Playings; 4 (12 hours).
RAF is a card based solitaire game but I have made no effort to analyse the cards, I do not hold for card counting, in a solo game the practice is twice as underhand. The sole player adopts a passive role, reacting to the actions of the Luftwaffe. Victory or defeat is based on aircraft lost and targets bombed, survival from day to day rather than fulfilling some objective. What you will not be doing is watching the progress of your panzers as they grind towards Moscow or some other well defined target. There are no clear objectives here (or panzers) nor front lines to pore over. Instead the game is a series of raids by German aeroplanes, at best, the attacking planes will be downed or driven off, reducing planes available for a few days. More likely, the result of a raid is slight bomb damage and (on a graver note) British planes put out of action by German fighter escorts. Whatever the result, 1 raid will not win the game, raid after raid is played out (2 minutes per raid if you' re quick, 4 if you like to think), the sum total of which will mean victory or defeat.
Every raid follows the same procedure, draw card for target and check if that target will be bombed (the Luftwaffe favours some target types over others and will change priorities during the game), if it is not, other cards are drawn until a target is found. The location of the target, the weather and a die roll will determine the amount of notice (planes available to intercept) plus accuracy of intelligence on the raid. 2 cards are drawn for the raid strength, the 1st for size the 2nd for composition. If accuracy is good, intercepting planes are chosen when the raid composition is known, if accuracy is vague, planes are selected when only the number of German planes are known. On a count of poor, you will have to select planes knowing only that the raid will be small or large. Having taken your chances and sent up a few planes, or let this one go, a card is drawn for random events and time passing until the next raid, then combat occurs.
The number of raids per day is unknown; if it is raining there will be no raids. Failing that the player should hope for good weather, with just as many raids likely as under cloud but giving the RAF a better chance of detecting raids 4 or 5 raids a day, is a likely number and barring some fine shooting, the RAF will always have fewer planes available than the Luftwaffe. As each raid comes along the player must decide what planes to spare for interception, squadrons are only good for 2 uses a day but best used only once, so as the day wears on the number of available planes will drop. A great deal of luck is involved here, only rarely will the exact composition of the raid be known, even then a bad combat roll will mean friendly casualties. If only the number of aircraft has been revealed, the make-up could be heavy on fighters (bad news) or a juicy bomber rich target, on average it will be half and half.
Only very rarely will a unit be eliminated (and yield victory points), even an eliminated unit will eventually come back as a replacement. Losses are usually some degree of damage; counters are double sided, fatigued/ready. Any ready unit that flies, including a squadron on patrol that does not intercept, is fatigued after a mission There are 2 levels of damage governed by a rest box and damage box, damage is worse. Combat results will put a unit in the rest or damage box, fatigued, or eliminate the unit. Any unit that begins a mission fatigued is put in the rest box afterwards, so fatigued units are not the ideal choice' to send on a mission. Units recover by being flipped to ready (if fatigued) or transferred to the rest box (from damage), or to base (from rest) if ready (and then they are flipped back to fatigued). A damaged plane will need 5 recoveries to be back in good form. (Damaged fatigued - damaged ready - rest/fatigued - rest' ready -base/fatigued - base/ready). RAF planes only recover at the end of every day but Luftwaffe planes recover daily and when called for by a random event; in short the Germans recover quicker than your planes. A raid that brings on this or the "Patrols land" random event can be worse news than any effect that the raid will have,
There are a few daily chores that occur before the day's raids take place. Weather is rolled for and if it is not raining (no raids today) RAF squadrons are put on patrol or left on the ground. Planes on patrol have a better chance of intercepting but a random event of "Patrols land" will force patrols to land. If this card is not drawn during a day, all planes left on the ground have been wasted but put everyone up in the air and pulling this card in the 1st raid puts the RAF at a big disadvantage early in the day. Only after planes have been put on patrol, is German effort rolled for, light, medium or heavy will decide the time between the day's raids. The game map divided into areas covers only Southern England. Each RAF squadron is assigned to an area and must always be based in that area.
