Polyversal Kickstarter

GrogHeads Reviews LNLP’s A Wing & A Prayer

Does LNLP’s air war over Europe game soar to the skies or crash & burn? ~

Michael Eckenfels, 6 March 2018

Is A Wing And A Prayer good enough to recommend as a game?

Way back in 1981, B-17: Queen of the Skies set the bar for future solitaire games, let alone future solitaire games dealing with the Allied air war against Germany. In recent times, a plethora of these have surfaced, including Legion Wargames’ B-29 Superfortress and its Hell Over Korea expansion, as well as Target For Today; DVG’s B-17 Flying Fortress Leader; and possibly others I’m not offhand remembering. Lock n Load Publishing’s hat in the ring is a good entry with interesting play for the solo gamer, though it has some production issues.

Is A Wing And A Prayer good enough to recommend as a game? I’d feel more confident in my answer of “yes” if LnL fixes some of those production issues in forthcoming printings of this title, and maybe polished some of its graphic design elements too. While not bad, it’s not the best I’ve seen, and while functional, it degrades the game overall somewhat. Still, it’s one I’d recommend to you if you’re into solo games about bombing the heck out of the Reich.

COMPONENTS

So, let me right off the bat address the pains this game has, design-wise. At first glance, the components are in the stratosphere (see what I did there? Sorry about that.); they’re all fantastic quality…at first glance. Closer examination leaves a few sore points to fester.

There are two major sore points: the manual and the main map. The manual looks great when you first thumb through it, as I did for my unboxing article; the font is of large-ish size and it has plenty of full-color examples. The problem is, the writing is not the greatest. As a technical writer, I cringe with certain things I read, where more normal folks could probably not care less about such things. If you’re not a grammarian, you’ll likely not care – so take this with a grain of salt. The writer of this manual doesn’t know how to utilize commas and semi-colons properly. I know that does not sound all that off-putting, but consider a 40-something page manual with very few correct usages, and you have a horde of text that’s not written to a standard that doesn’t cause a minor headache. The use of commas can change the entire idea of a sentence, and on more than one occasion I found myself having to read and re-read a sentence many times because I wasn’t getting what the author was trying to explain.

Now, I give it great kudos for following more or less the path of the game (I say ‘more or less’ because a few times it directs you to other sections of the manual to resolve certain things), which is a great way to do a manual. There’s a hand out that covers the sequence of play, and this pretty much follows the manual, and refers to the section numbers.

However, there’s more than a few occurrences of head-scratching as to why the turn sequence is the way it is. For example, the sequence of play right off tells you to advance the Mission Turn marker. If you’ve already placed it on the 1 space, then does that mean you advance it to the second? That makes no sense, especially because the rules state during set-up to place the Mission Turn marker on “the appropriate starting box” of the track. It would make more sense, I think, to add this step to the end of the turn sequence. Also, this one is a pretty minor one, but the War Progress Check at the end of the Turn is a bit odd. It seems the check itself should apply for that Turn and not for subsequent Turns. I could be wrong about that, though. I bring this one up only because moving it to the start of a Turn might ramp up the difficulty in an unintended way.

The game map itself is somewhat strange. The use of generic iconography makes it look like they were taken from a Google Image search, but I’m very happy to report that after a cursory look-see, I could not find these icons. (I was actually kind of afraid they’d come up in the first few lines of images, as generic as these look.) The icons are pretty average, vague, and not terribly visually interesting, so to me, they do not stand out well. They stand out well enough and are extremely functional – they’re just not that pretty to look at. They even kind of blend in together at first glance. Something with a little bit more effort design-wise would have been much more welcome to see.

 

The big issue is the misspellings of several location names. Four, in fact, are not spelled correctly (e.g., “Sutgart” instead of “Stuttgart”). This kind of error is likely in a rushed production process, or because the person/persons putting it together don’t have a lot of experience. Maybe even someone with little knowledge of history/World War Two. (I speak of this because my fascination with history in general and World War 2 in particular helped me learn a lot about geography!) Perhaps a measure of both? I don’t know. The misspellings are annoying, but they do not cause any issues with gameplay. The manual even has errata in it stating what place names are misspelled. It’s my understanding that the person responsible for the design had major personal issues at deadline time, and the changes were either not made or made and totally missed. Stuff happens in life and in the wild world of game publishing, I know.

