Michael Eckenfels, 3 March 2019
I had ordered Amerika Bomber at some point mid-year in 2019; pre-ordering a game is still a new concept to me, having just recently done this with a couple of Compass Games’ titles and some P500 titles from GMT. I still don’t entirely get the fascination with ordering a game and then having to wait months for it to arrive, but I understand the logistics of it. These companies must ensure there is interest in something before they go and print a mass run, only to have it sit and collect dust on their warehouse shelves.
This was most certainly NOT the case when it comes to Amerika Bomber. Designer Gregory Smith posted to the Solitaire Wargames Facebook group some time ago, saying how he was playing around with creating an ‘evil’ version of the classic B-17: Queen of the Skies. In B-17, you commanded a single B-17 bomber and attempted to survive 25 missions over Western Europe and Germany. As a solo system, it gave you tons of charts and guidance to move your bomber through Third Reich airspace, fight off swarms of Luftwaffe interceptors, and hope you could put your bombs on target.
Amerika Bomber is much the same, though the roles are reversed. Now, you play solo as the commander of a long-range Luftwaffe bomber, flying from the German-occupied Azores on various missions along the East Coast of the United States, as well as inland in some cases. This is, of course, alternate history stuff; the Germans never (fortunately) were able to bomb the U.S. Amerika Bomber takes this possibility to a new level, where an alternate history spells out German victories in Europe, especially over the Soviet Union. Even more importantly, Walther Wevel, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe and a huge proponent of German strategic bombing, is assumed to live and not die (ironically) as he did historically in a 1936 air crash. This means a Luftwaffe strategic bombing program that never existed is given the full support it needs to grow to fruition. An armistice with the British Empire means the UK is neutral, as well as Canada, leaving the Americans to go it alone.
Be all that as it may, Amerika Bomber is a ‘love letter’ to B-17, in that it has a lot of similarities. Those familiar with Legion Wargames’ Target For Today will know TfT is the B-17 game on steroids; Amerika Bomber is more similar to B-17 in its approachability and ease of learning, with streamlined play that is simple to follow and quick to play. There is a bit of errata, though not an overwhelming amount – nothing that should discourage you from trying it out, but it’s worth mentioning.
The game takes “2-4 hours” to play, according to the back of the box, but I think this is referring to the length of a campaign, not to each individual mission. A mission might last 10-30 minutes depending on your knowledge of the rules and whether or not anything happens; it might be quite possible to go more quickly or longer, depending on circumstances. A campaign can easily end on your first mission if you’re unlucky enough!
When you open the box, you’ll feel like it’s light on components, and it is for its $50 price point ($49 for pre-order, plus shipping). Though streamlined, that’s not to say the game has little chrome; it is compacted to make the game easier to get into and get through, something I admire a great deal as time availability is always an issue in life.
One of Compass Games’ many endearing qualities is its huge catalog, enclosed in each game of theirs, which harkens back to the good ol’ days where you’d have a thick catalog enclosed for mail-ordering games. Before the Internet, finding out anything about games was a random game of chance; usually it was word of mouth. I never knew any wargamers growing up, except through the pages of The General or other similar magazines. Here, you can find a listing of Compass Games’ plethora of titles, and then have the Internet at your fingertips to see what’s good.
Dice! Oh, lovely dice. You get two regular d6s and one d10. You won’t need more than this in the game, though for theme purposes, I ordered a set of German dice (from the Tanks! line) on Amazon; that German Cross in place of the 6 will make for a more poignant impact when it’s rolled in place of boxcars, I think. But the enclosed dice are just fine for the game.
It’s interesting to find an errata strip actually in the box, but it’s a great call-out to make so you’re not immediately confused, especially if you’re the type of gamer that meticulously compares the component list and number of items with what’s actually in the box. Admittedly, when I saw the three Aircraft Cards, double-sided, indicating ‘only’ six aircraft you can fly, I was taken aback. But to be fair, there were not a lot of ‘Amerika Bomber’ aircraft to choose from, historically. The Me-264, which is included as one of the ‘At Start’ aircraft you can fly immediately, was a real-world bomber, though only a handful of flyable aircraft were created for this model. The rest, I believe, were all on the design board, but never made it much past model/wind-tunnel testing, if I recall correctly.
The rule book feels like a pamphlet – not to be disparaging at all, but I’m used to hefty, imposing rule books, and it’s very nice to come across one that is only 16 pages (15 pages of content, but in actuality, some of that is Designer’s Notes and alternate history, so the true rule page count is less).
The rule book is pretty tight and short, as you would think, though it could use some re-shaping and perhaps fill in a few gaps here and there. I’d want each function to be spelled out in list form, e.g. (1) do this, then (2) do that, then (3) and so on, under each heading. So, if I want to see how to bomb, I would want a list style to easily find what I’m looking for rather than reading a paragraph to find the details. This is just a simple matter of preference and if you couldn’t care less, then this won’t be an issue at all.
A superbly nice touch is that the Pilot Log Sheet, where you record the results of your missions as well as any notes on each, is provided. Not just one sheet, but a pad of them, which means you can play it right out of the box and don’t have to be bothered with making copies before you can even play. I appreciate this kind of offering.
