War Birds Dives Into WWII History: A Review

RPGs are commonly played to blow off steam and as a bit of wish fulfillment, but they can also be used to immerse yourself in a new experience as well as be a teaching tool. The game anthology War Birds by Unruly Designs definitely falls into the latter category. Set during WWII, it focuses on forgotten stories about the “Greatest Generation.”

Moyra Turkington, founder of Unruly Designs and a long-time game and LARP designer, was inspired by Lydia Litvyak, a Soviet flying ace in the 586th Fighter Regiment of the Air Defense Force in World War II. Litvyak's heroism and skill led Turkington to look for more little-known stories from WWII such as the women who were spies, saboteurs, snipers, pilots and more. The one-shot games included in the anthology allow players to step into situations inspired by genuine events. Those who love historical recreation can enjoy any of these scenarios indoors over the course of a few hours instead of an entire weekend on a former battlefield and have an experience that is just as moving and immersive.

War Birds contains five one-shot scenarios, which can be played with four to seven people. Some require a director (GM) while others only need one player to have read the scenario in advance to help the others through the process. These aren't games you “win.” They're open and freeform so having read the scenario doesn't impede play.

Even though War Birds is firmly grounded in real-world history, players don't have to be WWII buffs to play. Each game comes with a sheet of historical context and fictional preparation to smooth the adoption and immersion for the players. Plus there are also handouts, characters and more. Since some of the games can be emotionally intense, some also come with safety tools and suggested techniques to help facilitate game play or debriefing afterward. In the case of “We Were WASP” by Ann Kristine Eriksen about members of the Women's Air Service Pilots, obituaries are also included for some of the real-life women who inspired characters in the game.

“Model Protectorates” by Turkington focuses on a family in Nazi-occupied Denmark choosing and negotiating with each other how far they will go defying the Third Reich, knowing it could doom all of them. Kira Magrann's “Mobilize” addresses how World War II allowed queer women excuses to gather, often for the first time in their lives, and find solidarity in dangerous times. “Keeping the Candles Lit” by Shoshana Kessock features three generations of Jewish partisans in the war effort struggling to maintain their traditions. Finally, Turkington also wrote “Against the Grain” about a genuine hate strike that happened in 1944 Baltimore when white women working in a factory supplying communications equipment for the war refused to work with an African American woman.

While not lighthearted games, War Birds can be cathartic. It would also work as a fabulous teaching tool. The anthology has a pile of awards for good reason. Unlike some RPG books, War Birds is enjoyable purely on the reading level, too, and each game contains a reference section for those who want to learn more about the lesser known stories of WWII.

Unruly Designs also has a current Kickstarter for a follow-up, Rosenstrasse: A War Birds Story of Love & Survival, Berlin: 1933-1943 through March 17. Rosenstrasse examines every day live during Berlin and has already won four awards. Turkington's games are a must for history lovers and player who want intense experiences. They should be part of teaching curricula, too.

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


This looks like a good use of "serious subject matter" games as a teaching/learning tool. It's definitely on my radar now, thanks for the great review!

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