“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Winston Churchill August 20th 1940
Of all the battles that Great Britain has been involved in over the centuries, none springs to mind more than perhaps The Battle of Britain, a fight for dominance over the skies of our fair isles that took place during 1939 to 1940.
With iconic aircraft such as the Messerschmitt BF 109E playing havoc over the England, the Royal Air Force needed to respond in kind and deployed the Supermarine Spitfire to counter the threat, this lead to dog fighting and aerial combat the likes of which had hardly been seen before and the true battle to control the skies over Great Britain began.
Now the war seems like little more than a distant memory as most of those who served during the war have either sadly passed on, but in an age where modern aircraft can fly at supersonic speeds and targeting computers all but eradicate the need for a pilot, it is good to remember those men and women who gave their lives (on both sides) during what become known as The Battle of Britain!
Warlord Games are no stranger to World War Two combat games with their runaway ground combat game Bolt Action being one of the best selling historical combat games in the industry, recently it got a spin off Konflict 47 that gave an hypothetical ‘What If’ scenario and set the war still raging two years after it should have ended and the introduction of weird and alien technology into the mix. Most recently Warlord have released Cruel Seas, a naval combat game that features small actions between E-Boats and MTB Boats as they attack shipping lanes or play games of cat and mouse around the coasts of Europe.
Written by veteran designer Andy Chambers, Blood Red Skies is a aircraft combat game that captures the feel of those dangerous days during the Battle of Britain and beyond!
Coming complete with two forces for you to play, Blood Red Skies is an easy to learn system that lets you pit two or more forces against each other for aerial dominance, and taking the game beyond the boundaries of the British Isles and into other theatres of war!
For the German force you get six of the prize of the Luftwaffe the Messerschmitt BF 109E (also known as the ME 109E), a sleek and highly maneuverable aircraft that caused no end of trouble for the Royal Air Force. The RAF are represented by one of the most recognisable aircraft in aviation history, the Supermarine Spitfire MK II!
The planes are molded in a single cast piece in a hard durable plastic, and are more or less ready to play right out of the box. I would however check before you just jump right in and start to paint them as all of the aircraft in my box had warped wings, a simple enough problem to fix but worth check anyway.
The planes all come with a flight stand that features a special and unique peg that allows the aircraft to be moved forwards and backwards on its base, this allows the aircraft to be in either the Neutral, Disadvantaged or Advantaged positions and plays an important part in the game.
The game also comes with three sheets of high quality cardstock tokens and terrain pieces for use in the game, which include twelve flight base tokens which range from a rank of 2 (Green) right through to 4 (Ace) and just slot into the base over the peg ready for play. Also included are other tokens that represent Boom and Zoom (Boom is the amount of fire that your squadron is under, if it is more than the number of aircraft you have in play, you will be under too much fire and retire, effectively losing the game), cloud formations which will block line of sight and offer other advantages and disadvantages depending on who is doing what, Barrage balloons which act as obstacles and a range ruler and calipers for use in the game!
The game comes complete with three books that detail how to play and more. The first of these A5 sized books is the core rules that give the players all the basics they will need to know when playing from movement to dogfighting and a very brief background on the Battle of Britain. All of this is laid out in a very clear and concise way which avoids flicking between each book to find a particular ruling.
The second booklet which is transcribed with the moniker ‘Read this only when Ready!’ gives the players more advanced rules to play with and introduces a lot of new elements such as The Action Deck, Aces and Multi-Engined aircraft to the game. It is best to play a few games using the basic rules (which bear the legend ‘Read this First!’) before embarking on more advanced rules, though that said they are clearly explained and should be no real struggle for even the novice of players. This also includes details on how to use the Theatre cards to get a more historically accurate version of your games, and Doctrine cards which race specific bonuses and advantages which when combined with those of aircraft will be very close to the actual Battle of Britain.
