Target For Today is one of those projects that I’ve been looking at for a really long time. I know it’s been in the works for a number of years, but it’s finally being released through Legion Wargames’ CPO program. You can pick up a copy here which will be at a low CPO price for a limited time only. The designers Steve Dixon and Bob Best were gracious enough to answer some questions about the game and I’m more excited than ever to get my hands on it.
Alexander: Hi guys, thanks for doing the interview, please introduce yourselves. Who are Steve Dixon and Bob Best? What are your backgrounds and how did you fall down the rabbit hole of war game design?
Steve: I am a military brat, and my family does have a military background. My grandfather and step-grandfather both served in the Army during World War II – one in the Pacific and in Europe. My mother lived her childhood under Nazi occupied France. My dad served 20 years in the Air Force, and I served four years in the Marine Corps eventually ending up as an aircraft electrician with VMFA-251 from 1976 to 1979. Went to college under the GI bill and earned a degree in Philosophy from Valdosta State University in 1982. I have been married 29 years. My wife and I have put two daughters through college and our son is starting college in the fall. Two off the payroll and one to go!
My exposure to war gaming came during the Christmas of 1967 or 68, when I received three Avalon Hill games: Jutland, Afrika Korps and Battle of the Bulge (which I still have). My collection grew over the years but after numerous moves, it has shrunk — had to part ways with some of the games.
I guess the design bug came after numerous games of B-17QOTS. I thought, why not a game like this with the B-29? So early in the 2000s, I started with the preliminary design work on what eventually became B-29 Superfortress. At the time I was producing TV shows for a couple of networks, and my time was severely limited. I was spending countless days on the road and when not travelling, I was in the edit bay. I put out a few emails and Shawn Rife answered the call to help.
Bob: I am living the retired life after a 30 year Law Enforcement career. I spent 12 years in the Army Reserves and “Graduated” as a Captain. I’m married with two grown daughters and a wonderful wife of 48 years who also enjoys gaming. I have a number of hobbies besides wargaming that include collecting US Air Force shoulder patches, Model Railroading and collecting old Colt Revolvers. I wrote a book on the Colt Revolvers that is in its fourth printing right now and is quite popular with Colt collectors. I have also had several articles published in gun hobby publications and I enjoy writing short stories for my own entertainment. I am an amateur military historian and a researcher and I like to use those skills in game design.
Since childhood I have always liked military aircraft and World War II subjects. My wife and I sponsor The Collings Foundation’s B-17G bomber “909”. I’ve had the opportunity to
fly in “909” several times as well as in their B-24 bomber “Witchcraft” and their P-51C “Betty Jane”. If you have never flown in one of the old warbirds you really should try it. It’s quite an experience!
I started playing wargames back in 1960 when Avalon Hill was the only game company in town. Finding opponents back then was difficult as it still can be today, so I joined the Avalon Hill International Kreigspeiler’s Association or AHIKS as it is called today. The group is an organization that provides a pool of mature adults who are interested in good game play and reliable opponents. We have several hundred members and I am the current President of the association. AHIKS has provided me with lots of opponents over the years that helped satisfy my game playing itch. I also enjoy role-playing games and solitaire games. I played games solo when I couldn’t find an opponent close by. That led to tinkering with game rules to make them more “solo-friendly”. As I like role-playing games too, I have added in elements of role-playing as I would rework the rules. Games like B-17QOTS and Steve’s B-29 Superfortress were perfect for these kinds of role-playing additions. You will find lots more in Target For Today!
Alexander: What are some games that you guys like to play when not pouring over designs?
Steve: My game time is limited as I am still doing contract work, writing articles and had my first book published last year. So, when I do play it’s B17QOTS, B-29, Silent Victory and the Hunters. Hard to find face to face opponents where I live.
Bob: Like Steve, I don’t have face to face opponents for a quick game living around me, so I like to play the solo games like B-17 QOTS, Picket Duty, B-29 Superfortress, The Hunters and Silent Victory. For more conventional board wargames, I like to play the old SPI Quad games such as Westwall, Island War, and Modern Battles. I generally have several games going by email and a few on the AHIKS website at any one time.