 

The overall design of the map…well, there’s something about it that’s less than stellar, but the print is large and easy to read. The same could be said about the icons, which I know I derided upthread, but they’re very visible and that’s a good thing for gameplay. It’s very simple, and maybe I’m trying to read more into it than I should. If you approach this game thinking you don’t like how the map looks, you should give it a try. It’s grown on me quite a bit since I first did the unboxing and played through many Missions to date.

The counters are easily the best thing about this game – things of beauty, to an extent. They’re large and colorful, making them pleasing to the eye at first glance. However, the font, which I think is the same as the font used elsewhere in the game (it looks like it’s Stencil font), is hard to read for the size they are. I usually have to pick one up off the track to look at it to be sure I can read it right. The crew counters, some of which sport plane names, are very difficult to read from a distance. I know there’s not much real estate to work with on even those large counters, but maybe a different font would have worked, here?

The cards are awesome in that they do exactly what they’re supposed to do – convey information. Design-wise, they’re kind of flat and dull. There are two types for each target – one with a brown background and one with a dark blue background. The latter is an undamaged target, while the former is a damaged version. I can’t help but think just a little imagination would have pushed these far into the WOW arena. As it stands, while not very impressive, they’re very functional and very usable. There’s nothing about them that limits gameplay at all.

When considered as a whole, A Wing And A Prayer’s components are rather nice and impressive, but are not without design issues. While they might not blow you away, they definitely are functional and do not inhibit gameplay (except for the aforementioned issues I had with the manual, but that’s on me, I think, more than the writer of it).

 

There’s also a Formation Card, which holds your bombers and escort fighters, and where you face off against German interceptors looking to shoot them all down. I like the Formation Card, though it’s oddly-sized. It’s probably the prettiest bit to grace the game table from the box. I don’t like that Escorts are placed at the bottom and Interceptors at the top; it makes more sense to me if Interceptors are at the very top, then just below that the Escorts, and finally the bomber formation area. It’s weird having Escorts behind a formation and not between the bombers and the enemy.

The Squadron Card is where you store your bombers before a Mission, and where you record your VPs for the game. I wish I could speak more to the included Squadron Card…but mine was missing. Apparently, this is a known issue, and LnL has mentioned that some copies shipped without this card. They offer a download from their site, which is nice, but this makes for an incomplete game in my book, and it’s not a good thing. It’s easy enough to print one, but it’s just not the same thing. Additionally, the Squadron Card has a lot of wasted space at the top, and the Ready/Not Ready area is divided by a diagonal line, which doesn’t work when they’re supposed to hold square counters. It bugged me so much that I felt the need to create my own.

Click to load full-size image, and you can download it from there if you want

 

One final thought on the components – this game will take up a lot of space. Between the game map, the Formation Card, and the (self-printed) Squadron Card, you’re looking at a good five feet by three feet (roughly) of space taken up, including counters not currently being used. For a relatively simple game, that’s a lot of table space.

 

GAMEPLAY

As a solitaire game, A Wing And A Prayer takes up space on a mantel that is occupied with some heavy hitters, and has been for some time – I mentioned these other games earlier. As I don’t own Target For Today, I cannot speak to that one as a comparison (as inevitably a lot of readers will ask, ‘so where does this stand compared with the other, similar games?’). I can speak to this game’s strengths and weaknesses, though.

The main strength of this game is in its simplicity. That simplicity is derived from relatively fast gameplay and little in the way of record keeping. Despite that, there’s a lot going on in the processes and in determining attacks, bomb runs, and other important points. However, I never felt overburdened by play, except initially while I struggled to follow the rules and the handouts and learn how everything works (which everyone will no doubt experience).

