Plane & Simple!

This post won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it struck me that those of you following my Crimson Skies e-mail games might appreciate a bit of an insight into the rules of the game.  This post relates to the original FASA boardgame only and is probably not really relevant to any other incarnations of the game.  It’s a bit of a lengthy post I’m afraid!

The setting is an alternative 1930s where the USA has fragmented into numerous nations and aircraft and zeppelins are the prime mode of transport.  The sourcebooks produced for the game go into quite a bit of detail and also cover the wider world outside of North America.  Players control air pirate gangs and militias, the former bent on all types of piratical activities while the latter try to keep the skies safe.  The game is more akin to role playing in an aerial combat environment, since pilots have specific skills that allow them to fly and fight in their aircraft.  In my experience, one player can control two or three planes relatively easily – more than that is possible, but becomes quite demanding.

Movement is controlled by a template that shows all of the allowable hexes and facings that planes can have. Players plot moves on plane record sheets without other players being able to see these moves and then all of the planes are moved once everyone has decided on their move.  I’m not going to spend any time on describing moving, but am going to concentrate instead on the pilots’s skills and plane capabilities.  The game is played on a 2-D map overlaid with hexes and the movement template strikes me as having been constructed to take into account the third dimension (i.e. altitude) in its potential outcomes, since it is relatively easy to imagine any of the manoeuvres in three dimensions mapped onto a 2-D surface (hope that makes sense)!

Plane Sheet 1

The plane record sheet is shown above, this one being based on the template I created in Excel to play games by e-mail.  This is the basic sheet for the Grumman Hawkeye flown by one of the Springfield Raiders in the recent games described elsewhere on this blog.  Moves are plotted down the track on the right-hand side of the sheet, which I’ve included for completeness although I’m not covering movement here.

Plane Sheet 5

The small diagram at the bottom of the sheet (shown as a detail above) describes the aircraft’s attributes.  Maximum speed is shown in the central vertical bar, the limiting acceleration limits (Gs) for the wings are shown left and right, and maximum acceleration and deceleration are shown at the bottom.  The aircraft construction rules are pretty good and allow for a maximum speed of 5, maximum acceleration limits of 5Gs, a maximum acceleration of 3 and a default deceleration of 2.  As a fairly heavily armed and protected medium weight plane, the Hawkeye has a base hit number of 6, a maximum speed of 3 and is capable of pulling 2Gs and accelerating at rate 2.  Pilots can attempt to exceed these basic performance limitations by “pushing the envelope” in attempts to fly faster and pull tighter turns, but failing to do so results in damage to the plane.

Plane Sheet 2

The pilot’s skill levels are shown in the block at the top of the sheet (shown above).  There are six of them and those of you who play Dungeons and Dragons and the like will be familiar with this approach, if not the names of the skills themselves.

Natural Touch – this represents the pilot’s ability to fly the plane and is used when attempting to push the envelope (if the plane is flying within its own design limits, this skill is rarely needed).  The harder the plane’s performance is “pushed”, the higher the target number needed on a D10, from which the Natural Touch skill is subtracted.  As with all skills, a higher number means a better pilot.

Sixth Sense – this represents the pilot’s intuition in combat situations but is only used in certain circumstances.  It can be used to “tail” an opponent and gain information on where they may be flying to in the next move and it also helps pilots if they have to perform an unexpected “combat bailout” if the plane is destroyed in the air.

Dead Eye – this represents the pilot’s ability to hit an opponent with any guns and rockets carried by his/her plane.  The size of the target, and its distance and attitude in relation to the firing plane all matter and the ideal firing position is from close range and in-line behind the target.

Steady Hand – another skill that is only used in certain circumstances, this represents the pilot’s coolness under fire.  This skill can be used to shift gun hits on a target by one or two damage columns (shown by the numbers along the top and bottom of the various parts of the aircraft diagram (see later).  It can also be used to clear any guns that jam when fired in long bursts (or “doubled down”).

Constitution – when flare or sonic rockets are fired at planes, or when aircraft canopies are damaged, pilots have to check to avoid becoming shocked.  The Constitution skill is used in such cases and it also represents the maximum number of wounds a pilot can suffer (up to a maximum of six).  Becoming shocked forces pilots to essentially fly straight for one move and makes it more difficult to push the plane and shoot at opponents.

Quick Draw – whereas movement is simultaneous, firing takes place in order of Quick Draw skill.  A higher quick draw skill is therefore very useful, but you can also find that pilots with very low Quick Draw skills still shoot down opponents by being able to hit an aircraft already badly damaged by another pilot firing earlier in the turn!

As pilots complete missions they gain experience points and these can be used to increase their skill levels.  Pilots start off with 450 points and usually fly with a wingman worth 350 points.  I think my most experienced pilot has around 850 points gathered over eight or nine sorties, but I’ve also used “cadets” with only 200 starting points.

