Last night Markus Stumptner and I played a session of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s Nightfigher, which is scheduled to be released by GMT Games.
Nightfighter is a little unusual in the world of board wargaming, in that it is semi-cooperative, with an emphasis on narrative, rather than focussing on competitive play per se. The two players consist of one umpire and one player. The umpire secretly moves the bombers, also lets the player know the results of radar sweeps, attempts to visually tally bombers and so on on one map. The player, who operates the defending nightfighters moves fighters, conducts radar and/or searchlight sweeps and so on on another map. The umpire has perfect knowledge of both side’s forces, while the player must attempt to locate and then shoot down the bombers.
The actual game play is quite simple: each turn the umpire moves on any new bombers (the entry for these are randomly generated) and any bombers already on the board are also moved (at their maximum speed). In general, bombers remain within the same hexrow while they are on the board (replicating the ‘bomber stream’). The player then moves the nightfigters and then tried to spot the enemy. The scenario will specify what (if any) radar or searchlights are available, and also weather conditions (which aslo affects spotting). Bombers may also be spotted visually: one or more six-sided dice are rolled and if any bombers are within spotting range that also have a tally number that corresponds to one of the numbers thrown then the bomber is spotted and the umpire so informs the player. Fighters within the same hex as a bomber may fire. Play continues until either all bombers have left the board or have been shot down.
The game uses programmed instruction to ease players into the more complex scenarios that utilise increasingly sophisticated levels of equipment. The first scenario had nightfigher pilots relying on eyes alone, and is a scenario where the player should celebrate if the enemy is spotted!
In a sense, one could think of it as a two-player solitaire game, where the solitare system relys on a person rather than some other mechanism (such as paragraphs) to keep the gmae engine running. This aspect of game play appeals to me at a level where role-playing games do, where the emphasis is not on beating your competitor, but on interactions with your fellow players to create a narative structure. Not that I think that Nightfighter can’t be played competitively: players could easily swap sides and then determine a winner Each game will certainly plays quickly enough (at least with the first scenarios) for you to do this in a single evening. But playing a wargame in this manner feels pleasantly different and is I think worth experiencing.
Lee is also including a campaign game (and is the reason Markus and I ran a game, so that we could familiarise ourselves with the basic mechanics so that we could get into the campaign system). We played scenario two, with variant C, which featured a raid on Pearl Harbor in 1942. I was the umpire and had the pleasure of seing Markus’ P-40D flying around the map trying to make contact with a pair of Emilys. I delayed the entry of both bombers a turn (there were 2 bombers in total, one due on turn one, the other on turn two). Both ended up flying down the same hex row. Markus managed to maintain radar contact for most of the game. What he didn’t know was that he was in contact with both bombers, nor did he know that he stayed within two hexes of both bombers, flying parallel with them for several turns. He twigged which hexrow they were in and got a shot off at the first bomber (without effect) just before it exited the map (bomber two a couple of hexes behind him).
Neither Markus or I have any expertise in WW2 night figter operations. At least I don’t: Markus has expertise in all sorts of areas. But it had wonderful atmosphere. We’ll look forward to plying it again.