Britain Stands Alone (GMT)
Playings 3 (12 hours), 2 German wins, 1 British
I am not normally one for alternate history but there as so few games where you get to invade England. I had just finished SS GB by Len Deighton; this is not about SeaLion but is set after a successful Nazi invasion and has plenty of sterling period stuff. The end was snot the cop out that I had expected so thereís another bonus.
I played a lot of SPIís SeeLowe and found that most of the action took place around a thin strip of South East coast and if the boche broke out of Kent that was that. Britain Stands Alone covers more of Britain on the main map and all of it on the strategic half map. The unfortunate result is the recommended invasion site of Kent will be even more cramped than in the SPI game. A playing of the September invasion here showed the same results, a heavy boche victory although they only controlled the South Coast as far as Southampton and inland up to but not including London. The reason for the big margin was my sinking the Royal Navy to stop the supplies crossing the channel. A second game showed how important the weather was as bad weather reduced the number of Luftfaffe sorties and left the RAF and RN pretty strong. The first two waves of the invasion were sunk in the channel leaving little incentive (or boats) to make up a 3rd wave. I took advantage of the flexibility of landing sites to have another go and landed by Weymouth. There are splendid beaches and a serious port nearby. The boys got ashore and broke out to Bristol and Southampton while sending a force to clean up the cut off West Country. Jerry was strung out pretty thin and pushed out of Southampton then had a lot of trouble with landings from South Wales into North Devon. This is an option that is not available in the SPI game although the distance is about that used for the Normandy landings and the terrain is much easier to break out from than Kent. An obvious disadvantage that the game does not consider is that the crossing is 3 or 4 times as long as from Calais to Dover. This could be overcome by making it harder to detect boats on short crossings and easier on long hauls. I am also unconvinced that enough shipping could be organised in Normandy. Many of the barges were to come from the Low Countries and to be fair Jerry should have to sail them down the coast to use them in the West. This will delay the invasion by a turn and give the RN an interesting target.
Much of the map is only used to move troops to the front. You can bomb Liverpool or Swansea with the Luftfaffe but there is no benefit in this. German land forces would get an automatic victory long before they reached that far. The attraction of this game is in being able to direct the planes and ships although as a penalty air and sea action will take much longer than the land bit. There is a lot of die rolling on the air and skies as a stack can be detected and intercepted, a big part of Jerry preparation should be based on knocking the RAF detection ratings down. Having found each other the units pair off and have to roll pretty low to do anything, 3 for equal strengths (everything is D10 based). Air combat is single round so will often pass with no loss but naval combat has multiple rounds with the chance of additional air units joining in and being intercepted or hit by AAA before they bomb. Attack and defence factors are compared through a table to yield the die to roll giving a lot of table looking up to find out what to roll. There is some consolation that air stacks are limited to 4 and naval to 6 keeping combat to a manageable size. If both sides start in different sea zones there will even be interceptions and battles as the intercepting unit heads for the target or the moving player enters each zone on the way to the port or beach. Mines and U-Boats can be added to this toll of dice that naval units must pass through. The British suffer badly as the Navy is mined, bombed and shot at by coastal guns as well as being bombed on the way to the Jerry boats. A rather odd release rule further hampers the RN in that it may be unable to move part or all of its ships. The chance of release increases as the Germans capture more of Britain or sink more ships. I do wonder if the toll in VPs due to lost ships is really outweighed by the reduction in German transport. The victory schedule forces a UK gambit of holding on while trying to preserve the RN probably to beef up some government in exile in Canada or Scotland. The alternative strategy of sacrificing the navy to stop an invasion is not possible as such a sacrifice will lose enough VPs to lose the game.
Air units can bomb just about anything on the ground but will generally need a 2 or less to do any good. Bad weather reduces this making air action in anything but clear or cloud not worth the trouble. Once Jerry has landed in force he benefits from bad weather as his transports are less likely to be intercepted on the way over. 2 hits are required to influence a ground combat unitís defence strength generally requiring a lot of bombers to do the job. RAF Spitfire losses affect how many new Spitfires can be brought into play through a thoroughly confusing system that took 3 games to work out. Basically you need to conserve losses as more lost planes reduce the maximum number of Spitfires allowed in play. The replacement Spitfires arrive but there are no (abstract) pilots to fly them.
Initially I had a lot of trouble with the naval and air side of things that slowed the game down too much. Once I got the hang of it without having to comb the rules things were not too bad. Like most of the game once you have learnt it there is little need to reference the rules but those rules are not naturally easy to pick up. Jerry has a real shipping problem as there are not enough boats to transport everyone and the supplies, I flew in all the replacements I could (2 steps a turn). I missed the errata that states that the blue airlanding units only count as 1 step for supply. The Panzers count double for supply so although you can ship plenty over it is tricky keeping them rolling. Note that the land game is a real bean counter as there are few units in a crucial area making it easy to shuffle just the right odds. The tables for air and sea factors could do with replacing by a formula to speed up the game. Seelowe is an easier and shorter game to play with much the same results and a common reliance on the weather rolls. The advantage to me of Britain Stands Alone is that I can mess around with almost modern forces on a geographical area that I have some knowledge of. I would imagine that the Nazis invade America games have a similar appeal over there and can cull some consolation from the Sealion invasion having been planned and that there was some slight chance of it taking place. Certainly to the people at the time there was every chance of the event even if some of the Kreigsmarine may not have been convinced.