Hitting Home

What if...
This game asks an interesting question, what if members of the Tripartite Pact (aka Axis) had attacked deep inside North America?  Where would this be? What place, if attacked, early in the war, say 1942, could have made the war last longer or possible brought the U.K. and/or the Soviets, then the US to their knees and sued for peace?

One of those places is the subject of the latest game from High Flying Dice, LLC. Called "Hitting Home - Axis Raids on the Soo Locks, 1942 & 1945", a "what if" on an Axis aerial attack on the Soo Lock system located on the St Mary's River (between Lake Superior and Lake Huron) at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The locks were well guarded as members of the 131st Infantry and 100th Coastal Artillery had begun arriving early in 1942. They were armed with anti-aircraft weapons and used 60-inch searchlights to patrol the sky. 

Shortly afterward, the 399th Barrage Balloon Battalion arrived to do their part in the defense of the locks. Their barrage balloons were anchored in place 2,000 feet above the locks by inch-thick steel cables, for protection from low level aircraft (no balloons in the game, drat.). Steel mesh nets were installed underwater above and below the locks to guard against torpedo attacks that might be used on the lock gates. 

One of the local jokes in the Sault Ste. Marie area was that the amount of AAA and barrage balloons on one's property dictated one's status in the community.  

A one time attack could possibly caused problems for a week or more, as a fallen rail bridge did on October 7, 1941.  Ships were backed up and in anchorage below and above the locks, while the bridge spans and train were cleared from the area and parts of the locks repaired.

With roughly 90% of all iron ore coming from the northern iron regions destine for the steel factories in the east, a surprise attack might disrupt enough shipping to the point of less ore for the manufacturing of munitions, armor, guns, weapons, and aircraft being available for the war effort, whether lend-lease or general use for the US forces.   

Note - this attack would need to be sustained not only by aircraft bombing, water mining, and by saboteurs at the Soo Locks, but also up and down the St Mary's River.   

Wait a sec, there -ab, there are rails and highways. America would just move everything that way.  Possible but... besides shipping on water, the next best thing for inter-continental transport in the US at this time was rail. And rail was too busy with transporting pretty much everything all-ready across the country. There were not enough engines (locomotives), rail cars, or rails to move all the iron ore required and move everything else. Air Transport was not available in the quantity needed. The road system, honestly, was a shambles across the country, nor was it high speed.  It would take too long to deliver the amount of ore needed to keep the mills going and create back-logs in every type of war goods shipping.  This river system and its locks are needed for steel.  Also, never think that the US is not bless by having all the waterways we have, like the Great Lakes, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to name a few.

Government thinkers thought a one way bombing run from Norway was possible. Other thoughts were aircraft being brought into Hudson Bay via German transport ships and used, as in the game.  

Another thought (mine), in 1942, the Japanese had several very large, very long range bomber-type float planes that could have made life hell for the continental United States. Mavis (H6K) and Emily (H8K) flying from Japan, refueling from subs, then to Attu and Kiska Islands that Japan had captured, refueling and with 10 or more of them flying in fuel, crews, equipment, and munitions for a small sea plane base on one of the many large lakes in Canada. Attu and Kiska could have been used for stockpiling men, equipment, and supplies and used for transporting to somewhere in Canada. Far fetch? Probably, but lucky for us none of this was ever implemented by the Axis high commands and this is where the game comes into play....

Title:  Hitting Home, Axis Raids on the Soo Locks 1942 & 1945
Price: $12.95
Card set Available: $9.00
Designer:  Paul Rohrbaugh
Graphics Designer:  Bruce Yearian
Publisher:  High Flying Dice Games, LLC
Published Date:  2020

The Game
Hitting Home is an introductory air game using High Flying Dice's tried and true air war gaming system. Other games HFDG based on this system have been reviewed here, such as Fighting Eagles and Honcho, among a few others. This latest version is no slouch when it comes to being easy to play and IMHO, fun. Also, the game graphics are top-notch as only Bruce Yearian can do (sorry, though other graphic designers have done a few of these games, and are good, IMHO Bruce is the one who just does it right).

Components (Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3)
Each "Hitting Home" game is comprised of the following:
one 8.5" x 11" "Raid" map
one 8.5" x 11" "Air Strike" map
one set of rules (4 single sheet pages!)
one set of 50 unmounted counters

Player Supplied Components
The player will need to provide one D6 and a deck of cards.

Miscellaneous
Of course, HFDG has a card set to replace the deck of cards, that is available for purchase at $9.  Mounting of the counters is available for $6, but you will need to cut them out.