The final booklet is the Scenario book which expands on the ideas of Theatre and Doctrine cards by introducing other nations into the fray such as Japan, America and Russia, and five complete and ready to play scenarios, each with its own victory conditions and objectives. The final of these missions is titled ‘Escort Duty’ and will feature the aircraft running shotgun for a squadron of bombers. The game only comes with the six Messersmitts and six Spitfires but Warlord have very kindly supplied three double sided counters that feature the Blenheim IV Bomber for the RAF and the Dornier DO17 Z-2 Bomber for the Luftwaffe, which means that you don’t have to fork out extra cash to try using bombers if you don’t wish to, a great move on their part!
As mentioned above the flight bases are what make Blood Red Skies stand out from other aerial combat games set in World War II and while you may have an Ace pilot in your squadron, it is still highly possible that a Green pilot with an advantage may be able to best him in combat. This system allows a pretty good and accurate way to represent differences in height during play. Players will want to maintain Advantage where possible or at worst Neutral, and try to avoid becoming Disadvantaged. To represent this the base allows the miniature to be moved through a 270 degree axis with the aircraft pointing downwards being in its Disadvantaged setting, in its normal stance being Neutral and tilted backwards being the desired Advantage. Players who are Advantaged get to go first in combat, but a wise player can chose when to utilise this Advantage and use it to give them extra speed which increases their movement or an extra number of turns.
Any aircraft that starts its turn in a cloud bank is automatically put to neutral.
Of course you will need to know what your aircraft can and can’t do in combat and as such each comes with its own Aircraft Card that details its Firepower, Agility and Speed. These vary from 0 upwards as some aircraft don’t have any weapons and some aircraft such as some bombers are more or less flying bricks and can’t make any risky maneuvers. The higher the Speed value, the faster the aircraft can go. The Spitfire Mk II and Messerschmitt BF 109E are both evenly matched with identical Firepower, Agility and Speed values, however if it comes down to a face off with tied initiative then the plane that was actually faster in real life (written just below the Speed icon) wins out.
All aircraft in Blood Red Skies have a Facing that shows not only which direction it is travelling in, and its arcs of fire. This is very important as it shows exactly where an aircraft can fire from and if a target is viable or not.
As mentioned already the aircraft are remarkable in combat, but without a pilot they are just hunks of metal and rubber. The pilots vary in skill in your squadrons going from Rookie, a pilot who has never been in a sortie before, to Average, a pilot who has survived a few encounters, Veteran, a pilot who has flown lots of sorties and survived many battles and finally Aces, those pilots who become one with their aircraft and are able to get the most from the machine. Each is assigned a number from 2 for Rookie or Green through to 5 for Aces, this is your pilot skill and used in conjunction with your aircraft.
For example a Rookie pilot is flying his Supermarine Spitfire MK II and manages to get behind an unlucky BF 109E. Having the enemy in his sights he pulls down on the triggers and lets loose with the aircrafts eight machine guns. His pilot skill is 2 and the aircrafts firepower is 1, this means he rolls three of the six sided dice in an attempt to hit his opponent and hopes to roll as many Ace symbols on the dice as possible. In our example the Rookie is lucky and rolls two Aces and a three on the three dice, meaning he has scored two hits. The second hit makes the first hit a critical meaning that the player controlling the BF 109E has to make an Agility roll to avoid being destroyed, but at a minus one reducing the Agility of the aircraft from 3 down to 2. The pilot is Veteran so he rolls 2 dice for his aircrafts Agility and 4 dice for his pilot skill, looking roll at least one Ace. He is in luck and the roll of the seven dice nets him three Aces, so he dodges out of the way of the shots at the last moment in a feat of aerial acrobatics, but he has still come under fire and a Boom chit is assigned to the aircraft.
If there are more Boom chits than active aircraft at the end of the current turn, the players squadron will disengage from the fight and head from home to live to fight another day!
A very fast paced game that uses a great system that while simple in its design can be deadly in its execution. With enough models in the two player set to get to grips with and dozens of expansions planned or out, this game is ideal for anyone interested in aerial combat games and the rich tapestry of World War Two aviation. Highly recommend.
Blood Red Skies is available now from Warlord Gamesand all good games stockists.