In the beginning …
There was cardboard, and dice, and Avalon Hill saw that it was good.
“B-17: Queen of the Skies” (B17QotS) was released by Avalon Hill in the early 1980’s, during the heyday of the classical board wargame, with parts you could actually touch (or spill soda on). B17QotS simulated the World War II Allied strategic bombing campaign over Germany, 1942-1945 Unlike other games on the theme, which were Bomber Command or 8th Air Force-level simulations, B17QotS featured a single B-17F ‘Flying Fortress’ bomber.
Though the rules said it could be played by two players (the second of whom would have been severely bored), it was really meant for solo play. German fighters were automata, and many of the player’s “decisions” were the result of die rolls. Really, the player’s lone choice was the allocation of which machineguns should fire at which German fighters.
The attraction of the game was, and is, its role-playing aspect: The B-17’s crew had names, and accumulated skill, and if they were very lucky, surviving 25 missions, they rotated home to sell war bonds. (Like the crew of the Memphis Belle.) You really sweated the last few missions before SGT Hank Carlson, your ace tail gunner, got his 25.
As is always the case, a number of variants and optional rules quickly cropped up. (And continue to do so.) Still, you only got to decide which guns to fire at which enemy. And the paperwork was still a pain in the butt.
Board wargames are still being published, many of them better designed than the ‘classics’. (And with much more attractive components.) But no matter how popular a modern board wargame is, it will never come even remotely close to outselling “PanzerBlitz”.
Board wargames were mainstream, even having shelf space at Toys’R’Us. By the late 80’s they were gone, replaced by computer wargames. The early computer wargames were also mainstream best-sellers. And they really were war games, good faith attempts to recreate history.
By the mid 90’s, computer wargames had also become a niche product, replaced by fantasy games, empire building games, sports games, and first-person shooters. But board wargames never completely went away. Face it, there’s a lot more satisfaction in watching your friend’s reaction when your paratroopers smash his carefully planned blitzkrieg, then there is in sending him an e-mail about it.
By now, the kids that grew up on board wargames are middle-aged adults with disposable income and nostalgia for the good old days. And they have programming skills.
Around 2001, Mike Pranno mocked up a prototype computer game of B17QotS. I met Mike through a play by e-mail B17QotS campaign. Mike posted the prototype on the campaign’s message board. One of our fellow players had done some mods of Mike’s prototype, but didn’t have the time to continue working on the project. I got laid off at the end of 2002, and with software development jobs being hard to come by, picked up the slack while looking for a paying programming job. (Plus, it helped keep my skills sharp.)
Summary of Features
- Major Variants: All the historical variants from Avalon Hill’s “The General”, plus many web-published variants. (More of which are constantly being added.)
- Bombers: You can fly the B-17C, B-17E, B-17F, B-17G, YB-40 (a B-17 gunship), B-24D, B-24E, B-24G/H/J, B-24L/M or even the British Avro Lancaster. Each model has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Fly famous historical bombers, such as the Memphis Belle, Dakota Queen or KB726, or add your own. You may also add or delete bombers, transfer them between squadrons, or send them home to do war bond tours.
- Airmen: Promote airmen, change their position, or transfer them between bombers. You may also add, update or delete airmen.
- Squadrons: Change their commander, transfer them between groups, or view their history of sorties, kills and awards. You may also add or delete squadrons.
- Groups: Change their commander, transfer them between fronts, or view their history of sorties, kills and awards. You may also add or delete groups.
- 8th and 15th Air Force: Fly missions out of England or Italy.
- Expanded Target Lists: The emulator contains over 120 targets, which is many more than the original boardgame.
- Position: What the bomber’s position is in the formation, if it is out of formation, or even at low altitude.
- Crew Experience: Inexperienced crews are more likely to miss the target and have accidents, while veteran crews are less likely to experience such mishaps. Ace gunners (those with 5+ kills) are more likely to hit Axis fighters. Lead crews make more accurate bomb runs.
- German Fighter Pilot Skill: They may range from green flight cadets to the Ace of Aces.