Counters
50 unmounted, mostly double-sided counters consisting of:

18 1" counters  double-sided
7 US Aircraft (2 P-36; 2 P-40; 3 P-47)
3 US AAA (representing the 100th Coastal Artillery)
2 German He-114 & 2 He-115 (for 1942 Scenario)
4 IJN M6A (for 1945 scenario)

20 1/2"  markers double-sided
7 "Very Low / Low" altitude
7 "High / Very High" altitude (note - Aircraft at Medium altitude do not need a marker)
2 Victory Point markers - 1x, 10x German / Japanese
4 "One Attack Left" German / Japanese (for bombers)

12 1/2" markers single-sided
    3 "Guns Jammed"
    3 "Lucky Shot"
    1 Target
    1 Sun
    1 Air Defense Level
    1 Turn
    1 German Base / 1 Japanese Base

Note - Yes the rules say 43 counters/markers. But if I can guess, there are extra two Guns Jammed, two Lucky Shots, one extra Allied aircraft, and the other extra counters could be the Japanese Victory Point markers and Japanese Base. As the Victory Point markers for the German/Japanese and the German/Japanese base marker could have been made universal, requiring only one set.  No biggie, as more is always better. 

Setup (Rules 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 4.1, 4.2)
After figuring out which scenario (there are only two - 1942 scenario or 1945 scenario) will be played, markers (counters, whatever), are placed on the Raid map and  four Allied 1942 aircraft placed in a cup to have three blindly pulled (if playing the 1942 scenario.). If the player puts the game and counters into one of the gaming trays as sold by Against The Odds (ATO) magazine, set up will be F-A-S-T and storage of the game, sweet! 

Play then is resolved on the Raid Map to see what the final ADL is for the Allied player.

got to love this map
Raid Map (Rules 3.0, 4.1)
The "Raid" map adds a new flavor to the Eagle series of games by using an "overall" map that shows the "Attack" base of the enemy to the target area via a series of "Ingress /Egress" boxes, "Box 1" and "Box 2". These boxes serve as possible areas that might spot the enemy and alert the "Target Area". 
 
As the Axis aircraft are moved from box to box, a D6 is rolled to determine the Air Defense Level (ADL). Depending on the ADL (from 1 to 3) and recorded on the "Game Record Keeping Track" that is on the "Raid" map, when the Axis player reaches the target area, this final number will decide how many aircraft and AAA units are available at the start of the game for the Allies. Plus it dictates how many black cards will be available for card draws (action points and combat) for the Allied player.  

For example in rule 4.1, if the ADL is 1 when the actual game starts on the "Air Strike" map, the Axis player will have 2 Axis air units that start on the "Air Strike" map on any North edge. Only 1 Allied AAA unit is in play and placed. No Allied air units are available for play at start (south edge of Air Strike map). The cards are shuffle to make the game deck using all the red card for the Axis player and both Jokers. However, the Allied player only uses the black suite number cards 1 to 5 and all black face cards. One Allied air unit will arrive on turn 1 after the first Joker CD (card draw) and another Allied air unit will be available at the start of turn 2 as a reinforcement.  This is not good and shows what could happen if unprepared for an attack.  

Can this happen in the game? Well, it did for me in several games - it is tough!  Plus the 1st Joker wasn't turn over until close to the end of the 1st game turn - when I received my 1st aircraft. And the Axis player got the "Enemy Guns Jammed" random event. Yes, the Soo Locks were bombed and out of commission. Again, almost the same thing happen on the second game. By the 3rd game, I made sure that those Air Raid Wardens were sent to better duty in the middle of the Everglades with no insect repellent, leaky rubber boots, and no boat. Yes, I changed the 6 sided die as payback is a mutha.

Yes, both boxes will be rolled for. The marker for the ADL is placed on box 1 of the Game Record Track. If the Allied player is lucky for the first I/E box and rolls a "1", then the ADL marker is advance to "2" on the Game Record Track and so on for the 2nd I/E box. "3" is the max.  

isn't this map beautiful
Air Strike Map (Rules 4.0, 4.1, 4.2)
This is the actual game map for combat.  It is a very nice overhead shot of the Soo Lock area divided into 8x8 squares. It does show an extra lock that would not be available for the 1942 scenario, but is available for 1945.  This is the MacArthur Lock built in 1943 by the Army Corps of Engineers, in an impressive feat of engineering.   

The Axis will enter play on the North side and the Allied Player on the South. 

One needs to place the sun marker by rolling 1D6. Believe it or not, this is important as the sun adds or subtracts  modifiers for attack depending on where it is place.  See 4.2 for this.

Cards  (4.1, 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.4.1, 5.4.2, 6.0, 7.0)
A deck of cards is used to regulate who gets to move and/or have combat and the amount of Action Points. If you read this blog very much, you know that I actually prefer and like this system for game play instead of the usual chit pulling or the Igo-Ugo play style.  Some of HFDG games use all cards in one deck or 2 separate decks. This game uses all the cards shuffled together.   

The Axis player uses all of the red card suite (Ace to Ten and all Face cards), while the Allied player uses the black card suite (Ace to Ten and all Face cards), but the amount of black cards this player receives is dependent on the ADL as mentioned above under "Raid" map (4.1). Two Jokers are added and all cards are shuffled together. Each time a card is drawn (CD), the player whose colour is drawn gets to act, whether movement and/or combat and for the amount of "Action Points" available to be able to do this.  

