Wing Leader: Supremacy is the latest in a slew of ‘big box’ games that have been released by GMT and also the second in the Wing Leader Series. Designed by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Supremacy builds upon the great success of Wing Leader: Victories by expanding the games depth and coverage of the Second World War. If you want some insight into the game from Lee’s point of view you can read Grant’s interview with him about Wing Leader: Supremacy.
We recorded both an unboxing of the game, as well as our first impressions after our first play through, in a segment called Board Game Blitz. So feel free to go and watch those if you’re completely new to the game. This article will cover some of the great aspects of this game in closer detail after greater exposure to the game.
Wing Leader: Supremacy
Supremacy is a tactical combat game that takes place in the skies. Unlike many other tactical aerial combat games, however, this one doesn’t take a top down ‘plan’ view of the combat zone. Many games such as X-Wing, Wings of War, and Down in Flames to an extent utilize this perspective. Supremacy has the unique perspective of being profile in it’s view of the action. This is one of the things that has most intrigued me about the Wing Leader Series; Lee has made a specific effort to present a both literal and figurative new persepective on WWII aerial combat.
I read the rules for WL:S in two sittings and felt decently competent with them, knowing there were a few things I’d need to look up with regards to the ‘alert status’ and the ‘missions’ being flown by various wings. In trying to play for the first time it became evident that this was actually a pretty complex system. It’s not massively daunting on a scale like Empire of the Sun but it does come with a level of detail akin to Silver Bayonet, or Lee Wood’s Bomber Command. Don’t be scared off, but this is one that I tried to dive right into and mostly learn on the fly and that was a mistake and didn’t do the game justice. WL:S includes a solitaire training scenario and I would highly recommend playing that out just to grasp the basics and to see the mechanics played out on the map – a much different intellectual exercise than just reading the rules book.
But what does all this detail provide? In his article in C3i Nr 28, Jerry White discusses the struggle with every game design that is detail versus playability. He posts that the more accurate a game simulation is the more mechanics it must include and therefore the more complex, and susequently burdensome the game becomes. Whereas a game that is highly playable, with simpler more streamlined mechanics will invariably include less realism, and less detail. So with that in mind, Wing Leader: Supremacy, in my opinion, tip-toes that line extremely well. I love aerial combat, especially in WWII, and used to go to all the air shows and museums with my dad. He used to just sit in his study and listen to CDs of Spitfire’s Merlin engine roaring over head on repeat. I grew up wanting to be a fighter pilot, and have read many books on the RAF and the USAF. As such I had a great fondness for the deatil in WL:S. There’s rules for a lot aspects of WWII air combat missions so let’s take a look at some of the most interesting ones.
The first thing I’ll mention was also one of the ones that was one of the most interesting but also difficult to tangle with. Each squadron or flight starts the game with a designated mission, there’s a few of them and each of them carry a different ruleset, so there’s a healthy amount to learn in that department. But the mission dictates how the squadrons will act, which can seem a little unintuitive at times in a tactical game. Normally, I would expect to have exact control over all of my units, and micromanage them in order to create optimal fields of fire, or formations to out flank, etc. WL:S places your squadrons under strict orders “until”. In our first game, Grant’s Corsairs were just flying from one side of the map to the other, on a patrol.
If they couldn’t tally an enemy squadron they just kept on flying in a straight line. This was a little frustrating for him, because on the board it was like ‘but the Japanese planes are right there!’ He rolled poor tally rolls and that squadron just kept going. Once off the board it scored exit VPs, but it felt somewhat underwhelming. I personally liked these assignments, or at least the realistic model of air war. In reading books about aerial combat the hardest part was even finding the enemy, between cloud coverage, camouflage, and the blinding light of the sun just spotting enemy planes at any distance was a great challenege. You can’t shoot what you don’t know is there, you just fly on toward the objective.
