During the COVID lockdowns, I became very attached to solo games that you can play in an hour or so. I was working from home 5 days a week and it was a nice break from the work and also let me keep my passion for gaming going.
Even now, when we’re back to the office, I am working remotely two days a week so that is still there.
I bought a couple of the solo submarine games that GMT Games puts out, but the game that really caught my attention was Storm Above the Reich, a solo game where you are the head of a Staffel of German fighters (literally translated to “series”, but essentially an airbase and fighter group) who are fighting back against the ferocious American bombing of Germany.
Storm Above the Reich was designed by Jerry White and Mark Aasted with art by Antonis Karidis, Mark Simonitch and Jerry White. It was published in 2021 by GMT Games.
It’s the sequel game to Skies Above the Reich, about German fighter pilots facing off against B-17 bombers over Germany earlier in the war. The 2nd printing of that one is currently on the GMT Games P500 list and is in Art & Final Development. You can get your order in now like I did!
Anyway, if you follow this blog at all, then you’re probably already aware of how I feel about the game since I’ve been doing After-Action Reports for all of the missions (I’ve posted 15 so far).
If you want a feel for how the game plays, go to Mission 1&2 and go to town!
I’ll give you a bit of an overview of how the game goes before getting into the review.
When you’re setting up the game, you can decide what Season to start in. You can start at the beginning (1943 Early) like I did, or you can start further into the war.
Depending on when you start, you will get a certain number of expert pilots (along with some green ones if you start later) that will help you out with their skills.
For each mission, you will roll based on the season you are in to see what map you will play on, what the mission type will be (Inbound, Near Target or Outbound) ad how many Operations Points you will have during the mission. This is also where you will roll your Escorts, though some people wait to roll this until their first Escort Phase.
When you get your Operations Points, you will then decide how to spend them. Each fighter/pilot in your Staffel will cost 1 OP to take along. Some auxiliary fighters (Bf-110s, or maybe some other ones) will give you multiples for each OP you spend (the 110s give you three of them for each OP).
At this point, you can also choose (depending on what season you are in) whether your fighters will be equipped with rockets, cannons, or possibly other armaments that might help you (or hinder you, if things go badly) during your mission.
Your Staffel is recorded on a sheet, of which the other side records each mission. You can keep track of each pilot along with the skills they have and any other notes you want to keep. The other side of the sheet is for your Staffel, where you keep track of each mission and the results from it.
Once you decide who’s going on the missions, it’s time to do that!
The phases are:
Move Phase: Your fighters who aren’t in Return boxes or wounded can move into a different zone. This may cost Tactical Points, depending on where they are and where you want to move them to. Wounded fighters cannot move.
Return Phase: After combat, your fighters will go to Return boxes. Fighters that are in Return boxes move to the next space. Wounded fighters cannot Return.
Escort: If you are facing Escorts, this is where they move and possibly attack you.
Recovery: If your fighters are damaged, this is where you roll to see if they are knocked out of the fight or if the damage is superficial.
Blast Phase: This is where Flak happens if you are Near Target or there are some other weapons that happen here (which I haven’t used yet, such as Rockets). Flak can damage bombers and make them easier for your fighters to knock them down, but your fighters can also be damaged as they are approaching the formation, so watch out!
Cohesion Phase: This is where you roll for each Element in the bomber formation. You count up each counter that’s in the element (damage, fallen bombers, residual collision checks). If you roll equal to or less than the number of counters, then the formation loosens (which makes it less lethal for your fighters).
Approach Phase: If your fighters are going to attack this turn, they all move into the “Approach” box where they are, whether it’s Tail High or Nose Level or whatever.
This is where you will be placing your fighters in the element based on what bombers you want to attack.
You will choose the mode of each fighter (Evasive or Determined) as well as what they are doing (Diving, Dive Rolling, or Climbing and Climb Rolling). The latter will determine where they end up after the attack. The former may determine whether you are hit or do any damage during your attack (though some cards do more damage to the Evasive fighters than the Determined ones, so it’s not automatic!).
If fighters are in the same space on the board, you’ll draw a Collision Check chit to see if anything happens.
Then it’s time to draw cards to see if you hit (or get hit)!
This actually replaces the “roll dice and consult a table” aspect of some other solo games. Personally, I like this more though with cards you have a set number of possible results while dice are completely random.
Which do you like better? That will determine how you feel about this compared to other games (such as GMT’s submarine solo games).
Sometimes you’ll get hit and sometimes you’ll do a hit. And sometimes other stuff will happen as well.
If you inflict a hit, you’ll draw a damage marker that may let you roll a die to see if you destroy or “down” the bomber you were attacking. I’ve had a bomber outright destroyed with a Wing hit that, if you roll a 10, destroys it. There is no better feeling.
Otherwise, it just adds to the damage on the bomber. If it reaches 10 points of damage, it falls from the sky in pieces and you get victory points!
After the attack is Continuing fire. Sometimes, depending on your mode and dive/climb status, an event will happen that affects you. Whether or not you are hit will depend on your mode as well.
Sometimes you get lucky and you might do some more hits on bombers!
Often your fighters will be damaged and you will have to roll to see if they are knocked out of the fight.
If they are knocked out, at the end of the mission you will have to roll to see if they landed well, bailed out, were wounded, or even killed!
This goes on as long as your mission turns, which can range from a small number of turns to a large number. You might get enough turns to actually do two or three attacks. Sometimes you’ll only be able to do one, however.
In the Basic Game, you get points for “downing” bombers even if they aren’t destroyed.
If you play with the Advanced Rules, then you will have to “pursue” a fallen bomber and destroy it outright before you get victory points (though you will still get experience for just downing bombers). You’ll still get EP (experience points) for both the Staffel and the pilot when you make a bomber fall out of formation, but no victory points.