Alexander: Is there a particular game designer that has influenced your own design philosophy?
Steve: Over the years, at least during my heyday, there weren’t that many solitaire war games. Glen Frank, Vince Frattali and Bruce Shelley who paved the way with B17QOTS would be my inspirations. In fact when I began TFT, I contacted Vince and asked his permission to update B17QOTS. He said yes. This happened shortly after B-29 was released.
Bob: No, no one in particular influenced me. I must say that most of my game design philosophy came from “tinkering” with game systems that I thought had flaws that made them difficult to play and that had no published errata for them. I created my own errata. I was impressed with Steve’s designs when I first discovered them with B-29 Superfortress.
Alexander: Target for Today has been on my radar for a long time now, we’re eagerly anticipating a widely available version of B-17: Queen of the Skies. What is it like to be putting out a game that has so much nostalgia attached to it?
Steve: First, I did not want to make any major changes. However B17QOTS was limited in scope. I wanted something bigger. There were many player expansions as well as official Avalon Hill expansions that allowed the game to simulate the entire strategic bombing campaign. With that I mind, I wanted the game to cover both 8th Air Force missions and 15th Air Force missions from 1942 to 1945 in either a B-17F, B-17G, B-24D or B-24J. The YB-40 has also been added. To do this the target list has been expanded. Compiling that list took some time. Tom Cundiff helped in that he had a 15th AF target list. We used that, and with other sources were able to expand on it. The primary source for 8th Air Force targets was Roger Freeman’s Mighty Eighth War Diary. That said, the game plays much like B17QOTS, but some new wrinkles have been thrown in.
Bob: For me, I am hoping that Target For Today will live up to all the expectations that players have for the game. I bought Glen Frank’s original B17QOTS when he marketed it from On Target Games back in 1981. I still have my original game and I have played it many, many times both alone and in multi-player games where a game master ran a bombing campaign such as Steve did with his 30th Bomb Wing B-29 Superfortress game. I always enjoyed the story lines that went along with the campaign games and they left me with plenty of fond memories. With my role-playing background to tell a good story, my research into the WWII European bombing campaign and my experience with the real life B-17 and B-24 bombers I wanted try to present a game along the lines of B-17QOTS that gave the gamer the most realistic experience they could possibly imagine while playing with a cardboard wargame. I think we have done that with Target For Today! That was the real draw for me.
Alexander: The similarities to B-17 seem to be readily evident, but what are the differences and newer concepts that have been put into Target For Today?
Steve: Weather plays an important role, contrails are introduced as is the possibility of a mission recall, German fighters not present in B17QOTS are introduced, as are rules to fly within the context of a group. Al Barrett provided the foundation for that and Bob tweaked it for use in TFT. Let me emphasize here that many players contributed to this game with their variants; Art Dittus, Tom Cundiff and Bruce Peckham are but a few. I am unable to name them all since the names were lost when my hard drive went south. I do hope they contact me, so as rules are updated, I can add their names. As for the German planes introduced, they are the JU-88, Me-210, Me-410, Me-163, Me-262, Ta-152, and He-162. Of course the three original planes are also included: the Me-109, Me-110 and the Fw-190.
Bob: Steve has already covered a lot of the differences in the two games. I think Target For Today expands the role-playing possibilities for your bomber crew as well. Many rules have been added that present the player with the opportunity to experience such things as Lead Crews, Radar Bombing, different formations and a mini-Squadron Bombing game to name just a few.
Alexander: So how do you divide up design duties between the two of you?
Steve: The basic campaign structure was developed by Shawn Rife. When Shawn dropped out, Bob Best took over and handled the rules development while I handled the graphics and coordinated playtesting.
Alexander: What do you guys think makes a good solitaire experience in a war game? How did you try to implement these into Target for Today?
Steve: Hopefully the player will find he can make a few more decisions than in B17QOTS. Most notably the player now has the choice to take his plane to either Sweden or Switzerland if the damage he suffered will not get him home to England or Italy. The player also has the option to try a second bomb run “go around” if he finds his initial run on the target is obscured.