Planes may be put on patrol only in their assigned and adjacent areas. Losses from interceptions can leave no fighters to protect 1 area and force planes to be diverted from adjacent areas. The Luftwaffe is divided into only 2 groups, covering the East and West halves of the map. With luck all of a day's raids will come from the 1 group, restricting available planes later in the day and giving the RAF some hope. If raids are spread equally between the 2 groups, the RAF will run out of planes long before the Germans.
A full game of RAF should involve holding off the Luftwaffe through August 11th to September 22nd or shooting it out of the sky before then. My games have led to the downing of the RAF in pretty short order. Rather than aiming to win, I have been trying to keep the RAF in play slightly longer each time. There must be a winning strategy but I do not know it and am loath to put in a large number of game hours trying to find out. The system is card based but does follow a plan, allotting priority to 1 or more of radar, airfields, industry, ports and cities. Hits on ports and cities only affect the victory point total; other targets yield further bad news for the player. Damage to radar prevents that station from detecting Germans for 1 turn per damage point, airfield hits damage 1 aeroplane on the ground in that sector per hit. If bombers are heading for an airfield, you may as well put all possible planes in that sector up as they will take damage even if on the ground. Industry damage delays the arrival of replacements. A human German player would knock out the radar stations then hit RAF planes on the ground. The game system may make the Luftwaffe head for these targets or follow some other priority, fair enough for a war machine headed by a class A nutter, uncertain of the effects of its bombing raids.
The obvious strategy is to look at the Luftwaffe target priorities and put most planes on patrol covering those areas. Targets furthest from France are less likely to be hit and can be allotted a lower priority. When assigning planes to intercept only the target is definitely known but because there are not enough RAF fighters to attack every raid in force, some will have to pass through. A large raid heading for a '4points loss only" target (cities, ports) should be at the bottom of the interception list. As the day wears on, a heavier response can be made, if a ready plane is not used in a day it may as well not be there. If you trust probabilities, time increase should mean less raids to come and an increased chance of patrolling planes having to land and waste their interception opportunity. In reality, the draw of 1 card is not dependent on the last, so it is quite possible for the morning to shoot by and afternoons to be full of raids. Patrols could land after the 1st raid of the day or not at all. Decisions, decisions.
Raids can be as small as 1 plane or up to 12. A small raid should be easier to swamp with fighters but a big one will damage more planes if a good result occurs. Planes are of 2 classes + and 0, purely to apportion combat damage. Damage, if any, applies to all planes, all +s or all Os, so the same result will be more harmful to a large number of planes than a single one. Naturally a good ratio of attackers to defenders is also desirable. If you send up 4 fighters to intercept 8 planes, things look good if 1 defender is a fighter, bad if 4, a factor that may not be known when the interception is launched. The combat system throws out some unpredictable results, the perfect interception could still lead to a loss of friendly fighters plus damage from bombing.
RAF is simple to pick up but repetitive and (if you are looking to win) long. There are plenty of chances to move little planes about (I keep thinking about airfix kits, Me 11 Os, Do 17s and so on) and the fighter command feel is good. Obvious simplifications include the patrol rule; not every single plane will land at the same time. Some Me 1 09s are placed in a channel patrol box, only joining in combat if the RAF receives no warning of a raid. The effect is to fatigue a proportion of Luftwaffe fighters to no purpose, reducing the overall fighter advantage over the RAF. As a last word RAF is hard to win, the original Royal Air Force muddled through and did rather well. The player will do well to survive into the last week of August without plenty of practice but if the game were easy to win there would be no incentive to play it again.
RAF. The major problem I encountered twice in three plays was the tie that fixes RAF squadrons to their assigned sector. If the Luftfaffe should destroy all a sector's squadrons, especially in 11 Group, this becomes an easy route for future bombing, despite full strength defenders everyone else. Surely new units would have been assigned to the defense of such a sector? I found the CRT very easy to misread, especially considering the repetiitive nature of play. The game was easy to sell however.
In RAF squadrons must be based in the sectors printed on their counters but may be put on patrol in their own or adjacent sectors. Also if the player gets enough warning patrols on the ground and patrolling within range of the raid may intercept. This all means that if no squadrons remain in a given sector, the planes from adjacent sectors will be able to cover the gap. If there are no planes based in a sector or any other sector adjacent to it then the brown stuff has really hit the fan.