Showing posts with label instant air. Show all posts
Showing posts with label instant air. Show all posts

Friday, 4 March 2016

The Great War And Instant Thunder

We had a low turn-out this evening, with just three of us playing. Caesar had brought along his copy of The Great War, so Ralph and I had a go at one of the Loos scenarios whilst he adjudicated. Ralph took the Germans, whilst I was the British.

In this scenario the British must really try and occupy two trench-lines. The first is a fairly easy proposition, but the second is well defended with machine-guns and there are plenty of German reserves waiting to move forward. The Germans also have artillery superiority. The Germans can win by just sitting tight for long enough as well.

I got an excellent run of cards, enabling me to push quickly into the forward trench line on my right. I was then able to reinforce my position with machine-guns, which helped hold off German reinforcements. I suffered a bit from accurate and persistent German artillery before I was able to play a reinforce card to consolidate my position even further, pushing into the second trench line. From then on Ralph was somewhat on the back foot, trying to force my troops out of their advanced position before I could pick up the victory medal for it. Once I had it in the bag I launched a fierce assault on one of his reinforcing units, eliminating it to win the game.

Caesar then took on the British, whilst I had a go at defending with the Germans. He attacked all along the line, but with an emphasis on my centre and a big push on my right. Again, I was lucky with my initial cards, which enabled me to push my reserves into the second trench-line almost from the start. This beefed up the defences of my two machine-gun positions, and a useful set of cards then enabled me to exploit them thoroughly, gaining bonus dice and extra shots on several turns. Caesar took the first trench line with ease, but never really got much further. Any unit which advanced was cut down by concentrated German firepower.A final push against my right was defeated to give me the final medal I needed for victory

The Great War is quite an intense game to play, with two card hands to juggle, plus the management of the command tokens. Terrain has strong defensive benefits, and a lot of the game is about overcoming those defences by either bypassing them or by stacking up enough combat dice that they become irrelevant. I'm not sure it will replace memoir '44 as my favourite game of this type, but it's certainly an interesting way of playing an era generally regarded as difficult to game.

We then switched to Instant Thunder, trying a small China vs Taiwan scenario set in 1958. Caesar took the Capitalist Running Dogs, with a pair of F84s and a pair of F86 Sabres, whilst I took the Heroic People's Air Force in their four MiG 15s. My planes had the edge in performance, as well as cannons against his machine-guns, but he had two planes with rockets and better pilots.

Of course I had played the game before. I explained that you were allowed to dodge when shot at, really I did, but Caesar decided that it wasn't worth it. And thus, on the first turn, his experienced pilot was shot down by a Chinese rookie fresh out of the training academy.

One of the F84s fell to another Hero of the People's Republic.

Turn two saw another F84 downed, as the MiGs showed how formation flying was done.

This left Caesar with one F86 against four Chinese planes, with six turns to go. And at the end of that time he still had one F86 and the Chinese still had four planes; we ducked and dived and dodged and weaved, but we couldn't get him under fire, and neither could he pick off an isolated target. The Chinese won a convincing victory, with two F84s and an F86 downed, including one of Taiwan's top pilots.

Next time we might try using something with missiles.

Note: If you are reading this post on then you are reading a stolen version. Please go to 'The Stronghold Rebuilt for the original posts. Thank you.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Instant Thunder In The Falklands

I played another game of Instant Thunder this evening, trying out another of the Falklands scenarios. This was an encounter between two Sea harriers and a group of six Mirage IIIs. The Mirage appear in groups of two over the first three turns, giving the harriers a change to inflict some hits before numbers stack up against them. In addition two of the Mirage pilots are novices.

It started well; a Harrier downed a Mirage with a missile on the first turn. The next pair arrived and, before the bemused novice pilot knew what was happening the other Harrier was behind him and he was shot down by cannon fire.

From then on it went downhill for the British. They have two advantages in this fight. The first is that their heat-seeking missiles are a lot better. The Mirages have the possibility of some half-decent radar-homing missiles, but none of them came up. If the Harriers could keep at a distance they could use missiles to even the odds. They also have their VTOL capability, which can be very useful indeed. But using it puts them at risk from heat-seeking missiles, and with so many enemy planes in play you have to be careful because one of them will get a lock. Without those two advantages the sad fact is that the Harrier's performance statistics aren't that great compared to those of the Mirage. With four Mirages on the board the Harriers found themselves under pressure; there always seemed to be a Mirage in a superior position and/or within missile range.

Four turns in one of the Harriers was hit by a missile, and badly damaged. Both Harriers put up a brave fight, but a couple of turns later, the other Harrier was damaged by gunfire.

On the penultimate turn, a Harrier had a clear shot at the surviving novice pilot. He missed. The novice had a clear shot at the other Harrier. He didn't miss. The Harrier went down.

