Tucann Games, £23
2-6 players, 3-4 hours
Reviewed by Dave Farquhar
Dambusters is a new game, released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the raid on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams by 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. The game is somewhat reminiscent of Escape from Colditz, coming in a similar sized box, with one German player opposing the others.
I was quite excited by the prospect of playing this, as the subject interested me, and I liked the idea of acquiring crews, training them, and then flying my individual Lancasters on the mission. In the event though I was disappointed.
The game plays in three unequal parts: Acquire crew, Train crew and Fly mission. I say unequal advisedly. The first involves the RAF players moving around a network of air-bases trying to put together a crew. This entails asking the German to look through the randomly shuffled stack of counters for the requested bods. (Break here for a mini series replay)
I arrive at Boscombe Down "please can I have a pilot, rear gunner and bomb aimer?" German..."I only have a rear gunner" Me..."Oh"
Once a full crew has been collected the player returns to base and is given a Lancaster card. This is well done, with each card relating to a real plane, detailing its performance on the raid. And so it continues until all the aircraft have been allocated. I assume this initial stage is supposed to be some sort of memory game, remembering what personnel remained at each base. In reality it gave us the opportunity to talk and think about anything else but Dambusters. After an hour of riveting boredom the planes were allocated something like 4,4,4 and 5. This might just as well have been done randomly. Then we moved into phase two...Training!
I have no complaints about this phase. It merely involved rolling dice three times for each plane, consulting a table to see whether it qualified to be allowed to take part in the forthcoming raid. Those that passed acquired opportunity cards by dint of these die rolls. The whole phase lasted about five minutes. Thanks to some pretty skilful dice rolling, I ended up with all four planes passing with lots of cards, whereas the player who after one hour had five planes was now down to one!
Then came the attack on the dams. Each player is given a card revealing the target, preventing the German from knowing exactly which are to be attacked. The German then sets up his anti-aircraft guns and night fighters. The attacking Lancasters take off in three waves and fly individually. Cards may be played by both sides as the RAF attempts to reach and breach the dams, and the Germans to shoot them down. This part works quite well, although it takes a long time. Quite a bit of flavour comes in, as the death of individual crew members and damage affect the aircraft (bomb aimer hit makes it more difficult to hit the target, navigator loss makes it difficult to find the target, engine hits slow the plane etc).
The cards are very powerful, and I found this frustrating, as by the time the target is reached the German has most of the card deck in his hand. My first plane then overshot the target three times, and followed this up by dropping a dud, as did my second. Conversely, the attacking bombers by working in conjunction can play cards allowing them to destroy anti-aircraft batteries, and blast a path through. The following planes can then pour through the breach like water through a dam.
Feelings were a bit mixed on this one. Everybody thought that the first phase should be done away with, and that the training was OK. Then the views split between 'the game has promise' and 'I never want to play that again'. I was one of the latter. This is a pity as it appeared that a lot of research had gone into the project; unfortunately as a game I don't think it works. There may be enough there to allow for tinkering to make an exciting, playable game, but I think it will be a while before I take to the air again.
On to the review of Ali Baba or back to the review of Tyranno Ex.
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