Thursday, April 20, 2017

Phantoms Over Havana, Fight #1


Okay, standby for something a little bit different, something I've been meaning to get to for quite some time, and something we're going to have to step back in time for.  Here's the deal: my intent for this massive Imagi-Nation-type alternate history was always to have a bunch of ground fights, but also some air to air fighting, and perhaps even some naval fighting.  If you're reading this I'm sure you're aware of the eighty-four (84) battle reports for ground fights I've posted for Cuba Libre.  Now it's time for some air fights.

If you're not aware, the Cuban Liberation Army (or CLA, as it was known prior to and during the War of Liberation) has a small Air Force.  There are a few different kinds of aircraft, from fighters and fighter-bombers to reconnaissance, utility, and transport aircraft (C-130s for the paratroopers), to transport and gunship helos.  My desire is to create a fighter squadron or two and follow them throughout the various campaigns, just like I do for the CLA and the Cuban Liberation Expeditionary Force (or CLEF, as it is now known, post War of Liberation).

So, to do that, I've got to go back in time.  It's D-Day, 1 February 1990, and the CLA is storming Cuba to overthrow the Castro regime.  The War of Liberation ran from 0300 on 1 Feb 1990, when the first CLA SOF elements assaulted their objectives, until 2030 on 5 Feb 1990, when CLA SOF elements captured Fidel Castro (a total of 32 batreps, very impressive!).  Unbeknownst to you, Dear Reader, as CLA ground forces were pushing back the Castro regime on the island, F-4 Phantoms of the CLA's Air Force were busy dueling with MiGs of Castro's Air Force over the island.

I just bought a new set of air rules called "Lacquered Coffins," a set of WWII rules that (as always) I've modified a bit to suit my purposes in order to use for 'modern' aircraft (can you still call F-4s and MiG-21s modern?).  My changes are thus:

-I play solo, so I need to mix it up.  Rather than IGO-UGO, I'm using cards (one card per aircraft, with the aircraft tied to a particular card) for activation.  So I do the mandatory move for every aircraft, then move to cards.
-I shortened the range for guns (6, Long Range 8), gave them 2D6.
-I made missiles minimum range 5, good out to 12, Long range 16, 4D6.  I gave each aircraft four missiles. I know F-4s can carry more than four missiles, so if you like it better, think of it as four shots of two missiles ;)  I also am not currently differentiating between IR and radar missiles, I'm just getting into some new rules and want some quick, fun games.
-I added deflection as modifiers, side and front quarter -2 (the game already has head-on and tail, which is assumed).
-I can't remember if this is in the book or not, but when a plane is going down I have the pilot make a test to bail out.
-I'm using a hexboard with 1/600 minis, so 1" in the rules equals one hex.

Everything else is as written.

So it's 0615 on 1 Feb 1990, and CLA aircraft are winging towards Castro's Cuba from secret airfields in *REDACTED*, in support of CLA troops that parachuted earlier and others preparing for an amphibious assault.  The CLA Air Force had a squadron of F-4 Phantoms laden with bombs, winging their way towards various target locations in Cuba.  Priority targets included command and control centers, radar sites, grounded aircraft and their support facilities, moored ships and their port facilities, artillery and tank parks, ammunition and fuel storage, anti-aircraft sites, etc...

But the best pilots, twelve of them, were selected to fly as fighter pilots.  Also manning F-4 Phantoms, their job was to engage any of Castro's Air Force that made it into the air and destroy it.  The Cuban fighter squadron was broken down into three four-ship flights: Boxcar, Blackjack, and Bruiser, all 01-04.  As of 0615, Castro had four MiG-21s flying a Combat Air Patrol (CAP), scrambled due to growing reports of gunfire and fighting on the west end of the island.  CLA ground control was busy vectoring Boxcar flight into an intercept of the Cuban CAP over Havana.