The surviving Harrier held on for the last turn, even attempting a missile lock (which failed), but the points at the end told the story - the Argentinians won, since kills against them were worth far less points than bringing down a Harrier.

Probably the best way to play this for the British is to down one or two Argentinians early on, then dodge and hide for the rest of the fight, rather than showing any further aggression. The risk of conceding points by losing a plane outweighs that of trying to gain a few points for a further kill.

Note: If you are reading this post on then you are reading a stolen version. Please go to 'The Stronghold Rebuilt for the original posts. Thank you.

Instant Thunder

If you are a regular follower of this blog (and there are three fewer of you than there were a couple of months ago, I notice), you will realise that I don't really show much of an interest in anything post-1945. However, for reasons I'm still not sure about I do get a yearning to try some aerial games from time to time. Maybe it was that copy of SPI's 'Air War' I was bought as a reward for passing my O-Levels back in 1980. Aficionados of boardgames of that era will remember 'Air War' as one of the most complicated games SPI had produced up to that point. A turn took ten times longer to play than the entire combat you were trying to simulate. It was high on detail, but very, very low on playability. A few years later I discovered the more sedate combats of WW1, and found my true home in the air.

However I have always thought that there had to be a game which could be simple and playable and yet still give at least a feel for modern air-combat. A few years ago I came across a set of WW1 rules called 'Instant Spandaus'. I never really paid them much attention, as the game was so 'out there' that I couldn't really see what it was doing. However the other day I came across its parent game, 'Instant Thunder'. This was the game the WW1 version was derived from, and it covered air-combat in the jet-age. Once again I didn't quite get how it was supposed to work. But along with the rules, which I'll admit seemed simple and easy to follow, was a scenario book running to some 90 pages. A read of that, with the various ways different types of games could be set up, gave me the clues I needed to understand what the designer was getting at. The game clicked.

So this evening I decided to give it a go.

You can find 'Instant Thunder' HERE, along with the scenario book and 'Instant Bandits' which is the WWII version.

I trawled through the scenario book today looking for something to try as my first outing. Yes, there are training scenarios, but I felt that I;d read the rules thoroughly enough to understand how to play, even if I wasn't sure how the tactics would work. So I decided to forgo the training wheels, and jump straight in.

All of the scenarios will play solo, but I went for one of the ones specifically designed to be played as such. It's 1982, we're in the South Atlantic, and two Sea Harriers are trying to prevent four Argentinian Skyhawks from bombing British shipping.

'Instant Thunder' is, essentially, a boardgame, in the it's run on a grid. I made some rough and ready counters, and printed the board out on an A4 sheet of paper.

The board is essentially a 13x4 grid. The four rows represent different altitude levels. It is possible for aircraft to move between them, and they can also move along the rows as well. If an aircraft goes off the end of a row it moves up or down one altitude level depending on whether it goes off to the left or the right.

The grid squares are referenced by playing cards (hence the 13x4) - the columns run from King to Ace left to right, whilst the rows go down from Hearts (the highest) to Spades (the lowest). Indeed the whole game is run using playing cards.

In this scenario the Argentinian Skyhawks are controlled by the game system. They start at the very top left of the board, and will fly along it, looking to exit at the bottom right. Their movement is randomised and can either be left to right along the grid, or a drop in altitude of one level.

Player-controlled aircraft are placed in random squares of the grid. Indeed this is the feature of the game that's probably the strangest when you first read the rules. At the end of each turn your counters are removed from the grid and at the start of the next their position is randomly determined. Essentially you planes start in random positions (and in a conventional game this applies to both players), and then move around looking for position for just that turn. On the next turn everyone is mixed up again. It seems bizarre. It is bizarre. And yet, in an abstract way, it works.

Here's the starting position of the solo scenario, however. The Argentinians are in the top-left corner. My Harriers ended up about halfway along the top row. Special rules for formations allow them to be positioned together on some turns, making cooperation easier. You'll notice that the sun and clouds are in use as well.

This is the position after the first turn's movement. Aircraft move in turn, starting with those closest to the bottom right, and then moving left and up. So if you are higher up you get to see what other aircraft have done before you make your move. Firing is done from the top left down to the bottom right.

In this scenario the Skyhawks are loaded with bombs, rather than missiles, but still have their cannon. The Harriers have cannon and a couple of heat-seeking missiles apiece.

There is no facing - you can fire in either direction along the grid. If your line of fire goes off the end it goes up or down onto the next level, depending on direction. However this wasn't an issue with the first turn's firing. The Skyhawks to the left technically had the initiative, but one was out of range (cannon fire up to three spaces), whilst the other was in a cloud, which prevents firing altogether. So the Harriers had a shot - the could covers a plane in it, but nothing blocks line of sight. Harrier 1 launched a missile at the further Skyhawk.