What this does mean is that your radio nets are very important. Having radio nets that include multiple squadrons means that if one counter gains a tally it can communicate the location of the tallied squadron to it’s allies and bring others into the fight that maybe wouldn’t have, or at least would have had a much harder time tallying said enemy squadron. GCI functions similarly, enabling squadrons to enter the fray and quicker. The radar nets your fighters are on are listed in the scenario setup, so from the get-go you’ll have an idea of the cummincation capacity of your on map units. Utilize this when possible, but some scenarios have multiple nationalities in a force and have many more radio nets so it’s much harder for them to help each other out. So watch out for this.
The combat in Wing Leader is also detailed to an extent, however it is also not overly complicated. The attacker gets to decide which type of combat to employ, and as such will choose the one best suited and most favourable to his situation.
The fighter reference cards include speed and turn values, these affect how the units move on the board, but they’re also a very important reference for combat. When the US Corsairs attack the Japanese Zeroes they opt to use ‘Speed Combat’ which means they’ll utilize the speed value for their current altitude. At altitude 10 the Corsairs have a 6-5 edge over the Zeroes. Speed combat represents what it says it does, the capacity of one aircraft type to fly faster and catch up and chase another. The other type of combat is ‘Turn Combat’, where the turn value is used as the primary calculator. This represents more of a maneuvering and positioning style of combat, the capacity to dive, roll, turn and generally outmaneuver an enemy in order to line up strafing fire.
I enjoyed that there was this extra level of detail in the combat system, it means you could pit aircraft against each other and one isn’t simply better than the other, it’s possible that each one has a unique edge over the other. On top of all this there are numerous DRMs that are accumulated from training quality, cloud coverage, unit strength and weapon loadouts, amongst other things. The good news is, that most of this book keeping so to speak is kept track of on the Wing Display, so it is very easy to calculate combat strength and then the adjusted total. The wing display is a tracking board to keep all of the various tokens associated with your squadrons on, it’s handy for keeping everything off the main board, just be careful not to knock it because if they get mixed up it can be a pain to reorganize.
Hits after combat are assigned after rolling on the hit table. This means that whilst your squadrons may have scored 4 hits on the CRT, that may not be what happens in actuality. You will roll with more modifiers, from Experten, gyro mounted machine guns and others to dictate how many hits were done, or if only light damage was inflicted, represented by ‘stragglers’ (effectively half hits). I actually really enjoyed this, it meant that your squadrons were much less likely to be utterly decimated, and you felt the power of having an ace in the squadron. As an historical aspect, this hit assignment models the fact that air combat is extremely chaotic, and confirmed kills were hard to account for. You might think that you did a bunch of damage, however how much of that was over excited pilots eager to account another kill to paint on his cockpit?
Whelp, Should I Get It?
On top of all of this there are still a ton of rules for things like dogfighting (spinning ball of flying death that ejects damaged squadrons and flights all over the sky), as well as flak fire and bombing runs. This game has just so much to offer from an exploratory stand point. I enjoyed the level of realism, and the detail in the rules, however it’s very close to being too much. If you’ve played any other of Lee’s games you can fully expect to see a similar weight and complexity in Wing Leader. For the uninitiated, just do your research and make sure you have an opponent that’s willing to learn too.
There’s massive amounts of scenarios in the game, as well as new ones being put out in the two most recent issues of C3i Magazine. Lee also supports an almost unending amount of content that’s free online too, so it’s a fantastic investment from that perspective.
If you’re on the fence on this one, but you have a love for the war in the skies, then absolutely go for it. If your not then make sure you research this one, watch our video review and weigh up how much you’ll actally play it. It’s not a light game, but it is immensely rewarding. The combat is both dynamic and also very tense. You’ll spend a turn or two flying toward each other and then BANG, you’re in combat and it is furious. There’s very little cover to hide behind, there’s no turtling in this game, you fly at each other and open fire. That in and of itself is fantastic in a tactical game. The board might just be big blue squares, but it’s wide open and rewards expansive and creative tactics.
I like this game a lot, but do yourself a favour and study the rules and prepare yourself to play this game before you hash it out. It’ll be a great one if you do that.