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Posted on Nov 9, 2015 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 – Boardgame Review

Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 – Boardgame Review

By Rick Martin

WING LEADER Victories 1940 to 1942. Boardgame review. Publisher: GMT Games. Designer: Lee Brimmicombe-Wood Price $69.00

Passed Inspection: Fantastic scope! Fast game play. Beautiful artwork. Unique concept.

Failed Basic: Needs an index. Tough to get emotionally invested in the pilots.  Must read over 30 pages before you can start playing.

I am an aficionado of air war board and computer simulations. Depending on my mood, I can play from the very complex such as Air War or the Fighting Wings series to the visually stunning but easier to play Wings of War/Glory games or Nova Games Ace of Aces battle books; to make my day happy put me in front of a gaming table and let me jump in the cockpit and shoot down someone or get shot down trying.   Either way, I’ll have a blast.

Imagine my excitement when I saw that GMT was releasing a new air combat board game!  Imagine my even greater surprise when I saw the game was played on a map that showed not the top down I was used to for air games but laid out horizontally with bars showing altitude and the counters showing the sides of the air planes!  OK – let’s see if GMT can pull this one off!  Well, I’m pleased to say that GMT and Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Wing Leader’s talented designer, delivered in aces!

The game, itself, is beautifully packaged with a stunning painting by Antonis Karidis of a few P40s tearing up some Ki-43s before diving in on some Ki-21 “Sallies”. This art would make a great T-Shirt (hint,  hint, nudge, nudge, say no more).  Upon opening the box, you will find a very well illustrated rule book, a scenario book, an unmounted playing map, two dice and both cards and counters.  Each card is double sided and features game stats for the aircrafts used in the game on one side and then a description of the aircraft on the other.  Each counter represents either one or more aircrafts or a ship as well as status counters for everything from damage to the skill level of the pilot.  In addition there are counters for clouds, location of the sun, flak barrages and such.  There are also play aid cards with important tables, the order of each turn, etc.  All the components are very handsomely illustrated and well crafted.

As the game’s title states, the scope of this release focuses on 1940 to 1943.  Aircrafts are featured from the following nations – Britain, America, Russia, Italy, Japan and Germany.  An excellent selection of fighters, dive bombers, torpedo bombers and medium bombers are featured so that, pretty much, every air battle from those turbulent early to mid years can be re-created no matter whether we are looking at the Pacific or European theaters although a few Chinese or French planes would have been a nice addition.

Why chose to do a flight game from a side perspective?  In his fascinating designer’s notes, the designer states that since the game focuses on interceptions of bombers and dive bombers, “Given that raids fly long, straight courses towards their targets, we can reduce the geometry of a raid to two dimensions: the length along the axis of the raid, and altitude above ground. All interception courses are essentially pursuit or collision courses.”  This works surprisingly well.

A second unique element of this game is that each airplane counter actually represents between one and 12 aircrafts.  So, therefore, the scope of the game is actually much broader than most tactical air war games where each unit is one aircraft.  Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to get emotionally attached to a given pilot for continuing campaign purposes.

Each aircraft is rated for victory point value, speed, turn rate, climb rate and bomb capacity (if any) each broken down in to different altitude bands (some planes are better at specific altitude ranges but their performance suffers outside of this range), firepower, protection, bomb sight type/fighter gun site plus any special additions such as drop tanks, rockets, etc.  The victory point value can also be used to balance player created scenarios.

The unmounted play board is marked off in altitude levels from ground or sea level to 19,000 feet.

The turn sequence goes roughly as follows:

Tally Phase – who has spotted who

Movement Phase – slower and lower aircrafts move first

Combat Phase – air attacks, torpedo and bombing attacks

Administration Phase – planes try to escape, change ground control vectors, etc.

The basic game rules are covered in 31 pages and includes basic flying and combat maneuvers, weather conditions including clouds and contrails blocking line of sight (although the rules for contrails are very basic and confusingly explained), situational awareness, spotting (called “tallies”), radio nets, ammo and basic flying formations.  The ramp up time to learn the basic game is fairly steep based upon how the rules are presented.  31 pages is quite a lot to read in order to play the basic game and I think the rules could have been re-organized in order to get new players in to the game faster. In addition, I can’t stress enough that rules need complete indexes in order to make it faster to look things up.  Wing Leader has no index so hopefully the rule book will hold up to much page flipping.

Some of the rules and nomenclature are a little confusing, for example, “Speed” is only used for computing attacks when zooming in on an opponent and does not affect the number of boxes a plane can move.  Aircraft movement rate is abstracted to the type of aircraft, for example, bombers and unalerted fighters move 2 boxes, alterted fighters move 3, etc.  This is modified by whether the aircraft is diving or climbing or involved in a dogfight.

The advanced rules cover pages 31 to 45 and include such things as fuel limits, special tactics such as the Lufbery Circle which spared some Me 110s in a game I was playing, special weapons such as air-to-air rockets and large caliber cannons, air craft carriers, ships and ground targets, bombing, strafing, flak, and rules not used in this game covering rocket planes (Me 163) and jets like the Me 262 as well as heavy American bombing formations.

Two pages of designer’s notes are also included.

The scenario book includes missions on all fronts and is well thought out and illustrated.  Solitaire scenarios are also thoughtfully included.

As always, GMT thoughtfully offers on-line content including Q & A and even a new booklet of scenarios.

The game is very exciting and addictive.  The sheer number of aircrafts allows for a great deal of replay ability.  Almost any conflict can be covered utilizing the rules and aircrafts provided.  For those interested in World War II aviation, I highly recommend this game!

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)!

7 Comments

  1. Richard, thx for your review! Yes, this is a beautiful game and it plays well, even despite the amount of rules to know beforehand! I struggled at first too, as I am not much into convoluted wargame rules, but managed to get through and enjoyed my first game ultimately.

    The good thing about the scenarios in fact is, that they start slow, with only a handful of the basic concepts, and as you play them (in order!), they add more and more stuff. That way you can add the concepts one by one, even from the Basic rules.

    As per the Index – yeah, that is missing from the rules. Therefore Lee has decided to make one for the Volume 2 of the game, which will cover later years of WW2. And I volunteered to make the Index for these Vol. 2 rules – in fact, it is already nearly completed (barring some changes and/or corrections until final rules).

    I am thinking of retroactively applying it to these rules as well, that should not be that hard to do (and will take considerably less time than the creation of it did for Vol. 2).

  2. Are there French aircraft?

    • Mark, the designer said he would like to add French planes in one of the future small expansions (that is after the second volume of the game, which is so far planned to release in late 2016). So perhaps in 2017 we will see some Armée de l’Air ones…

    • Not having French A/C in 1940 makes it a non-starter for me

      • To each his own, but I think it is your loss :) There had to be decisions made what to include and what not to. The first volume focuses on US, UK, German, Japanese, Italian and Russian planes. I believe the French force was not THAT significant, compared to these, hence it was delayed until smaller expansions.

      • No french in 1940 is like no Russian in 1941. Would you buy a 1941 games with French, German, Italian, American,Japanese and British but no Russian A/C?

  3. Leaving the French out.of 1940 is like leaving the Russians out of 1941

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