Skies Above the Reich

Skies Above the Reich. GMT Games, 2018 Designed by Jerry White and Mark Aasted. 46 wooden plane blocks with stickers, 12 blue wooden altitude blocks, Pilot Roster pad, 2 double-sided mounted game boards (4 maps), two counter sheets, almost 100 poker-sized cards, 3 Player Aids, a 60 page rule book, an Advanced rule book, a Situation Manual, and two d10. 1-2 players, ages 12+. About 30-60 minutes per mission. MSRP $89.

In Skies Above the Reich, a solitaire player commands a squadron (staffel) of German Bf109s struggling to defend Germany against the daylight raids of B-17s from the United States Army Air Force during World War II.

In a campaign of several linked missions in one or more years, you will send your pilots, expert and green, along with other aircraft on loan from other Luftwaffe staffels, against various formations of American B-17s as they rumble across the skies over Europe. Over time, your pilots gain experience and improve, or are shot out of the sky by the deadly “combat box” formation of overlapping fire or by various allied escort aircraft, including Spitfires and P-51s. With each mission, you might gain Victory Points for downing bombers or you might lose pilots and planes. Lose too many pilots or gain too little victory, and you can lose your campaign. Destroy enough bombers and you just might win!

The rules are brilliant. After a brief introduction setting the historical stage, the reader is referred to the first of many charts and tables on the Player Aids. Following the aid step by step, with page references provided if you have questions, you immediately proceed to setting up your first staffel, first campaign, and first mission. Within minutes you are playing the game. Follow along and soon you’re deciding which pilots to send, what angle to attack, and how to maneuver through the formation. Before long you’ve hit the limit of fuel and time and must land whatever planes you have left, while watching the remaining bombers continue on their deadly mission. Following the mission tally, you determine the fate of your pilots who took damage during the fray, and hopefully rack up some experience and victory points.

After stickering the blocks, which are used to show your pilots’ positions and mode (determined or evasive), add counters for attachments (like cannon or armor) and head into battle. Once approach and altitude are determined, barring interference from escorts, your planes maneuver into the bomber formation for their attack run. Assuming no one is forced off track by collisions, attacking is handled by a set of cards, drawn based on approach angle, and the results read based on altitude and lethality of the bomber formation at your position. Damage to the bombers and hits on your fighters are handled by chit draw and dice roll. And when exiting the formation, the B-17s’ gunners force you to draw Continuing Fire cards.

As you might guess, between counters for attachments, hits, and maneuvers, plane blocks can become a bit crowded. The only record of green pilot penalties and “experten” pilot skills is on the Pilot Roster, which makes it difficult when looking at the plane blocks on the map (which look alike except for the pilots’ names) to tell who has what special ability and whether or not it’s been used yet this mission.

The Advanced rule book includes rules for two players, where each player commands their own half of the staffel. While cooperative in that you can work together for your advantage, ultimately you’re trying to have a better record than your mission partner. Also included are rules for pursuing “fallen” bombers, so if you force a bomber out of the formation, but don’t destroy it, you can pursue it to see if you can finish the job.

If you’re a fan of solitaire wargames like B-17 Queen of the Skies or Target for Today, you will definitely want to check out Skies Above the Reich. Thanks to the rule book and player aid design, you’ll be flying high in no time. And with many campaigning seasons providing different bomber formations, aircraft, and attachments, as well as a randomized situational setup, there is a lot of replay value in this package. Highly recommended.

 This review was written based on a privately purchased copy. No compensation was involved. c2018 by Richard A. Edwards

Aventuria: Adventure Card Game

Aventuria : Adventure Card Game. Ulisses Spiele, 2017 (English edition). Designed by Michael Palm and Lukas Zach. 4 Heroes, each with 1 Hero and 1 Skill card, 30 Action cards, a Life Point counter, and a Hero marker; 1 Starting Hero token, 4 6-sided and 4 20-sided dice; 50 Henchmen, 29 Adventure, 14 Reward, and 29 special cards; 1 pad of Hero documents, 70+ tokens (Life, Adventure, Time, and Doom), and a 24-page Rules and Adventure book. 1-4 players (1-6 possible with expansions). Ages 14+. About 1 hour per Act.

In Aventuria each player assumes the role of a hero, represented by a 30 Action card deck and a Hero card. The four core heroes include: Arbosh the dwarven smith, Layariel the elven scout, Carolan the half-elven rogue, and Mirhiban the Tulamydian mage. The Heroes’ cards represent weapons, spells, armor, equipment, talents, and advantages that can be used in combat to defeat opponents.

Each Hero is very different, for example Arbosh the Dwarf blacksmith has a lot of armor, where Carolan the Rogue has less armor but a much better chance to Dodge. Cards are thematic and allow Heroes to excel in their differing areas of expertise. For example, Arbosh’s Ox-Herd weapon (a multiple headed flail) does huge damage, but subtracts from close combat skill due to its difficulty to handle. To use it effectively, it would be wise for Arbosh to improve his close combat skill by using his Talent “Warfare” first.

The game comes with 4 pre-built decks, one for each hero, making it quick and easy to get started right out of the box. There are also build-your-own-deck rules if you wish to experiment with other possibilities. The cards are black edged, so be prepared to sleeve your decks or see the edges quickly show chipping.

The rules are very well organized and clear. Action cards might be black or red bordered, being “permanent” (staying in play) or “one-off” (having an effect then discarded); and are either played during your turn (white circle with black number for cost) or as a “Free Action” (black circle with white number for cost) during someone else’s turn. Every card has specific iconography and text that defines how the card is used. In a world of confusing card play, the clarity in Aventuria is amazing.

