I have always had an affinity for the Air War. Regardless of which conflict, time period or circumstances. I’m not sure if it’s the marvel of flight, the sleek look of aircraft, their distinctive engine noises or the combination of all of these, but I just love military aircraft. I’ve played a few games that cover Air combat, and a good chunk of those have been WWII games. A Wing and a Prayer from Lock ‘n Load publishing is another one added to that list. You command a bomber squadron and you’ll fly an entire formation over the Reich in order to destroy your target assigned from 8th Air Force command.
A Wing And A Prayer
A Wing and a Prayer comes with a good sized strategic map that uses point to point movement in order to conduct the movement of your formation across the channel into northern Europe. Outside of that, you’ll use the formation chart (pictured to the left) and then the card up top which is a VP track for your current mission, overall campaign and then holding boxes for crews that are ready and those that are not. There’s a few player aid cards that have some boxes and charts on them which you’ll need handy but that’s about it. I was surprised that the game was this compact!
You will command a squadron of bombers that will conduct daylight bombing raids against targets drawn from your historically seeded Target Deck. The Target Cards specify which City you’ll be bombing, how much damage you need to inflict in order to destroy it, and then how many bombers you need to take on the mission as a minimum requirement. The card also dictates how many fighter escort counters will accompany you to start the mission, and depending on what year of the war it is, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of different planes to bring along.
I gushed about it in the unboxing video, but just wanted to highlight the artwork on the cards in this game. I’m a huge fan of old WWII photographs, especially majestic shots of bombers in the skies. Anyways. Depending on the year of the war you’ll be flying either B-17’s or B-24’s, which have generic counters for each.
The cool part is the crews that man each plane. There’s three levels of crew experience, including Green, Veteran, and Crack. Each of these have varying levels of modifiers for bombing accuracy, defensive fire and combat initiative. It’s possible for your Green Crews to gain Veteran status and you can switch them out for a named Veteran crew (The Green Crews have unique real-life squadron photos but are just called ‘Green Crew’). This way you can end up flying a famous bird like the Memphis Belle. The converse is also true. If your Veteran or Crack Crews take damage and heavy crew losses, they can be turned into Green Crews, as replacements back fill the spots of those deceased. A really nice touch to the game and one that I enjoyed quite a lot.
Flying an entire formation means that you don’t get quite as detailed and personal a narrative as you would from games like Target for Today (LWG) or Ranger (Omega Games). That being said, I found that A Wing and a Prayer lacked nothing in the narrative department – the story was just came at you on a different scale. For starters, you get to act as Bomber Command and plan the route you take to get to the target box. Typically you’ll take a fairly direct route, but when you start bombing runs against places like Berlin, and you have to fly through a significant amount of resistance, your route planning is far more vital. This to me is a simple mechanic, but gives a lot more realism and story to a game at this level. Instead of moving through a series of numbered boxes, the map just makes it feel more like a war game. This could be an entirely aesthetic thing, but it works for me.
A small tangent towards Consim Press’ Silent Victory: They have an option to use a numbered box track to move along the mission progress, or a full map of the Pacific Theater of Operations. The map card still has the same numbered boxes on them, but they are geographically located and it looks great. When I play with the map card, moving the little sub chit along, I just get more enjoyment out of it and a greater immersion in that game. Same applies for A Wing and a Prayer.
You won’t always take all of your bombers along on a run, but you’ll typically want to put your best crew as the lead element as their bombing modifier will give you column shifts on the CRT when you bomb the target and make it easier to damage/destroy your target. There’s little clutter in the game, even with the huge counters, which is something that I appreciate in a solo game. The formation looks great on the table and you get a sense of the whole squadron flying together. As interceptors and escorts engage in combat you’ll be moving those around the formation card from the boxes on top and below. The act of doing this, as well as the combat itself, helps to sow some of the chaos into the game that is prevalent in dog fighting and aerial combat generally.
The game play itself primarily consists of some chart rolling. You draw your Target Card, arrange your formation then you roll encounters in each box your formation enters. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes random events occur. Eventually the red boxes you fly through will throw flak at you and you’ll mash dice to determine how many hits you may or may not take.
I was worried that there would be a lot of dice chucking, trying to track all that damage, but I was surprised at how that wasn’t the case. I mean, yes there is a lot of dice rolling, but it went quickly and wasn’t arduous to track. Flak hits on a six, and if it does, you roll again to get the type of damage – if any. Nothing major.
Like any game with dice rolling, there’s a lot of luck involved in certain aspects of the game. As such, you will be resigning yourself to the narrative of the mission and campaign when things go horribly, or impeccably well. Something that I’ve found with this style of game is that whilst a single mission might be fun, the real pleasure is playing out the campaigns and stringing lots of missions together. Doing so means you ‘get to know’ your crews better, you even out the averages of games, so a mission that might be disastrous will be counter balanced by a mission that goes comparatively well. Looking at RAF: The Battle of Britain for example: Each day can be punishing, and will feel like a loss, but the course of the full campaign builds upon the early dog days and finally being able to strike back with the Big Wing feels that much sweeter.
So it is with A Wing and a Prayer. Flying the campaigns are really where it’s at.
With RAF in mind, the aerial combat resolves in a really fun way, that reminded me of that game to an extent. You have escorts that will engage German fighters, and then you can optionally throw more forward to try and fend them off, then any excess fighters, or ones that survive will attack the bomber formation. There’s initiative modifiers that will determine if the escorts or the interceptors shoot first, then you resolve combat based on a die roll with modifiers for ace pilots. It might not be flashy or complex combat, but it’s still fun, satisfying and tense, especially when your escort numbers start to dwindle.
Then comes the bombing. All of that effort to try and bomb the target. Bombs hit on a number that is modified by weather (5, or 6 in the game I played below). You need X amount of hits based on the target card to damage or destroy it. So odds are on that you’ll miss a lot. That’s not a bad thing by any means, indeed it’s historically accurate. Just know that there will be times, like I experienced below, where you roll the dice 8 times and get diddly squat. All that effort for literally zero VPs. I wasn’t frustrated, but I knew I was going to get chewed out by HQ on returning to base.
Spoiler alert: That’s why you want to play the campaign so aberrations like this will be evened out, or you get to feel the pressure mounting on you for utter failure. That kind of feeling is what I look for in a good solo game. It helps cement the story of your squadron’s successes or failures. Something that will be a lasting memory, and not just another game box on a shelf.
If you can’t tell I really loved this game. It’s right up my alley. Easy to learn, weaves a great narrative, gives you a decent amount of decisions to make (route planning, crew composition, location, escort combat) and it’s Air War! I think A Wing and a Prayer offers a unique take on the daylight bombing campaigns that has the perfect amount of story, playability and meaningful decision making. Other games might have way more detail in them, or a ton of micro managing, other games might be even heavier on the role-playing story telling aspect, but I’m convinced that Lock ‘n Load have hit a sweet spot in the middle with this one.