I recently borrowed a copy of Wings of War: Famous Aces from my mate Griff because I was curious to see if my four year old son CJ would be interested in playing it. As CJ will happily play a number of the Cranium range of board games (Zooreka being a favourite) that involve standard card and dice mechanics, I suspected he could handle Wings of War which is entirely card based.
In Wings of War you dogfight various WWI single and double seater aircraft. The game supports any number of players (although 5-6 players is a practical limit) who all act simultaneously. Each aircraft is represented by a card which you move around the playing surface – which can be any flat, clear tabletop. Each aircraft only has three basic statistics: the amount of damage they can receive before being shot down, the deck of cards they use for movement, and the deck of cards they use when firing their machine guns.
The real beauty of the system is the way the decks of cards work. The various planes use different movement decks which reflect the historical flight abilities of that plane. So for example tri-planes like the Fokker DR-1 which were very maneuverable have a set of cards that give you quick side slips and sharp turns, while planes like the Albatross D-III tend to have a smaller set of more graceful movement cards. The various movement decks work well to give each plane a distinctive feel while gaming. Famous Aces comes with four distinct movement decks which enough to give you a fair range of planes to fly.
Firing is controlled by simple fire arcs marked on the plane cards, a couple of range rulers that give you short and long firing ranges. If your range ruler touches an opponent, they draw cards from the appropriate damage deck – Famous Aces only has a single damage deck so every plane fires the same way. The damage cards have values from no effect to fairly devastating amounts of damage, including an ‘explosion’ card which as you can imagine results in an instant loss of your aircraft. I think you get a better game if you remove that particular card, because it’s simply too powerful. Many cards also have other special effects in addition to the damage, your guns can jam temporarily, your maneuverability can be effected both temporarily and permanently and your planes can also catch fire and trail smoke.
You can get a Wings of War game played in twenty minutes and while there’s luck involved while drawing damage cards, the bulk of the game consists of trying to read your opponents and how they fly their fighters in order to maneuver your own fighters into better firing positions. The dogfights can get surprisingly psychological and the game supports the ability for some bluffing in how you play your maneuver cards. I have to say it’s also very satisfying when you manage to tail your opponents or fool them into banking gently in front of your open sights!
CJ and I played a few games of Wings of War and I wasn’t surprised when he got the basic mechanics straight away as they’re pretty simple and the full colour cards attractive to look at and handle. He struggled with the hidden tactical elements of the game though, which is no surprise as he’s only four(!) and I got the general impression that while he enjoyed flying his plane around and shooting Dad he struggled to grasp the point of it all. I’ll give him another two or three years before trying again I think.
Regardless I’ll be picking up a copy of Wings of War for the house because it’s a great little game to have around if you’ve got some gamers around looking for a quick pick up game. I’d probably say it’s a ‘beer and preztels’ style game, except that’s probably not doing Wings of War justice as there’s a little depth to the system than that, particularly if you can combine a couple of the three starting boxed sets: Famous Aces, Watch Your Back! and Burning Drachens.