By Joseph Luster

We’re dialing things back a few years this time around by diving into Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol, which puts World War I dogfighting in the palm of your hands on the iOS device of your choosing. Ace Patrol is a deceptively simple turn-based strategy game that offers up plenty of excitement for both newcomers and vets of the genre, and best of all, the base game is free for anyone to download and try out.

Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol

Strategy games can be mightily imposing to the uninitiated, but Ace Patrol does a great job of concisely teaching players the basics of its mechanics, while providing plenty of room to grow and develop more advanced strategies. Combat is set on a battlefield of hexagonal grids, and early missions have you testing the skies out with a single plane. Touch-based controls are simple enough without need for too much explanation in the tutorial. Tapping arrow buttons causes your unit to maneuver in that direction—banking left or right, rising in altitude, or even pulling off expert moves like the Immelmann turn—and the name of the game is getting within range of the enemy and blasting them out of the clouds.

The single moves might seem sluggish at first, but the pace of Ace Patrol is pretty spot-on. As you advance, missions will have you controlling up to four planes at once in your squad, but it never gets to the point of being overwhelming, and you never need to zoom out for a more expansive view of the battle area. Missions are kept short and sweet, and before you know it you’ll be planning a few moves in advance rather than puttering along one at a time. The strategy then becomes noticing the enemy’s telegraphed maneuvers, where they’ll be at a disadvantage a few turns down the line, and how you can stay in their blind spot and come out guns blazing at just the right moment.

This isn’t the first time that Firaxis Games has found the sweet spot in simplifying something that could have otherwise been a slog. Civilization Revolution made a similar move with Sid Meier’s Civilization series, cutting the fat and making it a more briskly paced experience. Of course, some people like the fat, so something like Ace Patrol isn’t going to be for everyone, but as a pick-up-and-play iOS game it does a good job of scratching that impulsive itch.

The colorful, somewhat cartoony visuals belie what is otherwise pretty faithful to the world of dogfighting. Despite the fact that you can spend plenty of time tinkering with the look of your pilot and aircraft of choice, the actual combat doesn’t stray too far from reality. If a plane is banking right it can’t suddenly bank left out of nowhere, hence the strategic hook of plotting moves in advance.

Ace Patrol also packs some multiplayer, with two players able to dogfight on a single device. Hopefully you can find someone to play with who isn’t tempted to peek at your strategizing prior to his or her turn. There’s asynchronous multiplayer that can be initiated through Game Center, as well, but we weren’t able to test it out at the time of this writing. Keep in mind, if you want to play with other people over Game Center, you’ll need to throw down some cash on additional campaigns.

What’s that? You thought all this action came free of charge? While it was previously mentioned that the “base game” is free, that doesn’t mean the whole thing can be yours for nothing. Consider the free download of Ace Patrol a sampler platter to see if this is precisely the type of fun you’re looking for. You’ll be able to dig into a few missions before it asks for $0.99 to unlock the rest of the British campaign. From there you can shell out $1.99 each for the German, French, and U.S. campaigns, or drop $3.99 for all three.

So yes, Ace Patrol has its fair share of microtransactions, but you can control how much you end up spending, and can at least nab all the regular campaigns for around five bucks total. It’s not a bad deal if this is the type of strategy that gets you going. I know I wasn’t able to resist unlocking additional campaigns, so give Ace Patrol a spin and see how quickly you get hooked on its streamlined strategy action.

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
System(s): iOS (iPhone/iPad)
Available: Now

Wolfenstein: The New Order

It’s been a while since we talked about Wolfenstein

3D in these pages, and now the seminal first-person shooter is preparing to make a return to consoles and PC later this year. Wolfenstein: The New Order is bringing alternate history action to PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows, marking the ninth installment in the series when it drops in the fourth quarter of 2013.

In this alternate history—which is set in 1960—the Nazis won World War II. Original protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is back, saddled with the unenviable task of launching an “impossible counteroffensive” against the Nazi forces stationed in Europe. Things could change between now and the time the game launches but, surprisingly, developer Machine Games has announced that The New Order will only be a single-player experience. In a time that sees multiplayer shoe-horned into every possible game, it might be refreshing to see what happens when a team has the rare luxury of working on a more tightly focused project.

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Machine Games
System(s): PC
Available: Q4 2013

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