Down in Flames Review

Down in Flames can best be described as Magic: The Gathering for the war gamer. While you don’t have the fantastic artwork, deck customization, or sheer number of cards found in Magic, you do get the same dynamic strategic gameplay that comes with a dose of random luck that can be addicting at times. Trust me, Down in Flames is certainly no threat to the Magic empire, but it certainly fits the bill for those looking for a quick playing card game that involves World War II fighters instead of wizards and orcs.

Down in Flames involves “dogfights” between one or two elements of planes each consisting of a leader and a wingman. Each plane is given a set of “cards’ at random that dictate the actions that it can take including offensive and defensive maneuvers and machine gun bursts. During a turn the acting plane selects a target enemy plane and plays one of its maneuver cards. The target will then have a chance to play a counter card in an attempt to outmaneuver the attacker and avoid his gunfire. Players alternate playing cards in this manner until one of them no longer has any playable cards remaining or chooses not to counter. The strategy comes into play in deciding which cards to play when, and whether it is better to put a card into play or to hold onto it for later. When the round is complete, the planes’ relative facing is updated and play proceeds to the next plane. Facing is important as it is more difficult to use maneuver cards to shake an enemy off of your tail and also because certain cards can only be played from certain facings.

The game incorporates the 3D nature of aerial combat into play by providing a few altitude levels. Planes must be at the same elevation to engage each other, but altitude can also affect the number of cards a plane has. At the end of each turn planes can decide whether to stay at the same altitude or to drop or climb to the next level. Climbing requires the plane to discard one card to represent the energy lost in a climb. Similarly, diving will add a card to the plane’s hand.

Each turn is timed so you do not have the luxury of taking a lot of time to think about your next move. However, I never really felt that the liberal times allowed by the game applied much pressure to my decisions. The inclusion of the timer and the fact that games are limited to six total rounds means that Down in Flames is a fast-playing game and you can complete a dogfight in well under ten minutes.