Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Featured game: Dogfight

I first played Dogfight in the mid-1960s shortly after it came out.
In my opinion Dogfight is the best of the old American Heritage line of games from Milton Bradley in the 1960s. It had the neatest pieces (model World War I SPADs and Fokker DVIIs) and the best gameplay. There was some player skill required, not just luck. Unlike the other games, Dogfight's game mechanics bore some resemblance to the history that inspired it, enough so that it could be considered a light wargame and not just a war-themed games like the rest of the American Heritage games.
Each player controlled two three-plane squadrons based at airfields in the comers of the map board. For the Germans the aircraft in Jastas 10 and 11 were Fokker DVIIs, which was considered the best fighter of the war. The American 94th and 95th Squadrons were equipped with SPAD XIII fighters. Each squadron could play one plane at a time, with the other planes staying in reserve.
Movement was controlled by dice. Each turn a player would roll two D6. If two planes were aloft, then each would use one roll (so a roll of 2, 5 meant one plane moving two squares and the other moving 5 squares -- no more, no less) If only one plane was airborne then the controlling player could pick one die roll to use.
Combat was not resolved with the dice, however. When a plane moved next to an enemy plane and pointed its nose directly at it the player was entitled to play a "burst" card from their hand. Bursts came in values of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. If the two planes were involved in a head-on pass they would compare bursts (the target plane could shoot back) with the higher card winning. The loser was shot down. In case of a tie both planes were shot down. Naturally, it was less risky to fire from the side or rear aspects where the target couldn't shoot back. A target plane was not without options in that situation because there were also two varieties of defensive cards available. A "barrel roll" caused a side shot to miss automatically. A "loop" allowed a plane being attacked from the rear to change places with its attacker and turn the tables! The target could now play a burst card against its erstwhile attacker. It was possible for the new target to play a loop card in return, reestablishing the original situation, but requiring yet another burst and possible countering loop. This could not go on indefinitely, however, because each plane had a limited number of cards, usually four, that could only be replenished by returning to the aerodrome. It was all very entertaining, however.
Besides the tactics of moving an maximizing card play, players faced strategic decisions, too. After shooting down an enemy plane a plane earned an "ace" marker that entitled it to a bonus of two additional cards the next time it took off. So instead of starting with a four-card hand the "ace" had a 6-card hand. Shooting down a second plane made a "double ace" entitled to an 8-card hand. More cards meant more options naturally, making very aces dangerous. As a matter of fact, the safest way to eliminate an ace was to attack the enemy airfield and strafe the ace while it was on the ground. This tactic had its own risks, because each airfield was protected by four "Archie" (AA guns). Two of the guns were "hits" and two would "miss" when flown over, so it could be expensive to test those defenses.
Of all the American Heritage line, Dogfight is the one best suited for a reissue. The use of quality plastic plane models and cards would let Dogfight fit in quite comfortably with contemporary designs.
I think this one is still a good play. As a simulation it's rudimentary, but it's not valueless. There is at least a passing resemblance to actual tactics. The enclosed historical booklet is very high quality. I credit Dogfight and Broadside with paving the way for me to move into more serious wargames a few years later such as Midway and 1914.

1 comment:

  1. According to the rules, a "tie" burst in the head on attack meant the dog fight was "over" - neither plane was shot down (not both). Of course, people could, and did, agree on such rule adjustments.