What Makes a Good Mission? Interesting Tactical Problems
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a “fly there, bomb that, fight these” mission. However a whole campaign full of co-alt, equal numbers fighter merges can get a bit samey. So what else can we think of?
- One little-known trick is to use the escort target type for your own flight. This has a number of uses. First example — you are a flight leader tasked with taking a pair of novice pilots up for their first combat mission. You are deep inside your own lines when you encounter a free-hunting pair of enemy fighters of similar capability to your aircraft. Now you have to fight them and make sure at least one (or even both!) of your rookies make it home to mama: that’s a whole lot more you’ll need to concentrate. Another example using the same escort target trick — you are a wingman and must keep your leader alive at all costs. Try not to use this if he has to attack bombers as defensive fire is something the player cannot influence; he can, however, keep enemy fighters from downing his leader.
- To avoid co-alt merges with fighters there are a number of things we can do. One is to run a target aircraft (Storch, Stuka flight etc.) across the path of the player flight then run enemy fighters in at high alt a minute or so afterwards. In conjunction with the player as wingman method described above this is very effective. To succeed in the mission the player needs to resist the temptation to join in the attack on the Storch while instead keeping one eye on where his flight leader is and another open for enemy threat aircraft. With good timing and a lot of playtesting you can design a mission that offers a bit more than the standard “there are the bad guys, let’s kill them”.
- Other things we can do to vary altitude are to tie the friendly or enemy fighters to escorted bombers, place an overcast (for example I-16’s with rockets tasked with a road patrol will have to fly under the clouds and can be jumped by Messers we placed over them.
- Not all fighter intercepts have to be from above. By the end of the war it was too dangerous, especially in the west, for the Germans to fly around at altitude. As their main targets were Allied ground-attack aircraft they would often fly at very low level, hunting for Typhoons or Sturmoviks up at 1000m. The Germans would then use their speed to zoom up unseen and attack. In the sim we often look up for bandits so a few Doras going very fast at 100m can come as a nasty surprise.
- Another way of spicing up missions is to introduce force dissimilarity. In Hannig’s book he mentions being in a pair of 190’s at high altitude watching several flights of LaGG’s climbing up to meet him. The two 190’s used their dominant altitude and firepower to more than cancel out the numerical advantage enjoyed by the enemy. This makes for a good mission if the player is self-disciplined enough to keep his speed high and his wingman with him. It can be interesting too from the other side: imagine 8 or so I-153’s armed with bombs at low level being bounced by veteran or ace Messerschmitt F models. The AI Messerschmitts are canny enough never to allow a Chaika on their tail — they will extend or climb away until they can regain the advantage. The player therefore will need to disengage from the fight, climb away and re-enter the fight at a position and time that will trap the Messerschmitts beneath him, for example during a turn.
- A straight 4 v 4 engagement can be fun but how about this? The pilot is #3 of his flight of 4 Messerschmitts when they come across a pair of I-16’s with novice pilots. At the very latest after one of the I-16’s is shot down a responsible pilot will pull his pair above the fight while the leader and his wingman go after the remaining one. That way he will see the three I-16’s coming in at 3000m two minutes later. Instead, as we all know, many pilots will take their Messer down into the fight only to get jumped from above by aircraft they never saw. Players will remember a mission that made them think.
- It was quite common for aircraft to be dispatched to aid others. Dribbling aircraft into a fight at various altitudes and on both sides keeps the player awake. Or having the player scramble to back up an existing fight can pose another dilemma: get there quick and try to tip the balance with numbers or climb and try to enter the fight from above?
- Using the “empty” loadout for aircraft can give a number of options. Firstly, and most obviously, we have the unarmed recon plane — not really a factor on the Eastern Front barring the Finnish G-8’s and a few Mossies and Spits at Murmansk, but certainly useful in the Western Front and the Pacific. An unarmed Lightning at high speed and alt can make a good intercept target if you run it such that the player needs to climb at maximum efficiency to catch it.
- Unarmed offers other possibilities, such as bombers at night. We can place 6 bombers, 5 unarmed, 1 armed. Only one will be alert enough to fire back at the night-fighter. We lack AI Lancasters and Halifaxes but imagine half a dozen single IL-4’s mine dropping at night along the Baltic coast and the player is in a 110 sent to stop them. One will “see” the attacker and fire back, the rest will not, though they will take evasive action. Setting them to rookie level AI means there is a good chance of getting a clean bounce on them too.
- What else can we do with unarmed? We can have a badly damaged bomber that needs shepherding back to base, full of wounded crew. There are a number of wrecked B-17 skins (including one in the default FB or BoE installation, I forget which) that fit the bill. This is also a neat way to have a Berlin bomber scenario without dozens of bombers slowing it all down: shepherding Mustangs or Thunderbolts can attempt to drive off the marauding Messers.
- We can also use unarmed aircraft to tempt the player into making a mistake: the player takes off leading a pair of A-8’s to cover a flight of F-8’s. Shortly after take off the group is circled by a pair of free-hunting La-7’s a couple of thousand meters higher. These aircraft are unarmed but the player will not know that. If left alone they will shadow the group at a distance for a while then fly home — maybe low on fuel, out of ammo, engine playing up, who can tell? The player’s briefing was to stick close the the F-8’s, now doing an impressive 460 or so km/h towards their target. If the player does chase the La-7’s he may get a kill but will not be with the F-8’s when they encounter some Yak-9T’s at the target that rip them apart. Mission failed. And what will the homeward-bound La-7’s do? Probably drag the pursuing fighters over a flak concentration to a friendly CAP position.
The main thing is to give the player choices. You tell him the right choice in the briefing and then tempt him towards the wrong one. Tempt him with an easy kill when he should be watching the bombers or his flight leader and, especially if he is playing full real, he will have a memorable trip when the next pair of fighters show up.