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Posted on Mar 14, 2023 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

On the Wings of Eagles – Legion Wargame’s “Aces of Valor” Brings You to the Skies of the Western Front. Board Game Review

On the Wings of Eagles – Legion Wargame’s “Aces of Valor” Brings You to the Skies of the Western Front. Board Game Review

Ray Garbee

By Ray Garbee

Aces of Valor. Publisher: Legion Wargames. Designer: Eric Von Rossing. Don Hendon. Artist Mark Mahaffey.  Price $72.00 (current sale price $55.00)

Passed inspection: Solid rules and quality components deliver what the box promises. Highly abstracted air combat model allows you to quickly spin through engagements over the course of a mission.

Magneto switch, on! Clear! The ground crew heave the propellor around, and the engine catches and roars to life. You are about to lead your patrol of scout fighters into the air on a patrol over the trench lines of the Western Front in Aces of Valor.

Games come and go in cycles. What’s hot and what’s not. In 2023 what’s hot seems to be the trend of solitaire games – continuing a trend that really took off during the pandemic – and air combat games. Now while games of aerial combat have been with us for a long time (Richtofen’s War, anyone?), the last few years have seen continued growth in games covering aerial warfare.  Recent releases include, Skies Above Britain, Zero Leader and Skyhawk: Rolling Thunder 1966, to name just a few.


2023 promises even more solitaire air combat games with games like Western Front Ace, from Compass Games. But the most recent solitaire air combat game to land on my porch was Aces of Valor from Legion Wargames.  Originally offered as a print and play game, Aces of Valor was developed into a boxed board game by the team of designer Erik Von Rossing, developer Don Hendon and artwork by Mark Mahaffey.

The box art captures the spirit of the game

Aces of Valor is a solitaire wargame of aerial operations on the Western Front of World War I. As a long time player of Ares Games Wings of Glory, Aces of Valor scratches an itch we’ve had for a long time – a campaign setting that assigns your squadron missions and provides context for why you and the lads are risking your lives in the skies above the front.

The game box is packed with great looking components. Unwrapping the plastic and lifting the lid, you’ll find the following components;

  • A 22” x 34” paper map
  • 334 counters representing assorted fighter planes, targets and markers
  • 54 Mission cards
  • 4 six-sided dice
  • A 20-page rulebook
  • 4 player aids
    • An 8 ½ “x 11” Pre-mission aid
    • An 8 ½ “x 11” post-mission aid
    • A bi-fold mission movement aid
    • A big honking tri-fold (three page) combat aid
The contents of the box

The counters are nicely done. Big, ¾” counters of the planes and mission markers. They separated from the sprues easily.

The player aids are well thought out. The pre and post mission charts are separate pages that you’ll only refer to at the start and end of each mission. The important stuff is on the two- and three-page charts that you’ll keep handy for repeated reference.

The rule book is well laid out. I might have liked it to be on heavier grade paper, but it’s serviceable and in link with what you get with other games from Legion Wargames.

If you want an in-depth unboxing, pop on over to youtube and check out Zilla Blitz’s unboxing video.

The game casts you in the role of a squadron commander. You can elect to fly for either the British, French, Americans or Germans. It does not really matter which nation you select as the aircraft statistics are the same across the three ‘generations’ of fighters.

Aces of Valor is a classic narrative building game. It struck me as similar to Target for Today or The Hunters in that you are assigned a mission to carry out. The game builds a strong narrative across each patrol that lends itself to telling a story. The downside of this is that the player is often at the whim of events. I’d argue that this exemplifies the concept of ‘friction’ in that you want to do something which seems easy, but doing that easy thing can actually be very, very hard. The best way to convey this is to walk through a mission from the game.

I’m currently in the back half of a ‘short’ campaign. I’ve got a stable of good pilots and we’ve updated our aircraft from the Sopwith Pups we started with to that stalwart fighter – the Sopwith Camel. At the start of the mission we draw – a mission card. This time, the luck of the draw has our squadron supporting an RE 8 two-seater that is performing artillery spotting over the trenches. A quick die roll on the card and we know for which sector the spotter is headed for – Sector “E”. 

