When I designed the first Wing Leader game, I made a conscious decision to go broad with the game content rather than narrow. Looking at other WW2 air games, such as Air Force and Fighting Wings, they begin with an intense focus on a single-theatre–always northwest Europe–so as to maximize coverage of the Luftwaffe. Let’s face it, the Luftwaffe sells. Hooray for Herrenvolk!
I didn’t want to play by those rules. Maybe it’s decades of being an aviation fan with a taste for the offbeat and the unsung, but I don’t share the obsession with German hardware–it’s been overexposed in the genre. I prefer sexy Italian aircraft, which almost never appear in air games. I want Soviet kit, I want Japanese—all the groovy stuff that’s usually set aside for niche expansions (if such things ever get made at all).
So with this in mind, the two core sets of Wing Leader—Victories and Supremacy— divided the war by date rather than theatre. Victories covered the early war and Supremacy the late. I could touch on enough important German, British and Yank kit to satisfy the mainstream, while indulging in all the fun stuff I wanted, like Italian Folgores, Soviet Yakovlevs and even Romanian fighters! The core sets deliver a Smörgåsbord of wartime aviation, touching most of the essential aircraft, and allow us to make a wide variety of scenarios from Battle of Britain ‘big wings’, to Pacific War torpedo attacks, to tussles above the North African desert with the Regia Aeronautica.
The downside of this approach is that going broad means the content is stretched across multiple theatres. There are gaps in the inventory. We had a Battle of France scenario with no French (another nation that’s neglected by air combat gaming). Even my coverage of the Soviets was thinner than I wanted.
There was never any doubt that after the core sets appeared I’d have to plug the gaps with expansion sets. Expansions would be lean collections of aircraft and scenarios stuffed in a ziploc, attractively priced and delivering some really interesting aviation history—maybe some of the history that never usually makes it onto the wargames table.
I knew roughly what I wanted. The first expansion, which I titled Wing Leader: Blitz, had to build upon Wing Leader: Victories and the early war scenarios. I was prompted in part by a review of Victories in a French magazine that lamented ‘pas d’avions française’, so Blitz had to have the French. It had to have the early Soviets of Operation Barbarossa. And what about British naval fighters—another part of the aviation narrative that rarely appears in air combat wargames? Or some of the remaining Italian types? What about early Japanese? Could we put together an order of battle for a 1939 Khalkin-Gol scenario?
Basically, I had a head chock full of cool ideas, of the interesting and unusual. But how to get that out and onto paper?
Aircraft Data Cards and Counters
Scenarios tend to drive the content when putting together a Wing Leader title, but following my general aims, we were able to assemble a list of aircraft data cards and scenarios that hit the mark, and met production constraints on cards and counters. Here’s the list:
I-16 Type 10 ‘Ishak’
I-16 Type 24 ‘Ishak’
DB-3F (and IL-4 variant)
The mix is Allied-heavy, but we get the bits we need to build Battle of France clashes, such as Opération Tapir, and we flesh out important early Soviet inventory for the Eastern Front. On the Axis side, the appearance of the Nates gives us the opportunity to make scenarios for the Japanese-Soviet clashes in Mongolia, as well as China/Burma/Malaya/Singapore. And the Re.2001 rounds out the last of the important early Italian fighters, allowing us to cover major events such as Operation Pedestal and the early Malta actions.
As for American aircraft, the Hawk 75 will feature in French scenarios (though of course the aircraft was exported to a number of air forces, notably to the RAF as the Mohawk). The really interesting addition is the early Airacobra, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for south-west Pacific scenarios.
When assembling this list, we considered synergies with the existing Wing Leader: Victories data cards that would allow us to employ variant aircraft. For example, scenarios featuring Royal Navy Fulmars also permit us to showcase Martlets (the British version of the F4F Wildcat) and Sea Hurricanes. The Blitz package will include counters for these aircraft in Royal Navy livery.
The scenarios were important in nailing down the aircraft we would have in the package.
With one exception, the scenarios are all designed to show off the new kit. The exception is the scenario Yanks Over Darwin, which not only handles a Japanese raid on Australia, but gives me the opportunity to add more P-40E counters to the package—something that was sorely missing from Wing Leader: Victories. I’m always looking at ways to add content that compliments the existing game set.
