a fuel fire on its right wing tanks. Before the crew could bail out, the plane exploded. Meanwhile, two other bombers did minor structural damage to my left wing and fuselage with their defensive guns. I hit another bomber and its fuel tank blew up but my plane was horribly riddled with bullets by two other planes in the formation. I took structural damage to my plane’s tail structure. As my trusty Brewster began to lose power from an engine hit, I crippled another bomber and it dove out of formation trying to evade my shots. Unfortunately, my plane had taken enough damage from the Soviet defensive gunners that I decided to bail out and float back to earth in order to fly again another day. I had shot down two bombers and kept another from attacking our ground troops – not a bad trade-off for my trusty Brewster. I would be assigned another plane and fly again soon.
As stated before, Buffalo Wings is based upon a solid but difficult to learn game system. This supplement was written by Lembit Tohver who must be acknowledged for the wonderful research done and for designing scenarios that really capture the Winter War and the Continuation War.
Stats for the Buffalo. Click to enlarge the image.
It took me five readings of the rules and four games before I felt comfortable enough to say I had an 80% grasp of these more basic Fighting Wings rules. As they are in the two original games, the rules are dry and feel too much to like reading a textbook but they do teach you how airplanes really work. It is my understanding that Webster is, in fact, an airline pilot, so this is understandable.
As you can tell, the game is not for the casual flyer. In terms of the other extremely popular flying game on the market – Wings of War – the games are like comparing the original Squad Leader to Advanced Squad Leader. Fighting Wings is more like a way of life.
Buffalo Wings could benefit by including better illustrated examples of play. It also uses far too many abbreviations. I constantly had to reference back and forth in the rules to figure out what was being stated. It’s a good thing the magazine has high quality binding. Another thing that is desperately needed are examples of the types of turns an airplane can make in the game.
The game includes many solitaire scenarios as well as multiplayer scenarios.
All in all, Buffalo Wings is an accurate portrayal of World War II air combat but is not for the casual gamer.
Armchair General Rating: 83 %
Solitaire Suitability: 4/5 – Very Good
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)!