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Posted on Feb 8, 2021 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“I have yet to hear anyone engaged in this work dying of old age” Jimmy Doolittle  – High Flying Dice Games’ “September’s Eagles  –  The Thompson Trophy Air Races 1929 – 1939”  Game  Review

“I have yet to hear anyone engaged in this work dying of old age” Jimmy Doolittle – High Flying Dice Games’ “September’s Eagles – The Thompson Trophy Air Races 1929 – 1939” Game Review

Rick Martin

“September’s Eagles  –  The Thompson Trophy Air Races 1929 – 1939”  Board Game Review.  Publisher: High Flying Dice Games  Designer:  Paul Rohrbaugh  Graphic Design: Bruce Yearian  Price $60.00

Passed Inspection:    fun, fast and furious game play, 11 scenarios, solid game design, beautiful graphics, good for solo or multiplayer games, optional rules add to the challenge

Failed Basic:     the rule booklet needs to be a little bigger to accommodate older eyes

High Flying Dice Games (HFDG) is known for high quality, low price games as well as for focusing on military topics not often addressed by other game companies.   September’s Eagles goes in a different direction than past HFDG products.  First, it is technically not a war game but a game focusing on air racing.  Second, it is a boxed game as opposed to a game in a zip lock bag.  Third, it can be played by up to 4 players.  And fourth, it has a higher price point than other HFDG products.  So, taken all together is September’s Eagles a worthy break from HFDG’s past efforts – yes by all means and it’s a damned fun game to boot!

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Box Cover

From HFDG’s September’s Eagles product description:

 Along a course marked by pylons in front of a huge grandstand built especially for the event, “the Thompson” was the greatest aerial contest of its time. Pilots raced to their planes from a starting-gun’s signal, flew off from a standing start, and then raced at speeds of hundreds of miles an hour, scores of feet above ground. The roar of the aircrafts’ engines were hardly drowned-out by that of the crowds as they witnessed aerial duels in which planes and pilots were pushed to their limits and sometimes beyond.

 The first Thompson Trophy contest was a six lap race about a course marked by three pylons. As planes became increasingly more powerful and fast, and the numbers of attendees grew by thousands each year, the length and challenge of the race also increased. Nearly each year the number of pylons and size of the race course, as well as the number of laps, were increased. The risk and toll on planes and pilots also rose. From the very first in Cleveland, air racing was marked as the most dangerous of all sports.

September’s Eagles simulates the frantic action and constant danger of the Thompson Air Races.  Before we get into the game play, let’s look under the cowling and see what components power this game.

Components:

36 aircraft cards

33 pilot cards

54 action cards

An 18 page rule booklet

A 14 page book with the history of the races and 11 historic races plus rules for designing your own air races

Counters for each airplane plus status counters

Large foldable air race map

4 airplane control boards

Components

As you can tell from the components, the game is largely card driven with cards being used in different ways to change speed, change altitude, turn, inflict stress on your opponents, etc.

Each aircraft has an aircraft card, an aircraft counter and a pilot card. 

The pilot card is double sided and shows your pilots stats when he is normal or when he is fatigued.  Each pilot is a real life pilot and includes his picture plus the date he started flying in the races.  In addition, each pilot is rated for his skill and fatigue level for both his normal state and his fatigued state.  There are optional rules for pilots who are considered “talented pilots” and for pilots who designed their own planes.  Some notable pilots include Jimmy Doolittle and Howard Hughes.

Some Pilots

The aircraft counter shows a top down view of the each type of airplane in the game.

The aircraft card is a double sided card illustrated by a stylized view of an aircraft cockpit with dials showing the following aircraft performance statistics:  turn radius, throttle setting, climb/dive cost and the aircraft’s endurance factor.  One side of the card is the aircraft in its normal mode and the other shows degraded characteristics for the aircraft in its stressed mode.

Aside for individual aircraft counters, there is also a counter called “the pack” which represents the less skilled group of “other”, non-famous, pilots.  Flying your aircraft into the pack which moves independently around the race course may result in your aircraft flying slower or a possible crash from dealing with the less skilled pilots.

The Race Begins

At the beginning of the game, each player chooses a pilot (from the pilot card deck) and a colored mat to put his or her cards on and then picks the aircraft used by the pilot.

The color of the mat that you pick will influence the amount of action points you receive from the action cards which “power the aircraft” you are flying.

The action cards are in five suits – yellow, red, green, blue and black.  There are four different types of action cards – skill cards, endurance cards, maneuver cards and incident cards.

The skill cards activate a pilot.  The maneuver cards can be used to activate an airplane, activate a pilot or collect action points to move your airplane.  The endurance cards activate an airplane or collect action points.  Finally the incident cards are used as a trump card to put other pilots in danger from either dangerous maneuvers or possible crashes.

Control Panel Pilot and Cards

The number on each card is the number of action points you collect to move your plane.  If the color on the card is the same color as your player’s mat, you gain one extra action point.

The game is played in rounds with each player playing cards and spending action points to move their plane and try and impede the other pilots in the race.

You track your airplane’s speed, altitude and your pilot’s fatigue on the player’s mat.  Small counters are moved up and down on the mat’s dials depending on the status of your airplane.  Changing altitude, speed and direction affect how far on the map you can fly.  Three dimensional pylons are set up based upon the scenario and your must fly past them at a given distance or you either don’t get the points for passing them and have to go around again or, if too close, you may clip the pylon which is not a good thing.

During the course of the race, you’ll find yourself resorting to all sorts of dirty tricks in order to out fly your opponents.

Optional rules are included for adding stalls, special control rules for the neat looking but notoriously touchy Gee Bee aircraft, talented pilots and pilots who designed their own planes and can tweak them on the fly.

The Race’s Leaders

Full examples of play are included to cut down on the game’s learning curve.

Scenario Book

The scenario book includes a well written history of the air racing movement plus the following air races:

The 1929 Cleveland, Ohio National Air Race

The 1930 Chicago Illinois Race

The 1931 Cleveland Ohio Race

The 1932 Cleveland Ohio Race

The 1933 Los Angeles California Race

The 1934 Cleveland Ohio Race

The 1935 Cleveland Race

The 1936 Los Angles Race

The 1937 Cleveland Race

The 1938 Cleveland Race

And The 1939 Cleveland Race

There are also complete rules for creating your own air race!

The aircraft included in the game are too many to mention here but include the aforementioned Gee Bee, Curtiss XP-3A and F6C, Lockheed Vegas, the Laird Solution biplane, The Travelair R Mystery Ship, Brown B-2 and just a wonderful plethora of other 1930s airplanes.

Tons of Airplanes

This game is great fun and perfectly captures the adrenalin filled frantic nature that must have been the air racing sport.  Because the game is card based, it’s very easy to play solo.  Just lay out the current round’s card hand for the non-human players upside down and draw the card that the non-human opponent will play.  It’s fast, easy and fun.

My only complaint with the game is that the box is large enough that the rule book and scenario book could have been printed slightly larger.  I found the font size of the text to be too small and eye strain inducing at least for those of us over 45 years of age.

The rate of accidents amongst both air racing pilots and innocent bystanders on the ground and the war clouds looming in Europe eventually put an end the great air races of the 1930s but you can’t relieve those few glorious years again with September’s Eagles!  What are you waiting for pilots?  Start your engines and prepare for take off!

Armchair General Rating:  93% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 4 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

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. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG and has designed the solo system for Forsage Games’ Age of Dogfights.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

1 Comment

  1. good

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