B-17 Flying Fortress Leader – First Look!

It’s a box that could break your toe if you drop it wrong, but what’s inside? ~

Michael Eckenfels, 22 April 2017

Mosby’s Raiders. Thunderbolt/Apache Leader. Patton’s Best. Cruel Necessity. These are but a few of my favorite solitaire games of all time, games I would be happy to return to the table any time, and each of which have prominent locations on one of my bookshelves. (Thunderbolt/Apache Leader happens to include both the DVG and GMT version, by the way.) Topping my list, though, is B-17: Queen of the Skies, a game by Avalon Hill from ancient times that I would easily play again and again without hesitation.

I was very interested when, quite a while ago, Dan at DVG made mention of a new tile they were working on – B-17 Flying Fortress Leader. My mind – and no doubt yours as well – instantly jumped to Queen of the Skies. Was it a remake? Was it a sequel? Was it an improvement? Most importantly, would it be good? I figured my time with this particular game would be a long time coming, so while I kept up with the thread in the GrogHeads forums to see where it was, I was very surprised when a copy landed on my doorstep today. Thanks to Dan and his team for sending this over for GrogHeads to get its paws on it and manhandle it appropriately.

This is the box – and holy crap is it hefty. I think I saw a post on Facebook in the Solitaire Wargames page that said it was 5.5 pounds; it feels more like 10, actually! Which means, mounted boards, tons of counters and cards, and just overall lotsa stuff packed into a large box.

I mean, look at this thing…it’s what, three inches or so thick. (ed note: there’s a joke in here somewhere about Michael being the experts on things that are only 3 inches, but we’re too classy to make it, right…?)

 

The back of the box loudly proclaims “Bandits! 12 o’clock high!” (Sorry for the bad crop job, there. But you can certainly still read it.) This title obviously takes many of the successful systems and functions of the venerable Leader series from the same publisher. Anyone familiar with any of them – including the new Thunderbolt/Apache Leader, or Phantom Leader, to name but two excellent examples – will instantly have a feel for this.

 

Welp, it’s time to dive into this monster…

 

First, as expected, is the manual…

 

Wow. This thing is about 48 pages long, counting an extended sample of play at the back (which doesn’t have page numbers). I think that’s the longest DVG manual I’ve seen to date; it’s odd hefting such a thick book coming out of one of their boxed games. And from what you can see in the image, it’s the usual quality – good glossy paper, full color, and loaded with examples.

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ‘main’ game board. It could have been more than one, maybe, but this one…again, wow. This is of just as excellent a quality as the board is for their World War II Warfighter Card Game. It’s huge, too; note the corner of the box that I left in the picture just to show you the scale. (Apologies for the glare – I left the studio lights at work.) This looks great, and I love the theme with the cork boards.

 

Here’s the first of several close-ups of said board. Note that this date track covers what looks to be the entirety of the American bombing campaign over Europe in World War II – 1942 to 1945. So that begs the question, how many Campaigns are included in this one? That question will be answered shortly…

 

Moving down a bit on the board, here’s what looks like a display managing bandit attacks on the player’s formations. Looks challenging!

 

A close-up of some of those cork boards – I love the touch of the two little yellow notes pinned to it. Makes you feel like you’re almost in a briefing room, ready to head out in your bomber.

 

Here, it looks like some general tracks to keep info on the Jerries.

 

At top center, the close up here shows a really nice game title with a patch. That, and the top portion of the European map, where movement of formations, targets, and bandits are all marked and tracked. It keeps well in style with the entire sepia theme throughout the mapboard, and it looks great.

 

Now you can see the rest of this map of Europe. It looks somewhat small at second glance – perhaps six large hexes or so across and top to bottom – but this keeps perfectly to previous iterations of this style of game that have used the same format.

 

At the bottom, more tracks. The cursive of the titles make these stand out well and add more to the overall design. I think the other text would have been better if it was in a typewriter type of text, but that’s a minor nag. It still looks good.

 

The top right of the board shows another cool cork board and the start of the game’s sequence of play. The Target text on the board, which you no doubt saw in previous pictures, must be where you place cards off board, but snug up underneath these, perhaps to mark potential targets for gameplay.

 

Moving down, there is more cork board goodness and more of the sequence of play. The flow of the game looks just like Phantom Leader.

 

The bottom right of the board shows what looks like the game taking into account the effects of the Mediterranean and Eastern Front theaters on the 8th Air Force’s operations. It looks like if you have your bombers launch from the UK, then bomb a target, afterwards you can have them land in the Med or perhaps the Soviet Union, but then have to wait a bit for them to ‘cycle’ out, perhaps?

