I know this is two interviews in as many weeks with Greg Smith but he is working on a lot of great looking games and I need to strike with him while the iron is hot. As you know, Greg has done really well with his solo game designs over the past few years with titles such as Beneath the Med: Italian Submarines at War, 1940-1943 from GMT Games, Nightfighter Ace: Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944, Zeppelin Raider: Imperial German Naval Airships and Interceptor Ace: Daylight Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 all from Compass Games.

I wasn’t really surprised when I saw his posts on Facebook recently about a new game design that he was working on that was a bit out of the ordinary. This game was Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies – Strategic Bombing of America, 1947-1948. I think he originally did the game for fun only but had such a good response that he decided to give it a go.

*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: What was your thinking in putting this alternate history airwar game together? Was this a dare? Who put you up to this?

Greg: You know, I just had this crazy idea one day, when I was thinking about Skies Above the Reich (designed by Jerry White and published by GMT Games) and Interceptor Ace being the “reverse” of B-17 Queen of the Skies (published by Avalon Hill). And then I thought, “Hey not really, the true reverse would be German bombers hitting the US.” As previously mentioned, I played waaaay too much Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe back in the 90s, and I knew the Germans had plans for all kinds of crazy aircraft, even those with the range to hit American soil. And it just took off (pun intended) from there. Plus the name “Evil Queen of the Skies” was just too fun not to use 🙂
Grant: In your mind, what happened in this alternate reality in World War II to allow the possibility of German bombers reaching American shores? How close did we actually come to the situation that would allow this  scenario to happen?
Greg: You know, that’s hard to say – would the alternative outcome of just a few battles have really made such a difference? Or perhaps a more “sane” Hitler? I really sometimes think, that no matter how badly we screwed anything up, eventually, we’d just outproduce them and win. But to make this game “plausible”  (well, as plausible as it can be) the Germans would have had to have won at Stalingrad and Kursk, and in North Africa as well. Perhaps a negotiated peace with Russia. Then, with everyone shifting back west (sort of WW1 again, in a sense) it would be conceivable that D-Day would have failed. That would probably have been key. One of the lunatics on Facebook  (errr, “valued future customer” of course I meant 🙂 wrote up a 5 page alternate history for the test version of the game. It was so interesting and detailed I decided to include it in the back of the rules. Just kidding about the lunatic stuff, Frederick Ellsesser.
Grant: What type of bombers are available in the game and what are their capabilities?
Greg: I went with 5 of the most comparable bombers to the B-17 that were planned. They are the Fw300, Me364, Ju390, Ta400, and the Arado E555 1.    Because the game starts in 1947 and goes to 1948, they have pretty decent bombloads  (depending on actual “estimated capabilities”) and some gear that wasn’t available during WW2, but was actually in design, such as the Kettenhund jamming device and air search warning radar. Each bomber has its own advantages and drawbacks. For example, I prefer the Me364 for the better bombload, but the Fw300 has better defensive guns. It makes for fun choices. There were a lot of other bombers I could have included, but those 5 will work best with the system of flying in, taking a beating, dropping, and getting home.
Grant: What bombers do players start with and how soon can they aircraft up?
Greg: The two starting bombers are the Fw300 and the Me364. As time goes by, a player can upgrade (if they wish) to the Ju390, the Ta400, and finally the Arado E555.
Grant: What is the assumed location base from which Bombing raids commence? Why was this location chosen?
Greg: Basically, the game has them taking off from the German base in the Azores  (which was, amazingly enough, the actual plan) and bombing America and Canada. The Azores is the only place that makes sense as it gives the bombers enough range to hit as far inland as Chicago.
Grant: How are raid targets categorized and how do they differ in rewards to bomb?
Greg: Another Facebook user (Guy Deverell) came up with an incredibly detailed listing of potential industrial and military targets on the East coast out to the Midwest, and I liked it so much I scrapped my list and used his, with his permission. They don’t really differ in rewards to bomb – you get points based on your accuracy. There are special missions though – photoreconnaissance, leaflet dropping, secret agent insertion (via parachute) and Atomic missions.
Grant: What is the farthest US or Canadian city that can realistically be bombed from the base? Can this range be increased?
Greg: The furthest targets in the game are the American Midwest, basically Chicago. I don’t really have range increases in the game. That’s about as far as they could get, even with alternate history technology of 1947, without them taking over another area and using it as a launching point, say, something really crazy, like Cuba.
Grant: How similar are the game mechanics to the system used in Nightfighter Ace and Interceptor Ace? How does it differ to account for flying the Bomber versus the hunting aircraft?
Greg: It’s actually not in the “Ace” series of games. To me, this game (besides being just an absurd fantasy) is really about paying homage to probably the best, original solitaire system ever made. I think all solitaire wargamers really owe a debt of gratitude to Glen Frank for coming up with such a fun system in the original B-17. However, I didn’t just  want to directly reverse engineer B-17. Many of the combat routines have been simplified. I have also included the ability to directly track all damage on the bomber mat. There is an experience system and research system to give the player a few more decisions to make – he’s got to decide to improve his survival or his offensive capabilities. There are a few other changes, but I tried to make the heart of the game seem familiar to B-17 players.


