Overview and motivations to change the system
Air Force and Dauntless were single plane WW 2 air games from Battleline first published decades ago. They featured simultaneous plotted movement, with maneuvers and climbs changing the speed for the following turn but each plane moving its present speed on the current turn. Planes were rated for “turn mode”, the distance they had to fly straight before the next maneuver of any given type, with their specific turn modes varying by maneuver, speed, and altitude. It was easily the best air game of its day, maybe the best hex and counter air game ever designed.
But it had its issues. So much happened between one move and the next that firing positions occurred almost randomly. The game’s combat system wasn’t nearly as well designed as its air movement system, and the result of both of the previous was to put too much emphasis on a plane’s raw firepower and to a lesser extent its toughness, compared to its maneuverability and speed. The game’s vertical maneuvers were also poorly modeled, with climbs and dives properly modeled only for shallow sustainable maneuvers, not steep and unsustainable ones. All of these left gaps in the game’s realism and issues with its depiction of air combat tactics.
There is an easy solution to most of the game’s issues, however, one discovered years ago. This is to slow the action down somewhat so that a game turn represents about half as much time, effectively allowing more reactive player inputs of new movement decisions more frequently. This is accomplished simply by “interpreting” the game’s existing turn modes as the distance that must be traveled to make a 30 degree turn instead of a 60 degree turn. At the same time, the distance for a “bank” maneuver is halved, or the existing “turn mode” for a “bank” maneuver now the distance for a 2 point roll sufficient to reverse from right bank to left bank or vice versa (which took 2 such maneuvers in the original).
The other large change needed is a significantly more dangerous combat system in which it is less required that a plane be shot at 3-5 times before any serious damage is inflicted on it. This was first achieved with a simple “critical hit” system, using a second die on each attack and boosting the hits on the most vulnerable system hit by 1 or 2 hits for rolls of 5 or 6 respectively on the “red die”. This makes it possible for most single bursts to down a plane, though only on an especially “good” roll. I’ve since made a more thorough overhaul of the combat system, however, that goes much farther than this and results in much more realistic fire effects.
Main movement rule changes
(1) All “turn” maneuvers are now 30 degree turns, not 60 degree turns. Speed is now tracked in 0.1 increments like altitude. For all map movement purposes, round speed to the nearest whole number with 0.5 rounding down.
(2) Game printed “bank” modes are for 2 point rolls e.g from Right Bank to Left Bank; 1 point rolls may be performed of 1/2 the existing bank mode, fractions round up.
(3) Slip turns (aka “skids”) can change direction only 30 degrees for an SL or TR maneuver. Slip turns can only be performed in the direction opposite to the direction of the slip and in the direction of the current bank. The combination counts as 2 maneuvers for speed loss.
(4) Half rolls move 2 hexes in the 60 degree off angle of flight direction instead of just 1. Reduce the TM by 1 then conduct the roll as the following 2 hexes of movement, so the full maneuver is finished in the same number of hexes of movement, and reduce speed as a single maneuver.
(5) Half loop maneuvers can only per performed on turns the plane conducts a steep climb or a steep dive, and count as 2 maneuvers for speed loss purposes. The plane must be in a level bank for the climbing type, and inverted (flat) for the diving type (“Split S”). After the maneuver, the plane flips its bank 180, level to inverted or inverted to level.
(6) New “Immelmann turn” maneuvers can be performed for the same turn mode as a half loop maneuver (climbing or diving – though technically the name applies to the climbing kind). The plane must be banked in the direction of the turn, upward for a climbing half loop and inverted for a diving one. They allow change of direction 120 degrees instead of 180 degrees recorded as VRR or VLL. The plane’s bank changes to inverted compared to its starting bank but with the same left or right orientation it began in – LB becomes IL, RB becomes IR, IL becomes LB, IR becomes RB. Note that you cannot change direction 180 degrees with one of these; if you are banked at the start of the maneuver, you get the 120 degree Immelmann turn, not the “straight” half loop.
(7) Turns and the change of direction from loops do not cost a movement factor. The number of hexes moved on the map will always equal the plane’s starting speed, except in steep climb and dive or vertical dive maneuvers (see below). Slips and half rolls move the plane’s hex and cost 1 MP for each hex entered that way.
(8) Movement across the hex grain alternates between right front and left front hexes, with the right front hex always the first entered after assuming that facing. Odd hexes do carry over from the previous turn.
