Multiple Contacts Coming In: A Review of ‘Nightfighter’
Game Name: Nightfighter
Publisher: GMT Games
Players: 2 (One player is the Umpire)
Playing Time: 30-60 Minutes
Retail Price: $55.00
Category: War Game
- Rule book, 20 pages
- Scenario book, 16 pages
- One counter sheet 1/2″ counters
- One counter sheet 5/8″ counters
- One 11 x 17″ umpire’s map
- One 22 x 17″ player’s map
- One 11 x 34″ play-aid sheet/umpire’s screen
- Six 6-sided dice
From GMT Games:
NIGHTFIGHTER is a game of air warfare in the night skies of World War II.
The game requires two participants: a player and an umpire.
The game details the development of night fighting tactics over Britain, the Reich and the Pacific. Using a brand-new ‘blind’ play system, an umpire controls the attacking forces and moderates the defending player, who must find, fix and destroy the incoming bombers.
Nightfighter will recreate the tactics of night fighting, from the ‘cat’s eye’ fighting of the London night blitz to the Mosquito intruder operations at the end of the war. Scenarios include Freya AN interception in the Dunaja dark fighting zones, Himmelbett zones, the introduction of AI radar, Wilde Sau and Zahme Sau tactics. The evolution of electronic systems and countermeasures is modelled, including the use of ‘Airborne Cigar’ and ‘Window’ jamming, and ‘Serrate’ radar homing.
There is a huge variety of aircraft in the game, from early Do217s and Ju88 fighters, to advanced fighters such as the He219. Rarities such as the Ta154, Me262B-1a and the Japanese J1N1 Gekko will be included. Schräge Music (‘Jazz Music’) oblique gun systems are modelled. The Allies get ‘cat’s eye’ Hurricanes, Blenheims with AI Mk IV radar, Beaufighters with Serrate and various marks of Mosquito, including the NF.30 with the advanced AI Mk X radar. Pacific operations will see P-61A ‘Black Widow’ fighters engaging Japanese bomber threats over Saipan and F4U-2s engaging torpedo strikes against the fast carriers.
This was quite an ambitious undertaking. The simulation of nighttime air defense against bombers in WWII. Nightfighter allows you to play with a number of different aircraft on both sides of the war. The core of the game demonstrates how bombing defense systems evolved throughout the war and beyond.
Nightfighter is for all practical purposes a solitaire game that requires two people to play. The second player acts as the “Umpire”, and controls the bombers or other aircraft that are invading the player’s territory. The decisions made by the Umpire are few however, they mainly keep track of the actual locations of the bombers and lets the player know when they actually find one. In essence, they act as a sort of GM.
The game comes with a player’s map and a separate smaller Umpire’s map, both with numbered hexes. Each hex represents about a square mile of air space. During a game the Umpire hides his map behind a four page width GM screen that contains a lot of the charts that you will need while playing. There are also two sheets of counters of different sizes (for the player’s map or umpire’s map).
Nightfighter is designed to be learned in stages. The rulebook takes you through the basics, then tells you to play scenario one. Another page or two of rules, then scenario two, and so on. It is the traditional learning by stages approach, and it works well in this game.
Setup is pretty easy. The scenarios describe exactly which fighters and bomber counters that you need. It might take some searching through the counters unless you keep them organized, but you should be ready to go in less than five minutes.
There are ten phases to each turn, this breaks everything into more manageable chunks as otherwise you would spend a lot of time wondering what you’re supposed to be doing next.
The first few phases are movement and entering of the bombers into the playing area. The umpire has a few options as to when to bring his bombers onto the board. They will generally appear one at a time along the entry end of the board. The hex column that each bomber will be travelling down is generated randomly by pulling a chit. The only real choice the umpire has is that they can delay the bomber entering the field up to two turns. Other than this the bombers each enter on the turns specified in the scenario instructions. The player then moves his fighter(s) toward the entry end of the player board, and the quest to find the hidden bombers is on.
