Ace of Aces Picture Book Game System
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An innovative game system which put the players into the cockpits of duelling fighter aircraft. Initially released by Gameshop, which later became Nova Game Designs, the Ace of Aces series was the brainchild of designer Alfred Leonardi. The heart of the game was nothing more than simple and traditional style board game mechanics. However, Leonardi's picture books turned "bland and simple" into a fast and fun "you are there" experience.

The Ace of Aces games are played using two picture books (one Allied and one German, in the World War I editions) which have a different "view from the cockpit" on each page. A list of maneuvers appears at the bottom of each page. The players secretly select their maneuvers, and when simultaneously revealed the maneuvers are cross-indexed to lead to a page showing the resulting position of the two aircraft.

The basic system is deceptively easy and fast playing. Later editions of the game extended the system to World War II and modern jet combat. In these editions, and in the Deluxe World War I edition, the game grew to include play-aids and rules intended to add detail and realism. The game system also reached out into the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and westerns.

The Lost Worlds game books are *not* part of the Ace of Aces series, despite a common misconception that the games use the same system.

A landmark game system, incredibly portable, fast, and fun. For more details on the various editions of Ace of Aces, see my Collector's Guide at http://maverick.brainiac.com/aoa/.
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1. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Handy Rotary Series [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:1041]
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1980 - Sopwith Camel vs. Fokker Dr. I.

Originally released by Gameshop Inc., the forerunner of Nova Game Designs. The first Nova edition was also dated 1980. The earliest Handy Rotary sets were not boxed. Around 1981, the game started being sold in a cardboard slipcase (as shown here) which became the characteristic packaging for the World War I games.

I ordered my first copy of this game, the unboxed Nova edition, from an advertisement in the back of a pilot's magazine.
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2. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Powerhouse Series [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:1530]
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1981 - SPAD XIII vs. Fokker DVII.

The second set of books in the series. These aircraft use a slightly different set of maneuvers than the first set of books in order to reflect the differeng capabilities of these late war aircraft. In spite of this, the sets are still compatible, allowing dogfights between opposing aircraft of either set.

I never saw this set in the store "back in the day", otherwise I would have snapped it right up.
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3. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Flying Machines [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:2373]
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1983 - Airco D.H. 2 vs. Fokker E. III.

The third set of books dealt with early WWI aircraft, the Airco "pusher" (with propeller in back, and pilot in front with a flex-mount gun) and the famous Fokker monoplane. Due to the limited capabilities of early war aircraft, these books only have 16 different maneuvers instead of 25 as found in the first two editions. Still, all three sets are 100% compatible. Later printings of this set (and of Balloon Buster) came shrinkwrapped instead of in a slipcase, and the game books had paper covers instead of the textured leather look of the original editions.

I purchased this set back in the eighties and was disappointed with the gameplay (the flex-gun seemed to make the Airco too powerful in the Basic Game, which is what we almost always played). The store owner disagreed with my assessment when I tried to exchange it for something else.
 
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4. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Balloon Buster [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:4910]
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1985 - German AA gun vs. Allied biplane vs. German balloon.

The Handy Rotary books announced other games to be released, including a balloon buster set and ground target set. This set represents the former, while the latter concept never made it successfully through the design stage. Instead of the two books being used to control aircraft, one book shows the perspective of a German anti-aircraft gunner looking upward at an Allied biplane attacking a German observation balloon. The second book was the view out of the Allied biplane as it maneuvered around the balloon. Despite the intriguing concept behind this set, the lack of variety inherent in the scenario made Balloon Buster less interesting in the long run compared to the wide open variety of the earlier sets (a problem which also plagued the variant A&A system used in Bounty Hunter).

This is another set that I purchased in the eighties. Somehow this set managed to attract my attention before college and computer gaming shifted my interests away from boardgaming.
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5. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Handy Rotary Deluxe Edition [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:2099]
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1986 - Sopwith Camel vs. Fokker Dr. I.

