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Down in Flames: Aces High» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A fun, light Dogfighting and Campaign Game rss

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Chuck Pierce
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I’m a pretty avid WWII Airwar gamer, with a great affinity for the Western European Theatre and the Battle of Britain. Lately, I’ve been looking for airwar games that my teenage son will play with me. The Wings of War series has been a big hit with him. So, I thought that I’d try out another lightish airwar game. When DiF-AH finally arrived, after several months delay, I tore into it and have played several games and campaigns. To cut to the chase, for what the game is, I enjoy it. Here are my thoughts on the game.

The Components
Down in Flames -Aces High ships in a nice glossy box., about 12 x 12 x 3 inches. When I opened the box, I was rather surprised by the amount of empty space in the box. But that turned out to be quite nice, as I was able to the put the counters in a compartmented container, and the container fits nicely inside the box, with plenty or room for the Cards, Rules, Campaign Sheets, and Log Sheet(s). Included in the box are the following components:
110 Aircraft Cards
110 Action Cards
1 Counter Sheet
3 Sheets of Campaign, front and back (for a total of 6 campaigns)
23 Page Rule Book
1 Campaign Log (which must be copied prior to use)

The quality of the components is very high. The cards are glossy color and heavy-weight. In fact, they’re so heavy-weight that I can only shuffle the action cards a half deck at a time, and even at that, it’s a clumsy shuffle. The Aircraft Cards represent the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia, Japan, and Poland. The chits are heavy-duty, color 5/8" cardboard. The aircraft cover early and late models pretty well. The Rule Book is glossy, well illustrated, and contains good, useful examples to accompany the rules.

Quality of Components: 5 thumbs up (out of 5 possible)

Game Overview
The official rules are available online; so, I’ll not reprint them. Instead, I’ll summarize the high points of the game. There are two basic ways to play the game: fighter vs. fighter dogfight (or several versus several) or Campaign (with fighters, bombers, and objectives).

Fighter Aircraft and Their Stats
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The images above show the front (undamaged) and back (damaged) of the Bf-109 Emil and Spitfire Mk I cards. These two planes were pitted against each other in the Battle of Britain; so, as expected, there stats are very similar. However, there are some notable differences in firepower and burst rating. Also shown above is the Plane Card for a late-war ME-262A1. As expected, the late war planes typically have higher stats in almost every category.
Performance: The number of cards that a pilot starts with, and the maximum number of cards that a plane can draw up to. The more cards that the pilot is holding, the better chance that the pilot has of scoring hits on an opposing plane and/or of avoiding damage to his own plane.
Horsepower: There are 2 horsepower settings. The first setting is the number of the cards that the player draws at the start of his turn. The second is the number of cards that the player draws at the end of his turn.
Speed: Allows a faster plane to maneuver versus a slower plane.
Bursts: The number of successful shots per turn that the fighter can fire, from a neutral position, relative to an opposing fighter. Gaining an advantageous position, will give the fighter more allowable bursts.
Firepower: A modifier to a successful hit (can be positive, 0, or negative)
Airframe (upper right-hand corner): The number of the hits that is needed to damage the plane (front side of card). The total number of hits needed to destroy the plane (back side of card).
VP (lower right): Value of the plane. This is the value that an opponent receives for downing this plane. It can also be used for drafting planes, coupled with the introduction year of the plane.

Special Notes (bottom-center of card): Special abilities of the plane.

Bomber Aircraft and their Stats

The image above shows a He-111 Bomber. The bomber doesn’t draw cards to attack. It draws cards to defend itself, whenever it is attacked. When the attack is broken off, the bomber pilot discards his remaining cards, and the attacking fighter returns to a neutral position. The stats for the bombers are a little different.
Turret Defense: The number of cards that the bomber pilot draws, based on the firepower of his bomber.
Turret Support: The number of cards that this bomber can provide to an orthogonally adjacent bomber that is being attacked.
Speed, Airframe, VP, Special Notes: Similar to the abilities discussed for fighters.

Fighter vs. Fighter Combat
This is the core game. Two fighters are chosen to go head-to-head in a 6-round dogfight. Usually the fighters are drafted based upon an agreed-upon value (VP) and year. Usually, it’s just one fighter vs. one other fighter, but it can be several vs. one, or several vs. several.