Now each of the nighfighter aircraft and bombers capabilities are detailed in the charts on the GM screen. The charts describe the movement, firepower, damage the aircraft can take, and equipment available, as well as the date the aircraft went into service. You will be referring to these charts often as you play.
One of the really interesting aspects of the game is the feeling of history you experience when playing. The scenarios progress in a somewhat linear fashion, so the first scenario has your single fighter trying to track down a bomber using visual spotting only. The scenario is rated “impossible” and it really is. It has a dual purpose to both teach you how to play a basic game, and give you a sense of the futility the pilots must have experienced when basically looking for a needle in a haystack.
You skip many of the turn phases in the first few scenarios, you will learn these later. The next concept introduced is ground radar searches. For this, you pick a hex anywhere on the board and place your radar search token there. There are different types of radar that all have different capabilities. In essence, the umpire will signal a contact (but not where the contact is) if a bomber is within the search radius of the radar, or add a counter showing the general direction the closest bomber is in. Using this method you can eventually pin down the general location of a bomber, but in order to attack you need to maneuver your nightfighter into the same hex as the bomber, while travelling in the same direction, and have a “Tally” on the bomber.
Tallying a bomber happens during the Tally phase. Once your aircraft is close enough you can have your pilot attempt to tally the bomber it is chasing. You roll a certain number of dice based on different modifiers. If you roll a die that matches the tally number on the bomber (which are all conveniently numbered from one to six), then the bomber is tallied and you can move in for the attack.
This is all pretty tough because you have to get yourself into position and get the tally before the bomber moves off of the board. There is some skill and a lot of luck involved.
In later scenarios you will learn to use searchlights, Aircraft equipped with their own radar, avoid flak, and utilize improved ground radar. These were fairly to master, and soon you will be playing all ten phases of every turn.
Weather conditions play a part as well, as do the phases of the moon, the skill level of your pilots, the view from the aircraft, your zodiac sign, everything comes into play eventually. That’s how it eventually bypassed me. The rules eventually became too much for my brain to wrap around. Specific types of radar, the countermeasures against the radar, altitude effects, there are rules covering everything so that you can play a pretty accurate simulation of night air combat in different theaters of war during any period of the war. Too much for me, but many will love it.
The gang at GMT were also nice enough to include a complete campaign book with pilot rosters and new scenarios, campaign rules, awards, experience levels, and everything you need for a great campaign. The scenarios themselves all have different variants, so there is no lack of games that you can experience.
This game to me seems perfectly suited for adaptation to a PC based game. The umpire could easily be replaced by a simple AI. For me this would be ideal. The game as is requires finding someone to play the umpire and it can be a pretty boring game for the umpire. You cannot win, you can only help the player to lose. The umpire does get to control a few “Intruder” aircraft in a scenario, which are bomber escorts that try to shoot down your nightfighters, but even this gets dull. There are many people who really enjoy the GM role, and would love to play the umpire, but I’m past that gaming phase and prefer to actually play.
It is fairly simple to play a scenario, then switch and umpire for the other player. They really don’t take long to play, so you could get in two games in two hours with each player taking a turn as umpire, so it isn’t a game breaker.
The rules did eventually get too detailed for me. I don’t like having to try to remember a bunch of little rules that only apply in certain circumstances, and paging through the rulebook became a chore. It really isn’t a seriously complex game, but having to go back and refer to which aircraft has which radar, and which bombers can jam them, and when to roll for responses, and which modifiers to apply gave me a headache.
It is a great game, it really teaches and simulates well. I know more about WWII aircraft, radar, and equipment than I ever knew before. It is a good time for the player, and those who enjoy playing the umpire role. It wasn’t really for me, as eventually the rules lost me and I’m not big into “umpiring” anymore, but for those who are interested in the history and enjoy the umpire/player roles this game would be a great buy.
Historically accurate, really gives the feel of flying night missions against invading bombers. Many scenario choices and a campaign variant. Scenarios can be played in under an hour.
Requires an umpire to play the mechanical role of moving bombers around secretly. Umpire role can be pretty boring. Advanced Rules get too fiddly for my liking.