Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Solitaire Play: Airships at War (a.k.a Luftschiff 3rd edition)

Not many people realize this, but the great air raids on London in WW2 was not the first "London Blitz" but the second.

A century ago in WW1, London experienced its first blitz at the hands of the German Navy who sent dirigibles (Zeppelins) to bomb the city. Looking back, it's laughable how few bombs compared to WW2 were dropped on London by these flying lumbering dinosaurs, but at the time it was shocking. They looked so huge and monstrous in the sky and I'm sure it played up people's fears. As you would expect, their threat and hype of baby-killers in the sky was played up.

The driving force behind the attacks was the commander of the Zeppelins, Fregattenkapitän Peter Strasser. Just look at this guy. He just looks like an austere fanatic and an assh*le who sent crews over London to drop a puny amount of bombs while risking getting burned alive doing so.

Strasser was an early true believer in "bombing them back to the stone age." He was a major proponent of the doctrine of bombing attacks on civilian as well as military targets.

We who strike the enemy where his heart beats have been slandered as 'baby killers' ... Nowadays, there is no such animal as a noncombatant. Modern warfare is total warfare.
— Peter Strasser

At least he put his money where his mouth was and went over himself in one of the last raids of the war where he was killed.

I got hold of Airships At War from Sierra Madre Games. It's a 3rd edition of their 1996 Luftschiff, their game of the Zeppelin raids, combined with the Luftschiff expansion, ZRCV: Flying Flat-Top (U.S. dirigibles in the 1930s that had planes underneath).

Airships At War is designed by Phil Eklund, so you know the rules will try to be as realistic as possible. The game itself is no frills nor bells to get impressed about. I had to cut my own counters out for instance. The game itself has Zeppelin schematics with all sorts of things I need to keep track of, like inclination, ballast, horsepower, inertia and such. It doesn't come with dice nor coins. I needed about 24 coins (assuming people use pennies), but who carries coins nowadays (I had to use dice and red gaming blocks instead). The rules themselves read like a textbook and I didn't find them intuitive to be honest. Lots of scattered information in the rules. I would rate this a 6 complexity out of 10 using the old Avalon Hill rating.

In case you're not sure, Zeppelins (named after their creator, German cavalry officer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin) were filled with dangerous hydrogen in over a dozen gas bags covered over with an aluminum frame.

The deckplan schematics of the game have lots of things to keep track of as I said. The Hydrogen gas bag cells, machine guns, ballast, fuel, inclination, crew, etc.. each in four sections, not just in one place. 

The bow Section A

Amidships Section B and C

 and the aft, Section D.

 I even have to keep track of the fuel and such of the planes the British will try to send after me.

Lots of detail in the rules that some people might find enjoyable "recreating" what it was like. If I move crew between sections for instance, that could affect my trim. I can't bury a dead crewman at sea (throw him overboard) unless I have a chaplain on board. Damaged cells must be repaird by the sailmakers (crew trained for patching up holes), attacking airplanes could stall, jettisoning spare parts affects ballast. I also have to be stationary over the target and drop flares at night before bombing, can't bomb if I'm in a cloud, etc

Anyways, I decided to do a raid on London, 1916. My dinosaur is a Zeppelin Type R.

  General characteristics
  • Crew: 21
  • Length: 196.49 m (644 ft 8 in) 
  • Diameter: 23.90 m (78 ft 5 in)
  • Volume: 55,210 m3 (1,949,600 cu ft)
  • Empty weight: 36,106 kg (79,600 lb)   
  • Useful lift: 64,000 kg (141,200 lb) 
  • Powerplant: 6 × Maybach HSLu 6-cylinder inline piston engine, 180 kW (240 hp) each
  • Maximum speed: 101 km/h; 54 kn (62.5 mph)
  • Endurance: 36 hours
  • Service ceiling: 3,962 m (13,000 ft)
  • Guns: 10 machine guns: naval airships generally using the water-cooled MG 08
  • Bombs: ~ (5 lt)
 I start off in my shed at ground zero. Crew manned..

1st Maritime Phase

Turn 1

I trim some ballast in section B and C. My static lift goes up.

 Increase my airspeed..

as I leave the shed..

Climb to 200 m

The first phase of the game is the Maritime phase, where I hover over the channel waiting for night and then head over to London.

Turn 2

I climb to 500 meters. Speed stays at 1

Turn 3

I encounter clouds between 1,000 and 1,950 meters, which is fine.

Turn 4

I encounter some snow, which adds tons of weight to my Zep. I was forced to jettison some water ballast in section D and some breeches ballast (breeches were special ballast) to keep climbing. I am now at 1,000 meters.

Turn 5

Trouble happened as I encounter 2 Royal Navy planes out over the channel, in front of me. A strike force from Dunkirk, an Avro-504b and a Bristol B between 850 and 1100 meters..  Of all the damn luck..

I have to decide to go into the clouds or fight them. Since this is my first game, a fight it is.

An annoying thing with this game is being the enemy's keeper. I don't mind some bookeeping, but I also now have to manage the fuel, speed, horsepower and ammunition of the enemy fighters. It could have been a bit more abstractly.


