Top Cover – Boardgame Supplement Review
Passed Inspection: Great information. Tons of scenarios. Eight new airplanes. Color map.
Failed Basic: Counters have some glue issues. Some typos.
Fighting Wings is the flagship game system for detailed aviation combat. Whether covering jet combat (The Speed of Heat) or World War II aerial combat (Whistling Death), the Fighting Wings system has ruled the skies since its first release over 20 years ago. But this system does come with a price; the rules are very complex and are not easily mastered even with tutorials. While games such as Wings of Glory have abstracted many of the more complex themes of air combat, Fighting Wings has the players track in great detail the various aspects of the airplanes including angle of the nose of the plane, angle of the wings to the ground, throttle controls, speed loss due to maneuvers, flap settings, weather affects, etc.
Now, Clash of Arms Games and Fighting Wings’ designer J.D. Webster have released a magazine called Top Cover which is dedicated to providing mini-expansions to the Fighting Wings system. This premier issue is dedicated to providing the Australian expansion to the Whistling Death game, which focuses on the air war in the Pacific Theater.
On February 19, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the northern mainland of Australia by bombing the port of Darwin. The Japanese ruled the skies as the Australian air defense was notably slack. The only real interceptor of worth was the two-seated Wirraway, which was really a glorified trainer. The underpowered plane’s .303 machine guns were no match for the Imperial Navy’s Zeros and the Japanese army’s Ki43s, let alone the Japanese seaplanes and bombers. Later, P40s were rushed into combat, and they planes were more of a match against the Japanese as long as they didn’t get in a turning fight with the more maneuverable Japanese planes. In 1943, Spitfires were transferred to Australia and the game was on!
Top Cover provides 31 pages of articles, scenarios and 8 new airplanes to add the already existing fleet of aircraft for Fighting Wings. The scenarios are linked to informative and well-written articles. Many of the scenarios are designed for solitaire play as well.
The new Royal Australian Air Force planes are the Wirraway, Beaufighter Mk. VIC, RAAF Spitfire Mk. VC/Tropical and the CAC “Boomerang.” The new Imperial Japanese Navy and Army planes are the Kawanishi H6K4 seaplane known by the Allies as the “Mavis,” the Ki.45 AIb “Toru,” the Ki.46-II “Dinah” and the Ki.43-IIa “Oscar.” The “Oscar” has already been released in Whistling Death, but this version supersedes the old one as Mr. Webster has tweaked its stats.
Additionally, a full-color, centerfold-style operational map of the Darwin area has been included for those who play the operational level version of Fighting Wings.
Full-color, double-sided counters are also included, but I had a problem with the glue on the rear of the counter giving way and causing the counter backs to peel off.
The scenarios are all very informative and realistic—sometimes too realistic. For example, the scenario “Game Changer” pits two Spitfires against a lone Ki.46-II recon plane. The scenario calls for the Japanese plane to be completely unarmed (which it was in the historical encounter; this scenario and all the others are based on actual aerial encounters that occurred during World War II). Unfortunately, two fully armed Spitfires against one unarmed recon plane did not make for much of a challenge and, subsequently, a less than thrilling scenario. I added in a higher altitude lurking, 37mm cannon–armed Ki.45 to make things interesting and, boy, did it ever!
Most of the other scenarios are well balanced and extremely challenging. The scenario entitled “First to Fight” pits an underarmed and underpowered Wirraway against three H6K4 seaplanes with 20mm cannons in their tails. Barring a lucky critical hit, I dare anyone to do more than put holes in one or two seaplanes. I fired many shots into the planes and did little more than damage an engine. Then, my underpowered engine seized up and I had to glide back to base while the three Japanese planes soared quickly away.
A few typos snuck into the magazine but nothing that impacts the quality of the articles and scenarios. I must say, however, that the magazine could have greater outreach if the publisher will include the “Quick Start” rules used in the Buffalo Wings expansion in future issues, in order to attract new players.
All in all, the Top Cover magazine will be a fantastic house organ for the Fighting Wings series if the first issue’s quality is any indication. Keep the dirty side down and get in the air, fly boys!
Armchair General Rating: 91 %
Solitaire Rating: 4
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)!