Night Witches, Not Strike Witches

So, while I admit that playing Kantai Collection filled the slot for my World War II game in my theme of playing World War games (Cold War counting as an almost-WWIII), I shouldn’t so foolishly cast the European theatre to the side. After all, that’s the part of the war everyone remembers, not what went down in Japan.

So to remedy this, I picked up a World War II-themed game that took place in Europe: Night Witches. Made by the same guy that did Fiasco and played in the same way of Apocalypse World, Night Witches tells the tale of a team of women who flew outdated planes to drop bombs on German stuff to sabotage them. Sexism, death, betrayal, and all those lovely things you’d see on the battlefield ensue.

Now, this is where the problem begins to seep in for me. See, we’re playing as the Russians. The Stalin-run Russians. The Stalin-run Russians which had inspired a well known author to write not one, but two books satirizing the country. One of them was famous and is used almost every time people talk about something draconian and/or tyrannical, and the other one was 1984… if it was mashed up with Charlotte’s Web.

Yes, this movie exists. And its concept alone is awesome. Pictured: The author’s depiction of Stalin. Or Picard if he decided to voice a pig. I am not making any of those up.

As such, I fear that my depiction of Russia will be biased to say the least. For one, Russia back then was known to kill traitors, which the 588th Division, while some deviate from the norm, are not, especially since they are formed to help Russia win the war. Yes, there was sexism and homophobia, but I doubt they’re gonna pull a George and shoot them in the back of the head by the river.

Not to mention that Stalin himself approved of the all-women flying team, though under heavy duress and desperation. The worst the women may get is either a demotion or a trip to the insane asylum for roughly three months. I say this to help reassure myself that I shouldn’t make the Russians out to be the Capitol. I should also reassure myself that I shouldn’t make the Germans laughing jokes and have their higher ups be reduced to internet memes.

Sadly, these will be heavy urges for me to resist. So, I’ll implement a “Swear Jar” mechanic. In any case I am to make a reference to the infamous Hitler Rants videos or have the Russian government randomly execute people; I will mark one of the characters, which usually means something bad happens to them.

I’ve already picked out the engine for this game: Tiny Solitary Soldiers. It desperately needs to be used, and the fact that I’m playing a simple war game helps the decision making process. And as for what the overall Driver/Idea Inspiration will be, I chose the Russian Tarot Cards. I figured that, since I’m playing a game about Russia, I’d use Russian Tarot Cards.

Character Creation’s also simple, if a little more advanced than Titan World. We have our five playbooks that determine a character’s major trait, but we also have six classes for those characters to fall under. The difference is that the playbooks are for the character’s personality and not their class. To make a long explanation short, I’ll explain the ones I picked out for our quartet:

  • Our first character is a Hawk, a rather cocky nature, and is a Protector, a fiercely loyal person who’d take a bullet for her friends. Her name is Anastasiya, Sergeant Rank. (Guts: +2, Luck: 0, Skill: -1)
  • Our next character is a Sparrow, a shy yet emotionally caring nature, and is a Dreamer, someone whose head is stuck in the clouds. Her name is Sofia, Sergeant Rank. (Guts: -1, Luck: +1, Skill: +1)
  • Our third person is a Pigeon, the valiant and supporting nature, and is a Leader, a person who… well… leads people. Her name is Alexandra, Junior Lieutenant Rank. (Guts: 0, Luck: 0, Skill: 0)
  • Our final person is an Owl, a predatory and antagonistic nature, and is a Zealot, a person who reports to the higher ups and does the right thing for the motherland. Her name is Olga, Junior Lieutenant Rank. (Guts: -1, Luck: -1, Skill: +2)

Now that we have our characters, it’s time to stat them up. I’ll put it above in parentheses. After that, we decide on which Duty Station to be on. I feel it to be sensible to start on Duty Station 2. I have a series of questions I have to answer now:

  • Which officer of the 588th was in no condition to fly when the regiment arrived in Trud Gornyaka? It’d be Alexandra, but she lacks the emotional condition, as she just suffered the loss of two of her closest teammates.
  • What is being done to get the livestock off the runway, and why isn’t it working? [Tarot: Four of Cups, reversed] They tried to feed the livestock with premium feed, but it turns out that the feed just made the livestock even more active than before.
  • Who gave the German pilot seemingly obsessed with your regiment the nickname of “Yellow-Tail”? That will be Sofia after she notes his plane having a yellow rear to differentiate from the other planes.