Turn Order
- (first turn only) Receive cards, based on the Performance Rating of your plane.
- (first turn only) Choose starting altitude
- (first turn only) Select the first player (by drawing cards to compare maneuver numbers or hits).
- Draw pre-turn Horsepower Cards (but cannot exceed Performance)
- Adjust the altitude (gain a card for dropping one altitude level; discard a card to increase one altitude level). This is analogous to the performance gain/loss for diving/climbing.
- Use relative Speed to maneuver. If an attacking plane has +1 or +2 speed advantage, compared to the aircraft that he's attacking, then the attacking pilot gets to maneuver that many spaces (one at a time) against his slower enemy.
- Play Action Cards. This is the meat of the combat. The attacker uses his hand of cards to maneuver his plane into an advantageous position, to fire shots at the opposing fighter, to react to maneuvers and/or shots from the opposing plane, and/or to perform a special tactical maneuver.
- Discard cards (optional)
- Draw post-turn Horsepower Cards (provided that the Performance hand-limit isn’t exceeded).

Jinking and Shooting

The Action Cards are the core of the dogfight. The cards can be used in different ways. In the upper left is a maneuvering stat, which can be used to try to gain an advantageous position on the opponent. The name of the maneuver is on the lower left of the card. The maneuver can be a defensive or countering maneuvering, or it can be firing maneuvering. The Action (located just above the REACT TO box) can be attempted by the pilot who is currently taking a turn. The Reaction Box specifies what the card can be played in response to. The Out of the Sun (2 Bursts) card in the above photo can be used (if the pilot’s current status allows him to fire at least 2 bursts) to attempt to inflict 3 hits on his target. If the defender cannot counter the card, then the defender takes 3 hits (plus/minus any other modifiers). To counter this card, the defender must play a card that has Out of the Sun in the REACT TO box. The pilots will volley back and forth, playing counter cards, until a counter card cannot be played. If the defender cannot counter the card, then the attack or maneuver is successful. If the attacker cannot play a counter card, the attack/maneuver is unsuccessful and the defender breathes a sigh of relief.

Maneuvering is used to gain an advantageous position on the opponent. At the start of the game, the planes start off neutral (head to head) and the attacking plane can fire up to the burst rating on his plane card. If a Maneuver 1 is successful, then the attacker moves to an advantaged position (broadside to the opponent) and the attacker receives a +1 to his burst rating. If another maneuver is successful, the attacker will be tailing his opponent and will receive a +3 plus-up to the burst rating. It is possible to maneuver up to 4 positions with a single card (this would allow a plane that is being tailed to end up on the tail of his opponent). Relative positioning of the planes is retained when the attacking player declares that his attack is over (in other words the attacker doesn't break off, to return to neutral).

There are 5 discreet altitudes: Very Low, Low, Medium, High, and Very High. Generally speaking, planes at lower altitudes may get a plus-up to their pre-turn and/or post-turn horsepower ratings, and planes at higher altitudes get decreases in their horsepower. If planes are at different altitudes, they can only be in neutral positions, relative to each other. So, in other words, they must be at the same altitude to maneuver on each other and to fire at each other. At the beginning of the turn, a pilot my increase altitude (at the cost of one card from the pilot’s hand) or decrease altitude (add a card to his hand, which may exceed the hand limit). During the Action phase, the active player could play one or more cards that allow him to change altitude. There are rules that allow for a plane in an advantageous position to follow the plane that is changing altitude, if he chooses.

When the attacker is ready to shoot, he may fire bursts, up to his current modified burst rating this round. As I just found out in a note from Dan V (thanks for the clarification, Dan), a burst is expended as soon as an attacking pilot attempts to fire on his opponent. So, I guess that this would be analogous to squeezing the trigger as you try to rake the bullets/cannon shells across your opponent's plane. When a pilot has used up his allowable bursts for the round, he may not shoot any more during the current round, but may continue to maneuver.

When the attacker has finished maneuvering and shooting, he declares the end of the attack and draws his post-turn Horsepower Cards (up to his hand/performance limit).

Damaging and Downing Planes
When a plane receives hits totaling the Airframe Number (upper left), the plane is damaged and is flipped to the other side. The damage chits are carried over when the card is flipped. As you’d expect, when damaged, the plane loses abilities. When the damaged plane receives hits totaling the airframe number, the plane has been shot down, and the pilot in the other plane squeals with glee and taunts his deflated opponent. (Note: Taunting a defeated enemy is mandatory in the Oxotnik Guide to Tactical Airwarfare) If you’re keeping score, the victor receives the VPs for the plane that he just shot down. In the base game, there are six rounds. If a plane isn’t shot down within those six rounds, then the plane with the least damage is the victor. If after six rounds, the damage is equal for both planes, the pilots salute each other, break off, and head for home.