The strangest thing I found, when doing research, was the surprising amount of historical data that existed for a lot of weapons that never got past the drawing board. The combat system, to answer your question, is similar (but not identical) to the original B-17. As I hope you know by now, playability is very important to me in a design, hence the simplifications of some of the more tedious routines.

Grant: How does Interception work? How does the determination differ for over ocean contact versus over land?

Greg: You take off from the Azores and head toward your target, rolling for interception in each zone traveled.  However, if you meet land based aircraft over water, it is ignored. The reverse is true as well – no carrier aircraft over land. Near the shore, though (Zone 5) everything goes.
Grant: How does combat work when there is contact? How do you account for location and elevation and how are things like vertical dives handled?
Greg: Well, one thing I disliked about B-17 was that the combat was a bit dice heavy and tedious (and coming from me, Mr. “I Love to Roll Dice” Smith that’s saying a lot.) So I streamlined the procedures a bit. There’s less aircraft hitting you, usually, than in B-17, but they can be nasty. They also can approach you from one of 26 possible orientations (they approach from directions 1-8 at high, level, or low [first 24] and then also possibly a vertical dive attack or a vertical climb.) I achieved this by rolling a 1d10 combined with a 1d6 for altitude. Works like a charm 🙂 Combat is very simple – you hit or you don’t, they hit or they don’t, if you miss them they come in closer.
Grant: How does a player use fighter escorts and what type of aircraft offer cover?
Greg: Fighter escort is only possible in the first couple of zones, and it works as a random removal of any attacking American fighters (similar to B-17). Your initial cover is provided by Me262s, but there is a possibility these can upgrade to the slightly better Go229 jets. The US aircraft improve over time as well….from P-80 Shooting Stars, to F-86 Sabres, along with others.
Grant: How does Defensive fire work for the player and how can this be improved?
Greg: If an approaching US plane is in an “allowed” defensive firing arc, you can shoot at it. You will fire first (assuming your air search radar is still operational) then they fire back. Obviously different guns/turrets have different firing arcs. This defensive fire can be improved if the gunner has reached “ace” status (again, another B-17 rule.) The implication here is, it matters if the crew stay alive from mission to mission.
Grant: What are the optional rules for ammunition?
Greg: In testing, I quickly found that I was never really running out…maybe once in a blue moon. From a design and playability standpoint, it just didn’t make sense to force the player to track it. However, I’ve been at this long enough to realize some guys WOULD want to track it, so I made it an optional rule.
Grant: How does antiaircraft fire work and how can the player avoid or deter the attacks?
Greg: This was another area that needed streamlining, I felt, so I simplified the procedure. AA fire just happens – the question is, how close and accurate is it?    The player does have to make a decision here, on how much chaff he is going to fire once he takes AA. Having an operational jammer also helps.
On an interesting historical sidenote, the US developed the M1 120mm “Stratosphere” AA gun right at the end of WW2. It had that nickname due to its ability to reach 60,000 feet up. Some were actually deployed to the Pacific, but never saw action. Given the time frame of the game, I can only assume they would have been a significant threat to any Amerika bomber operation, and have modeled it accordingly.
Grant: Now to the good stuff. How does the Bombing procedure work?
Greg: I have again taken the B-17 routines but simplified them a bit. You basically see if you’re “on target” or “off target”, adjust for the size of your bombload, and roll away. Of course there are modifiers if your bombardier has been wounded, if the bombsight is damaged, etc.
Grant: How is success determined in Bombing runs? Are there levels of destruction?
Greg: You get a result very similar to B-17 – a % accuracy result. That is your metric for determining success. The similarity to B-17 in this and other routines, by the way, is all by design. I wanted the game to feel very much like the original.
Grant: What about the atomic attacks is different and is there any extra difficulty in the use of these powerful weapons?
Greg: Well, you sure don’t have to worry about being “on target.” You basically get a 100% accuracy rating as long as you drop.   If anything, they’re easier to use from that standpoint, as you don’t have to worry about your bombsight or a wounded bombardier.
I am sure I’ll get some negative feedback from people who are aghast at the thought of a game where the final objectives are to bomb US cities with atomic weapons, but to me, I think what it does is it really points out how important it was for us to win World War II. Because if we didn’t…..well, this is what we’re looking at. My family’s home in the Midwest would have been within range. Scary thoughts, really. So if nothing else, perhaps this game will make people want to thank those WW2 vets that they see, before they’re all gone, of course. Not many of the “Greatest Generation” left today.
Grant: You mentioned this before, but what Special Missions are there? What are your favorites to attempt?
Greg: As previously mentioned, there’s leaflet dropping, post-strike photoreconnaissance, and my favorite, Abwehr Agent delivery. For some reason, the thought of kicking some poor schmuck out the bomb bay, loaded down with counterfeit money, and having him HALO into New Jersey makes me smile a bit.
Grant: How does aircraft damage work? How does it effect the player on the return trip?
