Warlord games are one of the big names in tabletop wargaming having released the widely played ww2 skirmish game ‘Bolt Action’ many years ago. In recent years they’ve experimented with some other games including games set in the Terminator universe and on distant sci-fi planets, but none really seemed to stick. Enter Blood Red Skies, a ww2 skirmish games taking place amongst the clouds, but unlike something like Bolt Action you don’t need to have a large army to play.
Blood Red Skies pits player against player in death-defying battles in the skies as each player commands a small squadron of classic planes. It’s the fact you don’t need many planes to play that is the real draw to me. So many times games like this have a cheap entry point but quickly become expensive with all the extras needed. But here all you really need is a squadron of planes, cards (Which come with each squadron in the box) and some dice.
The game plays pretty straightforwardly and isn’t that difficult to grasp. Planes have 3 stages: disadvantaged, neutral and advantaged. A plane can only attack a plane in a lesser stage (ie: disadvantaged can’t attack any, neutral can only attack disadvantaged and advantaged can attack anything except advantaged) each of these is shown by tilting your plane model forwards or backwards. During your turn, you shoot, spend advantage, move then choose to either shoot again, gain 1 advantage or attempt to disadvantage another plane. Turns are taken in order of pilot skill on planes (chosen before the game) highest go first going down to lowest. The game continues until the mission is complete, one player has lost all his planes or if 1 player has more boom tokens then planes in his squadron (boom tokens are acquired when successfully shot at. Think of it like morale. Get too many your pilots to flee).
I really like the idea of the different states and it definitely adds an interesting tactical layer to the game leading to some careful thinking of how you’re going to perform your turn. The fact you shoot then move makes you think hard about where you finish your previous turn. Each turn you have to move meaning that it’s easy to fly past planes requiring you to loop back around and hope they don’t get you first.
There are only 2 minor issues I have with the game and they don’t wreck the fun at all: Firstly the rulebook is terrible as it never fully explains everything. Numerous times we had to flip through the book to clarify something, just to find it’s not in there. It also doesn’t help that some rules such as boom tokens are explained in the scenario book, not the rulebook. Secondly, almost everything comes down to dice rolls. I know lots of game come down to the luck of the dice but it felt very noticeable while playing this. It’s even more noticeable than in games like Warhammer and I’m not sure why. It might be the fact that at least for the majority of the game that feels like what you do most of the time. If you don’t like games that rely on winning dice rolls it might not be for you.
All of the models come unpainted but are pretty detailed for the price and scale. If you enjoy painting you can add the extra layer to the game by having painted miniatures on the battlefield. With each expansion being only £20 and giving you a whole squadron and cards it’s a really good deal. The starter set isn’t that expensive either and really is a great way of getting into the game and giving you 2 forces to play straight from the box.
With the sheer accessibility and fun provided at a pretty low cost, Blood Red Skies is a great addition to any board game shelf and a game I know I’m going to play a lot more of in the future.