Ever since the pandemic started, I have been collecting a lot of solo wargames. Even once the lockdowns ended and life returned to at least relative normal, I still found the idea of chucking dice or drawing cards for a game where I am the only one in control of the action to be quite enticing, even when I lose my table space (I will get back to my Storm Above the Reich campaign. I promise!).
And, of course, it does make me have to decide whether to cheat or not.
I’ve also always been drawn to World War I flying days ever since the old Commodore Amiga game, Dawn Patrol (I think that was its name).
So when I heard about the new solo World War I flying game from Legion Wargames, called Aces of Valor, there was no way I was passing it up.
This game, designed by Erik von Rossing with art by Vincent Bourguignon, Randy Lein and Mark Mahaffey, was just published in 2023 and I got it in my hot little hands only a month or so ago.
I also published a storage solution option from Cube4Me that really makes the game easy to get to the table. In the game, you are supposed to keep a bunch of different counters in various cups so that you can draw them randomly. With that storage tray, I find I can get by with just one or two cups and put the counters back in the trays when I need a new group.
It works quite well!
I’ve done three missions now (campaigns can be Short (8 missions), Medium (12 missions) or Long (16 missions)) so I felt like I could write a review.
Which I wanted to do prior to doing After Action Reports, which will be coming soon!
So how does the game play?
Let’s take a look.
(You can click on the images to blow them up if you need to)
The game consists of a lot of dice rolling and charts, so it’s actually quite easy to play once you get the sequence clear in your head.
First, you choose how long of a campaign you want to do, also choosing (or rolling) which tier of fighters to start off with.
Fighters come in three tiers (1, 2 or 3) and each one has a bit more of a performance rating (the big number on the left of the counter)
Tier 1 fighters have 6 Performance, Tier 2 have 7 Performance and Tier 3 have 8 Performance.
Once you have figured out what Tier of fighters you are going to start with, you randomly draw 8 of the 16 possible fighters. Each fighter only has the pilot’s first name, which can kill the immersion a little bit, but you can always make up your own last name!
Even though the fighters themselves are the same, the pilots do have different skills (the small numbers under their names).
These skill ratings are “air skill” (first number) and “ground skill” (second number). The ground skill comes into effect when you are attacking ground targets and of course the air skill is when you are facing off against other fighters.
And there will be a lot of dogfights!
The main map sheet actually has almost everything you will need to play the game. You almost don’t need the players aids!
That is an exaggeration. You will be referring to the player aids a lot, but maybe not as much as you might have been without this sheet.
The top of the sheet has all of the tracks. Victory Points, Mission Points (which you use to buy VP as well as upgrade your aircraft or, inevitably, fix/replace them). There’s a weather track, a Mission Turn Track (you have 24 turns worth of fuel, unless you are carrying ordinance, so make sure you get back safely!).
Below all of that is the Campaign Map on the right and the Operations Chart on the left.
It’s all very organized.
You also determine your starting airfield on the map, so you can plot your course to your mission objectives.
The first thing you do for a mission is draw a mission card.
This card will tell you what the mission is and how many of your fighters are going on it.
You then choose which of your eight (hopefully you still have eight) fighters you want to go on the mission.
You plot your route on the map, and then you take off!
Sometimes, you will be escorting 2-seater planes or even bombers on the mission, so those will be coming along as well.
For each sector you move to, you will spend fuel, check to see if anything bad happens to your damaged fighters, and then roll for events. It’s less likely that something will happen behind your lines, more likely for something to happen over the trenches, and then about in the middle for behind enemy lines.
If something does happen, you roll on the Combat Event chart and see what it is. It could be a change in the weather. It could be a juicy ground target that will get you easy (hopefully) points. Or it could be enemy fighters or even a raid!
If it’s enemy fighters or a raid, once you determine if either side was surprised (and evade if you are able to and decide you want to), air combat begins.
You roll initiative for each plane, one die plus the performance rating of the plane, plus air skill if the pilot has it.
Each number is the current combat round’s initiative. In initiative order, you choose (or the enemy chooses) to either attack another plane or break off, which means that the plane is out of action for the rest of this combat. A good way to preserve planes sometimes.
The trick is that if you do engage an enemy plane, you can only engage the plane that’s lower than your initiative and closest to it. So Billy above is at 14. He can only engage Manfred (at 12). He can’t engage one of the lower initiative German planes.
You determine how many initiative spaces separate you and determine (using a table) how many hit dice you roll. If you roll above the left number of the numbers in the top left corner of the counter, you get a hit! You do add your air skill to this roll.
If you have split numbers (4/6 in the planes above), then rolling the second number will actually do 2 hits.
