I've been searching for good air combat games for a while. I found Wings of Glory and enjoyed it, but didn't get too far into it. It's a great game with a lot to recommend it, but I've recently found another game that I like better: Axis & Allies Angels 20 Air Combat.
This is an enjoyable, easy-to-learn game that doesn't rely on guessing mechanics like Check Your Six or Wings of Glory. I much prefer that to planning two or three moves ahead, but that's just individual preference at work. The core of the game is centered on rolling 2d6 plus various pilot skills to perform maneuvers and rolling a d6 to hit target numbers. Initiative goes back and forth, with the winning player moving second ( a definite advantage in this game) and shooting first. Planes are modeled on their historical roles and I think they work fine. I'm not an aviation expert and can't say how well they did in that regard.
Like all Axis & Allies, this is a collectible game. I've read a lot of complaints about this aspect of it, and frankly that kept me away from the game for a while. However, it should not be a concern. Starter boxes are reasonably priced and come with a good selection of planes (Brits and Germans in one, and Japanese and US in the other). While you can buy booster packs, you can easily find the planes you want on eBay or Miniature Market and other stores. The individual planes are cheap, and the start set gives all the cards you need for every plane in the game (for that starter's series, of which there are two).
The fact that the game is no longer supported is both good and bad. It's good because now you can collect the planes you want on eBay, etc. However, one big con is that the game doesn't have a lot of the famous planes you might expect to find, and so if you want those you'll have to house rule them and find models.
The models are 1/100 scale and look great. I've got both starters and two booster packs worth of planes and already have a decent-sized collection. I'll be adding in individual planes from eBay to get what I want. Here are the planes with their pilot cards kept under the bases.
So I took pictures of a game I played with just the contents of a starter box. I did a standard scenario, with a little more than 100pts in planes per side. Victory points are awarded by the cost of the planes destroyed, and the first side to score more than 60VP wins.
Here's the set up, with two German BF109E and one BF110 versus two British Spitfires and a Hurricane. Initiative is rolled for each turn, with both sides enjoying a +2 to their initiative rolls due to their planes. This can change as planes are destroyed, as we'll see later.
The Brits win initiative, meaning the Germans go first. The Bf110 has to move first due to a special rule. Planes can move either high or regular speed, with more restrictions on maneuvers and turns when going high speed. For now, the Bf110 moves up at a cautious 3 hexes. The model is then banked to the 2 o'clock position to show it is evading. That's a cool part of these models, being able to articulate their positions for in-game results.
The other planes on both sides swarm forward, with one of the Bf109E pilots climbing to altitude 4. There are six altitude bands shown on the bases and this game started at altitude 3. When a pilot climbs you rotate the plane on the base so it's nose is over its altitude. Slick!
Here's the set up as we move into T1 shooting.
More shooting takes place and the Hurricane damages the regular Bf109. The Ace Bf109E does a dive attack on a Spitfire and scores damage. Here's that exciting attack in action. Looking at this picture now, I see the Bf109 could not have made the shot because the Spitfire was out of the Messerschmidt's firing arc. In the excitement, I guess that was overlooked. Well, live and learn!
The Germans have the initiative, so Brits move first. There's lots of zooming past each other and some maneuvers to gain altitude and advantage. The damaged Bf109 fails a climb check because he's moving fast and therefore remains at the same altitude and advances a hex. When it comes time to shoot, all planes are out of position, except for the Bf110 which an fire 4 hexes. This is very long range for this game, where most planes max out at three. Of course, the shots were ineffective at that range. With nothing more to do, here are the planes at the end of the turn.
The Germans win initiative once more, and Brits move first. There's a lot of maneuvering happening in this turn, and since both sides are trying to catch the other it's happening at high speeds. This results in a few failed attempts to turn and climb. The damaged Spitfire climbs to altitude 5 to line up a dive shot on the damaged Bf109. The other German ace makes a tight turn to line up at the undamaged Spitfire ace. Here's the set up, with Spitfire and Hurricane banking to evade.
Now that the Brits have lost a plane, their special initiative bonus is nullified. So the Germans roll at +2 and easily win again. There's lots of frantic circling and banking to adjust positions, but it ends up looking bad for the Brits. The damaged Spitfire is sandwiched between the German planes and the Hurricane is at a bad angle to help (due to a failed maneuver check). Here's a picture.
The Spitfire shoots at the Bf110 in front of it, but with only two hits it's not enough to damage. The Bf110 returns fire, a stunning 8 shots, and lands three hits. Damage on the Spitfire is enough to down it, and the plane spins to earth. The final Hurricane lands two hits on the Bf110, again not enough to equal its armor, and so the turn ends.
At the end of each turn VPs are counted, and the Germans have scored 92 and so win the dogfight.
So that's a game of Angels 20. Even if you're a fan of Wings of Glory, you really need to check out this game. The planes look awesome and the game play is very satisfying. Don't let the collectible aspect put you off, as a starter is inexpensive and individual planes are available for cheap. I will continue to buy into this game, and am hoping to start lining up some historical flights for my games.
There are more advanced rules for clouds and other conditions. You can easily house-rule a few other things for added complexity or realism. I recommend combining these rules with Squadron Forward to add in pilot personalities and some back story. Highly recommended game!