To start things off, you choose from one of four Campaigns – a five-mission 1942 campaign, a 15-mission 1944 campaign, a 10-mission 1944 campaign, and finally, a full 25-mission 1942-onwards campaign. There’s a good number of choices here, so if you just want to get in a quick game, or are learning, you can go with the shorter five-mission one, and progress as your comfort does (or your taste for pain, because your crews will die/become POWs and you will lose bombers, especially in the longer games).

Each turn is one Mission. There’s no tracking of days, or weeks, or even months, but you do have years represented on the Mission Track. For example, Mission 1 starts in 1942; Mission 6 begins 1943, and so on. If you start at the beginning, as you progress certain War Events can occur which will impact your game (e.g., Me-262s arriving early and ruining your days!), and will add additional Target Cards to your Mission Deck. You draw one of these Mission Cards for each Mission to see where your squadron is headed for that Turn.

Each Target Card is rated according to certain criteria, including a minimum number of bombers you must assign to the Mission (e.g., 9). As you start the game with twelve B-17s (or B-24s if you choose to play with those – a cool inclusion in the game), initially you’ll have plenty of bombers to assign to your Missions. However, as you have losses or damaged bombers that can’t get repaired quickly, you’ll start to have fewer resources; if you don’t have enough bombers to reach this number, you lose one VP for each bomber not assigned. So, for example, if you draw a nine-bomber Mission and only have six bombers in Ready status, you’re already hit with -3 VPs for that Mission.

 

Also, you start with a certain number of escort fighters. This was a minor issue with me, as I couldn’t figure out whether or not you got the number of escorts on the Mission Card, or if you had to roll on the table. The rules didn’t specifically state that you had to roll, but I’ve done that as a matter of challenge. I imagine you can choose to use the full allotment of escort fighters for an easier time, or roll to possibly get fewer. However, you can ‘refill’ your escorts in certain spaces of the map; being able to do that in and around England makes sense, but being able to do this deep in France or Germany is a little off. Not in a bad way – game-wise, it works great (and this saves your bacon on more than one occasion, too). The thing is, the cards in the Target deck have a certain year printed on them, so you only get to attack them during certain years. My first Mission in the 1942 campaign was against Romilly, which is in real life only about 40 miles or so as the crow flies southeast of Paris. At this point in the game, you’re only given P-47s, which with drop tanks could make that distance. At a glance, though, Romilly on the game map looks like it’s almost on top of Switzerland. I doubted greatly that P-47s could make it that far in 1942. The game map distorts these distances somewhat, which I’m sure was not intended and was a game design choice.

 

Once you’ve figured out your starting escorts, you start moving your bomber counter across the map, from square to square, towards your target. Some spaces have red borders, which indicate flak attacks, and some are blank, indicating nothing happens. Icons in the boxes indicate the target types (with red boxes having a flak icon too). For each square you enter, you’re following a set list of procedures, which includes a Formation Event Check. This Event Check is comprised of a variety of things whose probability of occurring changes the further your bombers get from England.

I like this design aspect, that there’s more of a chance of an event the further out you go. It’s also very, very deceptive, because this ain’t your daddy’s (or yours, ha) B-17 Queen of the Skies, where you’re getting jumped left and right by German fighters. Instead, you have to roll a certain range (based on your distance from home) to see if an Event even happens, and if one does, getting German interceptors is not a foregone conclusion. Sometimes good things can happen, like getting to draw a Lady Luck counter, which can be a big help in the game (these are discarded upon use, but can be gained again depending on how often you roll this result). This grew on me quickly. Initially I didn’t like it at all, because with some Missions, it’s deathly quiet. Too quiet. Other Missions can be insanely savage, too. The randomness of what happens is all on the dice, and some of you might not like that, but I have no issues with it. I like the chaotic, brutal way things can unfold in this game.

