Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Review: Warlord's Blood Red Skies

New boxed game

Some time ago I pitched an idea for a new airgame to Warlord. My theme was that it was time for a new approach to airgames. Warlord politely replied that they agreed.....and, in fact, they had already given a contract to some bloke called Andy Chambers to do just that!

From this you can draw two conclusions: (i) freelancers such as myself have to be always on the make and (ii) timing is everything.

I am a great fan of Andy's work so I was pleased to buy an advanced copy at Salute: here are my initial thoughts.

Let's start with what you get in the box for £40.

Bf 109E

There are twelve soft plastiky-resin 1:200 Battle of Britain models in the box. Detailing is good for soft plastic. The tails on the 109s are slightly bent. I tried the old trick of dipping them in a really hot cup of tea (makes for interesting weathering) and the plastic softened and could be reposed. The material did seem to have a memory and gradually change back overnight to some degree but this is really pretty trivial.

The models are supplied unpainted. I washed them thoroughly as I would any soft plastic or resin model, and the acrylic paint went on without any problem at all.


Close up of detailing

The upper camoflague rather hides the detailing but this shot of a spitfire miniature underside in light grey with black wash shows how good it is.

Achtung Spitfeur

The above photo shows the six Spitfire 1/II models included.

The stands slot in and out of the models to allow the card markers at the base of the stands to be interchangable, X-Wing style. The stands have three position click-hinges - that have nothing to do with banking or climb/dive. More about this later.

Markings on the stands show the aircraft 'front', and four quarters. The colour and number indicate pilot skill, varying from 2-5.

Rulebooks

There are three rule booklets, standard, expanded and scenarios.

The rules are written in a minimalist style so bear careful reading. A single sentence can have a vast impact on play.

Expanded rules are mostly about the various doctrine, theatre and plane ability cards with are played to give special impacts.

'Cheat sheets'

Included are two double-sided summary sheets with all relevant information commonly needed during pay.

Terrain

Flat terrain works well with airgames and the half-doz thick card double sided terrain markers with clouds on one side and balloons on the other are welcome.

Light bombers

Three double sided thick cards represent Do17s and Blenheims.

Markers

And the box is stuffed with markers, player aids, cards and D6 dice inscribed as victory bars - a nice touch.

Luftwaffe over Kent

I played a basic game using just the standard rules with no cards.

Have a look at the planes. The left four are horizontal - No Advantage.

The two right planes are tilted nose up - Advantaged.

The whole game hings on Advantage.

You can only shoot at a plane that has  a lower Advantage level than the shooter. And only a nose down, Disadvantaged plane, can be shot down. So the whole game hinges on forcing a plane into a disadvantaged nose down position and then shooting at it and getting a hit.

You can push a plane down an Advantage level by (i) scoring a hit on it - this doesn't damage the target - or (ii) by making an enemy plane within 9 inches take an agility test. Getting on a planes tail forces it right down.

The nose-up-level-down looks a bit odd but you get used to it. Advantage actually represents height, position and energy abstracted into a three position index.


Der Englander pig-dogs

Aces are best used to close within nine inches of a lower pilot-skill opponent - who can be at any o'clock - and automatically forcing it down a level - so follow up planes can kill it.

I made a bad error by using clouds as cover, forgetting that they would force me into Normal. I then discovered that the Spitfire had a speed advantage over the 109 - they move the same number of inches. This meant that my opponent always went first, so he could keep me down by shooting at me and forcing agility tests.

This game is all about forcing your opponent's aircraft into Disadvantage.

Splash!

It was a bad day for the Luftwaffe. they lost three to the jubilant Spitfire pilots.

The game took about two hours to play.


Conclusions

This game works.
It has very good physical components with everything you need to play 'in the box'.
It looks simple but it is actually highly intricate and requires a great deal of skill.
It is imaginative, novel and beautifully crafted.
It is highly abstracted, noticeably in its handling of height/position/energy.
It felt chess-like in that subtle positioning of your aircraft in a team on an opponent is the key to victory rather than heroics or cut and slash.


So should you buy it?
Well, that depends on whether you are a committed airgamer. Air-tekkies probably won't like the abstraction but people looking for a fun game based on the Battle of Britain should seriously take a look. They might prefer this to Wings of Glory.

One point: If you buy and don't like the game then the wargaming components - the models and the clouds etc. - are easily worth £40 so you haven't lost anything if you throw the game away. WoG fighters now cost about £15 each! There are plenty of air rulebooks out there, including some free on the web.

So: Recommended both for airgamers and casual players.




11 comments:

  1. Nice review. I saw this being played at Salute and thought it looked intriguing (ie cool!).

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    1. Definitely a breath of fresh air in air wargaming

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  2. Pretty much agree 100% - which is why my painting table is groaning with 109s and Spitfires

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    1. That comment made me smile ...conjures up a great picture

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  3. I played and enjoyed it (not sure we got all the rules quite right, mind...) and I totally agree about subtlety.

    I did think it was a bit of a shame that X-Wing nabbed the square bases first, though, as it made discerning arcs that little bit unnecessarily trickier.

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  4. Great review John, and was an absolute pleasure to meet you in Maidstone yesterday

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    1. Here's a link to the blog we now run that you were interested in https://thegamerscupbard.blogspot.co.uk/

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    2. Great blog. Fascinating to watch newly sculpted minis. Sculpting seems like magic to me.

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    3. Thank you John, writing feels the same to me

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