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B-17 Flying Fortress Leader Review


Image courtesy of Dan Verssen Games

Quick Look:

Designer: Dean Brown
Artist: N/A
Publisher: Dan Verssen Games
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 1
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 30-120 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

The air exploded with flashes of light and sound as the 4th Fighter Group intercepted a swarm of German bandits. The bombers were close to their target, an airfield in France that acted as a staging ground for a host of the German Luftwaffe, including these fighters now engaged in combat with the Spitfires. Destroying the airfield meant eliminated at least one more squadron of German air support.

Anderson flew his B-17 bomber through the sky, unwavering against the exploding flak all around him. Fear was something for new recruits, and had since been driven out of his system after a handful of missions. The fighters skirmished nearby, but at least the Spitfires were keeping the Germans busy. Anderson had a payload to deliver, and it wouldn't do to be shot down before he could release his explosive gifts. His aircraft shook as a shell exploded too close for comfort.

Almost there, he thought as he gritted his teeth.

Approaching the target, he checked in with his crew. A few moments later, the bombardier let loose their bombs. The aircraft jolted with the newfound relief of losing all that weight, but Anderson kept her steady. As soon as the bombs were off, he turned his flying fortress around to head back to their base in the UK. As he banked his aircraft around, he looked down at his target and was rewarded with a large fireball that erupted from the airfield.


Anderson smiled for a brief moment, then readied his mind for the return trip home.

Review:

In B-17 Flying Fortress Leader, you take the role of Deputy Director of Operations for the Eighth Air Force, and are therefore responsible for reducing Germany’s ability to wage war.

B-17 Flying Fortress Leader is a strategic bombing solitaire game which, you will find upon reading my review, is a stellar simulation of what the war-torn skies of Europe might have been like. Because there is a lot going on in this game, the rules, setup, and gameplay sections are rather lengthy, so if you want to skip down to my actual thoughts, I won’t be offended. However, the rules, setup, and gameplay sections will help you on your journey as you learn how to play the game.

With that said, strap yourself in and get ready for an in-depth look at this wonderful strategy game!

Rules and Setup:

Your board should look similar to this once setup is complete.

To being, select the campaign you want to play and place the campaign sheet on the table in front of you. (The rulebook recommends using the Short: U-Boat Focus (August 1942) campaign to get the hang of things before jumping in to the big campaigns. I also recommend doing this.)

The Air War Begins campaign is another good one to start with.


From there, the campaign sheet will tell you specifics about set up, including any special rules, allied technology available (if any), and how many Luftwaffe squadrons to place initially.

Place the Year, Month, and Week counters on their respective year, month, and week on the game board (as indicated on the campaign sheet). The number of weeks depends on which month you’re in, and will say underneath the month on the board.

The campaign sheet will say how many initial Luftwaffe squadrons you place. Take that many Luftwaffe squadron markers and place them on the map (i.e. Display Sheet made of hexes). For each Luftwaffe squadron, roll two d10 dice and add up the values. Place the Luftwaffe squadron on that hex. Do this for all remaining Luftwaffe squadrons.

8 Luftwaffe squadrons were placed here. 

Place the USSR and Mediterranean war theater tokens on their respective starting location in each war theater zone on the main board. Your bombers do not get sent to these locations, but these war theaters will affect the probability of how many additional Luftwaffe squadrons will be deployed there instead of in your flight paths.

Place bandit tokens (Bandit, No Bandit, and Flak) in a cup, bag, hat, etc. from which to draw during the game.

Next it’s time to buy your bombers using your initial Special Operation (SO) points (as shown on the campaign sheet), That number is found on the left side of the bomber and fighter cards (i.e. “Memphis Belle” of the 91st Bomber Group has an SO cost of 12). Remember, you may only buy aircraft that are available in your campaign’s year, so in a campaign taking place in 1942, any ship with the year “1943+” on the left side of the card may not be used.

One of my initial groups (already loaded up with bombs and a commander).

