Imagine a battlefield where gun positions are effectively mapped out and the defenders are alert and ready to respond to your intrusion. To traverse that field risks cross-fire from a variety of locations arranged with the precision of caliper and slide rule. Once you step foot onto this engineered battlefield, you can expect deadly fire coming at you from straight ahead, from the right, from the left…from above and even from below. It is designed to deter any intrusion, and if you are the poor soul who is ordered to enter that lethal field, your only hope is to do so quickly and exit just as rapidly.
This battlefield is not on the ground, of course. It is suspended thousands of feet in the air, and moves at nearly 200 miles an hour towards a sensitive target you must defend. Although you might prefer to leave this goliath to its devices and avoid tangling with it altogether, if allowed to traverse the sky to its appointed objective, that “battlefield” of B-17 Flying Fortresses will drop explosives over your factories and cities, destroying homes and families. It is imperative that you engage that force and risk the dangers of the aerial battlefield. You must do so quickly, and it doesn’t take long to realize this fact: time is not in your favor.
In Skies Above the Reich, the dimension of time is represented in ways designed to bring home the double sense of urgency faced by Luftwaffe pilots. Sent up to intercept the Flying Fortresses, pilots must intercept sooner rather than later, before ordnance falls. And once the battle is engaged, they must find and capitalize upon vulnerabilities without suffering harm in return.
If this were a movie rather than a game, the curtain would open just as Luftwaffe fighters make visual contact with the formation of B-17 bombers. Game turn one begins with fighters “entering” the safe outer perimeter of the battlefield. But how many turns will the player have? That’s variable, determined by the set-up routine, which abstracts a variety of circumstances and actions taking place before the curtain opens. The scope of this game focuses on the combat box, and the camera keeps that battlefield in focus.
The number of turns that a mission in Skies Above the Reich will last is called the Flight Limit, and it is determined by a die roll and a table. After one or more missions, however, the player will have earned Staffel Experience points, which may be spent to forego that die roll allowing the player to make a selection. Thus, a player may give himself more turns to work with, simulating the positive effect an experienced staffel leader may have on a mission, not to mention improved coordination with ground control.
Time, however, is elusive. Its measure expands and contracts according to the circumstances of experience. Panic might slow it to a crawl or speed it up, while foreboding might stretch it to the horizon. In Skies Above the Reich, the mission turn does not represent a discrete increment of time, mostly because the pace of the game has experiential gaps engineered in. The moment when the Bf109 lets loose its array of guns on a bomber is represented by a number of steps, as the game slows down to watch the action, but the determined flight out of the combat box takes less game time. Same too of the approach.
The point of trespassing into that lethal terrain is to destroy bombers, but that is rarely done in one pass. Lucky shots can do the trick, but the B-17 can take an astonishing amount of punishment before it is done for, and it is more likely to fall out of formation before it falls apart, bursts into flame, or explodes. This means all your pilots need do is dislodge bombers out of the combat box, but that takes time. Once out, individual bombers can be pursued in space free of that lethal cross-fire.
When a B-17 falls out of formation, its representation is placed on the turn track (along with its Damage markers). Thereafter, instead of maneuvering about the perimeter of the bomber formation, Bf109s can leave that lethal terrain to pursue fallen bombers. They are placed onto the turn track as well. This is a choice the player makes. Are your Bf109s in position to pursue? Can they “leave” the battlefield now or must they maneuver first, consuming more precious time? The greater the distance on the turn track between lone bomber and pursuit fighters, the less chance those fighters have of closing in for the kill. And have all your exertions striving to knock out bombers left you with no fuel to pursue? Fuel is time.
Once the action on the map concludes, the player determines if his pursuit aircraft manage to catch up to fallen bombers. The closer a fighter is to a bomber on that track, the more likely it will intercept. In other words, the sooner a fighter peels away in pursuit, the more likely it will keep the bomber in sight and overtake it. Having fighters ready to do so is a smart idea, but in many cases, that’s a luxury, especially with escort lurking above or below the combat box. They too are there to burn time away from your fighters, making your task of knocking Flying Fortresses out of the sky quite a challenge.
“I think it is well also for the man in the street to realize that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. The bomber will always get through.”
– Future Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, 1932