found some time to read Wings over Manhattan front to back and just uploaded my review on it for the Boardgamegeek here https://boardgamegeek.com/article/32304032, but also posting it here - of course - for your convenience.
As always, feel free to comment and leave some feedback or head over to BGG and give it a thumb if you like it
When I wrote my first review about a Crimson Skies supplement, I chose Behind the Crimson Veil, as it has the biggest impact on the basic game. That one introduced Special Characteristics which deserved its own review, so those came next. As aircraft are one of the most important aspects of the game, the evaluation of these had to follow suit, be they from the Aircraft Manual or some other expansion.
But Wings over Manhattan is chronologically the first supplement and it already brings some important features to the table(top). Therefore, I felt obliged to review this expansion - better late than never...
As the title implies, this book is mostly about the Empire State, which encompasses the former states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
After a short introduction, we get some information on how the nation came to be and what the current political situation is.
The next chapter describes some of the major cities or places of interest, including New York. Each POI also features a short scenario.
The following part gives details on various militias, pirates and corporate squadrons operating in the region.
An 11-scenario campaign comes next, followed by a few pages which introduce a new type of aircraft: the autogyro.
General Layout :star::star::star:
As with every Crimson Skies book, production quality is high: awesome full-color front page, solid layout and fitting font styles, superb staged photographs of famous characters, good aircraft renderings, nicely designed maps and some, well, average quality drawings - at least by today's standards... The style mix of the different graphics may seem a little odd, but it works for me. The photographs are a clear bonus compared to later publications, where these are missing; guess they produced one run and didn't feel the need to repeat on those. Shame, they are truly remarkable.
The book is mostly written from an in-universe point of view, which really helps to captivate and put you in the middle of the setting. Also, it is quite entertaining and full of rumors and vague descriptions which make an ideal basis for integrating RPG elements into your Crimson Skies game.
Oh, I nearly forgot, this supplement also brings two new maps to the table: The Skyscraper map and the River map. The first one is a nice alternative to the Canyon map, with lots of red dot obstacles in the shape of buildings. The second one is similar to the Rural map, as it has no obstacles whatsoever. Nevertheless, you can easily place markers on some of the buildings or the bridge piers for your customization needs.
The introduction is written by a reporter from an in-game perspective, which is nice for setting the mood. He actually is a flyer working for Air Action Weekly, which is the setup for the chapter Empire's Reach, where he details his round-trip through the region.
Foundations of Empire :star::star::halfstar:
This brief history lesson being about 5 pages long, starts off with a description of the mindset of the typical citizen of the Empire State and the average New Yorker. Geography comes next, giving an overview of the borders and the landscape. After that we finally get to the part on how the nation seceded from the United States, of course including a long paragraph about the stock market crash as you'd expect. The formation of air militias to protect the new nation is coming next, right before we dive into politics, which include the rich and traditional families of the east coast. The stance on prohibition is somewhat peculiar in the Empire State, which is officially a "dry" nation. But with so much high-society around, you're still able to drink alcohol in almost every club.
To remind you yet another time of the shattered state North America is currently in, the chapter closes with an overview of this nation's allies and enemies, including not only neighboring regions but also rivaling nations like Hollywood, foreign countries like England or internal threats, namely the Unionists.
I liked the brevity of this chapter, as I'm not too fond of actual history lessons. All told it's a good summary with all important parts being covered adequately. While we do get a map of the East Coast later in the book, there should have been one of the Empire State itself in this chapter. But that's a minor issue, so still 2.5 stars.
Empire's Reach :star::star::star:
As mentioned before, the places and regions in this chapter are presented as a travel report of the narrator. Stopovers include among others: Albany, the Champlain Valley, Buffalo, Philadelphia and finally New York.
Each stop gives us a short description of the region, including its predominant landscape and a rough estimate of the aerial forces present in that region. Some stops have specialties mentioned, e.g. rumors of UFO sightings in the Champlain Valley, or ghost planes near Atlantic City.
Every stop has a paragraph named "Where the Action Is". These are basically embellished flight reports of the aerial encounters our intrepid reporter has witnessed or participated in. These neatly lead up to the individual scenarios given for each of the locations.
What I really like is, that all scenarios of this expansion have unique special rules for some truly memorable sorties:
For example, one region lets you create your pilot and wingman at 500 and 300 points rather than the regular 450 and 350 points. In another region it is difficult to obtain all types of ordinance and ammunition, therefore you may not use magnesium rounds and must rely mostly on AP and HE rockets.
This chapter is entertaining to read, and the content adds nicely to the Crimson Skies lore, there are no longueurs and the scenarios should be interesting for all players; therefore, I give this chapter full 3 stars.
Up in the Air :star::star::halfstar:
This section gives details about several well-known or local militias, corporate squadrons, pirates and other flying groups. Some of the most famous ones include the Broadway Bombers, Blake Aviation Security and the Black Swan.
