I purchased both Burning Drachens and Famous Aces several days ago and have had a chance to play it several times. Before buying, I had decided that I was going to get the game, the question was, which instalment(s). BD particularly appealed to me as it can be played 1-p, and I have few people to game with.
I know rules get touched on often, but in case this is the first review you are reading, here we go. Planes are represented on small cards, roughly half the size of a poker style playing card. Each plane has a letter which identifies which maneuver deck will be used. Maneuver decks have 16 to 20 cards showing different moves (right turn, stall, Immelman, etc.). Each turn, players secretly select 3 maneuvers and then players reveal those cards by playing them in front of their plane, and moving the plane appropriately. If at the end of a maneuver any planes can fire at their opponent(s) then damage is resolved by drawing a card from the damage deck. Damage is also kept secret, which is a nice touch, as you never know how close you are to shooting down your opponent.
Burning Drachens is set up for 1-2 players. As with all the Wings of War sets, the art work is beautiful, and the pieces very high quality. When I played my first game, I immediately began making plans to make some sort of table cloth with trees, houses and trenches to fly over. There are two player boards, two maneuver decks (I and J), 4 types of planes (with 16 plane “styles” so you don’t fly the same Nieuport 17 over and over), 4 double sided balloon cards (which are very large and very nicely drawn), three damage decks (A, C, D), eight ground cards (anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, trenches, and targets), and two sighting rulers and a bunch of counters. I was very pleased with the quality of everything in the box.
This is where BD really shined for me. There are a HUGE number of optional rules that address the players out there who want as much reality as possible. The big one is Altitude. With BD you get two additional maneuver cards for each deck (20 total, two for decks A – J) that allow you to dive and climb. Altitude is set up on a counter system.
Each plane has a top altitude and climbing rate. As you dive or climb, you add/remove counters to show where in the sky you are. With Altitude rules come some additional maneuvers including Landings and Takeoffs, Crashes, and Split-S maneuver (an Immelman with altitude change). Other optional rules in this game are:
Cloud Cover (planes can get above the clouds where there maneuvers can’t be seen. Then they can suddenly drop out of the sky where you least expect them)
Collisions (plane and balloons crash into each other at the same altitude)
Ground Fire - (AA Gun, AA Machine guns, and troop fire from trenches)
Strafing – (those guns and troops can’t shoot at you without consequences)
Incendiary Bullets and Rockets - (for use against balloons)
Balloon Barrages - (nasty nets of cables hung between balloons that will destroy any planes flying through them)
After playing the basic game, some solo rounds, and then adding some optional rules, I found that BD was by far my favorite. With only two maneuver decks, I’m glad I got Famous Aces, but all of the optional rules really add a lot of flavor and reality to the game. Even without the extra planes and maneuver decks, BD has everything you need for a very enjoyable head to head game. The altitude rules are very detailed, but I found the one time we used them, it really slowed the game down, easily doubling the playing time. Someone invariably would be running to create space and get a better position. Since some planes have much better dive/climb, even if you got the upper hand in positioning, you had to also get on the same level. Great for reality, but I would assume that unless I have 4+ players and we don’t mind playing an intensive, long game, I won’t use the altitude rules that much.
The solo games are quite nice, and a fun way to spend an evening when you can’t get some friends together (or convince your wife to play). The solo games are a race against the clock (complete objectives in a set number of tunrs) and can actually be quite hard, as you are getting smacked around pretty well by AA Guns, and those big balloons take a lot to shoot down.
If you are getting two sets, having BD is invaluable, as it gives you the option to play with all of the expanded rules. I would also highly recommend BD if you are only buying one set, and 1-2 players will meet your criteria. It’s the one I’ll be using the most.
Thanks so much for your detailed and kind review!
>Great for reality, but I would assume that unless I have 4+ players and we don’t mind playing an intensive, long game, I won’t use the altitude rules that much.
I don't like them for dogfights - I think they are far better for ballon - trench strafing scenarios, where you do not just climb and dive at your pleasure but those actions become meaningful for the specific scenarios. Even in bombing/photo recon they can add something.