finally worked my way through Blake Aviation Security and uploaded a review on Boardgamegeek here https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2328077/supplement-reviews-blake-aviation-security, 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
The review of this supplement was sitting on the backburner for quite a while, mostly because there aren't any new planes or new technology in it. Also, the lore included focuses exclusively on the eponymous company and its owner. But Paladin Blake is an important character in Crimson Skies, thus we'll finally take a closer look at the contents of this expansion.
True to its name, this supplement is all about the operations of Blake Aviation Security and its founder. Apart from a short introduction, most of the 50 pages are dedicated to campaigns and scenarios. About a dozen pages detail the past of Paladin Blake and the current state of his company.
The book starts off with a flight report from a courier plane pilot who is escorted by three BAS fighters. After this we get a short introduction from the aforementioned courier, who is also an Air Action Weekly correspondent, and who accompanied Blake Aviation Security for about six months on their sorties.
Next up is the first of the two campaigns in this book, consisting of 12 scenarios, mostly located in or near the Empire State.
This is followed by a few pages detailing the history of Paladin Blake and how the BAS came to be. Right after this we get a section on the company's operations (which includes quite a large ground division), as well as write-ups on important leader figures. The description of regional offices follows suit, with the occasional scenario interspersed.
The rest of the supplement is dedicated to the second campaign, again comprising a total of 12 scenarios, but this time with the Dixie-based BAS-squadron.
Similar to other supplements, Blake Aviation Security contains many passages written from an in-universe point of view. Usually, these are in italics, thus easily recognizable. In this regard, style and formatting is on par with the other publications, with the cover and back showing awesome full-color air action. The inside is black and white or greyscale, but also a little short on illustrations; sure, we get the occasional drawing, but there are no maps, no staged photographs, and no technical drawings or render images of planes. All of these were present in the basic game and the first supplements, and I was hoping they'd keep up with the production quality.
The One to Count On :star::star::star:
The flight report is just a single page but the writing from the in-universe-perspective is again doing its thing: getting involved with the characters and building up tension and suspense as well as some degree of immersion. This is continued in the next section:
Knights of the Sky :star::star::halfstar:
This part is also just a single page and describes how the correspondent got the chance to accompany BAS for six months and how he got the editors of Air Action Weekly to print a special issue about the company. All of this is of course the set-up for the following chapters, including further detailings of BAS, as well as the "historical" campaigns. Mood-setting but not really exciting or informative nets it 2.5 stars.
Imperial Gambit :star::star::nostar:
The 12 scenarios presented are all about Blake Aviation Security fighting a pirate gang called the Flying Cobras. The latter is trying to disrupt the operations of Imperial Air, an airship service company.
Before the campagin actually begins, we are given special rules that are also intended for the second campaign in this supplement, but may further be used when employing Blake Aviation Security in other scenarios:
First and foremost, BAS pilots have more points available during creation, but in return suffer a sharper penalty when fleeing or bailing without an emergency.
Secondly, rules for "reputation" are given. This is just an abstract point value, which changes depending on performance during the missions, but the "reputation" has an enormous effect on the revenue or income generated by a mission!
To make this meaningful, the rules for rearming, repairs and tinkering from Behind the Crimson Veil are to be used - of course along with the associated prices and costs. Replacement aircraft also have to be bought, so you need to carefully choose between fleeing (and getting negative reputation) or trying a last-ditch attempt with a damaged plane (that might get shot down, thus needing an expensive replacement).
While this makes for an interesting and exciting campaign, it may of course result in disaster if you lose a few planes early on. That might become a hole you won't be able to climb out again. Other than this general assessment, I can not really comment on the balancing of income and expenses as I haven't played the campaign yet.
Afterwards, starting planes and pilots are given for both BAS and the Flying Cobras, the campaigns main antagonists. Pilots are generic (no well-known heroes fill the rosters), but some of them really do have a lot of experience (i.e. high stats). The planes nearly only include the ones from the basic game, but if you have spare money I don't see a reason why you couldn't get a replacement plane from BtCV or some other expansion.
The prelude for the campaign is nearly done: only a short note on scenario play order, the final scoring table and the introductory flavor text are left, then it's off to the hangars!
I won't go into detail for each of the 12 missions, but here's a general impression:
The settings and the descriptions of the individual scenarios are well-tied into the basic premise of the story. As it revolves around the Flying Cobras bringing down a transport company, it does prominently feature Zeppelins of course, though with less of these sitting ducks than I expected.
The outcome of the missions is mostly based on gaining points for shooting down enemies, but sometimes also for fleeing to safety or bombing ground targets. Only very few scenarios feature individual special rules, like a turn limit (due to little fuel) or starting on the ground.
One thing that bothers me, are missions that expect you to make an enemy plane surrender. But there are no rules how to force them down, other than shooting them. Sure, if all other enemies are gone, then your target should comply - but this is merely from an RPGish way of looking at it. Strictly rules-wise, the target can continue flying and forcing you to shoot to kill, thus denying you the points for a successful mission. This could have been executed a little more diligently.
Another thing I have to mention is the map set-up outlined in some of the missions: a few times you are supposed to place two or even three maps next to each other. This completely passes over the standard layout of the Crimson Skies maps, as they are not designed to be placed adjacent. Zeppelin and Clear Sky don't have this problem, but more than once, you are supposed to use the other maps.
