20 November 2019
Ever since H.G. Wells first envisioned sinister tri-legged fighting machines from the Red Planet stalking their way across Horsell Common, his influence in pop culture was assured. Ares Games has taken his signature work of science- fiction and merged it with Wings of Glory, the aerial combat wargames set during the bloody years of the First and Second World Wars. The end result is a boxed starter set that provides quick, entertaining games of man versus Martian, but feels like it could have included a bit more than it offers.
Those who’ve played aerial combat games before – particularly X-Wing – will find many similar mechanics used here. Each game is split into turns, with play occurring simultaneously during each phase of the turn. The three phases of a turn revolve around movement. Each unit on the board – whether they be tripod or triplane – has a console with slots for three movement cards. At the start of a turn, players select how their vehicle(s) will move by selecting cards from their movement deck and placing one in each of the three slots. Players then simultaneously reveal the first card and move correspondingly. The game eschews movement rulers, and instead uses the cards themselves as measures. Shooting and actions likewise occur simultaneously. Players do the same thing for the following two phases, after which a new turn begins.
This core gameplay loop makes for a game that’s both entertaining and fast. Though not a new mechanic, having to plan how each vehicle is going to move not only adds strategic depth to the proceedings, but also helps reinforce the concept that the player is piloting a machine with actual tolerances and velocity rather than just game pieces. The game also has a random element in the form of damage, which is determined by drawing the top card from one of several decks depending on the type of weapon used.
The units the box comes with feel mostly balanced. In terms of hit points and raw firepower the Martian tripod is – not surprisingly – the tougher of the two, though this is counterbalanced by the fact that it has to spend an action and energy token to shoot, whereas no such penalties affect flyers. Likewise, whilst the plane is nearly always going to lose out in a straightforward shooting match, it’s given a much needed edge by dint of its manoeuvrability. Random damage effects like engine fires and electrical short-outs prevent things from becoming predictable.
The main gripe comes not from the gameplay but from the few areas where the game feels like it should have had more in the box. The rulebook comes with six scenarios, though only two of them can be played using the core contents, as the rest require the purchasing of separate airplane and tripod packs. Including content like this that can only be used with additional purchases is always a cheap move – and one that would be rightly called out if a board game tried to pull it – but seems to be par for the course for wargames. Likewise, as entertaining as the game is, having only one model each side inevitably means that games will get stale after a while. The inclusion of more, different miniatures (like the ones cheekily advertised on the box’s back cover image) and a healthy number of scenarios would have gone a long way to making a set with greater entertainment value.
PLAY IT? PROBABLY
Designer: Andrea Angiolino, Francesco Nepitello, Marco Maggi
Artist: David Szilagyi
This review originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.