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    Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid: Operation Chastise:

GMT GAMES: Jeremy White. Price: $55.00 (@ £45.00) Basically a solitaire game - has rules and accessibility for up to 3 players but really should be considered for solo play only.  

COMPONENTS: One 22"x34" map. Two Wave Player Aid cards. One Rules booklet. One Scenario booklet. Four 6-sided dice. One sheet of 1" counters. One & one-half sheets of 5/8" counters. Three two-panel player aids. One three-panel player aid. 

ONLINE RESOURCES: 
Sample MapSample CountersDetail of Sample Approach BoxScenario ListConsimworld Discussion Topic for Enemy Coast Ahead.  VASSAL Module courtesy of Peter Bennett 

PUBLISHED: 2014:  DESIGNER: Jeremy White:  COUNTER & MAP ART: Jeremy White:
PRODUCERS: Mark Simonitch, Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, Andy Lewis, Gene Billingsley  

      

GMT: Operation Chastise: the Dambuster Raid: Historical.

On the night of May 16, 1943, nineteen Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron took off from their base near Lincoln in Great Britain and headed for the heart of German industry in the Ruhr. The squadron’s task was to destroy the dams that controlled the reservoirs feeding Germany’s war engine. In the words of aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis, the mastermind behind the operation, “power is dependent on the supply of natural stores of energy such as coal, oil and water.... If their destruction or paralysis can be accomplished they offer a means of rendering the enemy utterly incapable of continuing to prosecute the war.”  

The Lancasters had been modified to carry a most unusual ordnance codenamed Upkeep. It looked more like a petrol barrel than an explosive device, but the painstakingly engineered and tested outer layer cushioned a volatile mine designed by Wallis to bounce over torpedo nets and kiss the lip of the dam, its backspin carefully devised to hug the dam rather than ricochet on impact. Upkeep was supposed to plunge down along the wall like a depth-charge, detonating halfway down. The concussion would crack the structure, and the water’s mass held back by the dam would push open the crack, creating a breach in the wall. The dam would be destroyed.

Eight of the Lancasters would not return that night, but the two primary targets of the Möhne and Eder dams were breached, letting loose a combined torrent that measured nearly half a million tons of water and taking the lives of over 1200 German civilians and military personnel.

Measured in civilian casualties, it was the most lethal night of the bombing campaign thus far, although later missions would dwarf its casualty list. Measured in terms of industrial disruption, the raid cut the region’s electrical power for several hours and severely reduced its water reservoir. It was not a decisive blow, but it was successful nonetheless. Had at least one other dam been breached, it could have been devastating. This is your challenge: can you match 617’s success? Can you surpass it? 

   

GMT: Operation Chastise: the Dambuster Raid: A Review.

If this is your first GMT game, or actually even if it's not, on opening the box for the first time you may well think the contents to be rather daunting as there are so many different charts, and reference sheets as well as two quite large rules books. There may not be a lot of counters when compared to many tabletop board games, just one and a half sheets of regular-sized and half a sheet of extra large and there is no actual board, instead there is an 8 x A4 sized thin, darkly coloured, paper sheet which contains the Planning Turn, Flight Maps, Target Maps and the Damage Charts for all 8 Dams.

The two rules volumes are 48-page books, one that contains the Rules and the second that contains the Scenarios; 1-8 scenarios are singular, scenarios 9 and 10 have follow-up mini scenarios. There is a 6 page (3 page folded) card that stands like a GMs (role-playing) shield that details the game markers (counters), the Playing Pieces, Flow Charts for scenarios 1-5, 6-9 and the main scenario 10, plus 2 reference cards that cover the six waves of attacks, and 3 folded A4 double-sided reference sheets that cover just about every type of check and cross-check you will need. All of the above shows that the complexity Level of 6 and the Level 9 for Solitary play given to this game by the designer and publisher are both bordering on the low side. One of the scenarios has additional notes for first-time players; surprisingly it is not the first scenario in the book.      

The Dambusters Raid is one of the most famous Royal Air Force attacks into enemy territory ever devised. A special, specific bomb, the Bouncing Bomb, was developed by Barnes Wallis and his team at Vickers, to smash the German dams in the Ruhr which were providing hydro-electric power and pure water for steel-making; they also supplied drinking water for the canal transport system. This game by Jeremy White can be played by using just the reference sheets with occasional reference to the rules book, but, I would suggest, only once you have played the game having read the rules book thoroughly.

