Thursday, April 20, 2017

RETROSPECTIVE - B-17 Queen of the Skies

It has been a while since I've done a Retrospective but I've had a flash of nostalgia. While searching for air combat games I stumbled across some references to the venerable solitaire game, B-17 Queen of the Skies.

I picked up the Avalon Hill version some time in the 80s and ended up playing it dozens of times. In this game, you are in command of a single B-17 bomber on missions against targets in German-occupied Europe during World War 2. Although you might occasionally have a milk run, oftentimes the missions were harrowing as you ran a gauntlet of enemy fighters and flak on the way to your target. And if you managed to drop your payload, you still had to get back home!

Although a wargame, B-17 had a bit of an RPG flair to it. You named your plane and crew. If they managed to survive they began to take on a life of their own. It really hurt when you rolled the dreaded BIP (burst in plane), demolishing plane and crew in one go. Such was the life of a WW2 bombing crew.

The game itself was primarily a die-rolling exercise. You rolled to see if you took off safely, then more rolls each time you entered a new zone to determine what the Germans threw at you. Rolls for combat, damage, the bombing run, landing, etc. Through it all, you were shuffling through numerous charts. It sounds tedious, and from a game design standpoint you could say that B-17 was lacking. In a recent post I mentioned that I wanted rules that required some tactical thought. There wasn't a whole lot in this game (you could choose which enemies to target with which guns and could move crew members around when some were wounded or killed). But then, when did bomber crews have much choice in their tactics?

Where this game succeeded was its brilliant evocation of its theme. Missions typically were filled with suspense (when are they going to hit us?) punctuated by terror (when enemy bullets ripped into your plane). As such, B-17 scores extremely high on the Feel scale.

Sadly, I no longer own this game. In the early 2000s I found a computer game that covered the same theme, but without shuffling through a bunch of charts. At the time, I felt that the computer game made B-17 obsolete. Unfortunately, the computer game was not compatible with newer computers so it too is obsolete. One nice thing about board games is that they aren't dependent on operating systems.

I would be interested in replacing B-17, but copies can go for nearly $200. I did stumble across a newer game, Target for Today, which states that it is "s an advanced update of Glen Frank’s classic game B17, QUEEN OF THE SKIES."

Very interested!


  1. I've heard many good things about B-17 and started searching for a copy. I found one in good shape for about $50 and snapped it up. I have yet to get any games in, but am looking forward to giving it a go.

  2. My condolences. It will cause you heartache ;)