(9) Slips move 1 hex to the side of the slip, off the “straight line” track the plane would take without the slip. Half rolls move 1 hex to the side followed by 1 hex to the left front or right front for left and right half rolls respectively (“wishbone” or “knight move” fashion). When these maneuvers are conducted while facing a hexside rather than a hexspine (“with” the hex grain therefore), the slip moves left-front or right-front at a 60 degree angle to the flight path, and the half roll does so for 2 successive hexes of flight in the same direction. Slips and half rolls do not in themselves change the plane’s facing.
(10) A single 30 degree turn may be included in the slip hex as TR or SL, but must be in the opposite direction of the slip itself and in the same direction as the plane’s bank. This is a “skid turn” and counts as 2 maneuvers for speed change purposes.
(11) Half rolls completely invert the bank as in the original, a 3 point banking change.
(12) The speed loss from maneuvers is less than in the original, reflecting shallower turns and shorter periods of time involved. All planes lose 0.1 speed per maneuver in their maneuver speed envelope, 0.2 per maneuver in their level and dive speed envelopes. As explained above, slip turns and loops count as 2 such maneuvers each, while normal turns, slips without turning, and half rolls count as 1 each. Banks do not cost speed.
(13) Every plane in its dive speed must use “mini K” braking equal to the excess of its current speed over its top level speed – in other words it will have a speed loss of 0.1 per speed point it is past its top level speed. It will only be able to maintain dive speed by offsetting this “dive speed drag” by continuing to lose altitude.
(14) All planes have 0 mini-power factors (each mini power or mini brake factor changes speed the next turn by 0.1 speed) available in any dive speed (as in the original) and in addition have 0 power factors in at their top level speed. The mini power factors a plane has in its maneuver speed range is read off its climb rate in that altitude band, as 1 mini P factor per 100 feet of rated climb, but this allowance is over 2 turns. In their level speeds below their top level speed, a plane gets 1/2 its maximum mini P, thus 1/4 of the list climb amount (generally 0.1 or none). If a plane is rated only 100 feet of climb, it gets 1 mini P per 2 turns in maneuver speeds and only 1 mini P every 4th turn in its level speed envelope, below its top level speed.
(15) Mini Power factors only increase speed by 0.1 each, not by a full 1 per turn. Mini brake factors also reduce speed by 0.1 speed each. Maximum brake factors are 3 times the listed figure in the plane chart – e.g. if the listing shows 1 a plane may use up to 3 mini-K; if the listing is 5 it could use up to 15 mini K.
(16) Shallow climbs cost -0.1 speed per 100 feet of altitude climbed. Shallow dives give +0.1 speed per 100 feet in maneuver speeds, +0.1 speed per 150 feet (round down) in level speeds, and +0.1 speed per 200 feet of dive in the dive speed envelope. The maximum shallow dive distance is 150 feet per speed point, round down to nearest 100 feet. Dives of 200 feet per speed point are STEEP dives not shallow ones.
(18) Steep climbs are allowed up to 200 feet per point of current speed, but not more than 1000 feet total. The plane must be in one of the 3 “upward” banks – inverted steep climbs are not possible. A 1000 foot steep climb causes -1 full point of speed at the usual rate of 0.1 per 100 feet climbed. STEEP must be written into the plane’s plot. When moving, the plane expends only 2/3rds of its current speed in the horizontal plane – each 3rd movement point recorded in its plot is “skipped”. After the game turn, the plane’s speed may not exceed its top level speed minus 1 for the next turn, and it is adjusted down to that level if it would otherwise exceed it.
(19) Steep dives lose 200 feet of altitude per point of current speed. The plane’s speed increased by +1.0 as a result of this dive, regardless of the altitude lost this way. Other factors (maneuvers, braking, dive speed drag) may still reduce this speed gain, and if the plane began at a low enough speed, power factors may increase it. STEEP must be written into the plane’s plot. As above for steep climbs, the plane expends only 2/3rds of its current speed in the horizontal plane – each 3rd movement point recorded in its plot is “skipped”.
