Design Notes for B-29 Superfortress

The design of this game started in 2003 as I was playing a game of Avalon Hill’s B-17 QOTS. I said to myself “Why not a Pacific version of this game with the B-29?” So in between job assignments I started jotting down notes and ideas for the game.

I wanted to keep the basic structure of B-17, hence the game was designed from the outset as a solitaire game. Secondly, the B-29 was a complicated plane and very buggy – so the charts and game play had to reflect this.

The first design of the game included missions from China and India, as well as from Tinian. However, very early on it was determined that it would make the game very “heavy” – too many charts for each of the areas of the operations. So I decided to concentrate on the period from 1944 – 1945: the missions from Tinian.

Work began in earnest in creating the charts and placement maps for the game. This was a slow process and my job was beginning to interfere with the time I could spend on the design and research. And on top of that I had a family and its obligations!

So I contacted Shawn Rife who had expressed an interest to help out and sent him the notes and charts I had. He took on the task of creating the rules and mechanics of the game and I concentrated on the graphics and coordinated playtesting.

When all was ready we launched a beta version of the game in PDF format and sent it to our batch of playtesters. The results started coming back – most were happy with the games but did come back with several questions to clarify the rules and certain situations.

Results were sent to Shawn who updated the rules, answered the feedback and I then made graphic changes to tweak the counters and passed on the latest beta to playtesters.

This process continued until late 2007 when all files were sent to Randy for final graphic work and printing.

The big changes one will note from B-17 are the incorporation of Navigation, Weather and Fuel procedures. These three items were of more concern to crews of B-29s than the Japanese opposition.

Unlike B-17, players will find that there are no successive waves of Japanese attacks in B-29. Japanese fighters had a difficult time attacking the bomber, altitude was a big mitigating factor.

Here is a quote from our design notes sprinkled throughout the game:

For those who are familiar with B-17 QUEEN OF THE SKIES, the procedure in SUPERFORTRESS for fighter appearance is significantly different in order to allow for greater variation in results and to more accurately model the different types of planes and tactics in different situations and altitudes. Please note also that there are no fighter “waves” in SUPERFORTRESS.

Japanese fighter ranges extended into zones other than just those listed on Table 2-9 but Japanese fighters rarely strayed very far from the Home Islands. Primarily because of fuel shortages (but also because of the poor state of pilot training), Japanese fighter commanders were reluctant to send up planes until the target of a B-29 raid could be exactly identified. However, Japanese geography—with its long, thin string of islands and targets bunched on the east coast—made it simple for the US bombers to approach with little warning over open sea, hit their targets, and be gone at high speed—long before the Japanese (who were deficient in radar and communications) could assemble a defense of any strength. Also, as the war progressed, the Japanese began to withhold more fighters to create a Kamikaze reserve in preparation for the anticipated U.S. invasion of the Home Islands.
Japanese fighter pilots were instructed to attack B-29s from above and head-on on the bomber’s right side, if possible. Twentieth Air Force estimated that over 40% of Japanese fighter attacks came from the nose, only 16-17% from the rear. Most frontal attacks came from above while more rear attacks came from below. By one analysis, only 11% of attacks were coordinated (multi-plane attacks on the same bomber)—a sharp contrast to the European experience. This difference was attributed to the B-29’s speed and altitude, the restricted performance of the interceptors, and poor Japanese pilot quality.


There are 24 pages of rules – covering a basic game and the advanced game and 54 pages of charts. The final rules version number is 7 and the final chart version is 5.

The charts are laid out in the order players will need during the course of the game and is in book form rather than card stock as in B-17.

The final map contains the strategic movement track, navigation weather track, the fighter placement map, holding boxes for Japanese fighters and B-29 damage counters, plus a few boxes for tracking weather and pressurization.

Above:Final game cover for box

Below is a narrative by one of our playtesters, Bruce Peckham, describing one of his missions to Ota, Japan.

B-29 Superfortress
Mission to Ota, Japan

This is a narrative of a mission flown using the Beta/Play Test rules for the forthcoming game B-29 Superfortress, Bombers Over Japan 1944 - 1945 by Steve Dixon and Shawn Rife. The game is presently in pledge status for release by publisher Khyber Pass Games.

The mission commences with reference to the B-29 sequence of play. The bomber ID target selection and mission parameters are determined at this stage.

