Thursday, August 1, 2019

Ace of Aces - the miniature game

Hexes!? We don't need no stinkin' hexes!

Over with the old club the other night, and had a great chance to get into some WWI flying ace action with the hosts miniatures adaption of his favorite WWI flying game, "Ace of Aces".  This was actually a flip-book *game* where the designers ingeniously hid the entire mechanics inside the book, and you picked a maneuver, turned to the page that corresponded to your opponent's maneuver, and a hand-dawn pic showed you what your situation was. An example of it is in the below image, from Wikipedia article [CLICK]

There is also a nice amount of info at Boardgame Geek [CLICK], including the market rate of the game in its various printings, etc. A really neat game, one of a rare breed, and I love the hand-drawn pics. May have to get it some day to play with my son while traveling by air, train, etc.

Anyway, the host's particular genius was to figure out the hex-based mechanics behind the flip-book maneuvers, then translate them onto the table. He took actual pics of the planes on tile hexes, marked the start/end positions with color, then printed them on cards, like the below:

Above, start position in yellow, end position in red.

By drawing the hex outlines on the table, we have the board, and the ways to maneuver [which is the main challenge]. Each turn, you pick a maneuver and put the card face-down on the table. When all have done so, the cards are flipped and the maneuvers are executed. Additional rules are quite simple, e.g. you can't shoot each other in the same hex.

Above, yet another near-miss. Beats being shot down, but I wish I had a pistol to take a shot as we fly by each other!

Above, brilliant maneuvering on my part has left my plane [left] once more in the sights of my opponent, "Death from Above" Matt. We started in the same hex, the one with the right card in it, and you can just tell how we moved out of the hex and our original facings by back-tracking the card.

Another too-often sight...our  planes jousting each other like the knights of the air we're supposed to be! We've just gunned each other a point-blank range for 2 hits each [planes have 6] and have revealed our cards:

...and below is the end result of the chosen maneuvers.

Another sight seen too often... we shot each other down. Sometimes it was the best I could do, however!

Game plays fast - the better you know you cards / maneuvers the faster it plays. Initially, we had a mutual shoot-down, then Matt crushed me three times quickly, then the 5th game I managed to win, and the 6th I crushed him. Overall, I'd still say it was more his game than mine, but I walked away with a bit of honor having learned a few of the key tactics I needed, and at least occasionally having the better second-guessing of his choice!

The game has no way to change your card once you've revealed them, and also doesn't use altitude. This does remove a couple of "reality" issues like pilot reflexes and the height advantage, but with 8 people playing you can only do so much in a 2-3 hour evening.

While Matt and I jousted, the other six were in an ugly scrum that was hard to follow, despite being just down the table.

Above, the Huns chase Limeys...
Below, jousting in pairs.

A wild mix of planes, I think there were a dozen, two per player. Sometimes it pays to get out of close proximity and get a little breathing space before charging again.

This could result in lots of damage, or lots of near-misses!

A fun time and a thoughtful game. Host likes the maneuvers and says that are quite historical despite the hex-mechanics. I am uncertain how much difference there is between planes, but Matt and I kept it simple by having identical performance and picking planes we like. So, not a beer'n pretzel game by being simplistic, but an easy fun time thanks to the simple mechanics and effort put into making them easy to work with...I wish more games and hosts did this!

Certainly has me thinking I should try Ace of Aces in its original form.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Air Strike: Modern Air Combat for the Whole Family... Really!


The BLUF: These are great, best $4.50 you'll ever spend!
Buy them [HERE]
The card-driven mechanics are not a mechanical simulation, so forget the variations of planes and hardware. BUT, they may be seen as a simulation of the balance Airmen make between:
- decisions within their control using the resources at hand, 
- fleeting opportunities seen as a risk worth taking, 
- and enemy activity that "gets a vote".
In that sense, they are actually closer to a simulation than a lot of other games that claim to be. Interestingly, this game does not.

If you need more convincing for your hard-earned cash, on to the more detailed review...

So I bought these rules b/c I was intrigued - and amused - at the "for the whole family" thing since I have a 10yo and my wife can occasionally be convinced to try a game with us. I was also thinking that I can always tweak it if the bones are good but it is half-baked [not the first time I've done that].

I got more confidence after watching the intro video to T. Jenson's "Missile Threat" which I found accidentally on another blog where they were using it for the Falklands. It clearly had some clean, straightforward mechanics that are a nice balance of abstraction and realism. So I was hopeful about "Air Strike..." and figured what the heck, it is only $4.50!