Also, you may only have a certain amount of groups (bomber and fighter) at certain skill levels, as shown on your campaign sheet under “Initial Groups.” When purchasing groups, you may bring them in at the various skill levels, and any additional groups brought in must have a skill level that corresponds to the group with the asterisk under “Initial Groups.”

You may also demote a group by one skill level to promote another group one skill level, or pay 4 SO to promote a group by one skill level.

Next, you may buy a Renowned Commander. Bomber commanders are blue tiles, and fighter commanders are red tiles. They also cost SO points (upper left corner), and are permanently assigned to one group of your choice. That group then gets the appropriate skill to use during missions.

Included in the game is a Player Log where you will record your groups, their current levels, how much experience they need before promotion, and replenishment points, if any. Throughout the game, you will keep track of which mission each group went on, how much experience they gained from those missions, and how many losses they have acquired.

NOTE: You may want to make a lot of copies of the Player Log before you start writing on it, as it only comes with one sheet, and that will only get you through two months in a campaign.

Place the red “Bandits Destroyed” token on the “Bandits Disrupted” track on the “0” place. For each bandit (i.e. enemy fighter) destroyed, move it up one. Once it reaches 5, remove a Luftwaffe squadron from the board.

Shuffle the Aircraft Factory Target deck and draw as many as the campaign sheet says under “Initial Aircraft Factories.” Place them along the top of the board. Do the same with Airfield Targets. Next, look at the Aircraft Factory Target cards “supply value & VP” number, and add a Supply token matching each card’s number on the “Airfield Factory track on the board next to the white 3 box. This shows how many new Luftwaffe squadrons will be deployed at the end of every month. Destroying Aircraft Factory targets will reduce this number, which will certainly help you in future missions.

Shuffle the Events deck and place it on its dedicated spot on the board. The special rules section on the campaign sheet will tell you how many of the various other targets to draw, such as U-Boats, ball bearing factories, etc. If your mission calls for Secondary Missions, sort through the Secondary Missions cards and select the cards whose active years match the campaign start year and month, Shuffle those and place them on the Secondary Cards box on the board. Flip the top card over and place it back (face up) on top of the deck, drawing any targets required by that card.

Shuffle the German Commanders deck and draw one, putting it on top of its deck face up. Add any tactics that commander brings to the fight. If the German Defense Commander has a technology associated with it, place the corresponding green technology token on the month track the indicated number of months ahead of the current month (i.e. Me-262 technology is placed two months ahead of the current month).

Commander Ehlers uses the Out of the Sun tactic, and also includes all Sturmgruppen FW-190 bandits to the cup for drawing. He also has the ME-262 technology, which you will put on the month track according to the number of months listed on the technology.

If the V3 Gun tech was being used, it would be put 2 months away from the current month. In this image, the V3 Gun tech token was placed when the current month was October.

Any special weapons are also added, including Special Weapon Target cards listed.

After all that, you’re finally ready to play!

Game Play:

Your board should look something like this (note that there is no Target for "Target 1" above the board because I already placed it on the Target section on the board).

This next session is pretty involved, but let me assure you that the gameplay itself is rather simple and quite streamlined. Once you play through a week a few times, everything will fall into place quickly.

Without further ado, here’s what it’s like to play the game.

Weekly Sequence of Play
Each week will see your bomber groups take on one or two missions. The week starts by receiving your Weekly SO points, as shown on the campaign sheet. Record these (and pretty much everything you do) on your player log.

If you have enough SO points, you may purchase one bomber or fighter group. Otherwise, you may purchase Renowned Commanders or Recon Assets (which is an optional part of the game, and you may want to hold off on this until you’re more comfortable with game play).

Once that’s all done, select a target from all available targets lined up above the board. Place your Mission counter (#1 or #2) on the card, and then assign groups to each mission. The target cards will show how many bombers are allowed to go on that particular mission, so make sure you don’t overcommit! You may also have a maximum of one fighter group per mission, although they aren’t required.