Plane Jane a shiny new B-29 sits at her hardstand on Tinian with Lt. Tucker Martin at the controls. XXI Bomber Command has directed a mission to the aircraft factory complex in Ota, Japan, a distance of over 1600 miles from the bomber’s base. Ota sits 50 miles NNW of Tokyo. The target will be attacked in daylight from “Hi” altitude. This will necessitate a pre-dawn takeoff in darkness, as well as a darkened landing on return. On the positive side, the assembly point, halfway to Iwo Jima, will be in daylight as will the time over target. Adding further to the crew’s concern is the fact that Plane Jane’s squadron will fly the low slot on the formation over enemy territory, and by the luck of the draw she will be the “Tail End Charlie”, thereby manning the coffin corner as the position is known. Due to mission length and altitude the B29 will carry auxiliary fuel tanks in both the forward and aft bomb bays. There will be no fighter escorts available, but the briefer tried to buck up the boys with a “light fighter resistance” intelligence estimate. That promise did little to quiet pre-mission tension. It is obvious that the Command is counting on the B29’s speed and extreme altitude to successfully put its generous bomb load on a strategic target deep in the enemy’s homeland.

Out of the darkness came the start engines signal and the big bird came to life. In a few minutes she had lumbered to the end of the runway and Martin opened up the throttles and headed her into the darkness. The crew sweated out the take off as the big engines lifted the weight of bombs, gas, crew and guns into the night sky. Those big powerful engines were notoriously quirky and this was no time for a hiccup. With a ten man exhale they made it aloft. Plane Jane thundered across the Pacific at low altitude leaving the dark island base in the distance.

So the mission is underway and the B29 is about to head into Zone 1 on the Strategic Mission Track. Only 13 zones to go to reach the target, and that means a lot of time for all sorts of adventures which are promised by game tables entitled Low Fuel Movement; Impact Of Bad Weather, and Random Events (the B29 was a buggy airplane!) to name a few. Her status to this point was determined by rule procedure and die rolls on the Starting Mission Tables. The next big hurdle will be cruising to Hi altitude and Formation Assembly designated for Zone Three on the Strategic Mission Track. Lt. Martin, his navigator and flight engineer are working on that challenge.

II

B29 Plane Jane and her crew have successfully taken off from Tinian and wing their way north across the Pacific heading for the formation assembly point approximately half way between the base and enemy held Iwo Jima. With the bird pressurized they comfortably climb to altitude while the navigator, flight engineer, radar and radio operators carefully monitor their responsibilities to stay on course and husband the precious fuel supply. Dawn is gathering as they reach high altitude. The pilot, Lt. Martin approaches the assembly point and takes position without complication. And it is well that the process proceeds smoothly as the engineer reports significant fuel consumption due to weight and the climb to high altitude. The fuel situation is very tight, but there is nothing to be done now except push north toward Iwo and the first potential enemy encounter and then, if luck stays good, further on across the ocean expanse and landfall with the Japanese mainland.

In game terms the bomber transits the first three zones on the Strategic Movement Track. Procedures and charts for zone movement including fuel consumption, weather, navigation, random events, and formation assembly all come into play and contribute to the mission plot to this point. There are ten zones remaining before the target, nearly 1300 miles. And the B29 faces another 1600 miles back to the Marianas.

This is going to be tight getting back! The B29 took off with 44 fuel resource units (the author’s term) on board. We have used 12 to get to assembly (weight of defense guns and crew (2); climb to altitude (4) and transit with the bomb load (6)). It will take 20 units to take the bombs to the target zone (Zones 4 -13), 1 unit to egress, and 13 units to return to the Mariana’s base and land. The total fuel requirement is 34 units or two more than we presently have remaining on board. We have no reserves for any unforeseen events such as navigation error, weather anomalies, and battle-damage or bad luck. To reach the Mariana’s base, we will need fuel management, a tail wind and a prayer.

Interspersed throughout the draft of the Rules are quotes from participants in the actual campaign. One is especially pertinent to Plane Jane as she soldiers on.
“I came to the conclusion early on that…we would be confronting a multitude of ‘enemies’ during the B-29 final assault on Japan. Mentally, I listed them in this order: Weather, Japanese fighters and flak over Japan, Weather, Fuel—would we have enough to complete the round trip?, Weather and 3,000 miles of water”- Chester Marshall, B-29 pilot.