Other scenarios cover a wide variety of theatres. Here’s a sample of them:
Buffalo Wings. 23 Dec 41 – The Flying Tigers and RAF Buffalos combine over Burma to defeat a Japanese raid on Rangoon.
The Old Guard. 5 Jun 40 – Veteran French Chasseurs manhandle an attempted Luftwaffe ambush near Amiens.
Rocket Attack. 20 Aug 39 – Rocket-armed Soviets intercept a Japanese raid on a Russian command post in Mongolia.
Port Moresby. 1 Jun 42 – P-39s scramble to intercept a Imperial Navy raid on the New Guinea airfields.
Opération Tapir. 3 Jun 40 – The French air force, guided by radio link from the Eiffel Tower, tangles with a massive German raid against the airfields around Paris.
Operation Pedestal. 12 Aug 42 – This is a mini-campaign, a series of three linked scenarios, two of which can be played as standalone scenarios. Basically, the British have to escort a convoy through the Sicilian Narrows to Malta. Their protection consists of naval flak and air cover, including Sea Hurricanes, Fulmars and Martlets. The Germans and Italians launch waves of bomber and torpedo attacks. Damage from earlier scenarios can be carried over to future scenarios, while hits to carriers can diminish the air cover. The campaign victory is determined by the number of transports the convoy can shepherd through to Malta.
One of the most asked-for features after Wing Leader: Victories shipped was the addition of a campaign game. I fended off requests for a campaign so as to focus on building scenarios, but when Steve Overton pressed me on the idea of a Barbarossa-themed campaign, it tipped me over the edge. The result was the Drive on Kiev campaign, an entire set of rules for generating a variety of scenarios.
Drive on Kiev recreates Fliegerkorps V’s support for Sixth Army and Panzer Group 1 in its drive through the Ukraine in the first few weeks of Operation Barbarossa. This campaign has elements of ideas I have been working on for operational scale campaigns, with its focus on targeting, sortie generation/allocation, and restrikes.
Key to the campaign is the map, an 11 x 17” sheet that sits at the side of the table and is used to track campaign progress and the status of each side. The great arrow on the map tracks the advance of the Army. A marker shows where the front line has advanced to.
Either side of the front line we see targets. Those with red stars are defended by the Soviets and those with black crosses defended by the Germans. Each campaign turn the German player gets to select a target on the far side of the front line and raid it. The raid is played out as a regular game scenario, with the system permitting variable set-ups to encourage variety of deployment and play. Success in raids earn Campaign Victory Points (CVP) that progress the advance of the German Army. An important concept here is that bomb damage carries over from turn to turn, encouraging re-strikes if the attacker has a poor result.
The Soviet player is not passive here. They have a limited number of bomber strikes that they can launch in the campaign, and CVP earned from Soviet strikes can blunt the progress of the German Army.
This brings us to the other big element of the campaign, which is sortie generation and tasking. Each turn, both sides generate the number of sorties (i.e squadrons and flights) they can use each turn. These forces are then divided between raiding and air defense. The number of sorties generated are not static. They vary based on factors such as damage to airfields, air combat losses and, in the case of the Germans, time. Historically, Fliegerkorps V exhausted itself in front of Kiev, and there is a danger here that it wears itself out through exertion, losses and enemy action against airfields.
Because of these factors there is a tension in the campaign game between trying to support the army and trying to suppress the enemy through airfield strikes. The German may find it necessary to launch opening airfield raids to keep Soviet air activity under control, but at a cost to the Army’s ability to advance. The Soviets have a similar tension between supporting the Red Army defense on the ground and trying to wear down the fascist ability to generate sorties. Both sides will be torn between allocations of forces to attack and defend. To allow their raids the chance to punch through the Soviet defenders, do the Germans get away with a light defense that pits their superior squadrons against the ferocious but less able Soviets? You decide.
Overall, the campaign is scaled to give each player meaningful operational decisions and generate seven to ten medium-to-small scenarios. This is no monster game, but the kind of campaign that could be completed over a weekend or at a convention.
So this gives you an overview of the whole Blitz package. It’s an opportunity for the game to explore corners of WW2 that are not normally covered in air combat games. There’s a wide variety of new scenarios, from the Battle of France, to Mongolia, to Australia and beyond. We have a brand new campaign game system that gives the players tough choices and can be completed in non-geological time. And all this for a low, low price.
If you’re a Wing Leader fan, you mustn’t miss out on Blitz. Get it while’s it’s hot!