Sunday, April 8, 2018

Illustrious Project - First Playtest

On Saturday Kevin and I got together a few friends to playtest the Illustrious scenario at The Game Matrix in Tacoma. We had 6 players, so a couple short of what will be at Enfilade. But that was okay, since this was the first run-through and we were really wanted to make sure there were no major bugs with the game.

The scenario covers the air attack on HMS Illustrious during Operation Excess on January 10, 1941. Over the previous months Illustrious had been a thorn in the side of the Axis, having participated in several operations including the attack on Italian battleships at Taranto. The Germans had recently deployed X Fliegerkorps to the Mediterranean and made Illustrious a primary target. As the operation got underway, the British ships were spotted and plans to attack the carrier were put into motion. The basic plan was to use Italian SM-79 torpedo bombers to draw off the Royal Navy fighters and then let the Stukas go after the carrier and other ships. Historically, that plan almost worked. The Italians drew off most of Illustrious' Fulmar fighters and the Stukas got six direct hits on the carrier.
SM-79s closing in on the British fleet
For our game, we are using a pre-publication version of David Manley’s AirWar 1940 rules, which are very similar to the AirWar C21 rules. I did make one modification to the rules and added some scenario specific special rules. The modification I made was to turn heavy flak (essentially 3 inch and larger AA guns) from a direct attack into barrage attack weapon. I just felt like this better represented how naval AA was used during World War 2 (especially early in the war). So, heavy flak barrages would be placed at the start of each turn and attack any planes that flew within 4 inches of the flak base. The special scenario rules included a morale roll for the Italians when they took damage and pilot/crew skill selections (players could choose better a better pilot or to take die re-rolls).
Illustrious waiting for the enemy
We had 4 Axis players, 2 Italians with torpedo-armed SM-79s and 2 Germans with Ju-87 Stukas, and 2 Fleet Air Arm (FAA) players flying Fulmars. The Axis players set up with the Italians entering on the first turn and split so the FAA couldn’t put all their fighters in one area. The FAA then set up near the ships and, with the first wave on the map, could change the heading of the ships.
Fulmars off to intercept the Italians with HMS Nubian in the backgroud
Early in the game both sides closed in on the enemy. On one side of the board, things didn’t start out well for the FAA, with one pair of fighters missing their special maneuver rolls that left the planes slow and out of position. Then the Italian gunners got a lucky hit that knocked out the forward guns on one fighter, only leaving it with a weak rear-facing gun.
Fulmars just before failing their special maneuver
The slow speed and poor acceleration of the Fulmars meant the Italians only had to worry about flak as they sped away from the fighters.
SM-79s leave the Fulmars behind
These bombers were able to dodge the heavy flak and closed in on the carrier for their torpedo run. Light flak damaged a couple of the bombers, but they were all able to drop torpedoes. On the way out, one bomber was shot down, but they did get one torpedo hit on the carrier.
Approaching the carrier
Torpedo hit!
On the other side of the board, the other Fulmars mixed it up with the other pair of Italian bombers. Both sides traded ineffectual shots early on, but the Fulmars eventually started getting hits on the Italians. This is when the special morale rule suddenly made a huge difference as two bombers failed morale, jettisoned their torpedoes, and turned away from the battle. The remaining SM-79 soldiered on but took a special hit that jammed the torpedo release, ending the threat from that direction.
Fulmars and SM-79s mixing it up
While the attacks on the FAA and Italians were mixing it up, the second wave with the Stukas entered the board. One group tried to follow the same path as the first set of Italian bombers and the other group tried to skirt around the heavy flak. The first Stuka group ran across the slow Fulmar group. This allowed the Stukas to play fighters for a moment, as they get behind the Fulmars and downed one of them. Then they resumed their normal bomber attitude and headed for the carrier.
Fulmars in trouble
The Stuka group that was trying to to avoid flak ended up getting split up and then pounced on by Fulmars and flak. Two of the Stukas were downed by the fighters (one in a spectacular critical hit explosion) and the other was downed by flak. Unfortunately for the FAA, the flak also downed a Fulmar.

The final flight of Stukas started their run on the carrier as light flak opened up. One Stuka was shot down and another damaged, with the extra damage jamming the bomber release mechanism. That left only one plane to attack and it missed.
Stukas starting their attack run
But get no hits
Overall losses were four Stukas, one SM-79 (with three aborts), and two Fulmars. The carrier took one torpedo hit and was able to keep steaming along.

Everyone liked the rules, although there were a few quibbles around speed changes for changing altitude and speed losses for failed special maneuvers seemed pretty harsh (especially for the poor Fulmars).

Lesson learned – The game went okay, but we did come away feeling that some adjustments are needed. First up, the Italian morale rule needs a slight change to give them a little more staying power. I think I will reduce the damage from the heavy flak and I need to re-think my re-roll idea some. I felt like both sides had some bad luck during the game, but it might have impacted the Axis more than the FAA. We’ll make the adjustments and get one more test in before Enfilade, but overall I think the game will be interesting for players.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds great, splendid pictures!

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  2. Great stuff! I like your bases.

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  3. Looking rather good. btw thanks fr the feedback on the rules from yourself and Kevin. I'll try to get back to you soon, but suffice to say, excellent suggestions!

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  4. Nice scenario and kit
    Will have to look at these rules
    Liked the scale of the ships and planes!

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