- JG-26 “Schlageter”: The most famous, and dangerous, German fighter group — the “Abbeville Kids” — will oppose missions to northern France and the Low Countries.
- Ju-88s Used as Fighters: The Germans may use their medium bombers as heavy fighters.
- Fly Unescorted: This option allows the brave (or foolhardy) to fly missions without any fighter escort.
- Red Tail Angels: This option allows for the chance of 15th Air Force bombers being escorted by the 332nd Fighter Group, the famous Tuskegee Airmen, which did not lose a single bomber to German fighters.
- Evade Fighters: If a bomber is out of formation, it may evade fighters. That lessens their chances of hitting the bomber, and the bomber’s chance of hitting them in return.
- Evade Flak: Prior to April, 1943, when COL LeMay took command of the 305th Bomb Group, American bombers took evasive action, during their bomb runs, to avoid flak. The bomber is less likely to take damage and hit the target.
- Time Period Specific Formations: American formations prior to April, 1943, when the classic “box” was instituted, were much more vulnerable to German fighter attacks.
- Formation Defensive Gunnery: The tighter defensive box is also more likely to produce friendly fire casualties.
- Weather: The worse the weather, the less likely the enemy is to spot the bomber and the bomber is to spot the target; landings can also get dicey. Better weather makes it easier for the Germans to spot the bomber — particularly if contrails form — and for the bomber to hit the target.
- Alps: Bad weather may cause the entire group to abort. Fog may cause the bomber to fly into the side of a mountain. And if the bomber can’t maintain altitude to fly over the Alps on the return trip, the crew will have to bailout or crashland.
- Jettison Excess Weight: If your bomber is low on power, you may choose to jettison excess weight to gain a few more zones of range.
- Abort Mission: If the bomber has moderate damage, you have the option of aborting the mission. If the bomber is severely damaged, or suffering from damage to particular systems (such as a fuel leak), it will automatically abort.
- Bail or Crash: If the bomber is so severly damaged it cannot maintain lift, you have the option to bail out or attempt a crash landing. If the bomber is over water, then the option is to bailout or ditch.
- Random Events: Mid-air collisions, extremely good luck (“rabbit’s foot”), etc.
- Random Mechanical Failures: The bomber is subject to random mechanical gremlins, such as supercharger failure.
- Swap Ammo: If a gun is getting low on ammo, you may transfer ammo to it from other guns.
- Spray Fire: Uses up more ammo, and is more likely to jam the gun, but it may increase your chances of hitting an Axis fighter.
- Frostbite: You choose to descend to low altitude or risk frostbite.
- Bombing Neutral Territory: An international incident may occur if the target is near Switzerland and your bombs are dropped off target.
- Retreating German Lines: The emulator tracks the progress of the ground war on the West Front, East Front and Italy. For instance, if the crew bails out over the Netherlands: Prior to November, 1944, the crew will always be captured. After Operation Market-Garden, between November, 1944, and February, 1945, there is a moderate chance the crew will bailout behind Allied lines. After the Allies begin their final push in March, 1945, there is an even greater chance of landing behind Allied lines. (But not always, as the Allies did not occupy the entire Netherlands until after the Armistice.) The 1944 and 1945 maps will give you an idea of what your odds are.
- Tail Numbers: Your bomber will be assigned the same serial number as that of a real life bomber, of the same model. There are literally tens of thousands of tail numbers in the system!
- Log Speed: Adjust the scroll speed of the mission log. The default is 2, which provides a quick, but smooth and readable scroll. Values may be 0 (very quick) to 10 (one second, very slow).
- HTML Help Files: You may freely modify the existing documentation, or even add additional pages. (But don’t delete or rename the existing pages, or the help won’t work.) All documentation is fully HTML 4.01 transitional compliant.
- Old Habits Die Hard: If you still like playing with cardboard and dice, you can create a mission using the emulator, then save it to an HTML page for easy and attractive printing.
- … Anything else that was in the original boardgame that I forgot to mention. It’s all there, plus the many additional features mentioned above.
And the best part of all? No paperwork.
|Documentation Index||Introduction||Progress Report|