Bob: I think the best solitaire game experience has my imagination working overtime when I play the game. I want to be able to see in my mind’s eye the story that is unfolding around me. Just like if I was reading a good book I just couldn’t put down or watching a really exciting movie. I want that same feeling when I am playing a solitaire game. And again, I touch upon the role-playing aspect of the game to help accomplish this. There is the potential to build a very realistic pilot and crew characters into real life areas that were never touched upon in the original B17QOTS game. You can make the TFT game system tell an exciting story that I hope everyone will get wrapped up in as they play the game.
Alexander: What has been one of the hardest things about the design of TFT?
Steve: This is probably a continuation of my previous answer but a game of this nature requires dice rolling to determine many of the outcomes. Balancing that and decision making by the player is always tough.
Bob: As Steve said a game of this nature requires dice rolling to determine many of the outcomes. To keep this from just being a dice rolling exercise I have tried to use the role-playing aspect along with presenting a clear picture of what the real bombing campaign consisted of and the strain it put on the bomber crews. I’ve tried to use the game system to stimulate a mental image of what is being modeled in the game. So the player sees the picture in his mind as he rolls the dice to determine the outcome of an event.
Alexander: What was your favourite part about putting this game together?
Steve: Putting the whole thing together has been a long and enjoyable road. I can’t say that I had a favorite part. I think one has to enjoy the subject matter and tackle it head on as a whole.
Bob: I enjoyed using the knowledge I have researched on the bombing campaign over the years to build a realistic model of the events encountered by the real life crews.
Alexander: A quick shout out to the art department on Target for Today, the counters and mounted map look gorgeous. What is it like working with Randy and the physical product he’s put together for final printing?
Steve: Can’t say enough. He does a top notch job for a one man show. The graphics in TFT will knock your socks off!
Bob: I’m quite impressed by the graphics Steve has put together and the physical product Randy has produced.
Alexander: Steve, you designed B-29: Superfortress and Picket Duty, both games in a similar style to TFT. How much did your experience with those games help or hinder your work with Target for Today?
Steve: The major import from B-29 to TFT is the use of a zone track. With the amount of targets in TFT, using a map similar to what was used in B17QOTS was impractical. As Bob and Randy can confirm, we went over the rules, tables, player aids and counters looking for errors. Being human, despite our best efforts, I am sure something got through. Hence we will endeavor to keep the rules up to date and provide download ready items as quickly as possible. Picket Duty has a loyal following and I thank the individuals who continue to play it. It has done well for Legion and an updated version will be released later in the year. The rules have been given a thorough going over, tables have been corrected, as have errors on the map and a counter change. Randy has all the files needed for the new print run.
Alexander: There’s so many targets, and details included in the game, tell us a little bit about the research process that went into Target for Today?
Steve: We used numerous sources which included the pilot’s manual for the B-17 and B-24. We did have a technical advisor – Joe Osentoski – to help when it came to how things worked on these aircraft. Bob can fill in more detail here.
Bob: Like Steve said, we used numerous sources which included the pilot’s manual for the B-17 and B-24. Joe Osentoski, our technical advisor is a fountain of knowledge on how the B-17s and B-24s function and what areas are critical to their performance. While Joe worked on those areas, I researched how the bombing campaign was organized and what forces opposed the bombers. A lot of reading accounts of actual bombing missions, some interviews with former crew men and a lot of detailed research in official military archives over the years went into gathering the material that eventually produced the rules for TFT. As I said above I am an amateur military historian and a researcher. I put a lot of my past research knowledge that I found over the years to work here on TFT.
Alexander: How did you go about balancing player experience with historical accuracy with regards to the high loss numbers of bomber crews in the USAAF over the Reich?
Steve: I have always felt that B17QOTS was a bit difficult for the player to complete a set of 25 missions, and the rate of German losses seemed a bit high. In my decades of playing not once have I completed 25 missions. I guess one could say I suck at dice rolling. With that in mind, we think we have made it so the player has a better chance of completing his assignment, and that the loss rate of German aircraft has been reduced a bit. The player will face the greatest German opposition in 1942 and 1943, and will see it decrease in 1944 into 1945 as the Allies gained the upper hand in the air. Each year has its own German Fighter Table and the number of fighters you may face depends on the type of German resistance met. As for campaign length that changes based on which campaign you fly – so it could be 25, 30, 35 or 50 missions depending on which Air Force you fly with.
