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Subject: Air Superiority - Playable Jet Combat rss

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Matthew Galer
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Air Superiority is a game of jet aircraft combat from the 1950s to modern times. Players take control of one or more aircraft in various tactical scenarios presented. There is also a points system for generating custom scenarios. The scale of the game turn is 12 to 15 seconds of time, a hex is equivalent to 1/3 of a mile, a level of altitude represents 1000 feet, and each unit of speed is 100 mph.

The Components

The box comes with the game rules (including background information and scenarios), a booklet of charts, a booklet of Aircraft Data Cards (ADC hereafter), 4 map sheets, 240 die-cut counters and 1 10-sided die. Making copies of at least the Aircraft Log form the charts booklet is necessary before start of play. The components themselves are fairly typical of late 1980s era games - functional but not fancy. Map sheets are simple light-blue with grey hex lines, and larger white hexes that are 5 smaller hexes in length to make range counting easier. Hexes are numbered. The aircraft and missile counters are two-colors with a plane silhouette on a solid background color. Different nationalities are represented by different colors. The back sides of the aircraft counters contain a black triangle to represent unspotted aircraft. There are 60 informational markers for various functions.
The rulebooks are simple black text on white paper with some illustrations to help clarify some situations. The illustrations and examples in the rules are helpful in clarifying the rules via concrete example. There are two training, and three solitaire scenarios included that are intended to be played after reading through certain parts of the rules (e.g. training scenario one can be played after only reading how to fly forward and turn, scenario two adds climbs and dives, and the rest introduce gun and missile combat). The rulebook includes a section with a wealth of background information on the aircraft included along with the various external stores available (fuel tanks, gun pods, missiles, etc). Typical aircraft load-outs for various nations and time periods are also given. Designer notes and tactical advice are included, along with 30 scenarios (2 training, 3 solitaire, 10 general and 15 historical/hypothetical). I will comment that the 2 training scenarios are not easy at all to win.

Game Play

The basics of the game revolve around the generation of acceleration and deceleration points due to various decisions. Acceleration points can be generated by the power level chosen for an aircraft at the beginning of a turn, and from diving to a lower altitude. Deceleration points are generated via various turns, special maneuvers, and climbing to higher altitude levels. Adding up the acceleration and deceleration points generated during a turn will affect the starting speed of an aircraft for the next turn. Speed is equivalent to the number of Flight Points (FPs) that are generated for a particular turn.
Flight points are divided into two categories – Horizontal Flight Points (HFPs) and Vertical Flight Points (VFPs). As the names imply, HFPs are used to move the aircraft “forward” and the VFPs are used to move the aircraft up or down in altitude levels. At the start of a particular aircraft’s movement phase, the player chooses the type of flight the aircraft will take this turn – level, climbing, or diving. The type chosen will give the breakdown of how many HFPs and VFPs are available. Note that the type of flight chosen is restricted depending upon the actions of the previous turn.
Movement on the board is a handled one aircraft at a time in most situations. All the FPs are expended by one aircraft, followed by the next as determined by flight category (free, engaged, etc) and initiate roll (winning initiative means that aircraft moves last). When missiles are targeted on a particular aircraft, the missile will move along with the aircraft in proportion (i.e. if the missile is moving speed 18 and the aircraft 6, the missile will move 3 FPs worth for every 1 FP that the aircraft moves).
Basic turning is a fairly simple matter of cross-referencing speed versus hexes moved in since the last turn to get the type of turn made (there are 4 types), and then look at the ADC to get the number of deceleration points generated for making that type of turn. Multiple turns during an aircrafts turn will generate extra drag points over and above the normal cost of the turn.
The game also describes several special maneuvers that can be performed by an aircraft. These include lag rolls, barrel rolls, vertical rolls and more. The maneuvers are fairly clearly explained, and several illustrations are included to clarify any confusion generated. The deceleration cost of maneuvers is different from the costs of regular turns, and is explained under each maneuver type.
One thing different from any of the contemporary or previous air combat games is the 30 degree facings an aircraft can take. The first time I saw this I admit to being wowed by the idea. The 12-point facing helps to alleviate some of the limitations of the hex grid for movement possibilities, and really adds very little complexity. It can take a play or two to get used to having a unit ON a hex side, but it works very cleanly in the end. There are good diagrams included that show how movement works with this, and also how gun and missile arcs look. I have been reminded that [Air War] had a system for 30 degree facings, but it did not use hex spines and instead an aircraft zigzagged from hex to hex (which could lead to questions later of where the aircraft should move next).
Gun combat is handled in a very straight forward manner. An aircraft may fire up to two times in its turn, and all are limited to a range of 0, 1, or 2. All types of guns and gun pods are given ratings for both hit chances and damage potential. To determine if a hit has been scored or not, one takes the base number based on the range, adds any modifiers (angle off, previous damage, maneuvers used, etc) and rolls a 10-sided die. Any number equal to or less than the hit chance scores a hit and damage is rolled based upon the Air to Air strength of the weapon.
Missile combat begins is not much more complex than the general flight rules. To launch a missile, first the launch requirements need to be met – some early heat seekers have a very narrow field of view, radar guided missiles need a radar lock, etc – and then a 10-sided die roll against the launch value of the missile is made. Missiles have speed ratings as to how many FPs they generate each turn in pursuit of their target. If a missile manages to get into the same hex as its target at the same altitude, a roll is made for a direct hit, proximity hit, or complete miss. Direct hits are roughly twice the strength of a proximity hit.
Damage to aircraft is handled fairly simply. Each weapon has a strength number, and roll is made on a table to determine what level of damage is inflicted. There are 4 levels of damage – light, heavy, critical, and shot down. Damage progresses such that 3 light damage hits escalates to heavy damage, 2 heavies escalates to a critical, and 2 critical or 1 critical plus one heavy equates to killed. Each damage level brings about new restrictions on the damage aircraft such as reduced maneuver rates allowed, or reduced systems availability.
As with any game that purports to capture modern jet combat, there are rules dealing with all sorts of electronics to help an aircraft fly, fight, and survive. Included are rules covering radar spotting, radar locks, radar gun sighting, electronic counter measures, decoys (chaff and flares), and more. All or these are handled fairly easily as die rolls or die roll modifiers.