The Pilot and Crew Status card is interesting, though not as visually attractive as previous ones done in Nightfighter Ace nor Interceptor Ace (two other excellent titles by Gregory Smith). It’s obvious why, as there’s more information to include here; your crew size is much larger than in either of the two previous games. The only thing that’s confusing here is, there’s a missing space for crew – for example, the Fw-300 bomber, another ‘At Start’ aircraft you can begin playing the game with, has three top turrets – fore, mid, and aft. Yet, this card only has a space for Top Mid and Top Aft. Not too big a deal, but for aesthetics’ sake, not impressive. Also, in some, there are a Left Waist and Right Waist gunner, but only one space for Waist Gunner here. It could very well be I’ve just missed something – maybe the Flight Engineer takes the top fore turret? That would make sense as the Flight Engineer on a B-17 took the top turret on that beast. I’ve only played it a bit, so I might yet have things to discover. It should be more clearly specified here, though, for ignoramuses like me.
The map itself certainly brings back memories of B-17, with the circles designating Zones through which your bomber must travel, and perhaps get intercepted within, on its way to the target. The targets in America are clearly denoted, and yet…you might notice targets in Europe, as well. Does that speak to a double-cross, perhaps, of your Luftwaffe command? Is there a twist in the rules that might allow you to do something unspeakable, such as perhaps attempting to off Hitler in Interceptor Ace or Nightfighter Ace? Unfortunately, this is not the case; in the errata, Gregory notes that these are there only for aesthetic value and are not targets in the standard game. It makes for a nice comparison to see how far ‘Zone 5’ reaches, for example…New York is essentially as far as Rome is, from the Azores.
The Position Chart lays out several charts covering fighter interception of your bomber and AA/flak attacks, but is dominated by a diagram of all possible approaches to your bomber. When your bomber is intercepted by U.S. fighters, you roll to determine which approach they take, as well as whether they approach at High, Level, or Low (relative to your bomber). This position, as well as the level, will determine which of your defensive guns can fire on them. This is one of the impactful decisions you must make in the game, and it can be daunting, as some bombers are not nearly as well-armed as others.
The charts and tables that are not on the various mats are on the included sheets. One, front and back, is solely responsible for determining your target for each sortie you fly. You roll 2d6 with one as the tens digit and the other as the ones digit, and find your target based on the current month. Targets change over time, which could be seen as new priorities for Luftwaffe leadership. There’s four three-month periods, so the game covers one full year, and each period has a possible 36 targets. Only in the final three-month period are there options for nuclear bombing of an American city – a frightful thought, but in this alternate history timeline, a distinct possibility.
Consider that this game is a love letter to B-17 and a gaze into the darkness; it is NOT meant as a love letter to far-right Nazism nor wishing for German victory in World War Two. Rather, as Gregory Smith puts it in the very first section of the rule book, meant to be a frightening ‘what if’ that is intended to make us much more grateful that this never came to be. That should all go without saying, but I thought it bore mentioning.
The game includes six bombers, three of which are visible in the image below. Three of the six are available at start, while three come later in the game. I found there was no ‘perfect’ bomber with an overwhelming strength in both defensive armament and bombing capabilities, but rather, each is a compromise to one or the other. It will take experience and trial-and-error in your play to determine which ones you think are the best.
For example, the historic Me-264 (in game, it’s labeled the Me-364) was a real-world aircraft produced by Germany, though not in great numbers (fortunately!). Its bomb capacity is good (giving positive modifiers when you do drop them on your target), but its defensive armaments are limited. While it’s great for racking up your bomb score, it’s weak in fending off enemy aircraft. Your defensive armaments are key to surviving long enough to get to the target, and more importantly, get back to base.
You get one sheet of counters in this game, which means not as much clutter nor punching, adding to the streamlined feel of play. Then again, it might feel too light for those of you used to 800+ counters in your games.
Some of the counters’ design is not great. For example, the gun turret markers are dark gray, as is the background of the Position Chart card where you place enemy fighters. The turrets virtually blend into the card background, so if your eyesight is weak, you might have problems easily discerning them. It would have been much better to make these a contrasting color.
The print on some of the counters is quite small, too, so again, weaker eyes might strain in reading them.
Further, some of the counters are too far off center. Not all of them are like this; quite a few of them are centered and therefore excellent. But more than a few are too close to the edge, including the ones that are included in the game for other Compass Games (and Gregory Smith) titles – Interceptor Ace and Zeppelin Raider. Below is an example; please forgive the rather odd cornering as that is my doing. I fear my counter-rounder is getting worse with use, though I just had to re-do the corners to make it perfect. But this will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
I think the inclusion of charts on the game mats is great, because then you’re not having to refer to another card nor to the rule book. However, I think it would have been much better to organize these tables in order, according to the procedure in which you use them. For example, below, you’ll see the various tables governing interception. I think first should be the Friendly Fighter Cover table, as you determine that (if applicable), followed by Defensive Firing Arcs, then To Hit, and finally, Damage. Perhaps this is a bit too anal, but I like organization.
Overall, this looks and feels like a really good game. I’ve had it set up on a second table for some time, playing a mission here and there. A full review will come through in the near future. Thanks for reading!