This target only allows for 3 bomber groups to be on the mission.

Unfit groups (those that exceed their Shaken status on the group’s card) are not allowed to go on missions.

(If you have badly damaged groups, you may also keep them from going on a mission. If any group doesn’t go on a mission, reduce their losses (Destroyed points) by 3.)

Now that you have your groups assigned, it’s time to spend the rest of your SO points on bombs. Each bomber has a Tonnage limit, and each bomb has a weight assigned to it (the number in green in the lower right corner). The SO points for the bombs are the number in blue in the top left corner. You may not have more weight in bombs than your bomber’s tonnage allows. If, however, your bomb weight is two points less than the tonnage limit, then that bomber’s range increases by 2.

My initial groups, loaded up and ready to go! 
This 301st Bomber Group has two bombs weighing 6 tonnes (4 and 2 tonnes for each bomb), and the bombs cost 4 SO points total (3 and 1).



Next, purchase any equipment and technology that’s available to you in your campaign’s Available Technologies section on the campaign sheet.

Place any tactics from Renowned Commanders beside the Commander counter on your group’s card.

Move your first Target card to the Target box on the left of the board, and place the Mission counter on the UK base hex. Place the Target counter (the blue “bull’s eye”) on the hex of your target, as indicated on the Target card.

Then, plot your course. Using the arrows, place the “1” arrow adjacent to the UK hex in the direction you want to travel (usually towards the target is a good idea). Continue placing the arrows towards the target hex and then plot your escape route as well. Note that your fighter group may not be able to travel the whole distance. If this is the case, flip over the arrow token at the furthest point the fighter group can travel. The fighter group will go no further, and you won’t have an escort on the way home.

Some missions will be pretty smooth flying, with no Luftwaffe squadrons en route.

Other times, however, you might very well be flying through the thick of things!

Place your bomber tokens of the bomber groups going on this mission on the Mission section of the board, starting at the right-most square (just left to the Escort rectangle box), and placing the rest on the squares behind it. If you have a fighter escort, place the fighter in the Escort box, either High or Low (High negates enemy Out of the Sun tactics, but is more difficult for the fighter to choose its targets).

Still with me? Almost there! You got this!

Now you’re going to roll for Luftwaffe response. Roll a d10 and compare it to the numbers on the German Defense Commander’s “Response” section. A roll of 1-3 is poor response from the Luftwaffe, meaning only two bandits will attack at each stop, and only in the hex you currently occupy. A roll of 10 means the response is All Out, and all bandits from your current hex, and each adjacent hex, will attack (good luck…). Of course, there are two more response levels, but you get the idea. Place the red Response token next to the commander with the appropriate side up, so you can remember what the response is.



With all that done, you’re ready to start your mission. In the words of Han Solo (and Anakin Skywalker), “This is where the fun begins.”

Playing a Mission
Draw an Event card and resolve the top-half (top-half is for target-bound flight, bottom-half is for your return trip) of the card.

Move Mission Counter 1 towards the target, following your numbered arrows. Stop in the first hex you come to.

Perform a formation check if instructed to do so from an Event card, or when a Bomber Group is dispersed.

Next, check for Luftwaffe interception using the Response to determine how many Bandits will attack, and from where. If the response was Average or Poor, then only bandits in your current hex attack. A High or All Out response will have Bandits from all adjacent hexes attacking, up to the limit shown on the German Defense Commander’s card (5 max for High, every last one of ‘em for All Out).

Now you’re going to engage in aerial combat.

Draw bandit counters from the cup/bag/hat/whatever for each squadron that is attacking. Determine bandit interception by rolling a die for your fighter escort (if present). If you can choose, then determine which bandits (two max) will be intercepted by your fighter group. Flak counters always attack bombers. For each bandit not intercepted, roll a die and use the first uncovered box next to your left-most bomber token as a reference for where to place the Bandits. Only two bandits may attack a bomber, so if a third would be placed, re-roll to assign it to a different bomber group.



