Monday, January 5, 2009

Wings of War- air battles in World War One

Wings of War is a tactical game. In discussing a tactical game we have to acknowledge that the subject is violent, in this case aircraft fighting over the trenches in 1918. I think it's simplest to acknowledge that this sort of game is acceptable to some families but not to others. I present this review to those families in the former category, with the promise that future reviews will continue to cover the wide variety of gaming experiences.

Now that we have these sober issues on the table, let's consider Wings of War. In my opinion this is one of the most elegant and cost effective game designs I have come across in years. Many game players like the idea of having a swirling air battle on their tabletop. Nevertheless, simulating this can be a real challenge, and few products have succeeded in being both realistic and playable. Wings of War manages both. The game is quick to play, visually appealing, and has very few rules. Virtually no reading is required although some basic number skills are needed. The manufacturers add the option to play with gorgeous prepainted miniature aircraft and that's a terrific bonus feature.

Each player in Wings of War controls an airplane. The box supplies several cardboard counters with illustrations of famous Great War planes. The game play takes place on any medium sized flat surface. Each player also is given a deck of cards with arrows illustrated on them. One arrow goes straight across the card, one curves to the right, one to the left and so on. In each turn the player picks three cards which will represent the maneuvers their plane is going to make. For example, if you wished to fly straight ahead you would lay down cards with the arrows going straight across. If you wished to turn right you would lay down a card with an arrow curving to the right. During the game turns each player reveals their cards, one at a time. You place the card directly ahead of your plane and then move the plane till it's tail contacts the end of the arrow on the card. The illustration to the right shows two planes after they have played one maneuver card each. You can see that the green plane's pilot guessed correctly where the red plane was going to go.

With this simple mechanism players can act out various dogfights between famous aces in the Great War. You have to guess where your opponent is going to head and play accordingly. Different planes may have different maneuver cards available to them, and different planes can give out or receive different amounts of damage. The result is a fun, fast moving game that accurately portrays early aerial combat.

There are two supplemental products available at present. One adds counters and rules for shooting down balloons, a vital and dangerous activity in the Great War. The second adds rules and counters for two seater planes and bombers. In test games the bombers appear both tough and dangerous to approach. I felt that they may have been designed a bit Too tough and dangerous to approach as compared to how history portrays them but the supplement does add variety so the buyer can decide for themselves.

Finally, the manufacturers have released plastic models which you can use instead of the cardboard cutouts. While these are optional to the game you can see from the photo how stunning they look. This period featured some eye popping color schemes and they really come to life through the miniatures. The miniatures represent actual planes and you can follow up and read about the pilots, whose lives were often unusual and interesting. What I find especially appealing about the models is that their use is left up to you the player. You can purchase a basic set and have lots of fun for thirty dollars or go ahead and collect the miniatures as well. Not every collectible game shows such respect for the consumer.

One note of importance- one miniature aircraft portrays the ship flown by pilot H. Goering. Herr Goering did indeed play a role in the Great War so this is historically accurate. For me this crosses a certain line. I personally would not have that model on my gaming table. Parents should be aware so they can keep their eyes open and make their own decision.

Interested parents are encouraged to visit the game's website, which includes free downloads of the rules. If the subject is appropriate for your family I think you will find that Wings of War is a well designed game and a great value. I got my copy at Hobby Bunker in Malden.

Pros: Exciting, simple, quick play, great value

Cons: tough subject matter for many

Beyond the Basics: repeated play rewards players with better flying skills and expansions allow more variety in types of planes and flying missions.

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