I have an idea of how the groups will be united, so here we go.

[First Scene Goal: Get the pairs together]

It’s been two months since the formation of the 588th Squadron. Alexandra and Olga had escaped the training field with their lives. Alexandra couldn’t bear to eat the food in front of her. Olga eyed her peas and mashed potatoes.

[Q: Does she know what’s up? A: 1.]

No, she doesn’t know and she’s actually gonna try to get Alexandra to stop thinking about what is making her depressed. So she’s gonna attempt to reach out, which is what the name implies. Trying to reach out to her target and talk to them.

[Reach Out Roll: 8]

Olga sighs. “Alexandra, quit focusing on what’s eating you and focus more on the mission at hand.” She said. Alexandra got up and left, leaving her food unfinished. Olga proceeded to finish her food and got up with her.

So, with that, the Reach Out is a success, and Olga gets to pick one from the list of three options. Either change the Regard she has… which she lacks, add one to the Mission Pool, or heal one Harm from Alex… Which she doesn’t have. So in this case, she adds a point to the Mission Pool, which can help her and the team during the… well… mission.

Now let’s focus on Ana and Sofia.

Anastasiya exhaled. Finally, out of training and into the real fire. She had been anticipating this for quite a bit, but now it’s finally time for her to be a pilot. She could see Sofia finishing up her meal and getting up.

[Q: Does Sofia bump into Alex? A: 4]

Yes, she does, but she winds up getting hurt for it.

As she did, she bumped into Alexandra. She falls back and twists her ankle. She gives a cry of pain as Ana glared to Alex.

“What the hell!?” She said to her.

“I-I’m sorry!” Alex said. Ana pushed Alex back then went for Sofia.

“Are you alright?” Ana asked.

“Y-yes. I’m fine.” Ana helped up Sofia, who winced in pain.

[Q: Does Ana sock Alex in the face? A: 3]

No, obviously she wants to get Ana to safety but she does give Alex a dirty glare. In mechanics terms, this is called Eyeballing. Think of it as more of a perception.

[Eyeball Roll: 6]

Ana sees that Alex isn’t truly sorry about bumping into Sofia. She has taken it to mean that she’s the generic jock bully of high school. Alex just looked to the two as they left and all she could do was sigh. Olga came up as well.

“Hm… New recruits?” Olga asked.

“Yes. And they’re currently assigned to your section it seems.” The two turned around and saw a member from their brother unit, the 218th unit.

“What are you doing here?” Olga asked.

“Other than come laugh in your face? Making sure the unit’s running well after that disaster the other night.” Major Popov said. Alexandra locked up after what he said.

[Q: Does Olga take note? A: 5]

Olga noticed that Alexandra managed to freeze and patted her to the side. She looked at Popov.

[Eyeball Roll: 7]

She makes a nod and leaves.

Now she has a hold to spend, now or later, to ask questions. I think I’m gonna end the scene there though. Now, I’ll also employ a Chaos Factor to the game. For every consecutive scene that doesn’t have a twist, I will add a point to it. This will increase the range for the twist die to fall under, until it’s a guaranteed twist.

[Scenes without a twist: 1]

[Scene Roll: 6. Meanwhile]

Hm…

[Q: Are we focusing on Yellow-Tail? A: 1]

No, we’re not focusing on Yellow-Tail and we’re not focusing on anything from Germany. We’re instead focusing on the Russians. Perhaps we’ll have Popov discuss matters with someone.

[Q: Is it Olga? A: 4. And also a twist]

Yes, it’s Olga, but it’s not what I think, which is that she’s meeting with him to lay down some dirt.

[Twist: 4 and 4: Physical Event Hinders The Hero]

[Tarot: Judgement]

[Scene Goal: Talk Popov out of getting punished]

Olga sits down with Popov. Popov gives a glare towards the owl-minded woman.

“Do you know why I called you here?” Popov asked. Olga nods. “It’s in your best interests to tell us everything you know about that little incident a while back.”

