Tuesday, July 17, 2012

[Gaming History] Ace of Aces Seeks a Triumphant Return

I have always had warm feelings for Rick Loomis' game company Flying Buffalo.  When I was a young gamer whose pool of friends included few other rpg/wargame players, I spent many an enjoyable hour playing the solo adventures for Tunnels and Trolls that Flying Buffalo published.  I watched as their product lines improved in quality with the addition of the Blade subdivision and its line of well designed and attractive supplements.  I have always believed that a part of this improvement should be credited to Dave Arneson who may have provided some underwriting for this project, as he did many others after his settlement with TSR.  At a minimum Arneson wrote one of the better supplements for their Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes games.

To me Flying Buffalo is the Oakland A's of the Adventure Gaming hobby.  Loomis has been innovative in many of his ideas, and has used his vision to purchase the rights to some excellent games, but he has never had the budget to bring his vision to full light.  After all, Flying Buffalo were at the forefront of the Play By Mail hobby (essentially creating the genre post-Diplomacy), the rpg hobby itself (with the release of Tunnels and Trolls), the creation of the solo game book hobby, and their purchase of the rights to publish the innovative flip book games like Ace of Aces designed by Alfred Leonardi and published by Nova Games.

Nova Games itself has heavily influenced hobby gaming.  In addition to the excellent Ace of Aces game, and the Lost Worlds combat book spin offs, Nova was responsible for the first edition of the now classic Axis & Allies game.  The Nova edition of Axis and Allies received a less than sterling review in Fire and Movement issue 27, which stated that the game would be better as a beer & pretzels game by a publisher like Milton Bradley.  That review couldn't have been more prescient, as by 1984 Axis & Allies became one of the "big" three Milton Bradley "Gamemaster" series board games.  The "Gamemaster" series of games essentially created what we now refer to as the "Ameritrash" game.  These are highly thematic games that have a complexity that falls somewhere in the middle of Risk and the easier "chit and token" games of a publisher like Avalon Hill or SPI.  When the Mildotn Bradly version came out, the reviews were quite different than the early F&M review.  To quote Warren Spector in The Space Gamer 72, "WOW! Make that double WOW! ...If any adventure/wargame company had released Axis & Allies it would probably sell for three times what it costs from Milton Bradley.  As it is, it can be yours for a measly 15 bucks if you shop around. So what are you waiting for?"

Like Axis & Allies, the Ace of Aces game seeks to provide game play that satisfies what was a new kind of gamer, and a demographic that makes up a large number of gamers today, the gamer who wants an easy to play game that is deep and has high replay value.  Where Axis provides game play at the most abstract of levels and covers all of WWII on one map, Ace of Aces provides game play at the most granular level.  It is a battle of one German biplane against one British biplane.  It is Rickenbacker versus Richtofen, Snoopy versus the Red Baron -- and it plays in about 15 minutes. When Nick Schuessler, Steve Jackson Games' resident war game guru in the 80s, reviewed the game he wrote, "All of the praise for this unique gaming system has been well deserved.  Simply put, AofA is the most innovative thing to happen to the hobby since Tactics II."  Given that Tactics II effectively created the war board game hobby, that is high praise indeed.

It is a magnificent game, that is sadly out of print and that would make a great iPad/iPhone app.

Do you hear that Rick?  This game is perfect for the iPad/iPhone without any alteration.  None.  Make it now.

As I mentioned, the game is out of print, but it doesn't have to be that way.  Rick Loomis is attempting to print a new edition of the game through a Kickstarter that is pretty close to meeting its funding goal.  The KS doesn't have a video attached to it, but the game's creator Alfred Leonardi has released a tutorial video.  As you can see by watching the video, it is more of a play through video than a tutorial.  But it does provide an excellent primer for how quickly the game plays.  In the video, two total neophytes play a full game in under 10 minutes.

Unlike other recent videos by more tech savvy companies, this tutorial is a bit crude.  But it does have it's charm.  The Ace of Aces game was also given a stellar review and recommendation in the most recent issue of Battles Magazine (number 8).  Would that the Flying Buffalo Kickstarter had the graphic design of that magazine, the game would certainly already be funded.  

Go! Now! Back this project!  Let's play an Ace of Aces tournament at Gen Con 2013. 

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