Saturday, 5 April 2014

Hawker vs Richthofen

I have been organising plane statistics for 'Spandau and Lewis' today, as a lot of them were on scraps of paper rather than the nice spreadsheet they deserved. I cheat, of course, and base them on the values given in my copy of GDWs 'Aces High'. That's nearly 100 aircraft, from 1914 through to the end of the war, so I plenty to deal with.

Having done it, I decided to treat myself to a quick game, and decided to set up the classic Hawker vs Richthofen fight of 23rd November 1916. This pits a DH2 against an Albatros DII.

I made Hawker an Ace, but decided that this early Richthofen only rated as Experienced. Their planes are fairly even in 'Spandau and Lewis' terms - both have a Speed of 5 and an Agility of B, but the DH2 takes one less hit; 5 as opposed to the DII's 6. I am also experimenting with a new rule which factors in climb and power in an abstract way; each plane starts with a number of points, which can be traded during the game for extra speed of a bonus to maneuver rolls. Planes with powerful engines or high rates of climb get more points than those that don't. In this scenario the DII had 3 points, whilst the DH2 had only 2. I rated Hawker as a marksman. To simulate this I decided that when he tested for a critical (which in 'Spandau and Lewis' means scoring less than or equal to the number of sixes you rolled for damage) he rolled two dice and selected the lowest. This made it more likely that he'd score a critical, if eligible to do so.

So, Hawker had the edge in experience, but Richthofen had a slight edge in terms of aircraft quality. He also had twin guns, as opposed to Hawker's single Lewis.

On with the game. Here's Hawker:

Richthofen started in a cloud.

The circled around a lot. And that was the problem. With no focus for the fight aside from shooting each other down, there's no incentive to risk closing. With the planes fairly evenly matched, it boils down to the plane without initiative moving to safety, whilst the other one tries to catch it.

Every so often they passed close to each other, and shots were even exchanged.

 Finally Hawker managed to get a position where he had a close-range shot and Richthofen didn't. This was down to the edge he had in pilot skill.

Four dice, needing a 5 or 6 to hit. Any 6 was a potential critical as well ...

As a marksman Hawker rolls two dice and takes the lowest. He's looking to score equal to or less than the number of sixes rolled. That '1' is just what he's after.

A roll of '2' sees Richthofen killed. Victory to Hawker.

The balance was really off in that first scenario, with Hawker really having the edge. So I played it again, increasing Richthofen to Ace status as well. Of course this just made it easier for the planes to evade each other, although they exchanged some head to head shots - always the safest if you can't avoid an exchange of fire, as the deflection modifiers is negative.

The second or third such exchange saw Richthofen score significant damage with his twin Spandaus, plus a critical. This caused bonus damage, and Hawker's plane fell apart in the air. Game over.

One-to-one duels can be played with these rules, but it's hard to make them decisive. At the end of the day you need something to focus the game - an objective or some bombers/two-seaters on a mission. Duels with more planes on each side work better, as it's harder to avoid all of them, but mission based games are far more fun.

The Power rules weren't too cumbersome, and added an extra option. But I need to make sure that they don't unbalance the game too much in favour of certain types of plane.


  1. Hi there. As a fellow WWI air wargame designer i really like the idea of having a power rating in the manner you subscribe - a very central concept with the small engines of the era. Just an observation: The DH-2 has much less power to stay in sustained turns and in the real world duel this was what killed Hawker: Each maneuver drained more speed from his 80hp plane than the similar maneuver did for the 160hp Albatros. In the end Hawker ended up out of altitude, speed and options and tried to run in a straight line. What would happen if you turned the system around so that all climbs and tight turns cost Power Points so that without power points there is a lot of maneuvers that cannot be performed. Points can the be regained by flying one or more turns (based on engine rating) or diving...?

    1. Part of my wanted to do something like that, with a plane's speed draining away. But I didn't want to keep track of turn by turn states like that; the rules have a particular set of design criteria and a lot of stuff that I know was important in air combat of that era has to be heavily abstracted.

      The Power Factor is a small concession; The values are low, so the 'edge' you get it probably only going to happen once or twice in a game; a sharper turn or a burst of speed that the enemy can't match. The idea is to use your advantage wisely. The current incarnation of the Power rules gives the DH2 1 factor and the Albatros 2. In a scenario like this you could say the Hawker has already spent his point, giving the Albatros a 2-0 advantage.

      I could require a Power expenditure to do tight turns, with planes rolling to recover Power at the end of the turn. There are some issues inherent in that which would need to be addressed - firstly the extra set of die rolls each turn (something I wanted to avoid) and secondly the problem that, when not using a grid, a player can turn fractionally less than the Power expenditure threshold in order to avoid it.

  2. I have a lot of respect for having clear design goals and sticking to them. A hard part of making a historical representation. But as you are still tracking the Power status of each individual airplane i do not think it would add much bookkeeping - but it could help to make a larger difference between the different eras of planes and also give some advantages to the energy fighters (SPAD, SE5a, Pfalz at a dive etc) who always seem to underperform in a lot of air games A way of doing it is to make a small dial/dice on the stand and use this to track the energy state. How is the turn rates worked out? If there is enough difference/increments between the different turns then the possibility of hacking by turning very close to the limit for a tight turn would be omitted.

    1. Whilst I am tracking the power status, it does only go down - tracking an expendable resource is easier than one which fluctuates. But the idea of Power going up and down is appealing. I'd certainly avoid a dial, though, as I want to avoid game-specific peripherals as well (another design goal - no particular base designs, flight stands or special markers),

      Aircraft roll for maneuver and may be able to turn Up To 45 Degrees, Up To 90 Degrees or Up To 135 Degrees (rarely Up To 180 Degrees). Obviously if I say that you lose one Power for every 45 degrees you turn, people will turn 44 degrees. In a way that's gamey, but it's also a valid test of the rules and something I'd look at avoiding. Maybe you lose one Power if you turn *over* 45 degrees, two for over 90 degrees and so on, with Power potentially regenerating at the end of the turn.

      However, as I say, at the moment I'm happier tracking it as an expendable resource and keeping an extra layer of bookkeeping and dice-rolling out of the game. For one plane on one games it would be fine, but with several planes per player it would become a nuisance.

  3. I see your point. Having scanned your rules it is obvious that you aim for a set of fast playing rules that still aims to represent central themes in air fighting in that period. And they seem to convey this much better than say Wings of War (which for me more resembles a random Beer and Pretzels guessing game with planes that fly like TIE fighters - with a marked advantage to the planes with a narrow turn circle and not those with a high G-load). But I still think that the very low power output and energy loss is a central part of modelling the period (E.I showing the difference between a 80hp DH-2 and a 160hp Alb. DII. In In Clouds of Glory we use dials and are happy with it, but as this is a design goal to avoid specific peripherals (Easy to get into the game) I understand that you need to go another way.

    I do not think that you should worry about people hacking the to There are several ways to avoid this as i see it; One is to disallow measuring before you move. After the move you measure the angle. Another thing is that people often want to get on the tail whatever the cost. and in that sense energy could become a costly ressource to be managed and one that can only (within the time frame of the game) be recovered by flying straight for a full (or diving if you had altitude rules).


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