Pursuit is a very cool rule and I don’t see any reason not to use it once you have a few missions under your belt (I didn’t use it during my 6-mission “Early 1943” season but I started using it after that).
It makes the game a lot more fun, but also a bit harder. Personally, I think it’s a good trade-off.
You’ll have to choose fighters to exit the battle to pursue the fallen bombers, leaving you with fewer fighters during the rest of the mission.
Once the mission is over and you’ve pursued any bombers you need to pursue, you roll to see the final effects on all of your fighters who were knocked out of the fight. Sometimes they might be killed, sometimes wounded, and if they survive they will get an experience point as well.
Your pilots will gain experience (and you will start with some veterans) and be able to gain skills such as Flyer (which lets you draw two collision check chits and choose which one) or Quick (change to modes immediately) or perhaps Wiley (which lets the pilot, if he gets into a Dogfight with an Escort, move to a Return box rather than exit the mission). These skills will come in handy, let me assure you. They’re only useable once per mission, but you can have the skill multiple times and each one gives you an opportunity to use it during the mission.
If a pilot is killed, then he can be replaced once. If Specht dies, you can make up another pilot “S” name (Schumer, maybe?). If Schumer dies, then that’s it. No more “S” pilots. The new pilot will come in “Green,” and they will have one detrimental quality that they can erase when they get some experience.
If you lose a bunch of pilots, it’s possible that you won’t have enough left to field an effective Staffel and you will lose the game that way.
Each succeeding season requires a certain number of victory points to avoid losing it. However, you won’t win the season unless you score VP at a higher level than that. For the 1943 Mid season, “not losing” is 30 VP while actually winning is 40 VP. The 1943 Late season requires even more for both.
And that’s it. You just continue doing your missions, hoping to win the season (I think you have to win 4 seasons to actually win the game? I’m not 100% sure).
Is Storm Above the Reich full of ace fighter pilots like Tom Cruise? Or is it something where you are in a biplane going up against fighter jets?
I don’t think it’s any secret that I love this game. Seventeen missions so far (fifteen documented on here with more to come) and I still make time on my lunch breaks to keep Staffel Roy going to see how I end up doing.
What is it about these solo games that just grabs you? I love the narrative it gives me, which is one reason I think I like writing up the After Action Reports. It’s a narrative. Is Clausen just playing at still being wounded now? Knoken has knocked down many bombers and has all three skills. That kind of thing.
The rules are really easy to implement though I admit I still have to look at them from time to time. Also, the rulebook that came with my game has really bad page references that aren’t accurate at all. It tells you to go to page 45 for the actual rule and page 45 is about something completely different.
The online version of the rulebook has been fixed and maybe subsequent copies of the game will be fixed too?
Even better are all the player aid cards, though it can be a bit hard to keep them all straight when you have limited space and can’t lay them out. I think that’s pretty much the same for any of these solo games, though. Just set aside the ones you don’t need (like the blast card when you’re not using rockets) and keep the other ones handy to cycle through.
The aid cards themselves are awesome, being both clear and concise and walking you through a number of things so you don’t need to go find them in the rules.
The four maps that come with the game (two double-sided mounted maps) give the various bomber formation possibilities and all come with their own difficulties. I’ve lived on Maps 5 & 6 throughout the first two seasons (with only one mission on Map 7) but starting with 1943 Late, you get nothing but Maps 7 & 8.
The maps can be a bit of a table hog, but even in my limited space I’ve been able to have everything handy and it’s worked out great.
There are two 10-sided dice for rolling on some of the tables, or to see if a formation loosens or not, but all of the actual combat is done via cards.
As I mentioned above, whether that’s good or bad for you depends on your take on luck. There are enough cards to make sure you’re not drawing the same one twice during a mission. However, it isn’t truly random because there are a limited number of possibilities.
It still seems endless, but dice are dice and you could roll anything at any time.
Personally, while I love dice, I think the cards make a good change for Storm Above the Reich and its sister game.
The “Lethal Level” calculation is also pretty cool and reflects how dangerous attacking a bomber formation can be. Interlocking fields of fire from the guns on the bombers makes it really hard to get into the middle of a formation.
But just remove one or two bombers from the element and it becomes a lot easier.
Continuing Fire can be a bitch, but I have discovered that Diving (or even Dive Rolling) can make it a lot easier to bear. Though it can be quite deadly if you draw the wrong card!
It’s a great concept as the guns keep firing at you even as you make your pass. I like how some of the cards will allow you to do more damage to the bombers as well.
There are a bunch of optional and advanced rules that can make the game even more realistic, but some of the optional ones I’ve seen in action from others (I’m looking at you, Vector Map) and I have no desire to use them.
The Pursuit rules, for example, are the first Advanced rule and the only one I use with any regularity. I think it makes the game more fun and challenging.
One aspect that might bother some people (and this relates to my article from years ago, Should We Be Playing at War) is that you are a German fighter Staffel attacking American bombers. Some people (especially if you have a relative who was killed in the bombing campaign, on either side really) may have a problem with that, so be warned.
Then again, if that applies to you, doing even an iota of research (including just the name of the game!) will tell you that this isn’t the game for you. You don’t need me telling you that.
Overall, there’s not a lot more I can say about Storm Above the Reich that the evidence of all my AARs doesn’t already give you.
It’s an excellent game and, if you have Skies Above the Reich as well, it’s a great companion too.
If you’re in the market for a nice solo campaign game but you hate dice, then give this one a try (or its sister game).
And keep your eyes on this blog as more After Action Reports keep coming as long as I keep not losing, including on Wednesday for the finale of the 1943 Mid season!