Friday, 22 March 2019

'Mainforcing' Target for Tonight

At the end of 2017 at the request of a few friends at the DWG, I dug out an old game system I had dabbled with over the years called 'Target for Tonight' (TfT) which at the time was out of publication and, following the games we played at club, generated a lot of interest and requests about how to get copies ending with me finding and contacting the author to see if that would be possible.

Our series of games can be found on the link belowto the Devon Wargames Group blog.

Interestingly at the same time John Curry stepped forward to announce he would be publishing an updated version of the rules which I subsequently picked up and now have alongside my original staple and photocopied set I picked up 'donkey's years ago'.

My original copy of TfT

The new version reflects the modern trends and demands of today's wargamer in being a much more presentable format but actually being fundamentally the same set of rules.

John Curry's glossy paperback version of TfT

On revisiting the game in 2017 I was immediately reminded of the high risk factors of intercept and shoot downs the games bomber crews risk in TfT, something the author was looking to model to get across the sheer terror the crews endured as they went out night after night appreciating that there was indeed a very high chance that this night was the night their luck ran out.

That is one of the great aspects of TfT, in the drama created by a night-fighter intercept or the steady approach on the bomb run amid flak and wild boar loan German fighters hoping to swoop in at the most unexpected moment.

However if, as I wanted to do, you were looking to create a series of linked games in an attempt to 'bathtub' some of the concentrated campaigns of city attacks made by Bomber Command in the Rhur and Berlin Battles of 1943 the high combat attrition prevented a plausible simulation of the wider battle and there are several significant gaps in the simulation that needed addressing for the rules to accommodate the conflict as a whole.

My new target planning map with Nachtjagd zones and the UK that enable the weather to be pre-planned over the target and for landing.

During our first series of games we soon found a workable tweak to overcome the higher risk aspect without losing the drama induced in the original game and to this I started to look at layering other factors that a bomber crew and the raid planners had to cope with, namely fuel loads vs bomb loads, and the weather effects which became critical the further into Europe that Bomber Command pressed its attacks.

One interesting comparison in Martin Middlebrook's 'The Berlin Raids' is his look at the comparison between the Groups and how they loaded up their bombers for deep raids to Berlin and the struggle to keep the bomb load as high as possible whilst keeping fuel levels with a safe margin for emergencies.

The comparison looked at 5 Group and 1 Group with the former having the longest experience of operating Lancasters compared with the latter that had only just converted from other types into a group solely operating the powerful four engine bomber just before the opening of the campaign.

My new Cyberboard module to allow me to campaign TfT painlessly, but backed up with a mark one paper system as well

The statistics showed that 1 Group constantly overloaded their bombers, testing the maximum load on one aircraft that caused the wheel struts to bow under the strain of bombs and fuel. Despite this they failed to deliver more tonnage over the target than 5 Group which always flew with a much reduced load, allowing their aircraft a much better chance to gain altitude and to evade should an intercept occur and was reflected in their fewer losses that allowed more of their aircraft to bomb.

Thus I had got to a point where we could play, easily recording fuel consumption with mini dice, taking into account extra usage with events in flight that might cause a few nervous moments on the return flight and a wary eye on the fuel gauge.

The Bomber Groups by type for the Battle of Berlin when operating on Maximum Effort. This simple screen will allow me to record which types and how many were on a mission and losses, plus plan the bomb lift according to the types involved

However I needed to take some time to read more and better understand the bomb load, fuel load equation without the players having to use my pilots calculator and I eventually came up with a system to offer the same sort of choices facing the commanders of 1 and 5 Groups and the effects it would put on their aircrew based on those choices.

So now I have bomb loads for individual aircraft contributing to the bomb lift of the whole raid. The bombs are also delineated into HE, Incendiary and Blockbuster HE, allowing the players to design bomb loads designed to deal with different targets, by simply selecting counters representing the different loads and placed into a lift that is reduced through casualties and pilots dumping cookies.

One of my new TfT city maps

When the 'bombs gone' moment comes, the drop is marked with the planes identifying photo-flash and two counters representing the bomb drop are blindly drawn and placed face down in that area with different combinations able to start fires on different targets within the city being bombed but not revealed until all the aircraft have completed their bomb run.

The new TfT kit is just about complete and comes together in one 9ltr RUB 

The blind placing of bombs should give the players an indication of where they are hitting,without telling them exactly what they are hitting and with what ordnance - just like the real thing!

This links to the other aspect that I felt needed a tweak which was the bomb run itself which is always a highlight of the game as the players attempt to get a good grouping with their attacks and then see the results of their efforts in the debrief at game end.

The mighty but vulnerable Sterling. I now have the beginnings of my own Sterling group

The basic rules don't really offer enough detail to allow a good simulation of this process which when boiled down to its basics was about getting enough of a mix of HE and incendiaries on to a target built up area to cause multiple large fires that multiplied the damage and casualties whilst overwhelming the civil defence services.

To complicate this method of attack, Bomber Command relied on a selection of various ground positioning navigational instruments together with aerial target indicators that made the whole process subject to the vagaries of weather, the radar profile or position in relation to the UK of the target city and the skill of the crews to interpret all that data to help them deliver their bombs.