Looking at the roster of pilots, I send our best pilots to protect the two-seater. Yes, there’s a method to my madness. Our best opportunity to earn mission points will come from a successful observation mission. Ensuring we reach the target and allow the RE 8 to do its job is a critical task and warrants sending the ‘best of the best’ as escorts. So Eddie, Jimmy and Al take to the skies to shepherd their flock into the wilds of the front line.

Our magnificent men and their flying machines

Each ‘turn’ involves me moving our flight one space on the map, checking for and resolving events and logging the fuel expended. As an aside, I greatly appreciate how fuel usage is built into the game. It’s a constraint both on mission duration, but also strike radius, as you have to calculate if you can reach the target and in some cases, what route you must take to get their and back.

The dice gods are in my favor and we make it over the trenches with no incident. If I had rolled an event, it’s likely we would have encountered and a flight of enemy planes, engaged in a mission of their own.

Having made it over the front, we linger for three rounds of combat, hoping that the Boche fighters will not appear to interrupt our work. With some more lucky dice, we spot for the guns and the turn west for home.

Homeward bound, but not out of danger!

But it’s not over yet, as we move back to the airfield, I continue to check for events like enemy planes. And then it happens – we spot a formation of enemy fighters on our side of the lines. It’s a goodly number of planes, and after consulting a few tables, the enemy resolve themselves as five Fokker DR I triplanes. Randomly drawing planes, it appears to be a rookie patrol, but we’re outnumbered. Rolling on the initiative table, we get another lucky break, we’ve spotted the Germans early enough that we can avoid the action. Not wishing to risk the two-seater and with an eye on our fuel gauges, we duck behind a cloud and continue back to the base. It’s a smart move as we’ve already racked up a good number of mission points and tangling with the enemy now carries a bigger downside in lost planes and pilots.

Arriving back at the field we spend our mission point. In this case, we buy three victory points (a real win for the campaign goal).

Using the optional post-mission event deck, we find ourselves put on display as a senior officer visits the squadron. To compensate for all the hassle of the formal parade and dinner in the mess, we’ve been gifted with the ‘newest’ front-line fighter, the Sopwith Dolphin. We’ll be sure to put that to good use in our future missions…

And that was it. The whole patrol took less than 30 minutes. It would have taken longer if there had been more air combat, but even so, combat gets resolved relatively quickly once you get the hang of the game.

I avoided air combat on that patrol, as it made sense from a campaign standpoint, but it’s worth covering. Air combat is done by placing the planes on the ‘initiative chart’. This is an abstract tool that tracks the relative position of aircraft and translates that into combat potential. Each round, you work down from the highest initiative planes actions to the lowest. The initiative number is the sum of the plane’s ability, the pilot’s ability and a random amount from a D6. Planes must attack a lower initiative target and the difference in initiative translates into attack strength, so getting a high initiative value is critical to success in combat. 

The difference in initiative values determines how many attack dice you roll. Your plane defines the firepower effectiveness of those attack dice (more guns are better right?) and it’s modified by pilot skill. The total hits influence a damage die roll that will result in a miss, damage or an outright kill on the target.

It’s a relatively simple system, but it gives a complex outcome. Good pilots in good planes will generally dominate, but every now and then those good pilots get caught out and shot at by their less-skilled opponents. The d6 element means you cannot predict how the initiative will unfold and even a great attack position can be negated by a very poor damage die roll.

The air combat model is an interesting approach. Combing the factors of aircraft performance, pilot skill and a large dose of luck, you’ll generate the conditions of each dogfight and then be able to resolve it quickly. The downside here is a fairly deterministic model that dictates who can attack whom. It does a solid job of capturing the swirling chaos of a dogfight, but the tradeoff is the player is not going to have a lot of input into shaping how combat unfolds. That’s not to say the player has no input, but it’s very limited. You’ll be hard pressed as a player to literally implement aspects of Dicta Boelcke, but your pilots are trying, using the intrinsic skill values to model their abilities in combat.