Alexander: Bob, what steps have you taken with TFT to ensure that the game isn’t procedural and just an exercise in rolling dice on a table?
Bob: Well, I keep coming back to this. In any cardboard wargame things are procedural and dice are rolled to determine an outcome. But it is the mindset of the player that determines if he can relate to the story that the game is trying to tell and accepts the procedure and dice rolling as the vehicle to an enjoyable experience.
Let me give an example here. Every year Collings Foundation puts on a three day Bomber School staffed by re-enactors where school attendees crew a B-17 or B-24 bomber, plan a bombing mission and then fly the mission in the bomber. (Think the movie 12 O’Clock High here) The bomber crews drop 250 lb dummy bombs on a target, get intercepted by other Collings Foundation fighter aircraft, fire blank 50 caliber ammunition from the B-17 or B-24 gun turrets at the attackers and generally have the time of their lives. I have had the good fortune to attend the school and fly the missions. I have felt the recoil of the 50 caliber MGs as the empty shell casings fall around my feet and attacking fighters zip by my waist gun position. (I have videos and photos to prove it.)
Now there is no way a cardboard game can duplicate that experience. BUT, if the game gives that role-playing feeling and the rules seem to flow for the player as he rolls the dice. Visions of my experience come quickly to mind and transport me into that experience using the game system as the vehicle to get me there… If the game does that for me (and most other players) I consider we have succeeded.
So, the steps I took in the design process were to try and design each step of the game so it felt to me like what I had experienced in real life. Rules were included to cover all those things the bomber crews did in real life as well. So for me, the game suspended reality and I was carried into that world of the bombing campaign I described above. I hope it does the same for all of you who buy the game.
Alexander: Finally, are there any other projects either of you are working on that you’d like to shed some light on for our readers?
Steve: My next project is tentatively titled “A Forgotten Sideshow” which is a solitaire game that allows the player to command a Marine Corps squadron while hitting targets in the Bismarck Archipelago from June 1944 to December 1945. The game is in its second round of playtesting. “Air War Vietnam: Linebacker II” covers the B-52 strikes in North Vietnam from Dec 18 to 29, 1972. Bob Best and I are doing that one. Mark Gutis, a former B-52 navigator, is providing technical assistance. This game is its early stages. After that I will be teaming with John Heim on Mosquito Fleet, which covers PT boat action in the Pacific during WW2. This too will be a solitaire game. Lastly and near completion is my first two player game covering Operation Nordwind, Germany’s last offensive in the west. I am awaiting a map from the Netherlands, which is a 1:50,000 scale map which covers ¼ of the combat area. I have the other three maps. These official period US Army maps will be the board for the game, which will be card-driven with area movement. I have other projects in the pipeline and can be found at http://www.stevenkdixon.com/games.htm
Bob: Steve and I have discussed plans to design a “prequel” to Target For Today! That game would cover the early bombing campaign in the Mediterranean by the 9th and 12th Air Force from early 1942 until the formation of the 15th Air Force in Italy in 1943. British bombers would be included in the mix along with Italian aircraft.
“Air War Vietnam: Linebacker II” covers the B-52 strikes in North Vietnam from Dec 18 to 29, 1972. Bob Best and I are doing that one. Mark Gutis, a former B-52 navigator, is providing technical assistance. This game is its early stages.
I have also been working on expanding the US submarine selection for ConSimPress’ Silent Victory. I am working on an expansion module that will allow the player to use S-Boats as they were originally used in the Pacific from December 1941 thru 1943. This module along with additional rules covering their deployment will probably be published by AHIKS as an inclusion in their bi-monthly newsletter The Kommandeur.
Thanks so much for your time in answering these questions and giving us some deep insight into Target For Today. I cannot wait to play this game and I know that many of your out there are in the same boat (plane?). You can get your hands on a copy here: Order from Legion Wargames.