Archive for the ‘WWII’ Tag

[50/50] Game #14: Wings of War

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Tabletop Game #14: Wings of War (2004) and Richthofen’s War (1972)

As today is 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, this is a timely entry. So to speak.

Unlike WWII, which still fuels the wargame industry like a perpetual motion machine, WWI was never a particularly popular era with gamers — with one grand exception. Anything that recreates the aerial dogfights of The Great War sells well — and are invariably fun to play. As deadly as the first use of the aeroplane was in combat (usually to their pilots), the high-flying romance of the period continues to enthrall game designers a century later. Plus, you get to shoot down your buddies, over and over!

There have been dozens of board, video and computer games published over the decades, such as the exceptionally clever Ace of Aces, an elaborately designed pair of books that allows two players to simulate a dog fight, though Avalon Hill’s Richthofen’s War is a sentimental favorite — if for no other reason than it was the first wargame I ever played. It blew me away, and I was hooked after one game. Not just on Richthofen’s War, but wargames in general. Like so many of AH’s titles, it also was slyly educational; soon my brother and I could tell you why a Spad 13 was better than a Sopwith Camel, and pick out the silhouette’s of planes that hadn’t graced the skies in 50 years.

wings of warThe winner though, goes to Wings of War, a game that is simply ingenious in its simplicity. The design is brilliant because you can teach anyone how to play in less than a minute. Turns are lightning fast, and dozens of people can fly at the same time, making it a perfect convention game. With large matches, players also get a true sense of the chaos and capriciousness of a dogfight in the skies over the trenches of WWI, and why a pilot’s career rarely lasted long.

wings of rusty


[50/50] A Bridge Too Far

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Book #5: “A Bridge Too Far” — Cornelius Ryan (1974)
Computer Game #5: “V for Victory: Operation Market-Garden” (1993)

A_Bridge_Too_Far_-_1974_Book_CoverFlush with success after D-Day, the Allies had the Nazis on the run in the fall of 1944. Thinking he could end the war early, a British general came up with an overly-ambitious plan to hopscotch across the Netherlands and sweep around the German defenses. The attack involved the largest air drop of troops in history, and was bigger than the invasion of Normandy — which took over a year to plan — and was launched within a week. The effort to simultaneously seize seven key bridges in seven cities became one of the biggest disasters of WWII.

In fact, Operation Market-Garden nearly cost the allies the war.

It wasn’t just poor planning that doomed the attack. Hubris on the part of allied commanders lead them to believe they could punch through any enemy resistance, and misplaced assumptions lead them to ignore crucial intelligence from partisan forces. In one case, allied troops were dropped right in front of elite SS units, who promptly mowed them down. The ambitious invasion turned into a rescue operation to save as many men as possible, and “A Bridge Too Far” quickly became shorthand for over-reaching. Of course, disasters make for compelling stories, and journalist Cornelius Ryan’s oral history of the battle became one of the best books on WWII. (It is also three times as long as “The Longest Day,” his earlier book about the — very successful — D-Day invasion.) As infuriating as it is to read, it is a fascinating look at how not to fight a war.

Curiously enough, “A Bridge Too Far” was also the last of those epic star-studded war movies that Hollywood used to make. It was expected to be the biggest box office hit of 1977 … until it opened opposite of a little sci-fi flick called “Star Wars” … whoops

# # #

victoryTwenty years later, in time for the 50th anniversary of WWII, Atomic Games came out with a series of exceptional wargames focusing on the biggest battles of the war. “V for Victory: Operation Market-Garden” is the only wargame I’ve ever played every scenario and variation of, and it provided even greater insight into how not to fight a war.

The game is all the more interesting because it is impossible for the allies to win. Even if everything had gone according to plan, even under the most optimal conditions, the allies would have still failed in their attack. This is the sort of lesson that should be — and is — taught at military academies, and every politician who ever used the word “cakewalk” should be beaten about the head and neck with the game box.


[50/50] Computer Game #10: “Bomber”

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Computer Game #10: “Bomber” (1989)

One of the first success stories for the Mac was a little thing called Hypercard. It was a database program that allowed you to embed images and sound, and one very clever programmer named Rene Vidmer used it to build a series of best-selling games set in WWII. Using only a few dozen static images, very simple animation, and stereo sound, he created simulations of the Battle of Britain, U-boat raids in the Atlantic, and tank battles in Europe. The best of these (and the only one we played) was called

BomberPutting you in the captain’s seat of a B-17 bomber, you picked your plane, picked your crew and plotted your path over war-torn Europe. You had to watch your elevation, watch your formation, and watch very carefully where you were over the target.



It was effective because, frequently, very little would happen in a game. The drone of engines in your earphones would lull you into relaxed state when suddenly one of your crew would shout out “Bandits! 3 O’clock!” You’d have to remember that was the starboard gunner and click on him to fend off the German fighter planes attack you from the right.


A game was 25 missions long, and each run became longer and more difficult (just as in WWII). As compelling a historical simulation as Bomber was, the only way to lose was to fly too high and black out from lack of oxygen. If you crashed or were shot down, you and most of your crew would somehow make it back to the airfield and continue the fight.


So to make it more accurate and interesting — to myself and my office mates — we decided that a game was over if you were shot down over enemy territory. Since you spent much of your time in the air over enemy lines, this immediately made the game much harder. And to up the stakes, I named every crew member after a close friend. Now it wasn’t Lt. Able getting shot, it was Lt. Rusty or Sgt. Allen.

It turned Bomber into one of the most intense gaming experience I ever had.