Monday 17 December 2018

Blood Red Skies Game - Initial Thoughts

Sometimes you want something to work really well, like a relationship or a new car  or a new job and you invest a lot of time and effort into it and you really WANT it to work.  Well this was me with Blood Red Skies.

The reviews I read online were very positive. I never like to buy anything cold these days. I will read up and research and accept the caveat that biases will exist, however you hope that you can sift through these.  Interestingly I have not found a single negative review about the whole game overall.

So with that in mind I bought the Battle of Britain boxed set game and on reading the rules I thought I would go the whole hog and buy a very nice 6 x 4 ft mat from Deep Cut Studios too (I have another purpose for the mat too so that will multi-role'). 

I watched a couple of videos on You Tube for the tutorials and thought - 'Mmmm ok that has some promise - looks a bit confusing in places but that's new games.'  Though the confusion of the experienced play testers in one game did leave me wondering.

The box is beautifully presented. I love the Art Deco design and the use of colours in the art work. The rules are in keep with the era and I like the scenario books and the simple play sheet. The mechanics look very simple. 

The models themselves are nicely scaled and have lovely panelling - not too deep but enough for a good wash to get into the low lights and make a paint job look great.   The wings are very bendy though and some of the fuselages are bent like bananas as the plastic has the feel of cheap Christmas Cracker tat.    Still plastic is a new medium so experimental materials can be forgiven. 

STOP ...REWIND.....The wings and fuselages of the plastic planes were bent!!!!  Airfix were making plastic kits nearly 70 years ago and in the time since plastic technology on models is now amazing.  I mean what the is utterly inexcusable.  Hot water did allow me to bend the wings straight but they warped back to bent.  I do now wonder whether the paint job effort was worth it.  I am pleased to say that the latest Mosquito planes boxed set are made of a much better grade of plastic and are superb but really this should have been done from the outset.

There were some basic decals included in the Battle of Britain boxed set but one did have to buy the decal sheets for the squadron markings.  Annoyingly the new Mosquito set (not pictured here) comes with the Spitfire markings decals (why?!)

The game system works on an 'advantaged, neutral and disadvantaged' system symbolising height and skill of the superior planes at any particular time. It is quite possible for a plane to go through all 3 of these states in one game turn. The stand cleverly pivots forward and back from a central position to show these states.  It does feel a bit like a car gear stick after a while and can be a little tiresome rocking the planes back and forth constantly but the simple system does do away with having to use card chits, which is no bad thing.

The dice system for shooting and saves is great. Nice and simple.  Number of dice depend on various factors.  If the Ace of Clubs/Spades or whatever it is (I'm not a card player) appears in the slack handful of dice then either good or bad things happen. I like this - it makes the game chug along nicely without adding complexity.

The rules do work mostly quite well and the quick play sheets are a helpful tool but it is necessary to look through the expanded rules and the scenario book to pick up on all of the rules. This can be a bit annoying in a game to to have 3 books open on the desk and hunting through each to find the right bit.  Clouds effects are in the scenario book....

There are a different cards that can be played during the game but this appeared confusing even to the play testers on the You Tube video that I decided not to use these in the first couple of games.  Having read through it since it is still as clear as mud.  The rules for attacking multi-engined planes (common in WW2) has some confusing rules, indeed, a new FAQ sheet on the Warlord Games website, devotes some questions to clearing this up and the answer that things depend on whether the plane was on a bomb run or not does seem to muddy the water somewhat.  In the main rules it seems that to shoot down a bomber appears really difficult.  I was confused and still am.

I think the worst aspect for me is the way the planes manoeuvre.  It is very abstract.  Usually moving in straight lines with a turn at the end or giving up an advantage level and turning up to 180 degrees at any point in the turn.  Yes - like a police car in a car chase movie it can turn a 180 on the spot and go back the other way. There are no curving bank movements which (as I understood from reading primary sources) were common in dogfights.  The X-Wing banking angles do this motion very elegantly  and indeed old wargame rules (thinking of 'Dogfight over Flanders' ) used this same method.  So in our first two games the best tactic has been to fly head on (because trying to outflank will get you attacked pretty quickly) like jousting knights and then perform a 180 as you pass the other player to get on his tail to disadvantage him and then try to take the shot on the next turn.

I think this for both Ian and myself was the weirdest thing.  I want to be kind about the game. I want it to work. I want to enjoy it. I have spent 3 days solid painting the aircraft.  I have spent a lot of money on it...but so far it's just weird!  I'm hoping that something will ping into place on the next play through and we go 'Aha! We were doing it wrong and look now the planes look like they are dogfighting instead of just charging at each other and then spinning around.'

I note that there are a lot of new aircraft being released soon which is nice.  I note also that the plane that I was hoping to see (the Boulton Paul Defiant) was actually released as a pre-production special and is now reaching £41 per model on Ebay etc. Great :-(   so I'm not likely to see this plane as a model on the table now.

So what are my plans from here.  I think to read the rules again. I must have missed something surely.  And then play test and play test again and try to use the cards as the designer intended.  I will get more models as the planes do paint up nicely. I really would like BF-110s, Hurricanes and Stukas (but not in Christmas Cracker gift bendy plastic).

If the weirdness continues then I think I will create my own game using the aircraft but utilising the banking movements in the style of X-wing with different MDF movement sticks cut out by my jig-saw to match the maximum turn rates of the various aircraft.  I have little doubt that a working mix of X-Wing and elements of BRS could actually make a cracking little game which would suit me very well. 

So there we are. A few thoughts from me. I hope in a few months I can come back and say - 'Well I spotted some good bits back then, but there was a lot I didn't realise at the time and now the whole game is superb.'  We shall see.  I shall persist!


  1. Interesting post. I had half an eye on this game as well, but have a lot of unplayed Wings of War models so didn’t want to double up. I had heard about the bendy plastic, and you can see that on the Spitfire three photos from the end.

  2. That's disappointing, the bendy plastic is inexcusable for a company like this,I hope you make your own game up out of the component parts, the planes paint up well and the mat looks great!
    Best Iain

  3. Great looking planes and gaming mat, love the clouds. Hope the rules eventually flesh out for you.

  4. Lovely planes and mat Jason...

  5. The planes look excellent; hope you can resolve the rules issues satisfactorily one way or the other!