(20) Vertical dives are allowed for rated dive bombers and 1 and 2 engine fighters, only. The plane must have dived at least 1/2 its maximum shallow dive the previous turn, and the plane must be in a level or inverted (flat) bank. VERT is written into the plane’s plot. After the VERT symbol, the only maneuvers allowed are N and B banks or V to half-loop, the last only if in inverted bank. Each bank maneuver leaves the plane’s bank unchanged and instead changes the plane’s direction by 60 degrees in the direction of that bank maneuver. The plane moves forward a single hex, before such a change of direction if the majority of its recorded movement occurs after the bank, otherwise after that change of direction. The plane loses altitude equal to 400 feet times its speed. It gains +2.0 speed from the vertical dive maneuver.
(21) A dive bomber only gets dive bomb accuracy if it writes “BOMB” into its plot in the same turn it dives vertically, and ends that turn at 3000 feet or less. It targets its ending hex that turn. Any other bombing attack is treated a glide bombing.
(22) Pull out – a plane that conducted a vertical dive on the previous turn must dive at least 1/2 its maximum shallow dive the following turn. It may instead stay in a vertical or steep dive, but it may not level or climb without an intervening turn of 1/2 maximum shallow dive.
(23) Steep dive pull out – a plane that conducted a steep dive the previous turn must dive at least 300 feet (enough to gain 0.2 speed) the turn following the steep dive. It may not climb the following turn.
(24) Steep climb level off – a plane that conducted a steep climb the previous turn may not conduct any dive the following turn. It must first spend 1 turn level or in a shallow climb. Speed and power permitting, it may continue in a steep climb instead.
(25) Fractional power – planes with only 100 feet of rated climb at a given altitude may still use 1 power every other turn in maneuver speed and 1 power every 4th turn below their top level speed. The power factor is available if and only if they wrote no power use P into their plot on the previous turn or turns.
(26) Low turn modes for turns, slips, and half rolls are adjusted as follows. Any plane with a printed maneuver speed turn mode of 1 or 2 in its altitude band that is currently at speed 3 – and only 3 – has a turn mode of 1. At any maneuver speed higher than 3, the minimum turn mode for turns, slips, and half rolls is 2.
(27) At level speed, the minimum turn mode is 3, and in addition may not be lower than current speed -4 for single engine planes and 2 engine fighters. It may not be lower than current speed -2 for 2 engine bombers in an unloaded condition, and it may not be lower than current speed for any loaded 2 engine, or any 3 or 4 engine bomber. These are g load based limits.
(28) At dive speed, the minimum turn mode is 4 and all of the above speed related limits apply as with level speed. So e.g. a fighter with a top dive speed of 10 would have a turn mode of 6 at that max speed, minimum. If the plane’s printed TM with dive speed and condition adjustments is higher than its speed minimum, use that higher TM. These again are g load based limits.
Main combat rule changes
The cone of fire for fixed forward guns (FF) starts at 1 hex wide in the plane’s path of flight and gets 1 hex wider at ranges 3 hexes and again at 6 hexes. It never grows wider than that, and the maximum range for all firing is 8 hexes. This cone must cross the target plane or the hex immediately in front of the target plane (the next that it would enter if it is moving along a hexspine) at ranges 1-4 hexes, and must instead cross the hex immediately in front of the plane or the hex 2 hexes ahead of it at ranges 5-8 hexes.
Notice, the “target area” is always 2 hexes long and oriented along the target’s line of flight. It just has 1 more hex of “lead” at ranges 5-8. Also notice that at ranges 1-2, the best for the firing tables below, the firing cone is only a single hex wide, straight along the plane’s own flight path. 3 hexes is a “normal” close range shot, and generally easier to “line up” due to being 1 hex wider on either side of the firing plane’s path.
Weapons rated only range 3 in the original have a maximum range of 6 hexes; all other weapons my fire to the full 8 hex new range limit.
Each 400 feet of elevation difference adds 1 to the range, round fractions down. A fixed gun shooter with level nose can alone extend vertical elevation difference no more than 1/2 the horizontal range.
Flex guns use their existing fire arcs, but generally only a single best firing position on the flex gun plane may fire e.g. 2x50M from a US medium or heavy bomber equipped with twin 50 cal turrets. Multiple firing positions just ensure coverage and some redundancy after gun positions are hit. The exception is bombers with multiple single 30 caliber MGs (integer F gun values 1, 2, 3, differing by a single point) – these may fire at 2x30M in any arc with F firepower at least 2. Normally this means Flex fire will be on the first 3 fire tables below. Cases like the P-63 Black Widow are an exception, however, with their flex firepower in one massive turret.
