What’s faster between an Albatros DIII and a SPAD VII ?
That depends on the roll of the dice !
Dynamix’s Red Baron  stands out from the mush of my early gaming memories. I started playing it when around 11, maybe 12. The game had to be played in Ironman, if your plane crashed your career ended there with no reload possible. My brother and myself quickly figured out that such a final demise could be cancelled by a timely computer reset, but my father soon forbade us to use that trick, lest we damage the pricey machine. And so I endured and learned to play the game. I don’t think I often finished my careers alive ; those scramble missions were deadly and there must be a reason why I know all the 1916 WWI planes but then get spotty for the 1918 designs. On the other hand, I know the best aces of the Great War found a worthy rival in the time-rich pre-teen that I was. Playing Red Baron also made me appreciate the superior fun of ironman mode ; one remembers for decades those moments where, badly wounded in a dogfight in your 20th or 30th mission, you manage to land your plane before blood loss takes you out…
Almost 30 years later, Eagles allows me to relive those moments, not behind a virtual cockpit but with a top-view of the battlefield. Just like Red Baron, the game also features – oh joy – a campaign mode where you must try to survive between 8 and 12 missions with as many kills as possible. The game supports both multiplayer (up to 10 players !) and handing control of player planes to the AI, so for added fun I asked commenters to join my new Jasta. I had no fewer than 7 volunteers !
I launched a campaign with 8 “human” pilots (7 of which immediately I handed to the computer), but the game does not scale the size of the opposition, so the French 1917 sky looked a lot like the German sky in April-May 1945 where swarms of allied fighters are competing to shoot down the few remaining German planes before the end of the war.
So I start a new campaign, this time with a reduced initial wing of 4. I am bound to lose some pilots, so the extra 4 commenters will be part of my reserve. The initial squadron is composed of :
- Gefreiter Scribe, myself, plane #11
- Flieger Dayyalu, plane #12
- Flieger Gubisson, plane #13
- Flieger Morpheus Kitami, plane #14
Note that I added the rank for the purpose of this blog, they are not indicated in the game. There is a notion of “rank” in the game, but it is actually “reputation”. More about rank/reputation later, for now we all start at the lowest possible level.
As fresh pilots straight out of training and with no experience of combat, we are flying the Albatros DIII, the workhorse of the lmperial Luftstreitkräfte in 1917.
We start the campaign in early 1917, and in media res – Eagles only simulates the dogfight, and not the rest of the activities of WWI German pilots : taking-off, saluting superiors, scanning the horizon for enemy aircrafts, polishing stuff until it shines, trying to source snaps and strong alcohol and landing their planes anywhere they could.
Our first mission is an encounter with a French patrol of two SPAD VII deep above German lines, with both wings starting at a relatively low altitude. The SPAD VII is a much faster plane than the Albatros DIII, so I would be worried if there were more than two of them. The SPAD VII were also notoriously undergunned (only 1 machine-gun, against 2 on an Albatros) so effectively it is 8 machine-guns against 2. We should be fine.
Unlike Computer Air Combat which calculated the exact location of each plane using x,y,z coordinates in feet, the game uses “tiles” to locate planes on the horizontal planes, and increments of 25 feet for altitude. The Spads are one tile East and two tiles South of my squadron, heading West.
We approach from the side, except Flieger Dayyalu who turns to his left for some reason :
The SPAD VII try to turn, but they fail and for now go straight ahead. In Eagles, a turn requires a “Maneuver roll” to be executed in one turn ; if it fails it becomes a two-turns “bank”. With both the SPAD VII and the Albatros DIII only having 45% in maneuver, there will be a lot of banking activity in this battle !
The Albatroses – except Dayyalu’s- do ineffective attacks from the side. After that everyone tries to turn, but ends up banking for a while, until finally Flieger Gubisson rolls lucky :
The erratic behaviour of Flieger Dayyalu turns into an opportunity. A SPAD VII decides to chase him, going straight ahead, allowing me to also fly straight behind its tail, guns blazing. The SPAD VII tries to evade but it fails its turn attempt, allowing me to reach it (thanks to a successful “speed roll” which allows me to move by two tiles instead of one) and deliver a devastating point-blank long burst :
Meanwhile, Flieger Morpheus Kitami had engaged in a duel with the second SPAD VII. Managing to get behind its back, he succeeds in doing 3 sharp turns in a row to stay behind its tail. Never missing a shot, he eventually brings down the second French plane :
We can all head home – mission accomplished. Two air victories, one for me and one for Morpheus Kitami. All the German planes made it home, with only a few bullet holes in Dayyalu’s plane to report. In the back of Dayyalu’s plane, I should add.
