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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: Snoopy vs the Red Baron; Wings of Glory WW1

By Mitch Reed

While space themed dog-fighting games are all the rage right now, players who want a historical feel are not left out in the cold.  “Wings of Glory WW1” by ARES Games has been out since 2004 when it was called ‘Wings of War” and now has different rule-sets that cover both the Great War and the Second World War. I have been playing the WW1 (the official name, it should be Great War) version for over a year now and I only regret I do not play it enough.

One thing I wanted to address is the plethora of pre-painted miniatures games that are very popular right now.  Star Wars X-Wing/Armada, Wings of Glory (WW1 & WW2), and Star Trek, are just a few of the games that bill themselves as miniature games and also supplies the player with finished forces in which to play the game.  From a marketing standpoint one can see what a great idea this is since it gives a player the ability to play the game right out of the box
without having to paint and base their forces.

I think this and the tight rules (more on this later) gives these games an edge over games in which you have to paint tons of figures before you can play. 

Playing mat; optional but a nice touch.  They have a few different types

I also see the opposition to these types of games which I hear some gamers complain about.  Many players do not think of these as true miniatures games because you do not put the time and money into painting and basing your force.  Others have told me that these games are marketed for the casual gamer which goes against the mindset of the hardcore grog who enjoys the modeling and historical accuracy of a specific game system. Not only do I disagree with these negative comments, I feel they are way off mark.

Wings of War WW1 (WoWW1) is a great game that accurately depicts the dogfights over the trenches during the Great War.  Even the basic version of the game does not have an “arcade” game feel to it, and WOWW1 does take a good amount of skill to master.

WOWW1 is a dog-fighting game in which two players (at a minimum) can face off controlling one or more aircraft on a 27.5” by 27.5” playing mat with the objective (in basic games) of downing your opponent’s aircraft.  While this is a basic overview of the game, with advanced and optional rules this game offers a lot under its slick hood.

First of all each aircraft has unique set characteristics that control how much damage you can inflict, how much damage you can take and even the agility and maneuverability of your particular plane. Each aircraft comes with a model, a data card, and a maneuver deck which the players use to “fly” their aircraft.  Before I detail this let me explain the basic mechanics.

Plane and console, on the card you see an "L" which is the maneuver deck it uses, it used the "A" damage deck, and can take 16 points of damage

Each game turn starts with a planning phase in which a player determines the movement of their aircraft for the next 3 action phases.  Each action phase consists of a movement step where a player takes their first maneuver card from the planning phase and places it in front of their model and then they move the model the distance illustrated on the card. After this, you go into the firing step where range and line of sight are determined, and if you are in range and in a firing arc you take a damage card (or two) based on range and the aircraft's firepower.  The firepower determines what damage deck to draw from and the range determines if they draw one or two cards of that deck.  Each card has a number which indicates how much damage they just took and this is kept secret from your opponent.  When your damage card equals the resistance number on your aircraft card or base, the plane goes down in flames.  After the third action phase the turn ends, and then you plan for the next three action phases.

Movement: Step 1 take your fist maneuver card and line it up

Step 2: Now move the model to the line on the card

Sounds easy doesn’t it?  It is easy to grasp the mechanics, but not every flying machine is created equal.  Players will sometimes notice that they can make sharp turns to the right, but not to the left; damn those rotary engines.  Players will know when they have an under powered aircraft when they do not have cards that can get them to climb at a fast rate.  The cards which are unique for each model limit the player’s aircraft to only perform maneuvers they were actually capable of.  I noticed that one of my aircraft only had one card that allowed me to climb, where my enemy had 2, well his plane had a better engine with more horsepower where mine was a flying cow.

Shooting: In arc and in range, someone is taking a damage card

The first time you play I guarantee that you will constantly fly past your enemy; but once you understand the agility of your opponents machine and see their tendencies and trends, you will have no issue locking up on your enemies ‘Six” after a few turns.  To me this really recreates the challenge faced by the early aviators and makes Dicta Boelcke very applicable in this game as it did in the Great War and even today.

