The gameplay in Bomber Command

Bomber Command is, like Downtown and The Burning Blue, a game that focusses on the progress of an individual air raid. The interactions are between raiding aircraft, defending aircraft and ground defences.

The Environment
The map scale is 50 mile hexes. The hexes are large, two inches across so that from the Dutch coast to Berlin is just ten hexes. Game turns are 25-30 minutes long, so that raids and fighters travel two hexes a turn. A deep raid against the Big City will be there and back in around 12-13 turns (playing time is usually around 2h30 from set-up to pack-up).

Though these are battles are fought in darkness, visibility is still critical. On a night with good visibility bombers are easy to find and shoot down. By this late stage of the war the bombers rarely flew under the glare of the moon, but moonrise, moonset and the onset of twilight may interfere with the British player's plan.

Weather is a help and a hindrance to the raiders. Poor weather keeps fighters grounded or provides cloud cover for bombers. But it also makes accurate bombing difficult, forcing the British player to employ skymarking (Wanganui marking) that may fall way off-target. Good weather improves bombing accuracy but gives no protection to a raid.

ILLUSTRATION: A portion of 'Happy Valley'--the Ruhr, with its band of red flak icons. The dark portion represents the permanent industrial haze over the Ruhr that so hindered British bombing. A 5/8" fighter counter is stacked on radio beacon 'Rattler', waiting for a passing raid to infiltrate. The square city icons contain information on the city flak, size, radar profile and whether it is in range of the British OBOE radio bombing system.

British Raids
British raids are all about deception and misdirection. His aim is to bomb a major German city but confuse his German opponent as to the target.

The British player controls a main raid force. This is a great bomber stream, three hexes long, snaking across the map. Some 550 or so bombers headed towards the heart of the Reich.

The British player also operates forces of Mosquitos. These usually fly with the bomber stream, invisible to the German player until they break out en route to bomb cities near the path of the raid. The Mosquito attacks fake the German player out, sowing confusion as to the actual target of the raid.

On the periphery of the fight Bomber Command mounts 'Gardening' raids--sea mining efforts along the coastline of Europe. These might tempt German fighters away from the main force.

ILLUSTRATION: A British bomber stream tries to snake its way through the gap between the Ruhr and Bremen flak. Tame Boar fighters on radio beacons will try to infiltrate the stream this turn.

German Defences
The backbone of the German player's defence is the nightfighter force. Fighter units are Gruppe or detachment strength. They are divided into twin-engined units, equipped with the best navigation equipment and radar, and single-engined fighters with minimal electronics.

The German player can employ his fighters in three ways:

Himmelbett. Twin-Engined fighters can occupy the Himmelbett boxes, a line of ground control intercept zones running from Denmark to France. Fighters deployed here are the first line of defence against the raid.

Wild Boar. Twin-Engined and Single-Engined fighters can employ Wild Boar tactics. The German player deploys the fighters over cities where they fight visually with the aid of searchlights. If the German player guesses the target accurately he can set up a deadly trap over the city. But if the British deception plan works well, the German may find himself dispersing his Wild Boars across several cities.

Tame Boar. The final fighting method is the trickiest to pull off but potentially the most profitable. Twin-Engined fighters can use Tame Boar tactics. They stack on radio beacons and try to infiltrate passing raids. Once infiltrated into the bomber stream they fly amongst the British bombers, finding and shooting down terrorflieger until they break off from ammo or fuel shortage.

The German player also has formidable flak defences that can destroy bombers and deter accurate bombing. A city's flak can usually be bypassed (unless, of course, it is the target of an attack). However, broad belts of flak exist around areas such as the Ruhr and the mouth of the Elbe River, channelling raids into narrow gaps between them.

Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence
The German player's biggest problem is finding the raid and identifying its intended target. Sometimes his warning and tracking systems fail to fix the raid's location or course. And even when they do the sudden appearance of Mosquitoes throws everything into confusion. The German player must discern the air picture from the muddle of information.

Understanding when and where the raid is coming is key. Once scrambled the German fighters have limited fuel. The single-engined aircraft in particular have a tiny amount of endurance. And as the fighters have no more speed than the raid their ability to land, refuel and cycle back into the fight is limited.

The game covers the period from summer 1943 onwards when Britain's electronic battle against German radar and radio reached the heights of sophistication. A card deck is used to recreate an impression of this high frequency war. The British player plays cards to jam German radar and communications nodes while his opponent responds with countermeasures. The ability of the British player to spoof the German degrades over time and as a raid progresses it becomes easier to track.

ILLUSTRATION: A pair of playtest cards. CORONA JAMMING represents the British attempt to jam the Luftwaffe radio channels with insults and junk noise. ANNEMARIE was the German armed forces entertainment network, used to transmit the rough locations of enemy raids via a code based on music genres. It was eventually countered by the DARTBOARD jamming transmitter

The object of a raid is to bomb a city. Here, the British player follows procedures similar to those used in history. On a map of the city he must first mark the target with Target Indicators (TIs). Then a concentration HE and incendiaries, the mix determined by the player, is laid down on the target. This may creep back along the line of the raid's approach.

If all goes well a solid concentration is laid on the aimpoint. If it all goes wrong the concentration might fall in the countryside, leaving a scattering of bombs and incendiaries across the city. Concentrations, influenced by cards for master bombers, offset bombing and decoys, will start conflagrations. In extreme circumstances a firestorm might begin.

ILLUSTRATION: An attempt to use Newhaven marking goes astray, though the bombing creeps back over the city centre target and fires are started. Most of the HE bombs and incendiaries fall uselessly in fields.

End Game
As the fires take hold on the target the main raid force swings home, harried by whatever Tame Boars still have fuel left. Fighters straggle home and must risk the perils of landing at night. There might easily be as many or more casualties from landing accidents than fall to the bombers' defensive guns. Again, weather plays a big part, where fog might force fighters to divert to unfamiliar airstrips.

The main raids arrive back in England, hoping the Germans haven't launched intruder fighters to catch them over their airfields while they burn their navigation lights. Maybe a few more bombers are lost on landing, a couple more crews absent from the breakfast table...

Note: All the above is playtest graphics, of course. The intention is the components will look really sweet on the day of publication.

Bomber Command can be ordered from GMT here: