Sunday, February 13, 2011

Red Baron

It's a furball!
An image from yesterday's game, with my favorite set of WWI air combat rules: Red Baron. A De Haviland DH4, Bristol F2.B, and Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a are in the middle. Germans swarm around the formation: two Fokker DVIIs to the left, and a Siemens Schuckert DIII diving from to right. Another SE.5a (the one I was flying) tries to join in at the bottom right.

For me, Red Baron are the only WWI air rules that actually feel like flying a plane. Sadly, they are out of print. The best part of the game is the true vertical system. As you can see from the dowel rods, battles are fought in all four dimensions (x, y, z and t), where 1"=100 feet. That allows for actual maneuverability, realistic speed loss to maneuver and climbing, and all the difficulties in lining up a target, the dangers of target fixation, and performance difference between different aircraft. There is a world of difference between a SPAD XIII and a Morane-Saulnier A1, for example. Both have a similar top speed, armament and maneuverability - but the Morane-Saulnier is so underpowered, it's very difficult to properly maneuver. Until you have to compensate for your speed losses, you really don't appreciate it!

All pilots begin as "rookies" and have the potential to be good (or bad) at certain aspects like flying, shooting, fixing, seeing or thinking. Rookies are also naturally worse at shooting (due to inexperience) and handling the aircraft. After two missions where they "survive" (or attaining at least one kill), rookies are then considered normal pilots. Aces (5 kills) and legendary aces (10+ kills) get additional special abilities. This usually leads to their retirement after a "gauntlet" where they're the only pilot on their side (occasionally accompanied by a rookie wingman).

The campaign and mission format naturally leads to developing characters. Pilots get names, and the game situations that develop give them personalities to boot. Vendettas develop, airplanes get stolen, balloons explode while pilots are flying over them, people get run over with staff cars, and occasionally even avalanches are set off. Their exploits are recorded here. Enjoy, and do try not to ruin your keyboard laughing at inopportune times.

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