Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What I'm Looking For in Air Combat Rules

A few days ago I mentioned that I am on an air combat kick. I don't have a go-to set of rules so I decided to experiment with a variety of rules. To help me analyze these rules, I jotted down the characteristics that would make the ideal game for me.

I do most of my wargaming alone therefore the game must be playable solo. This is a tricky requirement because many good air combat games rely on a guessing game between enemy pilots. Ace of Aces, my all-time favorite aviation wargame, is very much of this ilk. As good as these games may be, they just won't be useful to me.

Some air combat games work fine for 1-2 planes per player but break down if you add more. Right now, I am primarily looking for a game that will handle small dogfights with a main character and his wingman vs. the enemy. However, they may find themselves in hot water and have to fend off 3-4 enemies or they may be doing escort duty for a couple of bombers. Thus, I want the game to scale up and easily handle up to a half dozen planes a side.

Look and Feel
First and foremost, the game needs to "feel" like a dogfight, and that means fast and furious action. Alas, some games feel more like protracted geometry exercises (Air War) that remove any excitement from the dogfight.

Secondly, the game must "feel" realistic. I'm not shooting for strict accuracy like many complicated games. However, the game should model general performance differences. A better plane should generally perform better in game (assuming the same pilot skill).

Finally, I would prefer a game that looks good, especially if I can use pretty (or not-so-pretty with my painting skills) airplane miniatures.

Tactical Thought
The game should require some tactical thought for me, the player. If everything is dictated by dice rolls and I have no decisions to make, then I will get bored. I think this is one of the reasons I stopped playing Eindekker. The decisions in this game primarily relate to resource management (do I continue the mission with my damaged craft or do I abort?). Dogfights are straightforward dice-rolling contests without much tactics. I really want to decide how to fly my planes.

I just made up a long word to indicate whether the rules would make a good portable wargame. Earlier this year I successfully experimented with a game in a box and I would like to do something similar for my air combat game.

Portable wargames typically include the following features:

  • A small board - my boxed game has an 8" x 8" board. Can I fit an air combat game on a similarly sized board?
  • Gridded - I love gridded games and would like to use one for this project. It's not a hard and fast requirement, however
  • Fast and simple rules - portable wargames typically use simple rules that allow battles to be completed in a short period of time.

While my latest aviation craze was inspired by reading about World War I, my thoughts have turned to an imagi-nation campaign that I began a couple of years ago. Aetheria was set in a 1930s pulp environment and even featured a Four Against Darkness variant with a character named Dirk Daring. I'd love to game out some of Dirk's dogfights against minions of the Empire of the Iron Fist. To do this, I will need to adapt any rules I pick to include mid-30s style airplanes (and perhaps make up some of my own, a la Crimson Skies).

So those are my requirements. Let's see if I can find a rules that meet many or most of them,


  1. If you don't find that Spandau and Lewis fits those criteria (add in the Power rules on my blog for the whole aircraft performance feel), then I've failed in what I was trying to achieve in my design. It plays solo, I've run between 1 and 5 aircraft a side on a 2' x 2' board, it's quick and simple, but reflects aircraft performance and pilot ability and it requires a little bit of tactical thought.

  2. Bob Cordery recently mentioned he'd been drafting & play testing air combat rules for his Portable Wargame -