 

Here’s a close up of one of the counter sheets, which is different from the others. For one, this one just holds Leaders, and as you can see they’re pretty large. The game definitely carries on several Leader series functions in these guys having special skills and abilities.

 

Here’s the other five counter sheets, which we’ll look at a bit more closely here.

 

These markers no doubt represent the bombing groups the player can control on the map. Quite cool how they each feature different bombers (note the 321st Bomb Group marker, and what looks like a B-25 Mitchell). It looks like you can command bombers other than ‘just’ B-17s.

 

Yikes…these are markers you probably don’t want to use too often. I can only guess they’re strength type markers that are applied as your formations are whittled down by the Germans?

 

And here’s the Germans. It’s an interesting design choice that these are portrayed with an overwhelming red background instead of the ‘usual’ gray that most games frame German units within. The thing is, this has been used before as a design choice in other Leader games. With Phantom Leader, for example, there are red-background counters as well…but those are Communist forces, so that makes total sense as a design choice. Here, it seems a bit odd. But regardless, you can’t argue that it does not stand out!

 

U-boat markers, too? I wonder if these represent U-boat fleets or maybe U-boat concentrations at sea? I can only guess, of course, until I dive into the rules.

 

Yep, these bomb markers look similar to the ones in Thunderbolt/Apache Leader and Phantom Leader. That’s great, as it makes them instantly recognizable as such. And that counters my previous confusion over German bandits having red backgrounds – perhaps they chose that to keep the enemy consistent as well.

 

More counters – escorts, more German bandits, and more bomb group counters.

 

The diversity of the counters is good, making it easy to identify each type at a glance.

 

Ah, here we go – the Campaigns! There are eleven of these cards, each spanning different times within the War. The more, the merrier I think.

 

The design of these are awesome; the stencil text of course makes these look solidly military, and the typewriter-type text is even better.

 

A close up of ‘The Air War Begins’ Campaign Card.

 

Well, well, well…what’s all this then? Looks like crossover rules, to use with another DVG product, Down in Flames: WWII Guns Blazing. Fortunately, I have a copy of that, too, on my shelf, and it will be interesting to see how this interacts with B-17.

 

A close-up of the crossover rules. WWII Guns Blazing is, if you’re not aware, a tactical combat card game involving individual World War II aircraft. Unlike many DVG products, it is not a solitaire game, but intended for 2-6 players. So, it looks like this is essentially a multi-player component for B-17. More to come later once I can investigate more thoroughly.

 

Here’s a ‘mini-game’ rule insert, which looks like it adds a variant to where you can play this game without B-17. Very interesting.

 

And here’s yet another rule insert…and much to my surprise, it looks like rules for running a single bomber in a Campaign! If you had a desire to see B-17 Flying Fortress Leader to possibly have anything to do with Queen of the Skies, it looks like your wish comes true. It will be great to see how this works.

 

Of course, they include a Player Log for you to copy and use to keep track of your missions and Campaigns.

 

The game’s sequence of play comes with its own insert, as well. I’m not sure how handy this is since it is proudly displayed on the main board, but it couldn’t hurt, I suppose!

 

This is an insert that seems to have a summary of procedures used in the mini-game mentioned above. It looks interesting, mainly because it seems as if you’re controlling a single bomber in this mini-game as well. That begs the question of what the differences are (or are they the same thing?) between the mini-game and the single bomber game.

 

Because as you can see, the single bomber variant has its own insert as well…so that seems to answer that question (e.g., no, they are not the same thing, otherwise why would there be two inserts to cover the same thing?) More likely, they’re just different ways of running a single bomber game, perhaps. Again – the more, the merrier I say.

 

Six packs (count ’em) of cards. Not sure how I missed that one pack being upside down…oops.

 

Here they are, all flipped over (and right-side up, fortunately). Just from seeing these, I really like the design – the use of font and color is outstanding and really adds to the feel of a World War II game.

 

Now the poor box is empty…but this is what the inside looks like, sans all of its content. The six packs sit in that center niche you see, so once they’re out of the packs, I think they’re going to need a rubber band or similar organizing tool to keep them from sliding together/getting mixed up, if you’re of a mind to organize them smartly.

 

See? They fit perfectly.

I almost forgot about that poor lonely fellow there in the lower right corner…

 

Here it is…the single, solitary, ten-sided die. At least it’s not a bullet die, am I right? (Sorry, Dan, I couldn’t resist.) A bomb die, though…hmm…

Thanks for reading this unboxing article. You can be certain that a full review and gameplay coverage will be forthcoming. Stay tuned to GrogHeads for more info!


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