Campaigns
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Six Campaigns are included in the game. I've shown two above. The campaigns bring bombers and objectives into the game. The Battle of Britain Campaign Map is shown above. Each campaign specifies a number of missions to be completed. The player having the initiative declares which mission will be flown. The mission will specify a target and the type/number of bombers that will attack the ground target. Each player will secretly choose a support option (such as number/type of fighters and/or other mission modifiers). The defending player secretly chooses one of three types of flak patterns. The bombers are put into one or more bomber boxes with the fighters in a neutral position. The defending fighters may attack the bombers and/or the supporting fighters. If planes are shot down, the victorious player scores the VPs. If, after the number of specified rounds, any bombers are still in the air, then those bombers drop their bombs on the designated target. The bomber secretly selects a bombing pattern. The flak pattern and bombing pattern are revealed and reconciled. Then the surviving bomber(s) drops its remaining bombs. The number of bombs that hit the target are compared to the Damaged/Destroyed values for that target, and the attacker receives VPs accordingly. The Initiative for the next mission is usually determined by the success of the just-completed mission. The player with the Initiative gets to choose the next mission, and gets to attack first (per Dan's comments in his comments below). I’ve overly condensed the Campaign discussion, which is a little unfortunate because the campaigns are really fun, but in a nutshell, that’s what happens.

Summary
After a few plays, I believe that the player who gets to attack first has a slight advantage over his opponent. Is this bad? Probably not. A fighter that jumps his enemy usually has the advantage. Surprise is everything. So, it’s okay, as long as one person (especially me) doesn’t always end up going last . :-)

With this being a card game, the maneuvering and shooting are greatly abstracted. Well, duh, it’s a card game! The maneuvering and shooting seem to work pretty well, and at a high level there’s obviously been a lot of thought put into the physics of dogfighting and building that physics into a card game. The rapidity of the maneuvering is a little quirky. For example, in one maneuver a plane that is being tailed could very well end up tailing the plane that had just been tailing him. Could this happen for real? Sure it could, but probably not as often as it occurs in this game.

The head-to-head dogfighting is fun, but I think that the gems in this game are the Campaigns. Adding in the bombers and missions adds a significant amount of depth to the game. The bombers aren’t defenseless, by any means. So, even if all of the supporting fighters are shot down, it’s still fun to play the bombers for the remainder of the mission. Although this airwar game is significantly abstracted by the card play, I really enjoy the Campaigns! There’s a purpose to each mission. There are tactics and intensity as the defending pilot(s) balance attacking the supporting fighter(s) versus going straight for the bombers, and very probably being attacked themselves by the supporting fighter(s). There’s mind reading and mojo, as the players try to out-guess what each other is going to do, relative to flak patterns and bombing patterns (risk and reward). The campaigns are just plain fun!

In conclusion, I highly recommend Down in Flames- Aces High, especially the campaigns, to those looking for a fun, light airwar game.

Note: Edited to correct some atrocious grammar (I hope that I got it all), to add in the Battle of Britain Campaign Map, to add in a quick discussion of the Speed Maneuvering Phase (which Bowmangr noted that I'd omitted. Thanks, Vasilis for catching the oversight), and to correct mistakes that I'd made relative to burst limits and altitude effects (thanks, Dan, for the clarifications).
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Dan Verssen
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Great review!

Thank you Chuck!
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Vasilis
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After reading I have three things to say:

1} Nice review!!

2} I think you should add and describe the Speed Maneuvering phase in the Turn order section of your review.

3} A question popped up while reading your review. It happened yesterday while playing campaign and I remembered it.
We had a dogfight with 2 Polish P-11s and 2 Bf-110s (one of them was loaded). We could't find in the manual exactly how is determined which airplane plays first and what is the turn order for the rest of the planes.

a} Has initiative anything to do with who goes first in a dogfight? and how the rest of the turn order is specified? Do we roll randomly for player order or for plane order?
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Dan Verssen
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The side with campaign initiative takes the first turn, then players alternate turns back and forth until all aircraft have acted.

If there are 2 Axis and 3 Allied fighters, and the Axis have initiative, the order would be...

Axis
Allied
Axis
Allied
Allied
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Arnauld DELLA SIEGA
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This game seems totally awesome !!
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Drake Coker
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DanVerssen wrote:
The side with campaign initiative takes the first turn, then players alternate turns back and forth until all aircraft have acted.

If there are 2 Axis and 3 Allied fighters, and the Axis have initiative, the order would be...

Axis
Allied
Axis
Allied
Allied


Actually, I'd been wondering the same thing and had been playing by the dogfighting rule of randomly choosing who plays first (this produced interested effects!). I kept thinking it must be somehow linked to campaign Initiative, but never spotted the rule (I'd like the page reference if anyone knows it!)
 
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Chuck Pierce
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DanVerssen wrote:
Great review!

Thanks, Dan. Great Game. I had to wait a little while for my preorder to finally come in (late Christmas present to myself), but the game has definitely been worth the wait!
DanVerssen wrote:
The side with campaign initiative takes the first turn, then players alternate turns back and forth until all aircraft have acted.

If there are 2 Axis and 3 Allied fighters, and the Axis have initiative, the order would be...