This is an even up, 4 vs 4 matchup, which I plan to do a few times while I learn these new rules, before getting into various force sizes and initial deployments.  All of these will be straight up fighter duels; perhaps someday I'll branch out into other stuff, but that's what interests me right now.  I'm not sure how many fights I'll play out for the War of Liberation; I'm hoping for around ten, but it could be more (if I'm really enjoying myself) or less (if I run out of planes/pilots).  Right now I'll be simply referring to these guys by callsign, i.e., Boxcar 01.  As they prove themselves (by surviving!) I'll become more invested and begin to actually start naming them and getting into personalia.

In any case, let's get to work!

The board, north is up.  I'm using a hexboard from the old game "Flight Leader" (you can actually see the name in the bottom right corner).  CLA Air Force in the southwest (bottom left) corner, Castro Air Force in the northeast (top right).  I'm using the relatively new set, "Lacquered Coffins," modified slightly.  The airplanes are 1/600; the CLA flight consists of F-4 Phantoms from PicoArmor, the Castro flight consists of MiG-21s from Tumbling Dice.

The good guys, from left to right: Boxcar 01, 02, 03, and 04.  The green dice shows altitude, the red dice speed, and the white dice shows missiles remaining.  Boxcar 01 and 02 are at altitude 5/speed 2, while Boxcar 03 and 04 at altitude 5/speed 6.

The bad guys, from left to right, are Red 01 to Red 04.  Red 01 and 02 are at alt3/spd5, while Red 03 and 04 are at alt3/spd3.

The fight is on!  It's Turn 1; I carry out the mandatory move for every aircraft, and then I go to the card deck for individual activation.  As you'll see, I'm also trying out a new method for my aerial batreps.  I'm not going to take a picture every single time something happens, I'll take one or a few pics per turn, explaining what happened in the narrative while graphically depicting what happened on the picture itself.  It's kind of ugly, but I think it's effective and I hope you don't mind.  Please let me know what you think.

Turn 1: in the bottom left corner, Boxcar 01 and 02 are straight and level while they increase speed by two (up to four), and Boxcar 03 and 04 are straight and level while they kill throttle a bit, back to speed 5.  Meanwhile, in the top right corner, Red 01 and 02 hold their bearing while climbing to alt4 and dropping to spd4, while Red 03 and 04 continue on their current heading and stay down at alt2 while muscling up to spd4.

The game is pretty cool in how the mandatory move works, and how you must think of power in relation to altitude.  I've played plenty of games with six levels of power and six bands of altitude; normally it's fashionable for everyone to be as high and fast as possible.  This set of rules really makes you ponder your speed, holding less then max.  I've played two games so far and it's constantly a battle to keep speed up above stalling, with some cushion to climb, without over-stressing the aircraft.  It also factors in with loss of alt/spd when you bung a roll and fail to carry out a tough maneuver.  I'm not taking a shot at other rules; as a matter of fact, I'm sorta just now realizing that another set I've played a lot of has the same sort of framework; I'm not sure why this set is really making me worry more about speed than any others I've played.

Also, I end up frequently taking pilot tests (to maneuver and fire, and to go evasive), and I am failing a lot!!!  I can't recall ever having such a hard time rolling a '6' on 2D6!

Boxcar 03 holds straight and level for several seconds, then kicks it right, dropping to alt4, but coming up to spd6.  Boxcar 01 holds straight, dropping to atl3 and up to spd6.  Red 04 makes a positive climb, up to alt3/spd5.  Boxcar 04 wants to make something happen; he wants to positive climb to alt4/spd6, then take a head-on missile shot on Red 01 (second aircraft from right).  He takes the pilot test and bungs it, which causes him to head straight and lose an alt and spd level!  This sets the table for...

Red 01 to push in, straight and level, and launch a missile at Boxcar 04!!!  Boxcar 04 has missile warning lights going off in his headphones; he punches out chaff and flares, and wants to go evasive, but the sun is in his eyes and he can't locate the missile!

*Boxcar 04 bunged the evasive roll, too...  He's now down to alt3/spd3, assuming he doesn't get whacked by the incoming missile.  I'm not sure if I'm playing that right; I know if you fail a pilot test you drop an alt and spd, but do you do you drop if you fail the evasive test, too?  Need to look it up.

