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Richthofen by Michael Maners with Mark Jerome is a very fun, fast, highly thematic WWI dogfighting card game. This game appears on Maverick's MDC II - Microgame Design Contest II list and is a free "print and play" with the files available from Maverick's list. Visit http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi.... I have played nearly 20 dogfights over the course of the last two weeks for a total of about 2 hours invested in this light filler.

Assembling the Game:

Grab 9 sheets of card-stock on which to print the cards from the PDF files. I used a light tan color for the pilot cards and white for the 8 sheets of player deck cards. First, I designed a repetitive tiling pattern and printed it on one side of all 9 sheets. Then I turned them over and printed the pilots and decks on them. This gave me a uniform looking set of decks. Unfortunately, the PDF files are not arranged so you can print the Allies deck on one color and the German deck on another. If I were to suggest an improvement to the PDF files, that would be it.

Once printed, I took the 9 sheets to my local print shop and had them laminated and trimmed. I'm friends with the owner and brought him a Quizno's sub to enjoy while the laminator was warming up. So, he laminated and trimmed them for free in a process that took less than 10 minutes. So, for the price of a Quizno's sub and 9 sheets of cardstock (and a little bit of ink on my bubble-jet printer) I had my game ready to go.

The Cards:

Each player plays from his own deck of cards. The Victoria Cross cards all have a Victoria Cross at the top and belong to the Allied player. The Blue Max cards sport the German Blue Max for the German player.

Each player has 4 pilot cards. Both decks include a "plain jane" pilot with no special abilities; a pilot whose ability is to win tied initiative contests; a pilot who draws cards either when succeeding or failing to match a manuever; and then the top aces who either hold an extra card in their hand or draw an extra card frequently. Four of Germany's most famous aces grace the Blue Max deck. The British top ace, the US top ace, and two other British pilots grace the Victoria Cross deck. I missed the Canadian ace, Billy Bishop and authored an article here on the Geek about that. The flagship pilots are Manfried von Richthofen - the Red Baron and the game's namesake, for the Germans; and Edward Richenbacker, the US ace and race-car driver who later owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the Allies.

Each player also has a 32 card playing deck. Each card has four features: a "burst" number at the bottom of the card used to assign damage or decide initiative contests, a pair of basic "defense" manuevers to choose from after losing the iniative and attempting to dodge, a basic "attack" maneuver used by the iniative winner to stay on the defending player's tail, and a special feature for which the card is titled and about which some text appears.

The special features include: "advanced" maneuvers of the climbing, banking, and diving sort; damage modifiers which either increase or decrease the damage assigned; and cards that allow the player to draw extra cards or unjam their guns.

As each card is played, all other features of the card will be ignored except that which is needed in the current phase of the turn (unless the text of the card specifically instructs otherwise). Each player holds 4 cards and always replenishes his hand after playing a card (exception the elder Richthofen holds 5).

The game also comes with 3 pages of rules that spell out everything you need to know. The core of the rules takes up less than 1/2 a page, is easily grasped, and is kept quite simple.

Turn Sequence:

1) Initiative - each player draws the top card from his deck and lays it next to the deck (on the first turn thus starting the discard pile). Only the "burst" number is important for resolving the initiative, except for the "Passing Shot" card that allows a free shot during the initiative phase if its conditions are met.

The higher number becomes the attacker on this pass, the loser becomes the defender.

2) Defender's Dodge - the defending player must now make a maneuver. He can play a card and pick one of the two "basic" defense tactics, or he can play an "advanced" card and use the "advanced" tactic, following the instructions on the card regarding risks and benefits.

3) Attacker's Pursuit - the attacking player must now match the defender's dodge in order to earn the right to fire. The attacker does this by playing a card that lists an "attack" to match the defender's maneuver. If the defender played an "advanced" manuever, the attacker must also play an "advanced" manuever of the same class in order to keep up, following instructions regarding risks as they appear on the card. If the attacker cannot match the defender's play, he must still make some manuever, either a "basic" attack or an "advanced" manuever. The reason for this will become apparent in a moment.

At this point one of two things will happen. Either the Attacker will have earned the right to fire or the defender will have a chance to match the attacker's maneuver in order to earn the right to fire.

4a) Damage Resolution - Attacker has stayed on the defender's tail and has earned the right to fire. In this case, the attacker flips up the top card on his deck, concerned with the "burst" number. Attacker may now play one card to increase the damage dished out and defender may play one card to reduce the incoming damage. This modified damage is applied against the defender's airframe and the planes disengage from the encounter to approach each other again next turn.

4b) Defense Option to Steal Initiative - If the attacker could not keep up with the defender, the defender may try to outwit the attacker. If the defender played an "advanced" maneuver that specifically stated so, he may have automatically earned the right to fire by dint of the attacker's failure to match the maneuver (proceed to 4a). Otherwise, if the defender can now play an "attack" (or "advanced" maneuver) to match the attacker's "attack" (or "advanced" maneuver) he will earn the right to shoot (proceed to 4a). If he has no card in his hand that will accomplish this, he can pass and the planes disengage with no damage assigned, ready to approach again on the next turn.

Gameplay Comments:

The turn sequence is REALLY that simple. The effect is VERY pleasing with the dodge and weave of aerial combat amazingly well portrayed. The choices become tense as players must choose which cards they're willing to give up as "attack" or "defense" maneuvers in spite of otherwise useful special features that may come in handy later on.

Each dogfight takes less than 10 minutes, perhaps even 5. In an article here on the Geek, I suggest some simple campaign rules for a series of dogfights that take 45 minutes to and hour to complete.

The cards are cleverly designed with every feature needed for each phase of the turn appearing on each card. The balance between which maneuvers to include with which special text creates some rich hand-management moments and adds the dose of strategy to a game largely controlled by random draws. Good job guys on card balance and layout!

Perhaps with more familiarity, one might be able to suggest some new cards or some changes to the balance. One current challenge is that "advanced" maneuvers can only be matched by other "advanced" maneuvers, with the luck of the draw determining their usefulness. Often I will have a handful of these very handy cards while my opponent is unable to respond in kind (or vice versa). Adding more cards to the deck would only worsen the problem of "when do the special cards come around?", while adding more ways to counter such cards would defeat their uniqueness. All in all, I think that aspect of the game is about as well balanced as it can get and I have no complaints.

Accessibility:
I have taught this game to 5 players. Most of them are not serious gamers. None of them took more than 5 minutes to instruct and 1 dogfight to "get it." Every one of them REALLY ENJOYED the duck and weave gameplay and the WWI theme.

Modification/Expansion:

Please let me suggest a direction for modification/expansion. Airplane types could be added, similar to pilot cards, to offer modifications to the amount of damage that can be taken vs. an increased or decreased chance of success at "advanced" maneuvers. This would allow the inclusion of more theme, add one more quick but subtle gameplay modifier, while not bogging down the game, and capture the one missing aspect for a dogfight game - the planes themselves! Instead of making the airplanes "one more card to set next to the draw and discard piles," the airplanes could be player mats with a damage track as well as places for the pilot, draw, and discard piles.

Rating:

While definitely a game dominated by luck of the draw, the 4-card hand and some opportunities for wise choices mitigate this to an acceptable degree. Further, the quick playing time contributes to my conclusion that Richthofen is an excellent game. More Geeks should discover this one and Maners and Jerome should be encouraged to further refine and expand this concept!

I give this one a 10. I'll play it anytime with anyone and plan to teach it to everyone with whom I have 10-20 minutes of free "gaming time."
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