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WINGS OF WAR – FAMOUS ACES

Reviewed by Mark Delano

(Fantasy Flight Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 20 + minutes; $29.95)

 

When I first heard about Wings of War – Famous Aces, I was skeptical. It was described to me as a card based game of World War I dogfighting. Part of my skepticism arose because I thought that I had my two games of aerial combat, and the World War I focus had no particular appeal. Rise of the Luftwaffe covered the quick playing light fun spectrum, while the meat of Over the Reich satisfied the grognard in me. This isn’t to say I’m perfectly happy with either game, but I found that they scratched whatever itch I had for flight simulation. Several weeks after first playing I have to say I’ve never had so much fun pulling an immelmann onto the tail of an enemy biplane, only to see my guns jam as he floats like a balloon in front of me. Apparently I have an itch I didn’t know about.wingsofwarfa

Co-designed by Pier Giorgio Paglia and Andrea Angiolino, Wings of War is published in the US by Fantasy Flight Games. The box itself is small, perhaps slightly taller than a Kosmos two player line box. Inside are a set of rules and scenarios, three different types of cards, four boards for keeping track of your planes, two sticks for measuring line of sight and various tokens for marking plane status. The rules are generally clearly written, although the game is simple enough that it is best to learn the game from someone who already knows it. The first of the three card decks consists of the planes themselves. Each card is smaller than a regulation playing card, with the name and image of the plane on the front and the pilot and squadron name on the back. Each pilot is a famous World War I ace, and there are plenty of different nationalities to pick from. The other two decks are the maneuver and damage decks. A plane has a specific maneuver and damage deck that it uses. For now there are four different maneuver decks and one damage deck that all planes use. Future expansions will increase the number of both.

A single copy of Wings of War supports from two to four players, however additional copies of the game can easily add more. Unless playing with extra sets each player receives a plane that uses a different maneuver deck. The game is played right on the table, with a two player match-up easily fitting on a 3 foot by 3 foot space. After each player selects the starting position of their plane, play is simultaneous for all participants. At the beginning of a turn all players secretly decide on what three maneuvers they will be performing. They can pick any cards from their maneuver deck while keeping in mind certain restrictions. For instance, in order to perform an immelmann the plane has to fly straight before and after. The maneuver cards are clearly printed with a line terminated by an arrow, as well as a small set of insignia indicating what type of maneuver it is (a turn, a stall, straight, immelmann, etc.). Once all players have decided on the three maneuvers for the turn play proceeds as the first set of maneuvers are performed, followed by the second and third. Each maneuver is simple to perform. First the maneuver card is placed at the front of the plane, then the plane card is picked up and placed on the arrow of the maneuver card. Finally the maneuver card is removed from the board. After all three maneuvers on a turn are performed players select their next set of maneuvers.

After each maneuver there is a chance for planes to shoot at each other. There is a red dot from which sprouts an arc of fire on each plane. The measuring stick is placed on the red dot of the plane and measured out through the firing arc. If the plane can touch the card of another plane using this stick while staying within the arc the other plane has to draw from the damage deck. If the other plane is within half the distance of the stick it has to draw two cards. These cards can have a variety of effects, from causing no harm to some sort of mechanical failure to shooting down the plane. As long as the plane is not shot down the card drawn is secret and any damage accumulates. In addition the damage card can cause the shooter’s guns to jam for a time, neatly adding a way to simulate gun jams without excessive complication.

There are of course additional rules for specific situations such as tailing. All of them are incorporated into the game system and are generally easy to remember. For those seeking more variety there are already several fan made scenarios as well as an adaptation of the game to a Star Wars theme. One variant that we play with is to remove the more lethal cards from the damage deck. This makes sure that everyone will survive for at least a little while, and that they won’t get shot down by a lucky shot early. For the most part I’m happy to wait for the first expansion: Wings of War – Watch Your Back!

I’ve had a great deal of fun playing this game with two to seven players. This is the simplest air combat game I’ve seen where the feel of a dogfight is clearly conveyed. Flight of the Luftwaffe has its moments, but the maneuver of plane against plane is highly abstracted and there are many rules that can be accidentally overlooked. For those seeking a detail oriented dogfighting game I’d recommend the Over the Reich series. However, for a twenty to thirty minute dogfight, Wings of War has no peer. There is one complaint that can be fairly leveled at the game. There is a tendency on a smooth table for the plane cards to be disturbed, either by spinning in place or sliding. Since even a slight angle can mean the difference between being shot down and shooting someone else down, care must be taken to minimize such occurrences. A tablecloth or felt mat would also help with any undesired movement. This is more of a nitpick than a serious issue. For those who have always wanted to rule the skies in under an hour I don’t think I can recommend this enough. – – – – Mark Delano


 

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