Jeremy White’s latest GMT title is a follow up solo game to Enemy Coast Ahead: Operation Chastise (The Dambuster Raid). The Doolittle Raid was America’s first strike retaliation for the Pearl Harbor air raid by the Japanese that brought the US into WWII. In a daring assault on mainland Japan, B-24 Mitchell bombers were launched from the decks of a fleet to drop bombs on Tokyo and other key cities on the coast. Now you take the reigns as the Commander of the raid in order to try and improve upon the outcome of the retaliatory attack in the most recent solitaire game from GMT.
Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid
This article will be a closer look at the actual raid resolution in more detail, with a more surface look at some of the other campaign features. I’m choosing to split the review up into two parts, otherwise it would be more of an essay than anything else, and the second part will focus more on the campaign as a whole and the details of the story mechanics. The raid resolution is so vastly different from the first Enemy Coast Ahead title that I wanted to spend a lot of time going through what you can expect:
The firs thing you’ll notice is that each of the bombing runs is done on a separate city card, as opposed to having the small resolution boxes printed on the main map board. Functionally speaking, these target maps needed to be much bigger in order to accommodate the new mechanics and practically would not have been able to fit on a board, even by themselves. There’s a bunch of them, and they’re all double sided, with a day and a night side based on when you arrive for your raid. This adds a little more table creep, and if you were doing multiple raids in the large campaign you’d want to get one out at a time. But really the mechanical pay-off makes the added space needed very much worth it.
In a very familiar fashion you have individual bombers flying over the target doing bombing runs, with crew counters, and other training modifiers they’ve accrued over the course of the campaign. But that’s pretty much where the similarities to Dambusters ends.
For each turn over a target area you will draw a number of hazards based on the number of aircraft and the alert level of the Japanese defenses. The hazards are tailored for each city that you bomb. So you can see above the small counters had a “T” on them for Tokyo. The ones with the small red square in the bottom right hand corner are placed on one of the specific bombing targets in the area and are only flipped if you attempt to bomb that factory, or arms dump, etc.
The hazards that are without the red square are placed generically and will go off before you can do your bombing runs. On this occasion I drew flak, which would attack every bomber in the area. Roll 2d6 and on a result of 3 or 4, you will take damage. Other hazards include cloud cover, enemy fighter scrambles and numerous others. It can seem a little daunting when storing and organizing all the different counters, because there’s so many that look similar, but it provides a realistic and individual challenge for each location that keeps the game exciting and you on the edge of your seat.
The biggest difference in The Doolittle Raid is the freedom that you have in the bombing resolution. Operation Chastise had a ‘trench run’ bombing style where your only options were to keep going, release your bomb, or pull up. The Doolittle Raid on the other hand has a fully open map. You have X amount of turns above the target, but you can reach any city segment, even circling back to more favorable targets. And within each area there are often multiple targets you can drop your pay load on. The targets have a name and big red number, over which you have to roll in order to score a hit. The higher the number the harder it is to hit, but the rewards are usually better as well. The bombing rolls are modified by hazards such as cloud cover, as well as any damage you have sustained to your planes.
Obviously any solo game is going to have a healthy level of story involved in it. I enjoyed the raid resolution because it felt very much like watching The Memphis Belle, or reading The Wild Blue by Stephen E. Ambrose. Neither of those are about the Pacific but you get a very personal feel for the bombing crew and the types of struggles they were faced with. The Doolittle Raid is unique in it’s theme, and the actual execution of the bombing (not a blanket carpet bombing with bombing streams like GMT’s Bomber Command). It gives freedom to each plane to do what they want and pick out priority targets. This extra level of decision making makes the game much more engaging and means the replay factor for this is significantly higher than with the Dambuster raid.
I’ve read complaints that the game was overly complex, which I don’t agree with, and that Doolittle tries to be too much like Dambusters, which I thought was a little baffling. Some of the campaign preparation follows a similar vein, but the actual target execution is so wildly different that it feels fresh every time you set it up to play. I’m a big solitaire war gamer, and I love Jerry White’s titles. This one is a great success, and with as much in the box as there is, you sure get your money’s worth. That being said, set up and tear down can be a little daunting if you don’t have GMT trays to organize everything: but we all know that you solo gamers have plenty of time and space to leave this out between sessions…right?!
The game flirts the line (successfully) between complexity through historical accuracy vs. playability and fun. There’s a lot of moving pieces and stages if you dive into the campaign game head first. But the way the game is designed to be played is starting with the bombing execution, and then retroactively adding deeper and deeper layers of preparation of training going back in time. It’s an excellent way to get people engaged and to immediately see the consequences of their training decisions without making it a four hour ordeal, only to find out a rookie mistake early killed you without you knowing.
I recommend this solo game because it has a lot of good meat to it. It’ll keep you busy for a long time, and offers a much better replay value than it’s predecessor. It’s a little more complex for that very reason, but I love the decision making processes and I believe it provides a more rewarding and engaging story.