 

One of the complaints I’d heard over the years about B-17: Queen of the Skies (and I’ve owned it since it came out) is that it has way, way too many German fighter attacks. As the staple game and inevitably, the source that all other similar games are compared to, those near-constant attacks became second nature – to me, anyway. The chances of this happening in this game are much less, though when they do happen, you’re possibly in for a rough time. Some Missions, you’ll have a full compliment of Fighter Escorts and won’t see one enemy fighter on your bombers; in others, you’ll have a swarm of them all over your Fortresses and find several of them burning from damage. You just never know what’s going to happen, and I enjoy that. The tension of what’s not going to happen is just as strong as when you’re dealing with German interceptors.

 

Combat is fairly simple – you take the Structure rating of a target an subtract it from the Air Combat rating of the attacker. In this case, the attacker can be a B-17 (if it’s defending itself) or a fighter. You figure out the numbers, look them up on a table, and roll 2d6. It’s not too much math, if you’re worried about that. What’s strange about this, though, is damage is figured the same way, whether it’s fighter-on-fighter or fighter-on-bomber. I’d think a B-17 could take a lot more damage even than a Fw-190. I figure this is all rolled up into the system anyway, as a B-17’s stats are of course different from a fighter’s.

 

Most every event of significance (combat, bomb runs, escort appearance, etc.) are all governed by tables. It takes a bit of getting used to them to find the ones you need. I’m not too much a fan of the crap brown color, to be honest, but I’ll get over it eventually. Would have made more sense to make it with a manila-color background, like a report folder or a clipboard (a look, not an actual clipboard). Something period and relevant. Be that as it may, once you’re used to what you need, it’s easy to quickly refer to the necessary tables – though it seems I still flub this up from time to time.

Both flak and bomb runs share a similar procedure, but are pretty simple. In any flak box, except the target’s box, you roll a single die to find a flak value. For the target box, this flak value is on the target’s card. You compare this number on a table and cross-reference it with the number of bombers, which gives you a number of d6 to roll, for EACH bomber in your squadron. Every 5 or 6 you get is one hit on the bomber. For each hit, you roll another d6, totaling the number if you roll more than one d6, and then subtract the bomber’s Structure value. The resulting total is looked up on a table, and it tells you what happens.

 

There’s different levels of damage. There can, of course, be a No Effect result. Light Damage might be avoided by another d6 roll. A Heavy Damage result cannot be avoided, though. In both cases, if damage is taken, there’s a chance the bomber might have to drop out immediately. If it does not, you have to check each turn to see if it drops out. Further damage stacks. There’s also the Destroyed result to worry about, and it should be obvious what happens with that one. Fighter combat is somewhat similar, but Damaged results for them aren’t avoidable.

 

You might be thinking, “that sounds like a lot of damn die rolling.” And it is. If that’s not your bag, you’re not going to have a good time with this game. It might sound like a lot, but it’s really not. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a pretty smooth process.

Since the game only comes with two d6s, I added other d6s to it to help me with larger rolls. If you do not, you’ll be rolling 2d6 many times and needing to remember the results. There’s plenty of times where you might need 3d6 instead; I’d much rather do that with three dice than roll two and have to re-roll one. It keeps the producer’s costs down to not serve you with a raft of dice, and any gamer, as I’ve said numerous times before, should always have such a supply on stand-by, just in case.

 

The thing is, though, you won’t be doing massive die-rolling like you might have done in Axis & Allies. For example, if you’re applying Flak to your formation and find you have to roll 3d6, once for each of your nine bombers, that’s 27d6. But you have to keep them separate, rolling three per bomber. Throwing out 27 d6s is kind of a mess, so you’ll be rolling for each, then figuring damage, then moving on to the next bomber.

 

I wish they had included some kind of Hit marker, or Resolved marker, that you can place on or next to a bomber once you resolve it. A few times I’d go to the tables to resolve a flak hit, only to go back to the Formation Card and wonder, “damn, which bomber was this for again?” I’d remember fairly quickly, but it’s a possibility you might lose track completely, which has more of a chance of happening the more bombers you have on your Formation Card. I suppose a damaged bomber is a good indication, but remember, you go to the tables to figure it out, then go back to the table and possibly forget which one to apply it to.