The missile can't lock and sails on by Boxcar 04 (bottom center left, the one pointing to top right).  Boxcar 02 drops to alt 4, picking up speed, while Red 03 power climbs to alt3/spd4.  Red 02's pilot is patient; he sees everyone charging into the merge, but he wants to hang back a bit and see how this develops, so he hangs at alt4/spd4.

On to Turn 3.

Red 03 banks left and takes a horrible shot at Boxcar 03, who doesn't even see the missile until it's already sailing by, which jars him enough that he drops down to alt3 and bleeds power to take a look around (spd5).  Which is cool; Red 03 didn't really figure he'd score, but he wanted to break the F-4s up and get them a bit discombobulated.

*Boxcar 03 failed his evasive roll...

Boxcar 03 is still looking around for missiles when Red 01 cuts in and goes to guns at point blank range!!!  Boxcar 03 sees him and takes evasive maneuvers, but several 23mm tracers crash into the F-4 Phantom, and the pilot of Boxcar 03 is wounded!!!

Stunned and worried about going into shock, Boxcar 03 makes a positive climb to try and get above and away from the developing furball.  Looking to help him out, Boxcar 01 rolls in on Red 01's tail and looses a missile at close range; the enemy pilot tries to shake him but can't, and the missile detonates nearby, damaging his aircraft and wounding the pilot!

Perhaps admiring his handiwork a bit too much, probably even pondering finishing Red 01 off, Boxcar 01 fails to see Red 04 bank right, cut throttle, and drop down behind him.  His first clue there's a problem is when tracers begin zipping by, and that's cool and all, until his fighter shakes and shimmies with the impact of several of them damaging his aircraft.  Boxcar 01 maintains speed (4), but is forced down to the deck (alt1), a dangerous place to be as one mistake can lead to planting his supersonic fighter in the Cuban countryside...

Boxcar 04 wants to dash northeast (top right), kick it hard left, and line up a missile shot on Red 02.  But there's a lot of jets zooming to and fro, lots of chatter on the radio, and he finds himself a bit disoriented, losing a bit more altitude and speed (alt2/spd2) while he figures things out (yep, he failed his third consecutive pilot test; this means he needs to take it easy next turn in order to plus up some altitude and speed).  But Boxcar 02 picks up the slack; he thunders in, hooks right, and takes a nasty deflection shot, just trying to break things up.  Red 02's pilot sees the launch but panics (fails the evasive roll)...

Red 02's pilot has plenty of time to ponder his freak-out as he drifts down below his parachute canopy, watching his MiG turn over and burn itself into a nearby village...

Score one for the good guys!

In a bad way because of his failed pilot tests, Boxcar 04 power climbs to pick up alt and speed (3/3).  I think the Communist pilots have figured out they needn't worry themselves with the rookie in Boxcar 04 ;)

But Boxcar 03 is in big trouble: Red 03 swings around Boxcar 04, lines up a shot, and launches a missile at Boxcar 03, who can't go evasive because the pilot is wounded...

The missile flies straight and true, and Boxcar 03's pilot goes down with the ship...

Hurt and with a damaged aircraft, Red 01 pushes his MiG over, heading for safety.  Boxcar 01, also damaged (the black smoke marker) has the same idea.  Boxcar 02 wants to circle tight left, bleeding off speed, and line up a missile on Red 04, but he bungs the maneuver and holds straight, dropping to alt3/spd4.  Red 04 doesn't even notice, he's got his own plans.  Red 04 wants to come left and go to guns on Boxcar 04, but he bungs it and drops to alt2/spd3!!!

Turn 4 sees Boxcar 01 and Red 01 both getting close to nursing their damaged aircraft off the map.  Boxcar 04 hasn't accomplished @#$% this whole fight, so he decides to chance a risky maneuver to get back in the fight, and he does it, perfectly executing a 'Split S' to come around on Red 04, dropping to alt1 and picking up to spd5!  Boxcar again wants to come around for a missile shot, this time on Red 03, but he fails and holds straight while dropping to alt2/spd3.  Red 04 takes the opportunity to gain a little altitude and power, holding straight and coming up to alt3/spd4, while Red 03 drops and picks up speed, then makes a hard left to line up on Boxcar 02.