Dice introduce the element of chance, with a 20-sided die being used to roll “tests”, including combat, where you roll the die against your Hero’s numeric skill; equal to or less than succeeding, greater than failing. Damage is done using the 6-sided dice. The system includes Critical Successes (on a 1, draw a card) and Critical Failures (on a 20, discard a random card).

The luck element can be mitigated by several means. Players can improve their chances by increasing their Heroes’ skill levels, playing cards that gain modifiers, or cards that allow rerolls. Whenever an attack roll fails, players gain a Fate Point which can be turned in on a later test for a reroll, or to draw a card, or to gain an “Endurance” (the game’s resources used to purchased cards and activate effects).
The game provides two modes of play: the Duel (PvP) and Adventure (Solo and Cooperative).

Players are encouraged to play the Duel mode first to learn how the combat game plays, and their hero’s specific cards work. In Duel mode, the opponents are other players in either a one-on-one combat or team melee to the last man standing.

Every hero’s deck is very different and play styles feel thematic and unique. And yet, they also seem fairly balanced. During the Duel, players attack each other, performing up to 1 Ranged, Close, and Magic attack per turn, until there is only one Hero remaining.

But before a Hero can do anything, he must have Endurance. At the start of their turn, after drawing 2 cards, you can play 0-2 cards from your hand face down to become part of your Endurance pool. Endurance cards and then exhausted to pay the cost to place cards from your hand into play or activate effects on cards in play.

This system requires players to make some really hard choices. Do you keep that Ox-Herd major weapon in your hand or put it face down as Endurance? At a cost of 9, it will be many rounds become you can afford to play it, so maybe it’s better to keep cards you can pay for now and put Ox-Herd down as Endurance, but if it’s later in the game and your Endurance pool is large, it’s probably better to keep it instead. And then of course there are also cards that can allow you to draw back a card you previously placed in Endurance. Hard choices you have to make every turn.

The Combat system really shines. Every turn your Hero will be able to attack since even her starting card has a basic attack on it. However, most attacks have an Endurance cost to invoke. So you have to decide between cards that are all important while you have just a limited budget of Endurance cards to pay for them plus any effects from cards in play.

Do you use your Endurance to play a card raising a skill? Or a new weapon? Or armor? Or a special effect? Or to cast a spell? Or to heal? Or do you keep some Endurance so you can play one-off defensive cards during your opponent’s turn? Or… Your decisions will define your Hero and ultimately how the game plays out.

Once you’ve played a few Duels and come to understand the game play and what cards are in your Hero’s deck, you’re ready for an Adventure!

In the Adventure mode, having selected heroes, you start off by reading a few paragraphs that both outline the story and provide several challenges, whose results will define some of the parameters for your upcoming combat.

Each Adventure is divided into Acts, either 1 Act “short” Adventures, or full Adventures of 3 Acts. Each Act includes the narrative tests plus setup instructions for using Henchmen and Leader cards, as well as specialized adventure cards, to challenge the heroes who must band together cooperatively to defeat them.

Once setup, you return to the game’s Combat system, only this time your opponents are the enemies the Adventure sets before you. In an Adventure, not only do you have the choices about how to spend your Endurance in Combat, but you also often have other Adventure-related effects that require Endurance in order to advance your quest. Another call on your limited resources, requiring judgement as to how best to balance it all in order to win.

The Time Scale cards provide four levels of difficult and act as a timer to various effects that will challenge players the longer they take. The Henchmen and Leader cards have personalized charts on each card that randomize what that opponent will do on their turn, ensuring that you’ll never quite know what the enemy is going to do on their turn. While you might know you’re facing Pirates, you may be surprised when Hook Joe shows up and does his special “Hook Swing” attack!

After each Act and Adventure, the game includes a system of experience points and reward cards that allow heroes to advance and are recorded on the Hero document sheets. However, there is no larger campaign , and no rules for linking Adventures, beyond playing one Adventure after another as you choose. Probably best to increase the Difficulty level for experienced Heroes, but again there are no rules guiding this.

The core set only includes one 1-Act and one 3-Act Adventures. Since the Henchmen decks are built and randomized for each Act, there is some replay ability, but ultimately new Adventures will be needed. Luckily, there are several expansions planned. And the core game does include “Chance Encounter”, which allows you to create randomized games from your Henchmen pool with four levels of difficulty.

While the Combat system shines, the Adventures feel a little lacking. The Combats with the Leaders and Henchmen are entertaining, but the overall feeling of involvement in an epic quest seems secondary. Players cannot really affect the stories. There is one, linear path to victory, and while the mechanics to achieve it may vary, player choices cannot really alter the path.

I find myself wishing for more engaging Adventures, with alternative paths through the Adventures and the Acts, such that the narrative guides player choices that then define the story that unfolds rather than just modifies the set challenges in minor ways. Using narrative to present multiple choices where player decisions alter the flow of the game causes players to become more invested in the story. Play should affect how the story unfolds, not just the story unfolding affecting play.

In summary, if you enjoy fantasy adventure games, solo, head to head, or cooperative, where your role is a single hero represented by a card deck, this is a must have game. The Heroes and their cards (pre-built or self-built decks) are awesome and thematic. The Combat plays fast with constant, tense decisions. The Adventures provide a framework for variable Combats with interesting Henchmen and Leaders that will entertain as well as challenge. With more heroes and Adventures coming in expansions, Aventuria will only get even more spectacular.

This review was written based on a privately purchased Kickstarter copy. No compensation was involved.
c2017 by Richard A. Edwards