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Spitfire Summery

Yesterday was Battle of Britain Day here in the UK. If you are British and didn’t spend at least five minutes contemplating the extraordinary courage, tenacity and self-sacrifice of ‘The Few’ then go stand in the RPS Corner of Shame.

Only those that rush outside on hearing the sound of a Merlin engine, and instinctively reach for their wallet on encountering an old gent with a Wings Appeal collection box have permission to read My Artfully Annotated List Of Battle Of Britain Games That Don’t Require Joysticks Or The Reflexes Of A Cobra

  • ACHTUNG SPITFIRE

Before Charles Moylan didn’t get famous for designing and coding the awesome Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, he didn’t get famous for designing and coding this great winged wargame.

Achtung Spitfire is basically a WW2 dogfight sim chopped into 4-second turns and rendered in 2D (height is indicated by numerical icon tags). Each turn, during the movement phase, you get to guide anything from a single plane to an entire squadron about the sky. Work warbirds into attack positions (rated for quality) and they can spit lead during the subsequent combat phase. The principles are really very simple. What gives the game grip and longevity are aerodynamic nuances like g-force and stall modelling (Push too hard and pilots black-out, planes tumble from the blue) and table-turning texture like pilot skills and plane weaknesses. Don’t expect a flight of greenhorns in Defiants to last long against a Rotte of Wicks in Bf 109s.

Able AI and a campaign system that captures the flavour of the Battle (Radar coverage, pilot fatigue, the advantages of altitude…) rather than the complexity, cement the appeal. Any sim devs looking for a new direction could do a lot worse than consider an AS-style tactics game with IL-2-calibre graphics.

  • DOWN IN FLAMES

Dan Verssen has designed some of wargaming’s most effective gateway drugs. If you ever want to stealthily initiate a friend or family member into The Order of Grognards, sleek card games like the Lightning series (except War On Terror) and the various instalments of Down In Flames will probably help. This, surprise-surprise, is a digital adaptation of the latter. Pacey, tense dogfights unfold unpredictably as players duel with positional and attack cards…

“You think you’ve got me with that Out Of The Sun attack, well, you’re wrong because I happen to have a Vertical Roll card here.”

“Which is totally negated by my Vertical Roll card.”

Damn.”

etc.

Every WW2 theatre is represented. The 27 campaigns (which, strangely, you’ve got to be online to enjoy even in SP) include a fiendish BoB number that makes up for its lack of realism (Spits outnumbering Hurricanes?) with instant accessibility, and guaranteed drama. If you need to squeeze the Finest Hour into an actual hour, DiF is perfect.

  • TALONSOFT’S BATTLE OF BRITAIN

Busy, busy, Matrix Games are currently overseeing a refurbishment of this hard-to-find hex-free heavyweight. My eight-year-old memories of it are mostly positive, but it will be interesting to see what the new owners do to improve the interface and pep-up the pace (Playing as the Germans could be pretty tedious; after you’d planned the day’s raids there wasn’t much to do except watch, wait, and whittle.)

Those after authenticity, detail, and fine control will find lots to coo over in the dev updates on the official forum. Every single pilot that participated in the real Battle will be there in the game (even if it just as a name and a string of stats). Every single target the LW purposely dumped HE upon should be there too (the map includes Scotland and the north of England, both hit from Norway) . Allied players will even get the opportunity to give the Fatherland a taste of its own medicine. A spruced-up version of Bombing The Reich (BoB’s sister wargame) will be part of the package too.

  • BATTLE OF BRITAIN II: WINGS OF VICTORY

Until Gary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich (the grotesque working-title of the Matrix project) lumbers into the air, the undisputed king of BoB strategic wargames can be found buried at the heart of a flight sim.

Ignore the periodic piloting offers in the BoB2:WoV campaign (not easy), and you’ve got yourself a map-based military experience as rich, convincing, and distinctive as anything currently out there. Tactics honed in hundreds of land-based wargames are utterly useless here. Combined arms? Flanking? Blitzkrieg? Forget ’em. To bring Fighter Command to its knees you’ve got to learn how to use feints, schedule sequential raids to catch aircraft on the ground as they refuel, and work around the limitations of key weapons like the Stuka (sitting duck) and Bf 109 (thirsty clock-watcher).

Stepping into Dowding’s shiny brogues, the challenges are different again. Standing over the Bentley Priory plotting table with the soft music of telephones jangling in your ears, you’ve got to find that fine line between over-committing and under-committing, and find it regularly. Can I trust that report? Is it time to give up that bomb-ravaged base as a lost cause? Should I take advantage of this lull to stand down some squadrons? Fresh, fascinating dilemmas. More wargames should have them.

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Tim Stone

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