Entirely new fire tables and procedures are used, with ranges 1-2 hexes, 3, 4, 5-6, and 7-8 hexes differentiated as columns on fire charts for each specific weapon type mix. Find the firing weapon mix among the 20 firing charts below, and get the column appropriate for the altitude adjusted range. 2D6 of different colors are thrown and totaled to get the 2D6 row down that column.
There are DRMs for deflection but nothing else – typical speeds, firing platform, and target size differences have all been incorporated already. At the same time, 1 or more D10 are thrown for “hit location”, while the red D6 also controls critical hits which may add +1 hit to a specific system on a red “5” and +2 hits to that system on a red “6”. Only shots that score at least 2 hits can cause critical hits.
First the core new firing tables –
The deflection DRM rules are quite simple –
Where the left hand side is used for all shots at single engine (1E) planes, and the right used for shots are multi-engine planes (2, 3 or 4). The 5-7 refers to “clock position” and means shots from dead astern – 6 o’clock – or facing 30 degrees off the target plane’s direction of flight (5 or 7 o’clock). Similarly the 4 and 8 entries refer to shots taken from 60 degrees behind the target plane’s direction of flight. The last entry, 9-3, refers to the entire frontal arc from a straight side shot, to all “front quartering” shots, to head on shots. In the case of the last it is technically closing speed rather than deflection that makes the shot difficult (and reduces firing time), but the effect in game terms is the same.
The DRMs are better for shots at deflection angles against the multi-engine planes simply because they are bigger targets, and easier to hit in such situations than small single engine planes. There isn’t a difference for the best deflection shots, because firing platform, minimum target size, and good deflection all add up to an equally favorable shot in that case. The marginal difference of a slightly bigger target size isn’t large enough to be worth a full DRM point on those already-favorable shots.
For fire from Flex guns (F), shots straight ahead or straight behind at a target within 1 point of facing away from you at 12, or toward you at 6 o’clock are “no deflection”. Just reference the clock positions above that the F plane is firing out of, and require that the target be within 1 point of the firing plane’s facing. If instead it is in those arcs but exactly 2 points off the firing plane’s facing, it is instead a medium deflection shot, and uses the 4 and 8 lines above. The only other medium deflection shots with flex guns are out of the flex shooter’s 4 or 8 o’clock positions at planes traveling in the same direction as the shooter, directly toward the shooter, or the 1 point between those. All other flex gun shots are “high deflection” and use the 9 to 3 row of the DRM table.
Heavy flak uses the 30C range 7-8 column without deflection DRMs; medium flak (37, 40) uses the 20C 7-8 column also without deflection DRMs. Multi barrelled 20mm or quad 50 cals use 2x50M on the 7-8 column, while single 20mm or 50 cal light AA use the 1x50M range 7-8 column. Only the single best AA weapon firing at a given plane is rolled.
The firing table with DRMs applied determines the number of hits obtained on the target. The D10(s) rolled at the same time control where those hits will be scored. There are tables to 1, 2, 3 and 4 hits vs single engine and multi engine planes. 6 and 8 hits are determined as 4 and 2 or 2 4s, and 10-16 are similarly determined as 2-4 hits of 4 each and occasionally a remaining 2 shot. No more than 2D10 are rolled for hit location at the same time as the 2D6 roll, and only if the shot could score 6 or more hits on its best roll. If 10-16 hits are obtained, roll 1-2 of the D10 hit locations again. All the damage from these additional hit rolls for hit counts beyond “4” are cumulative.
Hit location and final hit result D10 rolls
The number of hits is determined by the 2D6 roll on the firing tables above, and the red D6 controls whether or not any critical “*” result on the hit location tables can add +1 (for red die 5) or +2 (for red die 6) hits to that specific target system. The specific hit location and what system might be vulnerable to critical damage is determined by the D10 hit location roll on the tables below.
Use the left hand columns for 1 engine target, and the right hand columns for multi-engine target planes. The number of hits, 1-4, is given in the column header, and the row is the D10 die roll for the “hit location” of that hit. When more than 4 hits are scored, multiple rolls will occur on these tables to “allocate” each 4 hits, or 2 hits leftover in the case of 6, 10, and 14 hit results.
For hit locations with multiple “sides” like gun factors or engines, if the controlling D10 for hit location is odd for that hit, the left hand side system is the one hit. If the D10 hit location roll is even, it is the right hand side system that is the one hit. Center line systems are only hit if the “outboard” ones are both already destroyed.