Greg: There are a multitude of systems on the aircraft that can be damaged (to include crew injuries) and they all have different effects on your ability to get home. Some are reasonably minor (flap and elevator hits, and airframe and wing root hits) while some can be catastrophic  (fuel tank hits, engine hits.) Pretty much everything on the plane can receive some kind of damage. US fighters inflict random damage, and this is rolled up on the damage charts.
Grant: What happens post combat? Is damage cumulative from mission to mission?
Greg: No, since the missions are weekly  (since each one is a very long flight, I used that as the standard) the plane is considered repaired by the next sortie…unless it has received a LOT of damage. 7-12 hits you’ll lose a sortie for repairs, 13+ hits and it is written off for spare parts, and you get a new plane.
Grant: What skills can players purchase? Please give us specifics about a few of the options.
Greg: The skill system is one of the two major changes from the original B-17 game, and is similar to what I had in Nightfighter Ace. Every 4 sorties flown grants you an experience point, which is used to buy these skills. However, it’s been simplified again, in that your costs are a bit lower than a comparable NF Ace skill, but your points are spent for the whole crew.
For example, “Parachute” skill gives the benefit to the entire crew and “Weapons Maintenance” which allow you to ignore the first knocked out gun result are similar to NF Ace, but there are several completely new skills: “Electronics Wizard” (your EW officer can repair one inop or damaged system per sortie), “Sixth Sense” (the pilot converts any “6” damage roll into a “3”) and “Leadership” (the Pilot gets -2 to each promotion roll.) Spend those points wisely – they are precious. You really need to decide to go after the offensive skills, the defensive skills, or a mix.
Grant: What is the Research Track and how does it work? What breakthroughs can players have? Please show us a pic of the track.
Greg: The research track is the second major change from the original game. It is co-located with the “dress up doll.” I wanted to give the player another decision to make, and every month, he gets 1 research point so he can request the scientists focus their efforts in a particular area. For every point in an area, you succeed in a technological advance by rolling that total (or less.) This level stays until you succeed or increase it the next month. So, you have to decide not only what areas you want to improve, but you have to allocate the chances into several areas, or keep pumping up a single area to higher levels until it is achieved.
Grant: What are the various victory conditions or is it just beat your previous records?
Greg: I’ve kept the traditional system of Defeat, Draw, Marginal Victory, Substantial Victory, and Decisive Victory. It seems to be pretty well liked, although to be honest, I think “beating your previous record” will also have an appeal. The victory levels are based on your cumulative bombing accuracy, shifted for Atomic drops.
Grant: You love awards and promotions. Anything new in this area?
Greg: Pretty standard, although I have included a fictional “Amerika Shield” (based on the “Narvik Shield” award from 1940.) I have to say, I never knew the “dress up doll” was going to be such a hit, but it has been.
Grant: Have you found a publisher for this one or are you just going to offer it as PnP?
Greg: To be honest, I wasn’t sure anybody would want to touch it – it has potential to be controversial for reasons stated above. But Compass Games was impressed by the following it has received on Facebook, and has agreed to publish it.
Grant: What is your timeline on the release?
Greg: Hopefully sooner rather than later. The game is done, at this point, I just need an artist and I’m off to the races with it. I am pretty sure it will be a 2019 release  (seems strange to say that, doesn’t it?)
Grant: What has been the response of your playtesters?
Greg: Overwhelmingly positive. I offered it up as a free beta test “Print and Play” on Facebook – and was inundated with requests. It’s been crazy. There have been a dozen user-created custom files and add-ons. Keep in mind, this is for a game that doesn’t even really exist yet! Normally I don’t buy into the “design by committee” concept, but the Solitaire Wargames group on Facebook has really been enthusiastic, supportive, and have come up with some great improvements to the game, not to mention finding errata in the beta version.
Grant: What do you think the design does really well?
Greg: Well, I think I hit the primary goal – have a really clean, playable system, with lots of (alternate) historical detail, that is fun. Small footprint, goes quickly – the things you want in a solitaire game. What it does really well, though, is make people think. This is what could have happened, and thank God we won World War II.
Grant: Any other alternate history projects like this that you are considering?
Greg: I’ve been tinkering with the thought of “Shattered Alliance” – The US, British and West Germany versus the Russians, 1945-1947 or 48. Patton doesn’t get killed in the car crash, something happens, and two finely tuned war machines just keep going. Sort of “World War II+” Might be interesting. I actually worked on a similar project called “Broken Alliance” back in my HPS Simulations days. That one is a little bit less far-fetched than Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies though.
Thanks for an early look at this one Greg. I think that this looks great and I know that many gamers out there have a love affair with B-17 so I am sure this will be well received. Maybe one day there will be large Amerika Bomber tournaments at venues like WBC and Comsimworld Expo.
This game has yet to be announced as a pre-order by Compass Games but I’m sure it will be in the next few months.