Last night I put on a pretty big game of Check Your 6! at the club. I brought along my fighters and Ron brought some more. Paul donated his 9 Heinkels to the fray and we were all set to go. The turnout was better than I expected and from the start we had 12 players with an extra player added later on for a total of 13. On the German side we had 6 players flying 12 Messerschmitt Bf-109E (2 each) and on the British we had 7 players flying 4 Sptifires and 10 Hurricanes. I randomised pilot skill by providing a bag of little stickers with the skills written on them for each side (2 Ace, 4 Veteran, 8 Skilled and 4 Green) . The stickers could then just be stuck on the aircraft roster sheet!
I didn't try anything fancy with regards to the scenario due to the amount of players so I just plonked the bombers in the middle and allowed the Germans to set up around them and the British then came at them head-on. The British pilots executed a pincer attack on the middle flight of bombers quickly damaging all of them, although the Spitfires got a little tangled up with the fighter escort and had a couple shot down by the destructive power of the low velocity cannon (including an ace who was bagged by a lowly green pilot!). After the inital pass at the bombers a confused melee began and I honestly began to lose track of all that was happening, but that was OK as by then most players had a good enough grasp of the rules to continue themselves allowing me to just move around and advise the players and answer questions.
Eventually we ran out of time and had to call it a night with the final score as follows :-
- Downed - 2 He-111, 1 Bf-109E
- Damaged - 2 He-111, 2 Bf-109E
- Downed - 2 Spitfire (1 Ace pilot), 1 Hurricane
- Damaged - 2 Hurricane
The result was a resounding victory for the RAF, despite having 5 planes damaged or destroyed and a further 2 planes run out of ammo. The lead flight of bombers was the only flight to getthrough unscathed with the middle one being all but destroyed, so it's fair to say the RAF did their job.
So what's Check Your 6! all about and why do I like it? First of all...it's a game! It's not an air combat simulator, but then, wargames are not really the complex maths exercises they once were. I think that the rules' strength is a simplicity that belies a real sophistication in it's representation of the 3-dimensional aspect of air combat. But that's not all; the key factor in the game is the aircrew skill rating. The turn sequence is pretty straightforward - all players plot moves for their aircraft first. A move consists of a turn code that is chosen from a set for the aircraft's speed which details the hexes that are to be moved across combined with a vertical maneouver, such as climb, dive, level flight, etc. There is also a set of special moves such as Immelmans and Split-S that can be chosen. Then the aircraft all move in order of skill with all green aircrews moving, followed by skilled and so on. This is where the key concept and mechanic kicks in, though. The more skilled aircrews are allowed to execute what's called 'pilot reaction'. This allows the player to change the chosen turn code to some extent in reaction to planes that have moved in a segment before them, or maybe to attempt to shake a tailing aircraft. This very simple mechanic creates a very satisfying ebb and flow to the move sequence and really makes the rules shine. Finally, shooting is performed simultaneously.
That's it! OK, there are a couple of caveats that make the life of a miniature fighter pilot quite interesting, such as tailing. A tailing plane gets to plot after the tailed plane has plotted and indicated the intention of the move, as well as getting to move directly after it regardless of skill level. Overall, the movement mechanism is really quite easy to get to grips with but nicely gives a feel for aerial combat. On the approach everything seems fine and dandy, but as soon as a dogfight develops it becomes very hard to maintain both airspeed and altitude as you try to outmanouever your opponents.
Shooting is pretty simple, though there is maybe one too many dice rolls for some people. The 'to hit' score is determined initially by range and is adjusted by about 4 modifiers at most. It is then rolled against on 2D6 with doubles potentially leaving the luckless pilot out of ammo! If a hit is scored then a die is rolled for each weapon being fired (the actual dice vary per weapon) and the result is cross-referenced against a robustness table to determine the save. A failed save results in engine or airframe damage, but fail it by a big enough margin and you can be destroyed outright. Again, this is all very straightforward, but the key to the success of this is in the stats of the weapons and airframes. The 8 MGs on a Spitfire perform very consistently across all the range bands (those bombers are really hard to destroy, though), but the 2 cannon on a Bf-109 can be devastating at close range.
I would thoroughly recommend anyone interested in WW2 air combat to check out Check Your 6! It's quick and easy to pick up (my 12 year old nephew had the game nailed in 5 minutes!) and gives a fun game that really does give the flavour of the type of combat. Are there any negatives? Well, I've tried hard to think of some to give the review some balance as I'm aware I'm sounding a bit like a fanboy, but there really is not much that I dislike about Check Your 6! and almost everyone I have introduced it to has enjoyed it. It is very easy to break a tail using the special manouevers, but as long as you realise the granularity of the moves then it is still largely right as you're probably going to be able to reacquire the tail in a couple of moves, or your opponent is going to end up losing speed or altitude, or both, allowing you to retain the initiative. Other than that, there's nothing else that really niggles me. The rule book is only soft cover and is black and white and is not the prettiest thing you've ever seen, but the rules themselves are laid out in a sensible order following the turn sequence and there are some diagram sequences to help you grasp the rules. Once the rules are absorbed the game can be played from the 2 page QRS, which seems crammed to begin with, but you really only need a few of the tables or charts for the majority of the game. The rules themselves only take up about 20 or so pages of the book, with the rest taken up by various scenarios and a small narrative campaign, but that's not something that bothers me. I see the cost of the rules as a fair price for the effort and research undertaken by the author.
To sum up, the rulebook quite prominently quotes Chuck Yaeger - "it's the man, not the machine" - and Check Your 6! delivers a game that pivots on the aircrew skill rating. Aces really do manage to run rings around green pilots, but luck can play a factor. It's quick and cheap to get started too. The rules are relatively inexpensive and planes are cheap. I purchased a battle set from Raiden Miniatures (who I can't praise highly enough on the quality of their castings) of 12 fighters and 6 bombers for about £20 complete with stands (not those shown, though). The only other thing you need is a hex mat, but these are readily available online.