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WWI Aerial: 50 Years of Dogfighting

Reflections following a recent game at Heston & Ealing Wargamers...

After running a recent WWI aerial game at the club, I was asked to write a blog reflecting on my experience of half a century of similar games.

Dave's rules

Back in 1972 as a schoolboy in Cyprus, I first played a WW1 aerial wargame. With my friends Dave and Richard we were play-testing Dave’s set of rules - which he subsequently had “published” in 1974.

Dave's rules

Using bent wire, bulldog clips and home made 4-foot tall wooden stands, the Airfix models “flew” around the clouds (of furniture) before occasionally, accidentally, falling to the ground.

School exercise book

It was the heyday of what I call the “Airfix era” of wargaming, where almost any household item and the limited range of plastic figures available, could be utilised and converted to suit any wargaming period or purpose – many inspired by articles in the long-gone Airfix magazine.

Phil's first rules

I admit to not having really shaken off this philosophy despite the amazing amount of figures, rules and other resources readily available in the off the shelf (all needs met) package approach these days. As a consequence I have a bizarre collection of tin lids, tea bags, pins, electrical bits, and other detritus which would make any of the many hoarders you see on TV, very proud. This philosophy also extends to rules, where I almost invariably develop my own, but like a magpie I hi-jack and amend mechanisms from published sets if they work for me.

Early written rules

Anyway back to WW1 aerial. Using Airfix models with tape measures and school type protractors was always very cumbersome and required a lot of space in what were non-tabletop games.

Model catalogue

After joining the Heston Wargames club in the late 1970s. I played several games on the large square blocked floor of the church hall. The square system regularised movement but suffered from the known problem with diagonals.

Commercial stat sheet

The models used were from a relatively new 1/300 metal range. Having acquired some (way too many - but that’s another story) from time to time, I painted them using the old Humbrol enamels long before I switched to acrylics – I still use these models as can be seen in the accompanying photos of the recent game.

Vinyl hex mat

The development of my own set of rules was triggered by the adoption of hex movement as used in the then popular SPI games. This changed the perspective of the game into a hybrid of board-game and figure game.

Aircraft on stands

All of my Wombleish and Heath Robinson-esque tendencies were evident in the development over the years of various bits of kit for use in this game (but not just this game - others including chariot racing, jousting knights etc). DIY warehouse stores were scoured for a host of things including off-cuts of vinyl flooring.

Cork floor

In the then absence of commercially available equivalents, this vinyl flooring was painstakingly covered with hand drawn hexes – as were later the more usable replacement cork floor tiles. Stands were constructed out of wire, parts of plugs, various knobs and coins – but not (hard to get) retractable radios aerials as might be expected.

Revised stands

The current versions (as in the photos of the recent game) use cork tiles and electrical connectors. All good fun in retrospect.

Aircraft stands

Rule development was relatively straightforward with few subsequent amendments. As other dice became available, D10s were used in place of D6s in some parts of the rules. The move from hand written to Excel 97 spreadsheet was an opportunity for a review. The interpretation of aircraft stats (speed, ceiling, airframe factors etc) into game mechanics and factors with spreadsheet formulas was interesting.

Campaign rules 1

A few years later, any further development was stopped in its tracks by the spreadsheet (plus others) being disabled in a ransomware attack – no longer being the once computer whizzkid but now a ridiculous dinosaur, it put an end to it all.

Campaign rules 2

However I am comfortable with my rules as they now stand and prefer them to any commercial set. For instance I have played the popular Wings of War set (original version). Whilst giving an enjoyable game I consider them very 2-dimensional ignoring the very essence of aerial warfare (altitude) and by requiring 3 moves set in advance, not really allowing one aircraft to stay on the tail of another.


The recent game – the first at the club for several years – was put on to help me consider if running a new campaign would be welcomed. The last campaign was run maybe 20 years ago. Starting in late 1916, each club meeting at which the game was played, moved the time-scale on an historical month from the last, with aircraft types changing as per the historical record and with missions varying.

Pilot names

Players chose a pilot and observer if needed, some names being comical and/or contemporary, from a list (see attached photo) compiled from previous games and players’ suggestions.

Campaign record

These pilots were followed through subsequent games gaining experience and status, with improved factors if they survived. As I recall the campaign was a success and eventually ran for a dozen evenings over perhaps a year or two.

Campaign record 2

The recent game seemed to go well as an introduction (or re-introduction) and ended in an allied victory with the British Sopwith Pups getting the better of the German Albatross DIIs. Piotr’s photos of the game plus my record of the result are also attached.

Pup aircraft sheet

As a concession to modernity, I am actively seeking a commercially produced vinyl mat printed with an aerial view of trenches shell craters etc and with an overprinted hex grid – any info on such an item would be helpful.

Recent game record

Various photos are attached - they include bits of kit and rules used down the years or items related to the past campaign or rulesets.

DII record sheet

At the end of this blog, I can’t avoid the thought that this blog gives the impression of my being an Old School old fool – it is a characterisation I would agree with - but I am not alone in being that.



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