By Michael Koznarsky
Night Fighter Ace is a boardgame by Compass Games that recreates German WWII night fighters intercepting British bombers over the Reich from August 1943 until 1943. It is designed as a solo game but we decided to get as many of our local gamers together to see if we could do this via Discord or Zoom online due to the risks of getting together during COVID. The potential players included Chris Bauermeister, Gary Griess, Bruce Meyer, Dale Mickel, Scott Murphy, Mark Waddington and Scott Williams. Players could choose to join the game when convenient for them so the game but their participation was not essential so the game could progress at a steady pace (I had run an American Civil War game for 7 players that ran from March through September which had several delays because players were tardy with their orders). After 2 playtest sessions we decided Zoom was the best platform to use and would allow several players who are sheltering in place due to health reasons the opportunity to game and socialize with friends. While it is nice to watch your friends do well, it is also nice to share the misery when things go bad in the game. I will only briefly touch on aspects of the game here – please go to Compass Games, BoardGameGeek or YouTube to watch videos, read/ask questions on a Forum and check out the game. For instance, I found an awesome Excel spreadsheet on BGG that allows me to more easily document the gameplay. In the short time we have played, we are having a blast! All photos/pictures from the game were posted with the permission of Bill Thomas, President/Owner of Compass Games – thanks!
Last night the Nachtjäger 5 fighter squadron, based out of Berlin, took off to defend the skies over the Fatherland. Pilot cadets Bauermeister, Meyer and Williams were not available for the missions for various reasons, to include a last-minute flight physical. Pilot cadet Waddington has been assigned administrative duties for the time being, at his request. The August night skies over Frankfurt, the first mission, were poor (-1 to landing) and the moon phase “dark” (-1 to interception/spotting) as Leutnant Griess and Unterfelwebels Koznarsky, Mickel and Murphy sortied to intercept the British bombers. [Adjutant: Officers start with 1 experience point, Enlisted with 2. Officers get Prestige Points when promoted, Enlisted do not.]
Flying Bf 110 F-4 models in August 1943 proved to be problematic for the rookie pilots as the lack of night radar systems significantly hampered their spotting abilities. One pilot got lost and missed the opportunity to spot bombers. [Adjutant: there are up to 5 zones in which to spot the bombers. Flying out of Berlin, Frankfurt is 3 zones away so “missing” the bombers in that zone moves the fighter 1 zone closer to the square where he must land, an unfortunate event.] It was only until the final zone that Ufw Murphy spotted a Wellington but could not bring her down. A disappointing start for the squadron.
The second mission that week was to defend Berlin, allowing all pilots the ability to intercept bombers in all 5 target zones. Good weather and no interference from a dark moon did not prove to enhance the squadron’s luck until Ufw Murphy caught a Halifax in the last possible zone – “Pauke! Pauke!” (Kettledrums! Kettledrums! = “I am attacking!”) – and, in two passes, knocked out the bomber’s wing, causing it to crash. His plane took minor damage that did not cause him to lose any flying time. Our squadron’s first kill was celebrated with a ceremony in which Ufw Murphy received the Iron Cross, 2nd Class. Horrido! (Victory!)
A bright moon and good weather welcomed the squadron to the night skies over Frankfurt again and the results were better than the 2 previous missions combined! Lt Griess blew the wing off a Halifax and both Ufws Koznarsky and Murphy bagged Wellingtons. Ufw Murphy’s plane took more damage but he was able to scrounge the parts to make his Bf 110 sky-worthy for the next mission and Lt Griess’ plane sustained severe damage and had to be written off but this was offset as both Griess and Koznarsky were awarded the IC, 2nd Class and Murphy the Iron Cross, 1st Class for downing his second bomber.
Disaster hit the squadron during the best hunting week of the month (full moon +2 and bright moon +1 to interception) as the skies over central Europe were heavy with fog, clouds and rain resulting in the airfields being “socked in”. The aircrews did their best to keep their spirits up during this period.
The ability to keep morale high was put to the test over the next two weeks as the moon waned in the skies. Even good weather did not help as only a lone Stirling was spotted over the cities of Berlin and Bremen and that was lost when all of Lt Giess’ guns jammed. Such bad luck!
Good weather and a dark moon greeted the pilots on the final mission of the month. Only 10s on a D10 would catch a target in these skies and, to their surprise, this occurred 3 times in the Berlin skies with Ufws Koznarsky (2) and Murphy (3) each bagging a Halifax H2s. Murphy’s Bf 110 was hit several times during a pass on a second Halifax resulting in the loss of his controls, causing the Bordschütze (rear gunner) and pilot to bail out. The gunner received a light wound (his second!) but Murphy landed unscathed. The bad news is that he would have to miss a mission working his way back to base; the good news is that he could get a free upgrade to the newest model Bf 110 for free and limited by his Prestige. [Adjutant: pilots earn “Prestige” points for many things like shooting down planes or surviving a wound. The total number of Prestige is described as the “Prestige Level” which does not change. Better planes become available to pilots as they gain prestige – why would the Luftwaffe place a rookie pilot in a great plane? Pilots must earn these privileges. Prestige is also calculated in “Points” which allow pilots to upgrade planes, switch plane classes, e.g. from a Messerschmitt to a Junkers, switch bases, etc.] Ufw Murphy chose to upgrade to the BF 110 G-4/U5 for free as did Ufw Koznarsky (spending 1 Prestige Point) primarily for its radar array of Lichtenstein C-1 radar (+1 to intercept) and Blind Approach Receiver (-1 to landing), even though the forward firing array is much less than the F-4 model. Then again, you cannot shoot them if you cannot see them! The month ended with every pilot gaining 6 experience points. [Adjutant: Experience Points are gained for completing missions. These can be saved and later “spent” to gain new skills like improved gunnery, electronics, navigation, landing skills, etc. to make their plane/crew better, more deadly and more survivable in the night skies.]
September saw only pilots Griess, Koznarsky and Mickel enter the skies above Berlin on a dark (-1) night. The additional radar paid immediate dividends as Koznarsky (4) spotted and downed two large 4 engine bombers – a Halifax was downed by Schräge Musik (“Jazz Music” or weapons that fired upwards into the wings of a bomber) as the fuel tank caught fire and the crew bailed out and a Sterling suffered a “DE” or destroyed. We all called it a night at this point (total gaming time was about 2hrs) as it was 2300 in Indiana and 2000 in Washington state. The squadron tally to date is: 8 kills, a rather underwhelming result. The Reich Air Ministry was not impressed and would keep a close eye on this new unit, hoping for better results in the coming weeks. Personally, I was extremely pleased as, during the two playtests we did to see if we could do this online, I died twice – once in a crash landing and once when my fuel tanks exploded.