The card mechanics orient around the following limits:
- 4 card hand per plane, you must play two a turn.
- Numbers are movement and turns, face cards are missiles.
- with optional rules, number cards are cannon attacks.
- if you run out of cards, you lose your turn but draw 3.
- you can defeat enemy attacks by playing a higher card [thus, if you are faced with many attacks, you may run out of cards, or high cards, and take hits].
Aside from that, just a few nuances in play mechanics.

I set up a simple fight, two Russky Su-27 [red, left] v. two F-16s [blue, right]. I put out their card hands, which *seem to* favor the Reds, who have more high cards.

Blue 1. They start by playing out some weak number cards hoping for better replacements. Or they're just obeying the ROE?

No worries about the ROE! Reds advance [number cards] then fired a missile each [face cards - also determines the "threat level" of the attack which I interpret as the quality of the lock-on, Jack being weakest then Q-K and Ace being highest]. The missiles move fixed distances each turn upon the plane's activation.

Blue 2. Hands are still weak [no face cards for missile attacks - they can't get a lock-on...they must be getting jammed!] they start to turn away, playing for time and preparing to evade.

Red 2. They have hot cards, and great lock-ons! They fire an Ace and a Jack missile as their other missiles track and close in. cue menacing voice..."I have you now, imperialist running dog!"

Blue 3. BUT! USAF training kicks in, and both planes dodge at point-blank range, running past and along side the incoming missiles, finishing far to their side and out of their tracking arc. I marked the two tracking Blue 1 red and two tracking Blue 2 [wingman] green.

Above, tracking Red missiles lose Blue 1 [they turned 90 towards him, and he's still behind them]...

...and are removed.

Red 3. Red 1 turns and advances, but can't fire a missile. He used the 8 for the turn and the 5 for distance, not wanting to get too close and perhaps be attacked in return.

Red 2 starts his turn, both missiles track [up to 90 turn] but the foremost missile loses the target...

...which is behind the 90 arc of tracking... is removed. The second missile tracks and closes in, however.

Red 2 then moves, using two number cards to turn then move 2" forward. I'm leery about getting too close...

Blue 4. Blue 1 turns and moves a little. Blue 2 just moves a bit. Basically, they just didn't have the cards to lock-on and attack with missiles, so they took some short moves and ditched low cards.

Red 4. Primary advances 3", locks-on with an Ace and fires a missile - it can't be defeated by a higher card so it hits!

Damage in Air Strike is simple - you take two hits and your shot down. There's a rule for matching hit types by card, but I have to admit I ditched it as a bit odd and complicated. Lazy me...?

Red 2 turns in and plays an Ace lock-on also! Missile fires off and can't be defeated, so Blue Primary is down! Bottom of his class at Top Gun program??

Blue 5. Blue 2 is out for revenge - and he has the cards! Unfortunately, he is just a hair out of 8" and missile range, so he'll have to turn and close in for a real "hassle".

He plays 4 to turn and 10 for distance, and is all over Red 2.

Red 5. Red 1 has weak cards so just turns around tight as possible. Red 2 turns with a '5', locks-on with a King and launches. But Blue 2 is too slick - he dodges with an Ace! would've liked that card for a missile lock but...outnumbered and no Hits on either one!

Blue 6. Blue 2 brakes hard right, locks-on with a King, launches and can't be beat [Red 2 has no Ace to beat the King lock-on, so can't even play his King]. A hit is scored - first blood!

Red 6. Red 1 floors it past Blue 2

Red 2 fires his cannon at a 9, but Blue 2 evades playing a Queen. Red 2 then passes Blue 2 and Red 1.

Blue 7. Blue 1 hard turns.

Red 7. Red 1 pushes out of dodge and then hard turns left.

Red 2 then gets past Red 1 and also turns hard left.

Blue 8. A short advance against Red 1 and a 6 cannon attack is defeated by Red 1 playing a King and evading the hail of shells.

Red 8. Red 1 turns hard left, fires a 6 cannon which is defeated by Blue 2's 7 evade. you can feel the micro-seconds ticking along between the actions and interactions of this dogfight!

Red 2 then turns, locks on with an Ace and fires a missile.

Blue 9. Blue 2 locks-on with a Jack and fires, to finish off Red 2! After all, he can't have a second Ace up his sleeve, can he?? He then full thrusts with a 10 and cuts within the Red missile's tracking capabilities evading it...but it was very very close!

Red 9. Red 1 is short of cards, and plays a low move card [as you usually only draw 2 replacement cards at the end of your turn, if you played a card or two in defense during an opponent's turn, you will start to run out of cards - when you run out, you lose your turn but draw 3 to make up for things a bit]. Red 2 turns hard right...

...but has nothing to avoid being struck by the missile as he can't get out of its 180 tracking arc or defeat it with a Queen or better.

So on Blue 9, it's "Buh-bye Red 2!" Blue 2 then turns hard left.