Summed up, the campaign doesn't offer too many fancy stuff, but solid dogfights and scoring. The biggest difference to regular skirmishes (or even other campaigns) is probably the bookkeeping what with expenses for repairs and replacements. Probably not everybody's cup of tea, and personally, I had hoped for a few more missions with really interesting special rules or circumstances, but nevertheless, solid value for ambitious commanders. Assuming that the balancing is fine, I give this campaign 2 stars.
This chapter starts with an introduction about how the reporter met up with Paladin Blake for an interview. It then describes chronologically how Blake grew up and how he lost his father to air pirates, thus reinforcing his hatred for that scum.
After flying with various mercenary bands for a while and a short stint with the Pinkertons, Blake finally decided to found his Blake Aviation Security company. After some dire years Blake caught a lucky break by being hired by Lockheed, garnering not only significant funds, but also quite a reputation. Combined with the PR from Hollywood movies and other media, BAS was able to expand greatly in the following years.
The chapter ends with a paragraph about the problems large companies have to face sooner or later (e.g. corruption and rising competition).
The background info on one of the famous characters is pretty neat, I felt like I was getting to know Paladin Blake a lot better. And the write-up is fitting and makes sense, so that you now know the general mindset of the BAS. A good read that I rate at full three stars and which is continued in the next two chapters.
A rather short chapter at three pages, we are first given a short overview of BAS as an employer, followed by two sections detailing the main divisions of the company: air and ground.
The air section describes i.a. the rigorous hiring and training process for new pilots, led by war ace Albert Tennyson.
The ground section tells us a little more about the investigative side of BAS, not only collecting intel for the flyboys, but actual detective work from petty crimes to international affairs. Two prominent associates of Blake are introduced: Samantha Day and Dashiell Hammet. Day is leading the ground division and trains new agents while Hammet is an associate with good connections to the media.
The informational value is solid, we now know where and how BAS operates both in the air and on the ground. While the introduction of these new characters won't have any impact on the actual game, it might be interesting for developing further campaigns or RPG adventures. Nevertheless, I still rate it a little lower than the previous chapter.
Across the Continet :star::star::halfstar:
This chapter describes the different operations of BAS in various nations in North America, namely Hollywood, the Empire State, ISA, Appalachia, Alaska and Free Colorado. Well, there are no official operations in Free Colorado, but it is assumed that undercover agents are working in secret to bring criminals to justice that hide there.
Two more scenarios are presented in this section, one located in Hollywood, the other in Alaska. The first is devoid of special features (as the participating cargo plane is unarmed and mustn't be harmed by either side), whereas the second one includes a short bombing run.
While the information and examples on the operative side is already quite valuable in getting a better understanding what BAS is doing on the whole, it also offers scenario hooks and ideas for adventures. The presented scenarios feel rather generic again, but they are at least incorporating two new planes, namely a Tempest and a Bandit. Summed up, I give these four pages 2.5 stars.
Down and Dirty in Dixie :star::star::nostar:
The second campaign in this supplement also features 12 scenarios, but this time it takes place in Dixie. The individual missions are not linked together like in the previous one, but mostly deal with independent occurences.
Campaign rules stay the same as in the first campaign, so we will skip these and move directly past the roster, play order, victory conditions and intro text, which are all pretty straight forward.
Let's see what the missions entail in general:
Similar to the previous campaign, we get short descriptions of the circumstances, sometimes even a few paragraphs of flavor text. The size of the battles ranges from 3 vs 3 up to 8 vs 8 plus a Zeppelin, which should provide a suitable scenario for every player group size. Regarding special rules there's not much to be had either: sometimes you get a chase or boarding action, encumbered planes or recon mission, but that's about it - the rest are straight-up skirmishes. Planes are again mainly ones from the basic game, with the rare Aguila or Skewer in the mix. I'm still wondering why we didn't get more variety, what with this supplement being published after the Aircraft Manual and even regularly referencing Behind the Crimson Veil.
Not having a grand, overall storyline in the campaign isn't really an issue: you can still get attached to the Dixie-BAS squadron and count your overall performance. Thus said, it's very similar to the other one from this expansion: you get to do some bookkeeping in exchange for (hopefully) keeping and improving your pilots; and again, some specialties in the missions, but still focusing on the dogfights. All in all, I also rate it at 2 stars.
If I'm not mistaken, this supplement set a new record for the number of scenarios presented: two campaigns at 12 scenarios each, plus the two additional ones gives a total of 26 missions to play. Specialty ones are a little too rare for my taste, but the reputation and cash flow are nice additions that put the rules from BtCV to good use.
The information on Paladin Blake and BAS are adequate in scope and should give you a good idea how the company works and how to incorporate it into your games. The expanded background of one of the iconic characters of Crimson Skies is a welcome addition too, of course!
What's missing in this supplement are new planes and new equipment. At least a handful new fighters and maybe an autogyro would have been nice, along with perhaps a fancy new missile, but that's a missed opportunity in my opinion.
All told, Blake Aviation Security ranks a little lower than e.g. BtCV, the Aircraft Manual or Wings over Manhattan, but if you like to replay "historical" scenarios or are especially attached to BAS or Paladin Blake this expansion is still good value.