Final Words

I love the game. It remains one of my favorite aircraft (or spaceship) combat games that I have tried or read the rules to. The rules are fairly short but have enough detail to make the 3D nature of air combat doable with multiple planes controlled by one person. As with most “realistic” games, there are a fair amount of special cases in the rules, and it can be easy to forget little things if you don’t play regularly (things like deceleration point for being at super-sonic speeds). I suppose the biggest endorsement came from the 2 people that I introduced the game to eventually bought copies for themselves.

Now if only I actually knew something about air combat tactics…
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John Kovacs
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Elyria
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"The duty of the fighter pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. Anything else is rubbish."

— Baron Manfred von Richthofen, 1917. Richtofen would not let members of his Staffel strafe troops in the trenches.

The technology has changed greatly but the ideology remains the same: See the enemy and shoot him down. How it gets done is irrelevant.

I have this game but haven't played it yet (I am an Air War: Modern Tactical Air Combat veteran, however). Going to have to pull it (and Air Strike) out soon.
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Julie Buse
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Yakima
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As I post in 2006, the book, Fighter Combat Tactics and Maneuvering by Robert Shaw, published by Navsl Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, is a great book to learn more flying fighters. Goes over the basic of Dogfight from the beginng with biplanes to the modern fighter jets. Goes great with this game and other dogfighting games. I found it very helpful and informing as well. I Hear it was available at Barns and Noble
Check your Six!!
Julie
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Here the truceless armies yet / Trample, rolled in blood and sweat; / They kill and kill and never die; / And I think that each is I. // None will part us, none undo / The knot that makes one flesh of two, /
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Sick with hatred, sick with pain, / Strangling -- When shall we be slain? // When shall I be dead and rid / Of the wrong my father did? / How long, how long, till spade and hearse / Puts to sleep my mother's curse?
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Both J.D. Webster (Air Superiority / Air Strike / The Speed of Heat) and Robert Shaw (the author listed above) have spoken highly of a follow-on air combat game called 'Birds of Prey' (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/18606/birds-of-prey-a...)

This is not to take away anything from AirSup or Speed of Heat (the latter expands AirSup with rules additions / clarifications and jet fighter / bomber aircraft from the 50's, 60's and 70's.
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Matthew Galer
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David Ells wrote:
Both J.D. Webster (Air Superiority / Air Strike / The Speed of Heat) and Robert Shaw (the author listed above) have spoken highly of a follow-on air combat game called 'Birds of Prey' (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/18606/birds-of-prey-a...)
.

I have been very curious about BoP for some time now, really hoping to find a person or two at a con somewhere to show me the ropes before I sink the money into getting a copy (wargames are expensive!). I am familiar with some of the 3D movement concepts and mechanisms from playing Attack Vector: Tactical a few times. My sense is that BoP will work fine for a player running 1, maybe 2 aircraft at a time and beyond that it probably gets a little hairy. Also I believe that BoP is air-to-air only, while Air Strike and Speed of Heat give air-to-ground options.
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