III

The wing’s formation assembled without incident three hundred miles north of Tinian. Plane Jane took her assigned spot as the tail end plane of the low squadron and winged her way north toward the first enemy threat point, the Japanese held island of Iwo Jima. The weather over the island deteriorated as the formation approached. This, plus the formation’s high altitude evidently discouraged any attempt at opposition and the armada flew on unmolested by fighters. The weather cleared after passing Iwo, and Plane Jane flew on another three hundred miles finally approaching the landmass of Japan.
After assembly the navigation tables were no longer consulted as the lead plane of the formation assumed that responsibility (If you were flying in the “lead” slot, then you would continue with the navigation rules). Weather raised its head at Iwo deteriorating to poor. This generated a modifier against fighter opposition, but it also caused the expenditure of an extra fuel resource due to flying difficulty. Not a good thing, given Plane Jane’s precarious fuel state. Fighter opposition at Iwo got flushed by negative modifiers on the flight gazetteer (-2), high altitude (-2) and poor weather (-1). Upon reaching the island a decision was made not to depressurize the bomber and put the crew on oxygen. There is a chance of oxygen system failures, etc. Given the high probability of no opposition, this risk was forgone. When the mainland is reached, however, depressurization will be a given. There was no flak from Iwo, as the rules do not provide for this occurrence unless the Island was the designated target. The formation flew through three more zones approaching the coast. From this point on fighter opposition can be expected all the way to the target and back out until over the sea. In the last outbound transit zone over the ocean, the weather table bit Plane Jane in the fuel status when the dice required the expenditure of an additional resource point (a strong headwind?).
Fuel remains critical to this point. There are three hundred additional miles remaining before the bomb weight is released on the target. And then there is the threat that damage by the enemy will disrupt fuel expenditure. Oh, yes - And the weather! These B29 crews had a long time to sit and stew about risks in the wild blue yonder.

IV

Plane Jane continued north in her trail position within the low squadron formation, crossing the Japanese coast and pushing inland toward the target. Even without a fighter escort, the bombers enjoyed a quiet flight, and Plane Jane’s crew saw no Japanese interceptors on the way inland. As they approached the city of Ota, however, a lone zero fighter put in an appearance. He approached Plane Jane from the six o’clock high position, no mean feat for a Zero at the bomber’s cruising altitude. As the fighter glided down for his attack the Jane’s gunners opened fire from three different gun positions. The Zero was hit, caught fire and rolled away like a lighted match, leaving a dark smoke trail to mark its fall. A quick check failed to report any damage from this attack. The bomb run was routine, but for the effect of the high bombing altitude. The flak was light and proved ineffective. Lt. Russell made a good visual run and put many bombs in the target area. As the formation made its turn away, no flak or fighters followed in pursuit. Japanese defenses were evidently not well prepared on this day. Perhaps it was the increased speed of the formation as the planes sped south released from their bomb weight, but no additional fighters made an attempt at Plane Jane as she and the rest of the low squadron retreated toward the coast, covering nearly 300 miles.

Lady Luck heavily favored Plane Jane and her intrepid crew in this segment of the mission over enemy territory. Japanese aerial opposition was rolled as light, or not occurring in five of the six action zones. This greatly lowered the fighter encounter odds. The only encounter came over the target, a Zero piloted by an ace, but the 6 high attack angle worked in the bombers favor and the three gun positions and the tail cannon were enough to make quick work of the Zeke. The flak was rolled light and no hits scored on the bomber. The target was “mostly obscured” via a “bad” target visibility die roll but this worked against the flak gunners, not the bombardier. As with the defensive fire against the Zeke, the dice favored the bomber and the run was on target with a whopping 60% bombs on target (If Hap Arnold hears about that BOT score from that altitude, Lt. Russell will get the DFC).

Plane Jane emerges un-scratched after crossing the home islands. She has made a significant contribution to the success of XXI Bomber Command. But a lot of blue water is ahead of her as she heads back to Tinian Base. With 10 transit zones to her landing, she has fuel resources for 9. Somehow, someway the crew must conserve fuel to make it back safely. If not the dreaded Low Fuel Movement Table takes over - more about that next time.

Just a note of interest, this game utilizes two combat systems. One serves daylight missions, as is being flown by Plane Jane. The second system applies to night missions, which became the XXI BC’s mission of choice later in the war. And they are as different as day and night with the exception of the possible results – survival or death.

