Do you fancy plotting the downfall of the production capacity of the Third Reich? Can you successfully engage in the strategic bombing of enemy targets in France, the Low Countries, and Germany? Can you protect your bombers on daylight missions by engaging in air-to-air fighter combat against the Luftwaffe? In B-17 Leader: Flying Fortress, the Allies need you to lead the 8th Air Force from RAF Daws Hill, England.
B-17 Leader: Flying Fortress is a solo game and solo games around WW2 Western Front bombing campaigns fall into three distinct groups.
- Individual bomber - think Avalon Hill's B-17 Queen of the Skies, where you control an individual B-17 trying to keep her flying and the crew alive.
- Squadron level - think Wing and a Prayer where you look after a squadron and take them into combat over a series of scenarios/campaigns.
- Strategic level - think B17 Leader: Flying Fortress, where you manage multiple bombing and fighter groups whilst carrying out elements of the bomber campaign.
This game fulfils the latter admirably, giving you the option to recruit, develop, maintain, roster, load out, and ultimately repair your air force whilst inflicting damage upon the games automata. Because the game is built from the ground up as a solo experience, the automata feel natural and do not have an overhead like some solo versions of competitive games
Getting Set Up
Broadly, B-17 Leader: Flying Fortress gameplay fits into 4 phases. With the setup, weekly raids, monthly clean up, and an end of campaign evaluation. Ultimately your success depends on how well you destroy the production capability of the Third Reich in your weekly raids, which is where most of the gameplay is.
The initial setup uses Special Option (SO) points to set up your bomber and fighter groups with skills and experience, have secondary objectives assigned, and your initial target options declared. Your opponent will be allocated a commander in charge and have their initial Luftwaffe squadrons deployed. You then get into the meat of the game - weekly raids.
Each week you will get to decide what you want to raid, with a maximum of 2 targets. These can be new, or partially destroyed targets from previous weeks. Once you’ve decided your target, you will allocate bomber groups for the raid and fighter groups, if any, to protect them. Finally, you’ll get to decide what ordnance to take. This will all be constrained with SO points available and how ready your bomber/fighter groups are. As they become more successful, they become more experienced (skilled). However, each bombing raid exposes them to damage. If enough damage is inflicted, their effectiveness may be reduced. They can be repaired by not taking them on a raid. For more substantial repairs, you can allocate resources at the end of month clean up.
You undertake your missions by planning your route, resolving encounters, carrying out the bombing run, and then returning - again resolving any encounters on the way back. Dependent on the route you take, the preparedness of the Luftwaffe, and the Event deck, this can either be easy or fraught with danger. At the end of the raid, you record the outcome and award victory points and experience. You can also bring in new target options if appropriate.
The end of the month follows a simple process. Update the Third Reich response by maintaining/updating their war machine, deploying more interceptor squadrons, and potentially changing the Commander in charge. You also get to repair your bomber and fighter groups, determine/evaluate secondary target performance, and potentially have some of your bombers and/or fighter groups reassigned.
At the end of the campaign, you will evaluate your performance based on VPs earned during the whole campaign.
I was looking for a solo game for this theme. I already had Avalon Hill’s Queen of the Skies and found that to be a great simulation. The issue I had was that it is a simulation, and with that came lots of dice rolling, and lots of tables, but little decision making. You were there to record the outcome of the dice rolls and then move on. It was a great narrative but didn’t feel like a game, more like an unwritten novel.
B-17 Leader: Flying Fortress scratched the gaming itch for me, something that embraced the theme and also gave you decisions to make. "Do I use my SOs on better bombs with more chance of success in one bombing raid, or do I use inferior bombs and have to go after it twice? Use my experienced crews on one of the raids and guarantee success, or mix them in with green/rookie crews and run the risk of needing more raids? Do I rest a bombing group, or do I send them out and run the risk that they become ineffective?"
The actual bombing run on a raid is a lot of dice rolling with modifiers to determine success. Each bomber group carries a number of bomb loads and each of those is evaluated separately. It does make for some nervous moments. Will you get those extra points of damage to destroy the target, or will you have to run another raid next week? It can also lead to regret. If only I’d spent a few more SOs on better ordnance.
The campaign scenarios are unlikely to be played in a single session. Individual weeks take circa 30 minutes to complete once you get into the swing of it. I found it relatively easy to take a few snapshots on my phone to record the game state, put the relevant board components and cards in some baggies, and pack up the rest. Setting up for the subsequent session was simple as a result.
The board and components take up a fair amount of space when playing. There are a lot of chits and cards to use and have available. The components themselves are of good quality and although some might sleeve the cards, there isn’t a huge amount of shuffling to do so I haven’t felt the need. You get a single 10 sided die in the box which is adequate. However, I found it sped the game up a bit if you used 4 dice and evaluated them together rather than evaluating each roll separately. So I added a few more dice to the game, but you don’t need to.
The rulebook is huge but you’ll find that the ruleset itself is relatively small, it’s thorough and full of examples every step of the way. So, although it can be intimidating at 40 pages, it really isn’t that bad. The weekly phase play is covered in 16 pages with lots of examples. I found them easy to follow without needing to look at Google for answers.
There is one cautionary tale with B-17 Leader: Flying Fortress. If you choose to, you can break it. It will be fairly obvious how, after a few rounds of play. However, you are playing it for your enjoyment, against yourself, and against no one else... I never felt the need to game the victory points. And because I fully embraced the tactics the game was based around, I had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Is B-17 Leader: Flying Fortress for you?
If you like the subject and want an engaging campaign mode that makes you feel as though you are planning the downfall of the Third Reich, then yes. Do you want to make decisions that affect the outcome of the game but remain thematic? Then yes. If you want a simulation of individual bombing runs on the Third Reich, then this is probably not going to scratch that itch.