Plane Sheet 3

Guns and rockets, and their associated ammunition, are listed below the pilot stats (see above).  Lighter guns have longer ranges than heavier guns (sounds counter-intuitive but probably represents higher rates of fire and works well in the game) and do less damage when they hit.  Planes carry a number of rocket hard-points and alternative rules fix these based on the plane’s basic hit number, so the Hawkeye carries five hard-points.  Each hard-point can carry one of the larger AP or HE rockets, to two of the smaller flak, flare or sonic rockets.

Plane Sheet 4

The plane’s damage diagram is shown above.  The Hawkeye is quite well protected so has a reasonable amount of damage boxes on its nose, tail and wings.  Guns and rockets can hit either the front or rear of a target plane and depend on the relative hex-facing of the target.  Guns and rockets do different amounts of damage in various patterns, depending on ammunition type and weapon calibre.  As damage accrues on the plane, different aspects of its performance are affected, so hits on the wing spar reduce allowable G levels, fuel tanks can be emptied (or explode), guns and landing gear can be damaged etc.

Plane Sheet 6

In the second game in this current campaign, Ned Flanders was flying (open to debate!) a Sandhill heavy fighter when a Columbia Air Militia Skyrocket fighter manoeuvred into a close range firing position off his port forward quarter.  Although an AP and HE rocket hit close inboard on the port wing, the Skyrocket’s guns and one other HE rocket hit the nose of Ned’s plane (see above).  Since damage is applied sequentially and in any order that the attacker chooses, the HE rocket (shown in blue on the diagram) was applied in nose column 2 after two 60-calibre AP rounds, resulting in it penetrating deep into the plane and destroying the engine.  This was probably just as well, since a magnesium round had also hit (shown in red) and was burning towards the port fuselage fuel tank – the destroyed engine allowed Ned to bail out in a fairly leisurely manner, whereas a fuel tank explosion results in the pilot having to perform a risky combat bail-out!  At the start of this campaign we decided that any pilots “killed” would just be badly injured and out of action for a number of games, but fuel tank explosions are the most common cause of pilot fatalities in Crimson Skies (followed by wings shearing off)!

Well done if you’ve got this far!  Hopefully, this explains some of the background rules behind the continuing saga of the Springfield Raiders as they fly and fight (and, in Ned’s case, bail out) their way across the Caribbean!


  1. Great post- explains a lot of the mechanisms of the game well, never got round to playing it though. The plane record sheets do remind me a lot of those from Star Fleet Battles/ Federation Commander. I wonder how much of an influence it was on the design?



    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Pete! 🙂 I thought you might like this post. Since FASA produced Battletech, the record sheets bear a resemblance to those as well from what I can remember, but many later games in different genres are influenced by those that have gone before I think!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes- battletech too. I think the main predecessor for all of this kind of game are the very early naval games, The Fred T Jane one in particular, where big pieces of machinery take incremental damage.

        Are there critical hits in Crimson Skies wher a single lucky shot can blow up the plane or kill the pilot?



        Liked by 3 people

        • I think your right there, Pete, and Fred T, Jane’s game is a good example.

          In theory, a single magnesium round hitting a very light fighter and burning into one of the wing fuel tanks could destroy a plane in a couple of moves (magnesium rounds burn for D5 moves and burn one damage box in per move). Or an HE rocket hitting a wing root could result in an “engine destroy” hit, but usually it will take a minimum of a couple of lucky hits to take a plane out in one go (and heavy fighters can take a lot of punishment). Even pilots with a Constitution of 3 (the default minimum) very rarely get killed by suffering three damage box hits on the plane diagram. Those pilots with a Steady Hand skill of 6 can move damage columns by +/-1 column for gun hits, which makes them more able to group their hits, usually with deadly results!

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  2. Now those are some serious charts! I can absolutely see where controlling many planes would get hard to manage. I salute you for being able to play a game this complicated over email. That is no small thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for that John.
    I’m going to have to give this further consideration when I have more time, but it looks really good with some novel ideas – I like the simultaneous movement and then the ‘Quick Draw’ firing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, Justin! 🙂 Hope it was useful! When you first start playing, you tend to think Quick Draw is the most important skill, but it’s just one of six interdependent skills. It’s better to manoeuvre into a position where you can fire but your opponent can’t – trying to tackle an opponent head-on based on a better quick draw skill only tends to work if you are also very good at shooting and have a heavily armed plane!


  4. Great to see you getting into this! I played in a brief campaign of CS back in the 1990’s. It was a lot of fun, but sadly suffred the fate of (apparently) most wargaming campaigns in that it tapered off in the end and then just sort of…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, know what you mean! 🙂 This just started off as a game to play via e-mail during lockdown and I just planned successive games based on the outcomes of the previous ones. At the moment it looks like the campaign will stop on the seventh game (we’ve just finished the fifth one, not yet posted) and we’ll take stock, probably starting off with a new pirate gang in a different locale, but we’ll see. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed playing Crimson Skies as well though!

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