Moe's Game Table: B-17 Flying Fortress Leader Review
Publisher: Dan Verssen Games
Game Designer: Dean Brown
Playing Time: 30-120 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $89.99
Last year Dan Verssen Games held yet another successful Kickstarter, this time adding to their long running and highly popular Leader series of games. B-17 Flying Fortress Leader has you managing, planning and running bomber and fighter groups in daring missions over German occupied Europe, in another challenging addition to this exciting solitaire series.
As we’ve come to expect from DVG, there’s a myriad of customization and control options in the hands of the player. Everything from selecting and outfitting your air groups and commanders, to mission planning and targeting. If you love the role of overall commander, while still being able to dive headlong into the action, the Leader series is definitely for you.
Bombing the Reich
If you’ve ever wanted to be in charge of an air group, tank company, or U-boat squadron, the DVG Leader series is without a doubt, pardon the pun, the leader in that regard. I’ve heard a lot about these games, but dealt with them minimally before this. B-17 Flying Fortress Leader is my first real foray into the series, and I suspect it is likely the most involved of the series to date.
B-17 puts you in the role of Deputy Director of Operations for the Eighth Air Force. In this job your duties have you divvying up ordnance, selecting commanders, bomber groups, fighter escorts, route planning… Yea, you get it, there’s a lot of stuff to take on here, and yes, and it is as all-encompassing as it sounds. These games are a tinkerer’s delight, as you dive deep into the minutiae of command, something that I have a love-hate relationship with personally. Most often I just like to lay out the given forces and make do with what I have, but there are other times when I want that overall control, finding enjoyment in the deeper planning aspects of command.
The components are outstanding, with an excellent mounted board that proves to be an important accessory in this game, as it houses a great deal of key information and the outline of play. Rounded counters, and plenty of them, as is par for the course with a DVG game, along with a lengthy, albeit slightly flawed rules manual. Oh and cards, mountains of cards.
Getting started can seem a tad overwhelming at first, as there is a lot to take in. Although not difficult, the lengthy rule book is densely packed with information, yet suffers from some ambiguities, lack of good flow, and no proper index to make referencing quicker and easier. You will be referencing items a lot, especially in the first few plays, and scanning through 40 pages can be frustrating. Some of this has been addressed with an improved rulebook, now available as a PDF download, but the box version should have been better detailed and structured. Hopefully this can be resolved with future releases from DVG.
Once you spend time digging through the rules, you’ll find there’s a lot going on here, and it’s pretty dang good. Everything is in your hands, designer Dean Brown has done an excellent job at making you feel invested in your bomber groups. You’ll rejoice in their victories, and second-guess your decisions when they fall victim to the Luftwaffe and German air defenses.
As with most of DVG‘s titles, the cards are the heart and soul of the game. They house all of the information that drives play. Each card represents individual bomber and fighter groups, models German defense commanders, and provides you target and event cards. There is a hefty amount of variance in the cards and how they are assigned, keeping plays fresh for a long time. This game has great legs.
Campaigns run the gamut from short to lengthy, covering weeks to months aimed at specific objectives. You can get your feet wet with limited duration missions, such as harassing the German U-Boat menace, or crippling aircraft manufacturing. From there you can graduate up to the longer term jobs, working your way through the beginning of the air war in August of ’42, to the Allied invasion carrying into 1945.
Before each campaign, you are assigned a budget of Special Operations points, the currency of your stock in trade. These pay for your fighter and bomber groups, ordnance, defensive and offensive technologies to outfit them, and renowned commanders to lead them. The budget is limited, forcing you to make some weighty decisions in defining your group’s makeup. Thankfully, the War Department isn’t too frugal, and provides a weekly stipend to keep your assets in the air. To augment this small steady income, successfully completing missions earns you extra points, and you’ll need those to continue the long slog through the war.
After this, the focus shifts to the missions, which require sound tactical judgement in order to be successful. Plotting courses from England across the channel into hostile Europe, assigning fighter cover, performing recon and even sending out decoys to fool the Germans, all happens here. Beware though, early in the war, fighters don’t have the legs to maintain constant cover over your bombers. That changes in the later stages of course, as aircraft advancements come into play for both sides, but makes for some nail biting moments in the first couple of years. Event cards add another dimension of the unknown on both the outbound and inbound legs of your journey. Some of them are positive and help you along, while others will make your journey a little more ‘interesting’, to say the least.
Since your fighter cover will not last every step of the way, the ordering of your bomber formations matters when plotting courses. As you close on your mission’s target, the front group is more likely to run into a stern fighter swarm. So you’ll need to place the bomber groups with the strongest air-to-air defense at the tip of the spear, with the weaker groups trailing.
Once you near the target there’s no let up, because fighters aren’t your only concern. The local anti-aircraft sites will blanket the sky with flak, further battering your bombers air frames. German fighter and air defenses are dictated by their current commander, each with a distinct personality. These commanders bring new technology, tactics and attitudes to the fore, along with varying levels of aggression, to provide evolving challenges over the course of every campaign.
As groups take damage they slip into shaken status, reducing their efficiency. Too many losses can push them to being unfit to fly, if not outright destroyed. But, just as with those Special Operations points, you receive replacements at the end of the month to reconstitute your air groups.
Whoever has survived to this point is tasked with hitting the chosen targets, most times requiring return missions to finish the job, lest the damage be repaired and rebuilt. This is very much in line with how these missions went in real life, they weren’t simply one and done. Adding this rebuilding aspect puts more pressure on you to plan well, and execute better, otherwise those bombs dropped are for naught. Being successful doesn’t just win you extra points and the accolades of your superiors, it also has a deeper impact on the overall war effort.
Aside from the ETO, where you are actively engaged, the Mediterranean and Eastern Fronts also advance as the war progresses. A desperate enemy is a dangerous enemy, and will throw more fighters your way if they can. I really like how your actions have an overall effect on other theaters in the war, with effects rippling across the globe, stretching the German war machine thin. This invests you further, making you feel like a small part of the big picture, in an abstract manner of course, but you do feel it humming in the background.
As you can likely suspect, this is not a game that is generally finished in one sitting. A short campaign can be knocked out in a few hours, but most will take multiple sessions to battle through. Much of this is dependent on how deep you want to dive into the management of your groups, configuring your groups can quite easily consume 20-30 minutes or more before heading into the mission proper. Along with time, the game also consumes a good deal of real estate, so expect to keep this one setup on your table for a few days at a time. Overall, you definitely get your money’s worth with B-17 Flying Fortress Leader.
Fights its way through the flak
DVG continues to build their catalog of in-depth, addicting games that cover various land, sea and air titles. Everything from the mundane aspects of command, to the nail-biting intensity of the combat itself is produced in B-17 Flying Fortress Leader. It’s a major strength of the design that this game provides a varied setup, and new challenges to face each time. The gameplay doesn’t feel redundant, although for some, the unit configuration portion may begin to feel a little tedious.
Despite the rough takeoff and turbulence of the rule book issues, don’t let that hold you back from digging into this one because there’s a really good game here. Stick with it, download the latest rulebook and take your time. You’ll be rewarded with an engrossing experience and find yourself entertained for many an hour, bombing your way across German occupied Europe.
In my opinion, the DVG Leader series does an excellent job at giving you a slight taste of the roller coaster ride of emotions from success to failure, along with the pressures of what it means to be in command. Veteran Leader series fans will feel right at home, and newcomers to the series will find a feast to gorge on. If you fancy yourself as good a manager as a tactician, putting B-17 Flying Fortress Leader on your table will certainly test your mettle.
Company Website: http://www.dvg.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/danverssengames
Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.