If your bomber and fighter groups are dubbed as “slow,” or the Out of the Sun tactic is used by the enemy commander, then the Bandits attack first. Roll a d10 for each Bandit attacking a group. The numbers at the top of the Bandit token (i.e. 5/7/9) show what needs to be rolled for a hit. For example, if a bandit has the numbers 5/7/9 on top of the token, and a 5 or 6 is rolled, that Bandit does 1 damage to the bomber group in question. A 7 or 8 result is 2 damages, and a 9 or higher is 3 damage to the bomber group. Easy enough, right?

In order to destroy a Bandit, however, that bomber or fighter group needs to roll a 10 taking all modifiers into account. (The bandits will have a number in blue on the bottom right of the Bandit token. If it is a 1, then it has 1 Durability, meaning you need to roll an 11 instead of a 10 for it to take a hit, etc.. A -1, however, means a 9 will be enough to rid the air of this menace. Commander tactics, dispersed bomber groups, and equipment and technology will all affect this outcome.

This bandit does 1, 2, or 3 damages on a roll of 6, 8, or 10, respectively. It will take 2 turns, and has a Durability of 1, which means your attacking aircraft will need to roll a modified 11 or higher to destroy it.

If you destroy a Bandit, give credit where credit is due and give the successful group one experience on the player log. Then, move the Bandits Destroyed counter up by one.

Some bandits attack more than once (as shown by the number in the white or black box on the right of the token). If the fighter is in the same hex as your mission counter, then use the number in the black box. Otherwise, use the number in the white box. That number dictates how many turns it will attack for. For every Bandit roll, subtract your group’s Durability number (bottom of the group card).

At this point, any Unfit groups return to base (they still receive experience for the mission). Then, all Luftwaffe squadrons that attacked must rearm. Flip the red Luftwaffe Squadron tokens to the other side (with the numbers), and if the Luftwaffe squadron is in your current hex, put the “1” at the top. If the Luftwaffe squadron was in an adjacent hex, put the “3” at the top. This indicates how many turns it will take for that squadron to be ready to attack again.

Now you can move your Mission counter to the next hex towards the target. Once you’re over the target (and all Luftwaffe squadrons have been dealt with), it’s time to unleash your load!

Each Target card will have a “Flak” section, along with numbers reminiscent of those on the bandit tokens (i.e. Flak: 5/8/9 (2 Rolls)). It will say 2 Rolls, or 1 Roll, etc. following the numbers, indicating how many times that flak attack will happen. Do damage the same as you would for Bandits. This time, however, roll for each bomber group (do not roll for fighter groups).

Flak is rolled for each bomber group (not fighter groups), and a result of a 7 or 8 is one damage/loss, and a 9 or higher is 2 damages/losses.  This target needs 11 or more damage to be destroyed.

If your bombers survive the onslaught, it’s time to drop some bombs.

Your bombs will also have numbers on the top of the tokens much like enemy Bandits and the flak you just encountered. Deal damage to the target the same way the enemy did damage to you. Once all your bombers have unleashed their payloads, check and see how much total damage was done. If the number of damage is equal to the lowest number on the damage track (i.e. Dmg: 4/7/11/16), then place the “Light” damage token on it. For values equal to the second number, place the “Medium (reduced)” damage token on it. Place the “Heavy (reduced) token on the Target card if the damage matches the third number. If the number is equal to or exceeds the last number, then the target is destroyed.

Congratulations!

Now it’s time to head home.

Draw another Event card and resolve the bottom half of that card. On your way home, continue fighting off enemy Bandits as you did on your way to the target.

For Luftwaffe squadrons reloading, the number goes down by one after each combat phase, or hex moved if no combat occurs. Once it moves down from 1, flip the token over, indicating that Luftwaffe squadron is once again ready to fight.