“Very well. I’ll tell you everything that had happened.” She said. She eyeballed him, wondering how to get him off her back.

[Q: How can she get him off her back? A: Queen of Cups, Reversed]

So being dishonest will help. When I act in response to that question, I get a +1. With the -1 from Olga’s skill, it balances out. There’s actually a move for when the players are pulled into an interview from the higher ups. Depending on how you succeed, either you’ll get them off your back or they might have people gain an interest in you. And I can only presume the bad kind.

[Interview Check: 12]

A crit!

“See, our propellers weren’t working as we suspect that a member from the 218th was responsible for the sabotage.” She said. She bit her inner-cheek. She remembered clear as day that those propellers were the product of poor repair, a criticism that she doled out in front of everyone. “I first suspected it was just ourselves being poor mechanics, but the way the propellers rotated when I inspected them suggested they messed it up.”

“Hm… Very good, the NKVD would love to hear from you more. I’ll form up an investigation onto 218th and see who’s responsible. Thank you for your time.” Popov said. He got up and walked off.

And with that, the goal’s achieved, the scene ends, and Chaos Factor is reduced to zero.

[Scene Roll: 1, Dramatic Scene]

[Scene Goal: Repair the planes before you’re called away to the mission]

Anastasiya looked at her aircraft. It took a beating from last night, especially the propellers. She knew she had to go and fix it, but that’d mean replacing the rusty propeller for a fresh new one… which usually was reserved for the 218th. So, she decided to go to the 218th’s base and snatch it when the time was right.

[Scrounge Roll: 7]

She found a propeller, but when she tried to pry it off the plane, she fell over. When she got up, she saw a male pilot.

“Well, what the heck is a girl doin’ here?”

Now, if you marginally succeed at a Scrounge check, you get to pick two consequences. I say this because two of them are “incur a debt” and “bump into unwanted attention”. And I had the idea of a male soldier from the 218th noticing her and giving her a debt to pay off, but I’m thinking of something.

“Oh, I see, you want this propeller? Well, it’s gonna cost ya… And I think you know what I wan-”, and at that moment, two Russian soldiers grab and apprehend the man.

“You’re coming with us for a nice. Long. Chat.” One of them said as they dragged him away.

“Well… That just happened.” Ana said. She rushed back with the propeller in hand and headed to the machine to repair it.

Viva la random Russian intervention… Would that count as interpreting the Russians as draconic? Eh, whatever. She’s going back to the machine to repair it now.

[Repair Check: 8]

Sweet! I wanted this result! Marginal success on this check means the person must pick two consequences. One of those consequences is to give the plane a personality! I’m gonna say it gets the Badass personality and that it wasn’t built in the most approved manner. She practically stole it. Once the feds are done interrogating the guy, they might wanna start asking questions.

Well, might as well have her go to sleep. Scene ends.

[Scenes without a twist: 1]

To make a long story short, Olga saves Sofia’s life from two angry members of the 218th, who were out for revenge because the guy that got arrested is now detained. Olga ends up gaining an advance for being marked. Yes, she tripped one of my “don’t do this” buttons. Her advance was gaining a Regard for Sofia, which is essentially a relationship stat. Anytime she’s a target, Olga gets a +1. She also adds another point to the Mission Pool.

The lack of a scene is because the scene in question involves physical abuse and executions, even when one of the first few pages warns that the game deals with such themes. Though, I have the scene up on another post in case you were interested in seeing it.

[Scenes without a twist: 2]

Now we do a Briefing scene. That’s right, now we’re getting to the Night Fighting phase. The game is scenario-based, in which you get to pick different missions depending on what Duty Station you’re on. Save for the first one, which is a training stage, you get six missions per five Duty Stations. This makes a grand total thirty-three missions to go on which makes for a pretty long campaign if you’re gonna go the extra mile.

Since we’re at Trud Gornyaka, our mission is to bomb troop divisions and supply depots. However, we are informed that German forces are protecting them to the teeth and that among them is an ace pilot simply known as Hannes Langley, a.k.a. Yellow Tail. Investigations into the 218th Unit leaves the Night Witches with no escort, the cows on the field leaves them with fewer planes to properly fly out in time, and the increased security leaves the higher ups no choice but to send in only two planes. One piloted by Alex with Olga as her Vedomaya and another Ana with Sofia as her Vedomaya…

Vedomaya are essentially wingmen. Or wingwomen in this case. Anyways, when the briefing is done, Olga is approached by Popov.