V

Plane Jane follows the bomber formation back out over the vast Pacific Ocean after successfully bombing the Kawasaki aircraft factory complex at Ota. A brush with a Zero fighter interceptor resulted in no damage to the crew or aircraft and a claim for an enemy fighter shot down. The spotlight falls on Sgt. Wayne Rister, the flight engineer, who must manage the engines and fuel over the next 1000 miles to assure the crew’s safe return. Complicating the flight is the fact that the landing at Tinian will be made in darkness and the boys will rely on their pilot, Lt. Martin to overcome that difficulty.

When about 250 miles out from the coast the weather started to deteriorate. Not serious, but enough to start the worry meters to climb into the yellow zone. Then Rister made a fuel status report, calling out that the fuel situation was improving and that it looked good for Tinian – close, but ok. “Barring a dust-up at Iwo, we should be good for landing.”

But fate is the hunter, and no sooner had the worry meter started to drop, but Rister reported that engine #1 was running hot. Attempts to cool it down only resulted in further complications and to the dismay of all on board the quirky engine gave up the ghost. Martin feathered the prop and Plane Jane chugged along on three engines, with 750 miles of ocean still ahead. Her reduced weight allowed Martin to hold formation, but the night landing risk ratcheted up a notch.

The poor weather continued as they approached the Iwo area in gathering darkness, and as was the case on the outbound leg, no fighters put in an appearance, much to the relief of all onboard.

The weather improved as they put Iwo Jima behind them, and Plane Jane cruised effortlessly through the final dark miles toward Tinian. The sensitive fuel situation stayed “Close but OK” per the laconic engineer. On approach Martin let down for landing and in spite of darkness and a dead engine put her down with just a bounce. A mission of nearly 3000 miles was completed and in the books.

This leg of the mission was similar to the outbound leg in terms of game factors in play. Navigation, however did not apply, as Plane Jane stayed in formation all the way back. In later night missions, where bombers fly singly in a stream, this is a critical component affecting fuel consumption and target acquisition among other things. Fuel, as I calculated it using the Beta rules, was critical. Plane Jane benefited from a recovered fuel resource point in Zone 7, which gave her the cushion she needed (Great fuel management, Sgt. Rister!). As in the outbound leg, Iwo was ineffective for the Japanese, principally due to weather and the high altitude of the formation. Also, the dice did not favor them. The lost engine came out of the Random Events Chart, which is rolled on every “turn” (Spend two turns in a action zone, you roll twice.) It takes a 2d6 12 to put it in play, so it does not hit often, but none of its results are good. As the notes say, “The B29 is a buggy airplane.” Landing is ok on a 2d6 2-12 less modifiers. Plane Jane was –2 (darkness and one engine out). I rolled a 2d6 5-2=3. Hence the runway bounce at touchdown.

My assignment from the designers was to run a test mission and post a narrative. I was not instructed to review the game. Let me just say this to those familiar with B17 Queen Of The Skies. Compared to the B17, the B29 was an entirely different airplane, assigned a different mission and operated in a different military environment. The game structure is similar to that of the earlier game and that is where the similarity ends. However, as is the case in B17 Queen of The Skies and the early air war in Europe, the designers have done a very commendable job in simulating the nuances of the B-29’s air campaign against Japan.

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Replies to This Discussion

54 pages of charts?! Godness, that's impressing!

Steve, great description and story.
Not as daunting as it sounds thank god! We could have reduced the number but then it would have been like B-17 QOTS with much abstraction but we felt we had to incorporate the detail to show the differences between the ETO and the PTO strategic bombing missions. Navigation, Weather and Fuel were to important to be left out.
Is there anyway this could have been made into a two player game? I understand that there wouldn't have been much to do playing Japanese, or would it?
Shawn and I didn't take that approach. There wouldn't be much for the Japanese player to do except assign fighters to clock positions and roll for hits. B17 QOTS had optional 2 player rules but believe they were added at the last minute - not much for the German player to do either.

I think the scale would have to be increased to make it a 2 player game - more strategic in nature - perhaps like AH's Luftwaffe.
How much room is there for player decisions and tactics? I see much potential for tension and excitement as troubles build up over the flight, but how much influence have I, as player, over the outcome?
Robert - if you are familiar with B-17 QOTS it does have have a similar feel to that game. You do have some decisions to make as the Japanese attack and your plane incurs damage - either from fighters or flak. The big decision will be: do I keep going and if I do - do I have enough fuel to get home - or least make it to the emergency strip on Iwo Jima?

It is not a role-playing type game. The game is structured around charts to govern the action. Basically you try to complete 35 missions intact by beating the game system.

The game will not be for everybody. B-17 has its followers and its detractors. B-29 will no doubt be the same.

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