My purpose built tray to hold the larger scale models at the bottom of the box with trays to hold the game components and the smaller models

Thus the game allows the players to direct their attacks against a simple grid that rather assumes all the other factors are in their favour, whereas my changes now mean that what looks like a good grouping of bombs on where the players thought the target was may or may not be the case, either leaving bombs to explode in open countryside or end up causing multiple fires or potentially a firestorm in the right conditions, all this to be revealed at the debrief.

This process will even allow for the well known effect of creep-back modelling the bombing concentration dropping back from a well bombed aiming point with bombs dropped moved back a square if a major fire is created in the square ahead.

The fighter intercept board has had a lick of paint

Bomber Command in the period when it reached its zenith in potential, namely 1943, was a force in perpetual change moving from the four types it started with at the beginning of the year, Wellingtons Sterlings, Halifax's and Lancasters, to one based around the three four engine types at the end of it and gradually reforming more of the squadrons around the Lancaster through the following year as supply of aircraft allowed replacements and reequips.

TfT is all about the Lancaster but to model Bomber Command's campaign it needs to include the other types into the core system with differences in the capabilities between the different aircraft.

My main force bomber fleet is ready to do the Berlin campaign and with the addition of six Wellington's and four Sterling's will be ready for the Rhur.

Thus I have modelled the principle differences in the bomb carrying capability and risk profile of being intercepted at lower altitude slightly different between each type but all generally inferior to the Lancaster.

However if the bomber force is to achieve its objective it needs all its bomber types to contribute and to tailor its force according to the particular mission and the players will have to plan their raids in such a way that gets the best out of all the aircraft involved.

The night-fighter force has also been beefed up with other options including the odd Uhu and Dornier 

Which leads me to the final part of the rules refit, namely to build in a way of measuring each raid mission in terms of victory points that allows an assessment of how well Bomber Command is performing at any given time.

For this aspect I have turned to a board game, 'Bomber Command' written by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and published by GMT Games, which gives an excellent model of factors for scoring and measuring against the historical result.

The Berlin Campaign is presented in his game as either the full five month battle comprising forty raids or a shorter option of one particular month and eight raids with both presenting a perfect model to run TfT scenarios against and a ready made victory point system that I hope will transfer relatively seamlessly across, something our games will reveal.

I have added the Sterling to complete my four engine trio complete with nice new decals, here representing
75 (New Zealand) Squadron

To make it easy to plan and record raid results I have put together a Cyberboard module that has the maps and orders of battle I have created alongside this tools to allow a quick set up of target selection, aircraft participating, bomb loads and bomb plotting against target maps, all of which makes it simple to pull together when posting blog posts about games completed.

My new Uhu, rare but deadly

Alongside Cyberboard I have also put together simple tokens that allow the same process to be completed without the computer, but I think the former method will prove to be better.

The Whimpey will feature in the Rhur battles, this one from 156 Squadron, 3 Group, later converting to Lancasters in August 1942 and joining 8 Group Pathfinders

My 'Hallibag' has had a new paint job and decals and represents an aircraft from 76 Squadron, 4 Group and led by the famous Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire

The work to pull this together has been a project going on in the background to other ones, with little bursts of work now and then, but brought to this stage of completion after several of the chaps at club requested to have another go with TfT, that required me to get the proverbial finger out and finish the paint jobs on my model aircraft.

One of my two Lancasters has had a new paint job and decals representing 106 Squadron, 5 Group and lead at one time by a certain Wing Commander Guy Gibson

So this weekend I will be taking the new 'Mainforce Target for Tonight' out on its first road test or should I say mission and hope to have created a different game, whilst retaining the best of the original.

In addition, I have ordered up the last bombers I needed to complete my orders of battle for 1943 and will be picking up the last few Wellingtons and Sterlings at Salute this year.

With the planes mustered and the rules refitted, Bomber Command are ready to start the whirlwind

I am really looking forward to putting the new game into effect and will post some AAR's as we play, here and on the DWG blog.

Once this system has proved a playable alternative to the basic rules, I can then possibly think about adding in British and German intruders alongside the last gap in the system that I would like to change which would be having 8 Group Pathfinders leading the raids and attempting to get an accurate target marking, but that stuff is for later.


  1. That looks great! There is a Facebook group dedicated to TfT, they would love to have you join.

    1. Hi Eddie,
      Thank you, I will pop over when I get a minute and see what's happening.

  2. Also just got the TfT rules. For me, they seem like a nice basic guide but I like what you've done here to developer it further.

    1. Hi,
      Yes they are fun as far as they go but not enough of the simulation in the game/simulation spectrum for me hence by tweaking, which I do with most rule sets anyway.

  3. Are your aircraft 1:300 scale? If so, would you mind sharing where your decals came from please?

    1. Hi,
      Yes the larger models are 1:300th and the decals for the bombers were picked up last year from eBay, but I can’t recall the trader. They were a squadron set for 617 Dambusters squadron which I have chopped up to make my own squadron codes.

      Hope that helps