Enemy Coast Ahead by GMT is a solitaire only game that was designed by Jeremy White in 2014. I’ve always been a fan of old war films, especially those involving planes. Some of my favourites are The Battle of Britain, 633 Squadron, Memphis Belle, and of course The Dambusters. ECA is The Dambusters [Operation Chastise] in a box.
The components for this game are the now famously high quality of GMT Games, and at some point in the near future I’ll upload a video of looking at everything in the box. One thing I will note was that at first I was concerned about the dark and often grey scale nature of the map, and it’s readability. But having sat down for a few hours and played out the game it really wasn’t an issue. If anything, I actually really liked the aesthetic of the map because it conveyed the night time aspect of the raid, and it also threw back to the old black and white film. Counters, as always are highly functional, and the bombers are big and beautiful oversized counters.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Like a lot of solitaire games there’s a decent amount of charts and tables to consult after rolling dice, as well as chit pulling. However I felt like this game was much less random than other’s I have played. The game really shines through scenario 10 [the full campaign, start to finish]. In this scenario you train your crews, and they grow as they succeed. The bonuses and abilities they pick up are as a result of things you did, and these are used to mitigate some of the randomness of the die rolls. The dam approach altitude and speed chit pulling is an extremely elegant design. You pull a number of chits according to your training and experience rating, and keep the best ones. These in turn are cashed in during the bomb release phase to give you the best odds of hitting the target. The die rolls for nightfighters, flak and other defenses can once again be mitigated by making very tough sacrifices, and every decision has direct impacts on the flow of the operation and the livelihood of your crewmen.
All the training and recon that you do, all the preparation and story that develops through getting to know your flight crews, really make this game engaging. I’m one who names all of the pilots and I even broke with historical accuracy and nicknamed the bombers. [They didn’t have time to as the modified AVRO Lancasters came in so late!]. Everything you can do to make the game more personal will add so much more to what is an extremely well designed and nuanced game. Lining up bombing runs and organizing circling flights is both tactical and very fun.
The more I play this game, the more I find in it. Every flak roll, every visibility roll, every chit pull, reveals more and more about the thought, research and care that went into the design of this game. I’m pretty much sold on Jeremy White’s follow up Enemy Coast Ahead – The Doolittle Raid, purely based on the merits of The Dambusters. The player aid cards are well laid out and invaluable to newer players. You can pretty much just pick up and play the introductory scenarios from the cards and use the rule book as a reference, instead of reading the whole book and then going for it. Dive right it! This is something that GMT has clearly focused on with their games, making them less intimidating [it’s a big rule book] and much more accessible. For those with the time and space, this game is well worth the investment because it tells not a random narrative, but one that the player has a lot of input in and therefore feels very much more rewarding than other solo games.