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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Got game!

Chocks away Ginger!
Andy was round on Sunday. He brought with him his new copy of FFG's Wings of War: Dawn of War, the new WW2 version of their successful WW1 dogfighting game Wings of War. I'd first played Wings of War: Famous Aces- the initial game in the series- way back in June 2004 at DiceConWest. I was immediately delighted by the game, being particularly struck by the way the cardplay system handled preplotted movement and firing in a smooth manner without reliance on tables.

So you can imagine that I was pleased to give Wings of War: Dawn of War a go on Sunday. Andy and I duly had a game, in which my Me109E-3 and Dewoitine D.520 shot down Andy's Spitfire and Hurricane Mk.I. As we looked through the available planes to see what match-up we could choose for our next game Andy made a fateful suggestion: why don't we head down to Static so I could get my own set, and then we'd be able to play, say, 2 Spitfires?

Feeling lazy, I demurred at first. Shortly thereafter though, while making tea and coffee, I realised that one of my reasons for not having already bought Wings of War: Famous Aces had been a bit dumb- I'd imagined that my gaming table would be too small to play the game. Andy's and my game having proved me wrong on that score, I decided that there was no time like the present. And so an impromptu trip to the FLGS it was then!

There, I got myself a copy of Wings of War: Dawn of War and Andy couldn't resist getting himself Wings of War: Famous Aces. A couple of beers and a bit to eat later, and we returned to my flat where we managed to get in another game and-a-half. Our complete game was a game of Famous Aces, in which my Spad XIII and Sopwith Camel shot down Andy's Fokker Dr.I and Albatross D.vA. The game which we had to abandon featured my 2 Me109's against Andy's 2 Spitfires- a draw even if I was ahead on damage.

Score
2½-½ :)

Utterly legitimate unseemly gloating aside, what was so interesting about the games I won was that they showed how Wings of War rewards real-life tactics, which is always a good sign in a wargame. In both games my tactics were straightforward:
  • Sideslip to one side or the other, making sure that my plane with the tightest turning circle was on the inside.
  • Keep my planes together and attack just one of Andy's plans, ignoring his other plane until my initial target was destroyed.
In other words: learn how to fly a proper pair of wingmen. Once Andy knew that this was the secret, he applied himself to his flight lessons, and was soon demonstrating that he knew how to learn them.

And how does Wings of War deliver this satisfying experience in such a playable format? Simple: through the use of cards. Instead of the logpad and pencil which is the more familiar format in which hexmap-and-counter air-combat games have delivered si-move down the years, players of Wings of War use manoeuvre cards to preplan their moves. An example of this is shown below:

Here you can see the key elements of the system:
  • The aircraft card- which moves about on the tabletop.
  • The manoeuvre card- which determines the movement of the aircraft.
  • The before and after- how an aircraft moves from the back to the front of the manoeuvre cards.
It really is as simple as that. There are rules for how certain manoeuvres must be played, and there are subtle variations between the WW1 and the WW2 games, but we are still talking about a dogfight game essentially no more complicated than Monopoly.

And those subtle variations? In Famous Aces you have to plot 3 moves at a time, then execute each move in sequence before plotting another 3 moves. In Dawn of War you only have to plot your moves 1 turn in advance, but each manoeuvre card also has slow and fast options, which you have to plot with the aid of counters when you choose your card.

Combat is just as simple. Each plane has a firing arc (the highlighted area visible on the front of the aircraft card in the picture above); plus there are range rulers, which are marked halfway down their length for short and long range. When an enemy plane is both in your firing arc and within range, you get to fire at it, which involves the player of the target plane drawing for damage. Basic damage is rated in points, which accumulates (secretly) until it is greater than or equal to a plane's damage rating, at which point it is shot down. There are also various special damage results, including the explosion- which blows a plane from the sky in a single hit!

Famous Aces features a single damage deck, whereas Dawn of War features 3 different pools of damage chits. In Famous Aces short range fire draws 2 damage cards, while in Dawn of War short and long range fire will draw different chits from the 3 pools, as defined on the plane cards. Although this is slightly more complicated than Famous Aces, it makes perfect sense because WW2 planes had a much greater range of armament than WW1 planes, which typically carried a pair of rifle-calibre MG.

(You can download PDF's of the Wings of War: Famous Aces rules here and the Wings of War: Dawn of War rules here if you'd like to find out about this in more detail.)

What was so enjoyable then about my games last Sunday- apart that is, from the simple glory of victory- was seeing how the game had evolved since my first encounter with it back in 2004. Graphics aside, the core components and the way in which they drive gameplay are pretty much the same. Nonetheless, each game feels significantly different, vividly recreating the different feel of each period.

In Famous Aces you get a real feel for the nimble little planes twisting and turning across the sky at speeds which would leave their WW2 counterparts spinning earthwards in a stall. Dawn of War on the other hand gives a real taste of the high-speed sweeps and wide turns of the much more powerful planes in WW2. And the simple system and lovely components really put you 'there' in a way not often found in the old hex-and-counter air combat games.

I can still remember the way my 2 Me109's came sweeping across the table, turned, reformed and started another run in our last unfinished game, my mind searching out clips from WW2 documentaries as they did so. But pride of place must belong to the Spitfire, which has that rolling sideslip manoeuvre; y'know, the one seen in every documentary you've ever watched which has featured the Spitfire, where it rolls over and just peels off? You remember that one? Well, it's in Dawn of War, and it's thrilling to watch because of what it does to your imagination!

Great game! We'll be back! ;)
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