Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 is the second volume of GMT’s exciting Wing Leader game series, which started with Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942. Wing Leader allows you to play out large-scale aerial combats in World War II.
Based on a unique side-scrolling view, Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 lets you recreate the climactic air battles at the end of the war. Scenarios feature fights above the Reich, Normandy, Italy, Romania, the Eastern Front, and the Pacific. Players fly squadrons and flights, attempting to intercept raids or fend off marauding fighters in fast-playing games that take between 90 and 120 minutes. Rules cover late war armaments such as air-to-air rockets and jet aircraft.
Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 is a stand-alone game and features more aircraft, more squadrons, and more battles. When combined with its sister game, Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942, this second volume creates an experience that spans the entire war.
I reached out to Lee and asked him if he would be willing to share with us some of the game’s secrets. I have enjoyed Lee’s other games including Bomber Command The Night Raids 1943-1945 and look forward to Supremacy. On with the interview:
Grant: To what do you attribute the success of Wing Leader: Victories?
Lee: Has it been successful? I’m never sure of these things. I imagine that if it has been a success it’s because the game is short. People seem to prefer bite-sized game experiences these days, and Wing Leader has the virtue of being a weighty wargame with scenarios short enough to be played under two hours.
Grant: What has evolved in Wing Leader: Supremacy from its original?
Lee: I’ve tried to keep the changes to a minimum. Most of them are clarifications and cleanups of the existing rules. Others, such as changes to Lufberys, tallying and bomber behaviour, are tweaks. It was important that this second volume was both the definitive rules set, and was completely backwards-compatible with the first game. These rules are version 2.0. Though we might get a version 2.1 to clean up any typos or other minor issues, I don’t want there to be a version 3.0.
Grant: What makes Supremacy its own experience? How did you account for the change in tactics from the early air war to the late?
Lee: Much of this is expressed in the scenarios, particularly those focused on the daylight bombing raids over the Reich. Unlike the first game, we see the Luftwaffe aircraft forced to fight at the limits of their performance. We also see the advantages the Western Allies possessed in numbers, kit and aircrew quality. Instead of fighting at any kind of parity, the Axis are always on the back foot, or have to rely on massing where the Allies are weak. The exception is the Eastern Front where the Soviets like to bring fights down to low altitude where they can fight at better odds.
Grant: How much has feedback from players pushed you to improve the game? Can you give any specific examples?
Lee: There’s been lots of player feedback. Some of the ‘superfans’ came on board the test team and have been instrumental in kicking the second game into shape. They asked awkward questions and prodded me into re-examining many of the rules. The fighter-bomber rules, for example, needed a redrafting, and there were all sorts of wrinkles that came out in the test of fighter-bomber scenarios. The superfan testers harried me on this unto the gates of Hell.
Grant: What are some of the new aircraft used and can you spoil an aircraft data card for us?
Lee: There’s pretty much everything you’d expect a late war game to have. Late-era Focke-Wulfs and Bf 109s. Late-model Spitfires, Mustangs, Thunderbolts, Fortresses, Liberators, the lot. Because of space considerations, I don’t have quite as many Soviet aircraft as I’d like, and some will have to wait for a future expansion. But I got the essentials in there. I even managed to shoehorn in the Romanian IAR. 81, which almost never appears in air combat games. There were a few tough choices to make, though. So I have Imperial Navy Jacks but not Army Tojos. I have early-model Ki-61’s but not the late-model bomber-killers.
Here’s an ADC for you, for the definitive version of the P-51 Mustang. It has all the toys.
Grant: Speed and power! Wow. What major changes have come to the rules of the game? Were you afraid that changes would ruin the system or change it so much that it was unrecognizable?
Lee: I wanted to avoid those situations where the designer doubles-down and changes rules beyond recognition. Those sorts of decisions can split communities between different rules sets, and I want my community in one piece. However, there are changes, reflecting a year’s worth of feedback and fixes since the release of the first game, and I want people to use the new rules set. So changes have been mild.
Grant: How does a designer avoid these type of problems?
Lee: Discipline, simple as that. A second volume is not an opportunity to completely redesign a game. Tweak, nerf, buff, redraft and if necessary evolve certain rules. But keep the changes measured.
Grant: I know one of the major changes was the Lufbery defense. How was this changed and why was it needed?
Lee: Actually, it was a fairly minor change. However, the Lufbery rules were viewed as overpowered. People were using them whenever threatened in air combat, rather than as a defence for otherwise weak squadrons. This was because they were something of a meatgrinder. As a consequence, I nerfed the Lufbery modifiers back to a place where they are useful but not the über-tactic they were before.
Grant: How have you streamlined the rules for heavy guns and rockets?
Lee: Heavy guns were originally the rules for the 50mm bordkanone. However, there were sufficient examples of other aircraft using the big-gun approach for anti-bomber combat that I made it a generic rule. As I did that I merged them with the air-to-air rocket rules into the rules for long-ranged air combat. It was a neat way to streamline the different mechanisms.
Grant: What changes were needed in the game to stay true to historical behavior?
Lee: The rules for broken squadrons were ones that came in for repeated comment. In the old rules, broken bomber squadrons turned and flew home, but many people made the point that this event was a rarity. So we changed the rule so that broken bombers continue on to their targets at greatly reduced effectiveness. And that seems to match history better.