[Q: Is he pissed at Olga for what became of 218th? A: 1. And event]

No, he isn’t, and he’s actually pleased with it. Also, event time.

[Twist: 4 and 4: Physical Event Hinders The Hero]

Another one? Huh.

[Tarot: Page of Swords, Reversed]

… Welp, I’ve been hiding this twist for long enough. See, when I looked up this Popov person, I found an interesting figure from World War II.

As Olga walked away, Popov went in front of her and pops a medal on her.

“Congratulations. You managed to dismantle an entire unit with a little white lie.” He said. Olga blinked.

“Pardon?” She asked.

“That thing you said, about the propellers being sabotaged? You and I both know the 588th always gets the rusty hand-me-downs. Your little friend had to go steal from us earlier this morning.” Popov said.

“So why didn’t you say anything sooner? Why buy the lie?” Olga asked. She looked down and noticed she received a Hero of the Soviet Union medal. “And why approve of your own men being falsely accused?” Popov smiled. He reached into his vest and began to rub a HSU medal of his own.

“For you see, they weren’t my own men… None of you are.” When he was finished rubbing, Olga’s eyes widened. She could see that, hidden on the left side of the topmost star was an engraving. An engraving of a familiar shape. A swastika. Olga tried to scream Nazi, but she could feel her stomach being pressed in. That’s when she noticed the luger poking her gut.

“I want us to continue these meetings. You’re such a good zealot.” He said.

“I’ll never work for scum like you.” Olga growled.

“Fair enough. I’ll just tell my friends over at the NKVD that it turns out you were lying on purpose. To get the true heroes of the war out of the way and make room for women who shouldn’t even be flying aeroplanes.” Popov smirked. Olga’s anger melted into hopelessness.

“You… have connections to the NKVD?” She asked.

“Why else did they take a quick interest in that stupid unit? They only did so because I said so. I got them wrapped around my finger, missie. I just say the word and they’ll swarm this place like bees to a stubborn kid. Best you start thinking about which team you’ll play for.” Popov said. Olga stood there as he left. Soon, Alex came to her.

“Hey, Olga, you getting ready?” She asked.

“Y-yeah.” Olga said. She went with Alex, not sure what to say on the matter.

I have a lot to talk about with this, because I think this is my most favourite scene in this session.

First off, I misread Yellow-Tail’s involvement when reading the questions. I thought he was a Russian pilot obsessed with the unit. The idea was that he’d be a double agent. Second, when I googled Popov to get an idea of how he’d work, I found a Wikipedia article for one Dušan Popov, a triple agent working for the UK and Yugoslavia. He worked to undermine the Germans through various means, including feeding false information. In short, he was one of many inspirations to James Bond.

Page of Swords, at least when reversed, symbolizes an imposter revealed. So why not have Popov be said imposter? It all balances out, and it leads to me writing up a rather dramatic scene that wouldn’t be far from a television show. And now we begin the night mission.

Three planes fly in the night sky. Olga and Sofia begin to wayfind the depots.

[Wayfinding Skill: 8 for Olga’s crew, 10 for Sofia’s.]

Sofia finds the depot effectively.

“There!” Ana cuts off the engine and dives in. As soon as Olga tries to do the same, they hear a familiar cutting sound.

“GOING SOMEWHERE!?” Yellow-Tail barked into his speaker.

“Crap!” Alex said.

[Enemy Fire: 5, Olga adds plus two from the Mission Pool to make it 7]

The bullets clipped the wings of Alex’s craft. The two gasped for what might be their last.

One of the conditions you can pick for making it on a 7-9 in an Attack Run check is to mark both you and your fellow wingwoman.

[Marked Roll for Alex: 3. Share a Premonition.]

Now, Olga’s different. She got mark, so now she is gonna go again, but without option 9. Think of it like Russian Roulette.

[Marked Roll for Olga: 4. Call dangerous attention to yourself.]

