14th Nov2018

‘Battle of Britain’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

battle-britain-box

Although the size of the box, hundreds of different cards and the imposing looking plastic airplanes that reside within the Battle of Britain box might make you feel as if this were going to be a heavyweight, complex war game, PSC Games updated version of Richard Berg’s 1990 classic is surprisingly accessible, very fast paced and delightfully exciting. I never played the original, but this revised version unfolds on the table at a vast scale, with its map of Britain and various player boards used to control each flight of planes taking centre stage.

Upon setting up Battle of Britain I was immediately reminded of the typical war room model that you’ll see in classic WWII movies from the sixties and seventies. The board is a huge six leaf fold out that is clear, detailed and attractive. I get the impression that Battle of Britain could have worked at a smaller scale, but someone decided that it was just so much more impressive to leave it as it is – if that is what happened, then I’m glad they did. The main board is flanked by a dashboard for each of the four British and three German squadron groups, as well as a further board that smartly demonstrates British production capability, which will be steadily reduced by German bombing as the game goes on.

On each of the flights you’ll see stacks of small, rectangular cards, each of which features an aeroplane. The first, interesting thing I noticed about Battle of Britain aside from its awesome table presence was how it handles the makeup of each flight, which is super simple. Every flight dashboard has its own colour coded deck, which will be placed down on a combat ready box. Six planes are dealt onto each of the German flights and three are dealt onto each of the British flights, and there are two to four flights per squadron group. This introduces an interesting twist – neither player is in control of the planes that they’ll be sending out, it’s more a case of using what you have to best effect.

As you expand your view and take in the other features of Battle of Britain, you’ll notice other subtle and interesting features that I think do a good job of tying the mechanical elements into the theme. The German’s have more planes, clearly, but you’ll also notice that German squadron group cards don’t have a “damaged” box on them – if a German plane goes down, or if it can’t reach home due to a lack of fuel, it simply won’t make it. The British, on the other hand, can place their downed planes onto a damaged box to be recovered later – but only upon a successful die roll, which is turn linked to the production track. This is where things really get interesting, since the British production track will become progressively weaker as the German flights bomb British cities.

On the subject of die rolls, Battle of Britain features a lot of them. When it comes to the intercept missions and dogfights that the British can use to defend themselves against the Luftwaffe, dice dictate the outcome. The success of bombing runs for the Germans and the return of their planes after a mission (due to fuel, flying off course etc) are also affected by dice rolls, all of which add to the feeling that Battle of Britain is on the lighter side of the wargaming complexity scale. I feel as if other, similar games might look to reduce the amount of rolling, but in doing so they would likely increase complexity quite a bit.

Where Battle of Britain adds some strategic depth (or at least a veneer of it) is in determining how many dice the players roll. In particular, this is important for different kinds of combat. The British player has the ability to perform intercept missions when German planes reach their radar line, whilst in other circumstances, a gritter dogfight action will be needed. There’s also anti-aircraft fire to take into account. Whilst each of these combat scenarios comes with its own specific rules and quirks, the bottom line is that the two players will each be rolling a handful (sometimes even recording results and rolling again) based on the strength of the units in the battle. The German player wants to see British roundels and the British player will be looking out for iron crosses.

The actual amount of dice being rolled will usually depend on the makeup of planes that are in a particular flight. Some planes are good at bombing but awful in aerial combat, whilst others, as you can imagine, are the opposite. Since players have little to no control over what planes enter each fight (and they certainly won’t know what the other player has) there is always an air of excitement before a battle. The good thing about how Battle of Britain‘s combat works (with mass rolling of dice based on combined strength of a flight) the best equipped side will usually win. That said, it is sometimes possible for a lone German bomber to break through the British lines and deliver its payload, or vice versa, a lone Spitfire could break the back of a much larger enemy force.

I always talk about how the best board games are those which tell stories, usually based on a combination of the thematic elements and the actual on board play. I think Battle of Britain is one of those games and whilst it might be considered a bit simple for some, it has an impressive presence on the table and a real ability to create situations that get the players talking. I even found on one occasion that it made for an interesting spectator sport, where a third party watched, commented and really felt invested in the action over the course of a couple of hours. This might be something unique among my group of friends, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In terms of game length, Battle of Britain has a few different setup options that allow for short, long or a sort of campaign style of play. At its most pure, I felt that the short campaign offered the best experience since it still weighed in at around two hours and by the end of most games I played, the players were ready to move onto something else. I could imagine that the campaign would play better than the longer game for similar reasons (since a series of short games would have the same benefit as a single short game, with the added appeal of more thematic relevance.) Sadly, I haven’t actually had chance to play a campaign game yet.

Overall, given the generally excellent components (I wish the plane cards were square, but that’s a minor thing) and the versatility of Battle of Britain, it is an excellent addition to most wargaming shelves, or as a first wargame. It is a very accessible game that can be learned in an evening and it has rules and a structure that makes sense, especially when you look down and see the different squadron boards and the damage and production board. It’s almost a game that you can work out without reading the manual, which I should say is probably a bit elaborate – it makes the game seem more complicated than it is. Battle of Britain is a fast playing, exciting game that feels like an authentic recreation. Highly recommended.

**** 4/5

A copy of Battle of Britain was provided for review by PSC Games.

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