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