I must admit I was chuffed to bits when Rich Clarke of Too Fat Lardies revealed that he got the Algy bug over the festive period. He's been working on a new version of Algy for us fans of WW1 aerial combat and Lard. Hurrah! Now, I happen to think that there wasn't much wrong with the old version, and when Rich revealed his idea on Lard Island News for making Algy available for both hexed and non-hexed playing surfaces, I must admit I was a trifle concerned.
Rich kindly sent us a copy of his ideas to have shufti. Now, I have trouble reading rules. I can't judge how things work unless I try them out, so having got rid of the wife and kids for a couple of days I sounded the clarion call at Wally HQ and announced a Hexless Algy night. I find its always better when trying out new stuff to other get others opinions so was chuffed when Paul B and Nige accepted. This was to be the first game of 2013.
Fortunately I have half a dozen hexed Hotz mats so the appeal of a non-hexed version was neither here nor there. I flipped over my hexed trench mat and sprayed some grey, brown and black patches and added some trench lines, hedges, roads and a few buldingds, in permanent marker. Voila another mat for Algy.
I decided to keep it simple. For the first try out there would be no blinds. Four planes per side. I would play the Huns and Nige and Paul the Brits. Fairly even matched planes, Sopwith Pups versus Albatros Scouts, so no need to change magazines and reload, plus a German two-seater returning from a successful photo reconnaissance mission as bait.
The table set up is below.
The Albatros C.VII two-seater is over the British trenches at altitude of choice (I chose 4), and returning to Hunland. The British arrive when their Patrol Move card is drawn. We diced randomly with the Pups arriving from the South, (top of the picture below) at altitude of choice (the chaps choosing 6).
Nige had a Junior Ace and Sprog, Paul B a Veteran and an Experienced pilot (name changed from Regular in the old Algy, and better IMHO). Both RFC players had a 'Character' being the Junior Ace and the Veteran respectively. The two-seater was crewed by an Experienced crew, with a 'Character'. Further German reinforcements could arrive on the score of a 6 rolled on a D6, with table edge entry point and altitude randomly. I decided to use two Albatros D.III scouts piloted by a Junior Ace and Veteran, with a Sprog in an Albatros D.II.
Hexless Algy uses a 12 hour clock position for manoeuvring. All my planes are mounted with gimbal mounts on hex stands, which I like the look of and so to allow players to get their head around things I added paper templates with blu tac to the bottom of the flight stand. Planes generally move in the green zone 11 O'clock to 1 O'clock. 10 O'clock and 2 O'clock are amber, with 9 O'clock and 3 O'clock being coloured red. Moving in the green is EASY, with movement in the amber being TRICKY and in the red HARD. Beautifully simple to get your head round.
Well, the action started with the Hun two-seater being buffeted about by Archie. I stipulated that any plane within 5" of a trench could suffer from the attentions of Archie. All too soon, above our brave Hun flew a flight of four Sopwith Pup Scouts at altitude six. To make life difficult the Hun flew towards the enemy knowing they would have difficulty manoeuvring with him directly under them.
Indeed that was the case. With the Pups descending and gaining speed they far overshot the two-seater and began to make turns round to line him up. A quick word about manoeuvring and turning first of all. Movement in hexless Algy is by inches 1" per PIP of speed, with a D4 added if so desired, and in 'phases'. A Sprog may make two phases, an Experienced, Veteran and Junior Ace by three phases and a Top Ace 'four phases'. A phase is a move, manoeuvre or a turn. Turning is restricted dependent upon pilot skill. When turning a Sprog must move first, then turn. An Experienced, Veteran or Junior Ace pilot must move or manoeuvre immediately before, and immediately after he Turns. The total Manoeuvrability value of each craft may be “spent” on the manoeuvres it undertakes in a turn at the rate of 1 for a Tricky Manoeuvre or Turn and 2 for a Hard Manoeuvre. It sounds complicated but infact is very easy in theory and no different really from the old movement other than there are no hexes. Planes can adjust movement of their plane within the green section, which feels very 'free' compared to rigid hex system.
One big difference between hexed and hexless Algy is that as a player you can't 'see' avenues of attack and manoeuvring, as the artifical constraints of the hexes are removed. This is really fantastic and liberating. It really struck us that you can't really begin to line things up, and so players stop thinking about rules and start thinking about flying a machine more. Play the period, not the rules as such.
Well Archie, being jolly well Archie, started getting some near misses on the valiant RFC chaps too.
Nigel's Junior Ace, with flight streamers flapping in the wake, had descended and turned, when suddenly the two-seater managed to use its D4 to get in an on the tail position. "Just not cricket old boy".
Well, almost. Being much less manoeuvrable and with only an Experienced pilot, the Albatros C.VII failed its on the tail test by a mile. It definitely rattled him though. Before the fire, or character card came up however it was the Junior Ace's card.
A couple of nifty moves including a loop and suddenly the Junior Ace was behind and on the tail, after successfully passing it test to do so. With no Hun reinforcements in sight, other Pups headed towards the two-seater all keen on a share in what seemed a certain kill.
DAKKA...DAKKA....DAKKA...Amazingly Nigel's shooting eye clearly wasn't in. He had caused some minor damage but I managed to throw plenty of saves.
