Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why I'm Enjoying B-29

I've posted some pretty harsh comments about The Kaiser's Pirates, especially the solitaire version, recently. I found the solitaire game to have few decision points and a ton of running the AI, and didn't even make it through an entire game.

So why is it that I'm playing and enjoying B-29, which arguably has one decision point that runs through the entire game - when do you say "this mission is a bogey" and abort? The entire game is running the AI for all practical purposes.

After playing my fourth mission with an online wing (we play simultaneously using the same weather profile, and our results affect the overall success of the campaign, but that's about it for being a "group" game), I think I know why. B-29 tells a very compelling story where you name all of your crew and your aircraft, and when things go horribly, horribly wrong, you get a little sad that these fictitious airmen met their doom.

In my first three missions with the wing, I didn't lose a single plane or crew, and hit the target every time. My fourth mission was no different with the exception that I had no auxiliary fuel tanks and was flying 12 zones out from base. That meant that if everything went according to plan, and no major course corrections or avoiding bad weather, that I'd get home with three fuel points remaining, and you need to have one available just to enter the zone.

Just before flying over Iwo Jima (which we are playing cannot be used as an emergency airbase) on my outbound leg, I got off course for one zone, but had to make a significant course correction. I had also been given a full load of gunners along as "observers", and I used up an extra fuel on takeoff because of them. That meant I was at that very moment going to land on fumes, but I figured that if I lost another fuel before getting to Japan I could always abort then and make it back. However, at the time I thought I had one to give because I figured you didn't need to have that extra fuel to move into the next zone, just once you got there.

Of course, I got lost just before going over target, and lost another fuel box that I couldn't lose right as I went over target. At this point, I was screwed because I wasn't going to make it back, but because I didn't understand the rules I figured I might as well bomb the target. This meant spending an extra fuel turning around after the bomb run rather than just dumping and running. I did manage to nail the target (80%, a very good number even for an Urban Area), and saw no flak and no enemy fighters.

I watched two more fuel disappear due to course corrections on the inbound let, and I knew I'd be ditching. It also meant I'd be a ways away from Tinian rather than up close where your odds of survival improve, and Iwo wasn't an option. As I tried to move from Zone 4 to Zone 3, I knew I was going to ditch just by looking at the drms on the table, and when I rolled for very rough seas I knew I was in serious trouble. The aircraft wrecked on landing, and half my crew died instantly, the rest split between serious and light wounds. It didn't matter, though, as every single one died before being rescued. The whole crew.

The crazy thing is that I think I've lost one fuel to being off course in three previous missions, and in this one I lost four, then had a string of terrible die rolls as I tried to ditch. I felt like I'd let my crew down by not understanding the process, figuring I'd learn it as I went. At least I had *some* inkling of the risks, but even that one extra fuel I could have saved by aborting at the last minute wouldn't have mattered. I also had my first Random Event in four missions, the thing that usually wipes you out (aside from a good hit on your plane by flak or a fighter), but because I was flying at Low altitude it didn't hurt me at all. Just bad rolls four out of five times I went off course and got back on.

In contrast, TKP felt remarkably like I was playing a card game with a war theme. There was no sense of being on a German commerce raider or warship, as both sides have them. There was no sense that I was even German, as I played attacks on the Germans as much as the AI did. In the end, it was an exercise in running a system, while every other solitaire wargame I have feels like you're in a movie. Ambush!, Patton's Best, RAF, Fields of Fire, they all do a varying job of making you feel like you are, in a very abstract and detached in a good way sense, there. TKP did no such thing other than being a very long game of Klondike with warship pictures on the cards and less to do.

I guess I'm a little insulted that this game was published (twice!) and sold as having a valid solitaire variant. I guess I also assumed that GMT had learned that (Battlelines aside) they aren't a euro-game publisher and shouldn't be, although I knew they'd published the PTO version of Atlantic Storm, which I had the same reaction to (but of course it had no solitaire variant).

Oh well.

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