3 dogfights, 2 campaigns (4 hours)
Rise of the Luftfaffe is another game that has been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years without being played. The rules sort of made sense so I played through the example of play and was confused straight away as the Hurricane had 1 more card than I calculated that it should have. I played the same set up - Me 109 and 110 against Spitfire and Hurricane - solitaire and reckon to have sorted the system. I convinced my middle daughter (age 10) to have a go with us taking a plane each. She is dab hand at Groo ruining our games sessions by frequently winning. Well she picked up the rules and was shot down, pronouncing the system "pretty boring". Bear in mind that my family find any sort of military game (except Groo) the height of dullness.
Gameplay is heavily influenced by what cards you are dealt and you don't get many. The good fighters can hold a maximum of 5 or 6 cards and pull 2 new cards up to their hand limit each turn. There are 3 altitudes, you get a bonus card draw when you dive and must give up a card to climb. At low altitude you draw 1 more card each turn and high one less. Planes at different altitudes cannot attack each other. There are 3 basic types of card. Burst cards allow 1 shot per burst and inflict damage, the number of burst that can be used in a turn depends on the plane and its attitude to the enemy. Manoeuvre cards are used to move the plane into a better position to get more bursts on the enemy or reduce his shots on you. The other cards are anti-cards that nullify manoeuvre or bursts. The basic play for a plane is to optionally change altitude, play any or all cards and then draw new cards. If you do a lot of card playing in 1 turn there will not be much left to defend with. When a card is played the enemy may play the anti-card if he has it. This can be cancelled by the 1st player playing the anti-card to that. This is not going to go on for long as no plane has many cards and the final result is that the original card is played or countered. Cards can be played in any order so in theory you can move to a better position to get more shots and then let rip. With the luck of the draw your hand may shoot down the opponent in 1 phase or be useless. There is a discard phase to dump cards but it will only be used if there a lot of the same cards in your pile. Hand sizes are too small to build up a perfect draw.
That is about it for single plane combat. It is best to take a wingman that allows another plane for every player leader plane. These have a mini hand that is drawn and then played. It is not saved up from turn to turn. 2 attack and 2 defence is good for a fighter. The wingmen have limited roles and will usually be attacking the plane that is threatening your main plane or the opposing wingman. With the limited wingman draw hand many wingman "attacks" will be called off because none of the cards can be used. If your main plane is shot down you swop to the wingman and keep your full hand of cards. This is a help but without a wingman you will be threatened by 2 enemy planes even if 1 is only a short hand wingman. Unless you draw some good cards this is the beginning of the end. Like many air games you need a few planes in the air to get some sense of strategy. 2 sets of wingman and pilot seem to be the basic set up, if 1 set goes down the other lot will be bugging out as that sort of odds are bound to pull out some decent cards. Even that size of battle will be over in about 15 minutes.
The campaign system adds a lot to the game and is still over in a few hours. One of the 6 campaigns is a solitaire bombing of Crete that is not going to see a lot of play, the others run from 4 to 7 missions. A mission target is picked randomly, the attacking bombers are linked to the mission chosen. The target has a distance that will uses attacker's speed to decide how many rounds of cards are played. If some bombers are damaged you are looking at a longer ride going home. Both players also choose an option that will give escorting or defending fighters or affect distance, bomb damage or flak. If there are no defending fighters you can ignore the flight time go straight to the 3 rounds over target. This consists of light flack in and out with some stronger stuff in the middle. The type of target determines the number of flack picked per plane in the area (regardless of nationality) and the victory points gained for damage. Examples are the ground troops with 1 flack on target and none on approach but low victory point haul and the airfield with worrying 1 in and 3 flak on target but better victory possibilities. Any firing burst card is used as flack hits, only leaders (not wingmen and not dedicated bombers) can try to nullify these hits. All cards have a bomb damage rating with the number of cards drawn depending on the bomber and altitude. Flak can negate hits as well as damage planes although if you are shot down any unstopped hits are counted. Mission victory is based on damage to installations and planes, you count this up for the campaign total.
A mission with fighters on both sides will take a bit longer as they fight standard air combat on the way in and out. Planes can try to disengage and avoid victory losses for destruction but will need to be neutral or better and play the right cards. It is not always possible to get this combination before you are shot down. When the attacker fly over the target either side can disengage fighters who continue to fight a separate 3 round combat while the bombers try to paste the target. If either side stays with the bomber formation the fighting goes on but with both sides taking flack.
Surprisingly this set up solitaired quite well. I started all dogfights at medium altitude and only changed if really necessary. The options were picked in the order that they were listed but could have been chosen randomly. To cut down on confusion I elected not to go for bombers until the escorting fighters had been driven off. The bombing and flack is ideal for solitaire as you pick cards and play them with next to no decision making required.