April 30, 2004
The Ace of Aces game system was a stroke of brilliance when it was first released by Gameshop Inc. in 1980. Designer Alfred Leonardi, a history teacher, crafted a totally new game mechanism which used illustrated "programmed" books to recreate aerial combat. For the first time, gamers could fight a dogfight using simultaneous movement without cumbersome log sheets, enormous rulebooks, and many hours of playing time. In fact, a game of Ace of Aces played by experienced players can move so quickly that it is virtually a "real time" simulation.
The original Ace of Aces "Handy Rotary Series" came with a pair of brown game books each slightly smaller than a paperback novel. Each book contained 223 illustrations depicting various views from the cockpit of the player's aircraft. The view on each page was oriented to show the location of the opponent's aircraft. For example, the "Allies" book showed a view of the opposing Fokker as seen from a Sopwith Camel cockpit. Conversely, the "Germans" book showed a view of the Camel as seen from the cockpit of a Fokker Dr. I triplane.
Click here to see a sample page from the German book.
One neat feature of the system is that you can fly multi-plane dogfights, as long as you have enough books (or bookmarks) for each player.
I've got the original "Powerhouse" edition (#5 on the link above) which pits a Fokker D-VII against a Spad XIII. It's an amazing game, easy enough for kids to play, yet still rich enough for aircraft buffs to get serious about.
Other editions featured different planes and even a balloon-busting version where you could shoot down the tethered balloons used by both sides to hold observers and artillery spotters.
Later, WWII editions titled Wingleader were released. These used a similar, but not identical, gaming system and let you fly either a P-51 Mustang or Focke-Wulf FW-190 in combat.
Jet Eagles takes the concept into the modern era, pitting an F15 Eagle against a Mig29 Fulcrum. Since modern jet combat is often fought with long range missiles and you may never see your opponent, the system goes through some more tweaking to make it work.
I also remember a variation of the system done by another company where the opposing sides were individuals instead of aircraft. One player might be an armored warrior with a spear, while the other might be a skeleton with sword and shield. I never actually played any of these, but they looked cool at the time.
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