PSS seems to be trying to appeal to the mainstream market with its "all action" Wargamers Series, this game continues in this vein. This kind of wargame is exclusive to the computer. It relies on the facilities offered by a computer, and owes far less to board and miniature gaming than more traditional implementations. This is not instrinsically bad - just different - and of its type Battle of Britain is certainty not bad. But like ess's other releases, it is as much a game of reflex and quick thinking as strategy, and there is not much time for reflection and planning. Potential purchasers should be aware of this.
Apparently we all know about the Battle of Britain, because the rulebook contains no historical background whatsoever. This is a major deficiency; the Battle of Britain may be one of the more familiar episodes in military history, but as a matter of principle, all wargames with any pretensions to authenticity ought to back themselves up with information which puts the action in context.
There are three basic game-type options offered, the introductory level training game. the fast, furious and very short blitzkrieg game, and the full-scale 30 day campaign scenario.
The training level is useful for the first few attempts, but it is ludicrously easy and becomes redundant after any proficiency is attained.
The Blitzkrieg only lasts for one day, in this scenario the Luftwaffe go for an all-out attack on every target, and do it so quickly that keeping up with the action becomes close to impossible without an extra set of faculties.
The campaign game is impressive by comparison, both in terms of content and length. It takes place over thirty days, implements a predictable strategy which is historically accurate, and has a choice of three speeds. In between days the player has the opportunity to make up the numbers of the squadrons from a pool of reserves. This gradually diminishes in quality as the days go by, representing the recruitment of inexperienced pilots. Playing the campaign game all the way through is a long-term project. At the slowest speed, with the arcade option, it could take well over five hours. Fortunately there is an option which allows the position to be saved at the end of a day.
The fact that speed determines the level of play in the campaign says something important about the game. The most important skill which determines success or failure is the ability to dash the command box about the screen, scrambling squadrons efficiently and moving them to intercept the Luftwaffe. No specific orders can be given to the squadrons, and unless the arcade sequence is being played, the outcome of an armlet conflict seems to depend on relative numbers.
Play takes place across a simplistic (but functional) map of the south of England. British radar stations, airfields and cities are represented, and can be identified by moving the joystick or movement- key operated command box. The date and time is permanently displayed underneath a scrolling message screen. This screen throws out a rapid variety of information about the weather conditions at airfields, squadrons which are short of fuel or lost, and cities and radar stations 'which are bombed by the Germans. Each type of message is accompanied by a distinctive audio signal, which isn't a bad idea as in the faster games there is scarcely enough time to keep up with them. Information about the strength and condition of each squadron when airbourne can also be obtained via the command box. There are eighteen squadrons available, stationed around the nine airfields, and all are either Spitfires or Hurricanes. The Luftwaffe squadrons are made up both of fighters and bombers.
Many purists are dubious about the arcade element which PSS incorporate into their wargames. It is optional in Baffle of Britain: if selected, the player is given the chance to participate in any battle by selecting the squadron in combat and playing a brief snatch of unexciting simulation. This is cosmetically attractive, but very basic and slightly too easy, it is disassociated in feel from the rest of the game. Success in shooting down the German planes increases the number of Luftwaffe casualties, but playing through the sequence greatly lengthens the time it takes get through any of the scenarios, and missing it out doesn't appear to put the player at a disadvantage. It seems that an entire Luftwaffe squadron was faced by a single Spitfire or Hurricane, that the German pilots did not shoot back, and that they waited to be attacked one plane at a time.
The gameplay is fast and smooth and it becomes absorbing after a while; it's the kind of addiction though, that comes from the satisfaction of quick thought and action rather than depth of thought, and it may not be what some people are looking for in a strategy game. On its own terms it has an atmosphere of authenticity, and creates a playable fast-moving environment which many will find enjoyable.
Substantially packaged and good on the screen.
The rules which relate to the operation of the game are clear and concise, but there is a woeful lack of background material.
The gameplay is smooth and fast and has a degree of hookability.
The graphics are not stunning but they are clear enough and do the job.
Deviations from historical accuracy are acknowledged; the pattern of Luftwaffe attack is authentic and there is a frantic feel to the gameplay which recreates the atmosphere of the original battles.
Follows historical strategy, but chooses targets randomly. Not much subtlety.
…depending on what you're looking for in a wargame.
Recommended as a fast moving puzzle.
The map shows major towns, airfields and radar stations in the south of England. The command box is over a British squadron. In the box top left is given the squadron's status and the four arrows show where the squadron is off to - straight into the path of the German raiders.
The arcade screen, at the cockpit of a Spitfire.