Before becoming predominantly age of sail naval gamer, and found the joyful 6mm ancients and napoleonic rules, I was avid aviation gamer. Before that I also dipped my toes about knee deep in Epic 40k but that is another story.
My long journey to the aviation games started from three games. One that really got me into it was as unlikely candidate that could be, Avalon Hill’s Knights of the Air. A game little seen or heard, and which remarkably enough I still do own but have not played in years (once I collect it from rather distant warehouse, I will promise myself to bring it on table). Once upon a time I thought about giving it away, or selling it, but over the years I’ve started to appreciate the decision to keep it. Knights of the Air is a genuinely interesting game system, something that you would not come by every day – or even every other day.
First, at the time it was published, it was really pretty. It is still today delight to watch. Second, it was about WWI, and had nice mixture of planes of all types. Even single large Zeppelin was included, couple of bombers and nice scenarios that pitted few planes against each other. It meant that board was never too crowded nor too busy.
There were peculiarities though. Each plane had it’s own sheet for record keeping, and altitude system that could have been better. Maneuvers were executed by playing cards, and there were mechanisms in play to make game more interactive. Spotting rules made life interesting because seeing your enemy was not automatic. All in all, there were features that gave you feeling that you were actually flying ages old, underpowered but otherwise well performing biplane. It was vast improvement over Richthoven’s War.
Flight mechanics were solid. Briefly, you went step by step to get right speed, power, altitude etc. and then off you went to do maneuvering which your opponent could intercept under certain conditions, perform maneuver in between and so on. What dictated your ability to perform maneuvers were your own ability, your planes capability and that wether you actually had any enemies in sight. Not simple by any means but very, oh so very rewarding once you managed to place yourself in right angle to your opponent. After hard maneuvering, you finally had a shot, jammed your only gun and then spend few furious turns trying to get it back in line again while evading enemy fighters that were trying to shoot you off the sky.
Nostalgic as it might be, Knights of the Air was then as it is today somewhat complicated game and hard to master, but by no means a bad one. Will to get through the rules and understanding the mechanics offered countless hours of fun. Rare as it may be, it worked even one-to-one fights, and for solo missions against bombers, balloons and Zeppelin (and that was really tough one…). Finally, when there were more pilots in the air at the same time? That was a bliss. No radio control to coordinate maneuvers or anything else, it was each man for himself.
Unfortunately, Knights of the Air has fallen into obscurity – if it never really was out of there.