Turn 6

A stormfront moved and the enemy planes had to endure some headwinds and burn some fuel. I revved up my speed to 3.

Turn 7

Clouds at 4,000 m. Enemy fighters closing

Turn 8

Started to rain. Since I am 1,000 meters, and the clouds are between 1,000 and 1,950 meters, I lose some lift, I drop some more water ballast.

Turn 9

A petrol burn card shows up, and the Bristol B fighter has to turn back as he's low on fuel. That just leaves the Avro.. We close the distance and we exchange machine gun fire. 

I miss him but he somehow hits, with a puncture hit in cell XVI.  I may be leaking gas and have to roll every turn to see if there is a permanent loss of gas.

I move my Sailmaker from Section C and start to head over to the Cell XVI.

The rest of the fighting with the Avro is nothing too exciting and quickly leave the Maritime phase at the end of turn 10.

From turn 11 to 20, my sailmaker heads over to section A, as I wait for the card track at the bottom to exit. That damaged cell has permanent loss of lift on turn 14 and 18, until finally repaired. I have to compensate now by raising my elevator controls, and then my engines in a VTOL position up, to stay at 1,000 meters.

At turn 20, I enter the hostile phase, over British territory.

Would you know it, the first card was a 13 pounder AA gun. It's not clear in the rules, but I think it fires on me when I am directly over it. Since this is at night, it needs a 2 on a 2d6 roll to hit me if there are no spotlights, and there aren't any.

Turn 21

I forgot about the snow I had accumulated and started to have it shovelled off to get some lift. Since, I am climbing to over 1,000 meters, Valve B will start kicking in, which means, that since the air is less dense, safety valves kick in and release some hydrogen to keep me from bursting. This means that on the next turn, I will lose some lift.

Turn 22, 23 uneventful

Turn 24, I am over the AA gun

and would you know it, I rolled a 2 on a 2d6

I got a hit on cell VII in section C and may be venting gas. I'll have to send my sailmaker all the way back now from A to fix this.

Turn 24

An enemy fighter shows up, a British Sopwith 1½ Strutter observation plane

Turn 25

Enemy fighter climbs to meet me. We're too far for any meaningful machine gun hits.

 Turn 26

I climb to 1,500 meters, and the enemy fighter does a Hammerhead move, shooting me from underneath. Next turn, he'll have an uncontrolled spin.

He hits Cell XII in B section. I have to get my sailmaker on it right away. This guy has .303 incendiary bullets. 

 Turn 27

Searchlights spot me.. Luckily there are no AA guns near by

Turn 28

The pilot and I briefly head in different directions, but he'll turn and climb next turn for another pass. He's too far for me to bother with a MG burst.

Turn 29 to 33

Finally, a war target for me to bomb. I slow down to 2 and then, next turn, to 1 so I can hover over it. I also try to get under 1,000 meters and I'm in the clouds and you can't bomb (without a cloud car) in the clouds. It should be easier to drop as some of my cells, on rolling a 6, permanently lose gas.

This  is getting dangerous for me as the Sopwith has incendiary.

 Fighter climbs over me as I slow down and get beneath the 1,000 meter clouds.

Bombs away as I drop all 6 500kg Bombs (my lift goes up by 6, so I'll be climbing).

I hit the target 3 times out of 6, destroying it.

My victory was cut short as I had lots of cell leakage in the aft when the enemy fighter and I exchange machine gun bursts. I managed to hit his engine, knocking out some horsepower of his, but my stern was a sieve of leaking gas.  

I knew this was going to happen with something like 7 damaged cells and only 1 sailmaker. One of the incendiary bullets had a critical hit and up I go in flames.

I didn't bother with the parachute rules.

Luftschiffe is an interesting simulation of what it was like to pilot one of the Zeppelins, but I agree with a poster on Boardgamegeek, who wrote why he no longer plays the game:

What I like about the game: Seeing how a zeppelin works, especially the management of crew, ballast, fuel, supplies, etc. Weathering (pardon the pun) the event cards, and making it through a mission by the skin of your teeth. Or not making it because of a death by a thousand cuts.

What I don't like about the game: Pretty much everything else. The game takes far too long. I don't see the point of having to model the exact position, speed, fuel, ammo, critical hits of each enemy aircraft and having to count spaces for its movement, especially when movement is kinda hand wavey. This is the sort of thing that should be abstracted. Like instead of the grid around the zep, airspace can be represented by zones around it. Different zones will allow the use of different weapons, how the airplane behaves, etc.

A lot of solitaire games are played for their narrative. We want to build a story around the cardboard men. In Ambush/Battle Hymn, it's your squad. In Hornet Leader, it's your squadron. In B-17/B-29, it's your bomber and crew. In Patton's Best, it's your tank and crew. In Luftschiff, it should be your zeppelin and crew. Model those in detail, but everything else should be reduced to their essentials and how they will affect your ship.

I might try it again someday as I am satisfied with it but not enthused by it.

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