They don't even have to be hardcore historical. I'd love to have pulp games where 1930s or 1946 weird fighters landed on Sky Captain/Avengers style flying carriers, or Yukikaze-style modern jets flying through a wormhole to duel in alien skies. Sky pirates, Crimson Skies style. Dogfights amongst Last Exile style flying battleships. Campaigns interest me - be it a squadron of Flying Tigers, a Battle of Britain squadron or a rag tag bunch of sky pirates, I'd like to see aircrew develop and be replaced, Mordheim-style.
Here's some of the games I own. They range from WW1 to modern jets. I'm going to go through and check/re-read my collection again in the next week, but here are my offhand recollections.
You've probably heard of....Check Your Six
(+) Great scenarios
(+) Consistent and sensible mechanics
(-) Few planes per player (1 or 2, 4 at best)
(-) Written order/guess (pretty much old school Canvas Eagles/Blue Max)
Bag the Hun
(+) Card activation adds uncertainty
(+) Spotting and blinds are important
(+) Movement is not precise
(-) Eccentric assortment of houserules rather than consistent mechanics
(-) Weird abstraction of height/formation
(-) Planes are very same-y
(-) Damage overcomplicated
Algernon Pulls It Off
Same comments as Bag the Hun, only even more chaotic and irritating.
C21: Air War
(+) Good selection of aircraft
(+) Handles decent amount of planes/plays quickly
(-) No altitude(!); this is the wrong thing to abstract!
Wings of War/Wings of Glory
(+) Card based movement is interesting
(-) Guessing game mechanics
(-) Expensive/stat cards required i.e. "decks" for aircraft
(-) Only 1-2 planes per side
Hands up to those who remember Crimson Skies?
But never mind pulp air wargames, ANY good aerial wargame will do...
A bit more left field....Luftwaffe 1946
(+) Whacky pulp planes
(+) Handles more planes (8-12?)
(-) Track moves from turn to turn; too many altitude levels (24)
(-) Pilot skill merged with plane performance/shonky stats
(+) Too many altitude levels
(+) Handles similar quantities of planes as Luftwaffe 1946
(-) Overcomplicates DP9s usually good damage/spotting
(+) Handles 8-12 aircraft
(+) Lots of aircraft choices
(-) Reminds me a little of Imperialis Aeronautica, but has written orders
(+) handles decent amount of planes
(+) Sensible damage system
(-) Lots altitude levels (?20) or none; + speed recorded
(+) Blinds like Bag the Hun
(+) Very complete toolbox
(-) Dense, hard to read rules
(-) More complex end of spectrum without offering anything amazing
Wing at War (Tumbling Dice)
(+) Free demo
(+) Best energy management
(+) Handles more planes
(+) Clever victory conditions
(-) Energy managment needs 2 dice to track/a bit complex?
(-) Game is so bare bones it makes a skeleton look plump/poor differentiation between planes
(+) Quick to play, handles 4-6
(-) Issues with initiative; tail chasing/all plane too agile
I've heard of, but either don't have or can't recall....
So, after all those games, what are you looking for?
*Pilot skill paramount
*However, planes SHOULD be differentiated i.e. P47 dive, Fw190 roll rate, Zero wing loading/turn
*Spotting important - most fights won without the other side even seeing them; obviously this is not overemphasized as it isn't too much fun, dying before you can react; but it's an important element
*Energy management - trading of height for speed and vice versa; extreme maneuvers bleeding off energy
*Represents chaos of dogfight; no "tail chasing" where players take turns being on tail/shooting
*Does not require stat cards etc (a la Wings at War) + unit builder for balancing scenarios
*Can track stuff without expensive fancy bases or (preferably) hex maps
*No written orders or guessing game mechanics; consistent mechanics
*Minimal record keeping/fast to play - a game about high speed dogfights should play fast; preferably no hitpoints
*Allow to handle a decent amount of planes (or I'd simply play a PC flight sim)
*Inexpensive (not a boardgame?)
*Campaign system to allow the players to "run" a squadron
Like naval (and to a degree, space) combat, aerial games seem to resist the innovation sweeping through wargaming; many rules are just a re-polish of rules from the 70s. Is aerial combat just too complex a topic to be successfully shown in a wargame?
Aerial wargames, for me, invariably fall into what I call the "PC Game/Tabletop Overlap." Sometimes I'm playing a PC game and I think "this might as well be a tabletop game" or "I'd love a tabletop version of this" - other times, the opposite is true - when playing tabletop games like, Star Fleet Battles, Battletech, most age of sail and aerial games, I think: "I'd be better off playing this on PC." Often (in the case of Battletech) this is to do with recording - i.e. who really enjoys tracking all those damage boxes in Battletech? Other times, I prefer big battles between big blocks of troops (ancients, Napoleonics) on PC so to avoid tedious painting. But other times, I feel that the rules for the genre simply aren't particularly good or enjoyable.
Perhaps my tastes have changed - maybe I'll find an aerial wargame I enjoy; after years of giving up on the genre. Maybe I will finally find one to my taste. Do you have any favourites you recommend that might meet most of the criteria?
But here's a broader question - are there any good aerial wargames, really? Are aerial duels a genre that are by nature ill-suited to the tabletop?