Tabletop Game #14: Wings of War (2004) and Richthofen’s War (1972)
As today is 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, this is a timely entry. So to speak.
Unlike WWII, which still fuels the wargame industry like a perpetual motion machine, WWI was never a particularly popular era with gamers — with one grand exception. Anything that recreates the aerial dogfights of The Great War sells well — and are invariably fun to play. As deadly as the first use of the aeroplane was in combat (usually to their pilots), the high-flying romance of the period continues to enthrall game designers a century later. Plus, you get to shoot down your buddies, over and over!
There have been dozens of board, video and computer games published over the decades, such as the exceptionally clever Ace of Aces, an elaborately designed pair of books that allows two players to simulate a dog fight, though Avalon Hill’s Richthofen’s War is a sentimental favorite — if for no other reason than it was the first wargame I ever played. It blew me away, and I was hooked after one game. Not just on Richthofen’s War, but wargames in general. Like so many of AH’s titles, it also was slyly educational; soon my brother and I could tell you why a Spad 13 was better than a Sopwith Camel, and pick out the silhouette’s of planes that hadn’t graced the skies in 50 years.
The winner though, goes to Wings of War, a game that is simply ingenious in its simplicity. The design is brilliant because you can teach anyone how to play in less than a minute. Turns are lightning fast, and dozens of people can fly at the same time, making it a perfect convention game. With large matches, players also get a true sense of the chaos and capriciousness of a dogfight in the skies over the trenches of WWI, and why a pilot’s career rarely lasted long.