Thursday, 11 December 2008

Wings Of War?

Being a completely subjective piece written by Ephraim Gadsby in the comfort of the Smoking Room at his Club while pondering one of his favourite games........

You must have you played 'Wings of War' by now. No? Then do so immediately – you won't regret it. It's rather ace!

Open the box & one is immediately impressed by the quality of the components & the ingeniously simple rules mechanisms. It's easy to see the potential they present. Add an expansion, say another of the compatible boxed sets, or, better still, get yourselves a couple of the excellent ready-made planes and you begin to realise how this simple set-up easily, yet convincingly, provides a rich & varied game. The individual characteristics of each type of plane are neatly handled by the manoeuvre card decks: The Fokker triplane becomes super manoeuvrable & the Sopwith Camel a nippy gun platform that can't turn left with the same conviction it displays to the right.

The card-drawing damage allocation system is another masterpiece of ingenuity, easily modelling the effectiveness of differing weapons set-ups. The actual damage caused is known only to the target – a technique that adds to the in-game fun & tension.

No matter where you play or how experienced the players are, the way the rules work encourages a fun & friendly game with huge scope for plenty of banter. One soon finds oneself playing with the mindset of a gallant officer of the 'Cavalry of the clouds,' (Lloyd George) jousting with a worthy foe, high in the clear blue skies over Northern France. matter how good a 'game' Wings Of War is (& it is, it is!) the more one reads histories of the air war, the more one reads the diaries and memoirs of those who were there, the more things become darn right brutal. More savage. More chaotic. More wasteful. Just more at odds with the atmos. that Wings Of War fosters.

A typical example is provided by former RFC pilot Oliver Stewart who wrote in 1968, upon the 50th anniversary of the RAF, that the objective of the fighter pilot of the Great War, “Was to sneak in unobserved close behind his opponent & then shoot him in the back.”

One can see why the myth of the Knights Of The Air came about and why it was seized upon by the politicians and commentators of the day – after all there was no glamour to be found in the mud of Flanders. Certainly no chivalry in the machine gun & gas hell below. But there is no glamour or chivalry in being shot in the back at 5000 feet either.

I know it's only a game, a diversion if you will, and maybe it's just me but I don't feel the period in Wings Of War quite the way I want to. Other entertainments manage it. Take two of my favourites as an example:

The first is 'Goshawk Squadron' by Derek Robinson, a Booker Prize short-listed novel that tells the brutal & moving story of the final days of an SE5 squadron and their most unchivalrous commander. The book is a fund of detail about training, tactics & aircraft performance but also about the mindset that many of the pilots adopted to survive, about their attitude to the war, their foes and their increasingly inexperienced replacements. Needless to say, it all ends badly.

Secondly, the 1938 film 'Dawn Patrol' with a top quality cast of chaps; Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and the marvellous David Niven. Among the exciting aerial combat sequences, the film, much like 'Goshawk Squadron,' really highlights the immense strain upon the pilots, both in the air and between missions, with a special emphasis on the pressures of command.

But then Wings Of War is, as I have repeatedly pointed out to myself, a game and a jolly good one too. So does this matter? Does this matter when playing any wargame? I suppose the answer depends upon what one is after, where one's position is on the sliding scale between accurate historical simulation and, well, out-and-out fun – not that the two are mutually exclusive, far from it, but I hope you get my gist. I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle. I like my games to be fun but for the result, and indeed how you get the result, to feel like my understanding of the period. Again all subjective stuff and now I sit here and ponder, I realise that, to me, what's important really is the Feel For Period. Not only do I want the 'hardware' of the period to be handled convincingly, I also want to think that in some way playing has made me feel some of the concerns of those involved in the 'real thing', that the game has encouraged me to 'play' in the manner of the real life protagonists, without, of course, all the terror of serious injury or death.

And there you have it; there's nothing wrong at all with Wings Of War after all. In fact, if this ramblings of a chap with too much time on his hands has made you ponder nothing, then it should have at least suggested Wings Of War is one hell of a great game. Just not quite right for me. So yes, I'll still play it and yes, I'll enjoy it. Just not as much as I used to. Please watch 'Dawn Patrol', read 'Goshawk Squadron', play Wings Of War, enjoy them all, and see if you agree.

It's a great game. Unlike the real thing, but still, a great game.

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