Wings of War: Famous Aces is a game of World War I dogfighting using cards as miniatures. This game was the first in the series, and was designed for 2 to 4 players; with either of the 2 expansions (each of which can be played stand-alone), it can be played with up to 8 and with both, probably up to 12 could play. It was designed by Andrea Angiolino and Pier Giorgio Paglia, and published by Fantasy Flight Games. There are several scenarios that come with the game, but we usually just line up the planes on the table and go at it. Playing time can vary, depending on the number of players, but most of our games run under an hour (we tend to play teams). You win the game by either destroying all enemy planes or forcing them out of the play area (i.e., off the table).
Out of the Box
The game comes in a fairly small cardboard box with a deck of airplane cards (representing specific planes and the aces who flew them), 5 cardboard plane mats (1 for each plane model), 4 maneuver decks (each assigned to specific plane), a damage deck, 2 range rulers to determine when you can fire, 36 counters, and a fairly intuitive rulebook. Each plane card has information on it that you need to know such as: the amount of damage it can take, which maneuver deck to use, and which damage deck to use (NOTE: There’s only an ‘A’ damage deck in the basic game; others are included in expansions). It also has an illustration of the plane and the name of the pilot who flew it.
The components are fairly well done and the artwork, particularly the airplanes, is very nice. While the box for Famous Aces holds all the components, it’s kind of awkward. The box in the second expansion (Watch Your Back) was much better; it has a roomy plastic insert that holds all of the pieces from both sets.
Find a playing area that’s large enough to ensure enough room to maneuver. Each player selects a different plane type, grabs the card representing that plane and its accompanying ace, along with the matching maneuver deck and corresponding plane mat. Place your plane on the edge of the playing area, with the ruler, damage deck, and counters within easy reach.
At the start of each round, you select 3 cards from your maneuver deck, which will be the route that your plane will travel during each phase of that round. You place these cards face down, in phase order, at the bottom of your plane mat. Be aware that certain maneuver cards have restrictions when planning your moves. For example, you can’t play two “stall” cards back-to-back, and an Immelman turn must be preceded and succeeded by a “long straight” card.
During each phase all players reveal their first maneuver card simultaneously. Each player will line up the arrow of their maneuver card with their plane card and move the plane accordingly, i.e., in the direction of the maneuver arrow. After each movement phase, the ruler is used to determine if any plane is in firing range; if so, firing is resolved. Play then revolves to the next phase in a similar fashion. After the third phase is completed, the round ends and you must select 3 more maneuver cards in preparation for the next round. The game ends when either you fulfill the scenario’s conditions or you destroy all enemy planes.
Fire Resolution and Damage
After each plane movement phase, you need to check to see if any planes are in range to fire. To determine this, use the ruler, placing one end within the cone of fire shown on your plane card and the other end towards the target plane. If the other end of the ruler touches any portion of the target plane’s card, then that plane can be fired on and must draw a card from the appropriate damage deck. The ruler has a dividing line in its middle; if the target plane is in range of the ruler’s dividing line, then it must draw 2 cards from the damage deck. Damage cards have numerical values; the higher the number, the greater the damage. Each plane can take a specific amount of damage, which is listed on the plane card. Damage is cumulative; each damage card drawn is kept on your plane mat to keep track. Once a plane has taken damage equal to or greater than its value, that plane has been shot down.
Some damage cards have other symbols, representing such problems as gun jams, engine damage, maneuverability trouble, smoke/fire, etc. These cards will affect your or your opponent’s planes in some fashion, and are usually temporary. For example, if your gun jams, you can’t fire for 3 maneuver phases; you take 3 gun jam tokens, put them on your plane mat, removing 1 after each movement phase. After the tokens are gone, you can fire again. There’s also one “explosion” card in the damage deck; if you draw that one, your plane is immediately shot down regardless of how little damage you’ve taken.
A word of caution; be very careful while moving your planes each phase. The cards can easily be knocked out of line and to be even slightly off can have an impact on your's or your opponent's range of fire.
While there’s an element of luck/randomness inherent with the draw of the damage cards, when playing I always feel that, for the most part, I’m in control of my own fate. Maybe it’s illusory, but I usually feel that I can overcome bad luck by “outflying” my opponent. Strategy basically comes down to outguessing your opponents; figure out where they’re heading and try to get in a position where you can fire and they cannot (i.e., either on their flank or rear). Remember, since you have to play 3 maneuver cards at the beginning of each round, you have to think 3 moves ahead. So you’re not just guessing where your opponents’ next card will take ‘em, but rather their next 3 cards.
Your strategy will also be dependent upon your plane type. If you’re flying a Spad, you’re more likely to go straight at enemy planes head on since the Spad is fast and can take lots of damage. On the other hand, if you’re flying a Fokker tri-plane, you’re more likely to try outmaneuvering your opponents, getting into their rear or on their flanks, since the Fokker is highly maneuverable but won’t take as much damage.
With team play, there are other options to consider. Do you try to isolate a single enemy plane and double-team it, hoping for a quick kill? Do you try to take out a damaged enemy plane or do you go to your wingman’s aid instead? Do you try to fly your badly damaged plane to safety, or do you sacrifice yourself hoping your wingman can take advantage and ultimately win? These are just a few tough decisions you might have to make in team play.
I’ve really enjoyed Wings of War. I love trying to outguess my opponent(s); it’s a challenge with lots of tense decisions in regards to which maneuver cards to play during the round. Guess right and you could end up on an enemy plane’s rear, ready to fill it full of lead; guess wrong and you could find yourself goin’ down in flames.
Some have complained of the randomness and frustration of the explosion card; you could be dominating, having an enemy plane a point away from being shot down, and then lose the first time you’re hit. There’s an easy variant to fix that and many folks do: remove the explosion card from the damage deck. While I can see their point, I like to keep the explosion card in play. It adds lots of tension with each draw from the deck, plus it adds a small touch of realism; a single bullet striking the pilot or the gas tank could bring a plane down. Some others have also complained of the game being two-dimensional and therefore unrealistic in simulating dogfights; they’re right but it hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment of the game. The game still has the excitement of a dogfight, for me, while keeping it from being overly complicated.
The bottom line for me is that the game is just a lot of fun. We particularly enjoy team play; we’ve got the first expansion (Watch Your Back) and play with 3 or 4 on each side. It’s also easy to teach and plays in a reasonable amount of time. I rate Wings of War an enthusiastic 9.
- Last edited Sat Apr 7, 2007 2:33 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Mar 19, 2006 7:19 pm
Re: Wings of War Review
I really love this game. It's easy to play and FUN! I find it more fun if each player has two planes or one player has one against two players with one plane each. It makes you watch your back and plan your moves differently and adds a little down time but not much. Nice review.
Re: Wings of War Review
Great, great review! Thank you so much.
Just a little note: the insert in Famous Aces wa actually a pretty bad one. But in the last reprints is the same black plastic one that you liked in Watch your Back!.
By the way, I'd rater call WyB! a "kit" than an "expansion", since it's independent.
For the bi-dimensional issue, Altitude rules are in Burning Drachens.
Thanks again, really!