This is a game where it appears every phase is under the control of dice rolling and cross checking charts. This is only partly the case because before you get to the majority of die rolling and referencing you have a lot of actual thinking and planning to do. This now becomes all you, not the game mechanic - you have to organise the training missions for your flights, flight crews, ground crews, targets have to be reconnoitred, mission security accounted for, you may even modify each Lancaster ready for the upcoming mission, but there is also the possibility that damage may occur during these training flights and therefore continuance plans should be in place, or at least in your mind.

      

The full game of ENEMY COAST AHEAD: The Dambuster Raid tabletop recreation flows through three sections - Attack, Flight and Training/Planning but can be played at an introductory level. When you begin playing the best way is to start off by using just the Attack section to get you used to the game, then upgrade to Attack and Flight and finally arrive at the Planning stage which the game is really about. There are so many possibilities that it is impossible to mention them all in this review, which indicates how numerous the conceivable strategies are: You can choose your own level to play, changing up when you are comfortable and in need of a new challenge.    

ENEMY COAST AHEAD: The Dambuster Raid puts the player (and this really is a solo game) into several roles; that of the Planner, of a pilot, of the Bombardier (the Bomb Aimer). As a youngster I grew up on the tales of WWII with real-life heroes such as Barnes Wallis, Guy Gibson and the Dambusters, alongside movies of fictional heroes like the 633 Squadron and Bridge over the River Kwai, and even these last two famous stories are based on the reality of the Second World War. This game recreates the tension, if not the atmosphere, of the build up to the bombing of Germany's Heavy-Industrial Dams. On the missions the bombs had to be precision-dropped, but because of several hindrances, such as the low altitude, clouds, speed and poor vision there was no knowledge of the raids successes or failures until later on the next day after the reconnaissance planes return. The game uses dice rolls and charts to convey how hit and miss these missions were, which makes it rely on the luck of the dice as well as the skill of the player.

You must do a lot of planning to give your pilots every chance of success but no matter how meticulous you are and how many possibilities you cover, there is always that pesky dice roll that can make all that work of no use. Every time you complete a scenario there is an amount of book-keeping required to determine the outcome. There may be damage to the planes; the target may change during the flight from the primary to the secondary, tertiary, even to attacking something randomly for the sake of it, just so you don't return to base with your bombs intact. The military, be it Air Force, Navy or Army, always have to have a discussion after the event to quantify or qualify the success or failure of each mission, this is known as the debriefing. This game uses dice, random chit drawing, charts and cross-checking to follow this procedure.

If you do not immerse yourself fully into the roles given and understand that the step by step approach of the game is the same diligent steps taken by the real heroes then it is quite likely you will find the game slow, possibly too slow. It is a very intricate game with more options and potential than most tabletop wargames, but these are both its doing and its undoing. It is realistic that a small error can throw a mission off track, in this case the small error would be a failed die roll, and this all adds to make the narrative strong.

Personally I prefer games where a player is allowed to plan and plot and then fails due to the actions of another player outmanoeuvring or outguessing rather than the result of a die roll, but for reasons I can only explain as my interest in this raid, I find myself drawn in and not allowing the occasional die roll to spoil my enjoyment of the challenge. In fact failure only pushes me to try again. I have not managed to find any particularly successful sequence of play that I can repeat over and over, so the dice do play a hefty but necessary part in the drama.

Training is very important and although I haven’t found a sequence of play to put me on a winning streak, getting into the habit of careful construction of your flights and all that pertain to them will get you into the action that little bit quicker; without cutting corners. You can learn from each game so that you do everything possible to lessen the chance of the dice failing you, but don’t count on anything working regularly.

Not a game I can recommend because it is too personal a choice. Using the now old adage I can say that the game is "Marmite" as in not to everyone's taste. I suggest that you look online to see if anyone has a video of a game being played, or better still, find one of your wargaming colleagues who has it and go through a few moves with them. It is a game that you can quickly decide upon, there is no playing a few games to see if you like it or not, you either will or you won’t, and only you know if dice based, chit-drawing, cross-chart-checking is a game mechanic that suits your own particular style. I will say again in its favour though that it does a great job representing the missions and the problems each of them caused. 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015