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Posted on Mar 9, 2021 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Retro Review # 4 “Beware the Hun in the Sun!” Ace of Aces Wingleader Game Review

Retro Review # 4 “Beware the Hun in the Sun!” Ace of Aces Wingleader Game Review

Rick Martin

Retro Review # 4

Ace of Aces Wingleader Game Review.  Publisher: Nova Game Designs   Game Designer: Alfred Leonardi   Price:  varies (EBay)

Passed Inspection: Includes 24 different World War II fighters, easy to learn, can be played almost in real time, different levels of complexity

Failed Basic:  out of print so it can be difficult to find, not solo compatible

Ace of Aces Wingleader is 33 years old this year and its World War I version is 41 years old as it came out in 1980.  First gracing the shelves of your friendly neighborhood game store in 1988 (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 4, come with me in our fighter plane of the imagination and let’s take a closer look at the Ace of Aces Wing Leader game system. (The original Ace of Aces Retro Review can be read at:  http://armchairgeneral.com/retro-review-3-a-biplane-that-fits-in-your-pocket-ace-of-aces-world-war-1-and-2-game-review.htm  )

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Ace of Aces Wingleader comes in a sturdy box with beautiful artwork on the cover of a P51 Mustang and a Focke-Wulf 190 dueling in the skies.  Included in the box are two flip books – one called the Allied book showing on each page what you would see if you were sitting in the cockpit of a P51 Mustang and one called the Axis book showing what you would see if you were sitting in the cockpit of a Fw190.  Also included is an errata sheet, a quick start rules sheet, a rule booklet with basic and advanced rules and 24 sturdy double sided cards showing different World War II aircrafts from all sides of the conflict.

Wingleader Box

Included in the original game as shipped was also a “joystick” token which was in my original copy that I purchased at The Tin Soldier in Dayton, Ohio back in 1988 but, sadly, has never been included in any used edition of the game that I have ever seen.  I guess it was easily lost.  I have found that an American dime is the correct size to use as a replacement “joystick” token.

Here is a list of the different airplanes you can fly in Wingleader:

P51D -USA (default Allied aircraft in the flip book)

F2A-3 Buffalo – USA/F2 A-1 Finland’s more successful variant of the Buffalo

P40 C Tomahawk – USA

F4F-4 Wildcat – USA

P47D Thunderbolt – USA

P38 J – Lightning  – USA

F4U-1 Corsair – USA

Hurricane I – UK

Spitfire I – UK

Tempest V – UK

LaGG-3 – USSR

Yak 3 – USSR

MiG 3 – USSR

MC 200 – Italy

C 202 – Italy

Ki 27 – Japan

A6M2 Zero – Japan

Ki61 – Japan

Ki84 – Japan

N1K1 J – Japan

Me109 E – Germany

Me109 F – Germany

Focke Wulf 190 A8 – Germany  (default Axis aircraft in the flip book)

Me262 A Jet Fighter – Germany

Each aircraft has its own control board and is rated for roll rate and time to complete maneuvers at one of five different roll positions from 90 degrees left to 45 degrees left to level and then to 45 degrees right and 90 degrees right.  Also each plane is rated for machine gun and/or cannon strength at different ranges, maximum hull damage, speed, ammo quantity and altitude change rates.

Selection of planes
Axis planes
Allied planes

The introductory game is almost the same as the World War I Ace of Aces games.

The style of game play created by Alfred Leonardi is ingenious and groundbreaking.  Each player got the book of their aircraft In the basic game, you either fly a P51 or  a Fw190.  The German player gets the Fw190 book while the American pilot gets the P51 book.  Each book shows views from your cockpit.  Under each cockpit picture are a series of maneuvers that your plane can do.  It’s all there – sideslips, Immelmann/Split S, various degrees of turns, etc.  Under each maneuver is a page number.  The pictures on some pages show your guns being fired at the enemy plane while others show it firing at you.  Each plane has a specific number of hull points.  When your damage equals or exceeds your hull points, you are going down.

Mig 3 vs Me109

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.

If both of you end up on page 223, you have lost sight of each other and are unable to regain contact.  The battle ends.

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.   

P51 and FW190 going head to head

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 60 minutes   while the shortest game was over in about one minutes when I tore my opponent to bits with a short range burst.

 To add the additional aircrafts to the mix, you must move up to the basic rules.

In a nutshell, the basic game’s use of all the 24 aircrafts adds additional pages to the maneuvers of your plane based upon the roll position of your airplane.  The roll position or turn bank position of your plane combined with the flight characteristics of the plane you are flying, can mean that you have to perform a set number of page flips before you get to your final ending position.  This increases the length of time you are committed to a maneuver but also gives you an increased chance of getting a firing solution on your opponent.

While the introductory game has a set starting page for both aircraft, the basic game has the players pick their roll rate/turn bank position in secret.  Then the two different positions are cross referenced on the Starting Page Table and this page becomes the starting page in the flip book.  This adds a great deal of uncertainty to each air combat and greatly adds to the replay value of this game.  As you maneuver around each other, the ending page of your maneuver dictates the new turn bank position that you’ll start on for the next sequence of combat maneuvers.  You use your joystick token/coin to mark what your new starting maneuver for the turn bank position is.

In the basic game, if both players end up on 223, you can secretly decide to either avoid combat and fly off or try and hunt down your opponent.

There are optional rules for speed and altitude.  This is where the Me262 shines as it is the fastest plane in the set even if it lacks in maneuverability at full speed.

Ki27 shoots down a Buffalo

All the rules of air combat which were learned in the bloody skies over Europe and Asia during World  War II apply  in this game i.e. don’t try and outturn a Japanese Zero, try and be unpredictable to throw off your enemy, conserve your limited ammo for  the best shots, etc. apply to this amazing game system.

If there are any negatives to Ace of Aces Wingleader, they are few.  When playing with the basic maneuvers, it is imperative that you keep track of the flow of pages you go through in the flip books.  It is very easy to lose track of the pages and end up on the wrong pages unless you carefully track the moves.  Also you must overcome the mindset that, in the basic game, you are flying other airplanes than are shown in the flip books.  You must use your imagination to that make that Fw190 in to a Japanese Zero or the P51 shown in the book to become a Laag.

As stated in my review of the World War I Ace of Aces games, 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!  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 40 years later!

Armchair General Rating: 97 %

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, Sherman Leader and the solo system for Age of Dogfights.  He is currently working on T34 Leader for DVG.

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