Ace of Aces: Handy Rotary Series is the perfect portable, two player game. This World War I dogfight game has no markers or dice to lose. Heck, it has no board. The whole game consists of two books—one represents a German plane and the other represents an Allied plane. It is Ameritrash in a book. Both players start on the same page---but “see” the enemy from the perspective of their own cockpit which is a black and white sketch on each page of the book. Your mission: riddle your enemy with enough bullets to bring down the plane.
How do you do this? Each player attempts to maneuver the plane into position where they have a direct shot against their opponent. You maneuver by selecting from the range of possible moves at the bottom of each page. You can choose to go left, right or straight. You can choose to go fast or slow. Or you can choose the famous Immelman Turn, pull back on your throttle, do half of a loop, and come up behind your opponent almost miraculously.
Once both players choose their move (indicated by various icons--a left arrow, a loop, etc), you read out loud the page number underneath the chosen icon. Each player then turns to the page that their opponent called out. Once at that page, you look for the icon of the maneuver that you had chosen. Underneath that icon you will find another page number underneath that icon. In a brilliant mechanic that weaves the two books together, your opponent will also go to the same page after following the same procedure. If you guessed right, you might be right behind your enemy and see a sketch with huge bullets raining down on the enemy plane that you’re now tailing. Or you could be heading right towards each other and you BOTH take massive damage and narrowly avoid a head-on collision. Or you may not be in firing range (2 points for close range, 1 for medium, ½ for long range) but you are tailing them. That means that your opponent will have to tell you if they’re going to go straight, left, or right before you choose your next move---a huge advantage (which mirrors the advantage someone would have if tailing a plane). The first player to inflict the critical number of shots wins the game.
That’s all you need to know to play this brilliant, fun, easy to learn game. Sure, there’s an advanced set of rules that I’ve never bothered to learn, but I’ve never felt the need to learn them. I’ve consciously decided to not learn them because it could spoil the fun, interactive, and tense game that flows without thinking about rules. In my experience, people quickly stop thinking about any rules and it seems like you’re in control of your own airplane in a way that seems more immediate than even the best airplane simulators on a console game. I’m not sure I can convey why this relatively crude looking game is more fun than a slickly designed graphic on the TV—but it has a lot to do with luck, with second and third-guessing your opponent, and the anticipation of turning the pages.
The bad news? It is out of print and copies sometimes seem to run 40-50 bucks for a set of two books in a dust case. The good news? You can scrounge fairly easily online to find sets for under 20 bucks if you are avoid searching under “games” and search under “books”.
There’s a whole series of books in the Ace of Aces line—but I haven’t played them. The mechanic has been adapted to Star Wars combat as well as a host of other adventure games. I can’t speak to how well they translate…but you can keep your eye out for those as well as a substitute.
In short, I’ve realized that if I can’t play it with my son (14) or the rest of my family, then I’ll rarely play the game. No matter how cool the game is (Twilight Imperium 3), I’m not going to play the game very often if my family doesn’t want to play it. I’m OK with that---the kids will be out of the house before I know it…so I want to play with them. I’ll head to Avery’s house once a year to play some games that I may not be able to play here. But Ace of Aces is a game that we throw in the car for every camping trip or vacation because it can literally be played anywhere. Do yourself a favor and start looking online today!