4 playings (6 hours)
These comments are based on the original edition of Wings although the Excalibre version would be broadly similar. From familiarity with the new version of Ironclads I can say that the new cards are made of sterner stuff and the old log pad will be replaced by a single laminated sheet that can be photocopied to taste. The rules book is now a more handy size but seems to suffer from excessive use of fonts, the rules inside are unlikely to have changed. An unforgivable change is the map which has remained the same size but is printed as 1 sheet and can be torn into 3 for the old geomorphic effect. Having seen inside 2 new copies of Wings both revealed this map to be bent, not folded to fit in the bookcase box, that is the map as presented is bigger than the box provided.
Wings is a simultaneous move job and can get pretty complex. It dates from well before decent flight simms and the full game is a lot of work that could be easily done with a PC or even the now dated Ace of Aces books. This is traditional heavy duty boardgaming, not as complex as ASL but harder than Wooden Ships and only workable with very few planes per player. Thankfully the rules do not all have to be used and Wings works pretty well with basic rules, with some of the advanced and optionals as required. The advanced rules are supposed to be used as a block but consist largely of tricky manoeuvres as opposed to the turns and slides of the basic rules. A simpler fleet style game using plenty of planes is also provided but I have not tried it.
The basic problem of WW1 air combat as presented in Wings is that the planes are not very good, they are not fast, turn poorly and on the odd chances when they get off a shot tend to miss. The provided plotting pads are way too short in that there are likely to be a good deal more turns than columns on the pad, the space for damage is also largely redundant because any damage occurring is rare and can be jotted down separately. The nature of 3-D combat is shown by having altitude levels starting at 0 and going into the 800s although many planes will not get that high. Planes also have speeds, they go faster when diving but lose altitude on diving and lose speed when climbing, if they go too slow they will stall and spin downwards until they can pick up speed or crash. The Sopwith Pup is a relatively nifty plane but with hopeless guns, at level speed (not climbing or diving) it moves 3 to 5 hexes but can crank up to 7 if it dives. Turning in level flight requires 2 hexes between turns and uses up 1 power factor or looses 1 speed. The Pup only has 1 power factor which can be used to increase speed by 1 or more likely to prevent the drop of a speed number. At a speed of 5 the Pup could turn twice in 1 turn if it went ahead for the last 2 moves of the previous phase but will lose 2 power, spend 1 (all it has) and end up at speed 4 next turn. The following turn the Pup can turn again but stay at speed 4 or fly straight, expend its power and move up to 5. At dive speeds turns take more hexes, climbs also use up power and compared to dives are a painfully slow way of changing height. Certain advanced manoeuvres allow planes to do rather more but nothing is for free, a steep climb will get the plane further up but use up more power than the regular climb.
Si-move games often involve a lot of ESP because it is hard to tell where the opposition is going. Things are not so bad in Wings because planes have bank attitudes showing which way they lean. Generally a plane must turn or manoeuvre in the same direction that it banks and any change in bank attitude will take up at least 1 hex of movement. Also to climb a plane must be level, not in a bank or will be losing more power when it climbs. By looking at the bank attitude which must be declared with a small counter on the larger plane unit it is not hard to see where a plane is going. Consider a Pup banked left at the end of its move, to turn right it must bank right (now at level bank) and move 1 hex forward, it moves a 2nd hex and banks right (at right bank), 2 hexes must now be moved straight ahead for a total of 4 before the plane can turn right at a speed of 5 (5 speed spent and plane ends its move). It is a lot easier to simply turn left. To fire a plane must be plotted to go straight ahead, not in 1 of the obligatory hexes between manoeuvres or be in the very hex where it turns or whatever. If it is not flying straight there is a further reduction in the plane's limited aim. Naturally a plane that thinks it has a good shot will keep pretty straight and level, not too hard to out manoeuvre. The general problem of planes chasing each other over an endless sky and having limited powers of turning and climbing means they will not often be in each other's guns. Having missed it will take some time for the planes to all move around back into suitable combat positions. The game is considerably improved by having more than 1 plane on each side and improving the chance of someone being able to fire at someone else.
Gunnery is based on 2D6 rolled as 11 to 66 which gives a wide range of results and makes it hard to hit at long odds. Results will rarely destroy a target on 1 hit but affect some part of the plane, Structure hits being pretty purposeless other hits reduce the limited performance of the planes. Some hits can reduce the power rating of planes, if the target only has 1 power to spend each turn and it loses that then it is in trouble. The plane can no longer climb or turn without losing speed and will be forced to dive to get anywhere. Unless that plane can get in a shot while it is still in the general combat area or opposing planes are in the same boat then it may as well head for base. Indeed many types of damage will not cripple a plane but render it of little use in combat and it is sensible to fly off when suitably blooded rather than prolonging the game as planes slowly drag themselves back into combat.
All this experience is from solitaire gaming which works quite well because the rules severely limit what a plane can do so the guessing is kept low. 50 plane types are provided although Yaquinto never published Wings II so other planes are referred to in the force tables that have no details. The planes are rated differently, unfortunately performance varies with altitude so what can be done at what height needs to be checked and the gun data is on the opposite side of the card to movement. By picking 2 different types of planes something can be learnt from comparing their abilities in Wings. Pitting 2 Pups against 2 Pfaltz German fighters showed that the Pups could out-turn and out-climb the Boche but were well outgunned. The Pups could get into the approved firing position but might as well of had water pistols to fire for the damage they caused. Still a 4 plane fight took well over an hour and may have been interesting (just) but was hardly fun especially the long spells as both sides slowly turned back on one another having missed in the previous pass. With 2 players each has only to plot for half as many planes which will improve the action.
Solitaire scenarios are provided using the legendary Wings 6 hex Zeppelin counter and for attacking boats or bombing and photo runs. In these cases the target is either static or governed by random moves. I took the Pups up against an armed early model Zeppelin, naturally the lighter than air ship could climb better than the Pups and took soon catching up with. Most of the Zeppelin's guns fire level and up so attack from underneath made sense but the Pups fire level involving some jigging to catch up with the ship and shoot at it. Optional rules change which guns can fire based on the nose attitude of planes but this seemed too much. Advanced rules allow guns to fire various combinations of up, down and level, level can shoot up or down provided that this height distance is not larger than the distance along to the target. Using this to get the guns into the right position against a moving target proved pretty hard, at times the Zeppelin was half a map section away and increasing the distance. A Pup variant could be fitted with guns firing up and incendiary bullets are available but this seemed too easy a way out. Certainly the game worked as well with plotting 2 sides as with1 side moving randomly because the randomly moving side had no interest in staying in the combat zone. This might be accurate but spreads out the action over a longer time period.