B17, Queen of the Skies (TAHGC)


Playings, 11 missions (4 hours), B17 still flying.


More than once I have mentioned that I play solitaire games and been asked in reply if I have B17. Encouraged by Patton's Best and 2 of this issue's letters I recently bought a copy. Coming after more recent solitaire releases B17 appears primitive. Reaction on reading the rules, is that it? Checking the example of play and beginning the campaign confirms the suspicion that B17 is high on dice but low on decisions.


The mapboard of B17 is purely decorative, all its information could be included on another chart sheet and noted on a log pad. The parts of the game dictating play are a map of Europe divided into concentric circles radiating from the home counties and the mission log pad where kills and damage are noted. Another sheet shows a plan of the B17 on which crew are positioned and damage markers placed but because crew are given no orders (unlike Patton's Best) it only comes into play when a crewman or gun is lost and everyone has to shift around to cover the gap. The B17 must fulfil 25 missions to win the game, if it does not you can always get a new one, crew vacancies are also painlessly filled.


Our plane starts near London has to fly to the target, attracting possible German fighter attack in all zones outside England. Possibly suffering fighter attack twice in the target zone as well as flack, then fly back again risking fighter attack. Early missions are a short hop across the channel, with few zones entered and low risk of damaging attacks (the B17 will shrug off a few hits). Also zones close to England have a chance of friendly fighter cover who can chase off some attackers. You get to choose which attacking planes are removed, a swift look at the charts tells which are in the best positions. As the plane undertakes more missions, more zones have to be entered, friendly airspace is left behind and it becomes more difficult to get home safely.


There is very little that the gamer can do to influence how well the mission turns out. The level of friendly fighter cover, number and size of enemy attacks are all covered by the D6. When it comes to an attack, dice decide the number and positions of attacking fighters, although free to choose which gun can fire at which, it is clear what are the better options. B17s have machine guns covering all areas of attack, unless some guns or crews have been lost in earlier combats (the plane is always repaired between missions). It is better to spread out firing to give a chance of driving off all attackers to concentrating on some targets and letting others go by. The position of your plane in formation will influence how many fighters get through but you have no control over firing of these planes. If an enemy scores a hit in its 1st pass it will come around again at a random angle and if it again hits will try for a 3rd and final run. Any fighters that do not hit are removed at the end of their current pass. Whether they go for a different bomber or are shot down by someone else is not an issue. Germans are good shots and generally at least 1 of a wave will hit with 1 or more shells. The B17 can take a lot of damage, hits often have no effect unless several hit exactly the same area. Engine and fuel line hits are common, if the bomber is near enough to home it will abort and turn about. Longer missions will reduce this option, slowing the plane, encouraging more fighter attacks which may bring even more damage or a landing in occupied Europe (end of crew).


All these factors and the final bomb run are governed by D6s. The results of 1 mission will have little effect on the others. Exception are gunners who get better after 4 kills and the bombardier who also improves with practice. Otherwise every mission will be the same as the last, slightly more difficult if you follow the historical route from 1 to 25. With no serious decisions it is the dice which rule. The same mission and crew could be run on successive days using stock market results (ignoring 7 - 0) for die rolls. The stock market would have as much responsibility for mission outcome as the player.


I criticised Patton's Best for being low on decision making but on retrospect you do get to choose what to fire and at whom. The choice of where to go is also open, your team-mates may blow away the opposition before you get off a shot but that's life. B17 does give a feel of satisfaction as the plane clocks up missions but this is all due to the die rather than the player. Even so replay games are popular, probably appealing to the armchair cricket type. At the end of the game you have a list of what has happened, damage wise, to the plane and how many fighters have been shot down. What you do not get is tension and human interest as depicted in the film Memphis Belle (although the lads make it home every time I watch the video). There is nothing obviously wrong with B17 but then again there is not a lot there either.


I quite enjoyed your different perspective on B17. I think you have correctly identified the core of the game. There is, indeed, very little that the gamer can do to influence how well a mission turns out. Despite that the game generates statistics which appeal top the replay gamer in me and others.


It can be quite addictive when you start playing it. It is not a game that jumps out and begs you to play it when it is back on the shelf. I should say that because of my sports gaming interests I know that there are a number of gamers for whom heaven is to play a replay game where the amount of decision making they have to undertake is as small as possible. I am not sure if this has something to do with the usual solitaire problem of favouring one side over the other or of it reflects a prominent Statistician or Chartered Accountant personality disorder! Regardless, when the mood takes me I can spend hours with this type of game although I much prefer the sports version of replay gaming to the military version."

I must disagree with the idea of introductory scenarios. So many of these are short unbalanced games dressed up as learning exercises. I would rather play a game wrong but have some satisfaction of a job done to "play" the sort of introductory scenario that is an insult to the brain and a strain on the eyes. If rules are interpreted wrongly they should be kept as the original guess until a natural break in play rather than constantly moving the goal posts during the game. Note that this method does lead to a fair number of abandoned games when critical mistakes crop up. The solution being to start again while there is still time to play.