Red 9 sees Red 1 go for some distance, burning a Jack for 10" of forward burn.

Distance has lengthened out of either missile or cannon range. Blue has two face cards but Red has one Ace!

Blue 10. Hard left and locks-on with his Queen and launches.

Red 10. With no fear, he hard turns with two cards for 180.

Blue 11. The Queen lock-on is defeated by the Ace Red 1 had up his sleeve!

Blue then moves up and locks-on with his Jack, getting a hit [Red has zero cards at this point, anyway, so something to be said for pacing yourself and/or pushing your opponent to go all-out to defend himself, spending cards in the process].

Red 11. Fate has turned against him - he draws 3 cards and should lose his turn as he had no cards left to play [clearly, he was regaining his senses or lost sight of Blue]. However, I forgot this and Red moved 2 and fired his cannon for a 6, best card he had. This is defeated by Blue's 10 easily.

Blue 12. Blue turns with his 2 and...

...has Red in his sights. however, I think I erred in drawing two cards first - I was interrupted by the family at some point and this may have been it.

In any event, whether I skipped a turn with the pics, or not...

...Blue has a 7 which smokes Red since he can't beat the card with a higher card - his 7 is only equal.

Dosvedanya Comeraden!

Whew, that was a pretty intense little dogfight. Between paging thru the rules, playing both sides and figuring out what to try and do [plus an interruption or two], I am spent!

This is one of the most interesting games I've run into in a long time. The card mechanics aren't complicated, but it isn't easy figuring out how best to plan your actions when you don't know what the other guy has up his sleeve! It's pretty amazing how much you get used to that vibe with miniatures [I realize lots of other games have concealed possibilities].  A lot depends on how your opponent reacts and what cards he has, so the game is much less predictable than a typical miniatures game - this captures the wild, fast-moving possibilities of air-air combat, or air-ship-ground combat, for that matter!

Interestingly, the card mechanics evade the limits of the fixed-time turn. The fixed-time turn is where each turn represents a fixed interval with speed limits, firing limits, reaction limits, built around the time the turn represents.

Unfortunately, in fast-moving or intense periods of human activity, training and reaction times are so disparate that a fixed time turn just doesn't work. It often necessitate a mechanic to try and splice it into reactive sub-phases or partial turns where players may react and change their plotted orders. This feels more realistic and gives tempo to reactions in a game about fast-moving gear, e.g. planes or Car Wars.

Here, the turn is best perceived as of flexible length, and based upon reaction times of pilots which of course are not identical. For example, if both players play low cards, then the turn may be seen as shorter with more intense activity, e.g. attacks or maneuvers. If both players have higher cards, then the turn may be seen as longer, with more movement and fewer opportunities for actions. When players play a mix of cards, there's an increasing variable between movement and activity.

Ergo, the cards should be seen as representing opportunities for decision points to change position relative to other fighters; low cards can represent a quick decision to act [turn or shoot], while high cards are useful to push the speed up and either close in or get away.

The interaction and availability of various decision points and opportunities [cards] and how the player uses them determines who wins the game.

Critical point: the cards played for movement do NOT represent speed / velocity! They represent the interval of movement between opportunities for OTHER types of activity, e.g. lock-on and launch a missile, shoot a cannon, maneuver / turn.

Interestingly, I found high cards less useful at times when I wanted to dogfight - you want the low cards to stay close, turn tight, etc, then lock-on with a missile or fire off the cannon.

Altho missiles can be evaded at longer ranges [easier reaction for the target] close in they are better than cannon fire since they have a wider arc of fire [180 front v. straight ahead].

Only thing I don't like is that you can decline to move at all, just rotate on the spot up to 180 - this would take two cards and your whole move, so perhaps is not entirely misplaced [representing an Immelman or other extreme maneuver?].  Still, it can be done over and over with no chance of failure and no repercussions.

It may be that the scale allows the plane counter itself to be the size of the tightest turn possible...but I still don't like it since it gives the planes a turret sort of feel. Also, the forward momentum of the planes creates tension with the maneuvers and prevents the players from twirling around in place and just a turret! Perhaps a tweak needed here.

Overall, I think this game is amazing - I would never have thought of these mechanics, and I wonder if the designer stumbled upon the concept or stole it from someone else [how much do we make up in this hobby, anyway??]. Whatever, in 37 years of wargaming, I haven't seen it before. 

The game has some obvious limits - there is no difference in plane capabilities or in weapon capabilities. Neither pilot is better trained than the other. The technical aspect of the gear has been completely set aside in favor of the player choices and the cards that fate brings. This gives the game a fast, risky feel that is great.

Playing two on two and both sides, I feel like I saw a lot of action and yet am just scratching the surface of a brilliant little game. I can hardly wait to try it with some pals or my family, even!