Western Front Ace: The Great War in the Air, 1916-1918 is a solitaire, tactical level game which places you in command of a scout (fighter) aircraft during World War I. Each turn consists of one sortie, during which a combat will usually occur. The player may choose one of seven different nationalities to fly for, and can be based from one of many bases in along the trench lines or in Italy. Western Front Ace is based on the popular, action-packed Nightfighter Ace game system by Gregory M. Smith and is the third game in the series, with a strong narrative around the pilot as you look to increase your prestige, earn skills, and rise in rank through promotion and receive awards.
The objective of the game is to conduct numerous sorties in the role of a scout pilot and rack up victories. Pilots may use the experience gained to improve their odds of success by purchasing skills. As their prestige increases, they may request a transfer to other fighter bases in an attempt to participate in Major Ground Offensives or request a newer type of scout. Awards and ace status help to narrate the player’s eventual goal – to become the top “Ace” of the war.
The system is packed with rich technical detail but without the complexity to capture the key historical facets of the air battles over Europe in the Great War. In terms of scouts (fighters) alone, there are 42 aircraft models available to pilot. The families of aircraft include:
- SPAD (3 aircraft)
- Nieuport (8 aircraft)
- Fokker (4 aircraft)
- Sopwith (6 aircraft)
- Albatros (4 aircraft)
- Pfalz (3 aircraft)
- S.E.5, Airco, Bristol, various other British (9 aircraft)
- Halberstadt (1 aircraft)
- Hanriot, Aviatik, others (4 aircraft)
For each aircraft, you will be using the date of availability, speed, area of operations based on originating base, individual weapon systems, damage, and crew status.
Players can be assigned to one of 20 possible major geographic aerodrome “groups” all along the trench lines.
Besides the focus on hardware, the soft aspects of the war are also faithfully rendered for each pilot and crew. For example, air crew is characterized by various, including numerous Pilot skills, Wingman skills, Observer (Rear Gunner) skills, and Prestige Level. The emphasis on various skills and benefits to gaining experience creates many decisions for the player, which helps weave a tense and dramatic narrative during play. One major system in Western Front Ace is the ability to choose your crew improvements instead of randomly rolling for them. As these greatly impact on your combat capability (and survival), it is a major decision you must make. Other major upgrades in the system from NIghtfigher Ace are the fighter versus fighter routines and the wingman system.
Game play moves quickly, following a set sequence of events that are repeated until the end of the game. Once you have your initial pilot and crew along with your assignment, play proceeds by checking for enemy aircraft along your path as you travel to your assigned mission – be it Line Patrol, Escort, or possibly even Balloon Busting. Combat may consist of numerous rounds after which returning to base and landing operations occurs, with the weather playing a factor again as part of the landing procedure. When the mission is completed, you will ascertain if any awards have been earned (from the total of 43 available from all nations), Prestige points, or Experience points gained prior to you next sortie. Here you can also spend Prestige and Experience points if desired to gain skills, request a new aircraft, or request a change of base. You will repeat this process by going to your next sortie until shot down and killed, or until the end of October 1918 should you make it through unscathed.
This game is highly accessible to those familiar with The Hunters, Silent Victory, Nightfighter Ace, or Interceptor Ace and designed by Gregory M. Smith. The game system lends itself very well to capturing the tense air battles over the trench lines of Europe. While Western Front Ace is designed as a solitaire gaming experience, additional options for play are provided for both multi-player cooperative and competitive gaming sessions
- Complexity: 6 out of 10
- Solitaire Suitability: 10 out of 10
- Time Scale:Abstract (individual sorties with time compression via “Contact Patrols”)
- Map Scale: Abstract
- Unit Scale: individual aircraft, individual weapon system, specific crew members, and ammo rounds
- Players: one (with option for two or more)
- Playing Time:15 minutes per sortie, multiple hours in total
- Two Countersheets of 9/16″ unit-counters (336 counters)
- Twenty-one Aircraft Display Mats 8.5″ x 11″ (double-sided, 42 total)
- Seven Player Aid Cards 8.5″ x 11″
- One Two-seater Target Mat 8.5″ x 11″
- Four Pilot Awards Display Mats 8.5″ x 11″ (double-sided, 8 total)
- One Air Operations Display Map 11” x 17” (double-sided, 2 maps total)
- Twenty-four Ace Pilot Cards
- Sixty Combat Cards
- Rules Booklet
- One Logsheet 8.5” x 11”
- Two 6-sided, one 10-sided, and one 20-sided die
- Box and Lid
- Designers: Gregory M. Smith and Ian Cooper
- Artist: Ian Wedge
- Package Design: Ian Wedge, Brien Miller
- Project Director: John Kranz