In our January edition of Wargame Watch, we highlighted a new pre-order game from Compass Games called Nightfighter Ace: Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 designed by Gregory M. Smith. Yes that Greg Smith, who has designed such great solitaire games as Silent Victory: US Submarines in the Pacific, 1944-1945, The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-1943 and The Hunted: Twilight of the U-Boats, 1943-1945.
We have really enjoyed that game and now Greg, who never really seems to take a break, is working on a follow up to that effort called Interceptor Ace: Daylight Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 from Compass Games (we introduced this game in our November Edition of Wargame Watch). I reached out to Greg who was more than willing to share his thoughts on the game with us.
*All pictures of art and components used in this interview are not yet finalized and are just for playtest purposes at this point. There isn’t even a final cover created yet. In fact, most of it is created by Greg himself.
Grant: Have you been pleased with the response to your first game in this series Nightfighter Ace? What has been the most satisfying to see in gamers comments about the game?
Greg: Well, as you might suspect, these games are definitely a labor of love for me. I will confess to getting a lot of satisfaction when I read things like “I love this game!” or words to that effect. I mean, that IS the point, for folks to enjoy them.
Probably the most satisfying comments to date came from a graduate student who is doing his thesis on German night defense during WW2 (of all things!). He lives in Germany, speaks German, visits the Bundesarchivs, the whole nine yards. When he said, “Great game….and your research is spot on” (or words to that effect), it really meant a lot to me. I want to make games that are not only fun and playable, but teach a bit of history. I think I achieved that with Nightfighter Ace.
Grant: Was Interceptor Ace simply the logical continuation of your Ace Series? Or did you always have this volume in your mind?
It came about as my Evil Corporate Overlords (i.e., Compass Games 🙂 just kidding just kidding!) begged me to do a sequel, based on the very positive response to Nightfighter Ace
. I had never really intended to do one, but I have always had a
thing for German aircraft…I think I played too much of the computer game Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe
back in the day. Then, I got really excited, realizing I could use the overall game system and modify it for day combat.
Grant: Is the timing of the release of this game poorly timed with the release earlier this year of Jerry White’s Skies Above the Reich? How can these two games coexist on the same gamers’ shelf?
Greg: Then, I got really LESS excited, realizing it was on the same general topic as probably the best air game of 2018 🙂 But seriously, I’ve always considered them apples and oranges. Jerry’s superb game is squadron based; mine is based on a single pilot and wingman. Mine has more of a campaign feel, and a personal feel, I think. Yes, they’re the same topic, but really, if anything they should complement each other, rather than compete. I plan on having both on MY shelf .
Grant: What changes have you made to the Nightfighter system to simulate daylight operations?
Greg: This was the nut to crack with this particular design. Obviously, you aren’t “hunting” the bombers in the dark. You can see them. LOTS of them! So I had to focus more on actions upon engagement, and the interactions with Allied fighters/escorts. I had to come up with a whole new way to approach the bombers (in the advanced combat system, you can approach from one of 26 different aspects) and I had to include a whole new system of fighter versus fighter combat, which is rudimentary at best in Nightfighter Ace.
Grant: What American bombers are included as targets?
Greg: During the time frame of the game, you’re engaging either B-17s or B-24s. I used the 8th Air Force diaries to figure out the probabilities of both, and of the fighter escorts as well, should they be present.
Grant: What are the major differences in the American bombers as compared to those of the RAF? How do these differences increase the challenge and danger for the Luftwaffe?
Greg: I believe the technical term is, “A crap ton more defensive firepower.” This is increased by the “combat boxes” the bombers flew in to create a killing field for attacking fighters. Probably the biggest flaw for the British was a lack of a belly turret, which the Americans don’t suffer from. The B-17 also had the legendary ability to take damage and keep flying. This makes some Luftwaffe aircraft difficult to score victories with, specifically the Bf109 before it gets underwing cannon pods.
Grant: What changes have been made to the German aircraft to combat these new bombers?
Greg: Well, the game features 30 different variants of German aircraft…including Fw190, Bf109, Me410, and Bf110. These are all historically based on aircraft flown during the game’s time period. As the game progresses, weapons upgrades make life a bit easier for the Germans. Cannon pods and rockets certainly help immensely.
Grant: Did you include the Werfer-Granate 21 rocket as an optional armament for certain German fighters?
Greg: As just mentioned, yes. Several variants have them equipped, and they are very useful in reducing American defensive fire by breaking up the bomber formations, as was done historically.
Grant: Any new type of aircraft added to the game on the German side?
Greg: There are cannon-equipped Me410s and Bf110s which have insane firepower. The problem is surviving after you attack 🙂 But nothing says “hello” more emphatically than a 50mm shell.
Grant: Why did you choose the time period of 1943-1944 in the game? Have you received any blowback on this choice?
Greg: No. The choice was simple, really. I looked at doing just 1943, but realized there were too many months of just bombers and no escorts. So I shifted the scale by two months, to include operations including the first couple of months of 1944, and it just felt a lot more fun. Now, the game starts off against just bombers, then you start getting escorts, and by the end of the game, it gets ugly 🙂 I didn’t want to go deeper into the war, because attacking thousand plane raids with over a thousand escorts is just a bit much with the system. As with Nightfighter Ace, I tried to pick the “sweet spot” for the game’s timeframe, and I think I’ve done that.
