Ace of Aces Collector's Guide
by Joseph J. Scoleri III
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ACE OF ACES is copyrighted by Alfred Leonardi, all rights reserved.
This is a question that comes up every so often in gaming circles. The most common answer is something along the following lines: "Let's see... you have the three World War I books, the World War II books and the Jet books. So that makes five versions. Of course, if you count the Deluxe Handy Rotary that actually makes it six. Yeah, that's it, six!"
Or maybe not... Next time the question comes up, you will be able to give a significantly more detailed response. This article examines over twenty different editions and variant editions of the popular and innovative game. However, before I get to that, a brief introduction to the game system is in order.
The original Ace of Aces "Handy Rotary Series" came with a pair
of brown game books each slightly smaller than a paperback novel.
Figure 1. Each book contained 223 illustrations depicting
various views from the cockpit of the player's aircraft. The
view on each page was oriented to show the location of the
opponent's aircraft. For example, the "Allies" book showed a
view of the opposing Fokker as seen from a Sopwith Camel
cockpit. Conversely, the "Germans" book showed a view of the
Camel as seen from the cockpit of a Fokker Dr. I triplane.
The secret behind the books is a programmed movement system. At the bottom of each page is a chart showing the maneuvers each plane can perform (categorized as slow, cruising or fast.) After secretly choosing a maneuver, the players simultaneously reveal the page number listed beneath the maneuver. Each player then checks the maneuver chart on the page number they received from their opponent. This leads the players to an "End-Turn" page number. The illustration on this page shows the new position of the aircraft based on the maneuvers chosen by the players.
The design was simple, it was elegant, and it worked. The system was also flexible. With extra books, more than two aircraft could dogfight at once. In addition, the various World War I aircraft books were all compatible allowing opposing aircraft from different sets to be flown against one another.
Once the elements of the Basic Game were grasped, players could move up to the Intermediate and Advanced Game rules. The Intermediate Game added altitude, more realistic gunfire resolution, and the opportunity to fly different aircraft by using different performance statistics. The Advanced Game expanded on these improvements by imposing more restrictions and rules governing maneuver and combat. To top things off, the game included guidelines for a campaign game and statistics for using famous ace pilots.
The brief but comprehensive rules covered an impressive range of chrome including: tailing, aces, Lewis guns, critical hits, gun jams, aircraft inclination, zoom climbs, anti-aircraft fire and attacking out of the sun. A college student named Douglas Kaufman provided assistance in the development of the game and, according to Leonardi, put the rules into a playable format.
One of the real strong points of the design is how almost all of the chrome is seamlessly integrated into the game system. For instance, the symbol for each maneuver immediately conveys the difficulty of the maneuver and shows if an altitude loss is required. The ability to tail another aircraft is also built into the game system. A "T" is shown on your maneuver page when you are in a disadvantaged position (i.e. the opposing aircraft is behind you and facing you.) You are then required to disclose whether your next maneuver is going to be to the "right", "left" or "straight" before your opponent chooses a maneuver. It is obviously no accident that Ace of Aces works as well as it does.
Ace of Aces was immediately accessible to a wide variety of gamers and aviation enthusiasts. Thus it is even more unfortunate that it is currently out of print. In many ways it is unlike any game before or since, which in itself would seem to make the system collectible. However, the chief reason I enjoy collecting Ace of Aces is that the game is a blast to play.
After nearly 20 years, it is still the only flight simulator that will fit in your pocket!
What follows is a descriptive listing of the various editions and variant editions of the game. Those that I have found are described in detail and other editions which I have not personally evaluated are described in summary. Each game covered by this guide is described using the following categories:
Title: (listed in bold) As stated on box cover, if any, or rulebook cover.
Product Number: Manufacturer's catalog number printed on game.
Date: Copyright date, if any, or other date as stated.
Price: Original retail price of game.
Box: Description of game box.
Components: Description of all components included with game.
Other distinguishing features: Characteristics which distinguish the box and components from similar titles in the series.
Variant editions: Variations observed in other copies of the same edition.
All information is as accurate as possible and is intended to represent the correct combination of factory components. However, there were times at Nova Game Designs when "spare parts" were cobbled together into "original" editions so it is entirely possible that some "factory new" games could differ from these descriptions. PLEASE NOTE: The author does not assume any responsibility for actions you take in reliance upon the information contained in this Reference Guide.
Finally, although each of the editions are listed in roughly chronological order, the numbering system is not meant to imply that this is the exact order in which the editions were released.
Of course, as with many new ventures, there were some difficulties. A few glitches slipped into the rules printed in the game books. An errata list was provided to remedy this.
In addition, the Gameshop books presented a potential problem from a playability standpoint. Pages on which you could fire at your opponent were indicated by flashes around your gun muzzles (and conversely, pages on which you were being fired on showed tracers coming from your opponents guns.) Unfortunately, the restrained gunfire artwork sometimes made it difficult to identify these pages.