The end of the turn saw the new one start with Nigel's Ace card [Fire!], followed by his Character card [Fire, again!]. Plane on fire. With the Observer leaping to his death in preference to being consumed by the flames Nigel's plane's fire card came up again. Fire yet again Nige. In all 24 seconds of ammo, and it was not until the third burst that an explosion erupted and tore apart the Albatros C.VII. In all it had taken four, 8-second bursts leaving Nigel's Ace with only three seconds of ammo. Paul's nearby plane suffered a temporary loss of control, but recovered.
With the Hun destroyed we decided to make Hun reinforcements now arrive on a 4-6, which they duly obliged. Two Albatros D.III's and a D.II arrived at altitude three in the South. The Junior Ace (Lothar von Richthofen incidentally) quickly broke formation and did a flyby to a Pup as I totally misjudged it. With hexes I'd have seen an angle of attack easier and probably have got a forward deflection shot in but it felt much more realistic and fun.
Nige's Ace got in a quick burst at an Albatros whch flashed across his sights, ran out of ammo and then left the table. Three versus three, but quality was on my side.
It was left to my experienced pilot (Sebastian Festner's factory finished plane) to now get a squirt in. Firing is pretty much the same as in the old Algy with distance measure to the target in inches, not hexes. Twin MG's are now rated as three not four dice but some planes are less robust than they used to be.
DAKKA...DAKKKA...A few holes but nothing more serious. The Pups being more manoeuvrable and small proving to be an important factor in surviving the Albatros's two MG armament.
Apart from the different plane, it was really obvious whom the German Sprog was being much more limited in the manoeuvres he was making. Paul's Veteran pilot lined him up, attacking out of the sun, but failed to get on the tail by rolling an unmodified one. Bad luck Paul mate. You did everything you could.
My Experienced pilot then swooped and rubbed salt in the wound by easily getting on the tail of Paul.
Paul got to fire first though. With the next turn, Paul's character card was drawn. He had the choice of either using it to move, and try to shake me off his tail, or open fire on the German Sprog. Paul opened fire at mid distance, causing Wing damage on the Albatros D.II
Now Festner opened up on the Sopwith Pup in his sights putting an eight second burst in from close range. Pilot hit. Pilot killed. A confirmed kill for Festner. Very clinical. Three against two.
Now Lothar was in on the action. First a quick deflection shot at a passing Pup flown by Paul's Experienced pilot.
No one expected much, but a critical hit as Paul rolls badly for saves! Elevator/Wing Damage. Not what you want in a swirling dogfight. By now Nige and Paul decided to leg it back to the British lines, and I let it be known that the Huns wouldn't pursue very far.
Damn it, wouldn't you know? Archie hits Nige's sprog as he's crossing the lines. A critical hit and the Sprog is now trailing smoke and damaged, but limping for home.
Lothar's dander is up. DAKKA...DAKKA...DAKKA...More hits on Paul. Fuel line cut. Keep going Paul, not far now. Nigel's Sprog has made it off table in his damaged Pup and my Hun Sprog too also makes it off table safely..
Two confirmed kills for the Huns. Another RFC loss.
Well, what did we think? I have to say, we loved it.
In particular I was very sceptical before about hexless Algy, liking both hexes and having plenty of hex cloths at Wally HQ, but it really felt right and altogether different from old Algy, though in a good way.
First, aesthetically it looks better. One of the things I've said in the past about my choosing the hex size I did, to go with 1/144th planes I own, was that I ought to have gone for bigger hexes. Fighter V fighter is fine but I use a lot of two-seaters and own five Gothas. The 2" hex is a real problem for big planes. With no hex this isn't an issue any more.
In spite of this being a playtest version, it feels much, much better. It removes the ability of a player to think in hex terms and to visualise avenues of approach and attack. This is good. Hexless Algy feels much more proactive as you need to fly your plane within the constrains of its performance rather than the artificial limitations of a hex marked playing surface. It also feels much more reactive and free flowing. Remarkable, really. Well done Rich. You deserve to be applauded and continue to amaze me with what you come up with.
Differences in pilot ability, phases and manoeuvrability of planes all have a layered effect which means even planes of the same type manoeuvre differently depending upon how they are flown. There are lots of subtleties we've not touched upon, but are apparent to us. Pilot ability and level is much more important than, though not exclusively so to its detriment, than what plane is flown. I'm please about this as its pilots what score kills, not planes that are flown. Sprogs in particular look increasingly like victims, and statistics waiting to happen, and the gulf between Top Aces and the rest seems huge. Again this all sits very well with us as a group.
All in all we were really chuffed and surprised. It took a bit to get our heads around movement phases and limitations, but no worse than getting our heads around hexes in the first place. The rules for firing and activations of the planes are largely unchanged and so we're on familiar ground with this too. It feels as if the parameters are gone, when infact they're there still in evidence, but feel much less artificial and constrained by the playing surface. Nige described the experience of hexless Algy as similar to that of our first game of IABSM, all those years ago, after playing a popular square based set of WW2 rules for several years. Suddenly the parameters were down, and the lights were on. I'm pretty sure it was a Eureka moment.
I can see that hexless Algy will be much harder to master as the variables are much more well, varied. This is also good, as it will prove to be quite addictive, certainly in our group. I imagine the fact that its not just hexed will make it much more commercially profitably (one hopes so for Rich) as getting hold of hex mats in the UK can be difficult.
Rich plans on adding a few more bits and bobs in subsequent version, and tightening it all up of course, but on the whole I really think we as a group might abandon old Algy and play the hexless variety from now on. Not vexed without hexes? Not a bit chum.
All models Shapeways 3D and owned painted by my good self. Game played in the usual best of order. Once again I think the RFC were very unlucky.