The game does not keep track of your performance. Instead, it asks you to note it somewhere, and then “start” a new campaign inputting the previous performance as a starting condition. Each kill is worth an increase in “rank [reputation]” of 1, so Morpheus Kitami and myself are now rank #2, which means we may – randomly – be allocated better planes than an Albatros DIII. In addition, given the campaign is represented by only 8 battles + 4 special missions, the score in one battle is used to calculate how many planes our pilot is supposed to have shot down during the quarter. A plane shot down in battle that falls “deep behind the German lines” is worth 4 kills, so that’s 4 kills for Morpheus Kitami and myself.
It is time for the second battle with the same line-up
- Sergeant Scribe, myself, plane #11
- Flieger Dayyalu, plane #12
- Flieger Gubisson, plane #13
- Unteroffizer Morpheus Kitami, plane #14
We are still flying Albatros DIII… and the RNG spawns again a duo of SPAD VII
The battle immediately starts with a frontal pass, after which Dayyalu, Morpheus Kitami and myself turn North along with one of the SPAD VII, while Flieger Gubisson and the other SPAD turn South. The SPAD that went North accepts combat 1 against 3 and gives everything it has, but eventually it is brought down. During the melee, I lose sight of Gubisson, who also disappears from the overview :
When I return to base, Gubisson’s plane is there – out of ammo but intact and victorious. The kill of the other SPAD VII is allocated to me, but really I don’t deserve it more than Morpheus Kitami or even Dayyalu.
This is easy, and the next mission should be even easier !
For missions 3, 6, 9 and 12, the manual proposes “special” missions that must be created by the editor according to specifics described in the manual. The first special mission represents Bloody April :
Unescorted two-seaters ? What could go wrong ?
In Eagles, the two-seaters are represented… by the same icon as everything else, except the planes take 2 spaces. Given the range of a machine gun is 0-1 space, either those two-seaters are really, really long or the designers did not think it through.
The game does not specify which two-seaters I am intercepting, so I am going to pretend they are R.E.8, which had become the British standard reconnaissance plane by the time of Bloody April.
We start behind the two-seaters, 300 feet above. Eagles does not record the speed of a plane, so there are no tactics involving conservation of aircraft energy. The only advantage of altitude is that it is much harder to climb than to dive so you can pick your battles, and that diving 25 feet gives +5% to the speed rolls (=moving two spaces in one turn) and the maneuver rolls (to turn in one turn).
I dive toward the R.E.8s and shoot a long burst… jamming my guns, even though some bullets flew out and hit my targets. My teammates also dive, spreading their shots over different targets but always hitting them. Immediately after those attacks, the rear gunners shoot back, hitting Dayyalu and Gubisson’s planes. The rear gun of R.E.8 #2 jams.
I can only unjam my guns by flying straight and to avoid remaining in front of the R.E.8 front guns doing so I carry on diving. When my guns are fixed, I am at a much lower altitude than the enemy planes. I try a half-loop up to try to come back quickly to the combat but fail the dice roll (using speed + maneuver) and stall, losing more altitude.
Meanwhile, Unteroffizer Gubisson’s weapons breaks, and in his case that’s not repairable. Now useless in the battle, he heads home, leaving only Dayyalu and Morpheus Kitami to shoot down the damaged reconnaissance planes.
Flieger Dayyalu picks the defenceless R.E.8 #2 as a target. He can easily close-in and soon he shoots it down. After that, Dayyalu… breaks combat and heads home to report his kill.
Next, Morpheus Kitami tries the same tactic against another R.E.8, except this time the rear gun doesn’t jam. Suddenly, Morpheus Kitami’s plane rolls to the side and starts spinning toward the ground.
I am now alone. I could in theory slowly regain altitude and then use my superior speed to catch back the enemy planes, but it will take a long time, and by then I will be above English lines, giving me only half the points if I manage to shoot any of those planes. I also saw what happens to cocky fighters attacking two seaters alone and from the rear. I’d rather be home while the sauerkraut is still warm.
The result of this mission is that only one of the English planes was shot down during what was later called the “mildly bloody April” :
We wait anxiously for confirmation about Morpheus Kitami’s fate. Are you absolutely sure you saw nothing ? Do you think his plane could still be controlled ? Have you phoned the other airbases ? Alas the news finally arrives :
Ein Abschied für immer, Unteroffizier Morpheus Kitami…
… but in our team, you have already been replaced by new guy : Flieger Baud.
I stop the campaign here for now. I will come back to it for short updates in the coming days, hopefully until the end of the war. Remind me not to attack two seaters from the rear !