From the makers of one of the most addictive, time consuming strategy games of all time comes Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol, an exceptional World War I-themed strategy game. If you downloaded the title with visions of white knuckle turns, machine gun fire lighting up the sky, and frantic maneuvering as you engage in dogfights over enemy lines, think again—this is a Sid Meier title, after all, and that means an exceptionally deep, but slowly paced, turn-based strategy game. While mobile games have adapted the frenetic pace of their console cousins, Sid Meier continues to cut his own path—preferring nuance, balance, and game mechanics that require more thought than reflexes.
The game is free to play, though after a handful of missions you’ll be asked to shell out for the complete British campaign ($1) or one of the various campaign packs, such as the French, German, and American campaigns. Each campaign has nearly 20 missions, and though they play similarly, there are nice touches like accents, pilot portraits, and authentic aircraft of the flag you’re flying.
The core combat is again, turn based, so you’ll see all of the available locations your plane can go and if they can attack the enemy plane. Animations will be initiated if you’re firing on an enemy plane or zeppelin, for example, though you’re not directly controlling the aircraft. It’s essentially chess with planes, with each plane and pilot offering different abilities and advantages.
Each mission you embark on will allow you an opportunity to upgrade your craft, improve your pilots’ skills, and see them rise up the ranks. In a subtle but charming touch, your pilot’s portrait will change from a smiling, clean shaved rookie to a well-decorated, medal wearing veteran. The missions will see you defend targets, engage in combat with enemy fighters, and target enemy structures and zeppelins. Unfortunately, the mission variety leaves something to be desired: While there are several different types, they all follow a similar formula and are usually small scale engagements. The sky never feels clouded by flak fire and the streams of dozens of dogfighting planes.
You’ll become invested in your pilot’s success, but keeping them alive won’t be easy. The game does a good job of holding your hand during the first few missions, but as you progress, you’ll start encountering more challenging enemies that want nothing more than to blow your plans out of the sky. If you lose a pilot behind enemy lines, you have to wait to Christmas for a prisoner exchange (which coincidentally always fell at the end of a campaign for me). The issue is that the last mission in every campaign requires you to use all of your pilots, and so if you have only one pilot, you might as well opt to skip the mission, be awarded no points, and get all of your pilots back.
You unfortunately can’t replay specific missions, even failed ones, which can be exceptionally frustrating if one of your pilots gets downed and isn’t available for several missions.
Strategy games are commonplace on the mobile platform, but the number of games in the strategy genre is sadly lacking. Ace Patrol is not just a valentine to a bygone era in aviation, but a bygone era in gaming. That doesn’t mean Ace Patrol is just another retro indulgence, however: It’s one of the most clever, unique, and fun strategy games on iOS right now. So put on your flak jacket, throw back your scarf, and make the Red Baron pay.