Axis
Allied
Axis
Allied
Allied

Wow! I, too, had this same question and have been playing it incorrectly! Since the rules didn't address the turn order, We've been drawing a card to determine the start player, then the start player has been playing all of his planes at once (which can be pretty brutal, especially if multiple opposing fighters attack a single fighter).

Dan, are you going to put out a FAQ? If so, this topic definitely needs to be in the FAQ.

Also, another FAQ question. I stated my understanding of it in the review above, and didn't get contradicted; so, I guess that I understood it right. But just to clarify, let me ask it again. If a plane with a modified Burst Rating of, say, 3, attacks with a Burst card (that doesn't exceed 3), but the attack is successfully dodged, the attacking plane has used none of its allowable bursts for the current round, right?

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Chuck Pierce
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Bowmangr wrote:
After reading I have three things to say:
1} Nice review!!
Danke!
Bowmangr wrote:
2} I think you should add and describe the Speed Maneuvering phase in the Turn order section of your review.

Vasilis, there are quite a few things that I glossed over. I struggled with how much depth to put in, versus giving a high-level overview. I did want to put insert the BoB Campaign Map into the review. So, when I do that, I'll add some more words about the Speed Maneuvering phase.

cp
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Dan Verssen
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Chuck,

To play a card, the cost must be paid, so whether the IMS is dodged or not, the fighter's bursts are still expanded.
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Dan Verssen
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I'm putting together a FAQ now. I should have it posted on the site in a couple days.
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Chuck Pierce
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DanVerssen wrote:
Chuck,

To play a card, the cost must be paid, so whether the IMS is dodged or not, the fighter's bursts are still expanded.

Wow. I guesed wrong. I'll edit my review again to correct.

Thanks for working on a FAQ. That'll be very helpful.

Another question. If planes are at different altitudes, what can they do, relative to maneuvering and shooting? If a plane is in an advantageous position on his opponent and the opponent changes altitude, but the advantaged player can't or doesn't change with the opponent, what happens to the relative positions? Do the relative positions stay as they are, or does the different altitudes force the planes to break off and return to neutral, or something else? I wasn't able to find rules that discussed how to handle these altitude differences.
 
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Dan Verssen
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Chuck,

When aircraft are at different altitudes they cannot do any kind of interaction and are always at Neutral position to each other.

If an aircraft is disadvantaged or tailed, changes altitude, and the other does not change also, they become Neutral.
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Kenneth Lury
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Now will someone come up with a solo variant. Sounds like a great game, but alas, I am alone.
I did spend all of my down time last week while on vacation skiing, playing a full war campaign of Hornet Leader II with Carrier expansion in the North Atlantic. Another great from the same company.
 
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Dan Verssen
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A couple people have asked about designing a solo play set of rules. I'm all for it. Please, put something together, and I'll post it under optional rules on the DVG site!
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Christopher O
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I was going to post a review, but yours covers most of the things that I was going to. I might still post, but you seemed to have nailed it "firstest with the mostest" as it were.

Well done.

An excellent review for an excellent game!
 
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Chuck Pierce
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Kozure wrote:
I was going to post a review, but yours covers most of the things that I was going to. I might still post, but you seemed to have nailed it "firstest with the mostest" as it were.

Well done.

An excellent review for an excellent game!

Ha, ha, beat you to the punch! I win! 0:-)

This is my first 'first review.' I tried to the hit the items that stood out to me. I'd be very interested in reading your review as well. You know, I really glossed over the Campaigns. So, a good review of Campaigns would be very complimentary to my review of the basic game mechanics.

Thanks for the kudos!

Chuck
 
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Jonathan "Spartan Spawn, Sworn, Raised for Warring!"
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Is this better than the Dawn of War WWII Series? I have DoWII but dont like it too much, this game seems to fit perfectly with the amount of aircraft etc. I also didnt quite like DoWII's planning for maneuvering, where you had to select 2 and those were your maneuvers no matter what happened.
 
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Chuck Pierce
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Luftwaffe Flak wrote:
Is this better than the Dawn of War WWII Series?

It's definitely different that WoW/DoW. I have both and enjoy both, when I'm looking for a lightish tactical airwar game. WoW/DoW is interesting in that the planes maneuver around on the table, while DiF abstracts the movement by making the planes move relative to each other. In my mind, where DiF really shines is in the Campaigns. I played another DiF campaign game last night (BoB) and really enjoyed it. I love how a campaign allows a mission to be composed of selecting a mission, choosing the attacking/defending force, the defending fighters having to decide whether to go after the escorting fighters or the bombers, and choosing how the bombing pattern and flak will be setup. Do you play a maneuver card now against a 1-hit burst, or do you choose to take the hit now, and save your maneuver card because you suspect that the next burst may be a 3-hit burst? Each mission gets quite tense and the decision are often tough. It's fun.
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