After determining hits, you roll one die and add any excessive hits to the number (so if you do 2 hits, you add one; 3 hits adds two, etc). If you roll above the Structure Rating of the plane you are attacking (the big number on the right side), you damage and maybe even destroy the plane. One or two above the rating (so a 6 or 7 for the basic fighters) damages the plane, making you flip it over. If it’s already damaged, it’s destroyed.
If you do three or more above it, you just outright destroy it.
Friendly pilots have a chance to crash land and get to safety, but enemy fighters are just destroyed.
That gets you (or loses you if it’s your plane) mission points!
This continues for a maximum of 3 combat rounds. If it goes to 3 rounds, you spend an extra fuel. After each round, you roll to see if something happens. Maybe more enemy fighters! Or maybe they all go away.
This continues, space by space, until you get to your objective, where you attempt to carry it out.
You might get enemy planes in your objective space, which can make things a bit hairier.
Or maybe not!
Damaged fighters can return to your base automatically if you wish. They have to make a “difficult landing” check but unless the weather’s really bad, they’re likely going to make it.
Once a mission is over, you check how many Mission Points you received. You can spend these points for VP or to fix damaged planes, or even replace lost planes (where you draw randomly from the planes left over).
After reaching the final mission in your campaign, you check the VPs and see how you did!
Is Aces of Valor a brilliant ace pilot with 72 kills to his name? Or is it a green pilot who is lucky not to crash his fighter on takeoff?
That’s just a basic description of how the game plays. There are some other things, like some spaces having you face anti-aircraft fire just for going into them (mostly the trenches and the spaces right behind them) and rules for having your own fighters carrying rockets or bombs. That sort of thing.
I have to say that one thing Aces of Valor produces in spades is a narrative. I’ve read after-action reports, and I will be doing some, where you can produce a story based on what happened during the mission.
While the lack of differences from fighter to fighter does rob from the immersion a bit, the actual game play puts you right back into it.
The differing pilot skills do help with that some, and if a pilot destroys an enemy plane, there is a chance that they’ll get a skill boost (though it’s only if you roll a 6, but you do add the enemy’s air skill to that roll).
But if you’re looking for a simulation where some of your fighters are different, even at the same tier, you’re not going to get that here.
All 2-seaters are the same planes, though again some of them have different skills.
The other mark against the game, and the same could be said about many of these solo games but I think even more so here, is that it is literally a bunch of dice rolls and random counter draws.
I can’t think of a single actual decision you make other than which of your active fighters will go on a mission. I guess you do get to decide who to target if you have multiple targets at the same initiative level. And you can decide to break off if you don’t want to risk your plane(s) for some reason (like if they’re damaged)
And the route of your flight to the objective, though that’s mostly obvious.
It depends on what you want out of a game.
I keep going back to the narrative because that’s this game’s strength.
Aces of Valor will give that you to great effect. And yes, almost all of that is because of dice rolls.
But that feeling when you are bombing the enemy HQ and end up doing 15 massive points of damage to it, destroying it, is just so special.
The artwork and photos on the cards and on the map is also very good. The card quality is great and I also love the optional “Post-Mission Event” cards which can give you good benefits or maybe rob you of a pilot for your next mission.
I love the historical footnotes on all of the cards as well.
The player aids and charts really make this game easy to play. They’re laid out very well, though I think the Pre/Post Mission card could be on the back of the “Campaign Setup card” since you won’t use the latter once you’ve started a campaign. It would save paper, but it’s not a huge issue.
The charts are separated into the various phases, so you’re never going to be turning cards over, going to new cards trying to find the chart you need, like you do in some solo games.
It’s all sequenced very nicely.
I also like the Initiative track, though it’s sometime aggravating to be restricted to who you can engage with because you can’t engage with a plane at an equal initiative level.
It does make sense when you think about it, but it can be annoying.
If one of the enemy fighters has the highest initiative, you can’t target him!
Again, it makes sense but can be frustrating.
I also like how the differences in the Initiative rating determine how many dice you roll for damage.
It really makes initiative matter (though again, it’s just a dice roll and while it’s modified by the pilot’s air skill, it’s mostly a matter of luck).
I go back to that it’s all a matter of what you want out of a game.
I love the narrative value of Aces of Valor and the stories that it brings. Doing a massive 4 hits to somebody (rolling double 6s) and then rolling a 6 for damage, which ends up destroying the plane outright, just makes me glow with pleasure.
But I can’t recommend the game if you are looking for a great decision space where your choices really matter.
It just isn’t there in Aces of Valor.
That being said, I love the narrative, so you will be seeing AARs for this now that I’ve reviewed it (and I can point to this review if you want to know how to play it).
I will keep playing it. It’s easy to get to the table, fits my table at work so I can leave it out while I continue the missions, and it’s just damned fun.
If you like narratives, this one will give it to you.
In clubs (I felt I was saying “in spades” too much)
This review was written after 3 plays (missions)
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