[Wheels Down Roll: 9]

The plane crashes into the dirt as Alex and Olga get badly wounded, with Alex getting a dislocated shoulder. Yellow-Tail’s plane swoops in, but their Vedomaya swoops in and with one of their bombs blow off Yellow-Tail’s wings off, causing him to crash into the trees. However, Olga can see Yellow-Tail emerge from the wreckage.

“Alex, go get the Vedomaya’s help in picking you up. I’ll deal with Yellow Tail.”

“Olga… What about you?” Alex asked.

“I’ll be fine. Just go.” Olga said. Alex shuddered as she began to think about her in a pool of her own blood.

“No… No you won’t.” Alex said. Olga pushes her.

“GO!” She said. Alex ran off…

Now let’s focus on Ana and Sofia.

[Attack Run Roll: 12]

The Aircraft’s bombs, however, managed to hit the depots. They caused a chain reaction, blowing up more and more depots along the way. Despite being heavily informed of the army being stacked with defences, they seemed to be in shambles. The Vedomaya bomb what is left of the fleet positions and fly off with Alex in tow.

[Wayfind: 4]

Unfortunately, on the way back, Sofia fails to spot Olga. Olga stands, readies her pistol, and awaits for Yellow-Tail. All the while, thinking about Popov’s threat. Surely he can’t threaten her if she’s dead, right?

… Ok, that was intense. It should be noted that the consequences taken were increased by one for this mission, but I forgot about it. Anyways, Olga makes a special roll now involving her fate. She has to roll and see if she gets captured.

[Behind Enemy Lines check: 6]

And sadly, on a miss, that means she’s captured. Though I have a twist for this. I was prepared for it.

Alex sat on her bed. She debated scarring herself so that she’d know how many people she let die in her service. Olga was now one of them. Ana and Sofia were celebrating, but Alex decided to let the kids just be kids. Alex sighed and opened the door…

When she saw Olga on the other side.

“O-olga!” Alex hugged Olga.

“L-let go! You’re gonna violate- Ah screw it.” Olga held Alex back. Alex let go.

“The hell happened? I thought you were a goner!” Alex said. Olga looked around and hushed Alex. She went inside and spoke up.

“Yellow-Tail let me go.” She said.

“What? Why?” Alex asked.

“Yellow-Tail’s a catch and release guy, it seems.” Olga said. “I’m lucky to be even here. I can’t stay for long. Popov wants to talk with me.” Olga left the room as Alex tried to speak. Olga walked, remembering what happened last night.

—-

Yellow-Tail emerged from the fires of his plane. He pulled out his luger and pointed it at Olga. Olga pointed her pistol at Yellow-Tail.

“Before you kill me, I want to know… Do you know Popov?” Olga asked. Yellow-Tail raised his eyebrow and lowered the luger.

“Popov? That scumbag traitor? Yes, I know him. What of it?” Yellow-Tail asked.

“He’s at our base.” Olga said.

“Of course he’s at your base. He’s sent there to undermine your place.” Yellow-Tail said.

“So, you know about the operation.” Olga said.

“Yes. But I also hate that asshole. Too smug for his own good, you know?” Yellow-Tail said.

“Yeah.” Olga said. Yellow-Tail looks around.

“This doesn’t leave the battlefield. I’m going to escort you back to your base, you’re gonna go back and explain that I let you go, you’re going to talk to Popov and listen to everything he has to say. Then you feed so many lies to him that he won’t know truth from reality.” Yellow-Tail said.

“That’s the thing. He relies on lies.” Olga said.

“Then tell him the truth. I doubt he’ll believe I want him dead. I so far faked being a buddy bud to him. Start toying with the truth, and you’ll make him our canary.” Yellow-Tail said.

“Why do you want to help us so badly?” Olga asked.

“Let’s just say I recognized which team I should play for.” Yellow-Tail said. He walked with Olga back to the base.

And with that, that ends our Night Witches session. The game’s alright. It’s history is excellent and it works a concept well, but the gameplay falls on an average for me. That said, the setups it made makes me think that this would be something to return to. Though not now. The Tarots, however, were a breeze to use. Maybe it’s because the site gives easy explanations of what they mean, but still.. Bon voyage, gamers.

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