Playings; 2, 2 hours
Old game proposals never die; they just show up when there is hole in the schedule. Zeppelin was offered to the punters as part of a flexisub way back in the 3W days at S&T, it is clear why they held on to it so long. 3W were selling the sizzle rather than the steak, realised that Zeppelin raids are not great gaming potential and unloaded this title as part of the S&T sell-out. Compare this subject to Boer War that 3W kept to release boxed (as part of Rorkes Drift).
Decision have clearly worked at the game and probably did the best that can be expected for the subject. The rules still contain a reference to the deleted tactical system but Zeppelin is strategic only. I doubt if a magazine could do justice to WW1 fighter combat and cover the strategic war in the same issue. No chance of a tactical system in the next issue (Italian campaign again), far too sensible an idea. WW1 air combat buffs should benefit most from this game, Zeppelin would make a fine campaign system. Air combat will not occur often so can easily be played out with another game. Owners of Wings (the old Yaquinto game that boasted a huge Zeppelin counter) ought to buy this game, others ought not. Zeppelin is not horribly bad, in an Operation Tunis (S&T 140) sort of way, rather unworthy of attention. Naturally it boasts the usual lack of polish that Decision are famous for. During its long gestation Zeppelin could not have come too near a proof reader or a spell checker. Nevertheless with a little headscratching and filling in of the blanks the game does play and (major advantage) is pretty swift to finish. This type of game could have quietly hidden away during the SPI years at S&T but sticks out amongst the recent rather good S&T games (Russo-Turkish War, Roman Civil War, even Red Sun Red Star was pleasant) and the dumb blond type Command releases (Blood and Iron, Cortes, Port Arthur). Zeppelin is clearly below par for a recent magazine game.
Decision deserves to take the blame for the rules layout, notably how not to set out a sequence of play, and 80s style counters. 3W are to blame for accepting this game proposal. It is the very nature of Zeppelin warfare that has hampered this game. Zeppelins left Germany to drop bombs on England, some turned back for mechanical problems, and some were shot down, some dropped bombs. Looking back on WW1, the whole affair achieved very little. Zeppelin the game represents 1 day's Zeppelin action over the North Sea, Scotland and England. Set ups are provided for early 1916 until late 1918 but each game will only cover 1 day. The game hints at a campaign system but gamers will have to play endless days until they get fed up or run out of planes. The German cannot bomb France or Belgium and there are no Gotha counters. The omission of Gothas is odd; they could bomb like Zeppelins and tied up British resources in the same way. The extra counters for Gothas could be provided by quadrupling up the copious marker counters as in Russo-Turkish War.
Ignoring these omissions the players can do pretty much what their counterparts did. Zeppelins can bomb Britain or search the North Sea for shipping. German planes protect the Zeppelins (when they are close to Germany) and bomb the British coast (presumably they have to be in range for this although the rules do not say so). The British player splits his effort between home defence, escorting convoys and attacking German bases. Before play both players decide if squadrons of planes will be active (attacking the enemy) or reserve (intercepting attackers). Zeppelins must be assigned to bomb or scout over the sea. After this the game is very much in the hands of the D6. It is possible to lose as many craft to crashes on landing (especially in 1916) than to enemy action. Victory points are still scored regardless if bad luck or enemy action destroyed the unit. It is true that in 1916 planes were still susceptible to crashes but the point reward for this is rather high. In many cases crashed plane could be stuck back together again. Not all Zeppelins will make it back to base (by the end of the game, technically, not having landed they avoid crashing. Force these units to make relevant malfunction and landing roll before counting up points unless 2 days and being played. Zeppelins and planes assigned t scouting score points for what they see, based 0 a die roll and the weather.
The German can score quite healthily if he use all his Zeppelins to scout the seas or may se nothing. Only British flying boats can shoot down scouting Zeppelins (no AAA in the sea) and thei will never be many of these. Even so Zeppelin are prone to malfunctions (1 in 6 chance C crossing a sea zone or coastline), they may abort if too much goes wrong and damaged Zeppelins are more likely to crash on landing. If Zeppelin is used for bombing they move in 1 or 2 stacks aiming for the North, Middle or South of Britain, slowing down to keep up with damaged ships. When they reach the British coast some of the stack will get lost and scatter miles off course, the others can spread up to 3 hexes either way along the coast. Some Zeppelins will get lost and bomb targets well away from the intended area, those that stay on course head for a suitable target within their assigned area but try and keep well away from British air bases. Bombing is all luck based, a chit decides the target type and AAA cover, if the Zeppelin is not shot down by AAA (die roll) it bombs (die roll) and heads for home, keeping well away from British air bases. A Zeppelin that cruises within range of a base risks interception and attack if the attackers can find it. There are big points for downed Zeppelins and for bomb hits on military targets. If a Zeppelin turns into a fireball there is a chance of all nearby airships packing up and heading for home, as was the case historically Once a target is revealed it remains face up, if the 1st bomber finds a good target (military bases yield 8x the points of shops) or any target without AAA then all Zeppelins that can make it will go for that target as well. I doubt if Zeppelins would have given away their position by radioing this information, chits ought to be reassigned between bombings unless a hit is scored, the fires could be seen for a long way at night.
So many actions are based on the result of a die roll that players could be forgiven for blaming defeat on the die rather than any plan. The only decisions are where to put planes and what missions to give Airships and planes. Active missions can be changed but may only be flown during the day, allowing a squadron 3 active missions per game at best and preventing it from intercepting at all. A squadron put on reserve may spend the whole game without a single Zeppelin coming near it. There is little incentive for the German to bomb London, 2 squadrons permanently on patrol outweigh the advantage of London targets never being dummys. The later scenarios give both players more planes, the British player can leave plenty on reserve patrol and has some left over to attack. Even so the British player will always have a reactive role. He may score more points from his AM, that he has no control over, than from his gallant fly boys that he has positioned and ordered.
The vast amount of die rolling while not entirely ahistorical, there is no accounting for breakdowns and bad weather, pushes this game into the solo replay category. Decision has noted this and includes a set of solo adaptations. Naturally the player represents the German, British set up and the dice controls missions. Alas the rules state that all British squadrons must have reserve missions but a table is provided that assigns active missions to every squadron. Some combination of the 2 is needed for if the German knows that all British planes are in reserve, all the Zeppelins will scout instead of bomb. Barring too many crashes they should see enough enemy to win, it all boils down to the die roll again. Bear in mind that this is exactly what the Germans did on many occasions, a case of the game being too close to history to qualify as a game.