Your bomber crews can upgrade in experience. There’s three levels – Green, Veteran, and Crack. Green crews have no names, while Veteran and Crack do have them (bomber names, that is). These Crews have values that can affect the bomber’s performance during a Mission. I happen to like that there are generic “Green Crew” counters – they’re like the newbies that the more experienced crews don’t want to get to know, because they think they’re probably going to “die” anyway. One thing about this I’m not sure I like is, at the end of a Mission, you roll for all Crews in the Ready box on your (printed) Squadron Card. The Ready box includes all crews that did not take part in a Mission, and all crews that came back safely from one. You roll for all crews in the Ready box…which is kind of strange. Wouldn’t you only roll for crews that were on a Mission, and therefore gained actual combat experience? This is especially odd if you’re playing the 1942 campaign and, in your first Mission, find that several of your crews that were sitting on their duffs back at the base had their experience upgraded. This didn’t make much sense to me.

 

There is an optional rule that lets you make an immediate check for upgrade to a crew if they destroy an enemy fighter. That makes much more sense.

 

Also on the Squadron Card are two VP tracks – one for the Mission, and one for the Campaign. At the end of a Mission, you total up your VPs and compare it to a table; this translates into how many VPs to add (or subtract if it was a bad Mission) to your Campaign VP total. You can look at it like the Mission VP track is temporary, but the Campaign VP track is permanent, and the latter moves according to how well you do with the former. That’s a nice design touch.

Destroyed and dropped-out bombers can cause you issues. The Formation Card exists mainly so you can place your bombers into one of four Elements (Lead, High, Low, and Tail), each of which can hold three bombers. You have to fill them in a certain order (Lead > High > Low > Tail), and within each element are numbered places. So, if one bomber is lost/drops out, you move bombers within an element to make up for the loss. If you lose a certain number of bombers, based on the number you started the Mission with, your formation goes from Tight (default) to Loose, which gives you several disadvantages, including more German interceptors and a lower Air Combat rating. You can subsequently attempt to get your Squadron to ‘tighten it up’ later.

 

Casualties to a crew are nicely represented by a reduction in experience. So, a Veteran crew would be replaced by a Green crew. Green crews are never reduced, though, which sounds odd but actually works well. If a Green crew of a bomber suffers casualties, it doesn’t really matter, as more Green personnel would replace them. Same with experienced crews; losing men means replacements and that will degrade the overall ability of the crew.

The bombing run is pretty simple; first you face flak, which can vary depending on the target. After that, you calculate the Bomb Attack ratings of your surviving bombers, look on a table to see how many d6 rolls you get, and then toss the dice. The ‘to hit’ varies depending on the weather, so if it’s Clear, you’d hit on a 4-6, but if it’s Heavy Clouds, you’d only hit on a 6. The bomber’s crew ratings can shift the rows to better or worse results.

Your bomb run success determines what happens to the target. There are three results – Ineffective (which makes you shuffle the target card right back into the draw deck), Light Damage (which causes its undamaged target card to be replaced by a damaged one, reducing its flak effectiveness), and Heavy Damage (which scores good VPs and removes the card as a target completely). There are also Major Targets, which include Antwerp, Paris, Berlin, and a few other major cities, which are scored a bit differently.

I should briefly mention there is a two-player version of the game, but I did not try it out, so I cannot speak to how it plays.

 

CONCLUSION

All in all, A Wing And A Prayer offers some unique design elements that make it an enjoyable game, though it unfortunately suffered from a few design issues. These issues aren’t game-breaking, but they do make it more difficult to enjoy the game fully. As a gamer, especially as a solitaire gamer, I am comfortable recommending it just based on its uniqueness and its pretty awesome components. I enjoyed the crew counters especially being separate from the bombers, and thought the Green Crew counters (with nameless crews) was a pretty solid touch that reflected attitudes of bomber crews at the time. Combat can be mercilessly unforgiving, or quite easy, so if you’re not a fan of die-rolling and table-referencing, you might want to steer clear; for me, though, I love the randomness of it. Overall, the game’s pluses outweigh its negatives, making it a good one to add to your collection.


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