For example, if a Spitfire with 8x30M weapon fires at a He-111 from the rear at range 3, it would use the 8x30M firing table with +1 DRM for no deflection. Suppose the raw 2D6 roll is an “8” with red “5” and white “3”. This gives 4 hits on the “9” adjusted DR row of the range 3 column on that weapon group’s firing chart. If the D10 hit location result is a “5”, the 4 hits are allocated on the rightmost column “4vME”, for 4 hits vs a multi-engine target. That result is WFEE*. The “*” means it is a critical and +1 hit to the “E” system if the red D6 is 5, +2 if it is 6. Here that is +1 E system hit. The D10 location being odd means the engine hit is the left engine, and with the +1E for critical 5, the total hit is WFEEE, destroying that left engine. The He-111 must jettison its bomb load and fly as loaded and with no power factors, and try to “abort” home.
Procedural combat rule changes
Fire zones are only 30 degrees wide instead of 60, meaning they widen by 1 hex for every 2 hexes of distance, bumping up at “odd” ranges. If the number of hexes the target is “off” the straight line projection of the firing plane’s flight path is more than 1/2 the range to the target rounding fractions down, then it is outside the cone of fire for fixed forward guns.
Firing vertical attitude
Fixed forward guns can fire at lower targets only with the firing plane in a level or diving attitude, and similarly at a higher target only with the firing plane in a level or climbing attitude. In addition, the vertical separation need to be within 200 feet times the range for a firing plane in a level attitude. Add 1 to the range per 400 feet of vertical separation, fractions rounded down, as in the original.
Flex gun limitations
Only the best single shot from flexible guns can be taken at a given plane. Normally this means only 4 FP from a double 50 cal turret – do not add these up from all positions that could theoretically bear. This is a major change – extra gun positions will allow the bombers to get shots most turns that a fighter is in range, but not increase the bomber’s firepower to heavy fighter levels. When 2 or more 30 caliber MGs (each 1FP) bear, however, the flex gun plane may fire on the 2x30M chart.
New Deflection modifiers
Air combat procedure changes
Roll 2D6 of different colors for all air to air gunnery shots. The red die is the critical hit die, while the white die is the normal result die. The white die determines the main hit as in the original rules. If any of the following critical systems are hit – C, L, or E – then a red die “6” may add 2 hits to any one such system hit, while a red die “5” may add 1 hit to any one such system hit.
The ordinary climbs in the game are those that are sustainable indefinitely using the engine power of each specific plane. But temporary steeper climbs are possible, and the following procedure implements them.
Only a plane in an upward bank can perform a steep climb. Mark a steep climb as SC at the beginning of the turn’s move. The plane climbs 200 feet per point of speed it possesses to a maximum of the total climb that would lose all its speed in excess of its minimum maneuver speed at its ending altitude, taking into account any power it may apply. It’s speed falls normally for the distance climbed, and the rest of the turn is recorded normally. In flight execution that turn, the plane moves only 1/2 its full speed horizontally; the rest of its movement is considered to be in the vertical direction for that turn. The following turn it may not steep climb again and may not steep dive, but may normal climb or normal dive as the player desires.
Climbing half loops can only be performed as steep climbs in an upward bank, which will invert to a downward bank when the V maneuver occurs.
Steep dives work very similarly to steep climbs, marked SD at the beginning of the movement track. The plane must lose 300 feet for each point of speed it possesses, and gains as much speed at that would normally add, up to its maximum dive speed (which will normally be reached even from a slow starting speed). Again the plane moves only 1/2 its speed for the turn in the horizontal direction. The plane may not steep climb the following turn but may continue to steep dive, normal dive, or normal climb.
Diving half loops – split S – can only be performed as steep dives in a downward bank, which will invert to an upward bank when the V maneuver occurs.
To perform a vertical dive, the plane must start in a level bank. Write VD at the start of the turn track. The plane loses 500 feet of altitude per point of speed and moves forward only a single hex. In addition, bank maneuvers change the facing of the plane while leaving its bank unchanged. It may must dive the following turn at least enough to gain1 speed factor by its ordinary dive table (it cannot pull out more than that in one turn).
Example of play
An older thread explaining much of this system and illustrating it with a fighter dogfight can be found on the following thread on Board Game Geek –