When you reach the UK base again, you’re safe and sound and the mission is over.

To debrief, record your stats on the player log. Record group strength (i.e. record each group’s Destroyed/Damaged value), experience (1 experience if a group went on the mission, 2 experience if the target was destroyed), promotions, points for destroyed targets, and the like.

If you have a second mission planned, follow the same steps you took for this first mission.

And there you have it! You have successfully completed your first week. Check to see if your targets get repaired, and then move the Week counter to the next week. If it is not a new month, go back and do another week of missions!

If that is the end of the month, follow the Monthly Sequence in the rule book, which involves evaluating Secondary Missions, adjusting the war fronts, pulling new Luftwaffe squadrons, deploying those squadrons to the various war fronts (i.e. Theaters), and placing the new squadrons on the map. Also, now is the time to activate any German technologies, if available.

Roll a d10 to see if the German Defense Commander gets replaced. Roll a d10 to see if any of your groups get reassigned (if applicable). Remove damage from your groups equal to the number of Monthly Replacement points (as shown on the campaign sheet: 1 point removes 1 damage).

Adjust the Month, Year, Week counters, log everything on your player log, and go again.

If that’s the end of the mission, then tally your points, and give yourself a score based on your points, from Dismal to Great.

Postscript
If that seems like a lot, don’t fret. There is a lot going on, yes, but the steps are rather simple. It’s just a matter of remembering to do everything in the proper sequence. That’s why doing a shorter campaign for your first one is a great idea. For the longer campaigns, I left everything set up on my writing desk in my office with the door closed and locked so my toddler wouldn’t come in and sabotage it while I wasn’t playing, so don’t feel like you need to complete each campaign in one sitting.

Theme and Mechanics:

Each campaign sheet has a brief history of the actual mission. Pretty neat!

The theme of B-17 Flying Fortress Leader is that of World War II, and what a theme it is! Everything about this game is historically accurate, including being able to use certain aircraft only during certain years. The campaigns actually happened, the targets were real, and the unpredictability of air-to-air combat was beautifully translated into a playable tabletop game. I can’t speak enough for the theme and the detail that went into making it shine.

At its core, the main mechanic behind B-17 Flying Fortress Leader is simulation. This is done through card crafting and, chit pulling, and rolling dice. This game is more tactical in nature. Yes, there is luck behind every roll of the dice, but air-to-air combat was anything but accurate during those times. When it comes to bombing targets, most bombs have a few different options for damage, which means even if you didn’t get a direct hit, there’s still a chance of doing at least some damage, which is nice, especially considering dice aren’t always the nicest. Certain tactics as well as promoted bomber and fighter groups can help mitigate the luck of the dice as well, which I appreciate.

Artwork and Components:



The artwork looks like it came from vintage WWII photos, and for all I know, they did. This adds a sense of realism to the game, which helped with my suspension of disbelief as the one in charge of orchestrating the campaigns.

The board is thick and the cardboard tokens and cards are also of sturdy quality. In regards to the myriad tokens in the game, some might think miniatures would be better for this sort of thing. Now, I do love a good miniature, but for this game, miniatures just aren't necessary (although you can upgrade to minis here). The cardboard tokens are perfect for what it is, and I had no problems with their quality or them adversely affecting the game.

The Good:



B-17 Flying Fortress Leader sucked me in from the start. I love the theme. Likewise, the mechanics involved fit the theme so well that I began to wonder if I hadn’t jumped in the TARDIS and went back to the 1940’s to direct the affairs of the air war in Europe.

The sheer variety of playing options, from optional weather and intel to mini-game and Down in Flames cross over (a bit more on that below) ensures this game will never get old.

I’m a fan of games with a solo variant, but this was my first time playing one made specifically for solo players. Designed as such, it didn’t feel gimmicky like some solo-modes do. It was smooth, streamlined, and didn’t leave me wanting for another player.

