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Bloody April Revisited: A Little More Blood, A Lot More April

posted Jun 19, 2013, 12:39 AM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Jun 19, 2013, 12:42 AM ]

Just after Orccon in February, I posted about learning the basics of Bloody April, GMT Games' operational-level WWI air game about the British and Germans jousting with each other near Arras in April, 1917. If you don't want to go back and read the whole thing, the thrust of my post was that Bloody April struck me as an engaging simulation, but as a game… well, nothing happened. Planes flew, they tried to spot each other, but there was no actual combat.

But I also admitted that the problem was not the game design itself, but the low unit density in the designated introductory scenario. So I resolved to have another go at it, this time trying a larger and more involved scenario. Fortunately, Ken Tee was willing to humor me, and at ConsimWorld Expo we dragooned Terry Coleman into the game so that he and I could split the more numerous British side between us, with Ken once again playing the Germans.

I'm pleased to say that the results were much more satisfying. I had little idea of what I was doing as

a player; I probably flopped as an operational planner. But seeing the British and German squadrons spread out all across the map, with a variety of missions divvied up between them — combat patrol, trench strafing, artillery observation, even bombing an aerodrome —I got a true sense of operational scale and complexity. Each British squadron had a distinct mission, but at that level they had to coordinate with each other to minimize the effect of German interception and countermeasures — overwhelming a
GMT Games' Bloody April: More units definitely equal more fun.

(photo courtesy of Ken Tee)
sector here with sheer numbers, using deception and misdirection there. It was like mapping out a football play and then seeing it execute in super-slow motion.

There were casualties, but not that much actual fighting. IIRC, no more than a handful of planes from both sides were shot down or damaged. A lucky shot killed one of von Richtofen's pilots and the Baron himself barely escaped harm, and I believe that the Germans killed a British pilot or two. This, out of about 100 planes involved in both sides. But as much as I felt like it wouldn't be a war game without someone getting shot down, I have to say that the true satisfaction of Bloody April lies in putting combat into perspective, as simply one part of achieving your overall operational objectives for the day. Dogfighting is a means, not an end.

So, let the record show that I have modified my opinion of Bloody April. As an operational game — that is, at the scale at which it is designed to work — it is a subtle, flavorful and engrossing treatment of its subject. It's well worth the time of anyone interested in the intricacies of WWI air operations, as opposed to combat — not dogfighting in and of itself, but the larger context of dogfighting.