Flying into combat


I played a lot of Air Force when it first came out, a game about plane to plane combat in WW2. It was published by Battleline.

I have fond memories of our gaming group playing several epic fighter ace duels, and also trying to escort a dwindling formation of bombers past an all too effective defensive patrol. I don’t think any of us championed air combat as the only wargame type to play, but it was popular. I always thought part of the reason was the impressive amount of hard data in the package. Even if we didn’t know what was accurate and what was fudged, having, holding, and reading the data card for a Spitfire (for example) brought its own, unique, frisson of something. I’m not sure exactly what. But it was a good feeling!

The game belonged to one of the other guys in the gaming group back then, and so when Avalon Hill repackaged and republished it, I was a keen purchaser. But times and gaming interests had moved on, and apart from a couple of solitaire outings and the same number of face to face dogfights, the game has largely remained a static part of my collection. Until now.

Before last night’s session, I had asked novice gamer Peleg what period of history he was interested in. He replied: “World War 2.” So, to continue his wargaming induction, I offered him a choice between the strategic vision of Hitler’s War, or Air Force. Because he has a keen interest in aircraft, he chose the latter, and after a rapid reappraisal of the rules over dinner, I managed to teach him the basics. Then we played a straight fight between my pair of Spitfires and his Me-109s.

The game system involves written orders, using performance data from a card for each plane type.

Put your orders here...

Put your orders here…

The system handles performance in three dimensions, so you can dive and climb, as well as speed across the empty hexagonal skies. The basic rules include banks, turns, slips, half-rolls, and half-loops. The challenge is to get into a position to fire on the other bloke while avoiding his fire. To do so, you have to master the strengths of your plane and find the weakness on the enemy side.

The codes of war!

The codes of war!

The action in our closely fought game ended with all four aircraft taking some damage. The crucial factor was both my Spitfires taking engine damage. This reduced their ability to power up, and so they had to keep diving to regain speed lost in maneuver, or face a fatal stall. To that extent, Peleg was definitely in the ascendancy when we finished up. My chaps were heading for home, and probably had enough of a start to make it safely.

The session went very well indeed. So much so that Peleg is keen to try it again. However, I’m not sure if I should stay faithful to this old classic, or skip to Fighting Wings, a more modern design from J D Webster. The full version of that is very complex, but there’s a well respected set of Quick Start rues kicking about somewhere. Decisions, decisions! I really should just be grateful for another great night of gaming.