It’s not totally deterministic, but I also don’t feel like the player has a lot of control over things once combat started. (But then again, do you every feel like you have an abundance of control in something as chaotic as a dogfight?)

Von Moltke is famous for his quote ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’ and that feels true from the second you initiate aerial combat in Aces of Valor. But at the same time, there is a form of John Boyd’s OODA loop that permeates the combat rounds. Which I get sounds contradictory, because, as previously mentioned, combat resolution within a round can be very deterministic. But across each round, you may have an opportunity to reflect on how the fight is going and make decisions whether to keep fighting or run for home. Likewise, the game will generate a response for your opponent that may lead them to break off from the fight and head for home.  While there is some applicability of the OODA loop model, it has to mesh with the more narrative driven structure of the game turn in which the player is acted upon by events, with little decision-making opportunity. (Sometimes the game gets inside your decision loop!)

There is a school of thought in which an engaging game is about presenting the player with meaningful choices. In contrast to that are a number of classic solitaire games which generate an engaging story (the narrative) through use of dice and tables. Some of these are derisively referred to as ‘table look up games’ as you spend the turn consulting table after table and looking up results. There is definite an element of table look up in Aces of Valor, as you are constantly making checks for anti-aircraft and random events (including enemy aircraft) which you don’t have a lot of control over.  The nice thing is that the charts are well organized into four documents. On a scale of one being a super-table driven game to ten), Aces of Valor feels like it drops in the middle of the two at about a 4. Aces of Valor definitely has elements of a table driven game, but it’s very well organized, which goes a long way towards eliminate the feeling of constantly flipping through page after page of charts. The main mission charts are on a single tri-fold chart, with two single page charts having the pre-mission and pos-mission items, that you’ll generally only look at once per mission. On top of that, the player does have the opportunity to make meaningful decisions that effect the course of the game.

As portrayed in the example of play, you have some latitude in how you plan your mission route, and depending on that pre-battle detection roll, you may have the option to evade an encounter, but otherwise you are governed by the limitations of distance and your endurance as measured by the fuel gauge (and possibly the loss of planes along the way).

While the game presents you the option of representing one of four nations, the game experience is really not that different from faction to faction. Within each tiers the planes are much the same and two seaters are represented with similar traits. The bombers give some uniqueness, but it’s not a lot. I get why this is – the game model is optimized to generate a similar experience using one mission deck and one combat model. While this ‘one size fits all’ approach does deliver engaging game play regardless of which nation you play, it would have been nice to see some more differences reflected in the hardware and the mission choices. It feels like a missed opportunity to convey historical differences between the combatants.

To reflect some of the doctrinal differences in the period, I’m tempted to remove some of the strike cards from the mission deck if playing German. Operationally, the German fighters tended to stay on their side of the battlefield, while the Entente forces engaged in more offensive minded operations across the trench lines.  The great thing here is that these are easy changes – I can tailor the deck to give weight to some of these different strategies.

Here’s hoping to see an expansion in the future that might allow greater representation of other aircraft with differing abilities. It would add even more depth to an already enjoyable game.

Aces of Valor delivers a solitaire game that is rich in the theme of Western Front air combat and builds an engaging narrative of events.  You can spin through a patrol in 30-45 minutes and choose the duration of your campaign to match your time and interest. While you could technically run through the ‘short’ campaign in a day, the other campaigns will take at least several days, and depending on your available time, even the short campaign can take several days. But set up is a snap, so you can put it away and pull it back out when you are ready for that next mission.

If you want a game that delivers an engaging narrative of World War I aerial combat without getting bogged down in the technical details of combat, check out  Aces of Valor.

Armchair General Score: 90 %

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  5

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades. Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond, but his passion remains American Civil War naval gaming. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of hobby magazines.