The history and research that went into this game is deep, and that’s how a good themed game should be. It’s one thing to play a game with a theme pasted on, but it’s a riveting experience to entrench myself into a game and learn things along the way, all while wondering how on earth these pilots in real life managed to pull off half the things I’m attempting to do on a big, cardboard game board.

Last, but certainly not least, the mechanics and gameplay fit so well. I’m still not sure if I was at my table in my house or in a command center deciding how things should play out.

The Bad:
As you may have assumed, I love this game. But, that doesn’t mean it’s flawless.

The first thing I noticed was the sheer length of the rulebook. Diving into it to learn the game wasn’t exactly a simple process. All the information is there, but it was a tad confusing at first. Once I learned how to navigate the pages, learning the game became much easier (along with a few helpful YouTube videos). I feel like the rule book could be laid out a bit better, but again, once I started getting the hang of it, everything began falling into place.

Time is another issue. Board Game Geek gives a time frame of 30-120 minutes. For me, 120 minutes is a little on the short side (at least for my first campaign). The first campaign I played was The Air War Begins, and it took me three nights with seven hours total to play through it. Given, I didn’t mind the time it took, but for some, that might be a turn off. Before you run away, however, I would just like to say that that campaign was one of the lengthier ones, and there are other, far shorter campaigns to play through which are just as wonderful. And, once you get a hang of it, your turns won’t take quite so long. Just like any game, the first game usually takes longer than expected.

This is a small thing, but there are a lot of small tokens, and nowhere to keep them but the bottom of the box. Same with the cards. I solved this problem with 18 ziplock bags to keep various tokens and cards separated so future setups wouldn’t be so time consuming.

Final Thoughts:
I love all things aerial combat, especially around the WWII time period. I’ve read books on the subject, watched documentaries, and have always been enthralled with the missions, tactics, and challenges that came with it. With that in mind, consider my hype when I found out I’d be reviewing this game. I was a little intimidated when I first opened the box and saw the enormity of the game, but once I started playing, I was hooked. B-17 Flying Fortress Leader did not disappoint.

I loved choosing my bomber and fighter groups, deciding which targets were in my best interest and which patch I should take to get there, and then fighting my way to and from the target. Over the target, landing hits was always satisfying, and I felt quite accomplished whenever I destroyed a target, especially ones that are particularly difficult to blow up.

From the various tactics used by both good and bad sides to the event cards and different aircraft available, each game and campaign felt different, and, just like in real life, was full of the unexpected.

The historical nature of the game blew my mind, especially how accurate everything was. Certain types of aircraft couldn’t be used in missions set in years prior to their introduction, certain targets were only available during certain years, and the benefits of destroying the targets coincided nicely in the game the same way it did during the war. Too many fighters to worry about? Take out an aircraft factory so there won’t be as many German reinforcements the next month. Even taking into consideration the other theaters that were going on at the time and having reinforcements send to the Mediterranean or USSR fronts were a nice touch and added even more flavor to the game.

Everything you do in B-17 Flying Fortress Leader matters, and every target destroyed—or left standing—will impact the game.

There are lots of campaigns to play through, a solo bomber variant, and even a mini-game to go along with it. Plus, B-17 Flying Fortress Leader can also be used in a crossover with another one of DVG’s games, Down in Flames. With all the play options and variable setups with aircraft, weather, intel, and the like, I don’t think this game will ever get old for me.

Players Who Like:

If you like solo games, air combat, or the World War II theme, I don’t doubt you will love this game. There is an RPG element as well, what with leveling ships, so those familiar with that may also feel right at home here.


I am giving B-17 Flying Fortress Leader 9 out of 10 super meeples.


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About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He’s a copywriter, social media manager, videographer, freelance blogger, and writer of science fiction and fantasy. When he’s not writing, Benjamin loves to lose himself in the wonderful world of tabletop games, especially those with a rich, engaging theme. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

B-17 Flying Fortress Leader Review B-17 Flying Fortress Leader Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on January 16, 2018 Rating: 5

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