Darn, 3 damage points and I am on fire... 

It’s not all turning and burning; you can also make special moves like a Split-S or an Immelmann Turn, but that creates  conditions on what maneuvers you can conduct immediately afterwards.  Advanced rules cover all types of special damage such as a jammed rudder or guns, wounds to your pilot, engine damage, and even a fire.  Remember you have no parachute, so good luck if you see flames coming out of your fuselage.

Gotha bomber, no longer the biggest plane in the game

The game box has all the things you need to start playing except for the aircraft and the playing mat (which is nice but optional).  In the box you get the airplane console which help you manage your plane, damage decks, and all the tokens and mission (terrain) cards you need.  Each airplane pack comes with a detailed airplane, maneuver deck, data card, and a flight stand with pegs to sit your plane on.  What is nice about the aircraft that each type of plane comes in two or three different color schemes and usually represent a famous ace that flew that particular aircraft.  ARES Games has released the planes in “waves’ and has introduced two seaters, float planes, and even medium sized bombers.  I say medium sized because via Kickstarter in early 2015, ARES had the “Giants of the Sky” initiative which you can pledge funds to get a Handely Page O/400 or a Zeppelin Staaken; two massive bombers.  I wish I could say I have these two new aircraft on hand, however the October 2015 ship dates have slipped.

The flight stand has all the data that is on the info card, Note the altitude wheel on the base

One thing I like about the game, but have yet to explore in detail are the missions.  The basic game and some of the bomber aircraft come with missions that have specific objectives that a player has to accomplish or prevent from being accomplished.

The one wonky thing about the game is how altitude is handled.  Each aircraft has a specific climb rate and when the plane makes the required number of climb maneuvers it can add a peg to its stand denoting is new altitude.  Instead of using the climb tokens I got altitude dials which are placed on the slight stand to mark altitude.  While I have not used these dials very much I am sure they can simplify the altitude tracking process.  This is not a show stopper, but it’s not as slick as the rest of the game mechanics to me.

Aside from the basic box you will need to get some aircraft to play with.  I have to say I like the planes that are available.  Yes, all the popular ones like the Sopwith Camel and Fokker Triplane are represented, along with the Spad XIII, ARES also has some of the less popular models such as the Caproni bomber, Macchi M.5 (did I mention ARES is an Italian company) and the Hannover CL.IIIA.  Each plane is also named for its famous pilots who flew that aircraft such as Rickenbacker, Von Richthofen, Goering, and Guynemer.  The aces can play an even bigger role with some of the ace cards, which gives your plane some special abilities to play with.  You can buy as little as two models, or flood your aerodrome with a mass of these iconic airplanes.

The game can last under 30 minutes for a 1v1 fight and much longer for larger scenarios. No matter the length of the game, it is a lot of fun.  I like how you never know your opponents level of damage during the game, your enemy can have 4-5 damage cards in front of him, but they all can have a big fat “0” on the other side, so you just never know when he is about to go down.

While I was writing this article I purposely avoided comparing it to Star Wars X-Wing on purpose.  When I was playing this game at 2015 Cold Wars, many folks came over and asked if it was like X-Wing, and I said “I don’t know” since at the time I had yet to get into X-Wing.  I can now tell you that the mechanics are similar and the differences are logical due to the shift in the environment.  What is very different is how the aircraft themselves work in the game.  Since they are historically modeled (and being played on earth use real physics) each plane has different abilities (climb rate etc..) where in X-Wing the differences are limited to how they maneuver, how many dice they can throw and how much damage they can take, all of which can be adjusted with upgrade cards.  This game does not have upgrade cards and does not even have dice, which makes it a nice departure from other games.

Much like X-Wing this game has a loyal fan base that is very vocal online and has even created a cottage industry in providing game aids for its many dedicated players.

Not everyone becomes an ace!

So, if this period interests you, or you want to try a very fun dog-fighting game, I would check out Wings of Glory WW1.

See you over the front!

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