Designed by Winston J. and Stanley Kubiak
Published by Stanley Kubiak
Review by Ken Tidwell.
Aerodrome is a miniatures game of aerial combat during World War I. Players take on the role of biplane pilots and tail gunners dogfighting their way through the grey skies of Europe during the war to end all wars. The game is visually appealing and, like many miniatures games, it was easy to project myself into the scenario.
The game is played using 1/72 miniature aircraft mounted on radio antennae with a clear acrylic hex base to hold the whole thing upright. The game board is an aerial view of a WWI battelfield marked off in large hexes. Old Battlemasters mats are just the thing for boards (though not particularly attractive). The antennae are telescoped up and down to indicate the planes current altitude. After each move the planes will face a particular hex side to indicate their current direction. Planes may fire on any plane within three hexes straight ahead and either at the same altitude, just above, or just below.
The game play reminds me a bit of the old Swashbuckler game. Pilots and gunners plot out three moves at a time. Each move the pilot chooses from one of eight maneuvors - straight ahead, straight ahead fast, left slip, right slip, right, left, hard right, stall, and immelman. The slips allow the player to retain their current orientation but slide one hex to the right or left. Ahead fast allows the plane to move two hexes. Ahead, left, right, and hard right allow the plane to change orientation and move one hex in that new direction. An immelman allows the plane to move forward one hex but completely reverse orientation. A stall allows the plane to stay in its current hex with the current orientation but runs the risk of throwing the plane into a spin. Planes can fly on one of five altitudes. Descent is always possible but planes can generally only ascend when moving forward and trying no wild acrobatics.
Moves are plotted using a unique control panel which is styled after a biplane control panel. The deluxe version is modelled in wood with leatherette padding round the edge and is quite striking. Ammunition supply is recorded using brass .22 casings. Damage is recorded with brass cribbage markers. Sharp. The econonmy model is a laminated color photocopy of a fairly basic drawing of the same control panel.
After movement, pilots may fire on any plane unlucky enough to find itself in their path. But only if they pre-programmed that fire! You may end up blazing away at open air! If another aircraft should find its way into your line of fire, the damage is determined by the distance between and orientation of the two planes. No random die rolling! If you can line up someone in your sights you can be sure of bringing them down.
The game also has provisions for tailing and cloud cover. If you find yourself behind another plane, that pilot will have to reveal certain information about their intended moves that may help you to stay on their tail. Clouds are represented by foam bits on top of airplane stands. Planes may fly through clouds but may not fire through them. Clouds may be fixed on a single hex and a given height or may drift, depending on the scenario being played.
Not all planes have access to all of the maneuvors nor even the highest altitude possible. Many of the planes flown by the larger air forces during WWI are described. As the war progressed the technology improved. Planes began to carry more guns, better engines, and more ammunition toward the end of the war. Aerodrome represents the different eras of the war by different sets of cards showing the abilities of the planes available during those different times.
The game fairly clips along and is quite addictive. The rules are simple and very easy to learn. Some players may be bothered because Aerodrome is not a true simulation. Stan Kubiak, the game's current shephard, is quick to point out that it is a game first and foremost. And a fun one, at that!
The downside of Aerodrome, as is commonly true with miniatures games, is the cost. Aerodrome parts are hand produced and costs are no doubt driven up by the low volumes of production. Deluxe control panels run $40 apiece when they are available at all. The economy control panels are $5.00 a pop or 6 for $25.00. The basic rules run $15.00 and aircraft data cards are $20.00 for a complete set of either Allied or Central planes. Smaller data card sets are also available. The data cards are just a convenience, I believe, as all the data you need to play is in the basic rules. Die-cast aircraft are offered for $25.00 apiece with stand (quite a bit of assembly required, however). Stands are offered for $7.50 apiece sans aircraft. So, as you can see, assembling a full set is a costly affair. I would love to see a mass produced set with enough stuff bundled in for six planes, though. Maybe someday...
Lucky punters in London should look for Aerodrome at Salute in Kensington on April 25, 1998. Stan Kubiak will be there with his famous participation game.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell