I have been thinking about how air combat is represented in wargames,
I recently played in Rob Cooper's "End of the Beginning" (EotB), a Megagame Makers game.
This was a game about the battle of El Alamein, 1942, between the Allied and the Axis Armies. The smallest unit on the board was a battalion, and the team players were at the Corps level. We played 11 turns, each representing a day and there were about 40 players, arranged in hierarchical teams, from a GHQ to the Corps HQs.
My role in the game was the Logistics Commander for the entire Axis forces. I worked very closely with the Axis air forces to counter any attack on our vulnerable supply lines. Working with the air team was essential for the safeguarding of our supplies.
EotB Air Combat Rules
I asked to see the rules for the air combat after the game and was sent a copy. As I read them I wondered if a little more complexity in the rules would be reasonable to add certain critical aspects of air warfare to the game but without overly complicating the rules. Always the nub of rules design: always prefer simplicity and elegance in rules to too much detail and chrome.
The design was a very simple one in EotB. Each squadron had two combat factors: air-to-air and ground attack. The order of combat resolution simulated the fighter's aggressive fighter on fighter doctrine, and the vulnerability of unescorted bombers. So all air-to-air factors were calculated in each area and the ratio worked out and dice rolled. An overwhelming attack would damage several fighter units and also turn away and damage some of the bombers. A less good attack would damage some fighters and give the bombers a minus factor on their bombing runs. And weak attacks would merely damage some fighters on both sides, more on the weaker side.
This is all good and easy to do especially when there are two umpires under a lot of time pressure to process orders, calculate results and feed this into the main ground map and feed it back to the players.
I felt it lacked a level of complexity that was required to give a more realistic result. The test is, can this level be borne and still have a rapid turn around of results during the game. As I said this should be at the nub of all wargames and games.
Suggested Modifications to EotB Air Combat Rules
1. Range. The areas of operations in the game should give a benefit to a force that was operating near its bases. These "defending" squadrons would have a better reserve of fuel to enable them to be engaged for longer or even to return for another sortie.
2. Obsolete planes. Although the number in the air-to-air combat factor is easy to calculate something needs to be done to account for the disparity in fighter quality. For example the Italians were still flying slow biplane fighters, Fiat CR.42, and these should be heavily penalised if they meet superior types of fighters like a Spitfire or a Hurricane.
3. Unescorted bombers. Any unescorted bombers caught by decent fighters should receive heavy losses. Unless the fighters are particularly poor and the bombers particularly good.
Point 1 above - the benefit of range for defending air forces - is relatively easy to work on the map. Each area is marked with an bonus for the each particular air force.
The point about obsolete planes is harder to add into the game, easily. Perhaps particularly vulnerable fighters or bombers should be marked as such. If they are in a mixed force any damage should be given to them first before other types. If a force is made up of a majority of obsolete fighters or bombers a minus factor should be added to the dice roll for that force.
Any attack on unescorted bombers will receive a bonus to the attacking fighters.