Red 03 launches a missile at Boxcar 02; his missile warning lights are going off, but he can't spot the incoming missile!

Damn, shoulda looked over my left shoulder, Boxcar 02's pilot thinks to himself as he slowly drifts to earth, watching the flaming wreckage of his aircraft.  Luckily, he was picked up by CLA paratroopers.

Moving on to Turn 6, potentially the final turn of the game (you roll a dice at the end of each turn from 6 on to see if the fight continues).

Having just seen Boxcar 04 pull off a marvelous Split S, and worried about Boxcar 04 getting on his tail, Red 04 takes a quick look around in preparation to pull off an Immelman in order to face his attacker.  But he blows it and keeps moving south, dropping to alt2/spd3.  Red 01 and Boxcar 01 both make it to the safety of the table edge, looking to return their damaged aircraft to base.  With Red 04 having blown his maneuver, he's meat on the table; Boxcar 04 calmly sticks left, lines up his shot, and launches a missile.

The missile warning indicators go off, and Red 04's pilot has just turned his head to peer aft in search of the incoming missile, when it slams into his MiG-21 its flaming degree over a two-mile strip of the Cuban jungle!

I didn't take a picture, but Red 03 actually pulled off a Split S of his own, right before the end of turn 6.  But I rolled a dice and it turns out the CLA Air Force F-4s were bingo fuel. They both executed wingovers and headed for the barn, game over!  A quick rundown:

-Boxcar 02 shot down one MiG, but then was himself shot down.  He parachuted to safety and was picked up by friendly forces.
-The enemy aircraft Red 03 not only shot down Boxcar 02, he also shot down Boxcar 03, killing its pilot.
-Boxcar 04 shot down a single MiG, killing its pilot.
-Both sides returned home one damaged aircraft (Boxcar 01 and Red 01, who's pilot was also WIA), and one aircraft in good condition (Boxcar 04 and Red 03).
-Having picked up two kills in one sortie, Red 03 has been bumped up from "Average" to "Veteran" (the book calls it "Good," but I like the term 'Veteran' better).

The fight was a lot of fun; it flows well, mixing things up with the cards for activation worked like a champ, and everything made sense.  It took a bit longer than I'd like; yeah, that's always the case with new rules, but I gotta tell ya, I don't think that factored in a lot, as the mechanisms were very familiar.  I think more of the time is spent with the maneuvering, then manipulating the dice for altitude, speed, and missiles, which is a little bit of a pain in the butt, but worth it.  Let me know what you think of me doing the batreps with the blue and red trails and black numbers (I'm already writing the next fight up the same way).

Next fight up in this series is the second flight, Blackjack 01-04, on another vanilla fighter sweep, taking on four Castro-regime MiG-21s, though I should be posting batrep number five of Operation Rush Delivery first.



  1. wow... that was a very tense aerial combat!!! could you explain what kind of cards are you using to play solo?? do you write orders first then draw a card or anything else?? I want to play aerial combat but I still don't know which rules I should use and where I can purchase the minis in Europe... that's why I am mostly in naval combats: I have rules and I do not use minis at all, only millimeter sheets of paper!!

  2. Hi, thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you liked the batrep.

    1. For cards, each of my minis has a base with a number on it. There are blue bases, 1-4, and red bases, 1-4. I take normal playing cards and write all the base colors/numbers on them. I have a card for each aircraft: Blue 1, Blue 2, Blue 3, etc... I put the cards into a deck, shuffle them, and draw one out at a time, then activate the aircraft whose card came out.

    2. I don't write orders, just carry out actions for the airplane when its card comes out.

    3. These rules are a lot of fun, and you can buy them as a PDF from Wargame Vault.

    4. The minis can be bought from Fighting 15s or Tumbling Dice in Europe.

    Hope that helps!