To launch a missile you must first obtain a lock, which is done by determining a target number based on your planes flight capabilities and those of the target, plus the missile's own lock rating. Once yo have a lock you can choose to actually launch the missile. Its flight is run by a series of card draws, with the distance being determined by the difference between successive cards. Each missile type only gets so many draws - if it doesn't reach the target before then, it misses. After getting a lock you draw the first card and if you don't like what you've drawn you can abort the launch.

I chose not to; my missiles got three draws, and the range was very short. Indeed the first draw saw the missile reach its target.

Damage is a simple matter of drawing a card, modifying it for the weapon's damage rating (a negative number), and crossing off that many hit-points. The Skyhawks could take 7 points of damage. The missile had a rating of -3 - that is you draw a card and subtract three from the value and score that many hits. I drew a three ...

Harrier 2 was too close to use missiles, but nicely positioned for a cannon shot. The target can try to dodge, but gives up any attacks that turn for doing so. In the scenario the Skyhawks always dodge if they can. It did, but still took light damage.

Here's the board on teh next turn The Skyhawks don't reposition in this scenario, but my Harriers do. After being repositioned you can try to move (rom bottom right to top left - remember?). All aircraft have a series of numbers for different movements on the grid - mostly lateral or vertical, plus a couple of special moves. To move you draw a card and aim to get below the appropriate number in order to change your position. It's simple, frustrating and works pretty well.

A couple of turns later saw a Harrier pressing a Skyhawk very closely. A burst of cannon-fire saw this as the damage card. Scratch one Skyhawk.

The other Skyhawks were zipping across the board, though, with one already making a run for that bottom right corner. And, annoyingly, the random deployment kept putting my planes on the top row, making it very hard to get into a decent firing position.

A Skyhawk evaded me; this one would go on to bomb British shipping.

More bad luck. With the two remaining Skyhawks almost off the board, I still couldn't get in close. The Harriers can use their VTOL capabilities to really zip around the board, but it just wasn't enough.

The other Skyhawks escaped.

At the end of the scenario a card-draw is made for each Skyhawk which escapes, to see how many victory points they score for their bomb-run. They got 3VP total, and I got 2VP for the plane I had shot down. The Argentinians won this encounter.

Having got the hang of what I was doing, I decided to see if my luck would be better a second time around. I got better positioning this time.

A first turn missile shot saw one Skyhawk seriously damaged.

On the next turn a second missile finished it off.

A third missile accounted for a second Skyhawk.

Once again one escaped.

The final Skyhawk couldn't quite make it off the board, and I made desperate attempts to shoot it down. A final missile failed to stop it.

I tried to close in with the cannon, but couldn't get in position for a clear shot.

My last chance. Positioned like this the Skyhawk would get first shot, and I would have to forgo evasion in order to get any return fire. Fortunately he missed. Unfortunately so did I.

The second Skyhawk escaped.

The Aregenatians checked their bomb-run, and scored 3VP again. This time, however, I had two kills, for a total of 4VP, and a victory.

I decided to set up a different game; one in which both sides were played conventionally. This one saw three planes a side; set in 1971 it has Pakistani Mig 19s taking on Indian Mig 21s. Unlike the previous scenario it was fought to a fixed number of turns, with the most kills at the end determining the victor.

Once again the planes were repositioned at the start of each turn. But with both sides doing it you could see the beauty of this abstract system. Each turn you have to decide how best to bring your aircraft to bear in order to gain an advantage and maybe a clear shot. Sometimes you have to decide to stay in a vulnerable position in order to support another plane, or get your own shot in. Sometimes you can put an enemy plane under pressure. It works very well, and the randomised movement makes things very unpredictable.

This being 1971, the heat-seeking missiles didn't quite have the legs of their 1982 counterparts. This shot failed to make the target. Even getting a lock was tricky in this game.

Another missile failed to go the distance ...

But this one did, and a Pakistani plane was destroyed.

In the last couple of turns the Indian Migs were in a tricky position. They had expended all of their cannon ammunition, and had to resort to their missiles alone. Locks were hard to get and, since missiles have a minimum range, the Pakistani pilots could avoid trouble by pressing the Indians close. On the last turn, however, the Indians got into a nice position on the top row; both of their planes had a chance to use missiles on the lone Mig 19. They both failed to get locks. The Mig 19 failed to get a lock in return. The scenario ended, with the Indians the victors having scored a single kill.

This is a neat game, with subtleties that aren't obvious upon reading the rules. The scenario book is a recommended read after the main rules, as how particular games are set up offers a lot of insight into the author's way of thinking.  I hope this lengthy post has given you a taste of how the game works and possibly piqued your interest. As for me, I will be trying the Indo-Pakistan game again tomorrow, and possibly giving the Harriers an outing against a foe that shoots back.

Note: If you are reading this post on then you are reading a stolen version. Please go to 'The Stronghold Rebuilt for the original posts. Thank you.
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