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Posted on Jun 12, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Retro Review # 3 “A Biplane that Fits in Your Pocket!” Ace of Aces World War 1 and 2 Game Review

Retro Review # 3 “A Biplane that Fits in Your Pocket!” Ace of Aces World War 1 and 2 Game Review

Rick Martin

Retro Review # 3

Ace of Aces Game Review.  Publisher: Nova Game Designs   Game Designer: Alfred Leonardi   Price:  varies (EBay or limited copies reprinted by Flying Buffalo Games)

Passed Inspection: Easy to learn, can be played almost in real time, each set covers different time periods of military aviation, can almost fit in your pocket, different levels of complexity

Failed Basic:  out of print so it can be difficult to find, a few errors in the pages, early World War I planes are somewhat unbalanced, not solo compatible

Ace of Aces is 39 years old this year.  First gracing the shelves of your friendly neighborhood game store in 1980 (for me it was the Tin Soldier in Dayton, Ohio), Ace of Aces has not lost any of its allure and, like a fine wine, seems to get better with age.  For Retro Review number 3, come with me in our biplane of the imagination and let’s take a closer look at the Ace of Aces game system.


As stated above, the very first Ace of Aces game came out in 1980.  Now known as the Handy Rotary Series it features 2 small books with rules, a brief history of World War I aviation and the aircrafts and then pages showing what you see when you look out of the cockpit of your “airplane”.  One book was a Fokker Dr-1 triplane and the other was a Sopwith Camel biplane.  Under the picture of what you see outside of the cockpit was a chart of maneuvers you could make in order from left to straight to right maneuvers.  Each maneuver has a page number under it and a notation as to whether the maneuver was a difficult or a normal maneuver.

Each aircraft had different styles of maneuvers, for example, the Fokker Dr1 had a hard right turn because of the torque from its rotary engine.

The style of game play created by Alfred Leonardi was ingenious and groundbreaking.  Each player got the book of their aircraft.  The Camel book shows the view from the cockpit of the Camel while the Fokker Dr-1 book shows the view from the cockpit of the Fokker.  Under each cockpit picture are a series of maneuvers that your plane can do.  It’s all there – sideslips, hands off stick torque hard right turns, Immelmann/Split S, etc.  Under each maneuver is a page number.  The pictures on same pages show your guns being fired at the enemy plane while others show it firing at you.  In newer editions are modifiers to the damage that the guns do to you.  Each plane has a specific number of hull points.  When your damage equals or exceeds your hull points, you are going down.

To maneuver, you and your opponent each pick a maneuver from the maneuvers listed under the cockpit picture of your current page.    Each player tells the other the number printed under the chosen maneuver.  Each player then turns to the page number given by the other player and looks up the final page number listed by the maneuver the player picked.  Both players turn to the final page number and then look at the cockpit picture to see if they have a firing solution.  It sounds much more difficult than it actually is.

There are intermediate and advanced rules that can be added in to make the game more realistic.  These additional rules include altitude, critical hits, ammunition supplies, gun jams, etc.

The sheet beauty and mystique of this game system is due to the algorithm which creates the paper computer which runs the game.  Somehow the game gets you to the page you need based upon both of your maneuvers.  Every once in a while, a strange combination of maneuvers will occur and the final page will not be right but in over 30 years of playing the game in its various combinations, that is less than 1% of the time and may just be user error.

Unfortunately, based upon the need for two people to pick maneuvers and flip through the books, there is no real good way to play the game solo.  You can, if you prefer, just pick maneuvers for one plane just to get the feel of flying around a stationary target but that has limited appeal as a game.

The game almost plays out in real time as the two of you pick your maneuvers and try and shoot each other down.  The longest game I played was something like 45 minutes before we called it owing to running out of fuel (our excuse for getting tired of playing) while the shortest game was over in about two minutes when a critical hit caused my enemy’s plane to blow up!

After the “Rotary Series” came out, the financial success of that first game allowed Nova to release other games for World War I.  “Flying Machines” featured the Dh2 and the Fokker Eindecker which were early World War I aircrafts and “Power House” features the deadly Fokker DVII and the Spad XIII.

My only complaint with the series is that the “Flying Machines” match up gave too much of an edge to the Dh2 with its swivel machine gun.  I have flown these planes at least a dozen times in the last few months prior to writing this Retro Review and the Eindecker has been shot down almost every time!  I am working on a house rules fix to make the fight a little more even.

The neat thing is that all of the World War I sets are “inter-playable” so you can have a Fokker Dr1 take on a Spad XIII if you so wished.

There was also a “Balloon Busting” set but I currently don’t have a copy of that one and my memory has faded as to how exactly it worked.

In addition to World War I, Nova also released “Ace of Aces Wing Leader“ which took the battle in to the skies of World War II.  The two planes featured are the legendary P51 Mustang and the Fw190!  This set used almost the exact same system as the World War I games so it was easy to jump in to if you had played the earlier games.

Each of these games also had data cards for flying additional aircrafts.  The data cards gave you the differences between the planes featured in the aircraft books and the new air planes.  You just had to use your imagination to “visualize” the other airplanes flying around your cockpit view.

Later Alfred Leonardi would adapt his basic system to jet combat, combat in the universe of Star Wars (Tie Interceptor vs X Wing) and even adapt the system to man to man (or elf or monster) fantasy combat with the “Lost Worlds” series and the old west with “Shootout at the Saloon”.

Leonardi even created a series of game books set in the Battle Tech universe!

All of these game books were successful and some are still in print.  The others can be found on EBay or other sits and usually fetch a pretty penny for perfect copies.

As my pictures can attest, some of my copies are lovingly used!  It is a testament to the durability of the book binding that these games haven’t fallen apart after nearly 40 years of play! I just adore these games and I guess a 39 year love affair is nothing to sneeze at especially in a market place with so many games to play.

In my personal opinion, the time is right to reprint all of these games and to make them in to an interactive application for phones and other portable devices.  These Ace of Aces games are simply wonderful and still fun 39 years later!

Armchair General Rating: 95 %

Solitaire Rating: 1 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!  He is also the designer of the solo games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.

Rotary Series Deluxe Edition
Rotary Camel v Fokker
Fokker Dr1 zooms past
Early War and Power House Games
Dh2 fires at your Eindecker
Fokker DVII v Spad XIII
Ace of Aces Wing Leader WW2
Back of World War 2 AoA box
P51 shoots at a Fw190


  1. Wow, I haven’t seen that game in a LONG time! A good friend in college had this, and we’d spend hours playing it (when we didn’t have a good D&D game going).

    That was a fun read…..thank you!

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed the review.