Skies Above the Reich – First Thoughts

GMT Games released Skies Above the Reich in late July 2018. Since then, I’ve had an on-again and off-again relationship with this solitaire game set in furballs of the European air war during World War II. Since I’m still not ready to weigh in with a final review, I’ll share some of my observations after my first campaign.

This game is insanely tough!

There’s no way to put this lightly. Skies Above the Reich is a punishing tour de force for new players. The rules are pretty straightforward, but like many great games, the strategy is emergent. For example, it can be tempting to simply say, “I’m going to come in high and from the sun with my entire squadron!” That’s great, but you’re going to get one solid pass and then things are going to go south, particularly because you can’t reliably control where the allied fighters are going to show up.

So, you try the next best thing and you look for ways to come at the bombers from different directions to gain advantage. That’s great, but often times, even in the early war before the boxed formation takes hold, there are deadly kill-zones. You find out quickly that there are few things more terrifying than a bunch of bombers armed to the teeth and all shooting at you!

Finally, you embrace the chaos and attempt to squeeze advantage where you can score it and get somewhat comfortable with the mechanics of fighting the bombers. You’ve forgotten about those pesky Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Mustangs! Next thing you know, oil is spraying over the canopy and you’re just praying the pilot inside can bail out and live to fight another sortie! 

The game is lengthy

Yes, the rulebook warned you that decisions made during setup ARE in fact playing the game. Like the Sun Tzu says, “Every battle is either won or lost before it is fought.” To some degree, that’s true (see above)! It would be a mistake to think, however, that you can breeze through a campaign with the kind of speed you can with say B-17 Queen of the Skies.

Instead, individual scenarios are like Lays Potato Chips. You can’t play just one. You need to string them together to get the cumulative effects necessary of gaining pilot experience in order to mitigate the horrific dogfight casualty results or the shot you took to the wing as you were pulling away from that fallen bomber.

My first campaign took a few days of playing maybe 80 – 90 minutes a crack. I realize that was my first, but if you’re tracking everything and double-checking rules…that’s probably a pretty fair estimation. I know many of you hotshots will be quick to say, “I played a whole campaign in 3 hours.” Good for you! That was not my experience and I’d LOVE to get to the point where that was the case.

A surprisingly large footprint

Skies Above the Reich requires a surprisingly large footprint. You have 5 decks of cards, room to roll dice, chit pull cups, charts, booklets, and beautifully large mounted “maps.” 

I had hoped to leave this fella set up, but it required the better part of one of those game store style banquet tables.

Is it fun?

That’s why I feel like I need to play another campaign. I’m just not sure at this point. I think fans of aviation and particularly of solitaire aviation games are going to LOVE this game. Without hesitation, if you consider yourself part of that fandom…snag a copy of this game TODAY!

For me, I’m not sure just yet. There’s a lot to be said for the emergent gameplay strategy that only reveals itself over many plays. During those plays though, you’re getting smashed in the face repeatedly by a challenging and chart-heavy solitaire game. There’s definitely something special here, but I’m not sold that it’s MY kind of game just yet.

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