Grant: How do the German fighters hold up over the time period of the game? Is it difficult to survive? Why?
Greg: It can be difficult to survive. I’d certainly recommend players strongly consider buying the “Parachute” skill early, lol. The German planes do quite well, especially the versions of Fw190. I’d have to honestly say the Bf109 is definitely the “hard mode” for the game, at least, until they upgrade their firepower. The main issue is you will be receiving defensive firepower from the bombers. Sometimes, quite heavily. The player’s key decisions to make (other than tactical ones) are how he is going to spend his skill points – for offensive skills, or defensive skills.
Grant: What are the Ace cards like and what aces are represented? Can you show us some examples and describe what they are good at?
Greg: I included 8 different Ace cards, and tried to include game abilities that matched some real-life ability or fact about that pilot. The aces included are the top bomber-killers, not necessarily the aces with the outright highest kill totals.
Grant: How does the game play out and what is the Sequence of Play?
Greg: Well, it is overall similar to Nightfighter Ace, in that you have a pilot and his aircraft, you roll for random bombing targets, and you go to intercept the raids. You may be intercepted yourself by a fighter sweep before reaching the bombers. After you’ve had enough combat, you land, check for awards, promotions, etc.
Grant: Any changes to the aircraft cards or the play mats?
Greg: Probably the key change is the addition of your Wingman Status section. Your wingman can assist you in fighting escorts, and in fact, you’re penalized if he’s not around due to damage, wounds, or he got shot down. He can also progress on the skill track – if you can keep your wingman alive long enough to improve him, he can be a big help later on in the game.
Grant: Let’s talk about the solo A.I.. How does it make decisions? What priorities does it use to determine things like flight paths, evasive tactics and defense?
Greg: Well, again, I’m not sure I’d glorify the system by even claiming there was an A.I. The bombers basically trundle along, shooting at you. That part was easy. In fighter versus fighter, the enemy follows a set pattern of actions depending on the current situation. If he’s disadvantaged, he goes defensive. If he’s facing you or is advantaged or tailing you, he shoots. He’ll bug out if you damage certain systems. Each battle is different based on maneuvering, mostly, which is card-driven.
Grant: What is the A.I., or however we should refer to it, extremely good at replicating? What areas are you still tweaking?
Greg: Well, the design is long done, so not much tweaking at this point. I’d say the fighter vs. fighter aspect is pretty fun. You really do feel like you’re in a dogfight, and it replicates that very well. Some of them end quickly, some last many rounds.
Grant: What have been some of the changes through the play test process? Please give a few specific examples.
Greg: You do realize at my age I have like, um, 3 brain cells left? Inhale, exhale, and I’m using the third one right now trying to remember this. lol. Seriously, one specific example was the “Ian Cowley Bug-out Rule,” which was added to allow the player a chance to disengage after attacking bombers, without having to automatically fight the escorts at a disadvantage (which was the original setup.)
With a handy cloud to duck into, or just the confusion of battle, it seemed appropriate that there should be a chance for this. Another good example was the inclusion of “Agility” into the aircraft mats and into the combat system versus fighters. This gave a bit of a much needed boost to the combat abilities of the Bf109 (essentially, a “turn fighter” as opposed to an “energy fighter”) as it allows them a chance to improve their position tactically against enemy fighters or escorts. I didn’t have it originally, then realized it was exactly what was missing after some testing.
Grant: What are you most proud of in the design?
Greg: Well, I think the fighter versus fighter system is pretty cool. I was inspired by Down in Flames – one of my favorite all time air games, and I was able to take elements of that and make it work in a solo situation. And really, I think I’m proud that I’ve been able to keep the darn thing reasonably playable. If the game sits on the shelf gathering dust, it was a wasted effort. That aspect is always key in a design, in my mind, anyway.
Grant: What is your target for the game to be released?
Greg: You realize you have video evidence of me stating, that, without question, Pacific Tide would be out in October. And now it’s shipping January 🙂 So….I really don’t know. The game is done, the cards are almost done, haven’t done counters yet…summer is probably a good estimate. We’ll see how wrong I am later I guess 🙂 But I think that’s a decent guess at this point.
Grant: What is next on the horizon for Greg Smith?
Greg: I have this crazy project called Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies, which already has a bit of a following on Facebook, lol. I’m pushing for that to be next. However, Western Front Ace is on the horizon (3rd game in this series…WW1 aircraft.).
Finally, I’ve been working on The Long War (Iraq, 2003-2008) which will be a strategic look at the insurgency and the U.S. nation building there. If Ost Krieg and Pacific Tide do well enough, I’m pretty sure Compass Games will allow me to collaborate with Mitch Ledford on an American Civil War game using that system (for which it would be a perfect fit.) But plenty to keep me busy, that’s for sure. And speaking of perfect fits, that’s why I’ve been so motivated on making games lately. I feel like I’m a perfect fit at Compass Games. They treat me with respect and give me tremendous support. So I’m hoping our relationship lasts a long time, because I sure can’t ask for much more than that.
Thanks for your time Greg and for this early look inside Interceptor Ace: Daylight Operations Over Germany, 1943-1944. If you are interested, you can pre-order a copy for $75.00 on the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/preorders/interceptor-ace-daylight-air-defense-over-germany-1943-44.html