Not only do we get a description for each group, but also (in)famous pilots, their modus operandi, preferred planes and last but not least: special rules for most of them. These work similar to the scenario special rules and can be used in conjunction with those. E.g. one squadron may redline their engines once per battle without rolling the dice. Another receives a +2 bonus to clear jammed guns. Yet another gets +30 points when creating pilots but suffering a sharper penalty when fleeing combat. On the downside, there are also some squadrons who simply suffer from limitations, like no magnesium-rounds for you; tough luck. I don't know why anyone would chose those, other than for flair in RPGish gaming rounds or if dictated by a scenario or campaign.
Apart from that, players are actively encouraged to come up with own ideas for rules to customize their units. Well, this is quite nice and all, but as there aren't any concrete instructions on how to do this and more importantly how to balance it, you'll have to discuss it at length with your players.
Ultimately, I do like the ideas presented, as I really enjoy role-playing and some immersion, even in turn-based strategy games, and especially in a setting like Crimson Skies. While a word on balancing for raw table-top games should have been mentioned, I still rate this section a solid 2.5 stars.
Hunting Hell's Henchmen :star::star::halfstar:
This "historical" campaign consists of 11 scenarios, which lets players pit the Broadway Bombers against the eponymous pirate gang.
While the scenarios are presented in chronological order, the campaign design is mostly non-linear. Players have certain choices which one to play next, some encounters may even be omitted.
Pre-defined characters (i.e. pilots, wingmen and their planes) are given, but the campaign rules spend great detail on how to improve your crews between scenarios and how to replace casualties. Also, you can gain bonus XP for campaign and scenario related objectives, not just the regular ones for shooting down enemies. Some general campaign rules are added as well, these include Takeoffs, Pirate Home Advantage and Strafing Ground Targets.
Most scenarios have some specialty to show for, like capturing goods with harpoon missiles, or being forced to choose between keeping the contraband or dropping it and flying without penalties. Of course, there are also regular dogfights between evenly matched forces or the occasional zeppelin-augmented fight, but overall, they tried to shake things up a little.
What's really nice is the "Headlines" part of some of the scenarios. Here we get a description of what the newspapers say about the battle that took place. And not only the historical version, but actually two versions for both possible outcomes, describing either the militia’s or the pirates' success.
I'm not going to comment on possible balancing issues within single scenarios or the whole campaign; you'd probably have to play the whole thing at least three time to be able to properly assess this. But the ideas, the writing and the execution of the chapter is well done in my opinion, although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Missing the occasional illustration, nets it 2.5 stars from me.
These nimble contraptions bring an exciting new subset of aircraft to the skies, although they do have their pros and cons. Here are the most important ones:
- may stall for two turns in a row
- no roll needed for pushing Gs
- free facing change after movement phase
- must have max. Gs of 5
- must be BTN 6 or higher
- no wings, only four guns, only four hardpoints
- no turrets allowed
All these rules are crammed into one page, with the second page giving details on three basic Autogyros. The last page provides a blank record sheet for this type of craft, which is basically a trimmed down version of a regular plane record sheet, missing the wings and some weapon slots.
The three models presented should only be regarded as examples of the more common ones encountered in big cities: There's the small one used for private transportation or maybe as a taxi, then the bigger one that can be used for groups of passengers or larger deliveries and last the (armed) police autogyro to keep air traffic under control.
They sure are agile little pests that can outmaneuver any plane, which is especially useful on the canyon and skyscraper maps. The restrictions can of course be worked with, although they tend to fall apart quickly due to damage concentrating solely on the body.
Their biggest asset is probably being an interesting addition to all sorts of scenarios, not just urban ones. Unfortunately, autogyros didn't get any Special Characteristics added retroactively in Behind the Crimson Veil, but that's hardly this supplement's fault. A little more diversity could have been provided, but as it is you don't have much to choose from for your scenarios, let alone regular skirmishes. Thus 2.5 stars.
As New York is perhaps the most important city on the North American continent, it was clear that one of the expansions would deal with the Empire State - which is a good thing.
The content should provide useful for anybody playing Crimson Skies: You get interesting scenarios, both individual ones and a whole campaign; there's a lot of information about the region and famous characters and aerial units - which can be used to create more immersive gaming rounds, be they solely tabletop ones or with an additional RPG layer; there are new, albeit optional rules, that can be used as you see fit; then there's also some new tech in shape of the autogyros; and finally two new maps.
Because of some minor blemishes (and also the absence of even a few new planes and equipment) I rate this expansion at 2.5 stars.
Regardless, Wings over Manhattan is a really good sourcebook with a lot of content that every serious Crimson Skies player should consider acquire, if only for the two new maps to carry out your dogfights on.