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GMT Games: It's Bloody April in February

posted Feb 23, 2013, 12:29 AM by Douglas Sun

I've been letting this blog languish for the last couple of months for a variety of reasons — some of them good, some of them not so good — but Mike Lam snapped me back to attention by passing along this graphic that Rodger MacGowan created from a photo taken at the just-completed Orccon convention.

Ken Tee was kind enough to teach GMT Games' Bloody April to me and Mark Yoshikawa at the Wargame Bootcamp on Saturday, and I guess I was so caught up in it that I don't even remember someone taking our picture.

Unlike a lot of war gamers, WWI air combat has never been a particular interest of mine. I understand the glamour that it holds, but I just don't feel it as keenly as others do. So Bloody April was not high on my list of

Ken Tee (left) teaching me and Mark Yoshikawa (far right) the ins and outs of Bloody April. Of course, as Mark reminded me, all of the die rolls bad for our side were my fault. :-D
must-try games when it first came out last year. But I found myself fascinated by Alistair Horne's chapter on air operations over the Verdun sector when I read his classic history, The Price of Glory, last month. Although he doesn't short the glamour-boy appeal of the knights-errant of the skies, Horne really caught me with his discussion of operational strategy. And — happy coincidence — Bloody April is an operational game, not a tactical dogfighting game, that covers the air war around Arras in April 1917 at a similar level. 

So how did my learning game go, and what is my considered judgment? Ken, as always, was a splendid teacher: He picked a short, simple scenario (#3, I think) that allowed us to focus on the basic mechanics and the essential rhythm of the game. Mark and I each took one of the British squadrons, while he took von Richtofen's squadron, which actually gave us noobs less to worry about.

As for my considered judgment of Bloody April… I'm still considering it. I'll start by saying that I found it rather curious that a scenario pitting two British squadrons with inexperienced pilots and hopelessly outclassed planes against the Red Baron and his Flying Circus should end with no combat and no casualties to speak of. I expected that at least some of my planes would end up looking Snoopy's doghouse. But maintaining visual contact is so precarious in this game, and maneuvering at speed so laborious, that it didn't seem extraordinary at all that our planes passed each other like… well, like ships in the night. We actually cut the game short to artificially set up a dogfight, so we could walk through the dogfighting mechanics before I had to leave for dinner. Kudos to Bloody April as a simulation, but as a game, this was a little weird.

I'll grant, however, that this may have been a function of the size of the scenario — low unit density, uncrowded skies, lots of room to maneuver if you don't really want to be spotted. I wouldn't be surprised if the larger scenarios play much differently, with much more action to be had,

Another function of the small scenario, I think, was that die rolls that don't necessarily advance the game took on a more prominent role. Very little seems to happen in Bloody April during the turns that precede detecting enemy planes. They move very quickly. And yet, each turn, you have to roll for a random event, and the result will almost certainly not matter if you haven't yet detected enemy planes. In a larger scenario, this fixed feature of each game turn probably has less importance because there is more for to keep you busy.

But I also tend to agree with Mark, who opined that overall, it felt like a lot of dice rolling to relatively little end. You have to roll to detect the enemy, which isn't necessarily easy. Then roll to spot the enemy before you can actually engage him. Then hope you don't lose contact before you can close the range, in which case you'll have to detect and spot him all over again. There's a lot of rolling before you even get to the shooting, and we never got to the shooting, except by stopping the game and invoking player fiat. Again:Kudos to Bloody April as a simulation, but as a game, a little weird. And again: I freely acknowledge that the small scenarios probably feel different than the large ones.

In the end, I wasn't convinced to add Bloody April to my collection. But I would give it another try, because I know I shouldn't really pass judgment on this game until I've experienced the Red Baron shooting someone down.