Grant: How did you deal with the introduction of jet power and how did this change the game?
Lee: Jets break the game scale and so I had to jig them somewhat to fit. I think we’ve got a good match now, but I’m glad there are few jets in the game.
Grant: Air-to-air rockets are also new. How do these armaments work?
Lee: They work as a special anti-bomber weapon that permits long-ranged attacks, so they can attack bombers without being hurt by defensive fire. Rockets do enormous damage but they suffer combat penalties.
Grant: How do Mustangs, Corsairs and ME 262’s change the game? Were these aircraft fun to design? A challenge? Do you feel you got it right?
Lee: It’s the late-model Mustangs and Spit XIVs that are the most fun. Their advantage is that their performance allows them to fight well at all altitudes. They also have gyro sights, which multiplies their effectiveness in combat. With gyro sights and good quality aircrews they carve their way through the opposition. Some of the late war scenarios are massacres!
The Me 262’s, with their greater movement and combat ratings, are a big step-up. However, they tend to have poor quality aircrews, which allows the better-trained Allies in P-51D’s and Spit XIV’s to knock them about a bit.
Grant: How have you dealt with aircrew quality, doctrine, Experte pilots in the design?
Lee: This hasn’t changed at all from the first game. We have an aircrew quality based on the level of training. Aircrews are Green, Trained or Veteran, and the mix of these varies with era. We then add in Experte markers representing individual aces, who give various bonuses in combat. In the first game the Axis tended to have the edge in aircrew quality. However, in the late war they are outclassed. Not only have the quality of their own aircrews declined, but the Allies have gotten to be very good. About the only advantage the Germans have in the late war is an edge in the number of experten available. This reflects the character of the Luftwaffe in the last year of the war, when it operated almost as two air forces: one of a small cadre of hardened experten, and the other of a mass of poorly-trained and inexperienced rank-and-file.
Grant: What is your favorite aircraft and what is your favorite scenario in Supremacy?
Lee: Ooh, a hard one! My favourite aircraft will change from moment to moment. But it’s likely to be one of the sleek Allied über-fighters, such as the Spitfire XIV, or a Soviet brute, such as the La-5FN, or something obscure, like the IAR.81C. So having said all that, I’m going to plump for the J2M3 Jack, the tubby little Japanese Naval fighter. My favourite scenario is possibly ‘You Don’t Know Jack’, which recreates the first combat the J2M saw, during Operation Forager.
Grant: I saw in one of your blog entries that you said you were surprised “how scenarios don’t so much flow out of the game design but drive it”. What did you mean by this? Is this the way you want the game to be?
Lee: Yes, it’s something that has been apparent for a while. Content drives most of the decisions when making the game, and that starts with scenarios. Scenarios begat the lists of aircraft data cards we need and everything else, from art to countermix, flows from there. I’ve tried making data cards and then building scenarios using those cards, but it doesn’t work like that. Rather, the scenarios tend to come first, often from reading books, and that drives the data cards and, in a few cases, it even defines the rules we need for them.
Grant: Have you created campaigns in Supremacy? How was this design process different from normal stand alone scenario design?
Lee: Devising a campaign structure is the next big thing, and we are looking to see if we can build campaigns for the expansion sets. I can’t talk much about them at the moment. In part because it’s Early Doors.
Grant: What is the most important aspect to include in the design of air combat?
Lee: Dogfight games tend to portray air combat as being very decisive, but what larger scale games like Wing Leader reveal is that they are really battles of increments, of attrition, in which forces are ground down very slowly. When you realise that the product of an extended squadron-on-squadron dogfight is maybe one aircraft shot down and a bunch of others that are shot-up but survived, then that puts things in perspective.
Grant: What expansions are planned for the future?
Lee: I hope to make a more detailed announcement later this year, but it’s no secret that I want the first module to expand upon Wing Leader: Victories, the first volume. I’d like to add in the French Air Force, who were far from being a pushover, flesh out the Soviet early war inventory and maybe cover some other air battles, such as Nomonhan.
After that, I want to do a late war expansion, to plug gaps in our inventory. Again, more Soviets and Japanese and a few other toys.
I don’t yet know if we’ll be able to sustain the community interest even for those two expansions. But if we do, there’s potentially more material beyond that. I have some 80-odd unpublished aircraft data cards archived at present, and we’ll only be putting 16 into each of the expansions. That leaves us with some 50 aircraft that may yet appear. I have Dutch and Polish aircraft that have yet to see the light of day, and even Swedes, for whom I might be able to construct some counterfactual scenarios.
Grant: What is the proposed release schedule of these expansions?
Lee: I haven’t a clue. I’m hoping production and testing of expansions won’t take long, but pre-orders might be the bottleneck. I have no idea whether the community has the stomach or fat enough wallets for expansion material. I guess I’m going to try and put together an attractive package at a good price point and then find out whether there are any takers.
Thanks for the great information on this amazing looking game. I have always been fascinated with the air war and as a boy, always dreamed of being a fighter pilot flying a powerful P51 Mustang. If you are interested in ordering Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945, follow this link to the P500 page: http://gmtgames.com/p-549-wing-leader-supremacy-1943-1945.aspx