Perhaps the main charm of the initial entry in the Ace of Aces
series is the choice of aircraft: a Sopwith Camel vs. a Fokker
Dr. I triplane. Both aircraft could stir the historical interest of any students of the period as well as having the pop culture appeal of
Charles Schulz's classic confrontations between Snoopy and the
The slipcase edition Ace of Aces games came packaged in a cardboard slipcase with cover art showing the featured aircraft. The back of the slipcases gave a play example which included illustrations of sample pages from the game books. The slipcase also provided an attractive and protective place to store the game books and other documentation.
The cover of the Handy Rotary slipcase, while colorful, is somewhat disappointing compared to the detailed and generally accurate Jerry Redding artwork that was used in the gamebooks. One historical note of interest: the roundel and tail markings of the Sopwith Camel depicted on the Handy Rotary slipcase are American markings, not British. Figure 5.
The most distinguishing feature of the early style slipcase is that it is open on the right side of the slipcase. All subsequent slipcase editions of Ace of Aces were open on the left side.
It should be noted that some of these early style slipcases were used to create makeshift saleable games when Nova was selling off old
inventory in the late 1980's. Therefore, to verify that a particular game is the original
early slipcase edition, a careful examination of the distinguishing
features of the components is necessary.
Outside of the cosmetic differences in the slipcase and components noted below, this edition is otherwise the same as the previous edition.
At first glance this almost appears to be a recycled Handy Rotary edition. The extent of the "borrowing" includes the same errata as the initial Gameshop edition!
However, the lack of novelty in some of the components is made up
for by the new style of play in the Powerhouse books which
include a different variety of maneuvers than offered by the
Handy Rotary books. Handy Rotary series artist Jerry Redding also did the artwork for the Powerhouse gamebooks.
In spite of the lackluster performance of the aircraft depicted, there was much for Ace of Aces fans to like here: James Rosinus' gamebook artwork made combat a bit more personal at close range where you can see your opponent's face; the Airco D.H. 2's flex-mount machine gun gave it's pilot a greater field of fire and required maneuvering finesse from the German player; and the old rules errata was finally corrected.
Also worthy of note is the Arne Starr artwork on the slipcase cover (Figure 9), a definite improvement over the murky cover art found on the first two slipcase editions.
One potential down side to the Flying Machines series was that the aircraft could only perform 16 maneuvers. While this appropriately reflected the limited capabilities of the earlier aircraft, it also marked a significant reduction in options for the players since the Handy Rotary and Powerhouse books each used at least 25 maneuvers.
The Handy Rotary books contained a list of future books planned for the Ace of Aces series. Two of the most intriguing items on that list were the ground target and balloon buster books. After waiting several years, Ace of Aces aficionados were rewarded with the release of the Balloon Buster edition.
This edition, developed by Leonardi along with Harold McKinney, offered an unusual departure from the other books in the series. The "Allies" book depicts the view from an aircraft attacking a German balloon. The "Germans" book depicts the view of an anti-aircraft gunner swiveling a gun to shoot at the Allied biplane overhead. Designer Leonardi points out that his father's artillery service during World War I inspired him to create the Balloon Buster edition.
The Balloon Buster slipcase features artwork by renowned aviation artist J.B. Deneen and is easily the best cover art of any Ace of Aces series game. Figure 10. The interior artwork is also nicely done by the trio of Brad Gorby, Arne Starr and James Rosinus. The former two are also known for their work illustrating the Nova Lost Worlds fantasy combat books.
The Balloon Buster series also highlights a change of course in the Ace of Aces series: even basic play requires the use of charts and a die. This undercut the easy portability and lasting play value of the Basic Game rules in the previous editions.
What I call the paper cover editions were described by Nova designer Dennis Greci as "an unfortunate attempt to produce books less expensively." Instead of being packaged in a slipcase, this edition was wrapped in two sleeves made of stiff paper. This was shrinkwrapped with the front and back slipcase artwork displayed inside the shrinkwrap.
The gamebooks no longer featured the textured leather look of previous editions. Instead, the covers were made of the same stiff paper used for the outer sleeve. Greci passed along a word of warning for owners of the paper cover editions: "Unfortunately, the covers don't hold up well to continued use. They are actually dangerous to inanimate wet objects . . . ink tends to bleed out of the covers when they become wet."
Take these words to heart and don't accidentally leave the paper cover gamebooks on a wet table!
Also, although the paper cover editions are most commonly found shrinkwrapped as described here, Greci indicated that some were released in the cardboard slipcases used in the original editions.
Packaged the same as the Flying Machines paper cover edition. The same handling disclaimers apply!
All company names, game names, publications, logos, artworks and other products referred to herein are copyrighted, trademarked, and/or registered as applicable by their rightful owners. No affiliation with the author is claimed or implied.
Use of a trademark to identify a product commented upon in this article should not be construed as implying the sponsorship of the trademark holder nor as a challenge to such status.
ACE OF ACES is copyrighted by Alfred Leonardi, all rights reserved.
Please e-mail me with any question or comments about this web page at (turn it backwards) ten.onaclov@kcirevameht.