To figure out the amount of  "Action Points" (AP), when an Ace to 10 card is drawn, divide the card number by 1/2 and round up. For example, an "Ace" is 1 AP, while a "5" is 3 APs and a "10" is 5 APs. These APs can be used for up to three aircraft counters for movement or attacking.   

Handy Dandy Card Values
Action Point Ace to 10 Card Values Black (Allies) or Red (Axis) suits. To figure out the Action Points, (1/2 the CD rounded up) to be used for up to 3 aircraft that the player wants to move-
 Ace = 1 AP
  2 = 1 AP
  3 = 2 AP
  4 = 2 AP
  5 = 3 AP
  6 = 3 AP
  7 = 4 AP
  8 = 4 AP
  9 = 5 AP
10 = 5 AP

Face cards allow one aircraft counter three action points and either an attack against a AAA site (Red) or an AAA attack against an aircraft counter at low or medium altitude (Black).  

Note - this is the second air game of Paul's using this in the Eagle gaming system.  The first is Desert Eagles, a game that I have played but just didn't review. One of these days, I will need to correct that oversight.

Jokers are important. The first Joker CD (whether for movement or combat) allows a random event (only once per game if used) and releases an aircraft for the Allies and the reminding two aircraft for the Axis on game turn one.  

The second Joker, again for either movement or combat, either ends the game turn or the game after 4 game turns. However, if both players have not had a chance to preform an action (i.e. move/combat for aircraft or attack/fire AAA) then the card is discarded and play continues with a new CD.

An aircraft movement chart is on the page 4 showing the possible moves and AP cost for each move. Remember to start in the center square. And bombers can't preform the last line (pulling loops).

Combat (Rules 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.4.1. 5.4.2)
No, I am not going to list them. The rules are short enough.
for air combat see 5.2.
for AAA combat see 5.3.
for Bombers bombing see 5.4,
for Bomber defensive fire see 5.4.1
for Japanese Kamikaze attacks see 5.4.2.

End of Game  (Rules 3.0, 7.0, 8.0)
The game is over, either by no Axis aircraft on the Air Strike map, or at the end of the 4th game turn. Axis aircraft are the only units that can exit the North edge of the Air Strike map. 

The surviving Axis air units are returned to the Axis Base on the Raid map.  A DR is made for each unit and the base against the current ADL. If the DR is greater than the ADL, the Axis unit or Base is unaffected. If the DR is less than or equal to the ADL, the Axis unit or Base is destroyed and VP is lost. 

Victory points (8.0) are tallied for the Axis player to see who wins. 

Rules
The rules are 4 pages in length. As usual, the rules are well written with only a little bit of possible addenda needed, none of it is a game breaker, just a very casual observation and not official from HFDG.

Under 1.1, 50 game counters, not 43. Just a few extras incase you lose one.

Under 4.1, (second column) Target marker is placed in one of the four red shaded squares, not red sided squares.

Under 5.0, the player whose face card is drawn, in addition to having 3 APs for one aircraft, can also either attack (Red face) 1 AAA unit (any altitude) or attack (Black face) with one AAA unit at an Axis aircraft at low or medium altitude. Though it is mention for the Axis player, it isn't for the Allied player.

And some other happy thoughts -
Random events happen only once per game.
Pay attention to the Movement Costs chart on page 4 of the rules.
There is also a handy List of Combat Modifiers on page 4.

My Impressions
First, is it a good game? Is it fun? Is it quick? Will it break the bank? Yes, to the first three and no, to the last. It is simple, not simple minded. It is inexpensive, not cheap. And it has a lot of smart thinking (i.e. good ideals) in it.  I like it, especially with the addition of the "Raid map". This adds that something extra that is needed and makes the game interesting with varying the amount of Allied response from game to game for playing on the Strike Map.  It can get rough if the ADL is a "1" for the game, though.

Any suggestions for play
I really can't give you any ideas on how to play the game, except the following - for the Allies, hope your plane spotters can give you advance warning (an ADL of 2 or better a 3).  The more aircraft and AAA you get, the better.  Since this is the continental US, up in the middle of the Great Lakes area, "aces" are nonexistent (they are either in the Navy out in the Pacific or across the Atlantic, learning the trade).  

For the Germans, "bombardiere so schnell du kannst und hol die hölle von der karte".
loosely translated - "bomb quickly and get the hell off the map"

The Japanese are sort of the lost ducks to the party.  You have ok aircraft, but you will be facing P-47s. Just do your best.  Will you just do the normal bombing or has kamikaze fever gotten to you? Or will you say "fudge that", bomb, then land at a different lake,  take your chances as a P.O.W., and go to Hollywood after the war?

What I would change
Well, nothing earth shattering, as everything is HIGHLY functional as is. However, if I could, I would make the altitude markers counters 1" in size. They do need to be bigger to be able to read the fine print. Even with reader glasses, I have to pick them up to read. 

I would also make the Victory Point counters generic and have one as a X1 and one as X10, not double-sided. This would make record tracking for VP easier. And only one marker is needed for Axis base. But this is just me.  As mentioned before, everything works as is. 

Well, that is it for this review. It is a fun game and really for the cost, and mounting the counters, well worth it.  

-ab


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