The Deluxe edition took the original Handy Rotary set to a whole new level. First, there was an attempt to graphically improve the game books using photographs of actual aircraft (a change which wasn't necessarily an improvement, depending on how you looked at it). The thin bookshelf-box style format provided room for more extensive play-aids and components, which in turn provided more chrome to be seamlessly incorporated into the game system. Unfortunately, Nova did not go on to produce deluxe Powerhouse and Flying Machines editions, as the game system was ready to move on to different eras.

Never saw this one in the stores, for some reason...
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6. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Wingleader [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:3845]
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1988 - World War II Air Combat Game.

Wingleader is the World War II incarnation of the Ace of Aces system. The game came in the same sized box as the Deluxe Handy Rotary edition, but it was not merely a recycled World War I edition. Wingleader introduced Aircraft Cards which provided statistics for a variety of historical aircraft. Each aircraft had its own Card which showed the maneuvers available to the aircraft based on four different bank attitudes. Although there are only 13 maneuvers on each page of the Wingleader gamebooks, the system allows for complex maneuvers using "maneuver formulas" detailed on the Aircraft Cards. The bad news is that the game book art took a step down in quality - while the game books use illustrations taken from photographs of a Focke Wulf 190 and P-51 Mustang, the printing quality used in the books is best described as "dot matrix printer" quality.

Ace of Aces in World War II? Bought it and loved it. But just when I thought the game system couldn't go wrong...
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7. Board Game: Ace of Aces: Jet Eagles [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:6552]
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1990 - Modern Air Combat Game.

As might be expected, this game system feels somewhat out of place in the era of modern jet combat. Jet Eagles built on the design concepts introduced in Wingleader, but it seems the designer tried to stretch the game system a bit too far in trying to cover the entire spectrum of jet fighter combat.

This one didn't work for me. The abstractions used to cover missile combat were especially distracting and unrealistic. Recommended for Ace of Aces collectors only.
 
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8. Board Game: Bounty Hunter: Shootout at the Saloon [Average Rating:5.33 Overall Rank:9581]
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1982 - Man to Man Western Gunfight Game.

Advertised as the first in a series of interlocking Western gunfight venues, Bounty Hunter used illustrated game books to portray your first-person gunfighter perspective as you stalked an adversary in and around a small saloon. Each book featured 290 views and allowed for limited interaction with a few non-player characters. The planned expansions adding surrounding structures were never released.

Bounty Hunter was an interesting attempt to extend the Ace of Aces concept. While the idea sounded great, the gameplay actually turned out to be quite limited and never felt quite right.
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9. Board Game: Dragonriders of Pern: The Book Game [Average Rating:5.15 Overall Rank:9520]
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1984 - Game of Competitive Cooperation based on the novels of Anne McCaffrey.

Drawn from the world described in Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonriders of Pern" novels. The players must fly their dragons to destroy the falling 'thread' before it hits the ground.

This Ace of Aces variant managed to slip by me until I discovered the rec.games.board.marketplace newsgroup.
 
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10. Board Game: Star Wars: Starfighter Battle Books [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:4735]
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1989 - X-Wing vs. TIE Interceptor.

West End Games took the system back to its roots - two books and a slipcase! How well does a World War II style dogfighting game translate to battles between advanced space (opera) fighters? Pretty good! This is probably due, in part, to the fact that the battles in Star Wars were modelled after World War II dogfights. Recommended for fans of Ace of Aces and Star Wars.

Never even heard of these until I started buying and selling games online in the mid-nineties. At that time, there seemed to be a lot of "new old stock" copies floating around.
 
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11. Board Game: Lost Worlds [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:2499]
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LOST WORLDS IS NOT AN ACE OF ACES VARIANT!

Sorry for shouting... but this is a pet peeve of mine. Often I see people describe Lost Worlds as using the Ace of Aces system, or vice versa. One might hope that this information would be corrected in the BGG listing for Lost Worlds... ;-)

While both games use picture books, the way in which the books interface, and the underlying game system, are substantially different. Despite the confusion caused by the superficial similarities, Lost Worlds and Ace of Aces use distinct gaming systems and, unlike the three variant games listed above, Lost Worlds is *not* part of the Ace of Aces game line.
 
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