Monday, January 5, 2015

Flying around in circles


Wings of War was a great game until Star Wars: X-Wing came along.

The game's unique card-based movement and diceless combat made for a welcome change from the "roll dice to hit a target number, move on a grid or along a tape measure" sameness of most other tabletop miniatures games. The pre-painted airplane miniatures were top-notch, but it was nice that the game could be played without them, using cards to represent the planes and making it easy for people who wanted to try the game out without spending a lot of money.

The genre made for a nice change too, with World War I biplanes replacing the elves, orcs and superheroes that still tend to dominate tabletop gaming.

Players control their planes via cards representing different maneuvers. Each type of plane has its own deck of maneuver cards, representing differences in handling and performance. Moves are plotted out three cards at a time, with an opportunity to fire at enemy planes after each card is resolved. Firing is a simple matter of checking to see if an enemy is in range; if so, the opposing player draws from a deck of damage cards that indicate numerical damage points (often zero points for a miss), as well as special effects such as injured pilots, damaged engines, and the dreaded explosion that will knock a plane right out of the sky.

It's an elegant and relatively simple game that does a great job of reflecting its theme. However, it does have one major drawback.

There is a fair amount of stuff to keep track of for each plane, enough that it's fairly clear that the game was designed for each player to control a single plane, or two at the most. This means that unless you have a fair amount of players (at least two or three for each side), your game is going to be a dogfight between two solitary planes. While this might sound fine in theory, in practice it tends to turn into a lot of flying around in circles, trying to anticipate where your opponent's plane will be so you can take a shot at it.

The game attempts to make up for this by providing a series of scenarios, offering specific goals for the players to meet in order to win, such as destroying a barrage balloon or flying over a trench formation with a spy camera. These can be interesting, but usually one side's goal is to destroy the other side's plane, so you are still left with a somewhat tedious end game.

We tried the WWII version without the miniatures, using just the cards from one of the starter sets. The flow of the game has been changed to reflect the much faster speeds WWII jet fighters were capable of, but our end game was still much the same as with the WWI version, with our planes flying in circles, never quite able to get in a good shot.

Since the starfighter battle scenes in the original Star Wars film were inspired by old war films, it's appropriate that the developers of Star Wars: X-Wing clearly used Wings of War as a base. They replaced the maneuver cards with dials and templates in order to make it easier for each player to control a group of fighters, and added customization cards to allow players to come up with unique combinations of ships, pilots and enhancements such as co-pilots or extra weapons.

X-Wing keeps what works about Wings of War, gets rid of what doesn't, and as a result it is a much more playable game. But every once in a while I do get nostalgic for the simplicity of two biplanes flying in circles, each one trying desperately to line up a shot on the other.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) Wings of War really is a pretty good game in its own right, but it just suffers a little too much when compared to X-Wing.


Date played: November 11, 2014

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